12 April 2017
Response Paper: Week 12
Is environmentalism a wealthy man’s hobby? Prominent environmentalists since the beginning of the movement have been predominantly wealthy. It is not often that you see people in the third world advocating for renewable energy or “greener” farming practices. This week’s readings spanned a variety of topics from geoengineering to GMOs to the value of biodiversity. The readings, although some indirectly, seek to answer the question “at what cost?” is the environment worth preserving. E.O Wilson wrote a piece for the Sierra Club titled, “A Biologist’s Manifesto for Preserving Life on Earth”. Wilson argues that half of all of Earth’s land should be set aside to be preserved. He believes that by setting such land aside humanity will be able to ensure the survival of 80% of the world’s species. On the most basic level, one should be asking is Wilson’s claim even valid? Have scientists even identified 80% of the world’s species? Scientists find thousands of new species every year! Ironically, in a general sense the people who would agree with Wilson are some of the staunchest “social justice” advocates. Advocating for Wilson’s point of view and social justice causes are not easily reconcilable. The forced preservation of 50% of the Earth’s land is most certainly going to impact those in the developing world more than a millionaire in a penthouse in Manhattan. The question that needs to be asked is do those advocating for such causes believe that a few hundred species of insects are more valuable than millions of human lives?
Similarly, an Op-ed in the New York Times discusses the merits and risks of geoengineering. Geoengineering raises many questions, however what I ended up paying most attention to in the article was one line, which said “… that is why some conservative think tanks that have for years denied or downplayed the science of climate change suddenly support geoengineering, the solution to a problem they once said did not exist”. The author never states which think tanks are writing such pieces or what their exact positions. He bashes conservatives by speaking in general terms, a think tank will obviously put out a more sophisticated analysis than gloss over one sentence summary written in this op-ed.
Stephen Meyer’s “The End of the Wild” is consistent with the message from other writer’s we have read this semester, especially Bill McKibben. While I disagree with Meyer’s argument, I appreciate his straight-forward writing style. Unlike other environmental writers he is direct, he has no qualms about letting the reader know that if you disagree with his position that you are immoral. Meyer writes, “Therefore, we should not evaluate these efforts in terms of their capacity to stop the end of the wild. Their enduring value is that they establish a moral imperative. Like the Ten Commandments, they remind us who we could be.” I appreciated Meyer’s honesty, but his entire book highlights why it is increasingly challenging to find common ground on environmental issues. Telling people that they are immoral or do not understand the consequences of their actions is both arrogant and off-putting. People understand that there are trade-offs to their actions. Meyer may disagree about the worthiness of the trade-offs, but that does not mean that the trade-offs are immoral. When environmentalists frame their positions on the basis of morality, it becomes challenging to find common ground to tackle environmental issues facing society. Have you ever won an argument by telling someone that everything they believe is incorrect? My conjecture is most likely not. This week’s writings highlight the central reason why this debate over environmental issues will not be easily solved. The entire debate boils down to freedom. Should people be able to decide for themselves how to live their lives? I believe most people would say yes. My point may seem dramatic and potentially out of context, but is particularly relevant to this discussion. These writers believe that they know what is best for humanity and the environment. They believe that if you disagree you not educated enough to understand the severity of your own actions. Implementing these writers’ ideas means reducing the ability of individuals to make their own choices. For example, if we set aside 50% of the Earth to be preserved, we are severely restricting where an individual may choose to live. Personally, I care about the environment but I value freedom. It is because I value freedom that I do not agree with the majority of the mainstream environmentalism.