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Sturgeon's House

Should All Endangered Species Be Saved?


LostCosmonaut
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Many would agree that biodiversity should be preserved. Even an avowed non-hippie such as myself thinks that efforts should be taken to protect the natural environment (within reasonable limits). Considering that we are currently in the midst of a mass extinction event (at least according to some), preserving endangered species is a part of protecting the environment. However, do all species have the right to life? Even things like mosquitius malarius, or Branta canadensis?

 

Discuss.

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I wouldn't try to save every endangered species. Things that can be considered pests shouldn't get anyone's sympathies. I also think that species should actually want to survive, I'm looking at you panda! Eat extremely nutrient poor food, have no sexual drive, and are freaking black and white but live in green bamboo forests. Die already.

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I'd say that even pests should if possible be kept around in limited numbers. Mosquitoes that carry malaria might be one of the very few things that is probably outright going to be worth wiping out regardless of damage to the ecosystem and food production.

 

While we rely on agriculture for sustenance, major changes to ecosystems, implicit or explicit, should have their potential impact seriously considered.

 

Other than that I'd say we should try to save species as grist for the genetic engineering mill. Easier to find genes that do what we want than make them. Much easier.

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I'm firmly of the opinion that simple conservation is a railed ideology and yet another example of how hippies ruin things.

What we really need is to move away from our absurd natural/manmade mindset and really get into the nuts and bolts of designing and maintaining ecosystems.

For instance, it blows my mind that we have almost no formal studies (not eveb a good theoretical framework) for how to produce a stable, closed ecosystem. Or an ecosystem equivalent of the standardised biological parts initiative.

We're still tinkering when we should be frantically designing, essentially.

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I'm firmly of the opinion that simple conservation is a railed ideology and yet another example of how hippies ruin things.

What we really need is to move away from our absurd natural/manmade mindset and really get into the nuts and bolts of designing and maintaining ecosystems.

For instance, it blows my mind that we have almost no formal studies (not eveb a good theoretical framework) for how to produce a stable, closed ecosystem. Or an ecosystem equivalent of the standardised biological parts initiative.

We're still tinkering when we should be frantically designing, essentially.

 

 

Toxn, have you read the essay Feathered Tempest?  One of the ideas touched on in it is that the environment of North America that allowed the Passenger Pigeon to exist in such enormous numbers was substantially anthropogenic; i.e. the North America that the Europeans discovered in the 1500s wasn't some unspoiled Eden.  It had already been ecologically reworked by humans.

 

Everything I've read about Pleistocene taphonomy and paleobotany seems to indicate this is true; humans pretty thoroughly re-landscaped North American even though they were at relatively low population densities and were non-agricultural.

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Toxn, have you read the essay Feathered Tempest?  One of the ideas touched on in it is that the environment of North America that allowed the Passenger Pigeon to exist in such enormous numbers was substantially anthropogenic; i.e. the North America that the Europeans discovered in the 1500s wasn't some unspoiled Eden.  It had already been ecologically reworked by humans.

 

Everything I've read about Pleistocene taphonomy and paleobotany seems to indicate this is true; humans pretty thoroughly re-landscaped North American even though they were at relatively low population densities and were non-agricultural.

 

I'm pretty sure there's a lot of stuff to that effect in 1491. American civilizations were really pretty advanced as far as ecological management goes. Part of the theory of that book is that the Americas had a pretty good sized carrying capacity and a huge number of people died in the massive plague-based destruction of their society. Ponce de Leon went through a very different America than people who went later.

 

 

Yeah, like it or not, the world moving forward will be a human-made one. We just have to determine whether it will be functional and beautiful or dysfunctional and ugly.

 

There's a great number of things we don't think about because they've "always been that way", yet we have a huge amount of power to shift in one direction or another, and where we'd really be best off remembering that refraining from deciding what to do is in fact our decision what to do. It's like playing a game where you have the option to pass, passing every turn and expecting to win.

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I'm pretty sure there's a lot of stuff to that effect in 1491. American civilizations were really pretty advanced as far as ecological management goes. Part of the theory of that book is that the Americas had a pretty good sized carrying capacity and a huge number of people died in the massive plague-based destruction of their society. Ponce de Leon went through a very different America than people who went later.

 

In the spirit of the forum, could you publish your support for this?

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Papua New Guinea provides some good examples of islands as carefully managed ecosystems - again, see Jared Diamond's Collapse.

I know that there are lots of non engineering subjects out there, but even those have theory. Try looking for any focused, mechanistic research on closed ecosystems and the management thereof and you realise we have almost none.

Even ecology quo ecology tends to run away from any sort of a priori analysis of the systems it examines, and often seems to be more content with general rules and trends.

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In the spirit of the forum, could you publish your support for this?

 

The longer form would require research I don't really have the schedule room for, it's a book I've heard a lot of discussion of by people with pretty sound knowledge of historical practice, but the short form of the argument is partly what's been mentioned earlier with the bumper crops of animals like the passenger pigeons, and partly discussions of carrying capacity of the land to support the people mentioned in accounts of the first explorers. Their agricultural practice was pretty awesome, Tenochtitlan was a big city supported by a mix of chinampas, which were small plots on shallow lake beds that could get up to 7 or so harvests in a year, and that whole giant lake, where a series of levees allowed pretty large-scale fish farming.

 

This is of course partially advanced compared to the usual implications of stone age, when they were considerably more advanced than that.

 

I do want to read the book, but I'm pretty busy these days.

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The politicization of science is a rot that has utterly wrecked the soft sciences, and it's coming for the hard sciences soon too.

 

Take a fairly innocuous-sounding question; what was the pre-Colombian population of the New World?

 

This is interesting from a historical perspective; there are census records from the Roman Empire, so it's possible to make certain conjectures about the economy and society of the time without completely being in make-stuff-up-la-la-land.  Similar information would be much appreciated for the New World empires.  Exactly how big were they?

 

This is also an interesting question from a practical perspective; the New World was less dominated by agrarian societies than the Old World was; it was more of a patchwork of nomads, sedentary, agrarian and hunter-gatherer peoples.  This is interesting and has implications for ecology.  There is also the interesting case of the Anasazi,* who apparently switched back and forth between centralized, urban societies and dispersed, more nomadic existence due to local climate change.  That's absolutely fascinating and has enormous implications for modelling the economics of a society that is dealing with climate change.

 

An accurate assessment of the precolombian New World population and the population after the arrival of Europeans would also be very interesting from an epidemiological perspective.  Obviously, New World populations were decimated by European diseases.  But exactly by how much, how fast did they spread, and how quickly (if at all) did the populations recover?

 

But oh my god, if you start trying to do estimates on how many people there were in the New World, be prepared to be crucified for crimes you didn't even know existed.  Did you make your estimate too low because you're some sort of white supremacist who thinks that the Indians were too stupid to develop systems capable of supporting more people than that, or perhaps you're trying to downplay the enormity of the destruction of those cultures by the invaders from across the Atlantic?  Did you make your estimate too high because you're some sort of goddamn hippie revisionist who reflexively exaggerates the importance and scale of non-European cultures?

This sort of thing is a great way to guarantee that no work gets done on the question.

 

 

*apparently this name is politically incorrect now, and I just don't care.

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The politicization of science is a rot that has utterly wrecked the soft sciences, and it's coming for the hard sciences soon too.

 

How exactly? Unless it's profitable to ignore or confuse an issue in which case any awful methodology will do, there's a lot less room for shenanigans when it's not just trying different methodologies for totally not ideologically driven reasons.

 

Now the monetization of sciences has always been here on a low level.

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Of it coming for the hard sciences? That's specifically what I was wondering about. Something as messy as trying to calculate the population of an area where the records suffered far worse destruction than the sack of baghdad and burning of the library of alexandria combined is easy to introduce bias into, because there's got to be considerable assumption to cover gaps in knowledge. That's a lot of why history is not and cannot be methodologically equivalent with the hard sciences, because history is defined by the inability to conduct additional trials. In a hard science you can make a hypothesis, and then create a trial to test it, and if it backs up your hypothesis, you have a predictive model, which makes predictions that can be tested in other trials, either repetition of your experiment or other experiments backing up that prediction. History is a regression fit onto spotty data, and everybody's working from the same data. That fundamentally changes the mechanism because you can't just look at something unknown and perform a trial to compare against your preexisting theories unless somebody makes a new find, and even then the potential pool of information to find is decidedly finite and insufficient to cover everything.

 

And as far as it getting worse, at least there's frank discussion about different views. The concept of historiography in the modern sense is relatively new, as is the idea that history should be related impartially for its own sake without the trappings of a morality tale. Compare Gibbon to modern work on late Rome. Remember that history is a discipline that counts among its fathers Herodotus and it's pretty impressive how far it's come even if areas without sufficient data devolve into people using different postulates and shouting past each other with all the delicacy and tact of a flame war. It's easy to forget how bad it used to be over the flaws of today, especially since we're producing so incredibly great a volume of data.

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I'll give you another example: Climate science.

Alright, hold on a second, hear me out. I'm not a climatologist, and therefore I'm not qualified to comment on any technical details of climate science. Aside from all that, climate science has become so politically polarized that even asking people to explain what all this global warming stuff is about and expressing confusion over statements that appear to conflict or gel poorly to the novice eye will get you immediately treated as a persona non grata even in supposedly serious scientific circles.

It's ridiculously polarizing because it's been politicized. Whatever is actually going on, this isn't a scientifically enriching environment.

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Right. There's serious amounts of money to be lost there. I personally think that there's relatively few fields in the natural sciences where that sort of ramification is possible and vanishingly few in the sciences that are hard because variables can be properly isolated rather than it just being a bad way of denoting natural sciences. There's always been a few things that were this hot-button, It's been a real progress getting tobacco universally recognized as harmful, for example. Demanding ever-stricter standards of proof bought them a lot of time.

 

Very little awfulness is actually new, and science falling by the wayside when there's money at stake probably predates science in its modern form. Politicizing social science on its own merits may be newer, but that probably dates back to the first revisionist history, and frankly we've gained a ton by not just having an accepted viewpoint and ignoring everything else. Historical syntheses are nearly always stronger than either the thesis or antithesis.

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Very little awfulness is actually new

 

Oh yeah, people have been donning black robes and prostrating themselves before statues of Baphomet for ages, but it's a matter of degree. There are some very serious things wrong with the scientific community, and there are people who have been alive long enough to remember when things weren't so bad. I'm certainly not going to tell them they're worried about nothing, certainly not when I see similar effects myself.

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As most of you know, during the summer I work in an industry where conservation and stewardship of a natural resource is vital for that industry's continued survival. The Bristol Bay sockeye run is the largest and last natural run of its kind in the world with roughly 25-35 million fish returning to spawn each season. This has been made possible in part because the Bristol Bay region is largely devoid of human development. It's also because it is highly regulated with a limited entry permit system and rules in place stating when and where we can fish, with what gear, how big of boats, etc. They are (mostly) good rules. If they weren't in place fishermen would (by economic necessity) destroy the run in ten years, something that most responsible fishermen don't want to see happen.

We've also - so far - successfully fought measures to build the Pebble Mine - which would be the largest open pit copper and gold mine in the world - located smack dab in the middle of the region.

To me this is good environmental stewardship.

For the rest of the year I live near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest which used to have the largest salmon runs in the world. The advent of 10 million people living cheek-and-jowl next to riparian streams, overfishing, pollution, hydroelectric dams, agriculture and meddling with farm and hatchery fish has caused the runs to dwindle to a fraction of their former glory although runs have been increasing of late.

I've witnessed the debacles of the environmental movement here first-hand, watching dairy farms in Western Washington go belly up because they aren't allowed to graze their heifers near any creek, stream or ditch because of "pollution". The farmers then sold their land to developers who paid the state to let them build "Master-Planned Developments" with Mc-Mansions which they sell to California liberals who now are clamoring for locally produced farm produce and want to "Save the Salmon".

Such is the chaos inherent in the system.

Back in my days as a newspaper reporter I covered a story where a Seattle environmental group was suing farmers (Apple and Pear orchards) and their irrigation district for killing salmon in Chelan County, Wash. A hundred years ago, farmers built diversion dams in nearby streams and channeled some of the water to their fields. These dams were usually 2-4 feet high. A local do-gooder had found dead salmon in front of the dam and got this group on the case since the group had been bullying other irrigation districts with the same tactic. The farmers opted to fight the lawsuit. It turned out some plucky reporter found out that the dead salmon were actually left-over hatchery salmon that had been dumped there by the Washington Dept. Of Fish and Wildlife to help enrich the stream. The diversion dam wasn't killing salmon after all. I left before the story's conclusion, but the upshot is the farmers caved, agreed to modernize their canal (which they had planned to do anyway) while agreeing to pay "scientists" from the environmental group to monitor their progress.

To me this is bad science. But good organized crime.

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Part of the problem is that environmental and medical issues are dealt with using the precautionary principle. Which is fine (if a bit odd considering all the potentially disastrous things we don't deal with that way) but leaves things wide open to obstruction based on the fact that you can never conclusively prove a negative.

A good example here is the controversy around bt maize and monarch butterflies: it was claimed that dusting by pollen from these GM crops would kill off monarch caterpillars. Cue shitstorm aided by media dutifully giving 'both sides' air time, followed by a decade of exhaustive studies.

Once the studies are complete, scientists are happy that there is an insignificant effect on monarch populations and that the original research was flawed (which everyone knew anyway). Only, for the last ten years greenies have been using this as an issue. It's entrenched now, too deep for the public to bother questioning it.

So the science community sighs, shakes its collective head and then discovers that greenies have whipped up another dozen controversies based on equally shaky research and are now demanding that all of these get exhaustively disproved as well.

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Part of the issue is environmentalists have been pushing the idea of indicator species as a way to affect action in terms of "protecting" the planet. You see this with polar bears and global warming where we're lead to believe that the Coke Christmas mascot will go extinct unless we stop driving SUVs. This is despite the fact that the species is increasing in population annually and has survived periods of climatic temperatures much higher than today.

It also presupposes that all extinctions of animals are related to human activity. This came to play with the sub-species of the Northern Spotted Owl in my neck of the woods. It was theorized that the Northern Spotted Owl populations were declining because of logging in old growth forests on - mostly - federal property. There's no need to go into the details but after much media attention and after many "Spotted Owl Tastes Just Like Chicken" bumper-stickers were put on trucks, the owl became protected, logging was prohibited on vast swathes of public land and communities like Hoquiam and Aberdeen (Union and Democrat voters btw) became ghost towns (later to spawn Kurt Cobain, Nirvana and Grunge).

It turns out later, that Northern Spotted Owls don't necessarily need old growth forests to nest. Also, the reason for their decline is because they were being out-competed by the Barred Owl.

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Irony: old school environmentalism is inherently conservative in outlook (this works now, if anything changes it won't work anymore)

As mentioned, I prefer the idea of managed ecosystems. This includes niche filling, even where an 'invasive' organism is doing the filling. Going further, I'd argue that synthetic ecosystems are not only a good thing but also potentially better in terms of providing environmental services.

I'll take working systems over doomed attempts to isolate and fix in place existing ones.

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So the science community sighs, shakes its collective head and then discovers that greenies have whipped up another dozen controversies based on equally shaky research and are now demanding that all of these get exhaustively disproved as well.

 

The worst thing is that as far as the public consciousness goes, it doesn't matter which way the debate goes or what the science is as long as they create the impression of a debate. Once they've ginned up the illusion of a debate they've won because every step in the debate is given a bit of air time, and every one but the last gives the illusion that there's a debate, so the more debates happen the more people think are still going and the more problems they think there are.

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