Just two examples.
It has happened that (ignorant) people came where I work (a museum of natural sciences) carrying a sort of trophy: a dead snake into a glass jar asking for confirmation they did well in killing it. It has always turned out to be a harmless species, (Natrix natrix). Of course they justified that they had the right to kill a snake that has had the misfortune of being in their proximity.
Other people here are deeply convinced that clearing the understort of a woods is beneficial for the whole wood itself without considering that the understory if part of the wood.
Just two examples.
Maybe start with taking school groups to the woods - and showing them how much life there is to treasure?
Snakes and spiders have a hard life around people.
I cannot but agree with you.
How sad. Is there no legal protection for snakes in your country? All snakes are protected in the UK including Natrix helvetica (split from Natrix natrix). In countries where there are dangerous & aggressive snakes I understand it’s sometimes necessary to kill snakes.
Yes it is protected and this has always been remembered to these people but what reaction do you expect they had? Of course they stressed they had they right to do this. I think that this may be in relation to a peculiar (here widespread) relationship human-nature on which basis men have the right to do whatever they consider right or possible with nature. A sort of “man owns what surrounds him”.
I think that view is fairly prevalent in western society. I would say “we are responsible for looking after what surrounds us”.
In the city where I live, the weather does not allow for a great diversity of snakes, and the only species of snakes that can be found belong to the genus Atractus that is harmless, but still people kill them because they think it is dangerous I have heard that farmers kill them because they believe that snakes eat potato crops, which makes no sense because they eat the pests that affect those crops.
We have native and endemic vines here inn New Zealand that are a valuable part of the diversity of the forest, and also provide berries for native birds at various times of the year. They can grow to up to 10cm diameter at the base, and hang from trees as thick vines.
People, people out walking in the foret to enjoy nature, cut the vines at eye level, killing all the vine in the canopy. They are unknown so can’t be spoken to, but I have been told by one or two I have met that they believe all vines kill trees. This is probably because we have very bad invasive vines that ARE killing trees.
I once, thirty years ago, cut such a vine - a native clematis - in my own back yard, on a stream bank, thinking it was an invasive vine. So I am guilty of destruction through ignorance too.
I try to remember this when talking to people ignorant of such issues, but i do struggle for tolerance. I hope we will transmit knowledge of Nature among our society fast enough to conserve it.
Because I feel this is relevant, I want to quote here the Wikipedia article on “Christianity and animal rights”, because in previous centuries, verses in Genesis in the Bible were quite often interpreted to mean that humans can do whatever they like to the rest of creation.
“The Bible offers a mixed bag when it comes to support that it might offer for the concept of animal rights. This is seen in the first chapters of Genesis. On the one hand, Genesis 1:26-28 says that humans, having been made in the image of God, are to have dominion over the non-human animals. Peter Singer believes that this has been used by many Christian theologians throughout Church history to justify the idea that non-human animals exist only to serve or be of use to humans, which has sadly led to much use and abuse of animals at the hands of humanity. On the other hand, many Christian theologians,[ citation needed ] especially in recent times, are suggesting that a more accurate reading of Genesis 1:26-28 requires reading it in light of Genesis 1:29-30, which teaches that all of God’s creatures were initially given a plant-based diet:”
“This leads to the recognition that, whatever ‘dominion’ means, it must be compatible with the idea of not eating any animals. This suggests that ‘dominion’ be understood in terms of ‘looking after’, ‘ruling over’, ‘being responsible for’, or ‘guiding’, and indeed, some English Bible translations, such as the NIV, NLT and Message, use such terms in place of the older language of ‘dominion’.”
“Moreover, in the Genesis account, each stage of creation is pronounced ‘good’ by God, with the whole being pronounced ‘very good’. This suggests that God values everything he has made, including all of its creatures. As Andrew Linzey says, this provides the basis for a very positive view of animals and their worth.”
What you describe is a tough position to be in. In many of these areas of potential disagreement/conflict, the old expression “pick your battles” comes to mind. In my experience, it is usually fairly obvious in the first minute or two whether you are dealing with someone who is disagreeing with you but either a. appears able and willing to use some decent critical thinking to have an open-minded discussion; or b. is unable and/or unwilling to have such a discussion. If the former, then you’d start that conversation in the way several have described here about the value and mistaken beliefs about snakes, etc. If the latter, the best you can do is politely acknowledge that you’ll have to “agree to disagree” and move on.
By the way, again in my experience, the response of “I have a right to _________” is a reliable “red flag” suggesting a poor and/or unwilling critical thinker when you question or contradict their view. Unable to come up with a good response to your question, they fall back on the red herring of whether or not they have the right to their view (or their action) in the first place. Or they resort to some kind of labeling or ad hominem attack (“oh…so you must be one of those ______”). Either is a good sign to “agree to disagree” and move on to your other museum-goers :)
A good read in this regard–and one that hasn’t received the attention I believe it really should have–is Matthew Sculley’s 2003 book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Sculley offers a powerful and sustained attack on the whole Christian/Genesis “Dominion” argument–from the perspective a conservative Christian himself. His criticism of a variety of practices from factory farming/ranching to certain types of hunting and animal experimentation is withering and relentless–every bit as strong as Singer, Regan and other more familiar “animal rights” thinkers.
Instead, he argues that the primary ethical value of the Bible is mercy, and that this principle needs to be to be the primary one guiding our treatment of non-human animals. Of course even a non-Christian might be persuaded by Sculley’s analysis, since grounding “mercy” in the Bible rather than someplace else isn’t necessarily required to conclude that a mercy-based approach to our treatment of non-human animals is a compelling one.
'Definitely worth finding a copy and giving it a read if this area of environmental ethics interests you…
I prefer Johnny 5’s simple logic:
Newton Crosby : Why did you disobey your program?
Number 5 : Program say to kill, to disassemble, to make dead. Number 5 cannot.
Newton Crosby : Why “cannot”?
Number 5 : Is wrong! Newton Crosby, Ph.D not know this?
Newton Crosby : Of course I know it’s wrong to kill, but who told you?
Number 5 : I told me.
My friends an I often go spearfishing and snorkelling around Victoria. When we go out we only take from the ocean what we need and make sure that we do not harm any of the other marine life we do not intend to catch. Unfortunately, we sometimes come across banjo sharks and stingrays with their tails cut off or with random stab wounds on their bodies from fisherman in retaliation for stealing their bait. It is quite sad to see and highly illegal and unfortunately these people are never caught. Like what has been said, talking to people who harm organisms out of ignorance and trying to educate them about their actions is probably the best way to prevent further harm from occuring however it can be hard especially when you can’t find the culprit.
The version I hear uses - stewards of the earth. Steward meaning to take care of.
The issue of cutting native vines on public lands protected to preserve nature is a big problem in Florida where I live. In the old growth hardwood forests in San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, the large, old grape vines were so abundant as to make some of the best examples of this kind of hardwood forest resemble a giant grape arbor. The grapes produced by these vines were greatly beneficial to many wildlife species. Some one, or some group of people, have now illegally cut almost all of these vines on hundreds of acres, killing all the vines, and greatly damaging the wildlife habitat value of the forest. It is a crime against nature that cannot be undone. The vines are not growing back. We have tried to find out who has done this, without success. We have published articles about this in news papers and news letters in the hopes of educating people about the issue.
i think of it as a symbiotic relationship, us and Nature, an opportunity we have been given as an inevitable part of being alive, to recognise and enjoy and learn from our natural environment. I don’t always like it…earthquakes, tornadoes etc…but it is amazing to have the opportunity to actually interact with it and watch what happens…ie through restoration of plant communites, or gardening.
But people either seem to have the feeling for it or not. Little children almost always have it, bringing their parents a dead leaf or stick or insect to admire, but are often dismissed and turned to other interests.
Once adult, I don’t know how many of the “turned-off” can get it back…I am continually trying to accept the fact.
The modern “save the planet” trend teaches some different ideas, but I see people trying to theoretically practise sustainability as advertised in the media, divorced from actual feeling for and interest in their own environment, still as if we are the ones in control. Watching forest grow differently under different influences, but obviously its own designer beyond anything we could create, I am learning that I am not in control, but can be an influential partner. Its hard to explain what I mean.
Thanks Colin, that sounds like a really excellent book.
I am afraid that the attitude represented by this “Dominion” thinking has percolated down into the thoughts of many people who don’t even realize that they are being influenced by an older, supposedly "religious’ viewpoint.
I’ve read some of Singer’s work, as well as others in regards to animal rights. What I cannot accept is their definition that animals which can ‘feel’ - pain, fear &etc- are worthy of our interest. The rest - invertebrates, plants - are rather undefined in terms of how humans should treat them. I read a lot of this stuff 30 ears ago, and perhaps things have changed, but cutting off the ‘compassion’ threshold at vertebrates just pushes Speciesism a little further down. As long as an animal is a vertebrate (most like us) it is worthy of our attention. The rest don’t really matter.
I agree with you. Ever since I was young, I resented the impact of humans on the non-human world (still do, frankly). Although my parents never denied me the opportunity to bring wild things home, it took me a long time to accept that humans are part of nature, and we need to come to some sort of ‘arrangement’. And often, non-human life can live happily alongside human activities (see https://www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/about/protected-areas-categories/category-v-protected-landscapeseascape). It goes somewhat to explaining what an “influential partner” can do, but I find it hard to explain what I mean!
I think that the number one category for this thread is bugs (I would probably agree that snakes go second in this unlucky list at least for the animal kingdom). The amount of bugs that are killed by plain ingnorance is incredible; specially mimic insects that happen to mimic wasps and bees; and also wasps and bees itself. In my school I saw once a teacher killing an Acherontia thinking that it was a big hornet, I tryied to disuade him, but I was a child back then so he disregarded me (it was very painful, i love those moths). Also probably all of us have seen spiders been killed only because they were “so big” or mantises, moths, crane-flies and all other kinds of insects because they are “scary” or “disgusting”. I think that we have to put more effort as a society into let people know how harmless and/or pacific those animals are, how important they are for the ecosystems, and how interesting or beautiful they truly are.