“Why DeExtinction makes me nervous.”

Creative Conservationist, Asher Jay, expresses her reaction.

Why DeExtinction makes me nervous:

I take issue with nature becoming a subset of artifice. Ecosystems worldwide are already extensively curated by man, and that has resulted in few positive outcomes, if any. When you zoom out to see the larger picture, every human invention and intervention has resulted in a Black Swan*. This process of “regenesis” is not only expensive, but in its highly volatile, inchoate stages has no credibility as a sustainable solution; its potential is solely in one’s vivid imagination. Would it not be wiser to acknowledge what damage we have done and attempt to conserve what remains? In a world devoid of the common sense and compassion it takes to preserve dwindling counts of mega fauna should we really attempt to revive those we have driven to eternal silence through an imperfect procedure that has only resulted in death so far? What value does such a technology place on “life”? What of the lives lost during trial and error as science experiments? At present naturally conceived, sentient mammals that make for great cuddle toys, are not afforded the right to exist outside the spectrum of commercial exploitation, what duties of justice will the offspring of synthetic biology be granted?

We subscribe to economies of scale, we have yet to shed this avaricious mentality. Today, a select few have access to this technology; they are idealistic and intend to harbor long discussions about ethical implementation strategies before they actually set the ball in motion, but over time, this will be replicated by others and the competition will result in some using it for the right reasons and yet others for terribly wrong ones. This will likely diminish the worth of life as demand levels the costs, which would render these living beings as mere replaceable commodities- seeding large scale factory farms for harvest or worse yet as lab rats for other purposes!

Let’s flip the coin for a minute, what if they did succeed at bringing back an animal? So they spend all this money to re-wild a species for which they believe a context still exists, and once introduced into its habitat, it chokes on plastic litter, gets fried on power lines, consumes a poisoned pest, or falls prey to a poacher’s trap? Or it lacks a vital skill it would have learned only from the time it was meant to live in, from its natural parents, social systems and environment, so it fails to survive anyway? Not to mention the fact they could serve as vectors for pathogens? How much are we willing to gamble to create something with no guarantees, when we haven’t the intelligence to allocate resources to conserve what remains now? The more sensible route would be to fix our broken system and address the underlying causes that have resulted in extinctions during the Anthropocene, yes?

I think they should use this money to buy up land, build infrastructure for impoverished communities to ameliorate human-animal conflict areas and protect habitat range. They could hire anti-poaching squadrons, employ drones and trap cams, radio tag critically endangered animals and channel only surplus funds toward this recreational effort. Extinction is a natural process that has been an implicit part of the terrestrial narrative, for over 3.8 billion years, to thwart it only underscores human hubris. I am, however, not against their agenda to introduce genetic diversity to those species with fallen numbers through artificial insemination, as this measure will help ensure their survival, but to do anything more would be folly. Also do bear in mind that we have not successfully sequenced an entire genome thus far, so to splice, dice and swap bits of genetic material without knowing everything about its entire length is pretty darn foolish.

We are rather frightening in our ability to linger in denial and expend significant assets towards hyped agendas that have no proven track record to take comfort in; we do this because we are too afraid to admit to our shortcomings and past failures. Instead of being introspective and encouraging spiritual evolution we constantly look to the external and try to realign the physical, which is always out of sync with the pulse of the planet.

The Earth has known about life and death since its humble beginnings, to assume we know more and can do one better spells nothing but arrogance in my book.

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*Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb deliberates that rare and improbable events do occur much more than we dare to think. Our thinking usually is limited in scope and we make assumptions based on what we see, know, and assume. Reality, however, is much more complicated and unpredictable than we think. Also, assumptions relevant to average situations are less relevant to irregular situations, especially when the “rules of the game” themselves do change.