The good people at Google have attracted attention for their investment in research on extending human life. Seems they think that it is a good thing for people to live longer. And readers may be familiar with government citing premature death statistics as reasons to impose regulations. The California Air Resources Board says that its heavy handed diesel truck regulations are necessary to help people live longer, while the President berates critics of ObamaCare by arguing that tens of thousands of people die prematurely every year because they lack health insurance.
And who can forget the frequently recurring news stories featuring interviews with the person currently thought to be the oldest living person in the world. The most predictable question in these interviews is: “what is your secret to living so long?”
Based on a recent research report, apparently these interviews now need to include the question: “Do you feel guilty for all the species extinction your longevity is contributing to?”
Aaron Lotz of the University of California at Davis, and his colleague Craig Allen, have published Social-Ecological Predictors of Global Invasions and Extinctions in the September 2013 issue of Ecology and Society. They report their finding that as “life expectancy increases, the percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals increases.” So there we have it. Increased human life expectancy, one of the miracles of modern civilization, turns out to be the major culprit in threatening the extinction of other species.
Researchers bring their world views alongside when they select and analyze data. A clue to these authors’ world view emerges from the introduction to the article: “The debate as to what aspects of humanity are most responsible for environmental degradation has been ongoing since the 1970s (Commoner et al. 1971, Ehrlich and Holdren 1971).” Their research starts with the assumption that “people” are bad for everything else; they are just trying to figure out what the worst thing about “people” really is.
They cite to legendary Malthusian Paul Ehrlich, who predicted the end of the world as we know it in his discredited book The Population Bomb, as well as his co-alarmist John Holdren, currently serving as the President’s senior adviser on science and technology. In 1969, these two fine fellows penned the following: “if the population control measures are not initiated immediately, and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come.”
This line of analysis has been repeatedly debunked, perhaps most forcefully by the late economist Julian Simon, as well as the recent work of Robert Zubrin.
It is important to appreciate the influence of world view when assessing the claims that are made about species extinction, its scope, and its causes. If you start with the Malthusian presumption that human improvement is going to end in disaster, then every research result looks like an indictment of humanity. Keep that in mind as we continue our tour of the Endangered Species Act at 40, and don’t forget to take today’s PLF Facebook Poll!