Feeding People versus Saving Nature


1.      Rolston is critiquing ideas such as

         a.      “You wouldn’t let the Ethiopians starve to save some butterfly, would you?”

         b.      The North is wealthy enough to be concerned to save nature, but the poor South can’t afford that luxury


2.      The poor will always be there and if we did nothing else of value until there were no more poor, we would do nothing else of value at all (paralyze civilization)

         a.      That the poor have always been here does not mean they always will be here or that we should not strive to eliminate them

         b.      Rolston is not claiming that we don’t have the resources both to feed all the hungry (take care of all the poor) and to do many other things of value.

                   i.       But this will require

                            (1)    Redistribution from wealthy to poor

                            (2)    More efficient and sustainable use of land

                            (3)    Stopping explosive population growth

         c.      And if we don’t do these things, then feeding the poor (taking care of the poor) would prevent us from doing other things of value, because it would use up all the available resources


3.      We don’t in fact feed the poor first before we pursue other things we value and we also believe this is permissible (because we believe we are ethical people)

         a.      Christmas gifts, college education before feeding hungry

         b.      We don’t feel guilty and yet people starve who otherwise would not

         c.      Rolston at times seems to ignore that people’s actions don’t always reflect their values

                   i.       252: “in fact we all do act to protect what we value, even if this decision results in death for those beyond our borders”

4.      We both do an ought to devote ourselves to various worthy causes (art, science, education) while persons in our communities and elsewhere go hungry

         a.      Some consequentialists would disagree and that’s why critics of consequentialists say that it requires too much of us

5.      So when ask if we should feed people or save nature we should remember that we often put feeding people behind other values we have

         a.      If sacrifice people for other things of cultural value, why not for natural value (which is as urgent, thinks Rolston)

         b.      Eradicating poverty is not always prior to all other cultural and natural values.


6.      Objection: Wrong for public policy to choose to let people die

         a.      So we should not choose to prevent development of nature when this will lead people to die

7.      Reply: Many public policies we accept make choices that result in death of people

         a.      Raising speed limit 55-65, 400 a year more die

         b.      Refuse in pass national health care legislation leads people to die

         c.      Spending $ on teachers salaries or art museums rather than police leads to more people dying.

         d.      Spending so much money on national defense when others are so bad off, even in the U.S. (1 in 7 people live below poverty line in U.S.)

         e.      We believe that many values achieved in U.S. are worth protecting even while others starve

         f.       Restraining immigration into this country also makes this choice

         g.      Let foreigners die when not willing to open our 500 wilderness areas to development by them


8.      Should solve poverty/starvation by redistributing wealth rather than sacrificing even more nature

         a.      Few people would have to do w/o enough if we would use the produce of the already domesticated landscape justly and charitably.

9.      Better to fix the problem of poverty/starvation where it arises (within society) rather than to try to enlarge the society by sacrificing remnant natural values

         a.      This only postpones the problem until later

10.    Many societies including those in the developing world have unjust distribution of wealth

         a.      Bottom fifth to top fifth in income: U.S. 9-1, Brazil 26 to 1

                   i.       1% of Brazilians own 45% of the land


11.    Brazil story: Save the Amazon for the monkeys and toucans who delight tourists rather than for people who need to eat?

         a.      Prime agricultural lands formerly farmed by tenants who ate part of produce and grew food for city

         b.      Now used for growing coffee for wealthy countries to get the foreign currency necessary to pay off massive dept

         c.      Farmers resettled to Amazon land, which is not particularly suited for farming

         d.      Wealthy Brazilians pay little or no income tax

12.    World is full enough of societies squandered their resources, inequitably distributed wealth, degraded lands and who will be tempted to jeopardize remaining natural values as alternative to solving hard social problems

13.    Choice of poor people over nature involves a choice to protect vested interested--wealthy people who have exploited nature already--over poor people

         a.      Face poor over nature choice because reaffirmed the wealthy over poor choice

14.    South Africa story: Conserving elitist wildlife habitat so wealthy white tourists can enjoy watching lions and wildebeest can’t be justified while poor blacks starve

         a.      Need a bigger cake rather than a change in how it is cut?

         b.      But present S.A relation to land not sustainable or healthy

         c.      And why sacrifice nature in order to preserve an inequitable division of wealth?

15.    1/5 of world consumes 4/5 of resources, while 4/5 of world consumes 1/5 of resources

         a.      Not all of this is unfair, as part of the inequality is result of people consuming what they earn/produce

         b.      But certainly many of the hungry people worked just as hard as many of the rich

         c.      And some of this is due to exploitation of poor by rich

         d.      To say lets make the pie bigger (by exploiting remaining natural areas) ignores that we can’t just make a bigger planet!



17.    90 million new people every year, 85 million in 3rd world.

         a.      Skewed population growth: For every person added to north, 20 are added to south

18.    A North American will consume 200 times as much energy and many other resources

         a.      5 million new people in industrial countries put as much strain on environment as the 85 million poor

19.    Three problems: overpopulation, overconsumption and underdistribution

         a.      Sacrificing nature doesn’t solve any of these problems


20.    Growth of culture is cancerous

         a.      Cancer = An explosion of unregulated growth

         b.      Feeding people can be feeding a kind of cancer (!)

         c.      For a couple to have two children is a blessing, but the tenth child is a tragedy

                   i.       The tenth child has ten children of her own

                   ii.      Not enough food and degrade natural system

                   iii.     Must be as humane as possible but this is to make the best of a tragic situation

         d.      Isn’t every existing person precious?



22.    At every scale: global regional, local, ecosystems, species organism fauna, flora, terrestrial and marine, charismatic megafauna and creepy crawlies, in both developed and developing nations

23.    Humans control 40% of NPP (the plant growth that captures energy on which all live depends)

24.    35% of earth’s land has been degraded



26.    Shooting poachers of endangered rhinoceroses

         a.      20 years black rhino’s went from 65,000 to 2,500, loss of 97%

         b.      Faces extinction

         c.      Locals kill for horns they sell for food

         d.      150 poachers killed by Zimbabwe’s shoot-to-kill poacher policy

         e.      If always put people first there would be no rhinos

         f.       Rhino species comes first even if this costs human lives


27.    HUMAN RIGHT to subsistence prevents putting nature over people?

         a.      Even if people are on wrong point on global growth graph

         b.      Even if part of cancerous and consumptive society

         c.      Even if better social solution than the wrong one that is happening

         d.      Don’t have right to override conservation of natural value?

28.    People do not have a right to move into conservation lands, in part not good lands for farming (short term solution, long term loss)

29.    People already live in areas of high biological diversity can stay if they live their traditional lifestyles which have preserved biodiversity

30.    People living there now may not modernize and multiply and continue to live there

         a.      No right to develop in these natural areas

31.    Human rights have to be balanced against values destroyed in the exercise of that right

32.    Zoning laws everyplace restrict what people can do on lands so that they don’t harm community values


33.    Deeply tragic situation

         a.      Misguided compassion that puts food into every hungry mouth whatever the consequences will worsen the tragedy

         b.      Solved by wise compassion, balancing a love for persons and love for nature


34.    When okay to save nature before saving people; If and/or

         a.      Persons value many other worthwhile things over feeding hungry

         b.      Developed countries post boundaries to protect what they value

         c.      Unequal/unjust distribution of wealth, and redistribution to alleviate poverty is refused

         d.      1/5 consumes 4/5, and vice versa

         e.      Escalating birthrates continue so that there are no real gains in alleviating poverty, only more poor later

         f.       Low productivity on domesticated lands continue and natural lands to be sacrifice are low in productivity

         g.      Significant natural values at stake including extinction of species

35.    Then one ought to sometimes save nature rather than feed people first.