Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | October 3, 2009

A New Prejudice

It’s probably not good that I mention conversations which I have had with people about environmental issues.  If word got out that I had been talking about them, they might see it as some kind of insult.  Actually, it’s not.  But I don’t have many opportunities to interact with people about the environment, so (I guess) I have to make the most of the opportunities I have.

One such interaction I had was with a man at a certain environmental group’s meeting.  We had been talking about endangered species and he admitted he did not care about some small fish in a river.  I was surprised by this, because I had assumed that everyone in the group supported the Endangered Species Act.  (I’ve since come to the realization that, as far as endangered species are concerned, the general public’s commitment to saving all species is not at all secure.)

What bothered me about the man’s statement though, was not even so much the statement itself, but more the attitude by which it was given.  The man seemed almost proud of the fact that he didn’t care about a small fish in the river.

Which brings me to say what I have to say in this post.  As I’ve written all these posts – many of them about saving wildlife – I have tried to argue in nature’s favor and to be some kind of advocate.  But what I have really been doing, I think, as I look over what I have written, has been trying to counter prejudice.  Prejudice.  The man and others I’ve encountered, who are so ready to cause a species’ extinction as soon as saving that species costs us something, are really prejudiced.  They accord nature a very small value (especially in comparison with other values) in the same way that people in prior centuries accorded small values to other races or to women.  In a way, nature is the last bastion for the prejudicial.

And, as it is with racial or gender prejudice, you tend to find “nature prejudice” close at hand.  Many times, when my dad was still alive, as I went out to do a nature hike or work with the local prairie project, he would say something like – “Going out to see your weeds, again, huh?”  My dad thought of the plants I was trying to save as “weeds.” 

For a long while, I’ve been trying to write a post about endangered species that would take into account some of this resistance to the idea of “natural values.”  In it I would put forward – without identifying – real endangered species cases.  I would describe the case and then allow the reader to decide what, if any, action should be taken to save the species.  An example would be the wolves of Yellowstone Park.  Of course, I would not tell the reader that I was writing about the wolves of Yellowstone Park.  I would say something like – “A carnivorous species which could be a danger to man and domestic animals.  Even small children might be in some danger at times from these predators.  Would you – a) restore them to all areas where they used to reside, b) shoot them on site if they leave the park, c) do not reintroduce them at all?” etc.  By leaving the door open a little, we would find out where we really stand with respect to saving our species.  Each of us, ourselves, would find out how committed or uncommitted he or she is.  And that would maybe make a good beginning.  Because it is each of us, participating in this democracy, who have the right to say what gets saved and what doesn’t.  Inevitably, it all comes down to a vote, if not for candidates, then by our collective political actions like protesting or writing letters.

I have to admit though, not even having written my post, that my mind is pretty much made up already.  I am committed to seeing every present species of plant and animal continue into the future.  That might still mean that, try as we might to save all species, that some may go extinct anyway.  This is already happening.  But I’m convinced that it is our job and our responsibility to do the best we can.  We are the ones who are responsible.  We are the ones who are supposed to be intelligent.  It is up to us to adapt, not the ecosystem.

I have not written that post yet, but if I do I would hope only that more and more people would see the value of nature and become committed to it.  I think it is liberating, finally, to come to that place of believing that life is sacred and valuable, and to know that that is the value you choose.

*****

P.S. – If you think about it philosophically (or scientifically), that little fish in the river belongs to a chain of organisms going back to the beginning of life on this planet.  It is part of a lineage of living things that goes back unbroken to the origins of life about four billion years ago – just like every other living thing.  If you think of it that way, small though it is, it has just as much a right to be here as we do.  What an awesome thing it is that we have all this nature around us having survived for so long.  And what a fearful thing it should be to us to destroy any of it.

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