Life Has Value Outside of the Monetary Value We Put on it as Humans

“Be nice to the bees.. they do a lot of good for us”. Advert in a Berlin U-Bahn Station.

For the last month things have been quite hectic for me but there are a few things in particular to be thankful for now that the heatwave seems to have passed. I can finally wear my trademark white tennis socks; and of course, I can breathe again. However, there are still an insane amount of insects. They seem to be about the only things to have thrived during the heatwave, given the negative consequences experienced by humans.  

Since being back in Berlin – moving here being the main reason behind my hectic schedule – I’ve constantly walked past an insect related advert which continues to play on my mind. On the poster there’s a picture of a happy as ever bee – though perhaps a little unrealistic, given that he’s a slave to a monarchy – alongside which is a sentence: “be nice to the bees, they do a lot of good for us”. As we head towards the Autumn months, the importance of the advert diminishes, as the bee populations begin to dwindle during the colder months of the year. But it doesn’t rid me of asking that nagging question: is life only valuable when it has a use to us?

God Save the Queen Bees

If you have any kind of social media account, I’m sure you’ve seen countless videos of people feeding exhausted bees a concoction of water and sugar to help them get back on their feet. And by the way, I’m not saying that this isn’t a good thing. Bees are said to be responsible for producing a third of what we eat as humans. They’re also used for the crops we use for animal fodder and in the production of cotton. Therefore they’re incredibly important to the system we live in. In fact, in certain countries like Germany, they’re actually protected by law (alongside wasps, hornets and other insects). 

Bee being fed sugar water. Source: Callum Hoare.

However, say that the bees weren’t responsible for an industry worth €153 billion worldwide, would we still care about their wellbeing? Given the way people treat other insects whose existence doesn’t quite lead to such profits – such as spiders or moths – I imagine the answer would be a resounding no. I can already hear the flyswatters whipping through the air in this alternative version of Earth.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

Of course, this kind of “allowing animals to live as long as they’re useful” idea extends to other living things. How we force horses to subject to our will, then have them killed when they can no longer race; the fact that in the egg industry, male chicks are gassed or ground up within hours of hatching because they don’t have the necessary reproductive system to produce eggs; or similarly how male calfs are separated from their mothers at birth and killed for veal so they don’t drink her breast milk that is to be sold for human consumption, whereas their sisters are to suffer the same fate as their mother. 

These are just some examples, and there are certainly more, but they highlight how these animals are allowed to live depending on their usefulness to us. This goes against the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. The declaration is a document which in July 2012 was signed by a “prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists” which states that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness”. This means animals also hate their jobs, enjoy social activities with their friends and stay together for the kids, just like the rest of us. 

The right to live

Regardless of what a group of scientists say, it’s quite clear that living things have the drive not to die from our own experiences in life. I’m not going to pretend I’ve never killed a spider before, or slammed a moth into the wall using a book I’ve never read. However, it’s immediately clear when you miss that they panic and scramble in an attempt to stay alive. While in the grand scheme of things “it’s just a spider”, to that particular being, its life is the only thing that it has. On National Wildlife Day, it’s also important to take into account that all sentient life forms on this Earth have the right to their own lives: wild and domesticated animals, insects and of course humans as well. 

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Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.