Giving Rights To Trees. But Forgetting The Forests That Are Destroyed


Some four weeks ago, I posted my text on the “Rights of Rivers” (see here!), with which I had responded to a discussion that was going on in a google discussion group called Radical Ecological Democratic List. That was the beginning of another discussion in the said group: on the right to life of individual chimpanzees. A participant had informed us earlier that in the USA, a lawyer-philosopher had won court cases which he had lodged on behalf of two chimpanzees. The court ruled that the two chimps deserved a peaceful retired life after serving humans for many years.

I responded with the following text:

Once more
reg. Rights and duties of rivers, trees, chimps, elephants and ad inifinitum.
Giving rights to trees. But forgetting the forests that are destroyed

This is again a very abstract discussion. Of course, also interesting as a piece of news on the idiosyncrasies and fads of a few particular lawyer-philosophers. Maybe this way they can do good to a particular chimp or two, whom they have come to love after coming to personally know them, by chance (Incidentally, they surely themselves feel well. Who does not, if she can do something good?). But what should radical ecological activists, nature lovers and animal lovers in general say? Those who are neither a lawyer nor have ever come to love aparticular chimp? Prof. Singer at least philosophized on liberating the animals, all animals, wanted to win human rights for all big apes, because they are so much like us.

I remember a film entitled Free Willy. The activist boy, who fought for freeing Willy, had come to love this particular killer whale. But killer whales are not as intelligent as chimps. So what? I love this killer whale. Good film, touched the viewers’ heart. But what about thousands of whales that are still being killed by whalers of Norway and Japan? At least some Americans and Europeans are trying to save them. But the chimps and gorillas of Africa who are not fortunate enough to be loved by some particular white humans? Hundreds of them are being killed for their meat (called bush meat) by humans of Africa. This is a very difficult issue. Even Arne Naess, the famous original philosopher (not an activist) of Deep Ecology could not but notice the problem. He wrote:


“When we attempt to live out our relationship with other living beings, difficult questions naturally arise. … Our apprehension of the actual conditions under which we live our own lives … make it crystal clear that we have to injure and kill, in other words, actively hinder the self-unfolding of other living beings.”


We can of course tell Africans of the Sahel zone, they should, because they could, become vegetarians. But can we say that to the Inuits of Greenland?
How many of us are committed to saving the remaining living space of the remaining chimps and gorillas of the African jungle, that of the remaining Orangutans of the rain forests of Borneo, that of the majestic lions and great elephants of the African Savanna, and that of the Indian elephants of the Terrai region? Theoretically, all of us. But, in reality, these animals are rapidly losing their living space to humans because, firstly, the latter’s total number is growing exponentially, because, secondly, in these poor underdeveloped regions of the world, growing numbers of farmers need more and more land, thirdly, because growing numbers of cattle breeders need more and more grazing land. And, last but not least, because also capitalist agri-corporations must expand or perish. Soon there will be “no room for wild animals” any more.
How long will we keep our eyes shut and “pretend that we just do not see” the real, deeper causes of the killings of lions and elephants and rhinos and gorillas and chimps? Those very few of leftists who still call themselves communists or Marxists do talk about capitalism being the real culprit. But they see red if anybody mentions population growth being one of the deeper causes. But also most ecology activists do not raise the population issue. Why? Because, I guess, they are humanists. Humanists after all cannot see humanty as the culprit. Moreover, they are protagonists of human rights, and reproductive rights and democratic rights, and what have you, of everybody and all peoples and cultures of the world. So they suggest all kinds of technological fixes and/or small projects for all ecological problems, but never utter the P word. But radical ecologists? When will we say openly and loudly that the growing number of us humans is another “culprit”? They after all know very well the connection between the total number of humans and the total number of the other species, that they are inversely proportional. Paul Ehrlich, a famous American biologist, wrote addressing people like us, leftists and/or radical ecologists: “Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause, unless we control population [growth]”.
Compared to the overall situation today, are not the cases of individual chimps, Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo, much ado about insignificant things? These animals are after all not being brutally eliminated! Are not these cases distracting us from the great tasks of today?

Saral Sarkar was born in 1936 in West Bengal, India. After graduating from the University of Calcutta, he studied German language and literature for five years at the Goethe Institute, in India and Germany. From 1966 to 1981 he taught German as a lecturer at the Goethe Institute, Hyderabad, India. Since 1982 he has been living in Cologne, Germany, where he has been active in the ecology and peace movement, – for a time as a member and local secretary of the Green Party. Between 1997 and 2005, Sarkar was active in the anti-globalization movement.


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