Academy of Natural Sciences and How We Interact with the Environment
I frequently go to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Each Earth Day I try and visit; this Earth Day I made the trek and this visit reminded me a little bit of Mark Sagoff’s essay “Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Bad Marriage, Quick Divorce.” The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum and a world leader in biodiversity and environmental research. Their mission states, “for 200 years, the Academy has explored the remarkable diversity of our natural world, sharing these discoveries with the public through extraordinary collections, innovative exhibits, educational programming, and publications.”
When I first read the article when I was taking an animal ethics class in the fall of 2011, I never really explicitly thought about the article although I thought the article was interesting and made some good points. At the time I thought Sagoff was for the animal liberationists (since it was for an animal ethics class), but then I read his biography and the article made a lot more sense. He’s not totally against animal rights, but he thinks the theory of animal liberation is absurd since he argues that nature tends to treat animals worse than humans. “Few organisms survive to reach sexual maturity; most are quickly annihilated in the struggle for existence. All species reproduce in excess, way past the carrying capacity of their niche. In her lifetime a lioness might have 20 cubs; a pigeon, 150 chicks; a mouse, 1000 kits; a trout, 20,000 fry a tuna or cod, a million fry or ore; an elm tree, several million seeds; and an oyster, perhaps a hundred million spat. If one assumes that the population of each of these species is, from generation to generation, roughly equal, then on average only one offspring will survive to replace each parent” (42). Thus, he makes clear that the animal liberationists should focus more on getting the animal out of the wild instead of saving them from humans.
Sagoff claims and proves that “the S.P.C.A. does not set the agenda for the Sierra Club” and points out that “the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and the World Wildlife Fund do not fail in their mission insofar as they devote themselves to causes other than the happiness or welfare of individual creatures” (40). Animal liberationists can’t be environmentalists and vice versa according to Sagoff. I tend to disagree, however, and so did the class. I look at the Academy and they house animals that can’t make it in nature. They clearly want to teach children about the environment and habitats, but they don’t let the animals die. I think that clearly shows that there can be some overlap. However, even though the Academy of Natural Sciences houses animals, they still display taxidermy animals to teach children how animals live in their environment. They paint the dioramas to look just like the environment they came from. Sagoff mentions Aldo Leopold’s land ethic that “simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land” (38). The Academy lives the land ethic to bring education to the masses. I think the way in which they educate young children and adults alike is a fun way of doing things. When I was there for Earth Day, a field trip was there and the “oohs” and “ahs” of the children were amazing. It’s great to see people interested.
There is also a butterfly room at the Academy of Natural Sciences. I will admit that each time I go into that room I love to take pictures. This time around a volunteer was also taking pictures with her new cellphone. I don’t like to think I am commodifying nature, but even Leopold’s land ethics commodifies nature. Again, it’s an educational process and we learn about how even insects live in the environment, but we also use it for our gain. I remember reading something in the animal ethics class about a group being against zoos because it’s demoralizing for animals. I wonder if it’s the same for insects or if animal liberationists would include insects. The Academy treats the butterflies and moths nicely and tell children to be careful. I think this is here to educate because onlookers can see caterpillars hatch, form the chrysalis and then turn into a butterfly or moth. You also get to experience the humid environment they live in. I believe, like Sagoff, that this is important and we should preserve it. However, I think we should keep the living creatures in mind as well. I’m glad that Philadelphia has a resource like this so everyone can learn and appreciate their environment.