Species extinction is a great moral wrong
Sharing the Earth with other species is an important human responsibility
By Philip Cafaro, PhD, and Richard B. Primack, PhD | Posted on 12 February 2014
Nearly three decades ago, conservation biologist Michael Soulé published an article titled “What is Conservation Biology?” Its strong and enduring influence stemmed partly from Soulé’s success in articulating an appealing ethical vision for this new field. At its heart was the belief that the human-caused extinction of other species is a great moral wrong.
“The diversity of organisms is good,” Soulé wrote, and “the untimely extinction of populations and species is bad.” Other species have “value in themselves,” he asserted – an “intrinsic value” that should motivate respect and restraint in our dealings with them.
In a recent article published in the journal BioScience titled “What is Conservation Science?” Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier attempt to update Soulé’s conservation philosophy, but lose sight of this moral commitment.
Specifying the ethical principles that they believe should guide conservationists, they give a prominent place to increasing human wealth and “working with corporations,” while recognition of the right of other species to continue to flourish is nowhere to be found. In fact, the article’s rhetoric serves to normalize extinctions and make readers more comfortable with them. For example, it describes concern for the local extinctions of wolves and grizzly bears in the United States as “nostalgia” for “the world as it once was” and suggests that people need not keep other species on the landscape when their continued presence is incompatible with our economic goals.
Unfortunately this position does not appear to be an aberration in this one article, but rather an essential part of the authors’ view that conservationists should accommodate ourselves to the new realities of the Anthropocene Epoch (so named due to the pervasive impact that human activities now have on Earth’s ecosystems).
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