Americans play God, yet again

This is somehow totally symptomatic of the American perspective of nature. Instead of doing the hard work of looking at how modern forms of land use negatively impact the sustainability of existing threatened species, they take the quick and sexy approach of creating some sort of artificial living museum by reintroducing large mammals to North America. This effort, and similar proposals to clone extinct or threatened species sends the message that species protection and conservation are unneeded, because technology can replace nature. But clearly it cannot. Having a few transplanted African or Asian 'approximates' or clones of extinct species cannot redress the transformations and loss of habitat that made the species extinct in the first place. A few herds of elephants and lions running around in an enclosed park in the plains does not 'recreate' a pleistocene ecosystem.

In a recent Harper's article, David Quammen writes,

The notion that cloning might help conserve endangered species has been bandied around for years. Very little such bandying, though, is done by professional conservationists or conservation biologists. One lion biologist gave me a pointed response to the idea: "Bunkum." He and many others who study imperiled species and beleaguered ecosystems view cloning as irrelevant to their main concerns. Worse, it might be a costly distraction--diverting money, diverting energy, allowing the public to feel some bogus reassurance that all mistakes and choices are reversible and that any lost species can be re-created using biological engineering.

I am struggling to properly capture this uniquely American perspective that I see reflected in various fields. Bush's proposal (after finally having to admit that yes, humans are contributing directly to global warming) that greenhouse gases and climate change can be solved through new technologies rather than by cutting emissions. Basically, it is the idea that technology can replace God, and that any problem can be overcome through human innovation despite the mounting evidence that many things we wisely and rationally do in the name of 'progress' wind up being very bad for us, our society, and our planet.

Posted on August 18, 2005 and filed under Academic, Rambling.