Extinction Is Forever


Extinction Is Forever 

Many scientists have speculated on the possibility that we can use genetic engineering to bring back extinct species. But, so far, we can’t. And, we don’t know whether we will be able to. Furthermore, a lot of rare species in remote rain forests or deep in the sea are very unlikely to ever leave us samples that we could use to bring them back, and extinction may come before we even discover many of those species. Some of those species may have genetic diversity that would improve our food crops, or in other ways help us—the mere fact of their existence means that they are unique in some way, and do some thing(s) well. Others may offer no commercial prospects, but they raise the question of whether it is right for us to cause extinction. Many people and many religions have rather strong views about being stewards of the Earth and the creatures on it, and causing widespread extinctions is often not viewed as good stewardship.

If we value the other species on the Earth, climate change is a real challenge that risks widespread extinction. Simply switching back to burning trees rather than fossil fuels is not a good answer. Finding ways to sustainably generate power while not changing the atmosphere is a better answer. So, greater efforts to reduce global warming than the economically efficient path would be justified if we value biodiversity, or traditional lifestyles, or natural ecosystems, more than they are currently reflected in measures such as GDP.

Video: 10 Pikas and Climate Change (3:22)

If you already watched the pika video back in Module 10, you don’t need to watch it again. But, if you didn’t, or you want to review, here it is because it is relevant in both Modules.

Click here for a video transcript of "Pikas and Climate Change".

RICHARD ALLEY: (VOICEOVER) American pika's live in though Western US and Canada, and except in very special circumstances, they have to live in cold places. They're related to other pikas, and to rabbits and hares. They're lagomorphs.

Pikas don't hibernate despite living in cold places. They spend the summer making hay. They run around gathering up flowers and leaves, grasses, and what they can, and they stow them in a space under a rock. And then they can hide in this hay and stay warm during the winter and eat it, and they're having a very good time there.

Many people think pikas are really cute. On one of our early family vacations, finding a pica was a goal, and we went out of our way looking for pikas, and we found them and we had a ball doing it.

Because pikas like cold climates, many populations are being placed in danger by a warming climate. This figure shows in the bluish areas the suitable habitat for pikas recently in the US. And then the little red areas in the centers there show the habitats that are expected to remain around the year 2090-- one human lifetime from now-- if we follow a high CO2 emissions path.

Some populations of pikas out in the Great Basin are already endangered or have disappeared. We looked at the economic analyses of global warming, which compare cost of reducing climate change to the cost of the damages if we allow change to continue. And which show that we will be better off if we take some actions now to reduce warming.

But in general, such economic analyses do not include pikas. Loss of populations of pikas, even extinction of the pika has little or no economic value. We personally spent money on tourism that involved pikas. But we probably would have gone to see something else if pikas hadn't been there.
Pikas aren't really monetized. They haven't been turned into their monetary value. And so the loss of pikas isn't monetized either in these calculations, nor would be loss of polar bears or many, many other species.

If you believe that pikas are valued, that if you pay a little money to save pikas, or if you believe we have an ethical or religious obligation to preserve creation, including pikas, then the optimum path for you would involve doing more now to slow global warming.

If you don't believe pikas are a value, the economic still says that we should do something to slow global warming if we want to be better.

Pikas are cute and are endangered in much of their range if warming continues. The loss of pikas in these places would make many people unhappy but is often not “monetized” and so not counted as part of the cost of global warming.
Photo Credit: Richard Alley