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The Routledge Handbook of Animal Ethics

Bob Fischer
Published by Routledge in 2019

Today is the release date for The Routledge Handbook of Animal Ethics, edited by Bob Fischer. I am pleased to have contributed a chapter to this excellent collection. Having written and spoken about species conservation a number of times, I think this chapter is the first time I really got the topic right. The argument does not differ in substance from what I argued in Animals and the Economy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), but I make the argument in a much more thorough form here.

I signed away might right to include the full text here, but here is the introduction to the chapter, which summarizes the direction of my argument:

One of the most important environmental challenges facing policy-makers is the preservation of animal populations and biodiversity. As a result of growing human population, increased land use, and hunting/fishing, there has been a steady and alarming decrease in the populations of free-living animals and an increase in species extinctions. While documented rates of extinction vary greatly, careful estimates indicate that we are losing species at between 10 and 1000 times the rate that extinctions would naturally occur. Moreover, while a few species have increased their population, many different kinds of animals are far less numerous as a result of human hunting and displacement.

While there is wide agreement about this problem, conservation strategies and policies can be far more contentious. This chapter will examine the logic and effectiveness of two broad approaches to conserving endangered species. One approach is based on government regulation and limits, and is favored by many environmental advocates. The second approach is based on assigning private ownership of animal populations and key habitats, and is favored by a smaller but significant number of social scientists and policy-makers. Underlying these policy debates is a deep disagreement about why animal populations should be preserved, and what progress would look like. Those that argue in anthropocentric terms – considering only the benefits that animal populations provide to humans – often favor the property approach. In contrast, those that argue in terms of the health of ecosystems and the well-being of animals tend to favor the more traditional regulation approach.

This divide is partially due to the fact that these two approaches conserve different things, and solve different problems. Commercial property-based approaches tend work well with “tragedy of the commons” problems. The paradigmatic examples are fish stocking and the growing market for farmed North American Bison. In contrast, the regulation-based approach is better suited for species endangered by habitat loss, pollution, or endangered species. These approaches have often been necessary to preserve local populations of endangered animals. The paradigmatic examples here include the revival of the North American populations of the Peregrine Falcon and the Bald Eagle, both of which were severely depleted by the use of insecticides containing DDT. What is often lost in policy debates is that animal welfare, autonomy, and ecosystem preservation may all be sacrificed when using the property-based approaches. For animal ethics scholars who are concerned about the lives of individual animals and human violence toward animals, this will often make property-based approaches unattractive.

Check out the whole book, buy it if you are rich, and if you are not rich, have your library order it.

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