It was just a weed. For this to lead to a serious ethical dilemma was the last thing I expected. But it did. Our thought process indeed knows no bounds.
It was a sunny Sunday after a rainy Saturday. I was pulling out weeds from my garden. The moist soil made the job easier. While pulling one tiny plant thinly spread over the pebbles I paused and thought of the effort and energy the plant had spent growing that far. And here I was nullifying all that expense in a snap by uprooting it. It’s a “weed” for me. For nature, it’s just another plant. It started its life like any other living creature. Its cells must have multiplied everyday and worked hard on the environment gathering nutrients and fixing carbon. So why did I single out that plant? Because it’s ruining the appearance of my garden. I wouldn’t be bothered about thinking beyond that. Until that time.
“We should have goats. I would rather this weed become part of food chain than throw it away.” I told my daughter who was weeding another section of the garden.
“Goats are good,” she said. “They feed on pretty much anything and grow. A self-sustaining organic mower.”
“And then they give milk which you could drink.”
“Umm… I don’t like goat milk. It tastes weird.”
“It’s an acquired taste. Nutrient-wise the milk is very good.”
“But it has to give birth to be able to produce milk. Have you thought about that? Which means you need to also keep male goats.”
“Not necessarily,” it was my wife who until then was quietly listening to us while sowing seeds in a fresh veggie patch. “You could take it to a goat farm.”
I added, “Also, there must be facilities these days for artificial insemination I am sure. But of course we need to think from end to end before taking any step.”
I noticed that my daughter was unusually quiet. I asked, “What happened?”
“I don’t like this idea of producing babies that will be ultimately killed for the sake of us having milk.”
“But we do drink milk…”
“Yeah I know…”
“Then isn’t it like turning a blind eye to a problem and pretending it doesn’t exist? It’s like the milk comes from fridge or at best from supermarket and I don’t want to know anything beyond that. Or even if I know I don’t care.”
“Yes I know. Perhaps it’s best to be as sustainable as we could.”
“And what about this weed?” I was hell bent on dragging the discussion back to weeds. “Just because this poor creature does not have a central nervous system to feel the pain, we can do anything with it?”
“Well we can put this in compost. That way there is reuse of resources.”
The argument ended there. But not the one brewing inside my mind. It’s not just the patch of land I own. We have changed the entire land habitat of the world in a big way.
We control lives of not only domesticated plants and animals but also wildlife. We decide which species should thrive alongside us. Artificial selection by us is rivalling natural selection at least in the ecosystems close to where we live. We have also made wholesale changes to ecosystems, for instance, by altering course and storage of surface water flow.
Our horizons are expanding by leaps and bounds. We are seriously looking beyond the planet we inhabit. We like to believe that we are the only creatures to have a pan-global outlook. With this self-confidence however comes greater responsibility. We cannot afford to be selfish anymore. Not even in the name of doing things beneficial to humankind. We must look beyond our species. Pandemic period has opened our perspective to alternative ways of leading our lives. As a living animal, we have to consume for survival. Yet what we consume and how we do it can be better managed. We must question what we have been doing as a matter of habit. Even a small act like weeding. We humans have been bestowed with exceptionally large neocortex for a reason.