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: De-extinction - what's the point?

    by way of example....

    if a loved one is killed unjustly, and with technology you can bring a body to life which is identical to hers, is it her? no, it's not. She is lost forever. You cannot reproduce an individual and take back the harm that was done to her. She is gone.

    In a similar way, those animals killed because of a combination of greed and cruelty and stupidity cannot be brought back. We can bring back replacements, copies in body only, but those replacements don't in any way balance the moral ledger.

    What purpose does a replacement Dodo serve? Would they be kept in captivity, on display, furthering our own selfish interests instead of the interests of the animal?
    • Mar 15 2013: Well you can't technically compare human beings and animals in this way (sorry! all of y'all animal rights peps out there) we have a concious, and it is arguable the animals lack in that aspect in many ways and our conciousness is really what defines us from one another.
      On the other hand we are not trying to "balance the moral ledger", this is pure science, the ecosystem is not healthy right now, pointing fingers is not going to solve anything, nor is feeling bad about it. But here is a practicaly way of undoing what has been done, now that's a practical solution.
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        Mar 15 2013: In your mind I may not be able to validly do a comparison, but it's clear to me. Many animals have some level of conscousness - they feel and can be driven insane. As for those engaged in pure science, well they are not exempt from ethics either. The notion that they are not is pure BS.

        I am all for trying to keep nature in balance, and this includes preventing further extinctions of animal and plants which are on the edge, and not harming animals in general. My point was about the animals which are extinct, who are long gone, for which harm has already been done. It isn't at all clear that we understand enough to know how to introduce these animals back into nature so that balance is better restored, if that is even the objective. We already know many ways to help with nature's balance, not the least of which is dramatically reducing our footprint on this planet by way of population control measures.

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