Sometimes finding the right choice seems agonizingly difficult. Most people would probably agree without too much controversy that, all other things being equal, the extinction of species is not to anybody’s advantage, and that we humans ought to do our best to presevere orang-u-tans and tigers and whales and polar bears, and the hundreds of other mammals, fish, and most other living things that are currently under threat as a result of the inexorable onslaught of human activity.
But sometimes the right choice does not seem that obvious. Should, for instance, Montana ranchers and their domestic cattle take precedence over the last wild herd of American bison which have fought back from the brink of extinction a century ago? The farmers say their way of life will be destroyed if the bison roaming in Yellowstone National park are not culled drastically. Or should the Innuit people who have been living in Alaska for thousands of years be forbidden to kill the threatened polar bears and seals which are an essential food source for them if they are to continue to live on their native lands?
Should the way of life of Montana farmers be weighed in equal balance with the ancient way of life of the Innuit? Is it equally important to save the habitat of bison and polar bears? Along with the ethical dimensions of questions like these are the practical possibilities. The northern ice cap may be melting too fast to save either the polar bear or the Innuit way of life. The political fall out of culling thousands of bison may or may not be more important than the fall out of costing Montana ranchers millions of dollars in lost profits from encroaching bison and diseases ranchers say the bison are spreading.
There are hundreds more choices throughout the world like these. Almost certainly many times the outcomes of these choices have been and will continue to be tragic. But human ingenuity has found workable compromises as well. Africans who have found that there is greater benefit in the tourism drawn to see their wild animals than there is in slaughtering them fight against poaching. Companies who have found medical breakthroughs among threatened plants and animals are working to preserve them.
It isn’t always necessary to choose between who shall live and who shall die. Sometimes everybody living is a better option for us all.