They’re at it again. The Jurassic Park wannabes are talking about cloning long-extinct prehistoric creatures because … well, because they can. No better reason.
I’ve worked with environmental scientists and solar energy physicists. I count many scientists among my friends and I have a great deal of respect for their work, but when the ‘white coat brigade’ (as the late Val Plumwood used to call them) starts to talk about cloning woolly mammoths I start thinking that maybe they’ve been inhaling something in the lab again.
Some years ago a bunch of Australian scientists, all fired up with the idea of cloning, announced that they had sufficient Tasmanian tiger, thylacine, DNA to clone their very own cute and cuddly little thylacine. Had they thought it through? Had they considered what they’d do with a wild carnivorous animal about as big as a good-sized dog and a lot less friendly, once they’d reared it? Noooooo. They just wanted to clone it because they had the knowledge and the technology and because, hotdamn, they wanted to. Could they release it into the wild? Of course not – the consequences of reintroducing to the environment a carnivorous animal that has been extinct for almost a century are almost beyond comprehension. Could they keep it in captivity? Probably, but why? What then? Clone it a girl/boyfriend and make more Tasmanian tigers? These animals were wild, there is no point or purpose in cloning an extinct wild animal and then keeping it in captivity just so people can gawk at it and say, “oooh, aren’t those scientists clever?”
So now the Japanese want to clone a woolly mammoth. Good one, guys. But why stop at one? How about we clone a whole family of them and then let them go in downtown Tokyo, shall we? You thought Godzilla was a problem? Wait til you see what a family of large, furry pachyderms that haven’t eaten for a couple of dozen millennia could do.
The money these guys would spend in cloning a long-dead (and we’re talking really, really long) could be used for … oh, I don’t know, feeding the world’s hungry, perhaps, or researching a cure for AIDS, or developing renewable energy-powered public transport.
I can see it now: The Institute for Pachyderm Research, right next door to that renowned hall of academic excellence, the Institute for Cetacean Research. Uh oh, maybe that’s it. Test the cloning on something really unlikely (heeeey … we’ve got a woolly mammoth here), refine the technique, get the general public used to the idea, then just keep hunting the southern right whales to extinction. It’s OK – they can be cloned to keep the whalemeat industry going and keep Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd and parts of the Australian and New Zealand governments off our backs as a bonus.
I had the great privilege once of having lunch with Val Plumwood and was a little surprised by the contempt with which she described some areas of scientific inquiry. I am only just now coming to realise what she meant.