by Whit Gibbons

October 26, 2008

I get lots of emails about the environment. Most have questions pertaining to the ecology of plants and animals. Many have digital photos asking for species identification. Some want to know how to obtain a certain kind of animal as a pet or how to get rid of a pest. Occasionally I get emails expressing opinions, often opinions different from my own. The following is an actual email I received. And to be sure, the writer's opinion is contrary to my own.

I knew I was not to be complimented when the subject line read, "You Are So Wrong." I read on, wanting to know just how wrong I was. The first paragraph set the tone: "We are the dominant species on this planet, since by virtue of our knowledge, physical abilities, resources, and inventions, we have the ability to kill any other species. Following nature's laws, we have the absolute right to eliminate anything and everything that endangers us and our way of life."

Wow. Hard to know how to respond to that kind of attitude. But let's start with the last sentence. One interpretation is that if my "way of life" includes going fishing in a local stream on weekends, and I find that an upstream factory has begun to pollute the stream and kill the fish, I could "eliminate" the factory. In fact, I would have "the absolute right" to eliminate anything that interfered with my fishing.

Continuing with the eliminate anything-that-annoys-you theme, the email stated, "I would sincerely wish to see the total elimination of the following; bears, sharks, tigers, . . . badgers, stingrays, octopi, . . . eels, Komodo dragons, barracudas, piranhas, rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, swordfish, porcupines, . . . sea urchins, roaches, scorpions and any other creatures I might have missed that can and have caused the maiming and/or outright deaths of humans." The full list included 36 kinds of animals. Admittedly, some of the species could harm a human, but who can remember their last fight with a swordfish or a badger? Also, one species not in the list maims and kills more people every year than all other animals put together: human beings.

The message continued: "We should eliminate all these creatures listed above that reside in zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries. Think of all the land wasted on wildlife preserves that could instead be used for habitation by humans, and for drilling or mining. Not to mention the massive amount of wood being wasted because we can't cut down forests for fear of displacing animals that would rip our throats out if given a chance." I guess you could go one step further with this line of logic by considering how much we would save on gas by no longer having zoos, aquariums, and national parks to visit. A trip to a clear-cut forest or mining operation doesn't have the same appeal as an outing to a nature preserve. Oh yeah, you can also save money by eliminating birdseed from your budget. There won't be any birds around to eat it.

The writer addressed the collateral damage to other species (the nonmaiming kind) by saying, "If we get rid of the dangerous creatures, the system will balance itself out just fine. It's a self-adjusting system. If too many of certain species are produced because those that formerly preyed upon them are gone, the extras will be eaten by less dangerous creatures, or they will starve to death because of overpopulation. Either way, it balances itself out and, besides, it's not my problem. My problem is continuing to have humans put at risk for little to no gain. These anti-human creatures have far overstayed their welcome. It's time for them to go. I want them to die! If I had my way, all these creatures I mentioned would be erased from the planet, starting today. It's OUR planet. Period."

Though I knew such attitudes were out there, I don't often hear them expressed. Trying to frame a persuasive response is futile. So I merely sent a one-line reply to the email: "How could anyone possibly argue with you about the points you make?"

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