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 23 2013: This is not so much a matter of ecosystems and the environment and how the species will affect that. It is much larger than that, delving into a realm they should not enter: creation. As God created the world for humans and gave us dominion over it, we realized that the world around us, all things living and unliving, are here for our purposes of life on earth. They do not come with us to the afterlife, nor do they serve a grand purpose in the scheme of things. As they are created by God, we should not ruthlessly kill those living things, but we should not revive them as well. For if there was some peculiar reason that they should still be in existence, God through his grace would have intervened to keep them alive. That is not the case for those animals, and we have no reason to question God's motives, for our intellect is not on His supreme level. Therefore it is not in our right as human beings to "play God" and recreate these species of animals.
    • Mar 28 2013: Mike, why do you believe God put living organisms (other than humans) on this earth solely "for our purposes?" Perhaps our God-given mission here was to be stewards of the planet instead of rapists? And we DID ruthlessly kill many of the now extinct species, did we not? We therefore played God, right? Should we now consider making amends to God by restoring His creation? What if God does not intervene in circumstances on earth but is leaving it up to us (as stewards)? I don't see any problem with fixing what we've broken, and don't believe God would, either.

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