by Whit Gibbons
May 5, 2003
I once wrote a column based on a discussion with a friend, Yale Leiden,
about different attitudes toward wildlife. Environmental responses can
be sorted into nine categories. Knowing that people's basic views can
differ dramatically from each other is instructive in understanding
why some environmental issues are so difficult to resolve. My example
was based on a stranded whale.
Imagine walking out to get your newspaper one morning and finding a
live whale stranded in shallow water near the porch. For this to happen,
you would of course have to live on the coast, with water close by your
front door. Assuming those things to be true, how would you feel about
the stranded whale?
The first natural response would be surprise. (If not, then you have
led a different life from the rest of us and should turn to another
section of the newspaper.) But after the surprise, how would you feel?
Divergent views about wildlife lead to many environmental conflicts
because no single sentiment is necessarily right to the exclusion of
the others. A further complication is that most people's response is
usually a combination of two or more attitudes. In addition, the same
individual might respond differently at different times. Following are
the nine wildlife attitudes:
1. Humanistic--a nurturing response is common especially toward large
charismatic wildlife like whales. The humanist would seek help to move
the beast back into the ocean and save its life. This attitude conflicts
with some of the others.
2. Scientific--this characterizes someone who wants to study the creature,
to find out things about it. The true scientist is objective and impartial.
Why is the whale stranded? Does it have an inner ear parasite that caused
disorientation? Perhaps we should dissect it.
3. Environmental or ecological--the animal is viewed as having its place
in nature as a species but the individual whale is of less significance.
Some ecologists might even think if this whale was dumb enough to beach
itself, it will be better for the species if its genes are not passed
on. Concern would focus on whether something is causing a die-off of
whales in general.
4. Aesthetic or artistic--having such a magnificent animal in your front
yard could be a pleasurable experience. A few photographs or an oil
painting would be appropriate. When it died, a poem might be in order.
5. Utilitarian--what good is it to me and how can I take advantage of
this newfound commodity? Perhaps charge the scientists to study it and
the artists to photograph it. On a broader scale, could a whale's body
harbor a cure for cancer?
6. Hunting--wildlife is to be pursued for sport and sustenance, to practice
ancient skills in the struggle of man against beast. The hunting instinct
might come into play if the whale began
escaping into deeper waters. The true hunter might want to herd it back,
capture it, and then maybe let it go.
7. Annoyance--a common emotion for almost everyone is that in some situations
wildlife can be a nuisance. Who enjoys providing blood for mosquitoes
and ticks, or wants raccoons in their garbage? But for some people,
almost all wildlife is annoying, and such could be the reaction upon
finding a 50-ton whale in the front yard. They would call the wildlife
department to remove it, not for humanitarian reasons, but because it
was a nuisance.
8. Management--some people want to manipulate, control, and manage all
aspects of their environment. The consummate manager would probably
want to take measures to ensure that whales could no longer do this
stranding thing to themselves, because no one is in charge and it annoys
9. Indifference--this attitude toward wildlife and environmental issues
is common although it would seem an unlikely response to finding a stranded
whale in one's front yard.
A stranded whale isn't an everyday occurrence, even if you live near
the ocean. But the example serves to highlight the complexity of environmental
attitudes. One charitable line of thought is that we should accept the
views of others, even when we disagree with them. This is not always
easy when someone's views are directly opposed to ours--but it's something
to strive for.
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