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Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895)

Your local daily is urging the preservation and care of a Cape Cod behemoth. It is not Senator Kennedy.

Rather, they are concerned about the passing of the remaining 300 right whales. This is a three part story with snappy graphics and pull-out posters for science classes, and will doubtless be featured on the Times web site until it garners them a prize (a link provided here). What caught Porcupine’s attention was a line in an editorial supporting the story they had chosen to devote three days to:

One thing is clear. The government alone cannot save the right whale; industry, nonprofit environmental groups, and individuals must all help save this species.

The imperative tone is interesting. We hear similar exhortations about piping plovers, various insects, and other flora and fauna. Every prospect pleases, and only Man is vile, causing the loss of habitat, food, and context for these varied creatures. Yet species have gone extinct for millions of years . Europe was once covered with woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, enormous bears – all falling into extinction long before Homo sapiens walked the earth. In fact, most animals that ever lived are extinct. Why, then, is something that might be regarded as normal evolutionary dropping off presented as something to be fought?

Every year, we read of the Kemp-Ridley turtles, stunned with cold and too foolish to swim south in a timely fashion. Every year, at great expense, we ferry them south in planes to winter in warmer waters, only to repeat the process the next year. Why are we meddling like this? Isn’t this exactly the kind of intrusive behaviour that we condemn in our species? Why is it proper to save the turtle, but wrong to disturb a plover egg? Aren’t both a human intrusion? Porcupine will not even go into the various viruses and diseases which have been systematically eradicated, at unknown consequence to our ecosystem. We view some animals as special, and others as pests with little thought as to what their overall place in Nature might be.

Porcupine admits that he comes from a time when Man was regarded as a Steward for the Lord, with unquestioned dominance over creation. Yet, I was not unsympathetic to the proposition that we needed to preserve our environment, and my book, Rural Rides, is widely considered to be one of the original writings of environmental sensibility. Still, I would never have considered a meadow or spinney as anything other than something for people to enjoy, not a cause to be embraced – hang the expense! – by changing laws and regulations. Is any thought given to cost versus benefit? Are ultimate consequences of changing practices thought out, or are we inviting another coyote crisis by protecting creatures with no natural predators? (Porcupine would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that hunting season for coyotes begins on Nov. 1st and lasts until Feb. 28th – remember, the Lord helps those who help themselves).

We saved the eagle; we can save the right whale, writes the Times. What is not so certain is if we should.


Blogger Doug said...

Agreed. Costs and benefits are always consequences and should always be considered. What's plover taste like?

6:53 PM  

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