De-extinction — a viable conservation solution or an expensive intellectual experiment?
So, some species are going extinct. Some are coming back from the edge (I’m looking at you, Giant Panda). So what’s the big deal?
Under normal conditions, between one and five species dwindle to extinction every year. Recently, however, a study showed that pace to be accelerating, with several lost every day. As many as one million plant and animal species are in danger of extinction right now, and by the year 2100, half of all Earth’s species could be gone. The alarming rate at which we are losing biodiversity is why scientists are describing this as the sixth major extinction event.
To recap on previous extinctions, the Ordovician-silurian Extinction was 440 million years ago, the Devonian Extinction 365 million years ago, the Permian-triassic Extinction 250 million years ago, the Triassic-jurassic Extinction 210 million years ago, and most recently we had the Cretaceous-tertiary Extinction 65 million years ago — which is when the dinosaurs died out.
Fossil records reveal the causes and effects of previous mass extinctions, with causes attributed to extreme changes in temperature and sea levels, or one-off events like volcanic eruptions or an asteroid strike.
So we know that mass extinctions are not new, and that we might even be due one. The difference this time around is that the cause of our current mass extinction is pretty much down to one species and one species alone: us humans.
The irony is that our survival as humankind depends on the very Earth systems we are disrupting and the species we are wiping out. And it’s not a linear regression, it’s a time bomb — there is no way to know the full consequences of the chain reactions that we are setting off every day.
A case in point: if the tundra melts, or if the solid methane hydrates on the ocean floor around the world are released, vast quantities of methane will be released into the atmosphere. Climate change is already raging around us, but as a greenhouse gas, methane is 25x more potent than carbon dioxide. This is one climate bomb that we do not want to trigger.
Now, the climate crisis is a separate issue from the biodiversity crisis. But the two are most definitely…