Martin Livermore – an independent consultant with a background in industry, covering a range of science, communication and policy issues – might have been talking about people like me when he wrote this essay for the BBC’s Green Room.
In it, he asks the question, should we not think about humankind first before trying to save other species? So he thinks we are worrying too much about nature and other lifeforms and not worried about our own. He believes we have become too zealous in treading the green path.
He argues that:
“Admittedly, a few key evolutionary advantages make us [humankind] remarkably adaptable and, currently, the ultimate generalist; but it still makes us part of Nature, and our use of human ingenuity is every bit as natural as a spider’s web or a swallow’s migratory pattern.”
This is a point which many use to argue the anthropocentric viewpoint, one that I think is flawed. Let me be postmodernist and argue from within his article.
Mr Livermore gave the example of the conservation efforts for the bison population in Yellowstone by culling wolves. He calls this effort misguided because it led to a bison overpopulation crisis which then caused even more problems. In the end, the wolf culling was stopped in order to bring back a balance to the system. And he is right. The conservationists were going about problem the wrong way.
But has he not here argued a case for nonintervention, rather than one that says conservation is bad? And is it not ironic that it is through human intervention that the human population is where it is today? We are “culling our wolves” to get the human population at its level, through medicine, technology and other means. In other words, we are as foolish as those bison conservationists just mentioned when it comes to human conservation.
And as Mr Livermore has shown we do need the wolves to bring back a balance. The difference is whereas bisons have their wolves to keep them in check the humankind does not – not yet. Like a pendulum the environment will eventually bring things back into balance. It is just that “our predator” has not yet come.
And as for value judgments, yes, who is to say a dormouse is better than a rat… or that a man is better than a dormouse. At the risk of sounding postmodern Mr Livermore has actually sounded modern, in all its negative sense. He has mistakenly understood postmodernism to mean we can no longer hold on to values, when actually postmodern means we must hold on to many values, but none can be the absolutely correct one.
Yes, we are part of nature, as he pointed out, and so may human ingenuity. But so is human shortsightedness and arrogance. And ironically, so is our ability to see beyond tomorrow or this generation. It is possible to view nature in a different way. People, like Mr Livermore, just need to realize that there is not only one pair of rose tinted glasses, but many.