Chapter five in our textbook is about environmental ethics, and it includes a wide range of topics that can be related to polar bears. Some of these topics include anthropocentrism, dominion thesis, stewardship, ecology, preservation, ecocentrism, moral extensionism, holism, and intrinsic value. These terms differ in meaning, but they can all be related to one “big picture” question; should humans care about the wellbeing of other animals? This question has been the topic of intense debate for many years. Now more than ever the ethical treatment of animals, including polar bears, is considered by many to be one of the most critical issues on our planet.
According to the textbook environmental ethics is a new extension of ethics, which is the question of what is right or wrong (Robbins). This concept puts nature and all its inhabitants at the forefront of debates on morality. Polar bears are no exception to this, as we have discussed in previous blog postings. In recent decades, the public outcry for saving the polar bears has grown tremendously. Their species is in grave danger due to climate change, and there is overwhelming evidence that humans are causing climate change. Humans must decide if they should act or not. It is true that human concern for polar bears has grown in recent years. However, there has not been any improvement when it comes to saving the habit of polar bears. Why is this?
Basically, every aspect of human life is a detriment to the planet, including what we eat, what we buy, and how we travel. It is not just the issue of what we are doing, but the rate at which we are doing it. All of these things are related to climate change, which is the direct cause of the troubles that polar bears are currently facing. So, in order to save the polar bears humans would have to change their way of life. We would have to start consuming less, and making a conscious effort to bring restoration to the polar bear’s way of life. This may sound like an easy fix, but it is not. Many people do not feel like they should have to alter their way of life in any way for the sake of other creatures. In fact, one could argue that most people feel like they are superior to other animals. This idea of human superiority has been imbedded into our way of life for centuries and has caused a great separation between us and the animals that we share this planet with.
Dominion Thesis, which was introduced in the Old Testament, states that “humans are granted ethical free reign to use nature in any way deemed beneficial”. Clearly, this is what the human species is living by. Humans view themselves as superior to all other living creatures, so it is only right that humans use the earth as they please. But what about the other creatures living on this planet? How do our actions affect them? For polar bears human superiority has caused them nothing but trouble. Putting Dominion Thesis into practice is literally destroying their way of life, and causing their population to dwindle. There are those who believe that since humans are superior, the lives of polar bears should not matter to us. However, one could argue that our superiority is the exact reason that we should be doing something. If humans claim ownership over earth, shouldn’t we feel obligated to make sure that all its inhabitants are thriving? The Bible discusses this concept, human stewardship towards nature. The book defines this concept as “taking responsibility for the property or fate of others… caring for creation.”
Chapter five also discusses a topic like stewardship, called moral extensionism. This is concept gives moral standing to things that traditionally do not have moral standing, like polar bears. This concept puts polar bears in the discussion about the effects of climate change. This concept also comes into play when deciding if a killing of a certain animal is considered “murder”. All humans can agree that murder is wrong, but kill certain animals anyway as a means of either entertainment or food. This can be applied to polar bears as well. Polar bears are hunted for food or for their fur. However, some people see polar bears as beautiful creatures that have feelings and should not be hunted. Native Arctic communities see polar bears as creatures that are an “essential part of culture and economy”. However, human expansion has deemed polar bears to be “harmful, ruthless killers” (Hickman). Native communities use the polar bears in symbolic nature, with value, and see them as a central figure in their ecosystem (Hickman). Natives use a utilitarian viewpoint and base the bears value off their usefulness to humans. With human expansion, bears are often viewed as violent and are used for commercial hunting. Their viewpoint is anthropocentrism where the importance is to protect human lives and safety (Hickman).
Conservation is the concept that humans should not have any impact on the environment or ecosystem. In this way of thinking, humans must conserve the environment the best they can to what the ecosystem was before humans. Things must be as natural as they can be. In order to save some polar bears, zoos have taken them in and make sure they are taken care of and sustained (Hickman). Zoos see bears as something with intrinsic value and use animal liberation to sustain them by putting them in man-made enclosures. Zoos are man-made and should not be considered conservation. However, some zoos try to preserve the natural habitat and make bears feel like they are in the arctic the best they can. This is done to sustain life for the polar bears. Zoo’s seem to be more preservation than conservation. Preservation is the concept that ecosystems should be preserved, but used for human needs. Humans are okay to change an ecosystem, but must preserve it where it is both beneficial for them and the ecosystem. This is what zoos accomplish; providing a habitat for the bears that humans can also find enjoyment from.
Chapter five also discusses something known as “intrinsic value”, which explains how nature and all of its parts are valuable in and of themselves. There is value in the existence of the polar bear and its surrounding ecosystem that has absolutely nothing to do with humans and how we could potentially benefit from said existence. The thought that nature has value only when it benefits humans is extremely problematic, and has led to exploitation of the earth and the beings who inhabit it. Colonialists used this thought process to defend the subjugation and oppression of entire cultures and peoples, explorers used it to over consume resources and destroy ecosystems in far off places where they would not have to suffer the consequences. Humans have ignored the intrinsic value of nature and even other humans for centuries. In order to successfully prevent the further destruction of polar bears and their ecosystems, along with many other species all over the world, we must come to recognize that they have intrinsic value unrelated to our wants and needs.
Hickman, Jenn. “The Arctic Threat: Polar Bears.” Prezi.com. N.p., 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. Environment and Society: A Critical Inroduction. Vol. 2. N.p.: Blackwell, 2014. Print.