Do we have any ethical obligations towards plants? Recently, a Swiss government panel addressed this very question--and concluded that we do.
Conservative publications, like the Weekly Standard, were predictably derisive about the whole notion. But I’m not so sure. We already--and rightly--recognize that plant species should be protected under laws like the Endangered Species Act. And last week the New York Times reported on the growing scientific evidence that plants perceptual and behavior abilities are far more complex than previously known. One scientist quoted in the article said that plants “have a secret social life.” There’s even an--albeit controvercial--Society of Plant Neorobiology composed of scientists who study plant behavior.
My intuition is that, as living things (and ones that are probably far more sentient than we realize) plants are due at least minimal moral consideration. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have the least problem with our use of plants--hell, I’m not even a vegetarian--but the Swiss panel’s basic conclusion that that we ought not to harm plants “arbitrarily” (according to the report, “[t]his kind of treatment would include, e.g. decapitation of wild flowers at the roadside without rational reason”) seems about right to me.
What do you think?