1. There's an amusing and alarming chapter on naming rights in Michael Sandel's generally amusing and alarming book What Money Can't Buy. I thought of it when I kept on seeing signs like the one below in redwood groves in Jedediah Smith State Park.
2. Here Russell Blackford segues from my recent tree post to an interesting (and sympatico) thing he wrote about respect. By the way, the petite person in the sequoia picture is my daughter.
3. Everyone seems to be talking about plant ethics. Gary Francione and Gary Marder debate plant ethics here. Marder makes some pretty wild claims about plant "awareness"--
As I have pointed out, contemporary research in botany gives us ample reasons to believe that plants are aware of their environment in a nonconscious way—for instance, thanks to the roots that are capable of altering their growth pattern in moving toward resource-rich soil or away from nearby roots of other members of the same species. To ignore such evidence in favor of a stereotypical view of plants as thing-like is counterproductive, both for ethics and for our understanding of what they are.
Plants are "aware in a non-conscious way," Marder claims. How's plant "awareness" different from plants simply being responsive? Plants are certainly highly responsive to their environments. The book I'm reading about trees (The Trees in My Forest, by Bernd Heinrich) makes it clear they're much, much more responsive than you would imagine. Still, why speak of "awareness"? "Aware in a non-conscious way" may be a concept with some application, but arguably only to things that can also be aware in a conscious way. For example, it might be okay to say that someone seeing a red spot on the wall via blindsight is aware of the spot's color in a non-conscious way. I don't see anything but confusion arising from talking about the non-conscious awareness of trees.
4. Big, big, big mystery: for some reason trees can achieve all the responsiveness they need without any consciousness (or awareness). It's only when an organism starts being able to move around from one environment to another that (evidently) mere responsiveness is not enough, and it's more adaptive to have a brain with conscious awareness. Locomotion and consciousness go hand in hand. That's not something you would have expected, a priori, but seems pretty likely to be true.
5. The search for plant consciousness. Evidently it has a long history.
6. I wrote a paper recently about whether experimentation on the great apes should be prohibited (it will appear in Current Debates in Bioethics, to be published by Wiley-Blackwell). One of my arguments is that we can value something over saving human lives, even without attributing rights to that thing. My example was that trees along French boulevards are preserved, even though it's well known that they cause fatal traffic accidents. On my trip through redwood country, I discovered a better example.
Along the roads in Jedediah Smith State Park there are colossally big, thousand year old redwoods protruding right into the road. There are warning reflectors affixed to them, and they probably cause some number of fatalities every decade. It's defensible that we should keep these trees, even at that cost. Obviously we do so because we value redwoods, not because the trees have rights. Likewise it's possible to mount an argument for ending the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research without having to get into any perplexing talk of their having rights. Of course chimapanzees, unlike trees, do have feelings like pleasure and pain, so we have further reasons to be concerned about how we treat them. But the mandate to spare their lives doesn't have to rest on a rights argument.