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May 14, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Philosoraptor – Environment

It’s easiest to agree with the tree-huggers when it’s obvious we are really messing ’round with someone’s feelings. Dumping toxic waste in Wellington harbour would hurt the feelings of families with three-eyed babies. But what should we say when the tree-huggers ask us to protect things that aren’t particularly useful and probably don’t have feelings, like the snails on the Deniston Plateau? Saving the snails means hurting some people’s feelings– even miners have feelings.

Imagine you are the last person on earth. There aren’t any proper animals—just a fully functioning ecosystem of trees, bacteria, and maybe some slime mould. The thought runs through your head, “why don’t I chop down the last kauri, just for fun”. If all we care about is not hurting people’s or animals’ feelings, it’s hard to say what would be wrong with bringing out the axe. But many people think it would certainly be wrong. So why should this last person protect the kauri? We might follow Ecuador’s new constitution and say nature “has the right to exist and persist”. But rights might only belong to rational actors, and tree’s ain’t actors, so they probably ain’t got rights either. Others argue that life itself, no matter how simple, has value. The problem they face is trying to explain why there is any value to living things that are just gross, like tuberculosis bacteria. An approach I like suggests that how we treat nature reflects our character. If we should want to be humble, frugal and mindful people, we shouldn’t destroy nature for no reason. But if you were consistently humble and frugal for all your life, couldn’t you reward yourself by destroying the kauri seeing as it won’t harm anyone?

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