In response to the title of one of the TED talks – “The dawn of de-extinction: Are you ready?” – Yes. Yes, I absolutely am ready. I’ve actually thought about this in the back of my mind for years that science could easily reach the level of bringing extinct species back to life and preserving endangered ones, and now it’s actually happening.
Scientifically speaking, being able to redesign nature or restore it to its original functions is a fantastic idea, though when it comes to intervention at the global level, I have several concerns. Perhaps I am uneducated on the subject, but proposing the release of iron slurry into the oceans or sulfate particles into the atmosphere just seems to have too many unknown variables at stake. Technologies such as GMO plants have been tested and proven to be safe for human consumption because they have surpassed the level of controlled laboratory testing and theoretical simulations, and it was possible to test them in the laboratory because it’s easy to grow and monitor plants. It’s not nearly as easy to make a mini-Earth with its own gravitational and magnetic fields for the purpose of simulating a release of sulfate particles into the atmosphere.
The NYT opinion piece also implanted another concern about geoengineering into my mind – conservatives. (I feel I’m justified in mentioning this in a paper, because we’ve reached the point at which modern politics has such an extensive reach into our lives that it can no longer be separated from society and everyday life. In short, we no longer have the luxury of sparing ourselves personal frustration because to ignore the issues would spell disaster.) A particular quote from the piece resonated with me strongly: “Engineering the climate is intuitively appealing to a powerful strand of Western technological thought that sees no ethical or other obstacle to total domination of nature. And that is why some conservative think tanks that have for years denied or downplayed the science of climate change suddenly support geoengineering, the solution to a problem they once said did not exist.” For the most part, conservative ideologies have some echo of self-motivation, while liberal ideologies tend to have an altruistic component. Both are important to societal and governmental functionality, but this self-motivation, if left unchecked, can become problematic. It develops into greed, selfishness, and the willful ignorance of things that either do not directly impact the individual or have solutions which would result in some reduction of personal gain.
I fear the impact that politics will have on the successful implementation of any of these solutions, as the nature of today’s politics when a solution is proposed is either to immediately shut it down without consideration, or to hastily push it through without perfecting it first. I hide in my little scientific bubble because it’s the only place where reason and logic and patience take precedence over personal feelings, but I realize that’s a bit of a selfish action since the introduction of scientific developments into society requires, at some point, legislation regulating or encouraging its use. A technology can have the potential to be a miracle: cutting off funding for future research can prevent this, while on the other hand prematurely introducing it before research on the full extent of its impacts is completed can result in disaster.
(Note: I was going to polish up my response this morning but I had to walk into town to pick up my poster for the SSRS this afternoon. Come by if you can!)