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Environmental Ethics

Volume 39, Issue 3, Fall 2017

Oscar Horta
Pages 261-279
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics201739320

Animal Suffering in Nature
The Case for Intervention

Many people think we should refrain from intervening in nature as much as possible. One of the main reasons for thinking this way is that the existence of nature is a net positive. However, population dynamics teaches us that most sentient animals who come into existence in nature die shortly thereafter, mostly in painful ways (due to starvation, predation, and other reasons). Those who survive often suffer greatly due to natural causes. If sentient beings matter, this gives us reasons to intervene to prevent such harms. This counterintuitive conclusion can be opposed by arguing (1) that we should not care about nonhuman animals; (2) that other values, such as the existence of certain ecosystemic relations or of untouched wild areas, count for more than the interests of sentient beings; or (3) that intervention in nature cannot succeed. There are, however, strong reasons to reject these claims and to support significant intervention in nature for the sake of animals, despite our deep-rooted intuitions to the contrary.