Via AosHQ, meet a controversy you may not be aware of: the politics of using genetic engineering to recreate extinct species. Although admittedly the NYT thought that it was just writing about passenger pigeons.
More pressing to conservationists is a practical anxiety: Money. De-extinction is a flashy new competitor for patronage. As the conservationist David Ehrenfeld said at a Revive & Restore conference: “If it works, de-extinction will only target a very few species and is extremely expensive. Will it divert conservation dollars from tried-and-true conservation measures that already work, which are already short of funds?”
De-extinction also poses a rhetorical threat to conservation biologists. The specter of extinction has been the conservation movement’s most powerful argument. What if extinction begins to be seen as a temporary inconvenience? The ecologist Daniel Simberloff raised a related concern. “It’s at best a technofix dealing with a few species,” he told me. “Technofixes for environmental problems are band-aids for massive hemorrhages. To the extent that the public, who will never be terribly well informed on the larger issue, thinks that we can just go and resurrect a species, it is extremely dangerous. . . . De-extinction suggests that we can technofix our way out of environmental issues generally, and that’s very, very bad.”
Well, it’s certainly bad for people who get paychecks from Big Green. Not that I’m generally for or against recreating non-sentient species, unless of course they taste good, yield up valuable resources, make excellent pets, or otherwise benefit humanity by their presence. Which, yes, can include being a vital part of the local ecosystem, which is why you need to be careful about what happens to, say, bees, mosquitoes, and earthworms.
…Hey, I’m an apex predator AND a tool-user. I draw the line at sentient and proto-sentient species: if you can have a meaningful conversation with an adult member of its species, tread lightly. Otherwise… well, Darwinian natural selection, right?