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A vicitm of overhunting
June 7, 2008 5:40 PM   Subscribe

The Caribbean Monk seal is officially extinct. It's the first seal extinction attributed to human activities, though it may not be the last.
posted by owhydididoit (133 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Honestly, does this matter? Also, how exactly do humans cause it to go extinct. It would have been nice to see that explanation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:51 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


.
posted by kyrademon at 5:57 PM on June 7, 2008


Also, how exactly do humans cause it to go extinct. It would have been nice to see that explanation.

From the second link:

"The Mediterranean monk seal is threatened by deliberate killings (fishers still consider the species a pest and a competitor for increasingly scarce resources); incidental capture in fishing gear; decreased food availability; destruction of habitat; and pollution."
posted by stavrogin at 6:00 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Honestly, does this matter?

Are you kidding?
posted by tybeet at 6:02 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Honestly, does this matter?

Mental, the amount of seals that are knockin' about. Who needs 'em? Get rid of 'em.


.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:07 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


AP article here with more details.
As for the question of how this could happen--it's often worth it to glance at the post title. Or the tags.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:09 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Underwater Relationship: A National Geographic photograper describes how he was adopted by a leopard seal.
posted by homunculus at 6:11 PM on June 7, 2008


YOU EXTINCTED IT! YOU BASTARDS! GODDAMN YOU. DAMN YOU TO HELL!
posted by DU at 6:11 PM on June 7, 2008


Hasn't been seen since 1952? Wow, I feel guilty.
posted by matty at 6:12 PM on June 7, 2008


Brandon asks a valid question: why does it matter? I know that the "religion" of environmentalists and such mandates that all species are necessary and equal, but seriously -- if one subset of one species disappears, it is fair to ask if it really does matter, to some degree.

And 2nd point: I am skeptical of the claim. It may be true, but I find it hard to believe that there is conclusive proof that not a single one of these creatures still exists.
posted by davidmsc at 6:15 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Honestly, does this matter?

Well, obviously not to you. That doesn't mean you are particularly wise or enlightened, however.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:15 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I know that the "religion" of environmentalists and such mandates that all species are necessary and equal

Wow. Just wow.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:16 PM on June 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


I know that the "religion" of environmentalists and such mandates that all species are necessary and equal

Huh?
posted by homunculus at 6:18 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I am skeptical of the claim. It may be true, but I find it hard to believe that there is conclusive proof that not a single one of these creatures still exists.

Conclusive proof... that they don't exist? What? Like God appearing and saying so? I mean, how do you produce conclusive proof that no more of these seals exist?
posted by Justinian at 6:19 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Monk seal: extinct
Outrage: endangered
posted by Burhanistan at 6:20 PM on June 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh, and Brandon Blatcher, here's just one little reason why it might *matter*, and it should resonate nicely with those who need to justify the existence of any of the earth's creatures by how they directly benefit humans. That would be medicine. The flora and fauna of the world has all sorts of medical use potential. The monk seal might've had some element that would've been key to discovering the cure for some disease that your theoretical son or daughter, or their children, might contract someday.

There's a LOT of other reasons why extinction matters. You should educate yourself.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:22 PM on June 7, 2008


"Honestly, does this matter?"

"if one subset of one species disappears, it is fair to ask if it really does matter, to some degree."

That's what hitler said...
posted by HuronBob at 6:22 PM on June 7, 2008


ok..in retrospect after having hit "submit" i apologize for the hitler comment...but, WTF people... how shallow is that..?
posted by HuronBob at 6:24 PM on June 7, 2008


That would be medicine. The flora and fauna of the world has all sorts of medical use potential.

I don't think we should be validating the lives of other species as value-dependent on whether they provide a benefit to us medicinally or otherwise. They serve purposes far beyond that.
posted by tybeet at 6:28 PM on June 7, 2008


ok..in retrospect after having hit "submit" i apologize for the hitler comment...but, WTF people... how shallow is that..?

About as shallow as the Hitler comment? ZING!!! (I know, you apologized - but who could resist?) No worries.

The extinction of any species does matter... but maybe the point is what does is matter when an extinction is caused by man vice some other form of natural selection? Any extinction caused by man is abhorrent to me... but do we feel the same sense of loss when an extinction happens 'naturally' or do we just shrug?
posted by matty at 6:28 PM on June 7, 2008


Why might it matter? Well, you never know when a probe from deep space might turn up, seeking to communicate with Caribbean monk seals and threatening total global destruction if no such animals are around to respond to its beacon call.
posted by stargell at 6:29 PM on June 7, 2008 [18 favorites]


The Caribbean Monk seal is officially extinct. . . attributed to human activities. . .
posted by owhydididoit


Well? Why did you?

eponytragic, I guess.
posted by Herodios at 6:30 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Instead of getting pissy and calling people Hitler, maybe you could just explain why it matters that the Caribbean monk seal is extinct?

We're all reasonably intelligent adults here.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:31 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


oooooo, is Star Trek IV on???
posted by matty at 6:31 PM on June 7, 2008


Since this particular seal went extinct sometime in the last ~60 years, and little seems to be known about the animal (not that Wikipedia is the be-all-end-all) I wonder how it may have fit into the Caribbean habitat?

It would be hard to say what impact the extinction has had since such a long time has elapsed.
posted by tybeet at 6:31 PM on June 7, 2008


What a strange thread. Probably, everyone here (including myself) should get off the computer for the rest of the evening.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:35 PM on June 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


I don't think we should be validating the lives of other species as value-dependent on whether they provide a benefit to us medicinally or otherwise. They serve purposes far beyond that.

I wouldn't disagree with that by one iota. That's why I specifically added that this example "should resonate nicely with those who need to justify the existence of any of the earth's creatures by how they directly benefit humans". Since my comment was directed toward someone who said "does this matter?", I used an example of how it could directly matter to humans. The value-dependency angle was therefore used. I would assume that would've been obvious to you, tybeet, but I suspect you were engaging in a little moral one-upmanship, there, that perhaps blinded you to my obvious strategy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:36 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suspect you were engaging in a little moral one-upmanship...

Haha yeah, I totally did one-up you.
posted by tybeet at 6:41 PM on June 7, 2008


The reason it matters is that the interrelationships between animals and plants, and all the other myriad lifeforms and non living elements are known to be crucial to all the species in a local ecosystem, and that ecosystem is related to the various other systems around the planet. One thing we do know is that these interdependent relationships can be subtle, complex, and delicate. They can also be maddeningly difficult to identify and understand.

It is likely that these seals performed a vital function in the local ecosystem, such as keeping sea urchin populations in check. Without them performing that role, the system goes slightly out of balance. Other species can adapt and adjust, but the rules of the game keep changing. For a species that may already be on the edge, that may be enough to knock them out of the game. Then the system is more out of balance.

The loss of a species is bad enough on it's own - but you never know what you have really lost. You don't know how you may have affected fish or invertebrate populations. It really is like a house of cards. Keep pulling cards, and see how long it lasts. Note that agriculture and aquaculture are highly dependent on the proper functioning of these systems, despite our attempts to control every aspect of production.

There are numerous biosystems showing evidence of sudden radical changes around the globe. Sure, no one species is the keystone to planetary survival, but how many are we willing to lose to find out? And once we do find out, it will likely be too late to do anything about it.
posted by Xoebe at 6:46 PM on June 7, 2008 [25 favorites]


"Instead of getting pissy and calling people Hitler, maybe you could just explain why it matters that the Caribbean monk seal is extinct?"

Good grief. OK ...

Because the complete loss of a creature from an ecosystem can have unpredictable ramifications, on both the ecosystem and the environment, and enough of it can ultimately put the biosphere, which supports all known life, in potential peril.

Because many people believe that life has inherent value, and should not be taken wantonly and only taken for great need and with great respect.

Because some people are aware that animals can have emotions and cares and lives much like our own, despite popular myths saying otherwise, and therefore feel empathy for them in a manner similar to the empathy they feel for other humans -- and the more intelligent and capable of feeling the animal is, the greater they feel this empathy, so a relatively intelligent mammal like a monk seal hits close to home.

Because something which was to some extent unique in the world no longer exists, and many feel that this is a loss for future generations and our own.

Because some people think that they are beautiful animals, and that a piece of beauty has been destroyed forever.

Because the vast bulk of human medicine is derived from natural sources, and we therefore casually eliminate pieces of nature at cost to ourselves.

Because, unlike creatures who are entirely inimical to human health or life, most people believe that we could have found a way to coexist with these seals, and that there loss is therefore unnecessary and therefore (for the many reasons described above) particularly tragic.
posted by kyrademon at 6:53 PM on June 7, 2008 [40 favorites]


"maybe you could just explain why it matters that the Caribbean monk seal is extinct?"

come-on, Elvis... we really need to discuss this? Don't we all already know the answer, if not in our heads, in our souls...?
posted by HuronBob at 6:56 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


well said, kyrademon... thanks...
posted by HuronBob at 6:57 PM on June 7, 2008


But it seems like killing the last 1% of a population wouldn't be a big deal compared to killing the first 99%.
posted by ryanrs at 7:00 PM on June 7, 2008


I expect that those asking "does it matter?" intend something along the lines of "does it materially affect people?" That probably leads to a more interesting discussion, in any case.
posted by ryanrs at 7:05 PM on June 7, 2008


The "does this matter" question was serious, though poorly worded perhaps. It came from the knowledge that species have gone extinct before, yet the world has gone on. So why does this matter? Yeah, it kinda sucks, but species do go extinct. Things die. It seems to be part of the natural order.

The monk seal might've had some element that would've been key to discovering the cure for some disease that your theoretical son or daughter, or their children, might contract someday.

It hasn't been seen since 1952. Wouldn't we have noticed by now if it was vital link in the food chain?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:11 PM on June 7, 2008


But the last 1% of a species holds all(OK, most) of the genetic information of the 99%. That is what saddens the evolutionary biologist in me. It takes tens of thousands of years to create a species. This species has a genetic code that makes the species unique. Perhaps it isn't helpful to human medicine, but it still took thousands of years to create, and I have a lot of respect for that. Grand Canyon is just a hole in the ground; but it was slowly built over millions of years and it's pretty amazing. The Egyptian pyramids look pretty run down and rubbled; but they are 5,000 years old, which is pretty amazing. Destroying the first 99% of a species, and the species still exists. The amount of time and wonder in forming the species is still there. Take away the last 1% and that genetic information, that unique combination of proteins that make a seal is gone forever, and can never occur again. So, personally, I find that a bit sad.
posted by Peter Petridish at 7:13 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh and apologies about not catching the info in the second link.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2008


When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.


- Martin Niemöller

When the humans extinguished the Caribbean Monk seals,
I remained silent;
I was not a Caribbean Monk seal.

posted by WalterMitty at 7:18 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Brandon...

I think one point we're trying to make is, yes, one species, no big deal if that is the one and only species ever to leave this globe, but, how many have we lost, how many can we continue to lose.. it's a finite number, and the homosapien is probably not going to be the last one to leave..(I'm betting on the cockroach).

The other point is the huge sadness of living things losing their hold on existence...
posted by HuronBob at 7:20 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a weird story. Based on the last sighting, it may have been extinct for 50 years. So they searched real hard for 5 years and didn't see it, so now it's officiallly extinct? I especially appreciate that it's never been seen the whole time it's been on the endangered list.

So now it's "officially" extinct, but if someone sees one, Poof! It's not extinct anymore.
posted by smackfu at 7:24 PM on June 7, 2008


So now it's "officially" extinct, but if someone sees one, Poof! It's not extinct anymore.

Reminds me of God! The required time period for not seeing God before declaring Him extinct seems to be longer than 5 years though.

Some claim to see His footprints on assorted beaches.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:27 PM on June 7, 2008


Because the complete loss of a creature from an ecosystem can have unpredictable ramifications, on both the ecosystem and the environment...

That's true, but nobody knows what these unpredictable ramifications may be, or whether they'll be good or bad. While we're speculating (e.g. about medicine), imagine an alternate history in which Caribbean monk seal flu kills us all!

The rest of your objections boil down to "extinction makes me feel bad." That's a shame, I guess, but is that really your objection? Don't let animals go extinct because it might (or might not) have bad (or good) effects, plus it makes me feel bad?

come-on, Elvis... we really need to discuss this? Don't we all already know the answer, if not in our heads, in our souls...?

People don't have souls. Sorry.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:28 PM on June 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


It hasn't been seen since 1952. Wouldn't we have noticed by now if it was vital link in the food chain?

Do you eat seafood? If so, you might have noticed that the animals we eat today were considered bait twenty years ago. We are eating our way down the food-chain and the chowder isn't getting better when we substitute tofu and bacon bits for real fish.
posted by peeedro at 7:36 PM on June 7, 2008


TROLL CHOW GOOD!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:40 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


this discussion amazes me.... I have no idea how to respond to someone that doesn't see a problem with the fact that we are losing life forms on this planet......
posted by HuronBob at 7:41 PM on June 7, 2008


People don't have souls. Sorry.

But heels we done got in abundance.
posted by hal9k at 7:43 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks, peeedro, for pointing out overfishing and its effects. Eye opening stuff.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 PM on June 7, 2008


Do you eat seafood? If so, you might have noticed that the animals we eat today were considered bait twenty years ago. We are eating our way down the food-chain and the chowder isn't getting better when we substitute tofu and bacon bits for real fish.

Answer: Go vegetarian.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:51 PM on June 7, 2008


Hmm ... so, MPDSEA, if I can parse your rather reductionist arguments, they are essentially:

1) Since randomly throwing monkey wrenches into the intricate balance that supports all life on earth including humans stands some unknown chance of actually having a beneficial effect instead of a catastrophic one, let's not worry about it at all! Yay extinctions!

2) Since human ethics such as placing value on life, beauty, uniqueness, intelligence, or empathy ultimately boils down to "(X) makes me feel bad", the whole concept is just silly and let's throw it out the window! Yay murder and wanton destruction -- but shame if it makes you feel bad, I guess.


Yeah ... I'm done with this silly argument.
posted by kyrademon at 7:51 PM on June 7, 2008


Even if you don't like seals, generally, species extinction is an indicator that maybe, somewhere, somehow, somewhy, something is a mite amiss.

And that something might potentially be important or require some alteration of behaviour soon.

Simply think of it as a check engine light for the globe. A giant red flashing seal shaped check engine light.
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:51 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


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posted by SNACKeR at 7:52 PM on June 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


The rest of your objections boil down to "extinction makes me feel bad." That's a shame, I guess, but is that really your objection? Don't let animals go extinct because it might (or might not) have bad (or good) effects, plus it makes me feel bad?

"No [species] is an island, entire of itself; every [species] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any [species'] death diminishes me, because I am involved in [our biological interdependence], and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction*."
posted by peeedro at 7:54 PM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


ok..in retrospect after having hit "submit" i apologize for the hitler comment...

Don't worry about it. It's no worse than the rest of the thread.
posted by homunculus at 7:55 PM on June 7, 2008


Lord_Pall...good analogy... but, we're a bit prone to ignoring those "check engine lights", assuming that it's just that we didn't screw the gas cap on tight enough...
posted by HuronBob at 7:57 PM on June 7, 2008


I hope the Visitors got a few to keep 'till we straighten things out here on MotherEarth. I seriously didn't give a fuck about a seal until I saw it's face, and now it's gone, as far as the US
is concerned. The USA is recovering from being dumb as a doorknob for the last 8 years, so there are probably some around, though not enough to repopulate. Here's to the Caribbean Monk Seal-Love American Style.
posted by Flex1970 at 7:58 PM on June 7, 2008


Yay murder and wanton destruction -- but shame if it makes you feel bad, I guess.

There's an uphill battle for you. The "boo murder" contingent has so much political power at this point, they don't even need to argue their point.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:06 PM on June 7, 2008


Just think about it. It IS sad. People are still hunting Whales and Gorillas, right? Tragic.
posted by Flex1970 at 8:14 PM on June 7, 2008


A thought upon whether it "matters" that a species went extinct:

I'm reminded of that bit of doggerel:

"For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the squadron was lost.
For want of a squadron, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the war was lost.
For want of a war, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."

Now -- I'm sure at the time someone wondered whether it "mattered" that one horseshoe nail was missing, and ultimately, it certainly did.

Different species relate in ways we can't always immediately see. There's a species of bird that keeps flying insects in check on the East Coast; and its population has been dwindling. Ornithologists finally narrowed the cause down to the fact that they weren't getting enough to eat while they were migrating. ....And what were they eating? Baby horseshoe crabs. So, what was happening to the horseshoe crab babies? ....Fishermen had recently begun just chopping the hell out of the adult horseshoe crabs and killing them as pests. And so:

For want of a horseshoe crab, the bird was lost.
For want of the birds, the bugs took over.

...The only difference between the monk seal and the horseshoe nail, or the horseshoe crab, is that we don't know how it fits into the ecosystem to see what its existance hinged upon -- and now, we never WILL know.

THAT'S why it matters.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


"What matters" is subjective. So the answer to the question, "does it matter?" is yes, to a lot of people it matters. To some people the only things that matter are the things in their immediate environment which affect them directly. To these people, no, it does not matter. Many other people expand the scope of what matters to them to include other living things. To those people, it matters a lot.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 8:26 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


So we're all a generation of soulless murderers, what with us letting all those pre-homosapiens from dying out? If it weren't for our callous actions we could all have a friend like the caveman in the commercials!

Yes, we're not helping the environment. But getting all emo about some animal no one has ever seen is retarded. The circle-jerking, "I'm more empathetic than thou" feeling in this thread is absurd.

Instead of weeping over something that has not been seen in 50 years, and telling others how much more world-conscious we are, how about doing something productive and saving animals we have both seen and can demonstrably do something to protect?

The rest of you, get off the damn cross. We need the wood for kindling.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:28 PM on June 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it kinda sucks, but species do go extinct. Things die. It seems to be part of the natural order.

I bet you never understood what it was about the Elves going oversea to the West never to return, either.

There is no such thing as the natural order. There is only what happens. And the fact that something is gone forever.

Humans are different from animals in that we can see what is happening, and if we purpose it, can stop it. We don't, of course, so maybe we're not all that different after all.
posted by JHarris at 8:30 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Keep on rockin' in the Free World, Brandon.
posted by Flunkie at 8:44 PM on June 7, 2008


Again, let me apologize for the terseness of the question. It may have come from ignorance, but it was not meant to be flip.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:52 PM on June 7, 2008


Life has been around for a few billion years, so far as we know. In that time, there have been at least five mass extinctions and yet life has continued to thrive on the planet. It seems almost comically pessimistic to assume that the current wave of extinctions is at all apocalyptic. Of course, humans depend on a number of ecosystems remaining relatively stable and the current mass extinction probably isn't going to help with that, so I do see that it's in our interest to have as little impact on ecosystems as we can.

However, the wailing and gnashing of teeth over this particular extinction seems pointless to me. I don't get the idea that humans have some kind of moral duty to play steward to nature. We're part of nature and that inevitably means that other species will be affected by our actions. If it's a tragedy when a species becomes extinct then this is a tragedy that's been played out millions of times before. How exactly does it become more of a tragedy just because humans are involved?

It's sad that this seal no longer exists. But it's neither a sign of our inevitable doom, nor should it be a source of shame and guilt.
posted by xchmp at 9:08 PM on June 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


But getting all emo about some animal no one has ever seen is retarded....

Instead of weeping over something that has not been seen in 50 years, and telling others how much more world-conscious we are, how about doing something productive and saving animals we have both seen and can demonstrably do something to protect?


At the risk of stating the obvious (and feeding the troll): marking with sadness the loss of a unique creature is one way to protect those who can still be saved. Few people are highly motivated to take action based on rational analysis alone--the emotional component of realizing what humanity has done in this instance will serve as a motivation for others to take action to prevent other extinctions. Taking note of the fate of the Caribbean Monk Seal and saying "never again" is a step in the right direction.

Or we could try motivating people to action based on your philosophy of "crying about this is retarded." Let's see if that stirs somebody to work on saving some other stupid animal they've never even seen.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:20 PM on June 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


I posted it because it seems like a big deal to me. It's a bad precedent, killing off an entire population of mammals. I don't know what to do about it, but it sure seems like something to be mindful of. I mean, we see an obit thread for every person of any note who dies. Where's the ennui for that?

I certainly didn't intend for anyone who couldn't care less about Caribbean Monk seals to waste any time caring, or commenting here for that matter.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:33 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is serious: look what happened when the dinosaurs went extinct! 0.o
posted by rmmcclay at 9:43 PM on June 7, 2008


Well the apt response might be, what does it matter if Brandon Blatcher were to go extinct? As with these seals, some people might be greatly bothered. But most people wouldn't care, and would get along fine. But unlike Brandon Blatcher 'going extinct,' when an entire species goes extinct, it can have serious ramifications and lead to the destruction of an entire civilization (and, of course, many things of lesser but still serious importance.)

For instance, many scientists believe that the impressive culture on Easter Island was destroyed by the introduction of Polynesian rats, which (essentially) killed off the palm trees on the island by eating their seeds and (thus) ending new growth. Palm trees were the basis for much of the support of Easter Island's human population. No trees meant no boats, which meant slow starvation, which is what happened. So the elimination of one species, even a plant species, can affect many other species, including humans.

And sure, extinction is a natural process. But the very unnatural and unhealthy processes created by the ingenuity and short-sightedness of humans has accelerated that process to a reckless and dangerous pace. Many people have directly felt the effects of the decimation of an animal or plant species.

The post of EmpressCallipygos, while it may read as poetic pretense to some, is actually spot on and perfectly stated. We just don't know the effects of the disappearance of any species. So it's better to be safe than sorry. While the disappearance of the Caribbean Monk seal may not have deleterious effect on human or any species, the truth is we don't know. Publicizing and caring about this issue is not a wasted effort or a circle-jerk of empathy; it's a means by which the future destruction of (presumably) more important species can be slowed or halted.

Additionally, the extinction of a species such as this can function as a sort of canary-in-the-coalmine kind of warning. Look what modern fishing techniques are doing to other species, and look what these same techniques are doing to local economies, diets and jobs. Pollution affects us. Poor management of the fishing industry has had a profoundly destructive impact on many peoples and nations. When a species such as this seal becomes extinct, it's not for reasons which don't affect us as well.

I am skeptical of the claim. It may be true, but I find it hard to believe that there is conclusive proof that not a single one of these creatures still exists.

Very very rarely, a species thought to be extinct turns up, such as the coelacanth did, in Madagascar and Indonesia. But there's a caveat to that - we'd only previously known about the creature from the fossil record. It wasn't seen regularly and *then* thought to have disappeared. It was believed to have been extinct for millions of years. Its sudden appearance in 1938 was astonishing, but the coelacanth was able to "hide" from civilized man for centuries due to its nearly unreachable natural habitat.

The best of my knowledge, no more than a couple of species observed by man and later considered extinct have been "reawakened." Typically, these have been very obscure and very small living things. The big WOW in this area is the supposed sighting of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in 2004 - it was the biggest (in size) woodpecker species in America, but the bird was last sighted in 1944. Millions are being spent to try to prove that this bird still exists - the 2004 sighting was iffy and not caught well on camera. As yet it remains elusive.

But a creature like the Caribbean Monk seal, which is certainly more noticeable than most . . . well, it's very unlikely any survive and even less likely that a breeding pair could be found. Searches have been made, their habitat is well-known, and unlike the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, this seal lived a pretty visible life. Miracles happen, but not often, and given the amount of energy that went in to searching for the seal, it's safe to assume that it's gone. Forever.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:45 PM on June 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry if I was rude. I must admit I cannot think of any reason why anyone should specifically care that this animal is no more (as far as we know -- I'm clueless regarding the rationale behind the method for deciding they are extinct). It's not a matter of reason to me.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:55 PM on June 7, 2008


A serious question: was it sad or bad when Homo erectus went extinct?

It certainly saddens me that a unique part of nature is no more, but I do think that when we as humans attempt to preserve species that are nearing extinction (obviously, excepting cicrcumstance where we viciously and stupidly brought them to that point), we are more subverting nature for our own esthetic purposes than anything else.
posted by milestogo at 10:00 PM on June 7, 2008


owhydididoit, you weren't rude and it's a good post. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 10:34 PM on June 7, 2008


owhydididoit, you weren't rude and it's a good post. Thanks.

Seconded.

And President Dr. Steve Yer Mama Whatever, you are a tiresome troll. Very tiresome.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:09 PM on June 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think partly what is going on here is that people are exhausted by the knowledge that we are destroying the natural world, and they feel helpless, and denial is such a relief.

That's the, erm, positive reading of all this "why should I give a fuck if a seal species goes extinct" ignorance.
posted by jokeefe at 11:19 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, holy shit:

However, the wailing and gnashing of teeth over this particular extinction seems pointless to me. I don't get the idea that humans have some kind of moral duty to play steward to nature. We're part of nature and that inevitably means that other species will be affected by our actions. If it's a tragedy when a species becomes extinct then this is a tragedy that's been played out millions of times before. How exactly does it become more of a tragedy just because humans are involved?

That's.... amazing. What kind of a life do you have to be living, and what kind of a culture do you have to be living in, to think that this is a perfectly acceptable position to not only hold but to throw out in a public forum as an artifact of your Big Thoughts about the world? Wow.
posted by jokeefe at 11:22 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


this discussion amazes me.... I have no idea how to respond to someone that doesn't see a problem with the fact that we are losing life forms on this planet......

and I have no idea how to respond to someone who seems to be totally incapable of articulating his position.

"Losing life forms from this planet"? Well, species go extinct all the time. It's actually a worthwhile question - why is an extinction like this noteworthy?

What is an extinction, and why is it worse to kill the last 1% than the first 99%?

As people have said above, an extinction is different because it is a permanent loss of information, it's the difference between destroying a book and burning all copies of it (and I think that our cultural attitudes towards the destruction of physical books is a holdover from a time when there might be only one copy a particular document).
I find the distinctiveness of a species a thing of beauty, really my personal revulsion when I think about this extinction is an aesthetic one. I think that a species has a value in-and-of-itself. But of course that is my personal sense of aesthetics.

There are two ways of thinking about the value of a species. The Deep Ecology environmental movement is based solely on the value of the natural environment in itself without any reference whatsoever to human needs or the use value of the environment to humans.
The problem I have with this is that there is not really such a thing as a "natural" reference environment that doesn't include humans. The "natural" state of the British isles is mostly forested - but it hasn't been for 1500 years or so. For most of the times between then and the first world war another stable ecosystem took over. One based on hedgerows and fields and orchards and smaller stands of trees, and humans. This is what is being protected from "development" by environmentalists in the UK. But of course, it already is developed by humans, and has been for centuries.

I had sympathy for Deep Ecology, because there seemed to me to be a vulgarity in the "but what about the rainforest medicines!" school of environmental thought that was not too different from that of a strip-mall developer who wants to "improve" a plot of land.
Maybe that was a bit silly on my part though, is my aesthetic preference for temperate forest over suburbia any less self-centred?

Of course we can also value a species for its value to us. Potential medicines, carbon sinks to keep our cities above water, food (or an important player in a ecosystem that provides us food - same thing really).

I think that my own position and those of most other environmentalists falls between these two. I want natural beauty around me and I think that widespread extinctions will decrease the non-human ecology available for my enjoyment.

I don't necessarily value just a particular species, but also the links between all the species in an ecosystem. Ecosystems are not usually as delicately balanced as they are sometimes made out to be, they have a great deal of resilience built into them. An ecosystem is a complex of dynamic equilibria that maintain ecological homeostasis. The more links in the system, the more resilient the system.
Indeed, if it was just this species, then the system can adapt. What about the second extinction in a system, or the third in a short period of time? As the system loses species (on a much faster time-scale than it can gain them) it loses these links and becomes less resilient to external changes.
Resilient systems can also adapt, the relative proportions of the species can change. If global warming happened in a context without the habitat loss and ecological decomplexification that we as a species have caused, then the ecosystems would be more capable of gradual adaptation.
Everytime we kill a whole species we leach resilience from the non-human biosphere.

and mass extinctions might be natural (heh - that word again) but they won't be pleasant for the humans living through them

By eliminating resilience we jeopardize ourselves and destroy something beautiful (the network of interactions) which has value-in-itself and which has the capacity to buffer the human environment from fluctuations which will makes our lives less pleasant.

Ok. Sunday morning rant is done.
posted by atrazine at 11:23 PM on June 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


However, the wailing and gnashing of teeth over this particular extinction seems pointless to me. I don't get the idea that humans have some kind of moral duty to play steward to nature. We're part of nature and that inevitably means that other species will be affected by our actions. If it's a tragedy when a species becomes extinct then this is a tragedy that's been played out millions of times before. How exactly does it become more of a tragedy just because humans are involved?

That's.... amazing. What kind of a life do you have to be living, and what kind of a culture do you have to be living in, to think that this is a perfectly acceptable position to not only hold but to throw out in a public forum as an artifact of your Big Thoughts about the world? Wow.

Great! Go ahead and explain why humans do have this "moral duty" and why the moral system from which it arises is one that the original commenter should buy into.
Why don't you explain to xchmp why it is a tragedy when humans do this?

For myself, as I said in my grand ramblefest of a comment above - I think that the distinctive information encoded in a species is a thing of beauty.
What makes the human involvement in this additionally tragic to me is the wanton-ness of the destruction of a thing that I hold to be beautiful.

It would however be the mark of an imbecile to refuse to understand why those who don't share my aesthetics don't see this as particularly tragic. xchmp mentioned earlier in their comment that they understand why fucking with ecosystems is bad for us as a species, and quite frankly we would be in a much better place as a species if more people understood even as much as that.
posted by atrazine at 11:31 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Consider whatever it is that makes the extinction of an entire species sad, or dangerous, or evil, or in some way negative. Consider then the opposite - the discovery of an entirely new species. Then google new species. Perhaps you will feel one unit of sad for one species gone and hundreds of units of anti-sad for hundreds of new species discovered, all the time. It is also the case that evolution continues and new species are coming into being. It is also the case that the great, great majority of species that have ever existed have gone into eternal extinction.

I make no claims that species are interchangable and that the final numbers of species are what matters. I only offer a perspective that is, I hope, less gloomy.
posted by eccnineten at 11:50 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is absolutely true that Earth has seen several waves of massive extinctions, and life on the planet has survived and even thrived in the aftermath of each one. So I am not hugely worried about life as a whole surviving even the worst of what we are capable of doing to the planet, though I hope no one decides to take that as a challenge.

But simply because our ancestors were among the survivors of each previous wave of extinctions, does not mean that we or our descendants will keep on keepin' on after whatever next wave of extinction hits, regardless of the cause. And I like the idea of my descendants still existing to inhabit the Earth.

Another, perhaps even more enormous, conceit of mine is that I would like my descendants to not only exist but also be heirs to the culture we all live in today, or at least the better parts of it, rather than live in some Mad Max-type scenario. Destroying habitats, driving species to extinction, throwing ecosystems into disarray, none of these seem to support sustaining not just the human species but human culture into the future.

So I do worry that the extinction of this particular seal species, when considered with all the other extinctions occurring nowadays, should be acting as some sort of bellwether - that the things we are doing to ensure our survival and growth in the short term will not allow our survival long term. While extinction has been a part of life for as long as life has existed on the planet, humans have not always been part of that life. The extinction of this seal may have been inevitable even without any human intervention, but as a sign that preserving the environment and diversity of life which led to (or at least accompanied) our current flourishing all over the planet is not currently a priority, it is still disturbing.

Even if we don't value each species for itself, or as part of a unique ecosystem (and we don't really know enough about the complex interactions within each ecosystem to determine the effects of removing some part of it), when a species goes extinct it is a sign that we are irrevocably changing the environment that produced and sustained us thus far. I don't mean this in a spiritual way, but in a concrete, how-are-we-going-to-survive? kind of way.

I would prefer that humans be like the horseshoe crab rather than the trilobite. Although speaking of the horseshoe crab, here is a WP link that briefly touches on the horseshoe crab issue that EmpressCallipygos mentioned above.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 12:00 AM on June 8, 2008


I can sort of agree on the "One single species lost? So what!" argument, except for one little thing: Where do you draw the line?

One species? 20 species? 200 species? A genus? A family? An order?

Yeah, the dinosaurs being wiped out didn't seem to destroy the earth. Made one hell of a difference to the nature of things though; a whole class of animals - just a couple of steps down from the top of the phylogenetic tree of 'animal, vegetable, or mineral?' - was reduced in size and stature, and a whole new class of animals became dominant.

Go Mammalia!, huh?

Yeah, one species lost is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Probably best to keep an eye on that, though, or else you're in suddenly in danger of wiping out a hell of a lot more than we realise - one species at a time.

We can't even be bothered to manage single essential resources, relatively devoid of complex interrelationships with the rest of the environment, that we can pretty much agree are rapidly becoming 'extinct' e.g. oil. Why the hell would you think we're suddenly going to become all caring and conscientious if we suddenly realise there's only a few Phocidae (or, to pick an extreme example even further up the tree, Carnivora) left?
posted by Pinback at 12:14 AM on June 8, 2008


People will react to extinctions within the limits of their human nobility.
posted by Brian B. at 12:27 AM on June 8, 2008


Go Mammalia!, huh?

The popcorn of the Cretaceous!
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:58 AM on June 8, 2008


That's.... amazing. What kind of a life do you have to be living, and what kind of a culture do you have to be living in, to think that this is a perfectly acceptable position to not only hold but to throw out in a public forum as an artifact of your Big Thoughts about the world? Wow.

Any kind of culture where things get put forward and debated and corrected and where people learn things and sophomoric isn't necessarily an insult.

Jokeefe, you're capable of actually answering the question, so why do you just repeat it incredulously and put your hands on your hips and cluck?

To the point,
How exactly does it become more of a tragedy just because humans are involved?

Because the tragedy is a concept based on "feelings" and it doesn't exist without humans. Was the K-T mass extinction 65 mn years ago a tragedy? Well, no, we weren't there to experience the loss. But now we are here. And if we decide that responsible stewardship is a good thing, then this seal business is a bad thing.
posted by magic curl at 1:16 AM on June 8, 2008


Some caveats here: I know nothing about this stuff. I've paid no attention to it whatsoever. Consider me a complete naive, because that's what I am.

Do you eat seafood? If so, you might have noticed that the animals we eat today were considered bait twenty years ago.

An alternative take is that the middle classes are today eating the fish that the poor used to eat, now because only the rich can afford the fish that the middle class used to enjoy.

I don't know that this fish actually tastes any worse. It's not quite as pretty on the plate, and its a bit less convenient because it tends to be smaller, or harder to fillet, but there's nothing wrong with the flavour. If anything, it's much more desirable product than tofu and bacon bits because presumably it'll ensure continued effort going into managing fishing areas because of their ongoing economic importance?

The article posted by Homunculus a few links up was a much more interesting piece to me than this one is. It casts light on stuff I know nothing about without resorting to the woo-woo, emo handwaving seen in the comments here -- and raises things that, to me at least, are interesting questions in relation to the positions that I've seen stated here. Do we mourn the extinction of certain disease-causing microbes? If not, why not? Are they not part of life's rich tapestry? By failing to do so, are we not adopting a humancentric view of ecology that evaluates life only in relation to its utility to us?

Yersinia pestis is in danger of dying out, people! Soon, these lovely microbes will all be gone! Don't be ignoble, save the bubonic plague before it's too late!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:41 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


People will react to extinctions within the limits of their human nobility.

Cut the crap. Nothing is more embarrassing than the spectacle of someone simultaneously trying to claim the moral high ground and claiming that that makes them a better person.

As for the seal, the weeping and handwringing has only turned me off from it. Humans are just another wave of extinctions, it's in our nature. I don't think the loss of one species is sad because the genetic code is fluid; there's nothing stopping another seal from evolving, an infinity of new species have the potential to emerge every day. Why care about one particular meander in that stream?

I realize you don't agree with me. But this oh-you're-so-callous faux-outrage, the suggestion that someone who doesn't care is less noble or human or intelligent, is just unbecoming. You're not a better person because you squeezed out a tear over some animal you'd never seen in your life and probably never even heard of--and you're definitely not a better person because you exhibit this tear to the public and insist on judging everyone else for not doing the same.
posted by nasreddin at 2:55 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


My apologies to all for my comment up thread... In the light of day it is evident that it didn't contribute to the discussion.
posted by HuronBob at 4:05 AM on June 8, 2008


squeezed out a tear over some animal you'd never seen in your life

You don't need to have heard of the seal to be aggrieved that human interference is continuing to degrade our planet. Any of the anti-seal crew in this thread actually prepared to stand up and say we're definitely better off without this fish-eating scumbag species, fine. And I don't mean spurious future seal-viruses coming for us, which would only ever (as with avian flu) be a symptom of a deeper imbalance.

If not, please let's tackle habitat threats, overfishing, overhunting, and try to make sure this doesn't happen again. Jeez.

owhydididoit, I bet you never expected this much carnage from a very simple proposition. No more of a particular species ever again = bad.
posted by imperium at 4:18 AM on June 8, 2008


And I don't see the need for an apology. OK, we have a mixed age range readership, but you said what I was thinking.
posted by imperium at 4:20 AM on June 8, 2008


Why is compassion & empathy being ridiculed here as immature & irrational? I understand wanting to critique someone for self-righteousness, but to dismiss it all as "weeping & handwringing" (not to spotlight just nasreddin, he's just the most recent in the thread) is merely falling prey to same demon. You cannot cure "holier-than-thou" with "more-rational-than-thou" - it's like listening to two Zax argue.

Anyways, here's some interesting reading pertinent to the discussion at hand (i.e., the question of "why does it matter"):

The extinction of species and why it matters more than you think
by Mark Buchanan

Animal Extinction - the greatest threat to mankind
by Julia Whitty

p.s. thanks owhydididoit - good post
posted by jammy at 4:41 AM on June 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Kudos to jammy for linking to one of the bestest (right up there with Yertle the Turtle) Dr. Seuss story EVAR!!

Those articles, too, thanks for those.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:59 AM on June 8, 2008


Though I'm not advocating that only humans and our food should exist, I want to make two points:

- having to live like an animal often really sucks

- think of the space of all species that potentially could exist. Aren't you sad that they don't?
posted by vertriebskonzept at 5:47 AM on June 8, 2008


Because the tragedy is a concept based on "feelings" and it doesn't exist without humans. Was the K-T mass extinction 65 mn years ago a tragedy? Well, no, we weren't there to experience the loss. But now we are here. And if we decide that responsible stewardship is a good thing, then this seal business is a bad thing.

Any workable concept of stewardship has to accept the fact that we're part of nature (even if we're the elephant in the china shop and so should move with extra care) and will affect natural systems. Whatever we do, we'll destabilise ecosystems and this will push marginal species towards extinction. This is nothing new - human expansion across the world was accompanied by what's called the pleistocene extinction event, which involved the extinctions of many large species. There's conflicting theories about why this happened, but humans are probably implicated in some way, whether through hunting or the spreading of diseases. Even without all our ecosystem-disturbing technology and our sheer force of numbers we impact heavily on ecosystems.

A distinction should be drawn between stewardship and the desire to turn Earth into an unchanging theme-park of flora and fauna. The idea that nothing must die on our watch doesn't strike me as particularly healthy or noble. It's utterly unachievable and a denial of any possible role humans can play in nature. We need to be careful of our impact on ecosystems, and this seal's death is an example of what happens when we're not. But it's not a tragedy when a species dies; thinking it is and calling for other people to do so isn't going to solve any of our problems or ultimately benefit our relationship with the rest of nature.
posted by xchmp at 6:03 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some caveats here: I know nothing about this stuff. I've paid no attention to it whatsoever. Consider me a complete naive, because that's what I am.

Do you eat seafood? If so, you might have noticed that the animals we eat today were considered bait twenty years ago.

An alternative take is that the middle classes are today eating the fish that the poor used to eat, now because only the rich can afford the fish that the middle class used to enjoy.

I don't know that this fish actually tastes any worse. It's not quite as pretty on the plate, and its a bit less convenient because it tends to be smaller, or harder to fillet, but there's nothing wrong with the flavour. If anything, it's much more desirable product than tofu and bacon bits because presumably it'll ensure continued effort going into managing fishing areas because of their ongoing economic importance?


Except that scientists who spend all of their time studying the world's fisheries say that they are collapsing. If anything, our economic interest in fishing means that big fish are disappearing faster because people are making more money off of them. It was good of you to admit your lack of knowledge on the subject. I hope that you will accept the opinion of those who base theirs upon scientific research.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:46 AM on June 8, 2008


[a few comments removed - you know where metatalk is]
posted by jessamyn at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2008


I'd just like to chime in as someone only mildly concerned by the extinction but massively interested in reasons and reason giving.

With something like extinction, there are some very reasonable, very thoughtful objections the the knee-jerk indignation, many of which have been laid out above: species have died off in massive numbers before, the apocalyptic threats are overblown, ecologies are actually very resilient, and nobody objects when species inimical to human beings are destroyed. Yet the reactions are not nearly as thoughtful as the questions, since they either repeat the premises or fall back on that good old moral indignation, combined with contempt. There are also some good attempts to make the case not for moral indignation, but for aesthetic indignation: the loss of the product of millions of years of evolution, the loss of something unique, the loss of something cute, etc..

I guess I would say that I'm on the fence about the seal: it's not immediately obvious how the seal's loss is a loss to humanity, and I'm a bit of a human-racist or an anthropocentrist or what have you. I'm not defending Idiot President Steve. He is sometimes a troll, and frequently pushes an absurd line for no particular reason except to rile tempers. But there are many other people in this thread asking similar questions, and I think we're owed more respect than I've seen here today.

There's a special kind of fallacy in responding to questions by repeating the question, loudly and indignantly. It suggests that the asker is akin to a child for not already understanding the obvious answer. When we do this indignant "Are you serious?" routine, we suggest that the asker should re-evaluate the plain and obvious facts, that they should reconsider their moral intuitions and their basic common sense. I do it sometimes myself, because I have students who want to repeatedly ask questions like: "Is 2 + 2 really 4?" "Is murder really wrong?" However, I think it's a mistake and I try to suppress that reaction, especially when the subject is something as divisive and fraught as the environment. For a political cause that still needs much more support before it can see its policies enacted, there's a remarkably small amount of consideration for the reasonable questions of fence-sitters like me.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:07 AM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Cut the crap. Nothing is more embarrassing than the spectacle of someone simultaneously trying to claim the moral high ground and claiming that that makes them a better person.

How stupid. Anyone is free to claim the moral high ground because it makes them a better person. Embarrassing would be your problem.
posted by Brian B. at 8:24 AM on June 8, 2008


But there are many other people in this thread asking similar questions, and I think we're owed more respect than I've seen here today.

Why would anyone NOT be concerned that humans caused the extinction of a mammalian species? There are temporary reasons, I'm sure, but most people will go out of their way to see unique species just to see them as tourists, and maybe that's required to understand their motives. Yet, some people would stay in the car and read a book rather than stop and get out to see whales off the coast. Why?
posted by Brian B. at 8:47 AM on June 8, 2008


I hope that you will accept the opinion of those who base theirs upon scientific research.

I wasn't seeking to argue that there aren't fewer big fish. The increase in price makes that fairly obvious. Now was there another opinion you had that you were seeking to impress on me?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2008


Except that scientists who spend all of their time studying the world's fisheries say that they are collapsing.

And from the same article that you link to:
But Steve Murawski, chief scientist of the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the researchers’ prediction of a major global collapse “doesn’t gibe with trends that we see, especially in the United States.”

He said the Fisheries Service considered about 20 percent of the stocks it monitors to be overfished. “But 80 percent are not, and that trend has not changed substantially,” he said, adding that if anything, the fish situation in American waters was improving. But he conceded that the same cannot necessarily be said for stocks elsewhere, particularly in the developing world.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2008


I'm sorry if I misinterpreted what you said, Peter. I thought you were arguing that fisheries weren't collapsing and middle class people were just choosing to eat cheaper meat. My mistake.

I wouldn't base too much on what a federal scientist says in the newspaper these days, though. The Bush administration has gotten pretty good at censoring and/or firing those who don't follow the party line.

If you (or others) have access to Science, you can read the Worm et al article here and decide for yourself if their argument is persuasive.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:24 AM on June 8, 2008


I meant to point out how the article relates to the FPP. The title is Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services, in other words, how the loss of species affects the ability of the ocean to provide us with various things we need from it, whether we realize it performs those services or not.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:27 AM on June 8, 2008


I guess I would say that I'm on the fence about the seal: it's not immediately obvious how the seal's loss is a loss to humanity

And let's definitely only view the planet and all its species in terms of their uses to humanity. Let's go ahead and decide that the U.S. Navy can conduct exercises that completely screw up whale migrations for the entire planet; what use are whales really, compared to Americans? So the sheer rate of extinctions of species has risen to an alarmingly accelerated rate because of humans destroying habitat, overfishing, and just enjoying shooting things? Or my personal favorite, hunting down and killing off entire species so that their parts can be used as aphrodisiacs? So what? Only sentimentalists and emos think that other species have a right to their own place on the planet, innit?

Okay, then. Let's think about what Mark Carwardine writes in "LAST CHANCE TO SEE", a book about endangered species which he co-authored with Douglas Adams: "... while nature has considerable resilience, there is a limit to how far that resilience can be stretched. No one knows how close to the limit we are getting. The darker it gets, the faster we're driving."
posted by OolooKitty at 10:34 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Only sentimentalists and emos think that other species have a right to their own place on the planet, innit?

That's not my claim, no. My claim is something closer to this: in a world where real incomes for the poorest 20% of the population have dropped almost 50% in the last 25 years, where 26,500 human children die every day from poverty, we have more important things to worry about than a seal who hasn't been seen for 56 years.

As I said, I'm a humanist: I generally reserve my indignation for human suffering. Since you're a human, too, I'm concerned for your concern, I want to understand it, and I want to see if there's something about my position I should re-evaluate. Since humans are absolutely dependent on the environment, and pollution, for instance, tends to hurt the poorest most, and global warming will hurt the poorest most, I can understand why we should care about those issues. But -this- seal? No one has yet made a case for its value, just speculated that its loss might, just possibly, lead to the end of the world.

When responding, please remember that I am also a human, and that I haven't clubbed any seals today. Please don't treat me like a rhetorical punching bag.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2008


Imagine you live in a small town, one that's existed for thousands of years.

Suddenly, families start dying off very suddenly.

Of course, there have been calamities before, wars and fires, sad but part of history; but the big difference here is that these other families are being killed by your family; either poisoned by your family's waste, which has suddenly become extremely toxic, or killed by simply being forced out of their homes to perish.

Moreover, your family's prosperity over the centuries has depended on commerce with the rest of the town; almost all your food, most of your clothing, medicines, the very air you breathe, all are provided by the other families, and mostly without direct cost to you.

So, yes, you should be deeply concerned to see these families die. At some point, and you have no idea what that point is, you're going to have difficulty eating.


There's also the moral issue that these other families have a right to live.

I looked back over the posting records of some people in this thread; we have advocates for torture, for wars of conquest, we have people who think global warming is a good thing, we have people who believe that the rich have a strong, intrinsic right to purchase world treasures and destroy them for their own entertainment.

"The "boo murder" contingent has so much political power at this point, they don't even need to argue their point," is a particularly telling quote. The extinction of the world's species continues at an exponential rate; almost nothing is being done about it; and yet this writer has the perception that environmentalists control politics, simply because after decades of reasoned argument, the fact that humans are rapidly exterminating the rest of the world's species is now at least acceptable for discussion in some countries.

So I don't think that a lot of people are going to understand such moral arguments at all. If you believe that "America" has the right to kill non-American humans, you certainly believe that America has the right to cause the extinction of non-human species, particularly if you can't make money out of them.

I think we should stick to: "You short-sighted idiots, you may be dooming us all."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:55 AM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I looked back over the posting records of some people in this thread; we have advocates for torture, for wars of conquest, we have people who think global warming is a good thing, we have people who believe that the rich have a strong, intrinsic right to purchase world treasures and destroy them for their own entertainment.

Did you look at my posting history? Or does this guilt by association mean that my concerns can be written off?

There's also the moral issue that these other families have a right to live.

This little parable depends on the moral equivocation of human beings and animals, and the equation of the extinction of Monk Seals with the destruction of the entire ecosystem. So... if you're keeping score at home, we've got: ad hominem, slippery slope, and is that a straw man I see? Yes it is:

If you believe that "America" has the right to kill non-American humans, you certainly believe that America has the right to cause the extinction of non-human species, particularly if you can't make money out of them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:03 PM on June 8, 2008



I looked back over the posting records of some people in this thread; we have advocates for torture, for wars of conquest, we have people who think global warming is a good thing, we have people who believe that the rich have a strong, intrinsic right to purchase world treasures and destroy them for their own entertainment.


Um, this is pretty creepy and your insinuations are out of line.
posted by nasreddin at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea says: in a world where real incomes for the poorest 20% of the population have dropped almost 50% in the last 25 years, where 26,500 human children die every day from poverty, we have more important things to worry about than a seal who hasn't been seen for 56 years.

You're right, the issue of child poverty is much more important than the issue of this seal, at least to me. However, I don't think it's the case that we only have the capacity to worry about the single most important issue on earth. We can show concern for multiple things at once.

I'm intrigued by the ire that any sort of concern for wildlife or the environment causes in some people. I could talk about any number of things that don't matter: I got a speeding ticket. My favorite band broke up. My mailbox got run over. There could be little in the world less important than these things, and yet when I mention them to people, the conversation usually goes something like this:
"Someone ran over my mailbox yesterday."
"Bummer."
The conversation does not usually go like this:
"Someone ran over my mailbox yesterday."
"Honestly, why does it matter? What value did that mailbox have for me? Don't be so emo."
You're right, there is no quantifiable value that can be placed on this particular species. If you're asking why I care about it, I would say I tend to root for life to succeed. Does it help that this particular life is cute? Sure. To those who say things like, "Oh, then you must also not want the Bubonic Plague becoming extinct!" I would say that my tendency is to root for life to succeed provided that life isn't actively trying to kill me. I think I'm allowed to make that distinction.

If you're asking why you should care about it, I don't think anyone here can point to a way that this will affect your life directly or place an absolute value that this seal would have had for you, especially as it hasn't been seen in 50 years. However, the general behaviors that led to this extinction are arguably mucking up the world in general, and left unchecked would almost certainly affect you profoundly sooner or later. It is an irreversible mistake.

Some of us root for life to thrive even if it doesn't provide any direct value to us. Yep, some of us root for it more if it's a cute species in question vs an ugly worm. I'm not clear on why this would inspire so much anger, though I can understand (but not agree) with it in cases where protection of a species affects people's ability to earn money, for example. And lastly, this specific species may not have had direct value to you but I believe that if there weren't checks against the human behaviors that cause extinction it is likely that there would eventually be disastrous consequences to humans.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 12:24 PM on June 8, 2008


Um, this is pretty creepy and your insinuations are out of line.

idunno. speaking as an afficionado of indian & iraqi history, and as a flasher who likes to indulge in gay handparties with bunnies, athletes & Borat, i'd say that lupus' methodology is spot on.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2008


All politics aside, all argument about the worth of one species over another aside - something irreplaceable has gone out of the world. Whatever your view on the feasibility (or even validity[?!]) of environmentalism and what the loss of complexity means for the future of life on earth, a loss is a loss.

To say it doesn't matter shows a paucity of spirit and lack of simple appreciation for life that I find tragic. If humans are so lucky as a species to grow out of this destructive childhood we find ourselves in, what incredible sorrow we will feel over the mindless destruction of entire species that will never exist again on this planet. The ignorance we show now will be our shame forever.

.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:59 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks, The Loch Ness Monster. That's the kind of response I was hoping for. I personally don't feel angry about environmental concerns, but I am worried whenever I see apparently honest requests for clarification met with such indignity.

Yep, some of us root for it more if it's a cute species in question vs an ugly worm. I'm not clear on why this would inspire so much anger, though I can understand (but not agree) with it in cases where protection of a species affects people's ability to earn money, for example. And lastly, this specific species may not have had direct value to you but I believe that if there weren't checks against the human behaviors that cause extinction it is likely that there would eventually be disastrous consequences to humans.

One thing I find interesting about this argument is the easy switch you make between the aesthetic reasons for indignation and the apocalyptic reasons: on the one hand, it's cute, and on the other, it might lead to a catastrophe for human beings. A lot of the times, I think environmentalist forgo their best argument, the "species as valuable-but-wasted intellectual property and maybe niche ecology" argument, in favor of Deep Ecology-type reasoning that tries to put the earth first. I've never been able to see the persuasive force of this kind of substitution. As I said, I'm a humanist, a avowed racist when it comes to privileging humans over other species. But then, this is a conversation among humans, so I'd expect that most of your interlocutors share my views.

If you'd be willing to continue this conversation, I'd like to ask: why shouldn't the dominant species on the planet be rightfully allowed to have massive environmental effects? Part of our success has meant that we're now taking up a lot of the land that was previously occupied by other ecologies. It's natural that this kind of invasive activity, which corresponds with human flourishing, might cause some species to die out, just as any major geological or climatological activity might. Nobody blames the Polynesian rat for destroying Easter Island, do they? I mean, we attribute responsibility to the rat, but we don't blame it, we don't resent it or feel anger or indignity at the rat's irresponsible behavior. There's an important element of the is-ought gap working itself out here, and I'd like to better see how self-identified environmentalists understand it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:11 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Indeed, The Light Fantastic.

As an aside, I'd heard of our current period of exponential extinctions referred to as "the great dying" but trying to google the term only led me to references to the mother of all mass extinctions.

The extinction event occurred in two pulses, five million years apart.


Oh, two pulses of an event, a mere five million years apart. Such a long, long time.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:17 PM on June 8, 2008


Nobody blames the Polynesian rat for destroying Easter Island, do they?

Um, I thought that deforestation by humans was the commonly accepted cause of the demise of Easter Island civilisation. Or else, diseases brought by Europeans.

But it seems that the rat theory has some backing. You learn a new thing every day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:24 PM on June 8, 2008


One thing I find interesting about this argument is the easy switch you make between the aesthetic reasons for indignation and the apocalyptic reasons

I am aware that the "cute" factor is irrational; I don't say that to persuade you, but if I am being honest I have to list that in the reasons it matters to me, and I think that is true of many people. I don't expect it to be true of you and I wouldn't try to talk you into caring on that count.

I list the apocalyptic factor as a reason it should matter to us both. In fact, in that category, it's much more likely that the least cute bugsies are the ones that will affect us profoundly. We need only look as far as bees to see how damage to a non-human species can profoundly affect us. It's true that seals do not move from plant to plant with pollen on their maws, but I think there are enough examples of ripples that quickly move through the food chain to show that there is cause for serious concern about species going extinct.

As for the question of why we can't just stomp our footprint on the planet: because it would totally suck. "Massive environmental effects" will most certainly have a negative impact on you directly: famine, disease, crashed economies.

As for the rats on Easter Island, if I understand this version of the story correctly, I bet the human population living on the island were sure as hell blaming the rats, and I would guess that they tried and failed to stop them. And I have to believe that if they knew that their civilization was being destroyed by rats there was some anger and indignity. But there is also the issue that the rats do not have the capacity to know better, while people do.

Actually, even though I say that people have the capacity to know better, I consider it an impossibility that all people will behave well. So I think it's true that no matter what, and no matter how dire the situation gets, there is always going to be some jackass willing to knock off the last member of any given species for a few bucks no matter what the consequences. Thankfully there is another quality that humans have which the rats did not have: the ability to organize and regulate said jackasses (and I am not referring to you here). And this is where it gets tricky, because it seems to be your argument that since we are dominant, whatever we do is fine. If it is the case that might makes right, then it's also true that if we treehuggers organize sufficiently that we can successfully impose regulations on other people then it must be ok that we impose regulations on other people.

Speaking purely objectively, the reason you shouldn't be allowed to trash the environment is the same as the reason I shouldn't be allowed to dump my garbage in the park in front of your house. Even though it would be convenient for me and would save me money, we're talking about lowering the standard of life for everyone who lives near the park and so we all agree to pay our trash services bill so we can not live in a garbage pile.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 2:21 PM on June 8, 2008


It's just interesting to me that the same people who ask what does it matter is there is one less species of seal in the world don't seem to ask themselves if MetaFilter might be better with one less underreseached and heartless comment on it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:32 PM on June 8, 2008


That's interesting?
posted by smackfu at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2008


Did I say interesting? I meant disheartening.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:01 PM on June 8, 2008


So why does this matter? Yeah, it kinda sucks, but species do go extinct. Things die. It seems to be part of the natural order.

Because an extinction like this one is foreseeable, preventable, accidental, and finally proof of our own predictable end;

proof that the human species has a lot to learn about living on earth if we want to keep living here.
posted by eustatic at 3:03 PM on June 8, 2008


As for the question of why we can't just stomp our footprint on the planet: because it would totally suck. "Massive environmental effects" will most certainly have a negative impact on you directly: famine, disease, crashed economies.

We've had massive environmental effects ever since we started wandering about the planet killing stuff, farming stuff and domesticating stuff. Consider that the last big extinction was quite probably caused by humans either hunting stuff to extinction or moving animals around thus instigating a massive plague. That was about 10,000 years ago and our environmental impact has only grown over the years.

Those 'massive environmental effects' have led to some pretty good stuff for us humans. And while there's plenty that needs to be done to help the people who aren't benefiting from this (the sixth of the world's population who live in abject poverty for example), the majority of people owe their standard of living to 10,000 years of environmental exploitation.

There's no way that 6.7 billion people (and rising) can hope not to have 'massive environmental effects'. What we can, and are slowly learning to do, is understand how our environmental impact affects the world and how to minimise it where it proves most damaging. Our 'massive environmental impact' doesn't have to be destructive, or at least not exclusively so. But it will always be massive. And that's something we have to come to terms with if we ever hope to get our ongoing conflict with the rest of nature under control.

Some species will die simply because we're here and no amount of respect for them or grief over their passing will change that.
posted by xchmp at 3:07 PM on June 8, 2008


I will cede the unpreventable environmental effects, as they are unpreventable by definition. But I would not classify extinction by overhunting as unpreventable.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 3:16 PM on June 8, 2008


If you'd be willing to continue this conversation, I'd like to ask: why shouldn't the dominant species on the planet be rightfully allowed to have massive environmental effects?

Um, because it's not necessarily good for us, either? We're not some special snowflake species that gets to do whatever it wants but be the only one to avoid the negative consequences of those actions. We've had a massive environmental effect on the Mississippi River and Delta; one of the consequences of those human-made changes was the virtual elimination of sandbars, islands, marshes, and other natural phenomena that can lessen or prevent flooding from storm surges. We fucked up the ecosystem but good there, and whatever nonhuman species that might have been teetering on the brink of extinction hasn't been the only one to suffer.

...where 26,500 human children die every day from poverty, we have more important things to worry about than a seal who hasn't been seen for 56 years.


And what are those things, exactly, and why are they more important? You say you haven't seen a reason that explains why you should care about the extinction about this particular seal. I could turn that around and ask why I, personally, should care (more) about the 26 thousand dead kids - none of whom I knew, none of whom, as far as I know, had done anything of direct benefit to me - than I do about, say, declining West Coast salmon populations. Which does affect me directly, because I won't have any local salmon to eat (the season here has been closed, so no local wild salmon for any of us from CA or OR).

Personally, my indignation is large. It contains multitudes. Human, nonhuman, plant, earth. That I find the extinction of a species terribly sad does not prevent me from being concerned, heartbroken, or outraged about the terrible things we do to members of our own species.
posted by rtha at 3:47 PM on June 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


But I would not classify extinction by overhunting as unpreventable.

The overhunting of this seal mostly took place before modern environmental concerns had developed, this destablised the population and led to its eventual extinction somewhere after 1952. This may not have been helped by the fishing industry in the early part of the century killing them as competitors for fish, but it's impossible to know if this is a significant factor. Certainly, by that point the population of seals had been vastly reduced.

Since modern conservation efforts didn't begin until the early sixties and the animal in question was very likely extinct by then, I think we can probably chalk this one up to past mistakes In what sense was this extinction preventable? Sure, if it hadn't been hunted so much it might have survived, but most of the people who hunted it lived in a world where nobody really understood that we could hunt animals to death, nor the possible consequences to doing so.
posted by xchmp at 3:52 PM on June 8, 2008


Ok, yes. The overhunting of this specific species is not preventable, as it happened in the past.

The fact that this specific case is not preventable does not mean that it is not noteworthy, and the fact that people understood less about the dangers of overhunting does not mean we should pretend we don't know about it now. When I said that overhunting was preventable I did not mean we should attempt to go back in time and prevent this extinction. I mean to suggest that we should watch our current and future behavior.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 4:31 PM on June 8, 2008


why shouldn't the dominant species on the planet be rightfully allowed to have massive environmental effects?

Yeah!

I yelled at the Lorax, “Now listen here, Dad!
All you do is yap-yap and say, ‘Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!’
Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you
I intend to go on doing just what i do!
And, for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering
on biggering

and BIGGERING

and BIGGERING

and BIGGERING,

turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds
which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!”
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it kinda sucks, but species do go extinct. Things die. It seems to be part of the natural order.

good grief, the amount of unsubstantiated opinion & misinformed conjecture on this thread is stunning (again, not to spotlight BrandonB, he's just an example).

but really, this isn't just a philosophy debate - there is actual science to be taken into account. it doesn't look like many folks checked out the couple of links to the Buchanan & Whitty articles. no biggie, I don't always read all the links in a thread either. but I think that some folks here might find the substance of their arguments interesting &/or informative so I'm going to post a longish quote from the Whitty one.

also, the whole "extinction is just natural" / "we're just the dominant species, that's what you do" arguments are driving me crazy with their historical & scientific ignorance so the stuff in bold is where I have added emphasis. anyways, check it:
Scientists recognise that species continually disappear at a background extinction rate estimated at about one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost in a sustainable fashion. Occasional mass extinctions convulse this orderly norm, followed by excruciatingly slow recoveries as new species emerge from the remaining gene-pool, until the world is once again repopulated by a different catalogue of flora and fauna.

From what we understand so far, five great extinction events have reshaped earth in cataclysmic ways in the past 439 million years, each one wiping out between 50 and 95 per cent of the life of the day, including the dominant life forms; the most recent event killing off the non-avian dinosaurs. Speciations followed, but an analysis published in Nature showed that it takes 10 million years before biological diversity even begins to approach what existed before a die-off.

Today we're living through the sixth great extinction, sometimes known as the Holocene extinction event. We carried its seeds with us 50,000 years ago as we migrated beyond Africa with Stone Age blades, darts, and harpoons, entering pristine Ice Age ecosystems and changing them forever by wiping out at least some of the unique megafauna of the times, including, perhaps, the sabre-toothed cats and woolly mammoths. When the ice retreated, we terminated the long and biologically rich epoch sometimes called the Edenic period with assaults from our newest weapons: hoes, scythes, cattle, goats, and pigs.

But, as harmful as our forebears may have been, nothing compares to what's under way today. Throughout the 20th century the causes of extinction - habitat degradation, overexploitation, agricultural monocultures, human-borne invasive species, human-induced climate-change - increased exponentially, until now in the 21st century the rate is nothing short of explosive. The World Conservation Union's Red List - a database measuring the global status of Earth's 1.5 million scientifically named species - tells a haunting tale of unchecked, unaddressed, and accelerating biocide.

When we hear of extinction, most of us think of the plight of the rhino, tiger, panda or blue whale. But these sad sagas are only small pieces of the extinction puzzle. The overall numbers are terrifying. Of the 40,168 species that the 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have assessed, one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analysed, but fully 40 per cent of the examined species of planet earth are in danger, including perhaps 51 per cent of reptiles, 52 per cent of insects, and 73 per cent of flowering plants.

By the most conservative measure - based on the last century's recorded extinctions - the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But the eminent Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, and other scientists, estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes that the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.

We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been - and will never be - known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by 2100.

You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that seven in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming; and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by almost everyone outside science.
read the rest of this article
posted by jammy at 5:34 AM on June 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


Thanks, jammy, that was quite a bit more compelling than the other arguments in this thread.
posted by nasreddin at 5:45 AM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look, populations don't expand at the rich center, they expand at the poor edges. Human populations grow because fewer poor people die of typhus or malnutrition or war, not because some rich folks decide to have a dozen babies, Angelina Jolie notwithstanding. And yes, the poor kids who survive a couple of decades before they experience premature morbidity due to some easily preventable condition tend to edge out other species.

I could turn that around and ask why I, personally, should care (more) about the 26 thousand dead kids

You could, sure, but that's an Idiot President Steve move. I'm willing to acknowledge there's something ugly about the loss of the seal, but it pales in comparison to the real tragedy of those kids. And the very fact that you wrote "I could" instead of simply doing it suggests that you agree, that you think the loss of all that unique Monk Seal genetic material is paltry in comparison to the loss of just one of those human children, not to mention the 26,499 others who died yesterday.

And this is where it gets tricky, because it seems to be your argument that since we are dominant, whatever we do is fine.

That's not at all my argument, but my argument is something like this: the things that we do to preserve the lives of our loved ones and flourish are fine. Hunting for food or simply to pay the bills is fine. Food prices are out of whack right now precisely because a tiny portion of the population managed to tear itself out of abject poverty in the last decade, and they're noticing that they feel healthier and happier with a little meat in their diets.

If I live in abject poverty and the only way out, the only way to make sure my children aren't malnourished, that they have adequate medical care, and maybe a chance of escaping our class, if the only way I can offer them that is to contribute my small part to the overfishing of Atlantic blue fin tuna, then, yes, that's fine, though regrettably unsustainable. If my kids learn to read before we extinguish the whole species, well, that's one small step away from abjection, and there are other fish in the sea, right? If a regulatory body comes in and says: don't fish blue fin, fish yellow fin instead, that's great. But if no regulatory body in the world has the capacity to enforce that command, then some poor chump somewhere is going to make that choice.

Unless you're a homeless guy typing these comments from the public library, I'm dubious about your right to judge the world's poor for their BIGGERING needs.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:14 AM on June 9, 2008


Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.

See, now this is good statistical reason-giving! Thanks jammy!
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:20 AM on June 9, 2008


if the only way I can offer them that is to contribute my small part to the overfishing of Atlantic blue fin tuna, then, yes, that's fine, though regrettably unsustainable.

It isn't fine, because it isn't the only way. It may be the only way you see, and you might not be best equipped to figure out another solution, but the reason that fishing for those tuna is a way at all is because folks are willing to buy the meat--meat that is often a luxury. The people who buy that tuna should stop it, unless they don't care what happens to your grandchildren.
posted by owhydididoit at 7:04 AM on June 9, 2008


I don't mean to blame the person fishing, or blame any person. But if there are behaviors we could change to be more respectful of the value of species we don't have direct reason to care about, I think it is important we consider that change.
posted by owhydididoit at 8:06 AM on June 9, 2008


but it pales in comparison to the real tragedy of those kids.

But you still haven't explained why.

the things that we do to preserve the lives of our loved ones and flourish are fine. Hunting for food or simply to pay the bills is fine.


The slash-and-burn of the rainforests in the Amazon, Indonesia, and other biodiverse-rich areas may, temporarily, allow some people to grow food for themselves, but in the long run (actually, not even very long, it's turning out), the environmental impact of those actions are going to cost all of us way more than we can afford.

It doesn't have to be an either/or. And I don't know why we're arguing as if it is. I wasn't trying to be MPDSEA (did I get that right? I'm kind of dyslexic about his handle) in my "why should I care?" comment about kids dying. Honest. Maybe I'm just not reading you right, but my perspective is: we're all animals. We all have to live on this planet. We have to have balance - multiple needs are in competition, and just because we don't yet know what "good" a particular species (this seal, that plant, some bird) might do for us doesn't mean that it doesn't have one. It doesn't mean that it's not important. It doesn't mean that it's not some sort of keystone that when removed, cascades some previously unforseen series of events that completely fucks us (humans).

Apologies, anotherpanacea, if I came off as snarky, or offended you. It was not my intention.
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on June 9, 2008


There's a really nasty disconnect happening when people say 'seafood'.

Unless those same people eat a delicious sesame-seed bun containg 'landfood' and special sauce.

Seafood. There's so little regard behind that phrase. It's life that's only worth respecting in terms of it's consumability. It exposes how dismissive we are of the sea, and how carelessly we have eaten all the food therein. Now the sea's out of food, let's get back in our dense urban jungles and start sucking up that farmfood... then the landfood when those stocks run low. Go vegetarian before we hit the earthfood.
posted by davemee at 10:26 AM on June 9, 2008


the things that we do to preserve the lives of our loved ones and flourish are fine. Hunting for food or simply to pay the bills is fine.

Unless it's done in such a way that is unsustainable. The way humans have hacked their way through the ecosystem is as stupid as selling your arms and legs for a pizza. It can't last, and it may already have gone too far - whatever the case, it's idiotic to continue.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:34 PM on June 9, 2008


When will Bush's legacy be extinct?
posted by dasheekeejones at 5:26 PM on June 9, 2008


You mean the Iraqis? They're getting close, maybe another year or two.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:30 PM on June 9, 2008


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