Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

While I love wildlife, I almost feel like it's not our responsibility as humans to tamper with natural processes like extinction.

The fundamental premise is not that extinction is bad, but that extinction we cause is bad. If a fox tramples your neighbor's garden, that's too bad. If you trample your neighbor's garden, you should fix it.

Loss of diversity is bad. Everything else is all right, as long as in the long term there is no loss of diversity.

The trouble is, that at the current state of science and technology we can not engineer and control ecosystems. We can not even model ecosystems. As a result we are breaking things and we even have no idea how badly we are breaking things when we are extracting resources. Like when we are turning diverse ecologies into monocultures, when forests are being turned into these 'beautiful' fields of golden wheat.

It does NOT have to be that way. There is no natural law that says that it is necessary to destroy diversity if one wants to grow food or extract resources. It is just that our technology is very primitive and that's the only way we've been able to do it so far. With right technology one can have it both ways. But we don't have it. Not yet.

And meanwhile, well. Conservation, common sense and minimizing our damage to the ecology is probably a best that we can do...

Humans are either fully part of the natural process, or everything we do interferes with it.

There's a very real choice about how we want to change the environment of the earth, but lets not couch it in meaningless terms like natural vs. unnatural.

Hunter gatherer societies are no more natural/unnatural than cities.

In literal terms, humans are "natural" actors. When we have an effect on nature, it is a "natural" process. I don't disagree with that. But just because what we do is "natural", doesn't mean it is "good". "Good" and "natural" are not the same.

As for the line between human actors vs. non-human actors... when it comes to players in the ecosystem, humans are simply overpowered. That is the root of the problem. Nature has struck a balance in most places, and the ecosystem shifts slowly because everything is close to balance. This gives the other players in the system time to react. Humans are very, very good at destroying balance, so we often warrant special consideration.

Think about your history. The only other actors that brought about the destruction of habitats, ecosystems, and species in as short a time and as great of numbers as humans are natural disasters.

> Humans are either fully part of the natural process, or everything we do interferes with it.

Thank you for describing what I was trying to say much more elegantly. :)

I used to agree completely with you, but now I realize that, given the second law of thermodynamics, it's impossible to restore an entire ecosystem back to a previous state. From what I hear, one goal of ending climate change is to allow icecaps to re-form and to last longer throughout the year, which ostensibly will end the suffering of polar bears "stranded" at sea. However, even if we did remove all excess amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (which, as of today, is something that's barely discussed seriously), it's not going to suddenly reverse the adapted behavior of polar bears. This is a totally hypothetical and unscientific story, but let's pretend that the ice caps melted such that polar bears were forced inland and began foraging for food in human-populated areas. In response, the government of Canada single-handedly puts up the money to remove all excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Over a period of decades, the ice grows back, but: do we really expect the polar bear population, which has now adapted to foraging for garbage, to suddenly move back to their initial habitat? Chances are, food will be more plentiful for them in a human-populated area. Now let's assume that polar bears play a significant role in seal population control. Well, now that the polar bears have adapted and are now living further inland, the seal population booms in the arctic region. In fact, it gets so big, that now penguin populations are in rapid decline! So, at this point, we've spent probably trillions of dollars, haven't really helped the polar bears at all, and have directly contributed to the endangerment of penguins. And this is all assuming that our plan even works! Not to mention the fact that there may be other species that died off that played a huge impact on balancing the ice-filled arctic ecosystem.

So, given that scenario, I think the better question to ask is, what benefit would we, as humans, get from a return to a cooler Earth? IMO wildlife will take care of itself: adapt, die off, etc. the same way it always has. BUT, I think that too often the focus is put on sad-looking animals and melted snowcaps, which makes it seem like global warming is just an "environmentalist" issue rather than a serious threat to human life.

Oh, come on, are you trying to say that all endangered species will just adapt to live amongst humans if their habitat is destroyed? Your idea about polar bears foraging for human garbage is laughable: These creatures are (1) purely carnivorous, and (2) incapable of living in warm climates. Polar bear population has plummeted as their natural habitat has dwindled. Further, the reason for wanting to save the polar bear is not just to save one species, but that this animal's decline is a bellwether for the decline of the entire arctic ecosystem. We can't say for sure what will happen if the arctic ecosystem disappears.

The ongoing massive extinction event driven by human activity is a real thing. Do you want to live in a world where the only animals alive are ones that humans raise as livestock, or that thrive amongst humans? Nothing but pigs, chickens, pigeons, sparrows, cockroaches, bass and such. Sounds awfully grim to me, but without serious efforts towards preserving wildlife, this is precisely what the future holds.

It is purely a question of having the right technology. There is no law that says that you can not engineer a polar bear that is not purely carnivorous, is capable of living in warm climate and very useful to humans in some way. Same goes about every other species.

And it is not that sad. Well designed ecologies can be diverse and beautiful. Even more diverse and beautiful than naturally evolved once.

[citation needed]

Well, I can't source precisely that phrasing. But imagine an engineered ecology that is: less cruel than a naturally evolved one; as diverse; also includes some 'dinosaur-killer-sized' asteroid impact aversion system that prevents global scale mass extinctions. Wouldn't you find that ecology more beautiful than a naturally evolved one (that we have now)?

Given humanity's track record, my imagined idea of an engineered ecology is not so rosy as yours. Who would do it, and what would their motivations be?

> Well, now that the polar bears have adapted and are now living further inland, the seal population booms in the arctic region. In fact, it gets so big, that now penguin populations are in rapid decline

No penguins in the Arctic, no polar bears in the Antarctic; they have little-to-no bearing on each others population (even indirectly via seal populations). You could've chosen a better example.

This mistake caused me to laugh outright. It illustrates the lack of actual information or expertise within the parent comment.

You are misapplying the second law of thermodynamics and calling it wisdom. The second law specifically applies to a closed system. Earth is not a closed system. There is no fundamental reason local entropy cannot be maintained.

You're mistaken; the Earth is a closed system in the case I describe.

The Earth is not a closed system.

I'd like mosquitoes to go extinct. Why would that be bad?

This is where we delve into questions of whether we can understand the impact of our actions. Mosquitoes actually underpin a great number of relationships in nature. Most people have largely cast aside the question of whether it is ethical because of how much harm mosquitoes cause to humans, but there remains that sticky question of what happens to the ecosystems when they are gone.

Also, before someone posts a link to "that" article, let me say in advance it was written by an intern based on interviews that (in my opinion) suggest exactly the opposite of what the writer concludes.

It would be very bad. Birds and small fish hugely depend on mosquitoes for their diets.

Ticks are another matter. While birds will eat them, no species that I know of depends on them for its diet. We probably can safely eradicate ticks.

Mosquitoes help pollinate blueberries. Without blueberries we have nothing to anti the oxidants.

We have unfortunately already occupied much of our neighbor's garden, should we destroy our farms and cities and return all these land to animals?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact