Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


There is an ethical tradeoff between growing high-yield agricultural products and the integrity and goodness of an ecosystem. Why must we protect an ecosystem and prevent extinction of other organisms? One might claim that the human benefit gained from environmental destructions for the purpose of agriculture is more valuable than any life or structure that existed in the ecosystem. In the case of the Palouse Prairie in Eastern Washington, early white settlers in the area valued the monetary gains from agriculture more than any goodness of an intact ecosystem. Unlike the benefits gained from farming (which could be attained through more sustainable means), what is lost with the destruction of an ecosystem or the extinction of a species can never be restored. I will argue that humans are morally obligated to not destroy living lineages when altering a landscape. A brief case study of the Palouse Prairie will illustrate that the small-scale, land-altering decisions made by the few farmers of the Palouse have caused long-term harms for the current and future inhabitants of the ecosystem, and that humans ought to make reparations for those harms. Because evolution grants the potential for any lineage to advance and better its individuals, the processes of evolution must be respected in any ecosystem. Any lineage’s process of perpetuation must be morally considerable, as is any living organism’s will to live. To offer a practical guideline for land alteration, I conclude with the suggestion that all lineages of life receive freedom of environment, perpetuity, and adaptation.

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