Polar Bears at our Family Reunion

At a family gathering recently the conversation turned, as it usually does, to politics. The topic this time was climate change, oil and the fate of the polar bear.

One of my relatives, arguing for oil drilling in the arctic, asked, “Who needs polar bears? Polar bears don’t like us. They’d eat us if they could. If you want to see polar bears watch TV.”  He doesn’t believe in climate change either.

I didn’t try to argue with him. I’ve learned from experience that he just gets louder, but I’ve been thinking about what he said ever since.

Clearly, polar bears are in trouble. See http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/polar-bear-listing-falls-short

What bothers me most though is the basis of his argument. His premise seems to be that something has value only if it satisfies the needs and wants of people or perhaps more narrowly Americans. This an example of anthropocentrism. This philosophy walks hand in hand with utilitarianism, the the idea that the morality of an action can be judged on the basis of whether it makes people happy. Utilitarianism would say that drilling for oil in the arctic is morally acceptable because we need oil to maintain the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. In this way of thinking, the end justifies the means and the destruction of the polar bear is just collateral damage.

Individually, it is not hard to picture the kind of trouble we can get into when we imagine ourselves the center of our own little universe and begin to behave as if everyone and everything around us exists to satisfy our needs and make us happy.

History is full of examples of what happens when one people or nation begins to act out of such a belief.

One of my earliest memories is of gripping my father’s hand at the zoo as I saw a polar bear for the first time and later that night having a nightmare that the bear was in my room about to eat me. Just seeing a polar bear on TV would not be the same.

The world would be a poorer place without polar bears, but that’s not the whole story. Polar bears have a value that goes beyond their beauty and the feelings of awe they inspire in us. They and all of creation have an intrinsic God-given worth apart from their usefulness to us that must be respected and protected.

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