In the same issue of Wired that Steve Raymer appears in, there’s an interesting article about efforts to reintroduce species to areas where they (or their closest biological cousins) roamed thousands of years ago. Granted, I’m not the Prometheus writer best suited to speak to this, but I think there are some interesting parallels between efforts like those described in “Pleistocene Park: Where the Auroxen Roam” and geoengineering proposals like those discussed in a Time article from last year: seeding the oceans with iron, placing mirrors in orbit, or other schemes worthy of science fiction (a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode did mention atmospheric scrubbers, but as a plot point and not a policy suggestion).
I want to know whether I have perceived something correctly about this issue. While the article at best implies this, it would appear that these efforts to reintroduce long absent megafauna (such as bison and primitive horses) are somewhat different than the efforts to reintroduce other species (such as the recent reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone region), or the efforts to fight invasive species. Given the size of the animals involved, the time gap between disappearance and re-introduction, and the significant travel distances involved, this appears to be a different scope of intervention than fighting the spread of snakefish in the Potomac or reintroducing various smaller species into the wild. The level of potential impact, and the kind of control required, seem qualitatively different. There is also a bit of presumption that these efforts would produce some natural/wild state – something hard to assess given the lack of records from when these animals roamed large and free. The lack of engagement with policy implications is disappointing, but not surprising.
The reintroduction of megafauna reminds me of geoengineering proposals occasionally thrown about as ways to address various global ills, climate change being one of them. Roger has some concerns with how geoengineering has been used in climate change discussions, and it seems to me that the lack of consideration of policy, scientific and technical considerations is very similar to what is going on with these efforts to shape or engineer ecosystems. Both geoengineering and megafauna reintroduction – as currently handled – so both a lack of deep thinking and an unearned faith in technological fixes. I am not suggesting that the ideas are without merit. I want to make the point that some experiments, by their very nature, cannot be held in laboratory conditions and require a lot more consideration beyond the proper experimental protocol.