David Steen received his Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Auburn University and is now a Research Ecologist at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. Steen has published dozens of scientific papers about wildlife ecology and conservation biology and is also an award-winning science communicator known for his wide-ranging outreach efforts (find him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Finally, Steen is Executive Director of The Alongside Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit he founded to promote science-based solutions to living alongside wildlife in perpetuity. Steen contributed this article to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Species are rapidly disappearing all around us; indeed, you and I are living through Earth’s sixth great extinction. Most reasonable people agree that losing species is a problem. However, as a conservation biologist and a science communicator, I am used to hearing the occasional argument from radicals about why we need not be especially concerned about that loss. Imagine my horror to see these arguments compiled into a Perspectives piece published in The Washington Post, and written by a professor of biology no less! I cannot believe that it is 2018 and I have to explain why extinction is actually a bad thing, but here we are.
The piece works hard to make the case that we need not be particularly distressed about the loss of biodiversity by arguing, if you will humor me some loose paraphrasing, that we are going to lose species no matter what and extinction does not make much of a difference anyway because new species might evolve in the future. But for this line of reasoning to make sense one must ignore decades of conservation science and centuries of art, literature and philosophy, not to mention millions of years of evolution. Although there have already been many responses to the article — nearly unanimous in their disapproval — I feel compelled to go on record as well and explain why the article was so aggravating to me, as someone who puts a lot of time and effort into helping people appreciate and value biodiversity.