The Fall of the Wild
Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation
by Ben A. Minteer
Pub Date 04 Dec 2018
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The passenger pigeon, the great auk,
the Tasmanian tiger—the memory of these vanished species haunts the fight
against extinction. Seeking to save other creatures from their fate in an age
of accelerating biodiversity loss, wildlife advocates have become captivated by
a narrative of heroic conservation efforts. A range of technological and policy
strategies, from the traditional, such as regulations and refuges, to the
novel—the scientific wizardry of genetic engineering and synthetic
biology—seemingly promise solutions to the extinction crisis.
In The Fall of the Wild, Ben A. Minteer calls for reflection on the ethical dilemmas of species loss and recovery in an increasingly human-driven world. He asks an unsettling but necessary question: Might our well-meaning efforts to save and restore wildlife pose a threat to the ideal of preserving a world that isn’t completely under the human thumb? Minteer probes the tension between our impulse to do whatever it takes and the risk of pursuing strategies that undermine our broader commitment to the preservation of wildness. From collecting wildlife specimens for museums and the wilderness aspirations of zoos to visions of “assisted colonization” of new habitats and high-tech attempts to revive long-extinct species, he explores the scientific and ethical concerns vexing conservation today. The Fall of the Wild is a nuanced treatment of the deeper moral issues underpinning the quest to save species on the brink of extinction and an accessible intervention in debates over the principles and practice of nature conservation.
Ben A. Minteer holds the Arizona Zoological Society Endowed Chair at Arizona State University, where he is a professor in the School of Life Sciences. He has authored or edited many books, including The Landscape of Reform: Civic Pragmatism and Environmental Thought in America (2006) and The Ark and Beyond: The Evolution of Zoo and Aquarium Conservation (2018).
The central ethical question addressed by Minteer is not only how far might we go to prevent biological extinction, but how far should we go? He comes to this conundrum as a distinguished environmental philosopher with a broad and deep record of thoughtful scholarship, as well as the heart of someone who obviously cares about the future of nature. And most importantly, at a time when answering the question is ever more urgent, he plots a carefully explicated, cautiously hopeful course forward.
-Harry W. Greene, author of Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art