BALANCING THE IMBALANCES – AN ETHICAL DILEMMA
Homo Sapiens have intelligently and significantly surpassed an imaginary threshold that when crossed has an impact on the environment irrespective of their intentions. The ecological imbalances result not only from imprudent and thoughtless acts committed by the whole humankind in unison, but also the human intervention in acts rather misguided as help offered to nature perhaps as a desperate attempt to offer condolences for acts committed by the part of human kind that they don’t proudly take sides with. The power with us now lies in choosing what to save and what not to, thereby deciding the question of survival which was previously decided by the nature. In essence human has begun to play god.
Charles Darwin often popularly quoted in motivational rather than scientific sections about the survival of the fittest is rather based on a very keen observation of principles of evolution of nature. This principle is something that one must not meddle with. If the cocoon is cracked open to help the larvae, it will never achieve the state of a butterfly as the struggle plays an essential role in its transformation.
A look in the local garden does help us understand this phenomenon. It is generally covered with plants of choice and utilitarian in nature, i.e., fruit bearing, flower bearing, or sometimes even the plants that make the house look and feel richer. But there are certain plants that defy all the odds and crop up, and we classify them under the broad category of weeds i.e., the unwanted plants. If nature were allowed to take its course, the weeds may take over and survive, or the species might come up with something new over the course of evolution to help tackle the problem. Perhaps this behaviour seems fine concerning the micro perspective, but the same utilitarian principle is being applied unconsciously in many conservation efforts all over the world.
The species that we choose to protect often indicates the human priorities, rather than the will of nature. Nature isn’t a fixed thing anymore; it is whatever we decide it is. Sadly, we don’t need to dig deep to find the truth. Sea Turtles and Pandas are rescued as we find them cute and fuzzy over unglamorous and obscure species such as Giant Golden Mole or Nimba Otter Shrew although they deserve an equally important place in the ecology. Special status is given to certain ‘iconic’ species as against something that’s really cryptic and unseen and doesn’t resonate but may play a vital role in an ecosystem.
We prioritize based on public perception, (based on iconic animals) as it won’t resonate well in the political campaign if their leader is trying to save spiders (contrary to the other one choosing tigers). Next comes the economic value generated by a species, its contributions lying in tourism or food-chain industries. Atlantic Salmon is always chosen over right whales or leatherback turtles as it generates more GDP in Canada. People end up saving what they want to save.
An illustration in contemporary aspect might be in the efforts to save a bird named California Ridgway’s Rail. It is endangered and they are located in the tidal marshes of San Francisco with a natural habitat of Spartina Grass. The marshes were turned into Silicon Valley which reduced the Spartina thus leading to habitat loss and pushed the species to extinction. In efforts to conserve the bird, an imported variety of grass was used from the East Coast which has hybridized with the local species to form an invasive species. Soon it dominated the local grass and mud flats. This lead to certain ecological changes, leading to loss of habitat for many other species that thrive on mud flats. They started a project termed ‘Invasive Spartina Project’ which plans on eradicating the hybrid spartina to restore the marshes to what they were before. Here lies the problem.
Humans presume that whatever nature is right now it must stay as it is or it must be recreated as it is so that we conserve what we want to. A distinction is made between native and alien species. Nature just doesn’t consist of something specific at all points, rather it consists of different things at different points of time, none fundamentally important for its existence, as it evolves to exist without things that we think are essential to it. It is impractical to try and restore ecosystems to some ‘rightful’ historical state. for a new thing to emerge it is sometimes a necessity for an existing species to perish.
Take for example a forest full of red bugs, easily visible hence prone to extinction by the birds over a point of time. Among these bugs are the green bugs which are harder to see and hence are not eaten that frequently. It increases the number of green bugs. Now that the red bugs are extinct, it leads to one of these things, either the eyesight of the birds in that area evolves slowly to be able to see green bugs, or only those birds with a sharper vision stay and become natives of that area overtime. If human component enters this equation, he starts the conservation of red bugs which he thinks consist an essential part of the nature, thereby meddling with the natural process of evolution.
The decision to fight the Invasive Spartina is not objective or scientific as it causes no real harm or danger, but it’s a conscious decision that the way this habitat used to be is worth fighting for. Here human thinks they are responsible as they brought in the ingredient of change. Many species in the past and the future will consciously or unconsciously be responsible for altering the ecology. But humans feeling conscious and trying to retrace the steps might be anti-evolutionary.
The nature as it existed is subject to change, the same way nature adopted to smoke clouds from volcanic eruptions, currently the drivers are human induced such as climate change and increased urbanization. Species will thrive and overtake, perhaps not the ones that we need or desire, but the ones that can. Ecosystems shift, some species take over, some species go extinct, thus is the nature. A conscious attempt must be made to change the priorities, if a species is producing harm or benefits to biodiversity and ecological services, it must be chosen over the aspects of utility and appeal. Evolution should not be the only criteria rather it becomes vital to consider the functional traits such as unique biological traits and roles in an ecosystem such as Corals which created reef environments which are existential for certain species. Evolution always happens gradually, taking into consideration even the fact that humans are in fact one of the greatest invasive species the world has ever seen.
Sadhu Samba Kailash
5th Year, B.A. LL.B., Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.