An African account of the moral obligation to preserve biodiversity
We are losing species at a rate of up to 100 times the natural background rate, and it is said that we have entered the earth’s sixth mass extinction. While there is significant agreement that the huge acceleration in loss of biodiversity is primarily caused by human activity, it is not at all obvious that we are morally obliged to prevent species loss. Environmental ethicists have struggled to provide a robust account of our moral obligations towards species qua species, rather than merely towards individual members of species. I argue that there are notions in African thought that can enrich our discourse about obligations to preserve biodiversity. Firstly, I argue there are African conceptions that are able to overcome the challenge of anthropocentrism – the idea that nature has no intrinsic value, and only has instrumental value to humans. I show that many African theorists point to the interrelatedness of natural entities as grounds for treating nature with respect. I also argue that a sub-Saharan conception of moral considerability, grounded in the notion of an interconnected “web of life,” is able to accord moral standing to species qua species. Secondly, I give an account of an African conceptualisation of our moral duties to future generations that entails a strong obligation to preserve biodiversity for posterity. I identify two salient notions in African thought that ground an obligation to protect nature for the sake of future generations. The first is that the natural environment does not belong to the present generation, but is shared across generations. The second is that the present generation owes a debt of gratitude to ancestral generations for having preserved the environment on its behalf, and that this gratitude ought to motivate the present generation to protect nature for the sake of posterity, too. Finally, I argue – pragmatically – that, given the value of eco-tourism for African countries, the preservation of the rich biodiversity of the continent ought to be a priority.