Saving Nature but Only for Man
Charles Krauthammer, in his essay “Saving Nature, but Only for Man,” argues against whom he refers to as a sentimental environmentalist. Charles Krauthammer is a well-known right-wing political columnist and commentator who has worked or contributed to a number of magazines throughout his career (Krauthammer 292) His purpose behind writing this article was to prove that nature is here to serve man and not the other way around. The logic of his argument derives from an unusual form of pathos: an appeal to a human’s fondness for other humans over so-called luxurious aspects of the environment.
This pathos coupled with appealing to people’s fear and moralistic views are the rhetorical strategies he utilizes throughout his argument. Krauthammer begins his argument by saying that people are beginning to make protecting the environment and becoming more green-friendly a prominent moral value in 1991’s society. With great influences and important figures like Ted Turner and George Bush, along with companies such as Dow and Exxon showing their “love for Mother Earth,” people are starting to change their views and attitudes of the environment (292).
This type of environmentalist (or what he refers to as a “sentimental environmentalist at the end of his essay (294)) is inclined to intertwine man and nature into one, but Krauthammer on the other hand claims that “When man has to choose between his well-being and that of nature, nature will have to accommodate”. (293). The foundation of his argument comes from Protagoras’ old maxim, that “Man is the measure of all things” (293). In other words, man can only know the universe through man’s eyes. All of physics is human physics, all of philosophy is human philosophy.
In the past, animals (including humans) have accommodated to nature, suffering through various natural disasters: floods, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes and hurricanes. Krauthammer claims that now we must make the natural world into a natural world form humans (293). Krauthammer’s first goal in his argument was to inject a sense of fear to his readers. To do this, he provides an example of what’s currently happening in our ecosystem, such as the looming crises of the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion, and how stopping these man-made disasters would e a necessity (292). These two problems are undeniably the result of our civilization, but are made urgent only because they threaten man. In Krauthammer’s eyes, the threat to nature they create is only credible because damaging nature (in this case at least) means damaging us humans. This is why we should stop the damaging climate change; not to save nature, but to save nature for mankind. This is not an effective plan of attack. By taking this approach, Krauthammer is relying on the reader accepting his or her own ego-centrism.
Whether or not the reader is wholly self-interested, no one is swayed by accusations of selfishness. He also appeals to people’s emotions by having them imagine themselves requesting “hardworking voters to sacrifice in the name of the snail darter”, only then to say that these voters would barely even give them a “shrug” (293). This is an obscure reference. It is confusing for the reader because many who would come across the term “snail darter” would assume that Krauthammer is referencing a member of the lower class, where in reality it’s a type of bird.
However, this can be effective because whether or not his audience knows that a snail darter is a bird, the reader is likely imagining themselves being these hardworking voters, and feel shame because of their potential actions. This is his strange use of pathos: that we, as humans, should care for other humans more than other living things, especially if we don’t even care enough for birds. Any reader capable of feeling compassion for the snail darter or guilt for the voters will not separate man and nature, and therefore will not make this distinction in his argument.
The staggering amount of favoritism he gives to humans, especially in comparison with other aspects of the planet, is at the center of each of his examples. Which of these would be more correct: killing and ruining the livelihood of humans, or the destruction of a species’ natural habitat? Krauthammer makes the attempt to tap into people’s moralistic views, otherwise known as ethos. He knows that when it comes to having to choose between the two, people would generally sacrifice the animals before themselves or their kind.
With this in mind, he creates a sequence of events that makes his audience aware that sentimentalizing the environment is not always the right choice for the benefit of humanity. For instance, he brings up the topic of the war in the Middle East. Krauthammer states that the only reason why we’re having this war is because we believe that drilling for oil in Alaska could disturb the caribou breeding grounds. We would not have to police the Middle East for their oil if we could get the exact same product from our own soil (293).
This too is an appeal to emotions because people do not want other people to die in vain, especially when there is another solution to avoid these deaths of American soldiers. He gives a similar example, this time in a hypothetical situation, with a forest full of spotted owls. The welfare of thirty thousand lumberjacks and their families depend upon logging this forest, which could cause the extinction of this spotted owl (293). Again Krauthammer is forgetting his target audience.
No “sentimental environmentalist” will agree to ending a human conflict by sacrificing the lives of innocent animals. These examples are incapable of changing the minds of the readers who disagree with his views. If there’s anything effective about his argument, it is what he does to draw in his audience of choice. Clearly there would be no point in trying to convince an audience that’s already in agreement with Krauthammer, so he targets these so-called sentimental environmentalists. Among other things, he does this by choosing a very intriguing title for his essay.
Generally, people who see the phrase “Saving Nature, but Only for Man” as the title for an argument would think that the author is trying to make a point that “Man” in general is selfishly saving nature for themselves and not for animals or any other living organism. Just like any regular person would do (in this case, a sentimental environmentalist), one is only interested in reading something that would correlate with their point of view. With this Man-is-Selfish title, Krauthammer would have accomplished his goal in captivating an audience who is in favor of what the title seems to be.
Then, once these green friendly citizens are already reading Krauthammer’s argument, they will have the chance to see his logic and reasoning as to why it is necessary to become more anthropocentric. The real problem is that he abandons this audience soon after, scolding his target readers more than convincing them. The most obvious opening in this argument is that we as humans cannot foresee all of the consequences of our actions. Actually labeling every part of nature as a luxury or necessity does a disservice to the cycles within cycles that is the environment.
Too many species and topics can fall in a gray area between the two and any moderation in Krauthammer’s argument is not readily apparent. For example, one forest of spotted owls may not mean much, but certainly the Earth as a whole needs a certain number of trees, and possibly a certain number of flying predators to keep the rodent population under control (something they do simply, which we humans often struggle with). To begin another example, humans eat a lot of salmon. Bears also eat a lot of salmon.
If we cut down the bear population, we could harvest more salmon safely. However, this pattern may not continue into other food chains. Sharks also eat salmon, but if we killed all the sharks, the fish that they eat (and the fish that we don’t eat) will multiply out of control, and ruin the ocean for the salmon. Krauthammer’s argument hinges upon humans being the appropriate (or at least competent) caretakers of the complex planet Earth. We have neither the maturity nor the technology to manage an entire planet’s ecology.
One can also notice a large sense of bias in Krauthammer’s argument. There is at least one time where he insults his target audience, actually stating that “… this anthropocentrism runs against the grain of a contemporary environmentalism that indulges in earth worship to the point of idolatry” (293). This may be true of some, but to say that the current environmental activists all engage in some kind of nature worship is a little overboard. Instead of alienating his audience, Krauthammer should be working to find middle ground or at least convert their beliefs.
Despite a deceptive title, Krauthammer’s argument is a poorly-crafted article that only serves to state his opinion. His methods of arguing (arousing the audience’s affection and conscientious minds) are powerful but unsuccessful because it does not take the reader’s viewpoint into consideration. However, it is ultimately up to the reader to decide its impact. The consequences of a world where we value ourselves above all else will have unforeseen negative side effects. If nothing else, our future rests in the decision we make, and in whether or not we choose to trust our own judgment or in mother nature’s.