Ran Prieur linked this interview of York conservation biologist Chris Thomas which seeks to put a brighter side to the mass extinction event:
His book, which will get lapped up in some quarters, is ‘Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction’. He’s not denying that there is a high rate of extinction at the moment, and is happy to blame ‘humanity’ for the problem (not blaming the +practices+ of agriculture and heavy industry but our actions as a +species+, meaning he of course accepts the pleistocene overkill theory about our h/ger ancestors). His approach is to weigh up the other side of the equation where introduced/invasive species hybridise with native species and supposedly create more total biodiversity in the areas they spread to. This to me seemed very simplistic - he doesn’t appear to explore the difference between hybridisation and the actual creation of new species, nor does he evaluate whether total biodiversity is a good measure of ecological health if the area is dominated by globally common species at the expense of very rare species with special adaptions to that particular locality. Are Australia and New Zealand happy to have new species of European rodents, cats, dogs, amphibians, birds etc. if it means these out-compete local species that exist nowhere else? It’s probably a good idea to look at what happens in this process of hybridisation and the long term adaptions of invasive species (by one reading this is what the process of rewilding is all about, ie: becoming native) but to pretend that this represents a positive development over what was there before seems insane, and a gift to colonists, industrialists, capitalists etc who want to justify their hugely damaging activities, past, present and future.
Anyway I’ve got lots of other problems with the interview, eg: the way he sees conservation in purely utilitarian terms of what the species we save might one day do for us by way of ‘ecosystem services’; his view of humans as necessarily adopting a managerial role even though he admits that we’re just another species in the food web; and the totally blase attitude on the ethics of conservation:
From our perspective, we would rather live in a green world full of animals and plants. Therefore we might wish to intervene to ensure that that is the case.
But I don’t feel there is any ethical duty to do this. Life is just what happens, and unfortunately, or fortunately, it has no ultimate purpose. It came into existence, it will exist for a while, and eventually it will disappear. Conservation is more about humanity’s perspective on the now and the relatively near future, by which I might mean millions of years. But in terms of conserving life in the universe, I don’t think there is any essential ethical requirement for us to do it.
But I’d be interested to hear any other responses people have.
cheers, and sorry it’s been a while since my last posting