People or Penguins?

IMG_8903In “People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution,” William F. Baxter uses an argumentative tone to prove to the reader that it is appropriate for us to take care of the environment, when doing so is in our best interest. Baxter is misguided is his philosophical approach because his argument fails to consider that every animal has a specific role in the environment that works to benefit other animals in the food chain. Regardless of how insignificant a single species may seem, these innocent beings are of the natural world and must continue in their right to existence. They may not provide any commercial profit to the community, or any benefit at all for man, but they have a biotic entitlement to live because preserving each and every animal proves to be ethical.

Baxter argues from an anthropocentric approach that society should view the way we treat the environment as a compromise with an ultimate intent to advocate human prosperity. He begins his essay by providing four specific reasons for his anthropocentric preference. These reasons only serve as a principle for influencing solutions to issues that pertain to human organization. Although he makes excellent claims, I cannot agree with him completely. His four goals only work to benefit humans and completely leave out the rights that animals have to live. I am not persuaded by his claims because I maintain that the anthropocentric approach must be rejected. I feel that it completely delineates responsibility that humans have to preserve every animal in the environment and claims that the only thing that obtains a direct moral standing are humans. This undoubtedly juxtaposes my ecocentristic view that all factors, living or nonliving, obtain a direct moral standing. Animals, of all kinds, should be held at such a high value in the philosophical sense, that our society is no longer ecologically blinded by their importance that they provide to the entire ecosystem.

Baxter provides penguins as an example and how scientific research has proven that DDT, in the manufacturing of foods, is resulting in harm towards the penguin community. He claims, “my observations about environmental problems will be people-oriented, as are my criteria. I have no interest in preserving penguins for their own sake” (695). He provides many key elements that work to support his argument and why he dismisses the idea that society should “respect the “balance of nature” or to “preserve the environment” (696) unless man can be benefitted from it. However, from my point of view, Baxter’s position is too far-reaching. His essay is much too human-centered in that he concentrates too much on the feelings of people and not so much on those of animals. Just because something seems small, does not mean that it is unable to experience some of the same emotions that we experience. Look at dogs, for example. They express a multitude of emotions. When they’re excited about something they tend to wag their tails or jump up and down and sometimes they even run around in circles. When they’re upset or in pain they tuck their heads down or whimper. Even when they sense danger they grit their teeth and growl. This example indirectly implies that animals have emotions and can feel pain in the same ways that we can.

Penguins are not just important because children enjoy watching them aimlessly run around zoos. They are also not important because they are cute little waddling critters that look funny when they eat. They are important because they serve as excellent sources of food for orcas and seals. Predators would be absolutely distressed if the penguin population was wiped out. They also work to eat sardines, which ultimately prevents them from over-populating the earth. Morally speaking, penguins and all living things are intrinsically valuable because they are all part of the natural world. It is important for us to realize that the balance of nature is delicate and upsetting the balance could be detrimental to several other species down the chain. Although some animals may seem like they don’t play much of a role in the environment, every animal has a specific part in fulfilling the biota. Conserving all species of the environment- from algae and bacteria to the uppermost predators- is of exceptional importance. The death of any particular species would undoubtedly be a significant loss to the planet as a whole.

In my opinion, Baxter is revealing faulty reasoning. He fails to note that there is an underlying “pyramid,” something that is understood in nature rather than visually seen on a daily basis. He does not seem to notice how the pyramid begins with the soil and works its way up to the carnivorous species. The interconnections of the food chain and its operation rely solely on the collaboration and rivalry of all its various functions. While the “pyramid” appears to be disorderly, the actual stability of the “pyramid” confirms to be an incredibly organized system. Nature experiences the “circle of life” every day and is organized so that a perfect process occurs.

Society cannot be like Baxter and claim that penguins, or any other animal for that matter, are trivial unless they benefit man. If we allow ourselves to think this way, we are confusing ourselves about how living things were designed to be treated in the first place. One of the greatest weaknesses in any animal conservation network is that most animal populations have an absent beneficial worth. Over the last few decades, the global extinction rates for wildlife have drastically increased and they will only get worse if society continues to follow Baxter’s approach in having a lack of concern for preserving certain animals simply for their own good. He states that many things that benefit flora and fauna also benefit humans. I can agree with that statement, however, living things do have an intrinsic value within themselves. Baxter claims, “if polar bears or pine trees or penguins, like men, are to be regarded as ends rather than means, if they are to count in our calculus of social organization, someone must tell me how much each one counts” (696). It is obvious that humans and their interests should always come first because that is how this world was created, but taking care of all living things is intrinsically the right thing to do.

Undoubtedly, all animals should be treated respectfully and deserve the right to live. Preserving something, no matter how big or small, that cannot speak for itself proves to be ethical in the biota. We as humans have dominion over this earth, however, it is our responsibility to look after and nurture all the natural elements of the world.



One thought on “People or Penguins?

  1. Interesting piece! Here’s a thinker for you, if there is a creature or bacteria or whatever that can likely destroy a huge chunk of the human population but is necessary for the preservationof an endangered species/environment, should we try to eradicate it?


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