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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  • Apr 6 2013: :) I read, Science is developing the tools towards extinction of species on the planet become extinct. The question becomes; Should we? dyslexia!

    In answer to your actual question, "should we rewrite history, probably not but then pandoras box is wide open and cannot be closed, we can either fear change or embrace it"
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      Apr 6 2013: Thank you for clarifying.
      Your point brings up the question regarding "we can either fear change or embrace it";
      Does that mean we should not maintain control of our choices as to how change occurs?
      - We burn oil, even though we know the consequences, be it right or wrong.
      - We develop medicine to save lives, which we believe is right.
      We need not fear change, but we should make informed choices regarding change, that's what this conversation is all about.
      Do we have the information needed to assess the potential consequences of this science?
      That's not fear, just good science.

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