"What would be your advice to someone interested in entering the field of conservation biology?" I asked Naskrecki after he told me about populations of insects that were extinct in the wild but sustained in captive populations. He described this as a very wide area that can be approached from a variety of directions, but it is a field that he said he was leaving. There are no real victories in conservation biology, it is all about making compromises, and it is ultimately a losing battle. Most conservation biologists have focused their efforts on documenting biodiversity before it is lost, as that seems a near certain inevitability. (All the same, he did recommend organizations such as WWF and Audubon as good places to start.) He said the only solution, which he mentioned only all too aware of its futility as a politically insupportable policy, is population control. I asked whether raising the standard of living, which tends to result in decreasing rates of reproduction, might be a solution. He pointed out that this also tends to increase rates of consumption per capita. The problem seems insoluble.
How does one reward others for having fewer children, or consuming fewer resources? The whole concept of "reward" seems firmly grounded in the framework of consumption! The only thing that can be consumed without being used up is mental phenomena such as knowledge, understanding, and emotional gratification. Maybe access to social services is another area. But we need not abandon our self-centered way of life to see the rationale of population control. Everything reaches a balance point sooner or later. The question is if we will have the wisdom to anticipate where that will be and hold ourselves back from the edge. It seems clear that we have passed the point of diminishing returns a long time ago, and have placed ourselves in greater danger had we not. Who has an ethically defensible solution that can prepare us for where we will go from here?
"By the data to date, there is only one animal in the Galaxy dangerous to man – man himself. So he must supply his own indispensable competition. He has no enemy to help him.... anyone with eyes can see that any organism which grows without limit always dies in its own poisons." - Robert Heinlein, “Time Enough for Love”, 1973