Species, like an ideal gas, expand to fill the space available to them. Most species – so far -have had a life of less than 10 million years though some (the living fossils) may exist for hundreds of millions of years. More species have become extinct over the years than are in existence today. It is stated that over 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. The death of a species is nearly always due to competitive pressure from other species or by a change in their surrounding conditions that the species fails to adapt to. There have been at least 5 so-called mass extinctions over geological time — though in each case sufficient species remained so that evolution and development could continue in new directions. If the dinosaurs had not become extinct then man would probably never have evolved. If man ever does become extinct then it will surely provide the room for the possible development of some other species.
Any strategy to try and “guide” the future development of humankind must – it seems to me – include for the expansion of the species and cannot be based on the stagnation of the species. It is inevitable that less successful species will die out in the face of this competition. To merely conserve a species to continue its existence in a Zoo (and there is no nature reserve or wildlife park which is not ultimately just a zoo) without any room for the development or growth of that species may satisfy some deep seated aesthetic, human urge, but it is of no significance in terms of development of either the species being protected or of the human species. Why then is there so much fuss about the possible extinction of some current species today?
Intentionally terminating a species merely for the sake of terminating that species ought then to be “wrong”. And so it is; except when mankind perceives that the quality of life of the human species is jeopardised by the existence of that other species. There are no qualms therefore in the eradication – or the attempted eradication – of parasites, viruses, bacteria or the tsetse fly or certain types of mosquitoes.
That it is desirable that tigers and lions or other species that are threatened by competition with humans continue to exist, is driven primarily by aesthetic values. If human aesthetics desire the preservation of such species in reservations, then that is perfectly allowable. But such “protected” species are effectively frozen in time and have no space for expansion or evolution. They are effectively removed from being active contributors to the “web of life”. Furthermore the dependence of man as a species on the diversity of other existing species is decreasing. As we increase the use of IVF, or genetically engineered crops, or animal-cloning or selective animal breeding programmes, the dependence of mankind on the ad hoc food-chains that exist is reduced. (I observe that the use of the words “natural” or “unnatural” here are meaningless. The intervention of humans in any “natural” process is not more “unnatural” than breeding cows or creating over 200 breeds of dogs. Since humans are part of “nature” then anything humans do is – by definition – “natural”). As drugs – which may have first been extracted from some particular plants – are synthesised and tailored to meet human needs the dependence upon the plant species disappears.
The objectives of the Biodiversity conference currently being held in Nagoya are the most inconsequential platitudes which are irrational, unscientific and merely exhibit a “woolly” sentimentality.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:
- The conservation of biological diversity
- The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
- The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
What is not addressed at all is why the conservation (or more correctly the stagnation) of biological diversity is something to be desired and by which species. I take it as axiomatic that the ultimate beneficiary must be the human species – if not necessarily individual humans. (Here too I would observe that it is by ensuring benefits to individuals that we shall probably do the greatest good for the species). The conservation of a species for the sake of conservation is just as wrong as the extermination of a species for the sake of extermination.
The Convention states
As demographic pressures and consumption levels increase, biodiversity decreases, and the ability of the natural world to continue delivering the goods and services on which humanity ultimately depends may be undermined.
This would imply an acceptance that other species exist only to serve the human species. The conclusion then must be that if a species does not contribute to the supply of goods and services for man then it is redundant as a species. If such a redundant species becomes extinct it may be aesthetically displeasing but it is of no consequence for the advancement of the human species. The second objective “the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity” then means that as human ingenuity and intervention ensures the supply of goods and services needed (whether by farming techniques or fish farming or cattle and poultry breeding or by synthetic techniques), then other species which were contributing to such supply become redundant.
The 3rd objective regarding “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” has really nothing at all to do with the diversity of species and instead is an issue of distribution of the benefits of exploiting other species. For example, it is the issue of drug companies from developed countries extracting medicinal materials from plants only found in developing countries and of ensuring that monetary benefits also find their way to the country in which the plant grows. But once the medicinal materials can be synthesised the plant – as a species – becomes redundant.
Sometimes it is claimed that biodiversity is needed to maintain the gene pool. But to what end do we need this gene pool where genes do not cross species boundaries? This makes no sense unless one is trying to ensure the evolution and development of replacement species once humans are extinct. It is also claimed at times that we know so little about the various interactions between species that it would be dangerous to allow any species to become extinct. But this is mere alarmism. Focusing on real benefits to humans in need of food or medicine or water or space would be much more constructive than harping on “not doing something” for fear of unknown and unquantifiable dangers.
The COP10 conference in Nagoya seems to be going the way of the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 – and that is probably a very good thing.
That the success of humans as a species is reducing the habitat for and the viability of other species is obvious.
That this is “unnatural” or undesirable is nonsensical.