Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

4/27/2008

Nature vs. Humanity

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 3:23 pm

One of the stories of humanity is its antagonism towards nature.  The tendency nowadays is to take a Walden Pond approach and honor the environment.  And, no doubt, it's a fine thing.  Its functioning preserves us, I enjoy clean outdoor spaces, excessive wastefulness should be avoided, etc.  For me, however, I have little interest in preserving the environment except insofar as it serves current and future human interests.  There is nothing to be gained in preserving the environment for its own sake.

I recall that several years ago, for example, I was waiting for a speaker to begin when two people in front of me began having an earnest conversation about how much better off the world would be if all humans just went 'poof!'  It immediately occurred to me what an absurd idea that was since without humans the environment wouldn't be better off, nor would it be worse off.  It also wouldn't be either good or bad; it would just be.  Humans are the ones who apply value judgments.  Without us, nature operates just as it always has with species coming and going, climates changing, natural disasters wiping out areas, lions killing antelope, etc.  It all simply is, without any of it being good or bad.

If it is only humans who can apply value judgments to nature and nature is not good in itself, then it only remains what will be the determinant of those judgments.  It brings to mind a show I watched about some kind of Wiccan nature-worshiping types who were performing a ritual that involved them dancing around outside becoming one with nature while saying nice things about various natural deities.  They contend they're merely the successors to ancient peoples, druids, fertility rites folks, or whomever.  The problem with this is that when ancient peoples worshiped nature, it wasn't in a feel-good, connect-with-the-universe capacity.  They did so because they didn't want nature to kill them.  They knew well what many of us have forgotten in our cultural sheltering: nature is a cruel bitch.  It has no concern for humanity and will inflict floods, droughts, earthquakes, and diseases in the same measure as blessing us with sufficient rain, bountiful crops, and good health.

The simple fact is that the history of humanity is one of antagonism toward nature.  We try to control it, alter it, shield ourselves from it.  The environment isn't something to be honored in its own right or for itself, it's something to be fought against in order to achieve self-preservation.  Thus, the environment is good not for anything that has to do for its own sake, but because it exists in such a condition that is beneficial for humans.  This shouldn't seem controversial, I know, but I discuss this only because of the foolish people out there who believe in doing things they think are beneficial to the environment even though the actions or policies are detrimental to humanity (a notion that, given what I've said, is self-contradictory since what is beneficial to one must be beneficial to the other).

There are others, of course, whose concern is for people and not for the environment itself.  They often make mistakes themselves, however.  Typically, they pursue unclear long-term gain that results in immediate loss.  This is well exemplified by the ethanol debacle, something which I complained about over a year ago.  It has become even more apparent since then that the West's dedication to producing and using the fuel is wreaking havoc on food prices here and abroad.  It's even accelerating other environmental concerns such as the deforestation of the Amazon as farmers seek more land to plant ethanol-producing crops.  The result is that we risk the world's poor suffering from malnutrition and starvation all so that we might mitigate global warming (which, for the record, I don't buy into and, considering the oil-based energy that goes into producing and transporting the stuff, means it would have little effect on the phenomenon anyway).  This is a case of not benefiting humans and we are therefore not benefiting the environment.  The possibility of global catastrophe has also put me into the uncomfortable position of agreeing with the UN on something.

What's amazing to me is that in spite of this, some environmentalists seek to make the food crisis even worse.  There are now folks complaining about the world's movable feast wherein foods are transported across oceans to countries that already grow that food on their own.  Or, as in the case of Norway where fish are shipped to China for filleting and then back to Norway for consumption, foods are exported only to be later reimported after processing.  All this transportation is done, of course, because it is cheaper for the producers or because they may make some kind of profit.  Norwegian fish take their journey because the Chinese will fillet them for 19% of what Norwegians will.  Argentine lemons wind up on Spain's citrus coast because a profit can be made doing so while local lemons will not produce a profit when sold locally, and if no profit can be made, then lemons simply won't be grown at all and no one benefits.

The fact that more food is produced and at cheaper costs, though, is of no concern to the environmentalists since the movable feast means greenhouse gases are released during transport.  These people are now proposing that taxes be assessed on fuel used for international trade, which not now done due to international agreements.

So, while we currently have a situation in which global food prices are increasing dramatically and we risk the world's poorest starving and even countries destabilizing, environmentalists are advocating measures that would only serve worsen the problem.  If companies have to pay more for transporting food, they will merely pass the expense along to consumers.  If the high costs inhibit the movable feast, prices will still rise as the local prices for local produce will have to be high enough to generate profits.  Their only upside will be that their costs won't be quite as high as internationally shipped food.  If the prices aren't raised, then the food just won't be produced at all as nothing is to be gained by it for the producer and everybody loses.

But all this is no matter.  The environment must be saved even if people suffer or die in the process.  We'll just have to wait and see for whom it's being saved since it doesn't appear to be for humans.

1 Comment »

  1. “There is nothing to be gained in preserving the environment for its own sake.”

    This isn’t obvious. Colin McGinn, for instance, argues that Earth is intrinsically and not merely instrumentally valuable.

    Comment by Sean — 4/29/2008 @ 9:28 am

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