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Extinction and Humankind

March 26, 2004

Among the animal rights, ecological, and environmental activists, you can be assured that there's always a lot of squabble about how we have to protect various endangered species. Invariably, the proposed solution for protecting endangered species is State regulation. Why is it so vital that we make sure that a certain species survives? Who arbitrarily decides that the survival of a various species is so important that human needs should go unfulfilled?

Various environmental conservatives will likely respond that we have no right to wipe out species, that every species plays a critical role in the ecosystem, and so-on and so-forth. Yet, these eco-conservatives act as if we, human beings, are gods — above and beyond the ecosystem. In reality, we are not. We, too, are a part of the ecosystem. If a human want mandates that a certain animal be killed, that's just as natural as a lion killing a zebra. The separation of man from nature is arbitrary. Furthermore, it should be noted that of all the species that have ever inhabited the Earth, more than 99% of them are now extinct.

We have classified approximately 2.1 million species. There are undoubtedly millions of species that exist that have not been classified by us (some estimate there are 100-million species). There are species going extinct all the time. Now, some scientists have estimated that in the tiny fraction of the Earth's history in which humans have lived, the rates of extinction have been 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the pre-human history. The great logical leap of Faith is then taken, and it is assumed that humans Granger-cause greater extinction (ad hoc post hoc).

So, first, "scientists" have made the fallicious statement that because extinction rates have increased in the "human era", humans have caused greater extinction rates. Then, they have stated that this is a "problem". Really? How so? Assuming that we are causing greater extinction rates, it could be that species capable of better adjusting to human activity are being selected for. This would eventually result in a levelling off of the extinction rates. However, the assumption that extinction is a "problem" is not explained. In the Earth's history, various mass extinctions have wiped out upwards of 85% of all species in existance at the time. "Life" has recovered.

Could such greater extinction rates threaten human existence? Not likely. Human existence does not require that every slug, bug, and bizarre species be preserved. The only clear "problem" is that ecological conservatives don't like the fact that species are going extinct. This is purely a personal prefence. Furthermore, how are they to determine which specieis to preserve? How can they tell which specieis would not have gone extinct if not for humans, and which species have gone extinct because of humans? Outside of a few obvious cases where it's clear that we've hunted a species to extinction, they can't. So, all the clamor about how we face a great problem is nothing more than a personal preference.

I do not particularly wish that various species should go extinct. However, those want to preserve a certain specieis should expend their own resources to preserve that species, and should not be allowed to impose the cost of their decision on others who couldn't care less. If we really want to talk about preserving species, we need to talk about the further privitization of land and water. Individuals who value various species can homestead or acquire the habitat in which they exist, and preserve them — using their own resources. They can even set up various parks to make such ventures self-funding. I am particularly fond of White Sharks (and sharks in general). They are a remarkable species. What could be done to preserve these amazing creatures would be to allow them to be privitized. Whether the private owners desire simply to behold them in awe, or use them for entrepreneurial reasons would not matter. Even if someone wishes to use a group of sharks merely to collect their teeth, or use them for shark-fin soup, they still need to preserve them. A shepherd doesn't kill all of his sheep, so to speak.

How could specific sharks be "owned"? Well, modern technology permits various markers and tracking devices to be attached to them, which would allow for ownership. This technology is not perfect, but it is sufficient. Ownership of wild animals is a risky venture, precisely for that reason. Sharks cannot be domesticated (though it may be possible to maintain some in aquariums). Ownership of specific sharks in the open ocean poses certain risks: they can be killed by larger sharks; or their capital value can be reduced by encounters with other sharks or other animals. Other problems may arise, such territorial fights between sharks owned by two separate individuals or mating between sharks owned by different individuals. However, these complications can be resolved.

Furthermore, in addition to the ownership of specific animals that may be worth the trouble of "owning", blocks of ocean could be owned. This would also create incentives for preservation. But what about current methods of preserving endangered species? Namely, State regulation? These methods have problems. In most cases, they fail at their stated goals. But even if they succeed, it is by externalizing the cost of such measures, and surely utility was destroyed.


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