chapter  1
The concept of ecological justice
Pages 10

In a three-part series entitled The State of the Planet, broadcast on BBC television in November 2000, Sir David Attenborough, the person associated, at least in British minds, with nature and the environment in all its forms, provided a lucid and alarming survey of the main ways in which human beings are currently destroying many of the plants and animals around them, driving many towards extinction. During the second episode, in the course of considering the reasons for the humancaused extinction of a species of snail unique to Hawaii, he addressed the issue of whether it mattered that one small species of snail should become extinct, especially as apparently no other ecological damage had resulted, as far as we know. His reply to this question was as follows: ‘Surely it is sad indeed that our descendants should inherit a natural world that is more impoverished than the one we inherited?’ (BBC 2000a). This sort of rather wistful response to the extinction of other species is often encountered. In voicing it David Attenborough was simply expressing a prevalent view, even among those who regard themselves as concerned for the natural environment. In further identifying as the injured party ‘our descendants’, he also adopted a standpoint which is widespread, even among those most concerned about the prospects of large-scale human-caused extinctions of other species. The possibility of there being any wrong done to the species of snail, or to the individual members of the species, receives no mention at all, not even to be dismissed. Apparently it is only the possible losses to actual and future human beings, whether aesthetic, cultural, scientific, medical, economic, recreational and so forth, that count.