People or Penguins

Victor Wong We, human beings, as any other living being, do need natural resources in order to live. However, currently, we are overexploiting the resources we have available in a very irresponsible way, which creates a huge damage to the ecosystem that is hard to heal. The modern world is demanding more and more resources to satisfy our needs. It is clear that, in order to satisfy the increasing demand, more resources need to be harvested from the nature. If we look at the economical numbers for each industry today, we will see that, in many cases, production has been increasing exponentially in the last years. Nevertheless, this fast-pace growth is more harmful to the environment we live in than many of us would have expected; especially because the negative impact is not correctly measured or taken into account by the industry. Nature cannot recover itself from the damage as fast as increment of the production rate. William F. Baxter in his article “People or Penguins” mentions that, according to some scientists, the use of DDT in food production is causing damage to the penguin population. However, this argument does not follow his people-oriented-criteria, which are:
1. Every person should be free to do whatever he wishes in contexts where

his actions do not interfere with the interests of other human beings.
2. Waste is a bad thing, so no resources should be wasted.

3. Every human being should be regarded as an end rather than as a means to be used for the betterment of another.
4. Both the incentive and the opportunity to improve his share of satisfactions

should be preserved to every individual. Following Baxter’s criteria, environmental problems should be peopleoriented. Hence, he has no interest in preserving penguins for their own sake. His way of thinking is, indeed, selfish. But he also offers several reasons that support his position and why he rejects the proposition that we ought to respect the “balance of nature” or to “preserve the environment” unless the reason for doing so is the benefit of man. Baxter continues that the first and most fundamental step toward solution of our environmental problems is a clear recognition that our objective is not pure air or water but rather some optimal state of pollution. Additionally, the costs of controlling pollution are best expressed in terms of the other goods we will have to give up to do the job. Once the trade-off relationship is clearly perceived, it is possible to state in a very general way what the optimal level of pollution is. It is true that all decisions regarding the environment that we make should be good for human beings and favor their wellbeing. It is true that there is always a trade-off in all our decisions; because, in order to get something, something of equal value should be given in return. I also agree that no resources should be wasted. However, in my opinion, Baxter’s arguments are too radical. I consider his trade-off approach too human-centered, which could be considered as a win-

lose situation, where humans always win and nature always loses. Such a thing as “optimal pollution” is only accepting that the planet is to be polluted anyways. I believe that it is possible to develop sustainable growth models that favor both human beings and nature. Otherwise, scarce resources will disappear from the face of the earth in no time, as many flora and fauna specimens already disappeared due to human negligence. Wild life extinction rate has skyrocketed to alarming levels in recent years, and if the trend continues, human beings are in danger of disappearing from Earth too! Nature destruction in the name of modernization, development, and progress has created a hell on earth in many locations in the world. Places that used to be full of life are today just abandoned places where you can smell death everywhere. The hand of the man is very powerful. He is the only animal in the world capable of destroying his own home. That is why today we face huge problems related to air pollution, water pollution, greenhouse gases emissions, acid rain, etc. Just take a look at the history of the last 100 years and count how many nuclear weapons have been developed and used. I do think that governments should enforce and pass regulations so that their natural resources are protected, and their use, well-administered. Failing to do so, leads to irreversible consequences to Mother Nature. On the short or longrun, not only nature but also human beings would be affected. While writing this essay, I cannot help but think about my own country: Peru. It has one of the most diverse flora and fauna in the whole world due to its

very diverse climate; it has 28 out of the 32 types of climates in the world. However, the lack of planning and knowledge of the politicians, plus the reigning corruption in the country played a very negative role in the economic situation. As Don Antonio Raimondi, an Italian researcher that made of Peru his second home, stated by the end of the 19th century: “Peru is a beggar sitting on a bench of gold.” There are plenty of natural resources available, but they are not well used. Fortunately for the Peruvians, the situation started to change in the last decade, and nowadays Peru has a solid and steady economical growth. But its economical model is based on extraction and exportation of raw material and minerals. I wonder what the country would do when there were not more minerals to extract. I know that that day is still too far to come, but it is real possibility that may happen some day in the future. Nonetheless, I can give some practical examples of how the Peruvian government is managing the country’s natural resources. For instance, Peru has one of the richest seas in the world. In order to protect the sea life from indiscriminate extraction, the government has passed laws to establish certain periods of extraction for the most extracted fishes. In this way, it is warranting the reproduction period for the marine fauna, warranting the future availability of the marine resources, creating a sustainable resource-extraction model and punishing any attempt to practice illegal fishing. Another example is that the government designated Natural Protected Areas to protect the country’s unique wild life. In these areas we can find one of the biggest tropical forests in the world. Currently, with its 66 million acres of

forests, it accounts as the second biggest in Latin America and the fourth biggest in the world. These forests are very important to capture the greenhouse gases. 1 Nevertheless, the biodiversity of these Natural Protected Areas also suffers from the illegal felling of trees and illegal hunting, which resulted in many endangered species. If we consider Baxter’s reasoning, those endangered species don’t matter at all because they do not fit in his four criteria, and their presence or absence does not affect human beings at all. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the food chain will be affected if those endangered species definitely disappear from the face of the earth. Furthermore, the natural life cycle will be also affected, which in turn, will affect human beings at some point. Another case comes from Brazil. Currently, Brazil has the biggest natural reserve in the continent and, perhaps, the biggest in the world. However, the country has been destroying forests because more lands were needed to produce biodiesels. It is true that, by producing biodiesels, the use of oil would decrease and the pollution level in the world may decrease. But, on the other hand, everything is not as nice as it sounds since there are also disadvantages. The prices of food increased due to fear of food shortages in the world. Moreover, the size of the rain forest is also decreasing as more lands for biodiesels are needed. Personally, I think this case presents a quite interesting situation in which we can see a clear trade-off. Baxter would have chosen what Brazil is doing right now because its implementation is good for the people and

consequently is also good for the environment. Biodiesels are good for people because they are cheaper than oil. Moreover, biodiesels are also good for the environment because they generate an acceptable level of pollution as they pollute less than oil. To conclude, regardless if I, you, or whoever else, agree with Baxter or not, I feel that the best way to address pollution issues in the world is the way that creates a win-win situation in which both human beings and environment are benefited. I believe in sustainable economical growth by using wisely the natural resources each country has. If we take something from nature, we should give something in return so that nature can continue giving us what we need. For example, I remember that, when I was a kid, my primary school teachers used to say: “For each tree you cut down, you should plant two trees.” Therefore, I took part in a school program to reforest some hills with the seeds of the custards my classmates and I consumed at home. Each custard fruit had many seeds inside, and each seed turned into a big tree years later. This was my contribution to Mother Nature for the things she gave me. Finally, on April 2 nd, 2009, I went to a concert where, at some point, the band’s singer gave us a good reason to protect the environment: “If you screw with nature, nature will screw with you!”

Contact Information: Víctor Wong Twitter: @kblitz83

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