Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Rational Case for Environmental Conservation

In a long but fascinating essay blogger Spark A Synapse (SAS) presents what she sees as a rational case for environmental conservation. The essence of her argument is presented in the following paragraph:
My point is, there is a rational basis for conservation strategies on a personal level, and for exploiting the Earth in a sustainable way. News articles detailing environmentalists who complain about exploitation of the Moon or Mars are certainly annoying, I agree. But we must ask, "Why are these views wrong?" They’re wrong because non-living material doesn’t go out of existence. The idea of conserving minerals on Mars – or even Earth - is clearly ridiculous. Unless we’re removing so many materials from Mars that we’re threatening to throw off Earth’s orbit, I see no reason to care. Furthermore, those views aren't based in fact. They're based in ideology. But what doesn’t follow from dismissing ridiculous environmentalists is that we don’t need to care about conserving Earth’s resources at all.

In order to thrive, we have to discover more about the natural world and exploit it. The vast majority of the world that is left to be discovered and exploited does not consist of chemical or physical entities, which have been and always will always be with us. The vast majority of resources to be exploited are biological, and those entities can and are going out of existence. When Objectivists point out the dramatic progress humans have made through the use of reason, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that in order to use reason, we have to have something to reason about. If there was a possibility that we could lose 25% of chemical elements in the periodic table within our lifetime, I think people would reasonably be upset about it.

Besides providing an abundance of examples that illustrate the issue quite clearly, she argues in terms that Objectivists ought to appreciate:
Unless a particular species directly threatens your life (i.e. smallpox, malarial mosquitoes), there is actually a rational basis for caring about species extinctions, even species that are currently obscure: for all of the potential things we could learn from them, and for all of the products that could be designed from them that we never would have thought of on our own, and finally, although this is least important in my opinion – simply for aesthetic reasons (in the case of animals with little known or potential economic value).
SAS is very definitely not an Environmentalist who seeks to protect nature from man and preserve nature for nature's sake. Rather, she argues for the preservation of some things for man's sake.

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