The promotion of harmony, health and happiness (in any order or combination) for sentient beings requires us to engage in skillful actions in order to achieve those ideals. It also means making difficult decisions based on mindful assessment of situations so that man and nature have the opportunity to flourish.
As man’s need for more space to live, for increased agricultural space, and for expanded recreational space increases it requires us to make choices, sometimes difficult choices. A good example of this is in the city of Anchorage, Alaska, a wilderness area that human beings have chosen to inhabit. The PBS Nature series, Bears of the Last Frontier gives a glimpse of the choices that are needed when man chooses to flourish in wilderness areas. Man came in and made radical changes to the environment to make it suitable for their use. Nature, it’s flora and fauna, in order to survive continues to adapt to the environment that man created.
As time has passed Nature, particularly the animals are “taking back” their territories by, in the minds of some residents “invading”. The animals, and in this series bears are the focus, are adapting to eating what man now offers and using man’s roads and pathways as their own. It is not uncommon for a resident of Anchorage to look out their window to find a bear turning over their grill to lick the grease from the grates, or to find a moose and her calves munching contentedly on the contents of a flower box. In the oil hungry city of Prudo Bay young foxes hunt and play on the wide concrete pads that have replaced the tundra.
“Humans have a real . . . uncanny ability to try and control their environment. You move into bear country . . . does that mean you take everything that bear country brings with it, or are you willing to take steps that enable you to live in that wilderness area, or are you less inclined. Do you want to control your environment more where you live? Really does come down to that one question.” Chris Morgan, Bears of the Last Frontier
This is a decision that each individual must make. Are they willing to find a balance that enables them to live where they choose while allowing nature its own unique place.
Nature does not value man and his creations over any of its other manifestations. And, man and all his creations – cities, roads, log cabins, and tents set up in the wilderness – are manifestations of nature. What man puts into the environment becomes part of that environment. Man needs to engender a deep respect for the environment, and should strive to protect and cultivate it. This doesn’t mean human beings shouldn’t alter the environment if it allows a more meaningful ability to flourish.
Chris Morgan asked, “Do you want to control . . .?” The pragmatic question would be, “Is it necessary to control?” The answer to either question depends on the worldview of the person being asked. Those that view nature as more important than man and believe it should be left to “fend for itself” without man’s interference would emphatically say, “NO”, to both questions. Those that view nature as an integral part of man’s health, harmony and happiness, BUT realize that there are situations were it needs to be altered to suit man’s needs as long as we respect it and protect it would answer, “Only when the situations warrant.”
The term is “human flourishing” but it doesn’t mean that man must conquer nature to achieve it. Instead we must seek to mindfully engage with all of nature including humanity. It does require that we use all of our human potentialities, our talents, skills and wisdom as we pursue rationally chosen goals and values. We take into account that our actions have an encompassing effect on the causal Universe and take a mindful look at our needs. We keep in mind that whatever we do, or plan to do must be flexible in order to react to whatever current situation we find ourselves in. A rational approach to human flourishing requires that we view the world as it really is and that we are prepared to be rigorously honest when balancing needs with compassion and altruism.
Dealing situationally with an environmental issue requires taking the actions that are most useful and productive for the most sentient beings. This can mean hard decisions must be made. Previously we have discussed two “lists” to help guide us in making the best choices. The Three Pure Precepts (cease to do harm, do only good, do good for others) guides our encompassing moral outlook in any situation. The Three Characteristics of Skillful Action (preparation, permission, resources) guide us in taking the most skillful action possible in a given situation.
U.K. Naturalist Chris Packham raised the specter of hard choices in September, 2009.
“I don’t want the panda to die out. I want species to stay alive – that’s why I get up in the morning. I don’t even kill mosquitoes or flies. So if pandas can survive, that would be great. But let’s face it: conservation, both nationally and globally, has a limited amount of resources, and I think we’re going to have to make some hard, pragmatic choices.
I’m not trying to play God; I’m playing God’s accountant. I’m saying we won’t be able to save it all, so let’s do the best we can. And at the moment I don’t think our strategies are best placed to do that. We should be focusing our conservation endeavours on biodiversity hotspots, spreading our net more widely and looking at good-quality habitat maintenance to preserve as much of the life as we possibly can, using hard science to make educated decisions as to which species are essential to a community’s maintenance. It may well be that we can lose the cherries from the cake. But you don’t want to lose the substance. Save the Rainforest, or Save the Kalahari: that would be better.”
We must be prepared to ask the hard question, “Does saving the panda result in the most harmony for the most sentient beings, or could the millions of dollars spent on that one species be better used?”
We must give ourselves permission to take a hard look at the situation using both our compassion and altruism. “Will saving the panda over other plant and animal species better contribute to human flourishing than other choices?” Taking only a compassionate view it is hard to deny that the panda is cute and cuddly and deserves to live. With an altruistic view the existence of the panda is not crucial to the survival of the majority of sentient beings.
At this time millions of dollars have been, and continue to be spent to save the panda from becoming extinct. Are there more useful and productive ways that money could be spent? It is not an easy choice to let any being go extinct but in some situations it may be the more encompassing and corrective choice. Looking at the situation through a “causal lens” may reveal instances where rather than working against nature’s intent we need to choose to let nature run it’s course.
Those millions of dollars spent to save one species may be better spent to save hundreds of square miles of rainforest from being destroyed each day. Rainforest that provides oxygen for the planet, provides raw materials for medicines that save human lives, and provides a habitat for thousands of species including human beings.
It may be more useful and productive in alleviating suffering to use that money to ensure more people on the planet have access to clean water. Across the planet there are people who struggle ten hours a day just to harvest a gallon of drinking water for their families. The millions of dollars spent to save one species may be more productively used to dig wells and provide villages with filter systems that produce clean water.
In the pursuit of human flourishing we must not cause or speed up the extinction of species that we could have protected AND still allowed for flourishing. There needs to be a balance between protecting nature and maintaining an environment of human flourishing. We must learn and act to husband the resources of nature, including its beauty and recreational opportunities, by participating in its care. We must also develop a deep awareness of our impact on the environment and nature in our pursuit of human flourishing. It is up to us to determine how much change is necessary and how willing we are to let nature have it’s space alongside us.