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: I think one important question which should be asked regarding the de-extinction project is what's the real motivation in doing this project.

    The sub-divisions of this question are: Do the scientists want to improve our surroundings, improve the ecosystems, improve the chain-of-food in nature, heal the nature...etc ?? Or is it the scientists common ambition to demonstrate their scientific abilities and achievements, regardless of the possible consequences of the de-extinction ?? Or is it our general human regret & feelings of guilt for committing so much harm to the nature during the generations, that now we as a human race seek desperately every way to compensate the nature for the harm we have been doing to it for generations ??

    We as humans have exploited the animal kingdom recklessly to gratify our needs without heeding to the needs of the past nature. Is it possible that now we are restoring the animal kingdom back to the nature, just to gratify again our human ego, without again heeding to the real needs of the present nature ??
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      Mar 15 2013: Thank you for your thoughts and for joining the conversation Yubal.
      I would respond as I did below regarding the scientist perspective towards discovery.

      It is our scientists job to continuously reach far ahead and wonder ... what if? Can we? and How do I?

      We will always hold a debt of gratitude to the work of science. If we lower the boom requiring them to consider every angle of ethical consideration regarding their work, they will not be able to reach ahead and find questions for themselves to answer. They would literally be tied down by limitation.

      We need them to dream and test, and discover.
      The earth is not flat, nor the center of the universe. We know this as it was science that proved it so, even though initial proponents of these ideas were persecuted. We need not persecute science for this discovery, but discuss the next step.

      You ask; "is it the scientists common ambition to demonstrate their scientific abilities and achievements, regardless of the possible consequences of the de-extinction ?? "

      I would answer ... yes. It is their job to work theoretically and practically towards realization of an idea. It is their job to disseminate data and report possibilities, and they did that in this case at TED. It is our job to balance values, morals and ethics, and determine how discoveries should be mainstreamed ... or not.

      How should the world respond? What should be the format and who are the players involved to discuss how to proceed? That is the question.

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