William F. Baxter (1975), in his People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution focuses his concept on limited environmentalism. William Baxter outlines that as humanists, we are obligated to promote and stand for the goodness of mankind. The basis of Baxter’s argument is the anthropocentric view : “We should not and have no moral obligation to preserve nature for its own sake, unless its preservation can yield greater human satisfaction. We should adhere to the foregoing statement as it corresponds to reality (what people really think), it does not portend any massive destruction, what is good for humans is good for nature, there is no other way to administer the system.” Therefore, the argument does not place any inner value on the environment or non-human beings.
In this regard the conclusion is: “we should not and have no moral obligation to preserve nature for its own sake, unless its preservation can yield greater human satisfaction.” The premises are “we should adhere to the foregoing statement as it corresponds to reality (what people really think), it does not portend any massive destruction, what is good for humans is good for nature, there is no other way to administer the system.”
Baxter justifies his argument with the help of four broad principles, which, in their turn, are also arguments we should verify. The first principle is a freedom criterion. The bottom line of the principle is that everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants unless their actions and misdemeanor do not interfere with other people’s interests.
The foregoing is a deductive argument, which can be regarded both valid and sound.
The second criterion is based upon the issue of waste and lies in the scarcity that is defined as a main feature of human existence. As there has always been and will be the scarcity of all resources for satisfaction of people’s needs, no resource should be wasted.
The third criterion states that we should regard every person as an end, not as a means. The argument here has a conclusion only. It is not justified with premises, therefore, cannot be regarded as an indisputable scientific fact.
The fourth principle is based upon the person’s right for opportunities and incentives that would allow improving his or her share of satisfaction. The principle also lifts the question of distribution of satisfactions.
Person should have rights for opportunities and incentives that would allow improving his or her share of satisfaction.
Person should have some minimal share of aggregate wealth to improve his or her situation.
To improve your situation you should have opportunities and incentives, as well as some minimal share of aggregate wealth.
The forth principle is weak and incoherent argument, as the second premise is false, since for one the possession of a minimal share of aggregate might not bring the change in situation.
The criteria William Baxter uses to frame solutions to problems have been analyzed. Among four principles, only the first one appears to be a strong argument, with no fallacies. This result undermines the general argument of the paper.
This paper further provides analysis of the main argument premises.
- The first premise: people really think there is no need to preserve nature.
The first premise fails to meet the criteria set as there is a number of environmental theories which state that the nature is worth being saved for its own sake. Moreover, William Baxter did not prove that all people really think there is no need to save the nature. Hence, either statistics or research should be provided in this context.
- The second premise: the nature’s preservation only if it benefits people does not predicts any massive destruction of non-human fauna and flora.
The second premise also fails, which is proved by a number of researches showing that people’s ignorance towards the environmental problems caused massive destruction.
- The third premise: what is good for people is in many ways good for nature.
The third premise might also be considered false; a number of researches testify that what is good for people is only in few ways good for nature. For example, use of various perfumes. It is doubtful whether the nature enjoys its ozone layer being depleted due to the damage the perfumes cause.
- The fourth premise: there is no other way to administer environmental policy.
The fourth premise was proved to be inconsistent, as there is the number of frameworks for environmental policies implementation based on different from Baxter’s views.
We have evaluated all the premises that justify the conclusion of the main Baxter’s argument in the essay. None of the premises has proved to be consistent. Therefore, it can be stated that William Baxter provided his readers with a weak inductive argument.
Additionally, Baxter outlines that human benefit is more important than any moral duty we have towards nature. However, here is a moral obligation we have to make our consumption of natural resources more efficient. We should act in accordance with principles of sustainability, which provide proper living conditions for the further generations.
Therefore, according to Baxter’s position on environmental policy, we should recognize that we need to save the nature. It is evident that people are not really interested in clean air, but rather in optimal level of pollution, which is established with the needs of humans only. According to Baxter, if a level of optimal air pollution does not come in terms with the level of air pollution admissible for survival of some kinds of birds, the latter will not be considered. Hence, William Baxter acknowledges the only system of trade-offs .
Having presented readers with the strategy for environmental policy, which is both universal and abstract enough, Baxter recognizes flaws in its implementation. Although, it is possible, it is still too hard to measure the amount of human satisfaction yielded by a type of goods or services, then compare both and find out the most important trigger of satisfaction. Unless a measurement process is utilized, Baxter understands that his proposition as inapplicable.
William Baxter is a representative of anthropocentrism, which is worldview that considers humans to be by far the most important chain in the world. Homo sapiens individual, technological and cultural skills are attribute that makes them different and special to the extent that no other species has achieved due to the development of different social systems and technologies that empowered people to intensely exploit and manage the environment. In accordance with anthropocentric environmental worldview, all biological and environmental resources should be fully appropriated with the aim of sustaining existence of mankind. Having analyzed the main argument of William Baxter book, we can see how precisely it corresponds with the principles of the anthropocentric environmental worldview.
Our counterargument is to be built upon the opposed environmental worldview, which is ecocentrism. Ecocentrism is a nature-centered system of values, which opposes the human-centered system referred to previously. The main representative of this school is Aldo Leopold. His thought on the issue of environment is stated in his book The Land Ethic (1948). Aldo Leopold denies the conventional way of viewing the nature in purely economic terms. Too often conservation is focused primarily on economically valuable natural resources, not paying attention to the others things and the interconnections between them which would consequently enable sustainable biological manufacturing of all the resources we use and need.
Another representative of ecocentrism is Stan Rowe. In his Ecocentrism: the Chord that Harmonizes Humans and Earth (1994) he states that the ecocentric argument is based on the belief that, if compare to the indisputable importance of the humans, the whole ecosphere is much more consequential and significant. It is more inclusive, integrated, beautiful, complex, mysterious and creative.
The anthropocentrism misperceives environment as a material to be used only by humans. However, in reality, environment serves the needs of humanity. Ecocentrism goes far beyond the biocentrism which is centered on organisms. In accordance with the ecocentrism, people are inseparable from organic/inorganic nature that surrounds and encapsulates them.
For Paul Taylor (1981), biocentrism is a deontological example. He states that each living creature, either it is a plant or an animal, is a “teleological-center-of-life” which has a well-being of its own can be damaged or enhanced. Paul Taylor argues that all teleological-centers-of life have equal intrinsic value (or “inherent worth”) that gives them the right for moral respect. Hence, humans should preserve and promote wellbeing of other species. Any practice which treats other beings as mere means and, therefore, displays insufficient respect for them is intrinsically wrong.
Here comes the counterargument: we should have a moral obligation to preserve nature for its own sake, as when one species is affected the other will also feel the effect; we are responsible for the state of the environment to the future generations. Doing contrariwise might lead to massive destruction.
Therefore, the conclusion one might come to is: we should and have moral obligation to preserve nature for its own sake. The counterarguments premises are “when one species is affected the other will also feel the effect, we are responsible for the state of environment to the future generations, doing contrariwise might lead to massive destruction, what is good for nature is good for human, it is the best way to administer the system.”
By testifying each premise, we will see how reasonable and sound the counterargument is. Together with each counterargument’s premise, the position of William Baxter is to be analyzed on each particular issue.
The first premise of the counterargument: when one species is affected the other will also feel the effect.
According to Aldo Leopold, we should adopt the ecological outlook. We should see the nature as a system of interconnected chains where all species are ecologically valuable. We are likely to never completely understand the true relation between things that enables all ecological systems to be sustained. Although, William Baxter stated that the only value of penguins is being watched and admired by people, Aldo Leopold, on the other hand, states that we might not fully understand the real value of penguins in the system of interconnected chains. Let us see how species are affected by one another on the example of rainforest. It is known that an increasing plant diversity alone, decomposing organisms and herbivores increases productivity. It has generally been found, that areas with greater biodiversity are to be higher productive. The areas with larger numbers of species have a bigger above-ground and below-ground plant biomass, and retained nutrients better than areas with fewer species. Usually, 50% reduction in biodiversity brings a 10% – 20% loss in productivity. The monocrop field productivity is less than a half of a highly diverse field. Moreover, in addition to productivity, loss of species richness may affect many other ecosystem processes like increased uptake of carbon, nutrient cycling etc.
Having provided such support to the premise when one species is affected the other will also feel the effect can be defined as a rather reasonable.
Baxter’s selfish interpretation of anthropocentricism permits people to harm nature as long as it does not harm humans. In reality, his idea faces objective reasoning. It is a well-known fact that science has already established the required balance of an ecosystem. In case one species is affected, no matter where the other is in the chain, it will also be affected.
The second premise of a counterargument is: we are responsible for the state of environment to the future generations.
In 2008, the Science and Environmental Health Network together with The International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Harvard Law School has elaborated a Model state constitutional provisions and Model statute titled: An Environmental Right for Future Generation (2008). In the document it is stated that in an era of species extinction and climate change, the evidence that human development causes both long- and short-term environmental harm is evident and overwhelming. The U.S. jurisdictions adopted regulatory measures to protect the environment and the people inhabiting it. However, such tools have failed to provide protection for future generations and their right for the healthy environment. The Model Constitutional Provisions and Model Statute used substantive innovations to address the disadvantages of traditional regulatory approach.. All over the world the problem of preserving the environment for future generations is recognized as the top priority one. Therefore, this particular premise is by far the strongest in our counterargument.
The third premise of the counterargument is: not preserving nature for its own sake might lead to massive destruction.
Animals and plants become extinct if they cannot adapt to changes in their habitat, either man-made of natural. A number of scientists believe that we are currently dealing a 6th mass extinction, which this time is caused by the influence of humans.
The number of existing species indicates various ways people have destroyed wildlife in the past decades, including habitat destruction, over-hunting and the invasive species introduction. Nowadays, our ever-expanding population, pollutio, and climate change add to the threats.
For example, in 2007, Baiji or Yangtze River dolphin was declared extinct. In 2002, the last captive animal died.
Baiji or Yangtze River dolphin could be found only in the Yangtze River in China. This dolphin was well adapted to its habitat. The mammal used its long beak to get food from the riverbed. In order to detect prey the dolphin used echolocation.
The mammal was a casualty of unauthorized fishing practices, getting caught lines set for other species and on fishing hooks. The dolphin suffered from an increasing pollution and degradation of its habitat, which proves to be one of the worlds’ most populated and populated waterways.
Dozens of plant and animal species became instinct in the last few decades due to impact of our civilization. Wiiliam Baxter’s position towards extinction is evident: the species extinction should not bother people unless we can benefit from keeping the species alive. However, our counterargument is based upon the values of ecocentrism, according to which, at some point all the system will suffer from the lost of its one chain, which is in our case the river dolphin.
The fourth premise of the counterargument states that: what is good for nature is good for human.
In his argument, William Baxter argues that what is good for human is good for nature. In our counterstatement, the premise is an opposite statement. From this opposition one might see a direct and clear difference between the environmental value systems of ecocentrism and anthropologism. The first one is nature oriented, the second one is person oriented. William Baxter states that whatever humans do it will benefit the nature. Following the thought, one might assume that the DDT should be good for penguins as it is good for people, which is false. Therefore, the anthropologist premise is weak. Let us view now the ecocentric approach. The usage of DDT is rather efficient for people. However, the penguins suffer of the results of DDT usage. In the counteract we stated that what is good for nature is good for human. It would be good for nature to stop the usage of DDT as it causes damage to the penguins. Although, causing damage to the nature, DDT is still efficient for people. One might say that the ecocentric premise also turned out to be week. However, we should decide on what is more important for us – preservation of balance or efficiency. If we opt for the first one, then the ecocentric premise turns out to be a strong one.
The fifth premise of the counterargument states: ecocentric approach is the best one to administer the system.
A number of scientists and philosophers opt for ecocentric approach to be the best in administering the current system. The Aldo Leopold’s pyramid will be used in order to outline efficiency of the ecocentric approach. Aldo states that his nature pyramid should be incorporated into the pyramid of life. In his book The Land Ethic, Leopold states that people need to realize the following: 1. The land is not simply soil; 2. Native plants and animals are responsible for keeping the energy circuit open; the others may not take such responsibility; 3. Changes caused by man are of a different nature than the evolutionary changes. They might have more adverse results and effects as is foreseen or intended. The nature ethics reflects an ecological conscience of people and, in its turn, leaves people with the responsibility of the nature sustainability. We cannot disagree with the importance of taking responsibility for our actions and awareness of our deeds. If people had this sense of respect, the conservation movement would succeed.
Therefore, the approach described above may be considered as the best to administer the modern environmental policy.
As seen from the above analysis all the premises of the counterargument were testified. Hence, it might be stated that the conclusion of the counterargument is true. Both the premises and conclusion make a strong and cogent inductive argument. According to the analysis of William Baxter’s argument, we might state that the argument is weak and incoherent.