Why Do We Have to Protect the Environment?
What are we doing wrong? Mostly the problem is destruction of habitat by:
What are some of the consequences?
People don't like to be ridiculed as "environmental wackos" or "tree huggers." But it is important to care about the environment. Thoughtful people can care about the environment and at the same time see the need to exploit or use nature for resources to satisfy the needs of our species.
The human species needs food and water. We need energy. But we also need to protect the ecosystem niches that make survival of our species possible. Beyond that, we need to protect the niches for other species too. Why do niches need protection?
We humans are doing well as a species (see graph below). But our success comes at the expense of other species. The United Nations World Conservation Monitoring Center predicts that 25% of all the earth's species of mammals may become extinct in the next 30 years. Over 10% of the bird species face extinction in that time.
Environmentalism and Politics
Many people in the world like to blame industrialized nations, especially the United States, for destroying world ecosystems. It is true that industrialized countries create much of the air pollution. But the problem will not be cured by treaties that punish American companies for air pollution when competing companies in other countries are exempt from regulation.
The really frightening prospect is the rapid pace of industrialization in many Third World countries where unregulated industries expand to serve the growth of the already huge populations. China has 1.2 billion people. India has about 1 billion people. What will world pollution be like when countries like these become fully industrialized and modernized?
People who wish to protect the environment often become politically active. They may come to believe that animals, and even plants, have "rights." What do you think?
The idea of "rights" originally came from perceived inequalities in power and privilege among humans. "Rights" are something we United States citizens have to pursue "life, liberty, and happiness."
To extend the idea of rights across species quickly creates problems for ecosystems. Does the wolf have a right to kill sheep? Or do sheep have a right to be protected from predators? Does any species have a right to use Nature's resources to perpetuate itself as a species? Does a species have a right to destroy niches of other species in the process of exploiting nature for survival of the species? And if we could agree on any of these rights, we must answer the question, "Who issued these rights?"
To argue in the political terms of "rights" misses the point about how Nature's ecosystems work. Competition between and within species is not only natural but necessary for ecosystems to function well. Competition and exercise of power becomes a problem only when it is so destructive that an ecosystem itself becomes threatened. Because humans have the greatest power to damage ecosystems, humans also have the greatest duty to protect ecosystems.