Of all species that have existed on Earth, 99.9 percent are now extinct,
July 8, 2002 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Of all species that have existed on Earth, 99.9 percent are now extinct, yet scientists insist that we make a great effort to save endangered species. If extinction is the natural course of evolution, why bother? And if humankind is the cause of these lastest extinctions and endangerments, should efforts be made to save people so that their exploitation of the natural world can continue? Aren't our efforts to fight diseases such as the aids epidemic in Africa not only a denial of evolutionly forces but also adding to the problem of overpopulation exerting unbearable pressure on the environment? If evolution is truely the force it's claimed to be can it's course be changed by mankind and if so, should it be? Should evolution be allowed to take its course?
posted by Mack Twain (44 comments total)
posted by y2karl at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2002

why worry about anything. its just the natural course of life. its pretty easy to be, what american? british? and be able to say something as lame as :

Aren't our efforts to fight diseases such as the aids epidemic in Africa not only a denial of evolutionary forces but also adding to the problem of overpopulation exerting unbearable pressure on the environment?

that's real cute.
posted by Satapher at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2002

Letting evolution run its natural course is one thing, but the potential extinction of the human race is another. Leaving AIDS run unchecked in a continent like Africa not only effectively annihilates the population there within the next few generations or so, but it also spreads the virus that can kill you, or your children, over here in America (or wherever you may happen to live - I'm assuming it's not Africa).

Your rationalization of leaving AIDS alone implies that you want it to become the dominant species, while allowing humans to slowly but surely die off. My sense of self-preservation does not allow that to happen.
posted by nickd at 12:19 PM on July 8, 2002

The natural laws of evolution taking their course would dictate Mack Twain would not be capable of posting that link and positing such garbage due to a premature death owing to deliberate blindness of oncoming catastrophic events.
posted by nofundy at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2002

Humdinger questions, Mack Davis!

I'm not competent to address them scientifically so I'll offer a theological approach: in the three great monotheistic religions it's a sin for man to stand by and let nature run its course. We are enjoined to interfere, in order to save life. There is no such thing as "God's plan" that doesn't involve life-saving action by human beings.

Fatalistically sitting back and letting things happen as they were predetermined to do is not respecting God, i.e. it is not respecting God's will. Call it sloth, acedia , nihilism or plain indifference to the suffering of other creatures.

So, yes, every effort should be made to save as many lives as possible. Which lives - and at the expense of which others - is a question of conscience and/or free will.

I would argue that this argument obviously does not imply a belief in God. Substitute "Nature" or "Humanity" or "Goodness" and you could extract the same ethical conclusion.

Re: the AIDS epidemic: I'm a Jew and I remember my rabbi telling me that, to save a human life, it's God's wish that we actually disrespect the Torah: "If a life is in danger, there's no Torah." I think both Christianity and Islam have similar injunctions. So even from the viewpoint of these faiths, it's everyone's duty to forget about the holy scriptures when human lives are at risk.

So I'd argue, when dealing with human life - and arguably all sentient life - it doesn't matter whether or not you're an atheist: all should act alike.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:29 PM on July 8, 2002

Humans don't reside outside the natural world. Whatever we do, cure AIDS or not, kill species or not, is part of the natural "order" of things and influences the course of life on earth in some way. There is no morally right or wrong position here. More importantly, there is no right or wrong 'direction' of evolution. Creatures will come and go according to their fitness for the world they live in. Period. The emergence of humans may eventually lead to a 'bottleneck' when we wipe ourselves out along with most of the rest of the biosphere. But a few things will survive and eventual repopulate the earth with new creatures. THIS IS NORMAL! And it is the way things happened long before humans and will likely be long after humans are gone. Even if humans don't cause the next bottleneck, something will and there is nothing we can do to change or stop that. It is the way the world works. Fretting over it is a stupid waste of time.
posted by plaino at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2002

By the same token, it could be said that our human desire to survive and ingenuity to do so (via advances in medicine and techonology) is also part of natural evolution.
posted by stevengarrity at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2002

Substitute "Nature" or "Humanity" or "Goodness" and you could extract the same ethical conclusion.

Only if you believe that Nature or Humanity "enjoin [us] to interfere, in order to save life." I see nothing in nature that does such a thing.
posted by claxton6 at 12:49 PM on July 8, 2002

Even further by the same token, if I decide to eat or breathe, am I "interfering" with nature? No, because I'm doing what is part of the definition of being alive. So, now you're asking, should this desire for self-preservation extend to the rest of my living flock/herd/tribe? Well, humans definitely aren't alone in controlling the size and relative health of their population. The exact parameters of that preservation (how many should live altogether, what's the cutoff for continuing to support a weak member, etc...) are what determine a herd's future, and when added up over many herds, the species' future. It's terribly naive to ignore a living thing's existence as part of a group, particularly when you're talking about social animals.
posted by badstone at 12:50 PM on July 8, 2002

There seems to be a common mistake (in my opinion) of talking about nature as if it were Nature, and actually had "intentions" or an "order", or that for some reason "natural" equates to "right". This is percisely the misconception that the holistic medicine industry trades on ("its natural!" ... yah, so is hemlock).

I mention this because I don't even think what is natural is relevant to the discussion. The questions should, in my opinion, be more along the lines of "is there value (of any sort, commercial, spiritual, ethical) in trying to save endangered species? in saving humans?". These questions, to my mind, have very little to do with "the natural order".
posted by malphigian at 12:50 PM on July 8, 2002

By the same token, it could be said that our human desire to survive and ingenuity to do so (via advances in medicine and techonology) is also part of natural evolution.

absolutely, steve. extinction in and of itself is not the issue, i think. i think it's cruel to wipe out an entire species for its fur or for sport, but i am only one man and i am someone who owns leather products and who eats meat.

i think the most compelling reason not to cause the extinction of species is not based on emotional attachment or sympathy but of necessity. i think it is wrong to excessively log forests, particularly rain forests, given their importance in producing oxygen from carbon dioxide. by our very evolutionary imperative, we should seek to survive; destroying these forests greatly hinders our ability to do so.
posted by moz at 12:52 PM on July 8, 2002

By the same token, it could be said that our human desire to survive and ingenuity to do so (via advances in medicine and techonology) is also part of natural evolution.

If you want.

I would think they are the result of evolution, but a million years from now some intelligent creature might regard them as part of the evolutionary process that shaped our species.
posted by plaino at 12:56 PM on July 8, 2002

very true, moz, but many of those species may not impact our lives greatly and we may become decent in terraformation techniques.

The point is to *make* those species useful, however appealing they may be to our *evolved*, human senses. In this way we may pass down their beauty, obviously ephemeral, to our children. Of course, we'll have to decide what is worthwhile, and for that we need dedicated people and good marketin ;)

As for genetic diseases, I have great confidence in the advance of genetic engineering, and of "repairing" the relevant DNA in the aberrant humans cells.

Furthermore, we have been "stopping" evolution or "de-evolving" for thousands of years, by our own hands. In this case, *we* are the force of evolution, artificial selection is just like natural selection. Lest you think I refer to domesticated plants and animals, and those apply as well, I also mean civilization for thousands of years has saved the disadvantaged.
posted by firestorm at 12:59 PM on July 8, 2002

Point taken, claxton6. I suppose I meant the human conception of Nature and Humanity as things worth preserving. I wrote my comment in a hurry. Heck, I even got Mack Twain's name wrong!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:03 PM on July 8, 2002

The terms of Mack's post are thinly disguised arguments for eugenics. His last link is basically eugenicist, and rather abhorrently so: "modern medicine has allowed genetically flawed people to pass on their genetic flaws to children who then continue to pass it on. " Which is nice. That kind of thinking would have ensured that Beethoven was never born.

They also depict evolution as somehow deterministic, heading towards some great end, which isn't at all in keeping with Darwin's ideas. Evolution doesn't have a 'course' in that respect: to suggest that it does is, again, in its macro version, eugenicist.

Of all the humans who have lived on Earth, a majority are now dead. Should that mean that we close hospitals and treat doctors with the same contempt as Pol Pot? Hardly.
posted by riviera at 1:04 PM on July 8, 2002

Unless this animal contributes somewhat to us... like a cow contributes milk, etc... then I see no need to expend any effort to save a species. That is unless their demise might upset the stability of a species that we need for our own purposes. God has given us, or for the evolutionists in here, animals evolved into what they are... for our purpose, because are the dominant life forms on the planet at the moment. Species will come and go. We might help some along because of our influence on the Earth, but nonetheless, it has been this way even before we were put here, or again, for the evolutionists, evolved into what we are today.
posted by spidre at 1:04 PM on July 8, 2002

firestrom:Furthermore, we have been "stopping" evolution or "de-evolving" for thousands of years, by our own hands... I also mean civilization for thousands of years has saved the disadvantaged.

There's no such thing as de-evolving. You seem to see evolution as one dimensional, having a positive and negative direction. The fitness function could more precisely be described as n-dimensional and constantly in flux. What's adaptative today might be fatal tomorrow. Also, any social species will "save" the disadvantaged, e.g.: herd behavior, flocking, etc.
posted by signal at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2002

That kind of thinking would have ensured that Beethoven was never born.

How many people had to die of genetic diseases which prior to formalized medicine would have prevented them from being born to have a single Beethoven?
posted by j.edwards at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2002

...and the making and use of condoms is also not an evolutionary given so let's just screw our brains out and hurry total extinction...The guy writing this stuff sure indicates that not all blrains have fully evolved.
posted by Postroad at 1:39 PM on July 8, 2002

I'm surprised that typically intelligent MeFiers have bought into right-wing propaganda about endangered species with such abandon. The rhetoric being spewed out in this thread is frighteningly similar to what you hear from corporate lobbyists who want to drill for oil in wildlife preserves.

The reason that environmentalists and scientists are so eager to retain the existing species on our planet is simple: we don't have any fucking clue how nature works. Historically, humans have messed with their ecosystems with disastrous results (kudzu, anyone?). The need for biodiversity isn't just a liberal plot to thwart developers, it's necessary to maintain precious natural resources. Arguing that "I can't see any reason that species x needs to be preserved, so therefore let's let it die," is exactly the kind of short-sighted fallacy that rules corporate America. I even detected some social darwinism in a few of these comments. "If they ain't fit enough to survive, screw 'em!" Natural selection is amoral--people aren't. To argue that humanity is engaged in a mass bonanza of natural selection is a contradiction in terms.

As the dominant species on Earth, we have an obligation to protect it. If we don't, we end up as extras in Damnation Alley. You make the call.
posted by vraxoin at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2002

Hmm.. there are just so many directions this can go, though..

Do we save species from going extinct for the pureness of it, or to correct mistakes we've made that threaten our own well-being?

Do we drive other forms of being to extenction, like bacteria and viruses, or even species that carry those things that are deadly to us to protect our own species?

Do we protect the human race from all ailments (AIDs, etc), but in doing so doom ourselves due to over population and mis-management of the environment? (which is worse, and can we find a good solution for the latter after solving the former?)

Being the dominant form of life on the planet does not necessarily mean that we will survive our own stupidity. Dominant animals (meat-eating, for example) will continue to try to get a food when it still puts them in mortal danger. Does that mean that their death fits with evolution, or is it an unfortunate outcome of evolution?

Also, is it evolutionary for successful species to over grow their bounds, then experience a decimation, only to bring back the strongest (or none at all)? (examples such as the spruce beetle in Alaska, or herbavores that have no controlling predators that graze out all their food, end up starving until their numbers can be supported again, etc)

And if it is, is it really part of evolution for humans to use what they know to try to alter their own paths through any means they have? Personally, I would think influencing the environment is an evolutionary tactic, since more than just humans do it, although not on such a grand scale. It's up to time to determine if the tactics used work, however.

I don't think trying to save species is really a moral question, since it all could be wrapped up into trying to influence our own survival path.
posted by rich at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2002

You cannot go against nature
Because, when you do
Go against nature
That's part of nature too.
posted by bingo at 1:57 PM on July 8, 2002

As the dominant species on Earth, we have an obligation to protect it.

In what respect are we the dominant species on Earth?

1. Our niche (land) is by far the smallest of the major ecologies (the others being air and sea).
2. We are outnumbered by most insect species and will be outlived by most as well.
3. We evolve (adapt) to our environment much slower than most microbes.
4. Our method of reproduction is inefficient.
5. We are not the biggest or fastest or feircest.

Indeed there are many species that won't even notice when we nuke ourselves to oblivion.

We might be the dominant mammal on land. But I think that's all we can claim. And before you roll out the "we-are-the-smartest" stuff, brains don't mean squat on a thermal vent 25000 feet below the ocean surface (where some microbe is the dominant species).

On another point: It is true that everything we do as humans is part and parcel of the natural world and will have some influence over the evolutionary path of ourselves and probably a lot of other living things. It does not follow from this that it is fine-and-dandy to drill in the arctic and kill off endagered species and [fill in the blank] just because we can. We must consider consequences in terms of what we want for ourselves and for our future. "Evolution" is irrelevant. It will go on its merry way regardless of what we do.
posted by plaino at 2:08 PM on July 8, 2002

The post actually dances around several related questions, so I'll respond individually to each.

With the regards to the question of preserving endangered species - yes, all species go extinct in time. Likewise, all individual humans die in time. Nevertheless, we prohibit murder, not accepting the defense that "he would have died eventually anyway." We think people should have the chance to live out their natural lifespans. Species have an average lifespan of about a million years - or they did prior to the spread of human beings. Currently the extinction rate is somewhere from 100 to 1000 times higher than the natural rate (depending on whose figures you believe) and we seem to be the reason why. You can support endangered species efforts either from the moral stance that species should be allowed to live out their lifespans or from the pragmatic stance that such drastic losses in biodiversity may cause an ecological crisis which threatens our own survival in the long run.

As far as saving people from disease being somehow in violation of evolution... First you have to remember that evolution is not a moral imperative. It's just one aspect of how things work in the real world. Humans and other animals often kill each other in the real world. That doesn't mean that we have a moral imperative to kill each other. Disease-resistant humans & other animals often manage to reproduce better in the real world. That doesn't mean we have a moral imperative to let people die of disease or to sterilize sick people so their genes don't get passed on (as the 3rd link suggests). You can't derive morality or purpose from the operations of the natural world. In fact, we've largely suceeded so well as a species because we're social creatures who look out for each other and don't always leave the weak or unfortunate to die. That's our evolutionary strategy.

I found the naive eugenicist views presented in the 3rd link to be particularly annoying as representing a number of misconceptions about the mechanics of evolution (as well as poor moral reasoning), but I've ranted enough for one comment. I'll let someone else tear apart the author's pseudo-logic.
posted by tdismukes at 2:13 PM on July 8, 2002

There's an interesting note on the main "rants" page that perhaps none of you have read yet:
The views that I express in these rants are not necessarily mine; some of them take a standpoint in order to play devil's advocate. DO NOT TAKE THESE RANTS TO BE MY PERSONAL OPINION!!! Take every comment here as if I was playing devil's advocate and thus not my personal opinion.
Maybe the Irish should be eating their children then, Mr. Swift.
posted by yhbc at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2002

so let's just screw our brains out and hurry total extinction...

Finally, Postroad, a concrete suggestion...
posted by y2karl at 2:55 PM on July 8, 2002

In what respect are we the dominant species on Earth?

In nearly every respect. We're at the top of the food chain. We have the power to destroy every other life form on earth. Hell, I killed a few hundred thousand fire ants just yesterday and I didn't even break a sweat. The point is that we have the power to choose what happens to the planet. Neither ants nor bears nor whales have a similar choice, nor do they have the means to do anything about it.
posted by vraxoin at 3:00 PM on July 8, 2002

bingo vraxoin.
posted by spidre at 3:19 PM on July 8, 2002

The point is that we have the power to choose what happens to the planet

I understand your point, vraxoin, but your missing a highly important sublety. I'd rephrase your statement as "We have the power to commit suicide" which is I think more accurate. As powerful as we'd like to think we are, our hands are tied through our dependence on this living planet. We kill all the other species, we go too.

In fact, I'd argue that our dominance is tenuous. We are right now engaged in a bitter battle for dominance with the microbes. They can mutate faster and outrace our medical technology - this we have seen. If a new virus appears, a deadly one that spreads like the common cold, we'll quickly see, in this age of international travel, who the dominant species really is. It'll make the black plague look like a garden party.

I would argue that our biggest allies in this war are, yes, the other species. Undiscovered plants that can show us how to manufacture new drugs, materials like spider silk which can help advance our technological capabilities. Sparing them is not doing them a favor, it is essential to our survival, us the "dominant" species.

Hubris, pure hubris.
posted by vacapinta at 3:24 PM on July 8, 2002

Damn.. both good points. This is why I love MeFi... beautiful arguments from both sides at times...
posted by spidre at 3:47 PM on July 8, 2002

It'll make the black plague look like a garden party.

Slightly melodramatic. It's fashionable to bemoan how ineffective our piddling medicine is against the majesty of nature and her ruthless viruses, but its important to remember that viruses are subjected to natural selection too. A big reason that ANY animals are still around after millions of years and everything hasn't been wiped out by infections is that virulent viruses don't spread well. Dead hosts don't cough on many people. Sanitation, detection methods, etc. have obviously improved exponentially since the time of the black plague, and while crisis level viruses are still certainly possible (AIDS), cataclysmic ones have always been unlikely, and are much less so, science fiction writers to the contrary.
posted by gsteff at 3:52 PM on July 8, 2002

Speaking of science fiction writers... Blood Music, by Greg Bear. I picked this one up at the library and just finished reading it today. What a chilling and beautiful novel of micro organisms.
posted by spidre at 3:59 PM on July 8, 2002

Another response:

"In fact, we've largely suceeded so well as a species because we're social creatures who look out for each other and don't always leave the weak or unfortunate to die."

It's pretty tough to tie this to genetic fitness. Caring for the weak and unfortunate will never enhance any individual's reproductive success, and will only enhance a gene's reproductive success to the extent that the weak individual is genetically related to the assisting individual (via Richard Dawkin's "Green Beard" effect). Genes for caring for the sick might have some net positive effect on the fitness of a population by providing the sick individual the opportunity to later reciprocate and later provide net benefits to the other members of his tribe that helped him, but this assumes that population selection works, which most evolutionists today doubt.
posted by gsteff at 4:17 PM on July 8, 2002

cataclysmic ones have always been unlikely

Ah, but all we need is one. I agree that virulent strains have, from an evolutionary perspective, been at a disadvantage, killing their hosts too soon. But, historically, we have never seen this population density coupled with so many opportunities for transmission. It may be that these virulent strains pop up from time to time naturally and then quickly die out after they devastate a small, isolated tribe. But the adaptive landscape has changed. A thousand years ago, AIDS would never have gotten out of Africa.

We have seen how CJD (though not a virus) is endangering our food supply not because it is cataclysmic in most environments but because we have, through our methods of food production, actually invited cataclysm. Big difference, I think.
posted by vacapinta at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2002

So, is the human being really the best model on the showroom floor, or is it just one year's gimmick?

One year, Evolution releases the same ape-like humanoid it had been making for years, but this year, instead of a peanut brain, this year's model's got a new gimmick - a large brain.

The brain mass is a real pain to carry -- lot of pressure on that neck -- and it puts a real burden on the mother during production, but its got some cool features...the humanoids with the large brain can clearly see sources of food and water and avoid dangerous places with a very precise video system. Unlike the peanut brains, it can not only
locate food and avoid danger, but it can remember where it was for future use. Like many creatures, it can communicate with others of its species, but with the large brain communication is more precise, reducing errors and expanding the transmission of knowledge and toolery from one to the other......
posted by brucec at 5:51 PM on July 8, 2002

it seems like a lot of people have fundamental misunderstandings of biology/ecology. spidre is clearly religious, so i wouldn't think he would be totally accepting of things, but still.

to respond to a statement above:

We're at the top of the food chain. We have the power to destroy every other life form on earth.

it is more commonly referred to as a "food web" for intro biology people now, exactly to clear up this misunderstanding. and clearly we don't have the power to destroy every other form of life, since we cannot stop the epidemics stated directly in the main post. yes, we can kill many species, but then, so can most carnivores.

the whole idea of a dominant species is flawed, as many people above pointed out. we have co-evolved with the other species, we are not isolated groups competing for the same resources.

are we dominant over plants because we can kill them, or are they dominant over us because we are dependent on their ability to fix carbon and they vastly outnumber us? bacteria fix nitrogen, and break down molecules that would otherwise fall out of the cycle. other species do countless things that we don't do and completely need for survival. we have evolved the way we have because the other species have been here to interact with us. we don't have to 'learn' to make isoleucine, because other species have already. that certainly doesn't imply we could do without it however.

i can't really argue the main question, because it is flawed. evolution will continue, to assume we can stop it assumes we are already outside of it, which we are not. "take it's course" implies it is some linear path, it is actually just a type of change. if we destroy hiv then hiv will have died, that event is describable in evolutionary terms. being able to eradicate a deadly disease will give humans a selective advantage, killing so many humans that a response is mounted is a selective disadvantage for hiv. clearly hiv is already mutating in response to the humans defensive response. it is all a dance, welcome to ecology.

evolution is not a belief system, or a system for understanding what 'should' be done. it is a system for understanding how life changes over time, or describing reality.

Aren't our efforts to fight diseases such as the aids epidemic in Africa not only a denial of evolutionly forces...

you can't "deny" evolutionary forces any more than you can deny gravitational forces. throwing a ball into the air does not "deny gravity". i suppose you could disprove evolution, as you could disprove gravity, but i hope i have made it clear above that eradicating hiv would not disprove evolution any more than throwing the ball would disprove gravity...
posted by rhyax at 8:39 PM on July 8, 2002

note: so-so post. but a worthwhile thread. thanks y'all.

My cents must go into showing what a stretch it must have been for Mack to find that final link.

"...genetic diseases. Some examples are Alzheimers, cancer, and sickle-cell anemia. These are all genetically based, and thus are passed down to people from their parents."

What? Cancer is genetic?

Oh, great. Then I can smoke all I want and not get it since my parents (and for the sake of a ridiculous argument) didn't die of lung cancer. Yes, there are generic risk factors for cancer, and even genetic markers in some cases. But that's not to say that cancer is a genetic disease like It's clear that this article did not come from a scientist. Not that I think that a non-scientist can't answer these questions. But he or she'd better not do it from a scientfic perspective.

That site is bunk.

Humans controlling their own evolution. This is certainly occuring, although as of yet on a small (and very short) scale. Yeah, I wear glasses, and my dad does too. And my kids probably will. That would surely be a pretty large disadvantage in the "wild". But in the world in which I live, it's not a big deal at all. I think that our coming mastery of genetics will make an analogous but larger shift.

If we control evolution, then we'll overpopulate the earth. Then we'll displace lots and lots of species. This argument seems reasonable on its face. But I think that matters of speed and size really matter here. Evolution (biological evolution) is very big. And very, very slow. And we're fast. Humans see fast results. But it's very hard for us, with our limited history and our very limited gaze to see much of the big picture. We're missing something here.
posted by zpousman at 9:01 PM on July 8, 2002

I would like to thank everyone for their contributions to this thread from which I expected to and did receive opinion and information which I value very highly. I became exposed to intelligent conversation about evolution here at MetaFilter and have subsequently read a dozen or so books and squeezed a lot out of the internet on the subject. This post was pretty straightforward in that I wonder about the inevitability of it all: is evolution a force we can or should use our power to alter, and if extinction is a natural consequence of evolution is our interference detrimental or really significant? I'm sorry if anyone was offended by my reference to the aids epidemic, it could have been the flu or smallpox, the point being can our expertise really stop the extintion power of evolution? And of course the last link was an extreme view (which I disagree with) but it's included as representative of a line of thought that at one time at least had some scientific adherents.
posted by Mack Twain at 9:09 PM on July 8, 2002

Wow. A thread with closure.
posted by gsteff at 9:48 PM on July 8, 2002

"Should evolution be allowed to take its course?"

Most creatures going extinct in the world today are doing so because of mankind. What you seem to be saying is that any creature that humanity manages to wipe out forever (which, last I time heard, is a very long time...) somehow fell victim to an "act of God".

This is a very irresponsible, short-sited philosophy. You might as well say "Isn't trying to stop nuclear proliferation getting in the way of Darwin?" ;->

We already know that animal and plant biodiversity are essential for all sorts of reasons. Each species is the result of millions of years of evolution, and can be appreciated not only aethetically, but scientifically. Many of our scientific and medical accomplishments are dependent upon biodiversity, and the value of biodiversity will only increase as the field of genetics advances. This, of course, doesn't even touch upon all the other reasons why biodiversity is so essential to humanity.

The truth is, environmentalism and conservation is a self-motivated act, in that it could potentially save the human species. As a species, we are in our infancy-- we are capable of making great changes in the world, but we are also capable of great destruction. If we are to survive as a species, we must know that we can survive on this planet in a sustainable manner. We must know the ramifications of our actions -- the cause and effect -- if we are to survive.

It is an imperative that we act in the interest of humanity's longterm survival. Until we fully grasp how the species of the world are interrelated and what constitutes a sustainable role for humanity in that equasion, it is important that we try our best to have a minimally invasive impact on the world. To ignore this fact is potentially self-destructive and suicidal.

Survival is critical, and not a thing to be toyed with. If the world was someone's computer with important data on it, the first act shoudn't be to format the drives and reinstall everything from scratch. If someone complained of a stomach ache, the first thing a doctor should do wouldn't be to operate, removing the stomach and connecting the trachea directly to the large intestine. Far better to examine the situation, learn more, and act in a way that best assures survival. "First, Do No Harm."

I'm not saying that the world is in grave danger of ecological collapse, but until we know better, wouldn't it be safer to assume that it might be and act accordingly?
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:20 PM on July 8, 2002

There was an answer to Mack's question, in the discussion following his first link. Interestingly two of the three pariticipants refused to answer a similar question, on the grounds that their expertise is not in ethics or philosophy...
Let me just add that a key component of evolution is adaptation to whatever immediate environment an organism is in. Thus nearsightedness (as mentioned above) a deadly drawback in the paleolithic is irrelevant as a survival factor, in a modern human society.
posted by talos at 2:38 AM on July 9, 2002

I miss the dodos.
posted by rushmc at 8:53 AM on July 9, 2002

Aren't our efforts to fight diseases such as the aids epidemic in Africa not only a denial of evolutionly forces...

No, because there is no difference between a Giraffe growing a long neck so he can reach the higher foliage, and humans growing a bigger brain so we can fight disease. It's all a part of the process, and it's all evolution in action.
posted by glenwood at 8:58 AM on July 9, 2002

Well, there's no difference between the neck and the brain, but there is between the neck and the drug. A genetic/memetic evolution thing. I mean, if we cure AIDS, it will cause no change the frequency of genes in the species, except to the extent that we took too long and it killed millions of Africans before we cured it.
posted by gsteff at 9:29 AM on July 9, 2002

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