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The Morality Of Exotic Species

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An opposition of exotic species is something that appears to be blindly taught in settings of higher education. Students are taught that the words exotic and damaging are synonymous; they are taught no distinction between human-introduced exotics and general exotics. They are taught solely about the extreme cases of human-introduced exotics wiping out native species and are rarely taught critical thinking surrounding the topic of exotics. Because of this, a scientific work like the one written by Ned Hettinger can be paradigm-shifting. He pushes for a better distinction of species classified as non-native and makes an argument against exotics that for the first time is not based solely around the damage of human-introduced exotics.

Hettinger wants exotics to be recognized as detrimental for the effect they have on the human psyche in relation to wildness and for the effect they have on biodiversity as a whole, while objections exist about value judgments placed upon wildness. Hettinger gives an extremely nuanced argument that recognizes that there are different types of exotics, not all of them immediately damaging to their surroundings. He believes that exotics should be opposed because of the threat that they pose to the wilderness untouched by humans and the biodiversity of the environment as a whole. These seem to be his two strongest arguments against the perpetuation of exotics and compensate for human-introduced species as well as other exotics in general. Outside of the human-introduced exotics, Hettinger makes an argument against exotics in general. While exotics may increase the biodiversity of a given environment, they have a tendency to decrease biodiversity on an at-large scale. It can do this one of two ways.

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The first comes when the exotic species itself is actually damaging to its new environment. The new species will then decrease the biodiversity of that certain environment by wiping out native plants, and thus decrease biodiversity on a larger scale as well. The second way comes when the new exotic plant is not necessarily damaging to its new environment, rather, decreases total global biodiversity by “making this new place like every place else”.

Human-introduced species, he argues, are inherently bad. This is because there is something intrinsically valuable about the wildness that nature is normally comprised of. There is something sublime about the nature unaltered by the human form, he believes. Something about the nature of humanity requires this sublimity in ecological spaces, and humans are unable to thrive without it. As such, he thinks humans should hold a degree of respect for the untouched, and preserve natural processes. Hettinger writes, “Respect for wild nature should lead such parks to minimize human-induced change, and typically let nonanthropogenic changes take place.”

The most compelling objection to Hettinger’s ideas is that there is a rather questionable value judgment that comes along with valuing human-untouched land. Advocates for this pristine version of land sometimes fail to see that prehuman landscapes will be almost impossible to return to without profoundly affecting the lives of many people. In fact, efforts to return to a more “wild” version of society has uprooted many indigenous people from their homes. On top of that, the whole idea that wildness is valuable to the human psyche, in essence, creates a new class of people who are the sole recipients of the wildness’ benefits. This class of people is referred to as the “urban intellectuals” by Karieva. These are people who are both enlightened enough to reap the spiritual benefits of the land, and privileged enough to value that spiritual benefit of the land over the economic benefits of roads and homes. This argument seems solid enough to take down Hettinger’s belief that the wildness of nature is valuable to humans, because, in fact, it is not valuable to ALL humans. This wildness is valuable to humans fortunate enough to look at land and only see the possible spiritual benefits of it.

Personally, I am inclined to agree almost fully with Hettinger’s views. I believe strongly that human-introduced exotics pose an immediate threat to both our earth’s biodiversity and the human psyche and its relation to the earth. This can be seen powerfully in the way that food American culture functions. Americans are so used to having an abundance of types of foods that the exotic or native states of crops are not a concern. Our eating habits are no longer controlled by what can be grown on the land, as they were during settlement, and no longer controlled by what is in-season. We have access to most any type of food at any time.

Overall, the globalization of our food industry has made us less aware of the origin of our food, and less aware of our cultural roots. The exotic species of food, while decreasing biodiversity, have increased homogenization and apathy to the homogenization in our culture. Because this part of my beliefs deals with already human-inflenced agricultural land, it is not fully in line with his argument about the value of wildness. And while I do lean towards the belief that the natural earth is intrinsically valuable, the social impact of preserving such land from humans and human-introduced exotics is too costly. For one, it unequivocally harms the world’s poor. They pay the brunt of the costs of conservation in terms of giving up their homes and their livelihood. They also suffer from the assumption that they are less “spiritual” than the people with the ability to enjoy solitude in nature- the ability that is hindered by any sort of demanding job or financial circumstance. It is because of my belief that nature is intrinsically valuable that I do actually believe humans should have some hand it in- because without any sort of human regulation, inequities drive other people away from the benefits of such nature. While many other arguments in the exotic valuation debate exist, it felt as though the strongest to follow fully through were those that affect humans back. Hettinger opposed exotics because they gave people the right to declare what was moral and immoral in the natural world- and believed the most moral solution was to leave the wilderness untouched.

On top of that, he opposed even non-human introduced exotics because of the detriment they pose to the biodiversity. In looking at these arguments, we must be critical of blind opposition to exotics that is presented in academia, and also continually assess the validity of new arguments in favor of exotics.

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