Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Trick to Staying Extant (Part 2): Have Your Own Lobby

This is a follow up to an earlier post on an article published in the National Post that Jim P. Houston brought to my attention.

What is really being lamented by some conservationists is that some species X which the conservationist values for whatever reason does not have broader appeal. The only possible other argument would be that all life is valuable and worth preserving. Which is absurd. No one (sane) would voluntarily take immunosuppressants to be the host of bacterial infections.

Rather than just point out that we discriminate our conservation expenditures based on our sometimes shallow values (which is rather obvious), plaintiff conservationists must show to us — their wider constituency — why we too should care about species X.

To assume offhand that discrimination based on "cuteness" (or, even worse, commercial interest) is shallow, is itself shallow. I suspect this is what's behind the article in the National Post and I suspect this supposed shallowness is why it was deemed noteworthy. Assuming I'm right, we are being shown how silly and short-sighted we are in our resource allocation of conservation funds. If so, where are the arguments for how we should otherwise allocate such resources?

Should we be more "equitable"? More rational? More laissez-faire? Why is not cuteness a perfectly reasonable criteria for fund allocations? The article presents no proposals. At best it presents the obvious. And it's a pure puff-piece. At worst it makes us feel silly and hints we should leave resource allocation to "Canadian ecology experts". If the latter, this is a politically and socioeconomically dangerous position to take.

And yes, the good old Basic Imperative comes into play. But even in the context of the imperative, the solution to resource allocation is the same: a market economy under the rule of law and a political process based on sound mathematical procedures.

I don't claim to know for sure what species needs to be preserved based on the Basic Imperative. But I do think my gut fascination with orcas is more than a desire to "beautify [nature] according to human notions of what’s pretty". What other notions of beauty should I use? A turtles? And that my voice deserves as much to be represented in decisions on resource allocations as "Canadian ecology experts" (even if, admittedly, polar bear cubs make me feel all fuzzy on the inside).

If you want to be preserved as a species, I suggest getting a really good lobbying group. Make your case to us pesky"shallow" humans, you toads of the world. I'm all ears Ugly Animal Preservation Society. Fascinate me with something really, really grotesque and maybe I'll send you a few bucks. Just don't make it a praying mantis. Those creatures really freak me out, even when they're from New Zealand.


jim houston said...

A lot of our medicines have been derived from plants and animals.

Only a very small percentage of the species in the world have been investigated for their medicinal use.

Being ignorant of what species could be of medicinal to us - and our descendants - there thus seems some prudential reason to save from extinction species that aren't of currently identified commercial value and ain't that pretty.

jim houston said...

I suppose what I could add to what I wrote above is that such considerations don’t immediately speak to the possible importance of keeping species extant in the wild – conserving species (on account of possible (future or current) medicinal uses seems initially consistent with just holding on to sufficient numbers in (enough) controlled man-made environments.

What can be said in favour of preserving natural ecosystems for this medicinal rationale is that a great many species are undiscovered. So far example, by destroying the Amazon rainforests for timber and hamburgers we may well be robbing ourselves and our descendants of medically important species we don’t even know about.

More widely we don’t know what undiscovered (or under-studied) species may be lost by destruction of current ecosystems or how their loss may endanger species we do value.

We also don’t know what species (or ecosystems) will prove to be of some (other) value – commercial, aesthetic or otherwise – to our descendants. It may, for example, be that known or unknown species will – if we ensure their survival, turn out to be useful when it comes used to combating species that turn out to cause problems for our growing of crops.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts...

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