Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The ethics of conservation

A report published today lists, for the first time, the 100 species at the greatest risk of extinction, prompting a discussion on BBC Radio 4 this morning about whether or not species that offer no apparent benefit to mankind should be saved. If resources for conservation are limited, how should we prioritise? Is it right to focus on those plants and animals that have a positive influence on humankind, or does every living thing - including perhaps those that pose an actual threat, such as the malarial mosquito - deserve an equal chance of life?

The dilemma is challenging enough when applied only to animals and plants, but the choices we make could set a dangerous precedent for a resource-constrained future. Fast forward 50 years, to a population in excess of 10 billion trying to survive on a planet that can't produce enough food and water to nourish everybody. In a perfect world, we would adopt a collective approach that shares the Earth's resources equally among all its people. But humanity's record doesn't support such an optimistic outcome.

If we're prepared to let another species die out because it's not sufficiently useful to our particular species, can humanity be trusted not to do the same thing to a country or an ethnic group that doesn't contribute sufficiently to the economy of a resource-impoverished world?

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