Drawing moral lessons from sharks.
There’s a divide in modern environmental thinking, just as stark as the fin behind Mick Fanning’s back as the shark moved in, between the sentimental and the practical.
Buying the wrong argument can be just as deadly for some as a shark attack.
On one side is the idea that man is subservient to nature. On the other is the assertion of man’s right to rule the world.
South of the border, where many of us go to surf, they are debating whether to net beaches against shark attacks. In just the last couple of years there have been fatalities at netless Fingal, Byron and now Ballina beaches while there have been none along the netted Gold or Sunshine Coasts.
Surfers take their lives in their hands when they cross the Tweed River.
One side elevates the rights of animals over humans, encapsulated in Fanning’s remark “we are in their [the shark’s] domain”.
With due respect to Fanning this is a silly remark, and ignores the reality of evolution. Ever since we walked on two feet and left the trees in the African savannah, we have been the animal for all environments.
Our genius is in our mind, and we are the dominant species wherever we go because it allows us to be ultimately adaptable. We’ve even gone into outer space.
The sea is just as much our domain as theirs.
This argument also embodies a sort of Vegan approach to human rights. While humans may have the right to life, this is negated if it involves killing another animal.
Not only is man designed as a carnivore, but human existence has always involved the trading-off of animal rights for our rights. We would not have come this far if we were not prepared to kill.
The latest development in this argument is a democratic embellishment. Academics at Wollongong University have conducted a survey that purports to show that a majority of ocean users oppose shark nets.
Their argument is that because higher risk-tolerant users are happy to take the risk, we all should.
Try that one on your resident occupational health and safety officer and see how far you get.
These arguments matter not just to surfers who stray south of the border, but because they infect wider environmental debates.
For example, New South Wales is running out of gas, where it is widely used for household heating, while Queensland is exporting vast amounts.
Residents in New South Wales have been convinced that coal seam gas and fracking are an unacceptable environmental risk. That the environmental domain, as is, should not be tampered with by humankind.
As a result they will either have to import it from somewhere less squeamish, or do without, with the risk that cold weather will kill many people next winter.
Queensland is currently on the right side of the argument, and needs to stay there.
Yes, coalmines, dams, ports, new farms, roads, rail lines all cause destruction to other animals and vegetation, but that is not the point.
All species alter their environment. That is unavoidable. But each species has a pre-eminent duty to itself.
Fanning’s shark had nothing more than self-preservation in mind.
We may have better moral instincts than the animal, but we are still entitled to the same thing. Sentimental environmentalist arguments should not be allowed to obscure that reality.
NSW should net, and Australia should continue to develop.
Article originally published in the Courier Mail