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Facilitated adaptation has become a topic of quite heated debate in the 2000s when some attempts to help species adapt were implemented. One of the ethical issues associated with this activity is related to the extent to which people can modify nature. The author notes that the value of everything (including the concept of wilderness) is rather subjective. Therefore, preserving wilderness can be crucial for some groups, while others can put less value on it.
At that, Palmer mentions that one of the major arguments against facilitated adaptation is that it can be regarded as a manifestation of humans’ domination (246). Some environmental ethicists stress that people (as any other species) affect ecosystems, but humans often intentionally try to influence nature, which is a way to show their dominance and superior status. When people deliberately modify something, the autonomy of nature is lost, and the dominance of humans becomes apparent (at least, to people). Anthropocentrism is often traced to people’s efforts to change the natural world. Many ethicists stress that this intrusion should be limited as this kind of manifestation of dominance will lead to a complete “humanization” of nature (Palmer 247).
Nevertheless, Palmer claims that facilitated adaptation is not a way to reveal humans’ domination, but a strategy that can be used to help animals adapt and future generations enjoy the wonders of nature (247). The author admits that some experiments and efforts can be regarded as attempts to impose a certain kind of dominance and exercise total power over nature. However, Palmer adds that dominance is not the only reason to promote facilitated adaptation.
It is possible to focus on other reasons when addressing ethical concerns related to the matter. The ethicist emphasizes that people may feel a moral obligation to fix (at least, partially) some negative effects of climate change. For instance, they may try to help species adapt to new weather conditions or habitats. Palmer provides an example of such attempts mentioning that such species as American pika can have significant value to an ecosystem as well as the overall natural world. The researcher argues that future generations also have the right to enjoy this animal’s calling. It is stressed that these reasons are only partially anthropocentric as the major goal of any intrusion can be associated with humility.
People understand the results of their impact and the processes that are taking place in the natural world and try to mitigate them. The author also adds that facilitated adaptation can be regarded as a way to step aside and let species develop as if there was no intrusion or any change in their environment. Therefore, Palmer concludes that facilitated adaptation cannot be seen as a manifestation of dominance, so ethical concerns related to the loss of wilderness, in this case, are not plausible. The author stresses that any human intrusion raises various ethical issues, but anthropocentrism is not the major concern. As a result, the ethicist claims that facilitates adaptation is a potentially effective solution to the problems associated with climate change.
I agree with Palmer’s premise that there can be many reasons for facilitated adaptation, including obligation, desire to leave something to future generations, let the natural world remain unchanged (at least, to a certain extent). Of course, it is not effective to focus on one of these reasons when considering ethical issues. However, I reject Palmer’s conclusion that facilitated adaptation is not linked to anthropocentric desires as all the reasons mentioned in the article are associated with people’s domination. For instance, the desire to preserve something for future generations and preserving it are manifestations of human domination.
Why do people think they have any right to choose which species or areas to preserve? They may want to preserve American pikas for their marvelous calling, but they may feel disgusted at some species (spiders, snakes, slugs, and the like), although these representatives of the natural world are also valuable for their ecosystems. People should not try to change the system as they are only a part of this system. Even the reasons associated with the sense of obligation are also anthropocentric. Changing nature is not about fulfilling some obligations but about feeling better due to attempts to comply with these obligations. It is also quite unclear whether these efforts can be beneficial for the natural world as any intrusion can harm the development of nature.
My major objection is associated with people’s place in the universe as I believe that humans are only a part of the natural world and have no moral right to change it deliberately and that dramatically. Palmer’s objection could be as follows: even though humans are a part of the system, they (as any other species) affect it in different ways, so they can try to make their impact positive. As for the objection concerning the nature of the change, it is possible to argue that other species’ actions can also be regarded as deliberate.
For instance, spiders deliberately create their nets as they need them to get food. The ecosystem is changed, and other species are affected (flies may die if they are caught). Likewise, people may change some species to create a certain environment for themselves. If the changes are beneficial for the natural world, there can be nothing wrong with such transformations.
Palmer, Clare. “Saving Species but Losing Wildness: Should We Genetically Adapt Wild Animal Species to Help Them Respond to Climate Change?” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. 40, no. 1, 2016, pp. 234-251.