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According to this article, we need biodiversity to keep our air clean and our drinking water pure. Moreover, many micro-organisms are needed to provide us with food through pollination and fertilization, plants are needed to prevent erosion and so on.

The earlier article goes on to say that "While extinction is a natural function of life, this is the first time humans are being confronted with species loss at rates that are 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than what is considered the natural rate."

And, the solution they say is to reduce our carbon foot print, not purchase products derived from endangered animals, eat less meat so that the lands that feed livestock can be instead used to grow crops, which will feed "an additional billion people."

Given the life-sustaining properties of all of this plant and animal life, what is the proper role of the government, and what is our role in fixing this issue?

asked Jun 20 '15 at 17:45

user890's gravatar image


The headline question asks "Should we care about biodiversity?" This is not a question that has anything to do with Objectivism. In fact, depending on what is meant by "we" it could even be argued that the question itself is based on the principles of collectivism.

Personally, I don't care about biodiversity, and I didn't see anything in that article which you linked which suggests that I should start caring about it. But that's just me personally. If I were in a different line of work, or if I had a different set of knowledge, or maybe even if I were 20 years younger, maybe I would or should

(Jun 20 '15 at 21:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The question also asks, at the end, what the proper role of the government is, "[g]iven the life-sustaining properties of all this plant and animal life."

The answer to this question is that the proper role of the government is to protect property rights (in "all this plant and animal life" and in all other property).

(Jun 20 '15 at 21:12) anthony anthony's gravatar image

There are a number of issues here. First, we can't say what extinction rates in the past were precisely--taphonomy means we are looking at different datasets in the fossil record and modern biology. Second, it's pretty well proven that most of human history has been within an extinction event (it started 12ka). More significantly, the question is how we evaluate biodiversity. There is an irrational refusal to accept crops, pets, and other human-caused diversity as new species. See Peter Ward's "Future Evolution" for more details.

(Aug 10 '15 at 11:09) James James's gravatar image

While it is true that the biosphere requires a certain diversity to operate, the exact paarameters of this are, shockingly, still unknown. Simply put we do not know how long-term stable ecosystems (those between mass extinctions) operate, because we've never SEEN one. Studies of predator dental wear show that even in "untouched" ecosystems there are fewer predators than there should be (less dental wear). Therefore these statements are, from a scientific standpoint, premature to say the least. Irresponsible is not an unwarranted descriptor.

(Aug 10 '15 at 11:11) James James's gravatar image
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The "biodiversity" claim described in this question is just one of a whole complex of claims by which environmentalists attack industrial-technological civilization and human life. They are not defenders of human life and well-being at all, but haters of it, seeking instead to achieve a pristine planet completely untouched by man (which makes man's continued existence impossible, except perhaps for some widely scattered, perilously primitive, very sparsely populated villages, and implied mass executions of everyone else, or at least wishing for a devastating virus to come along to exterminate most of the human species).

For further discussion, refer to an excellent book just published last year, titled, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein. The book emphasizes throughout that the only objective standard of value for man is man's life, not nature untouched by man. For example, p. 173 discusses "biodiversity" as follows (underline emphasis added):

If you love enjoying nature, you should love fossil fuels [because they allow you to travel into nature with the means to live in it semi-primitively, temporarily and safely, and to develop it minimally for man's access and benefit].

The same basic logic applies to more abstract concerns about "biodiversity" and species extinction. There are huge debates in the ecology literature about what is happening or not happening to what species ... but I can say that from an energy perspective, to the extent it makes sense to preserve a given species or biological arrangement -- and such decisions should be made according to a human standard of value, not a nonhuman one -- cheap, plentiful, reliable energy gives us the means to do so just as we can preserve a desirable forest or park....

Whether to actively preserve a species or not should be made with reference to a human standard of value. Much of the ecology field holds to the nonimpact standard, which treats another species' extinction as intrinsically wrong. But human beings are right to favor some species over others.... There is no inherent reason to think that the extinction of any given plant or animal is bad for humans. We should focus on maximizing our benefits. That can be the removal of a direct threat ... or the preservation of species that we want to survive....

For a wider overview of the Objectivist perspective on environmentalism, refer to the topic of "Ecology/Environmental Movement" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. The "pollution" issue, too, is often used as a form of environmentalist assault on industrial-technological civilization. It is similar to the "biodiversity" claims in its vague, misleading allusion to benefit or harm to man. Refer to the Lexicon topic of "Pollution" for further discussion of that issue.

Yet another excellent reference on environmentalism from an Objectivist perspective is the book, Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, edited and with an introduction and additional essays by Peter Schwartz. The overall conclusion expressed in this book is that environmentalism is not aimed at making the world a better place for man at all, but at the exact opposite: all out war on man and his industrialism, which the environmentalists regard as a "planetary disease." The Introduction explains:

Ayn Rand said that "even though the student rebellion [of the 1960s] has not aroused much public sympathy, the most ominous aspect of the situation is the fact that it has not met any ideological opposition," that it has shown "the road ahead is empty, with no intellectual barricades in sight" and that the "battle is to continue."

That battle is indeed continuing.

It is being waged today by two cultural movements virulently opposed to the advances -- material and intellectual -- created by Western civilization. One movement is environmentalism; the other, multiculturalism. Both seek to enshrine a new primitivism.

The Introduction summarizes what "primitive" means and then observes:

This is the state of mind to which the environmentalists want us to revert.

If primitive man regards the world as unknowable, how does he decide what to believe and how to act? Since such knowledge is not innate, where does primitive man turn for guidance? To his tribe. It is membersip in a collective that infuses such a person with his sole sense of identity. The tribe's edicts thus become his unquestioned absolutes, and the tribe's welfare becomes his fundamental value.

This is the state of mind to which the multiculturalists want us to revert.... Both environmentalism and multiculturalism wish to destroy the values of a rational, industrial age. Both are scions of the New Left, zealously carrying on its campaign of sacrificing progress to primitivism.

Just this past week, none other than the Pope of the Catholic Church has now joined with the environmentalists in a newly released Papal Encyclical, buttressed with extensive references to Biblical Scripture. For additional historical perspective, refer to the Epilogue in OPAR, titled, "The Duel between Plato and Aristotle."

Update: Collectivism vs. Individualism

A comment succinctly presents a false view of environmentalism's opponents, and offers a proposed rebuttal:

... we know which animals/ecosystems are important (and thus we can destroy if we like). Many times we see great breakthroughs in medicine and sciences with creatures formerly deemed "useless" for humanity.

Other comments have previously pointed out the collectivist nature of this perspective -- emphasizing "we" without specifying who "we" refers to, and presuming that individuals can and should be stopped from acting until "we" (whoever they might be) approve of it.

Objectivism, in contrast, points out that collectivism in any form is fundamentally anti-man. Collectivists, whether they are environmentalist or not, do not seek to uphold man's life qua man as their standard of value. They are man-destroyers, whether for the sake of pristine nature untouched by man, or for some mystical view of "society" or some other imagined "higher power." The political agenda of environmentalism should not be underestimated, despite how narrowly environmentalists may try to cloak themselves in an aura of deep concern for purportedly global "problems."

In a free society that upholds individual rights (man's freedom of action in a social context), all property is privately owned and managed. Some owners may choose to kill some animals and/or plants which they own, but generally only where there is a proven harm to man from those species (i.e., proven pests), or an identified value to be gained for man's life (such as food or medicine or simply secure living space). If a plant or animal proves to be of value for medicinal purposes, or just for food, the owners generally do not go around killing it arbitrarily; they act purposefully and selectively, for human benefit (their own and their trading partners'), particularly if they want to cultivate a species for its recurring value to man. Any owners who don't act that way suffer economic decline over time and become increasingly marginal in the larger economic picture. Laissez faire capitalism provides very strong financial incentives for property owners to utilize their property wisely, by the standard of man's life qua man. It is the absence of such a political-economic system that facilitates a culture of treating such resources as cheap rubbish.

America today, of course, is not a fully free society. The issue of how a mixed economy can transition to a fully free society, and why it ought to do so, is a separate discussion, which depends on a more widespread understanding of how man's life qua man depends on freedom and individual rights.

answered Jun 21 '15 at 12:37

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Nov 23 '15 at 22:23

This answer assumes that we know which animals/ecosystems are important (and thus we can destroy if we like). Many times we see great breakthroughs in medicine and sciences with creatures formerly deemed "useless" for humanity.

(Nov 22 '15 at 22:43) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Yes, a key part of Objectivist epistemology is that knowledge is possible.

(Nov 23 '15 at 16:00) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Looking back at that answer, I should add that what Objectivist epistemology says is that individual knowledge is possible. I read "we know which animals/ecosystems are important" as meaning that some people know which animals/ecosystems are important. If this was meant as some sort of collective "we" (maybe "we" meaning "the government"?), then no, groups don't "know" anything apart from the knowledge of the individual members of those groups.

(Dec 06 '15 at 08:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As a paleontologist, I have to say that we DON'T know what animals are important to ecosystems. It's an objective fact that no long-term stable ecosystem has been observed by biologists. They can't do so; the last one ended 12k years ago. At best, we have a vague idea of what some look like--and no idea what the Anthropocene will hold.

(Mar 03 at 22:51) James James's gravatar image
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Asked: Jun 20 '15 at 17:45

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Last updated: Mar 03 at 22:51