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Ask Stewart Brand About Protecting Resources and Reviving Extinct Species

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the go-ahead-and-ask dept.

Earth 59

samzenpus (5) writes "Stewart Brand trained as a biologist at Stanford, was associated with Ken Kesey and the "Merry Pranksters", and served as an Infantry officer in the U.S. Army. His books include Whole Earth Discipline: The Rise of Ecopragmatism, The Clock of the Long Now, How Buildings Learn, and The Media Lab. He is the founder/editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, the co-founder of The Long Now Foundation, The WELL, and the Global Business Network. His latest project, Revive & Restore, may be his most ambitious yet. Revive and Restore aims to bring back extinct species and provide genetic rescue for endangered species that are spiraling down with inbreeding problems. Mr. Brand has agreed to answer any questions you may have but please limit yourself to one question per post."

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Sparing expenses? (-1, Offtopic)

CamelTrader (311519) | about 9 months ago | (#46919567)

My limited understanding of reviving extinct species is that it is important to spare no expense. Have you spared any expenses? I think Richard Kiley is also required; will he be the first to be revived?

Re:Sparing expenses? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919579)

Extinct species: niggers who can exist in large numbers without becoming ghetto-fied.

Re:Sparing expenses? (0)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 9 months ago | (#46923535)

Mr. Brand, when did you first discover the secret of initiation into the satanic cabal for which you are now a principle lieutenant, and is it actually true that your rites are of a lineage unbroken, from days of the black magicians in Babylon?

Which Species, and Why? (2)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 9 months ago | (#46919905)

This leads to a follow-on question: What criteria does one give when determining whether a species should be revived or not?

Personally, not every species should be revived, no matter how cute it may or may not be, or its perceived usefulness, or some misguided idea that all species must be saved no matter what (in spite of species having gone extinct since the dawn of time with no help from mankind whatsoever, and many of whom would have prevented mankind from rising up had they not gone extinct, etc...) Now if it's clearly mankind's fault that one dies off, sure - let's see if we can bring it back. Otherwise, well...

Re:Which Species, and Why? (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#46919981)

Do you have any examples of species that shouldn't be brought back? Why not bring them back just for the sake of science or even just curiosity? Imagine going to zoo and seeing animals that were once extinct. Dinosaurs weren't wiped out by man, but it sure would be nice to be able to definitively answering some questions about them by actually making a living specimen out of their DNA.

Re:Which Species, and Why? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 9 months ago | (#46920073)

Dinosaurs weren't wiped out by man, but it sure would be nice to be able to definitively answering some questions about them by actually making a living specimen out of their DNA.

Two things:

1) Unless you have 100% of their DNA, you won't get any good answers by making a living specimen. And we don't have complete DNA for any dinosaur except...

2) it must be remembered that dinosaurs were not wiped out. I'm looking at a pair of them at my bird feeder right now (red headed woodpeckers, in this particular case, but there were some rose-breasted grosbeaks passing through earlier in the week).

Do remember, birds are dinosaurs....

Re:Which Species, and Why? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#46920221)

As far as your second point goes, I suppose that we shouldn't worry about elephants or rhinos going extinct, because we have plenty of other mammals around. Also, we may not have all the DNA yet, but some day we might, if we find enough specimens.

Re:Which Species, and Why? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 9 months ago | (#46920421)

Nope it's impossible to do a Jurassic Park on dinosaurs, DNA just won't last long enough:

http://www.wired.com/2012/10/j... [wired.com]

Re:Which Species, and Why? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#46921327)

FTFY. Based on current scientific knowledge DNA just won't last long enough. Whether or not something is possible is completely irrelevant to whether or not we should. Assuming we can clone dinosaurs, what reasons are there for not doing it?

Re:Which Species, and Why? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 9 months ago | (#46921663)

I'm not saying we shouldn't. I'm just saying we couldn't. Dinosaur DNA would have to last literally orders of magnitude longer than the oldest DNA fragments found so far, which were badly damaged themselves.

Re:Which Species, and Why? (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | about 9 months ago | (#46927105)

I have worked with this data. Its very short fragments and are far from complete. Hell even modern genomes are far from complete. We know that DNA is simply not long term stable unless preserved at very cold temperatures. Temperatures that just have not been around on earth for that long in a single location.

Re:Sparing expenses? (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 9 months ago | (#46920959)

They should probably cut corners. Life, uh, probably can't find a way.

In (slightly more) seriousness, the movie you're quoting addresses the issue you seem to be pointing out.

John Hammond: If I was to create a flock of condors on this island, you wouldn't have anything to say.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, hold on. This isn't some species that was obliterated by deforestation, or the building of a dam. Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction.

Passenger pigeons, the poster child for this guy, died because of human related habitat loss and humans eating them. [wikipedia.org] The species under discussion are mostly species that are still around currently. The mammoth thing, wiki tells me it's controversial whether humans killed them off or whether it was due to warming. Either way, I think we've definitely got both bases covered.

I can only ask this once... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919591)

Will the long now of the whole earth keep the global business network from going down the well or will it revive and restore it?

Extinct species? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919615)

You mean like the middle-class worker with a pension & health plan and a loyal employer? Can we revive that?

LSD and technology (5, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 9 months ago | (#46919639)

How have your experiences with LSD affected your later work? (For those unaware, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters went around turning people onto the substance, as documented in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test [amazon.com] ). Many participants in the counterculture speak of having new spiritual perspectives after taking LSD, but has it given you any special insights into working with new computer technology?

Re:LSD and technology (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | about 9 months ago | (#46919871)

Second this--I think this is a good question and merits consideration.

Re:LSD and technology (1)

doom (14564) | about 9 months ago | (#46925723)

Brand has mentioned that the original idea that it would be important to see a picture of the "whole earth" from space came to him via an acid trip. In one of his earliest projects, he was going around handing out buttons asking the question of why we hadn't seen such a photo yet.

More recently, he's mentioned that clearly the problem with LSD isn't brain damage, but "personality damage". He's also commented on how you can rely on enthusiastic freaks to push ideas too far and find out where the limits are (he mentions a friend who took a boat across the pacific trying to live entirely on a hold full of carrots, arriving at his destination tinted orange and hallucinating).

Republicans want to enslave all brown people (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919679)


"It's not a question of wanting more deportations or not. It's a question of enforcing the laws. Why are immigration and employment laws the only laws we're not supposed to enforce in this country?

Yes, deportations may result from properly enforcing our country's laws and that will have a regrettable impact on some families but that's true when any law is enforced. What you're basically arguing is that immigration laws are inherently unjust and the moral course of action is not to enforce them. I disagree with that notion. A nation has the right and the obligation to set the terms under which people are allowed to enter and to stay in it. Every country, Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Japan, which ever one you name has border enforcement, immigration and work visa regimes. The United States is not any different from them, yet the case is being made that somehow this is an area of law than any enforcement is immoral. I reject that and I think an overwhelming number of American's agree with me on that.

No one is talking about sending police into neighborhoods with large immigrant populations to round people up and put them in buses to the border any more than anyone is suggesting that IRS agents swoop into neighborhoods to collect the hundreds of billions of dollars the government says it is owed. But no one is demanding that tax laws in general not be enforced.

Should there be enforcement checks at workplaces reasonably suspected of illegal employment practices? Absolutely. Once you force companies to play by the rules Americans and legal immigrants are able to get jobs they weren't before.

Now if you want to make the case that there should be no border controls or that once an illegal immigrant makes it 10 or 50 or 100 miles away from a border check point they are safe from any repercussions of our existing immigration laws and if you think people who came to this country by breaking our laws should have an advantage over the hard working, honest men and women who want to come to this country and are doing so via the rules we have set up you are free to do so. And I'd be happy to have that debate because I'm confident that the American people are on my side of that argument."

Re:Republicans want to enslave all brown people (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919777)

Oh look, it's that "The Evil Republicans" troll again! Isn't he so cuuuuuuute?

update your title, it's the Obama admin now (0)

rubycodez (864176) | about 9 months ago | (#46919899)


Should we start with Threatened Species? (2, Interesting)

retroworks (652802) | about 9 months ago | (#46919685)

Shouldn't we first try to transplant elephants and rhinos to Texas, and Siberian tigers to Canada, and Rwandan gorillas to central America? It has been politically incorrect to risk "invasive species", and in the 1970s we thought this would backfire. But if we are going to revive extinct species, it seems we've given up on the habitat specialization anyway, and perhaps should save species while they still have genetic diversity by relocating them to stable and law enforced environments.

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919765)

Cheetahs and other big cats to the New Mexico and Texas first as there already are antelope...

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | about 9 months ago | (#46919909)

What if we took certain species and domesticated them for the North American continent? Like elephants for agricultural work in the South and Southeast? Yeah, they'd cost a lot to maintain in terms of feed, but if we did away with corn subsidies and instead subsidized ag to produce more livestock feed for exotic species, I could see how it'd be a win-win. There'd be problems, and there'd have to be creative solutions, and it wouldn't be perfect, but saving an elephant plus giving them important work to do (and thus meriting societal protection above and beyond what they've already got in our world) might be an unexpected good thing.

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#46920061)

I don't think that anybody uses beasts of burden anymore for farming. I guess in some places they do, but not in the industrialized nations. A tractor makes way more economical sense than an elephant for plowing your field. And even the people who are into organic food and free range farms wouldn't like it because they'd see it as cruelty to animals.

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 9 months ago | (#46920781)

I now have a mental image of Amish using elephants to farm and clear land.

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | about 9 months ago | (#46921227)

Good points. I would counter-argue that elephants would become feasible if the price of fuel for tractors, plus maintenance ever rose to the point where it's more cost effective to use elephants, including feed and veterinary costs. We're clearly not at that point yet, but I wouldn't mind seeing some experimentation.

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#46921375)

I have an acquaintance who just bought a horse. Based on a conversation I had with him on the subject, I don't think that the price of using live animals for work will ever be cheaper than using machines. Even if petrochemicals became very expensive, they'd just move to other fuel sources for the tractors. Maintenance and purchase price isn't something that's likely to go really high. Don't forget there's plenty of maintenance costs on livestock as well. Vet bills, feeding, shelter, it all adds up.

Re:Should we start with Threatened Species? (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | about 9 months ago | (#46939803)

"Tack Store" is ancient Native American phrase for "black hole that takes all your money". As someone who comes from horse culture, I can see your point, and will concede the debate. Won't give up the dream though, because it's just too cool to imagine Elephants working in North America :)

Potential Risks of Invasive Species (3, Insightful)

Serenissima (1210562) | about 9 months ago | (#46919725)

If particular species have gone extinct, then I would assume their environment could no longer support them. If we manage to bring back those species, and introduce them into environments that could support them, it seems that we have the potential to unbalance that ecosystem by introducing an invasive species which has no natural predator there. How would you manage this risk?

Re:Potential Risks of Invasive Species (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 9 months ago | (#46920715)

I like this question. It both addresses an important topic and frames it as risk management.

Re:Potential Risks of Invasive Species (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46920981)

I have a question, as well, but sometimes it's not so clear cut in some areas. For example, with the fishes I breed, their habitats are so small that they can be caused to go extinct from real estate development. You bulldoze the entire site to build something, and the eggs that were dormant in the ground waiting for their rainy season never get that chance. However, given the opportunity, with a little education, many of these sites could be adjusted where potentially, the population could be reintroduced into pools created to mimic their old ones and managed by the property owners. For example, while I'm primarily referring to some annual killifishes from south america, Fundulus Julisia in TN is found in a few locations that are being actively managed (proudly, it seems) by the property owners.

Mitigating invasive species? (1)

mlts (1038732) | about 9 months ago | (#46919743)

There are always issues of invasive species. Kudzu in the US's south is one. Will reviving extinct species contribute to another ecological disaster like "killer bees", "crazy ants", or fire ants?

Rockford, IL (1)

dthanna (1294016) | about 9 months ago | (#46919753)

How has your life in one of the most mid-western of mid-western towns (Rockford, IL) shaped how your view, perceive, and address the issues of today's world? How has it helped? Hindered?'

Full disclosure, a Rocfordite myself.

Genetic Rescue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919859)

How can we increase the genetic diversity of a bottlenecked species? Do we tranplant genes from other species, engineer some from scratch, or what?

Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46919875)

Question: What is the point in resurrecting extinct species if the environment these species lived in is not restored as well?

Lost habitat (1)

digitalmonkey2k1 (521301) | about 9 months ago | (#46919881)

What can be done to reclaim lost habitat, as it is a large factor in loss of species?

Bubble Mammoth (2)

fibonacci8 (260615) | about 9 months ago | (#46919995)

How long is a revived creature going to last in an environment full of toxins and biological hazards against which it has dubious amounts of defense?

Re:Bubble Mammoth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46920305)

OMFG Toxins! They might give the mammoths Autism! That's worse than being extinct!

What then? (2)

OldGoatDJ (1497245) | about 9 months ago | (#46920021)

We are currently having problems preserving species with populations of only a few hundred members, (Ridley sea turtles, Right Whales, etc). What will happen when we develop a species with only 1 or 2 members? Will these deextincted species have priority over the existing near extinct species? It appears that the goal is to create more 'almost extinct' species.

Where is the viability line drawn? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46920027)

My question is this: How "pure" are the species that are revived? From what I understand, the commonly accepted method for doing this involves cloning, which involves implanting an embryo into a different animal that can viably give birth to it. Wouldn't this mean that the creatures that are revived wouldn't be the same species as they were when they went extinct?

Re:Where is the viability line drawn? (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 9 months ago | (#46920737)

the only part that matters is the DNA, including mitochondrial DNA.

Re:Where is the viability line drawn? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 9 months ago | (#46923167)

And that only matters in so far as it affects the taste.

Re:Where is the viability line drawn? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46924405)

the environment of a developing animal partly controls gene expression. No, you don't only need DNA.

Restoring species or environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46920357)

Huh. So this is the mirror of those efforts to introduce infertile or defective pest species to reduce their populations.

Is this project planning on stabilizing, strengthening, or renewal of the niches in which the extinct/endangered species inhabit, or trying to be more limiting and specific in simply restoring the species without affecting the surrounding ecosystem? As in, are you looking at it from being a species specific effort or an environmental one?

just stop extincting us too abstract? ask your mom (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46920433)

peter paul & dylan lyric typo about something in the wind billions of us unchosen uncarbonites are, heavy breathing, hand waving star gazing... the '(spiritual) 'cancer' is blowing in the wind is not an intended co-optioning... the so-called primitive hymenless monkeys tend to agree turd flinging is as creepy as it should get & banana sharing is always ok ..... stop the bleeding (ama)

Captive Breeding programs and viability (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46920625)

Posting as AC because who knows what some politico might think of this:

What are your thoughts regarding captive breeding and has any work gone into determining population size to get a good spread of genetics so that in the future, if a reintroduction effort is raised, would help ensure the species' continued survival?

I, along with a few dozen people worldwide, work with endangered/threatened/extirpated fishes in our fishrooms. Some of the fish I work with, for example, were once found in a single location (a temporary/annual pool in Brazil), only to be found to be destroyed by human encroachment the following season (condos built on the site). No other locations have been found in the area, and as far as we can tell, the fish in our tanks are the last ones available. Others have been completely lost, and some of us are working hard to keep others that are precariously situated from meeting similar fates. We regularly swap eggs/fish to try and keep the gene pool varied, but I do wonder how we're effecting the genetic viability over many generations.

Similarly, on the one hand, the .gov organizations in these countries can be very heavy-handed in the 'trafficking" of these species. Rightfully so, I might add, as the environments are rather marginal (sometimes, in a pool less than a few meters across and less than a quarter meter in depth), and well-intentioned hobbyists could inadvertently destroy/fish out the habitat, but part of me thinks that instead of implementing a ban, organize it so a certain number of fish can be taken while monitoring conditions to be distributed into the captive programs. The Devil's Hole Pupfish, for example would definitely benefit from a few specialists working with it for captive breeding.

Chicken or Egg? (1)

McLae (606725) | about 9 months ago | (#46920681)

What are the methods to gestate young one when no parents are alive? What type of surrogates are available?

Do you feel mocked by Dr. Who? (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 9 months ago | (#46920769)

The show Dr. Who pulled a tongue-in-cheek gag about mankind's general fear of global change (from Luddites to species to climate) by showing Earth, 5 billion years from now, as current. The Doctor's comment on the natural shifting of continents was that "they moved them back".

Do you ever feel similar? As if the loss of a species is normal, but sad; and so you seek to move time back and halt the progress of the environment?

Impossible, Impractical or Unpopular? (2)

jacksdl (552055) | about 9 months ago | (#46921225)

I've been a fan of your eclectic perspective and rational style since I bought the "Last Whole Earth Catalog". I know you were a early proponent and popularizer of space-based solar power and space colonies (at least in late 70's as I recall). Have you changed your views on those? Can I hope that my children will see an O'Neill Cylinder in space (or at least a Bernal Sphere)?

I know faster than light travel is impossible. I know personal jet packs are impractical. Do building those space colonies we dreamed about in the 70's fall in the impractical category -- or just unpopular?

engineered creatures (1)

EricBoyd (532608) | about 9 months ago | (#46922359)

A lot of science fiction postulates worlds full of designed creatures - Oryx and Crake, The Windup Girl, etc. Your efforts to revive extinct species could be seen as a stepping stone to that kind of technology. Are you intrigued by the possibilities? What kind of creature would you design?

J Baldwin or Paul Hawken (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46922421)

What was Your favorite argument/discussion with JB or Paul? (Long time CEQ/WER reader)

Mammoth burgers (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 9 months ago | (#46923037)

When can we expect to order Mammoth burgers from Mc Donald's?

Big anti-science play (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46923305)

Don't these idiots believe in evolution?

Extinct species are extinct for a reason, and nearly extinct species are going extinct for the same reason: They are not able to adapt quickly enough to changes in their environments. This is how the process of evolution works; the species that are not equipped to survive ... do not. The specific reason for their impending demise is not relevent; the general reason (they're not fit to survive) is all that matters. It does not matter if human activity caused the changes that endangered these creatures, since humans are just evolved animals themselves and everything humans do is therefore just as natural as everything a kangaroo does (and WHEN did a kangaroo waste time worrying about its impact on the environment?). It does not matter if this leads to some "tipping point" where there are too few species and none of the ones remaining can produce viable offspring that survive the impending challenges... it just could be the case that life on Earth is an evolutionary dead-end. Nothing says that there must be life on Earth, or even that life on Earth is important or "good" ... life on Earth just might be a cosmic error that is destined to self-correct.

Dodo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46923711)

Think we did kill them

Your position on nuclear energy (2)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 9 months ago | (#46923969)

I accessed The Well when it was a dial-up BBS (at great expense!) and devoured the Whole Earth Catalog. You are one -- if not 'the' -- most notable environmentalist to 'break ranks' on the topic of nuclear energy. On this topic you are a great orator, for you do not merely have the gift of calmly and diplomatically dispelling myths, at the same time you clearly communicate a love for people and a love for the most awesome aspects of modern technology, the 'keepers' such as rural electrification. I am also an staunch advocate for LFTR and my heart is gladdened to hear you mention it.

My question is, has your position and persistence on the topic of nuclear energy brought you joy... or grief?

[ Check out the 2010 Brand/Jacobson debate on nuclear energy [youtube.com] and the documentary Pandora's Promise [2013] [pandoraspromise.com] ]
Bumps to a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG1YjDdI_c8>Thorium Remix and my own letters on energy,
To The Honorable James M. Inhofe, United States Senate [scribd.com]
To whom it may concern, Halliburton Corporate [scribd.com]
Also of interest, Faulkner [2005]: Electric Pipelines for North American Power Grid Efficiency Security [scribd.com]

Re:Your position on nuclear energy (1)

doom (14564) | about 9 months ago | (#46925733)

A good question (if a bit over-linked). If I hadn't just commented on something else I'd mod you up.

The toxic thing (1)

tchdab1 (164848) | about 9 months ago | (#46924019)

How can scientists, or even "spit kiddies" tinkering in the garage, be sure not to resurrect extinct proteins that do bad things in today's environment?

hghgh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46925655)


What surprises you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46928831)

What is the most surprising thing you have learned from working on the 10,000 Year Clock, and Revive & Restore? (Thanks for building the Clock, by the way. I can't wait to visit.)

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