As tired as I am at the end of each night, I believe that is when this blog post needs to be written. You see, I go through several moods throughout the day, and I must be in this one to write about my desired subject. My classmates have decided that my “spirit animal” is a puppy, because I appear to be curious and happy, but also emotional and clumsy. I think this fits my outward appearance quite well, but I’m not sure it accurately captures the rest. For, inside, I often feel like a very different person.
I get in these moods more often these days, and a particularly strong one was triggered by both our first ethics discussion and the continuation that followed the end of its scheduled time. The topic was primarily the ethics of various experimental methods in research, with emphasis on those that are particularly disruptive to the organisms studied. We discussed an especially contentious study, in which the researchers removed nesting birds with a shotgun to study areas of reduced population density. I was assigned to the group supposed to provide ethical grounds for conducting this sort of study, but later when we were allowed to express our own views, I switched to the “disagree” side of the room. I believed, and still do, that if the study had been organized and intended to provide conservation-oriented results with the potential of helping that species or other species of birds, and that it was designed in a way that this was a foreseeable result, that the study would have been more justified. Merely an intention would not justify the action, but if it had a reasonable expectation to produce helpful knowledge, then the sacrificing of a few individuals would seem more just in exchange for the benefit of many.
After class, this became a jumping off point for a more utilitarian question – how do you assign value to organisms and their lives? Is it right to say that the lives of individuals are worth less than the combined lives of a species, be it their species or another? I would posit that there really is no objective “right” or “wrong,” and that these terms are merely subjective guidelines created by the time period and the society in which the situation has context. However, in our current scenario, we may still attempt to debate whether something is “ethical” or not. Personally, I assign more value to the preservation of organisms on a species level, rather than at that of an individual’s lifespan. This becomes harder to do when you are personally involved with the individuals, as is often the case with humans. However, even if you value the individuals more than the abstract whole of a population or species, to me, the lives of many should clearly still matter more than the lives of a few because the many are made up of even more individuals. The individuals cannot survive and ensure the prosperity of their offspring without success on a grander scale.
I believe the same logic can be used on the subject of the changes needed in order to combat climate change. In class at Cuerici we discussed some hypothetical solutions and changes that could be made, and where the impetus for these should come from. Many people discussed how education and grass roots movements would promote better support from communities and generally be received more positively. Several of us, though, were a bit more pessimistic. While education would be a nicer way to beget change, I believe in practice it is much too slow (as has been seen in the US since environmental education picked up in the 60s) for our impending problems. I also don’t think it has any reasonable chance of reaching or making any difference to the older members of the population, many of whom are already set in their ways. For this reason, it seems clear that a more direct form of action needs to be taken by a powerful entity such as the government. Rules and enforcement would be the only real way to accomplish change on a broad enough scale to make any significant difference. But despite how urgently this change is needed, I seriously doubt anything substantial will be done within an amount of time that could make any real improvement. The short-term problems that would result for people like small-scale farmers by any sort of drastic conservation legislation are far too “unethical” for any authority to initiate them, even though the long-term consequences of inaction will be so dramatically worse for both those same people and many others.
It is during conversations like these that my true cynicism comes out. I may seem happy and bubbly on the outside, and I often am, but deep down I struggle with the sometimes crippling belief that one day everything will fall apart and most of the organisms on the planet will perish horribly. Now, I don’t believe in any purpose to life. I don’t see logic in things like destiny, luck, or even God. Evolution is without purpose and continues regardless of how any humans feel about it. And yet, I’m going into a field to try something I just said was futile. I want to work as a field researcher, to study herpetology and try desperately to protect these animals that I love from the consequences of human actions, like climate change, despite having a firm conviction that eventually it will all be for naut. This gives me cognitive dissonance, because I cannot change what I want to do with my life or how important it feels to me. But why bother? If there is truly no purpose to life, and climate change has likely already progressed beyond anything that we can reverse and will continue to worsen for who knows how long, why do we continue to try?