If it ends abuse of animals and the environment …
Would the extinction of the human race be a tragedy if it means saving the planet? For Todd May, a philosophy professor at Clemson University, the answer is unclear. The eradication of the human race may be a good thing if it ends mistreatment of animals and abuse of the environment.
Writing in The New York Times, May describes humanity as a “tragic character,” noting: “It is humanity that is committing a wrong, a wrong whose elimination would likely require the elimination of the species, but with whom we might be sympathetic nonetheless for reasons I discuss in a moment.”
The wrong? Human beings are “destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth and causing unimaginable suffering to many of the animals that inhabit it.”
This is happening in three different ways, according to May. First, the devastation to ecosystems from man-made climate change. Second, expanding human populations are “encroaching on ecosystems that would otherwise be intact.” And finally, farmers are creating millions and millions of animal lives solely for the purpose of slaughtering them for food.
“To be sure, nature itself is hardly a Valhalla of peace and harmony. Animals kill other animals regularly, often in ways that we (although not they) would consider cruel,” he acknowledges. But human beings are unique in how evilly they treat animals and the environment.
For May, humans are capable of occasionally doing some good:
Human beings bring things to the planet that other animals cannot. For example, we bring an advanced level of reason that can experience wonder at the world in a way that is foreign to most if not all other animals. We create art of various kinds: literature, music and painting among them. We engage in sciences that seek to understand the universe and our place in it. Were our species to go extinct, all of that would be lost.
Do these contributions outweigh our continued mistreatment of non-human animals and the environment? Maybe not, he argues.
“There is just too much torment wreaked upon too many animals and too certain a prospect that this is going to continue and probably increase; it would overwhelm anything we might place on the other side of the ledger,” he writes.
“It may well be, then, that the extinction of humanity would make the world better off and yet would be a tragedy,” May concludes. But there’s apparently no hope for humanity, as our actions may end up bringing around our world’s end anyway.
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