Krauze is confused. How could scientists think the extermination of the human race over the course of a few decades would be bad, bad, bad, while thinking that the gradual extinction of the species over the course of millions of years would be inevitable and of no great concern.

It’s the same reason that we think murder is a moral wrong, but having a heart attack or dying of cancer is not. Or rather, the reason we treat a 90 year-old dying of lung cancer as a sad part of existence, while we see a 30 year-old dying of lung cancer and think evil thoughts about tobacco companies.

Species go extinct, just as people die. It’s a fact of life. There was a time before humans, and there will be a time after our species. There was a time before I lived, and there will be a time after. I don’t get into a moral huff about that. No one is advocating the forcible extinction of the species, merely posing the reasonable prediction that humanity will, at some point over the next several million years, not exist.

As happens so often in contemplating mortality, the question becomes “What shall be my legacy?” A planet despoiled is one legacy, and we can make choices which which leave the planet far worse off than it was when we found it. And we can make other choices. There are even some who think we ought to.


  1. #1 Nick (Matzke)
    November 20, 2007

    That said, this stuff about taking generalizations from the fossil record about species lifetimes to humans, and applying them to humans, is extremely dubious in several ways. Why should anyone think remotely similar principles apply? Why are these factoids repeated so confidently?

    If humans go extinct it won’t be for the reasons that other things went extinct, it will be because of some human-caused catastrophe which is not equivalent to the reasons that titanotheres or whatever died out. If humans make it through the next few hundreds years we are probably set for a ludicrously long survival, exploring the galaxy, yadda yadda.

  2. #2 Josh Rosenau
    November 20, 2007

    I think a giant meteor could do as much damage to humans as it did to dinosaurs, a random reversal of the magnetic pole could do odd things to us as well, and anagenetic change over millions of years could have interesting results as well. The analogy to a human lifespan is useful in that millions of years are difficult to trace, and because TT basically is saying that scientists are cheering for genocide, rather than observing that there will be some point in time when the last member of Homo sapiens will die as a result of some naturalish set of events.