Robin Attfield

Saving Nature, Feeding People, and Ethics


1.      Attfield on “development”

2.      Rejects Rolston’s idea that most development involves the sacrifice of nature (natural values)

3.      Genuine development (improvement) will rarely conflict with saving nature

         a.      Because it is not development unless it is socially just and ecologically sustainable

         b.      And ecologically sustainable uses of nature will not sacrifice nature (natural values?)

                   i.       “Sustainable changes will typically allow affected tracts of nature to remain self-renewing and sustainable” and won’t affect stability of natural world

         c.      Is this true?

                   i.       Selective logging by helicopters does not “sacrifice nature” (though some natural values are compromised–wildness value is lessened)

                   ii.      Clearing land for an organic farm would seem to sacrifice nature, even if the farm is sustainable

                            (1)    Is an organic farm nature? Culture?

4.      Attfield thinks his sense of “development” is the ordinary one; but I think Rolston’s sense of development is, namely, “whatever developers do”


5.      Attfield’s critique of humans capture 40% of NPP claim

         a.      NPP (pretty much) = Plant growth

         b.      Unless its wilderness, humans have usurped it

         c.      Figure only 5% if include places like national forests, grazed grass lands

         d.      Original Vitousek article


6.      Should not view population growth as a cancer

         a.      Misguided: Cancer is not just unregulated growth but growth that has no intrinsic value (and people have that)

         b.      Dangerous: Could lead to indifference to suffering

                   i.       Motivation to save human life, cure illness, will lessen and willingness to let people die to increase

                   ii.      Failure to show solidarity with fellow humans

                   iii.     Misanthropic


         c.      Rejects: If first child a blessing, tenth can’t be a tragedy, for if first has intrinsic value, so does the tenth

         d.      I think Rolston would agree tenth has intrinsic value and agree also with Attfield that the tragedy is in the instrumental disvalue of the 10th or in the circumstantial disvalue (given # of people on planet)


7.      Neo-Malthusian paradigm conflicts with the empirical evidence

         a.      Malthusians think that population growth invariably outstrips resources (growth in food)

         b.      A neo-Malthusian “makes population growth the cause of both poverty and environmental degradation”

         c.      Provides examples in Africa where population grew and “land became greener and more productive” despite the claims by experts that population growth would lead to env degradation


8.      Challenges Rolston’s assumption of the correctness of the common ethical attitude that it is permissible to sacrifice people (don’t feed them) to pursue other cultural values (Christmas presents, art museums, teachers salaries)

         a.      Rolston says if we always feed people first, we will never pursue other cultural values and this is something people think it is permissible to do