Thursday, December 05, 2019

Possible logical constraints on principles in animal ethics that entail vegetarianism or veganism

Makah canoe
I believe in a strong conception of ethics (in the sense that it borders on the spiritual) on behalf of all non-human animals (hence for this and other reasons, I have a vegan diet) and corresponding forms of legal rights, including a legal conception of “personhood” (which relies on some different and some overlapping criteria for what counts in metaphysical and moral terms as personhood for human beings) for at least some animals (i.e., one that requires a demanding form of legally defined protections, proscriptions, and obligatory actions): dolphins, porpoises, whales, apes, monkeys, elephants, corvids, and some domestic animals (and thus other species), for example. I well realize my values, principles and beliefs on this score are not commonplace and unlikely to be so in the near or perhaps even distant future. That said, I’m unequivocally in favor of the Makah Indian tribe being allowed—in keeping with the federal government’s treaty obligations—to resume the hunting of whales (thus my conception of animal ethics is not ‘absolutist,’ meaning there are possible exceptions to its strictures even if it is, on the whole, comparatively strict).
Makah art
The excerpt below is from the article on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times: 

“The Makah, who live in the Olympic Peninsula’s northwest corner, Neah Bay, have asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a waiver from the Marine Mammal Protection Act so they can restart their traditional whale hunt, harvesting up to 20 animals over the next 10 years. They are supported by the federal government and tribal communities around the globe, who point to an 1855 treaty specifically granting the Makah the right to hunt whales. In return for $30,000, and the ceding of 300,000 acres, Washington’s then-Gov. Isaac Stevens granted the Makah ‘the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing.’ [….] 

Government scientists say the hunt, which would grant the tribe roughly 2.5 whales per year, will have an insignificant effect on Eastern Gray Whale populations, which the last census suggested is at a historically high level — about 27,000 whales.”
Another and related instance of an exception or constraint to an animal ethics principle (or principles) involves the North American Indians who’ve come together as the United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB).* These North American Indians are fighting public policy and regulatory decisions that are part of the Trump Administration and Republican Party’s grand political and economic strategy to expand yet further the opportunities for corporate capitalist avarice and destruction of the environment; in this case, avarice and destruction in utter disregard of the lives of fifteen federally recognized Tribes in Southwest Alaska (I suppose this is what is meant by ‘make America great again’): 

“Bristol Bay, its waters, our salmon and our way of life are at risk.  We have been working to protect this place, along with many partners, for nearly 2 decades.  The threat is Pebble Mine—a massive open pit mine proposed to be constructed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. The mine puts at risk a way of life that has sustained the indigenous people of the region since time immemorial; a commercial fishery that has been going strong for more than 130 years; and habitat that gives birth to the world’s largest wild salmon run. Salmon are a way of life here.”
Bristol Bay
 From the Los Angeles Times: “Will pristine Bristol Bay be the Trump administration’s next sacrifice?” 

“Even by the vanishingly low ethical and environmental standards of the Trump administration, the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska stands out for its shamelessness. Southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, which would be irrevocably upended if the mine were to be built, is the last major fully functional salmon ecosystem in North America⁠. All the others, on both coasts, have mostly or entirely succumbed to logging, mining, farming, ranching, damming, overfishing and development.
But Bristol Bay is still pristine, and as a result it possesses one of the last great wild salmon fisheries on Earth. It annually produces about half of the world’s sockeye salmon, among the most highly valued salmon types. Although many fisheries throughout the world have crashed, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game reported a total Bristol Bay salmon run last year of 62.3 million fish — an all-time record. 

Most of Bristol Bay’s 7,000 residents are Alaska Natives who maintain a subsistence economy that has existed for at least 4,000 years; they embody some of the last intact salmon-based cultures in the world. Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, calls Pebble Mine an ‘existential’ threat to the Natives’ way of life. [….]

In response to a petition filed by Bristol Bay Native groups arguing that the mine would violate the Clean Water Act, the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency conducted a three-year, peer-reviewed scientific assessment published in 2014. It concluded that the mine and its vast infrastructure would “jeopardize the long-term health and sustainability of the Bristol Bay ecosystem,” and proposed rigorous salmon protections that the project couldn’t meet.”

Pebble Bay protest 2
I thus cannot countenance any animal ethics argument on behalf of either vegetarianism or veganism that does now allow these Indians their traditional (Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq) ways of life.  

* “United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) is a tribal consortium working to protect the traditional Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq ways of life in Southwest Alaska that depend on the pristine Bristol Bay Watershed and all it sustains, most notably Bristol Bay’s wild salmon. UTBB’s membership consists of 15 federally recognized Tribes in Bristol Bay, representing over 80 percent of the region’s population. Bristol Bay Tribes founded UTBB in 2013 after recognizing the need for a united voice in their longtime efforts to protect our way of life.” 

Relevant bibliographies


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