TED Conversations

David Johnson

Remote Emergency Medical Responder, Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir

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Science is developing the tools towards de-extinction of species on the planet that have become extinct. The question becomes; Should we?

Stewart Brand and his colleagues are at the biotech precipice of reviving extinct species. The Revive and Restore project plans to not only bring species back but restore them to the wild, as well as protect currently endangered species.

I don't think any of us will have a problem with the latter, this discussion is focused on the primary goal; reintroduction of extinct species. We are not talking about dinosaurs here, but the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Heath Hen, European Aurochs, Bucardo, The Taz Tiger, etc.

Up for debate here: Should we?

Where we can all appreciate the science being developed, we must discuss the implications of initiating projects like this. I submit we need to discuss this on behalf of the existing species that we have, as well as for the animals that are lost.

Some questions to consider:

Do we value the argument that we should 'undo the harm' that humans have caused in the past, due to over-hunting or destruction of habitat? Should we rewrite or undo history?

Many of these species have not been in the natural environment for 100 years. It is fair to say that the natural predators or prey of these species, the plants or insect life they feed on, the environments they roam through ... have altered in their absence. Has the cycle of the earth, moved on without them?

We have a long history of experiencing what can happen when biodiversity is altered by introducing a species not indigenous to the area in question. Cane Toads in Australia, Grey Squirrel in Europe or the Gypsy Moth.

Is this project actually an introduction of a species back into an environment that may not be able to sustain it as it once did?

Even though we can grieve the lost of the Dodo, should we bring it back at all costs?

Or as Daniel Chan asks below;

how can we effectively simulate the effects of introducing pre-existing species to the environment before actually doing so?

What other Questions should we ask?


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    Mar 15 2013: Why not? Without resorting to fear-mongering or idle speculation about what "might" happen, give me one reason why we shouldn't.
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      Mar 15 2013: If I may respond in kind Christopher:
      Why should we?
      Without resorting to emotive based feelings of loss or grief for the extinct species, or as a response to feelings of responsibility for driving them to extinction in the first place, or even quoting non existent scientific proof that guarantees that biodiversity itself would be repaired if reintroduced ... why should we?
      Not quite that simple is it? Some people are bound by fear, others by hope, is this the real debate?
      Thanks for sounding in.
      • Mar 18 2013: And by the damage done by mankind now which will be even more in the future I'd say preserve as much as we can and keep mother nature as she is now and let herself decide whether some species are allowed to live after we re-introduce extinct species back to nature.
    • Mar 19 2013: 'Without resorting to fear-mongering or idle speculation about what "might" happen,'

      Not considering what might happen is exactly how many species became extinct.

      That attitude is irresponsible and childish. "Lets just do it and see what happens" might be acceptable in your kitchen, but it is unethical when a whole ecosystem is involved.

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