Replacement of Extinct Species

The Nagoya Protocol pledges to reduce the current rate of plant or animal extinction by half. But that’s obviously not good enough.

7 thoughts on “Replacement of Extinct Species

  1. @Albert Cirrus: I agree with your general point but feel the need to nit pick a detail. Zero extinctions is actually bad too. An environmentalists goal is within the tolerable error of roughly zero more extinctions relative to the natural background level. Actually hitting zero extinctions would throw a dangerous monkey wrench into the vital process of evolution causing misleading short term biological stability and long term biosphere wide collapse.

    Moreover, from a scientific perspective it is important to realize that the planet can actually accept some perturbation with no effect (or even some benefit). I can’t place an exact number but for the sake of argument: while extinctions at say 10 times the historical background level would be out of the natural equilibrium, it would be close enough to the healthy region that homeostatic feedback in the biosphere should completely compensate for it. Some (though not many) evolutionary biologists might argue that such a situation would be long term beneficial for the biosphere by improving the rate of adaptability, while also being short term beneficial for human enterprise. Everyone wins (except for those species that were “necessary sacrifices”, and no I am not being sarcastic in this post).

    It is very much like carbon emissions. Zero carbon emissions would be far worse for the environment then emitting tens of times the natural background level. As long as their is enough wilderness left alive (or equivalent carbon fixing ecology or perhaps man-made facilities) plant growth picks up and a new human activity dependent equilibrium can be reached with the biosphere. The issue, of course, is that we are not just emitting tens of times the background levels of CO2, we are doing far far more then that while also plowing under all the forests (and killing off diatoms. People always make a big fuss about the rain forest, but we owe more CO2 fixation and oxygen production to diatoms. Not that the rain forest isn’t also a big deal, but lets give some credit where credit is due.) While we probably need to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent serious global warming related damages (both ecologically and economically) in the medium run, ironically in the long term view of things (millions of years or so) no matter how much CO2 we emit, it ends up being environmentally beneficial as it eventually all gets fixed in the carbon cycle of the biosphere. The amount of carbon found in the carbon cycle is actually a key determinant for how much life (human or otherwise) can actually be sustained on the surface of this planet.

    Again, sorry I know your point was that: we should aim for zero because politicians and their ilk always cause us to fall short of our goals anyway. I just get all ranty in discussion topics where I feel the conversation is drifting towards wishes for no impact instead of lower impact, when no impact is a particularly prominent example of good intentions gone horribly wrong.

  2. Perhaps the only solution to the problem which remains is to do something about the one species that is causing all the trouble. On the other hand, that species does seem eminently capable of finding its own Endlösung….


  3. Another one of these “our goal is to do X” type protocols. Do they realize these aren’t really protocols, but compromises? You don’t come out and say “we will cut extinctions by half”, you say “we will cut extinctions by 100%” because everybody knows when it is applied, it will be watered down by crony governments and big business. It’s the same thing with cap and trade. I wish there would be some sort of bill that says “no more burning of fossil fuels period.” And if they accomplish the goal of 0 extinctions, good for them, but it’s not likely.

  4. Edward O. Wilson (of “Consilience” fame) implied in “The Future of Life” that much to his horror, he was pretty sure people were going to try exactly this once humanity killed off enough diversity that the portions of the biosphere that most directly sustain us start to collapse. He also suggested (with fear) that people would probably “edit” themselves to compensate for the functioning of missing species or to take advantage of ecological niches that would be “booming” in the “economy” of a destroyed biosphere, like scavengers and decomposers. Certainly the very wealthy would love to see the most exploitable of the poor be literally reduced to living like cockroaches.

    There is plenty of mad science around already, for instance my next position is in a lab where I will be making untested chemical compounds and injecting them into “Franken”-plants of unnatural origin (despite how I have phrased the research plan here it is actually useful research with with the goal of designing new cancer treatments.) But most of it is pretty tame compared to filling in the holes left in the biosphere. if you are looking for someone with the true daring to try and fill in the holes might I recommend Peter Schultz at the Scripps Research Institute?

    Among his many mad science experiments perhaps the most notable is looking into the question of why life only has 20 amino acids. His first experiment towards answering this? Why that would be creating a self sustaining 21 amino acid version of life (he made it so it synthesizes the missing amino acid from a natural one so it can obtain complete nourishment from normal food) and is having it literally “duke it out” with the natural or “wild type” 20 amino acid version of itself in a contained terrarium to see who adapts best in an increasingly stressed environment and becomes the last species standing.

    Professor Schultz might make a chickencat for you if asked nicely.

  5. I’m going to use early anti-Global Warming rhetoric to counter this one.

    Clearly your scientific evidence is inconclusive, Ted, because 100-1000 is a huge range. We clearly need more scientific evidence before we can act or we might make the situation worse. Until we know EVERYTHING about the environment, we absolutely should not change anything we’re doing now.

    We can’t even agree on whether or not to have an illegal and criminal national policy of military aggression and torture, how the hell do you think we’re going to save the Silverfish?

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