Posted by: carlsafina | Thursday, June 5 08

Survival of the Leatherbacks

The New York Times’ Andy Revkin writes, “Does the world need leatherback turtles?  Most likely not.”

To morph into an actual question, this tiresomely vague query, “Does the world need…[fill in the blank],” has to ask:

For what? 

For whom?

Implied is that people are the same as “the world.”  Accepting this bold assumption, we can restate:  do people need leatherback turtles?

Do we need ball point pens?  Antibiotics?  Indoor plumbing?  The framers of the Constitution, who knew a thing or two about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, had none of these things.  Nor do most people living today.  People, it turns out, need very little.  But some people would prefer not to live in poverty.  We were born to a rich living world.  No religious or ethical tradition would suggest we should leave it poorer.

The world does not need opera, baseball, cheap bottled beer, or computers.  Only a tiny fraction of people–even of just the people alive right now–have known these things.

Asking if the world needs leatherback turtles assumes four things:

1)  That we understand perfectly all of their possible value and so are in a position to answer.                    

2)  That those who love, are fascinated and inspired by, or whose living depends partly on studying or guiding interested people to see leaterhback turtles have no right to enjoy them or depend on their existence, if most other people don’t care.

3)  No one has reason to expect that a thousand-pound animal that has been here for hundreds of millions of years without us should, by rights alone, continue, unless some threshold-number of people make some “use” of it.

4)   That we have asked all the people yet to be born if they will want it, and they–all of them–said, “Nah, go ahead and destroy it.”   

Expectant parents paint animals on the walls of nurseries because they wish to usher newborn children into the world with an acknowledgement that they have come to a place with a rich living endowment.   

Only a few people need–or have heard of–leatherback turtles.  But if people vanished, it’s fairly clear that leatherback turtles would survive.  If leatherbacks vanish, it’s a symptom that it’s less clear people will survive.  That we even ask the question makes it clear to me that our chance of surviving is less than it could be.


  1. Sea turtles harm no one and have a right to live. We need to protect our animals that are pesistantly killed for reasons of greed and Ignorance.
    If fishermen killed bald eagles by the thousands our world would do something about it.
    Why so we let fishermen and their nets ( even free floating ones ) kill thousands of Sea Turtles every year ?

  2. Thanks so much for keeping this blog. Your books have been so inspirational as I swim through this climate of “taking.” You so eloquently express what so many need to hear.

  3. I read the article by Revkin and although I found the question to be provocative, the question left me unsettled and unhappy. As one of those people inspired by and in love with the leatherback I think the simple fact of their existence says we need them. But Revkin makes a good point, that maybe that’s not enough.

    Thank you for framing a response to Revkin’s question that makes sense to me. And thank you for this blog.

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