Ethical Debate: People and Penguins

Ethical Debate: People and Penguins

In his article titled “People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution,” William Baxter (1974) supports an anthropocentric approach to ethics related to the environment. He specifies four goals that should be applied as the criteria in determining how human organization problems should be solved. He uses ‘people-oriented’ criteria and argues that we should see how we treat the environment as a matter of different trade-offs intending to promote human welfare. He appeals in two of his criteria to the Kantian idea that all people should be viewed as ends in themselves. Baxter, therefore, expresses his view of one of the ways that Kant’s ethics could be extended to the environment. This article, however, seeks to prove Baxter wrong on the ideas he presented.

In the article, Baxter (1974) proposes that when dealing with pollution or any other problem, a person should be aware of what he or she is trying to accomplish. He explains the four goals that he uses as the ultimate testing criteria in his attempts to come up with solutions to human organization problems. The first criterion is that human beings are free to do whatever they want to do, as long as they do not negatively affect others in doing so, this is the sphere of freedom. The second criterion is that waste is dangerous, and wasting resources or labor and skills should not be lost. His third one is that all human beings should be viewed not as a means but rather an end to be used in bettering another. Lastly, he states that the opportunity and incentive to improve a person’s satisfaction share should be preserved to every person. Incentives preservation relies on “no-waste” criteria.


Baxter (1974) speaks about the information provided by scientists that using DDT during food production is negatively affecting the penguin population. He states that just merely avoiding the use of DDT does not follow his criteria. His criteria are purely people-oriented, and not oriented to penguins. He continues to argue that the damage caused to penguins is merely irrelevant. For it to be relevant, he keeps, the importance of penguins to people. An example he gives is that the advantage that penguins have to humans is that they enjoy seeing them on the rocks. His criteria are based on people, and penguins should be saved not because of their own sake, but because of their benefits to human beings.

In explaining his criteria, he states that being people oriented is the only tenable analysis start point. He also argues that people depend on flora and fauna, and they will, therefore, be preserved. His third reason is that what is good for people will be good for nature and hence penguins. He concludes by saying there could not exist any other system that could be administered in nature preservation. He rejects the idea of doing things just because they are ‘morally correct’ or ‘right.’ He argues that morals are decided on their preference for selfish human needs. People should aim to attain the optimal state of pollution, as doing away with pollution as a whole would have negative effects on their lives. He concludes by saying that for pollution control to be initiated, it should be expressed in terms of what individuals will have to give up in doing the job (Baxter, 1974).

The goals that are stated by Baxter in developing a solution to the problems that arise in human organizations are wrong. Things ought to be done not because of selfish desires, but because they are what is right to be done. Baxter only stated that penguins should be protected because they are of an advantage to the human race, and their advantage is that they are enjoyable to watch. Following these criteria of Baxter to solve the problems that keep arising in the human race, it would, therefore, be more sensible to kill all penguins if it could benefit humans more. Making decisions that are centered on the selfish interests of people could be dangerous.

In applying the Kantian theory to the environmental framework, an action could be termed as right if it is what we would want other people in the globe to do. It should also permit the climate of the earth to sustain a healthy equilibrium. For example, a lot of people drive cars to places of work, and they do not question if it is right or wrong (Rentmeester, 2010). Although this is favorable to human beings, it contributes to greater amounts of anthropogenic climate change. If people decide on what is right or wrong depending on the degree it benefits them, and then pollution would still be encouraged to continue. A person could claim that the Kantian theory would be illegal in denying them to drive to work. If driving to work by car cannot be willed as a universal law so that all people would follow, the Kantian theory would qualify it. It is not likely that people would agree to everyone driving to work because of the negative results it causes, including pollution.

In the case of preserving penguins, it should not be done because it benefits human beings. The motive behind it should be that people should view it as the right thing to do, and it is what every person would agree if it were set as a universal law. Kantian theory views that what is the only natural thing to do would be the action that is of good will and an effort can only be useful if the reason behind it is a duty to the moral law (Rentmeester, 2010). The moral code according to Immanuel Kant is categorically imperative, and it acts on every human being, without any regard to their desires or interests. This statement contradicts Baxter’s view, where he states that an action should be termed as right only if it is of benefit to human beings.


In conclusion, Baxter’s view is wrong. Doing only what is right for humans would be selfish. People ought to do what is right because it is morally right, and that it would cause no problem if it became a universal law to be followed by everyone. What is beneficial to humans would not be what is best for nature.





Baxter W. F. (1974). People or penguins: The case for optimal pollution. Columbia University     Press. Pp 692-696.

Rentmeester C. (2010). A Kantian Look at Climate Change. University of South Florida. Climate             Ethics. 11(1).