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Helping Nature

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On a morning run I came across a sign in the park informing me that the city was “helping nature by controlling invasive plants.” This process involves herbicides and machetes. My adopted city of Tallahassee is quite active in addressing invasive species. Laying aside the various concerns about herbicides, this raises many philosophical issues. On the one hand, the phrase “helping nature” can be dismissed as a rhetorical device. It presents the destruction of invasive species as a benign act and, one might suspect, is intended to offset negative feelings some might have towards the use of herbicides. As you smell the chemicals and feel your skin and mouth itch a bit, you will know that this is all for the good of nature. On the other hand, it does imply a value position on what helps nature. Let us look at this. Taken at face value, the implication of the sign is that invasive species harm nature and thus it is good for humans to kill them. An easy and obvious reply is that invasive species are also part of nature. For example, feral hogs, Burmese pythons, and Nandina are natural beings and they are, one would assume, not helped by being killed by humans. A moral way to counter this is to advance a utilitarian argument: allowing the invasive species to thrive will do more harm to the ecosystem and its inhabitants than killing them. As such, killing invasive species is the right thing to do (at least in such cases). This approach would allow for invasive species to be left alone if their presence created more good than harm for the ecosystem. While this does seem to be a reasonable approach, it does suffer from an obvious practical concern of doing a rational and informed calculation of what is likely to be best for nature. Humans have generally proven bad at this—so such assessments need to be critically assessed. Another counter to the idea that we should “help nature” is that nature (taken as a shorthand for the ecosystems and their inhabitants) has always. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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