The Selfishness of Reviving Long-Extinct Species

For about as long as we’ve been modern humans, we’ve been introducing animals to the graveyard of species. As homo sapiens moved out of the well-settled areas of Eurasia into the Americas and Australia, the result was a massive die-off of large, and one presumes delicious, animals. In fact, hunting is only one hypothesis for the Pleistocene-Holocene extinctions, but many of the others put the spread of humans—and our animal and viral companions—at the scene of the crime.

The massacre began again as people of European stock, modern weaponry, and the wonders of the unfettered free market combined to drive a host of new extinctions, or close calls, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1890, the American bison that had numbered in the tens of millions before the arrival of Europeans were reduced to a few hundred. And the passenger pigeon was hunted from billions to zero on September 1, 1914—as a massacre of an entirely different kind was beginning in Europe.

But hey, maybe we get a second chance? Stewart Brand, known by our parents for founding the Whole Earth Catalog and known by contemporary business reporters for changing his tune about nuclear power, is trying to bring back the passenger pigeon. The methods for doing so are increasingly within our grasp, and could theoretically be used to bring back any number of other species, up to and including the ones that we wiped out back when glaciers covered most of the northern hemisphere. (No dinosaurs, Jurassic Park fans/breathing humans.)

Assuming the methods work, we’re almost certain to actually pull the trigger on these de-extinctions, because, in the precise language of an article in the journal Science, “It would surely be very cool” for kids to be able to see a live mammoth. It’s also likely to be pretty lucrative—a winning combination.

There are, of course, ethical quandaries. Such as the fact that, thus far, the processes involved are pretty cruel to subject animals, and have a 100% mortality rate. Or the concern from some conservationists that, if people know species can be resurrected, there will be less of an impulse to preserve them in the first place.

But a more basic problem is asking where we’re going to put all these new animals once we have them. You may have noticed, but we’re not sharing the world with the ones that still exist terribly well. On top of that, the amount of legitimately wild space on Earth is small and shrinking rapidly. Restoring the ecosystem of the Siberian steppes to a Pleistocene state, if it’s possible at all, is likely to find itself in competition with the furious demand for the energy and mineral commodities in Russia’s Far East, and we don’t need to guess which one will win out. The energy and mining companies on this planet are the Harlem Globetrotters, and the conservationists, despite a handful of important victories, are the Washington Generals.

We’re seeing that exact competition play out in North Dakota, where policies designed to preserve habitat for plains wildlife, inlcuding Buffalo—that near-miss on the extinction chart—is being threatened by that state’s fracking boom.

So we’re left with the prospect of a scientific gimmick that a) might not work, but if it does, b) is liable to be grotesquely cruel to animals, and c) will breed extinct animals that we aren’t likely to have room for outside of a handful of well-capitalized zoos. None of that is going to keep us from doing it, of course (see above, re: “really cool”). Hell, given the state of the world, we should keep an eye out for mammoth steaks winding up on the expense reports of Goldman Sachs executives by 2020 or so. After all, it’s a pretty solid bet it’s delicious.

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The Gleefully Bumpy Ride of Broad City
Broad City began its televised run with a shot of stars/creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson talking over Skype because it was a clever way of referencing the show’s web series roots, and of showing that it has a trench-level view of twentysomething womanhood. Broad City used its second shot to reveal that Glazer was Skyping while cowgirling frequent sex-buddy Hannibal Buress because it was a clever way of displaying that the show is fucking awesome. Through its first handful of episodes on Comedy Central (in Canada, it’s available on MuchMusic ), the show—which is generally just some combination of Glazer and Jacobson working shitty jobs, hanging out and/or trying to get laid—has made the strongest case yet for porting over web series wholesale to television. It has an assurance of character and craft that comedies generally take a couple seasons to craft: the dynamic between the duo, who were partners at New York’s now-legendary UCB theatre before the two versions of their series, is so finely honed it sometimes feels like you’ve stumbled across some lost classic comedy pairing—or would, if the show’s subjects weren’t so thoroughly modern.


Burning Blake
Some people would burn Blake to boil tea, if need be. A small, invisible daisy of flame waits to bloom under each book the day the streets are empty but for patrols, or the day the sun turns red giant, brushing everything with hands like books of matches. Trust me, the last copy of this book will be thrown in a fire, to keep warm, or something away. Times will be tough. Or, times will be muck, a soft loam with the remains of a book emergent through a tectonic crack of some kind, waiting resplendent, to be collected, filed away with a click in a cabinet when such things are of interest only to alien eyes, the way a somnolent scientist collects dew.