April 02, 2013
Carl Zimmer On Whether To Reverse Recent Extinctions

Bring back some species that humans wiped out hundreds or thousands of years ago?

We'll have even more species to bring back in the future since our list of extinct species is going to grow in the 21st century. In the last 10 years poachers have killed 62% of the African forest elephants. The outlook for some other big animals is similarly grim. In the last 50 years African lion numbers have plunged by over two thirds by one estimate. Also in the last 50 years Three quarters of African savannahs have been converted to farms. The rest will go to farms (or desert) since Africa's population is rapidly rising. Check out this interactive map of population growth projections.

I find the idea of bringing back species certainly very interesting. But we do not have large unspoiled wilderness areas any more. Humans are using an increasing fraction of all biomass for their own purposes. That's true in jungles, savannahs, forests, lakes, rivers, and oceans. The remaining wild areas are much smaller than the wild numbers we've already lost. So most of what's left will go pretty quickly.

What I think would be a useful exercise: collect the DNA for large numbers of members of species that are shrinking. That way if in some future century the human population ever goes way down to just, say, 1 billion people we'll have enough DNA variation to reintroduce lions, tigers, elephants, birds, and other species we will lose in the future.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 April 02 10:38 PM 


Comments
Tom Billings said at April 3, 2013 12:52 PM:

I think the more likely opportunity for expanding habitat is that we will proceed to develop fully tasteful and nutritious synthesized foods. Since it is farms taking up the vast majority of lost habitat, that would leave the vast majority of those lands available for reclamation by the old biomes, including the desired species repopulation. The major limits would then be how close we are willing to allow other predators to our own children.

This would not depend at all on reducing human numbers, and could even proceed for decades while numbers in urban settings continue to increase.

SOBL1 said at April 3, 2013 6:08 PM:

Thought you might have this interesting. http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/New-Shale-Formation-in-West-Texas-could-Dwarf-the-Bakken.html

I am a believer in the Bakken's potential to exceed the 4 bil barrel estimate. We'll see about this one. These plays usually need a high cost for oil and produce less oil per well than traditional wells. As we head deeper into 'peak cheap oil' these plays might stay economical longer, but oil over $80 is a tax on the economy no matter what sell side stock analysts say.

Russ in TX said at April 4, 2013 7:52 AM:

Zoos, dude.

If the San Diego Wild Animal Park can stay in business, the De-Extinction Reserve ought to do just fine.

Ben said at April 4, 2013 12:23 PM:

As farms themselves will soon be extinct I'm less inclined to worry than I otherwise might be. It's not about population; it's about the extent of our impact. As we continue to advance technologically our impact and our needs won't remain constant, and the elephants and lions will reclaim their habitat. That is to say, unless we've damaged it permanently. This shouldn't be the case as concerns portions of the savannah that have been used for farming, but reefs and forests are a different story. In time perhaps there'll be a fix for that too.

Brett Bellmore said at April 4, 2013 5:22 PM:

A fair number of extinct species, (Passenger Pigeon, Dodo) are extinct because they were yummy. That's reason enough to restore them. But for the others, and species on the verge of extinction, data preservation is certainly a worthwhile exercise.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2013 9:56 PM:

SOBL1,

If the Cline formation has 30 billion barrels that can be extracted that's still less than 1 year's oil consumption for the entire world.

What I like about the expensive shales: They delay the decline in world oil production and give us more time to adjust to the decline that is coming. Sustained $80-120 per barrel oil will spur the development of more efficient cars and better batteries. Of course, that price range will also cause sovereign debt crises and little economic growth in the Western countries. But at least most Western countries avoid sustained economic depression.

Brett Bellmore,

Good point: bring back species that would make good farm animals for meat. More flavors to choose from. Some are bound to taste good.

Russ in TX,

Zoos do not enable enough genetic diversity to avoid harmful recessives. We need much larger numbers of each species than can be sustained in zoos.

Ben,

Farm land is expanding due to rising populations and increased buying power (for meat) in Asian populations with rising living standards. That's accelerating top soil loss. This does not end well.

SOBL1 said at April 5, 2013 8:15 AM:

I used to be a firm believer in peak oil, but i've modified it to peak cheap oil. The peak oil doomers also never account for the loss in production in some countries due to political or civil unrest reason. Venezuela has seen a 1 mil bpd drp just due to Chavez's handling of the workers and scaring of foreign corps. I've read too much info on oil sands, shale and then the massive colorado/utah deposits that have low EROEI and high costs but can still get us oil. I dont think there is a perfect substitute, but as your links on solar, batteries, natgas, etc. show, replacements are a ways out there but more reachable than even just 10 years ago.

philw1776 said at April 5, 2013 12:44 PM:

Checked this idea out with the newest generation. My 2nd grade granddaughter age 7 1/2 thinks it's a bad idea to bring back scary saber toothed tigers and dire wolves.

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2013 10:25 PM:

SOBL1,

Peak Oil doesn't follow behind Peak Cheap Oil by that many years. Effectively the United States has already passed Peak Oil in per capita consumption. Oil consumption of the OECD countries peaked in 2005 and has declined by over 4 million barrels per day since then. US oil consumption has declined over 2 million bpd since peak consumption. Here is a pretty good break-out of what factors are lowering US oil consumption.

What I want to know: Is there a causal relationship between Peak Oil and Peak Rock And Roll?

James Bowery said at April 6, 2013 11:20 AM:

Randall "Malthus" Parker writes: "But we do not have large unspoiled wilderness areas any more. Humans are using an increasing fraction of all biomass for their own purposes. That's true in jungles, savannahs, forests, lakes, rivers, and oceans. The remaining wild areas are much smaller than the wild numbers we've already lost. So most of what's left will go pretty quickly."

Hogwash.

If you look at the top quantity in this wikisheet* you'll see the number -0.136 dollars/kWh. That number is how much you have to pay for electricity if all US fossil fuel electric generation is re-engineered to produce food-grade CO2, all of which is then shipped to the desert southwest for photosynthetic conversion to algal protein and lipids to be sold at a price equivalent of soy meal and soybean oil.

Such a system would produce a half pound of protein per person in the world per day, and the total land, shown in this section of the wikisheet, use would be about the same land area as Georgia, US.


Notice the minus sign on that price per kWh. That's not a mistake; that's after all capital service costs and operating costs of producing the algae have been absorbed by the reengineering of the fossil fuel plants to burn the low-grade coal so abundant in the US.

All of this can be done with existing technology.

The only thing standing between this and reality is rationality on the part of those in control of capital.

James Bowery said at April 6, 2013 11:21 AM:

*By "wikisheet" I mean the tweaking of Mediawiki software to support the dynamic recalculation of large models when modified.

Brett Bellmore said at April 8, 2013 4:27 AM:

"The only thing standing between this and reality is rationality on the part of those in control of capital."

And the fact that most people don't want to eat Algae? Though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of genetically engineering Algae to taste good, or even self-assemble into something kind of resembling meat on cue.

Phillep Harding said at April 8, 2013 12:27 PM:

First I heard of alga and fungus (actually, the mycelium, not the fruiting body) as "food of the future" was 50 years ago. It's certainly not on the supermarket shelves today.

James Bowery said at April 8, 2013 12:27 PM:

People don't want to eat any of the industrially produced crops, Brett -- nor do they. Agricultural feedstocks go through a variety of processes, not the least of which is a food chain that produces meat. Look up ADM, Monsatto, etc al.

Brett Bellmore said at April 11, 2013 4:06 AM:

Well, sure, I could see Algae as animal feed. It's not going to solve world hunger in that role. Then again, world hunger is a political problem, not an agricultural one, which is why you only see starvation under oppressive governments.

JoeKing said at April 19, 2013 6:02 PM:

If the Cline formation has 30 billion barrels that can be extracted that's still less than 1 year's oil consumption for the entire world.


Why is it that people who are emotionally invested in a point of view will use such a false delema as this to make their point? What about the 65,000 other oil fields?

Under what circumstance WOULD the Cline formation have to become the the earth's SOLE source of oil? Using similar hyperbole would disparage building a wind farm because it could only sustain "X" number of houses, when all other sources of electricity ceased to exist. Have we reached peak rice because one rice patty can't feed all the world's demand?

Simon's thesis is more plausible that if/when oil becomes scarse more will be found, synthesised, or we'll find something else.

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