Ethical Obligations Toward Insect Pests

Ethics and the Environment 2 (1):5-23 (1997)
This paper examines the implications of considering the values and rights of insect pests in determining which insect control efforts to pursue. This consideration will depend on the scale of the control effort, that is, whether the control operates at the level of individual pest organisms, populations, or the entire pest species. I argue that an individual organism's rights cannot be taken into account in planning insect control, because of the practical impossibility of granting it anything but infinitesimal moral significance. However, in harming populations of insects, numbers become important and effects on local ecosystems should be considered. Given this, it still may be right to control or even eliminate a population if its negative value to humans is sufficiently high in relation to its ecological value. Eradication of a species involves irrevocable loss. I propose that species are unique individual entities and that our ethical obligations to insect pests lie in acknowledging the right of these species to continued, if controlled, existence. At this level, they must receive moral consideration in any actions taken.
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