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: In medicine, in particular, and other areas of society we have a tendency to treat superficial symptoms and not the underlying causes.

    In my opinion, this is an attempt to treat a symptom of a greater issue, one which I would rather resources and efforts were spent on resolving. I think possession of this technology would one day be potentially beneficial but at the moment we are simply not ready.

    I also agree with some of the other comments that, as humans, it is irresponsible for us to play with things we don't fully understand. For example, by a simple change in perception we can see how, perhaps, we have in fact benefited other species on this planet by eradicating their natural enemies which may cause a chain reaction in an ecosystem, thereby providing opportunity for other species and even enforcing the Darwinian "survival of the fittest".

    The point being, we are asking the wrong questions and need to start asking the right questions. We know we can do it. Whether we should do it or not, we probably will anyway. So perhaps the correct question is whether doing this will truly benefit and serve humanity as well as the planet? Is this in our best interests?

    P.S. I've never considered some these points before but I would like to accredit Dr John F. DeMartini with new insight.

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