Re: evolution and stewardship

From: Wesley R. Elsberry (
Date: Mon Jan 17 2000 - 11:55:59 EST

  • Next message: "Re: evolution and stewardship"

    MikeBGene wrote:
    >Wesley writes:

    WRE>Theological approaches to the problem of mass extinction do
    WRE>not uniformly lead to protective impulses; much political
    WRE>action is undertaken by those whose theology condones or
    WRE>encourages exploitative use of the environment. "Wise Use"
    WRE>advocates pose a counter to the Unknown Student's simplistic
    WRE>alternative, as those people advance a "use it up" approach
    WRE>based upon belief in mankind as "crown of creation". Of
    WRE>course, conservation is not entirely divorced from issues of
    WRE>self-interest. Widespread ecological disruption is unlikely
    WRE>to be of long-term benefit to our own species. The innate
    WRE>desire to see our children put safely into an environment
    WRE>conducive to a good quality of life would seem entirely
    WRE>sufficient to explain concern over conservation issues,
    WRE>without reference to either sort of theology that Unknown
    WRE>Student ascribes as motivational above.

    MB>I find this line of reasoning to be totally unconvincing.

    I find Mike's rejection of my argument above confusing, since
    he seems to be agreeing with me on several points, any one of
    which should result in the rejection of the Unknown Student's
    argument. The Unknown Student asserts that an ecologist's
    innate desire to conserve stems from an unrecognized "higher
    moral sense" instilled by the creator and *not* from any other
    source. I show that this is not a "natural conclusion". The
    are multiple motivations to engage in conservation. There are
    multiple causes for such motivation. Theological
    considerations do not uniformly lead to conservation as
    opposed to exploitation. Acceptance of these statements
    is antithetical or inconsistent with also accepting the
    Unknown Student's argument.

    MB>Humans can be said to have many innate desires where
    MB>caring for the environment of their children is only one.

    True enough. That is in agreement with my argument that
    Unknown Student's claim of a single possible cause of an
    innate desire for conservation doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

    MB>In fact, the "use it up" approach looks to me to be just as
    MB>much the expression of human innate desires.

    Yes. Again, this is in agreement with my noting the existence
    of the "Wise Use" movement and how its existence argues
    against Unknown Student's assertion of implication of
    supernatural cause of an innate desire for conservation.

    MB>So how do we choose among these conflicting innate desires?

    It was because Unknown Student failed to even acknowledge the
    possibility of alternate causes for motivations that I brought
    examples up. Again, Mike shows himself to agree with my point
    that alternate motivations and possible causes exist and
    disagree with Unknown Student's assertion that some one
    innate motivation and sole supernatural cause must obtain.

    MB>What about the many people who have no children or

    The quality of life of offspring is but one possible causation
    for motivation to conservation that obviates Unknown Student's
    conclusion. I don't need to show that it is the sole cause
    for conservation; all I need to do is show that the class of
    causes for conservation that does not depend upon supernatural
    causes exists.

    People without children or grandchildren may not consider
    future benefit to be of much importance. On the other hand,
    they might indeed consider such benefit to be of importance
    due to the interdependencies of modern society.

    MB>Are we talking about the children of people in
    MB>developed nations or the children of undeveloped nations
    MB>(whose quality of life may indeed be increased by chopping
    MB>down some forests)?

    There are many conservation measures that are unrelated to
    chopping down forests and which are not sensitive to issues of
    "developed" vs. "undeveloped". For instance, teaching people
    dependent upon fisheries the importance of refugia can pay off
    in the near-term, not just the long-term. This is a case
    where state of development is not an issue.

    MB>Do all conservation issues really
    MB>translate as concrete benefits for our children 20-50 years
    MB>from now?

    "All" and "never" are hard claims to support. My argument,
    though, is not a universal claim. If there exists some aspect
    of conservation which can produce benefits, self-interest is
    then a cause for motivation to conserve, thus my argument
    is supported and the Unknown Student's argument fails.

    MB>What can Wesley possibly do or not do that would
    MB>have a tangible effect on the my children's quality of life 20
    MB>years from now?

    Let's see... "tangible" as opposed to "intangible". Hopefully
    Mike is not using "tangible" as a synonym for "dramatic" or
    "overwhelming", since I don't aspire to such. I've already
    taken part as a volunteer for the Texas Marine Mammal
    Stranding Network, which gathers information about populations
    of marine mammals along the Texas Gulf coast. I've
    participated in research that impacts policies concerning
    anthropogenic noise generated in the marine environment. If
    the continued presence and welfare of marine mammals can
    influence in some part the quality of life of Mike's children
    in the future, what I have already done will be of positive
    influence. Even if Mike's children care nothing about the
    marine environment, I feel certain that my actions described
    above will redound in positive fashion and tangible effect for

    I see my actions so far as having a tangible impact, even if I
    do nothing further, as would be the case if I succumb to some
    fatal accident tomorrow. I don't plan on giving up my
    research career yet. My dissertation topic promises to yield
    further basis for evaluating the impact of anthropogenic
    sound on marine mammals.

    MB>If we elicit "widespread ecological disruption," might not
    MB>human ingenuity devise ways to deal with this that ultimately
    MB>lead to a better quality of life for the human species than
    MB>that which is provided by our environment?

    It exists as one of those theoretical possibilities, like the
    possibility that a pot of water will spontaneously freeze at
    room temperature. But just as I said in my original
    statement, it is unlikely to be of long-term benefit. Like
    that cliched thermodynamic example, it doesn't make a good
    strategy upon which to plan. If I want ice for carting around
    a heart for transplant, I'm going to make sure of a working
    freezer and not just leave a pan of water out on the counter.
    It is far more likely that human ingenuity would suffice to
    make the results of widespread ecological disruption less than
    cause for short-term human extinction than it would provide a
    better quality of life than is possible with an environment
    that has not undergone widespread ecological disruption. Why
    not put that vaunted ingenuity to work to *both* avoid the
    disruption and improve the quality of life? Should a
    mostly-intact environment be considered a bar to a better
    human quality of life?

    MB>Since conservation issues ultimately impinge on human
    MB>freedom, where do we draw the line?

    Probably like much in the way of policy formation, we will
    weigh costs and benefits. The past failures of stock
    management in fisheries, such as for the Grand Banks, should
    help inform future policy decisions. Fishery management that
    results in the bankruptcy of an entire fishery does no one any
    good. Human freedom does occasionally run into limits imposed
    by the environment, whether it does so by unfettered
    disruption or by considered management (which, like all human
    endeavors, may either succeed or fail). One of the
    interesting outcomes of conservation efforts in the Pacific
    Northwest is that the fisheries weigh in on the side of
    conservation efforts to limit clearcutting. Runoff from
    clearcut lands is seen as a threat to fisheries productivity.
    In this case, there is no simple formulation of commercial
    interests or freedom of action versus conservation. Rather,
    there are interdependencies between those seeking to maximize
    exploitation of available resources, such that trade-offs must
    be found between interests that run in different directions.
    This kind of situation is likely to become far more common in
    the future. The days when large-scale exploitation can occur
    and not cause problems in other human activities are rapidly
    drawing to a close.

    MB>What does quality of life mean if it is purchased by a
    MB>continual erosion of human freedom and autonomy? Just some
    MB>questions that immediately come to mind.

    We abridge human freedom and autonomy in many ways in our
    society. Is it OK to erode the freedom to murder or maim
    other humans? We seem to tolerate most such abridgements with
    equanamity. Is it OK to erode the autonomy to transfer other
    people's money to hidden offshore accounts? We also seem to
    accommodate many such abridgements without demur. Why would
    incorporation of conservation into such policy decisions cause
    extra or special concern?

    To recap: It appears that both Mike and I agree that there are
    multiple possible motivations to conservation (and
    exploitation); we agree that theological stances can result in
    both conservative and exploitative motivations; and we agree
    that separating out the various motivations is difficult.
    These points of agreement indicate to me that Mike should by
    that acceptance then reject the argument of the Unknown
    Student. Why Mike states that he rejects my arguments when we
    actually holds several of the same stances remains mysterious
    to me.

    Graduate student and general bioacoustics dogsbody
    Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences
    College of Agriculture
    Texas A&M University

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Jan 17 2000 - 11:42:07 EST