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Saturday, Mar 20, 2010

If we think the world is here for us, we will continue to destroy it in the way that we have been destroying it because we think we can do no harm. There's an awful lot of speculation, one way or another at the moment, about whether there's life on other planets or not... In a way, it doesn't matter... There are two possibilities: Either there is life out there on other planets, or there is no life out there on other planets. They are both utterly extraordinary ideas.

But, there is the strong possibility there isn't anything out there remotely like us. And we are behaving as if this extraordinary, utterly, utterly extraordinary little ball of life is something we can just screw about with any way we'd like. And maybe we can't. Maybe we should be looking after it just a little bit better. Not for the world's sake. We talk rather grandly about saving the world. We don't have to save the world-- the world is fine.

The world has been through five periods of mass extinction. 65 million years ago when, as it seems, a comet hit the Earth at the same time as there were vast volcanic eruptions in India, which saw off the dinosaurs and something like 90% of the life on the planet at that time. Go back another, I think it's 150 million years before that to the Permian Triassic boundary-- another giant extinction. The world has been through it many times before. What happens invariably after each mass extinction, is that there's a huge amount of space available for new forms of life suddenly to emerge and flourish into it. Just as the extinction of the dinosaurs made way for us. Without that extinction, we would not be here.

So, the world is fine. We don't have to save the world, the world is big enough to look after itself. What we have to be concerned about is whether or not the world we live in will be capable of sustaining us in it. That's what we need to think about.

There is a problem I'm very conscious of here which is that even though I'm talking from a conservationist point of view, very strongly, you look back over the history of the conservationist movement and most of what we've said we have to do about it and all the ways we've gone about it have actually turned out to be wrong. So, it's very hard for me to say we have to do this and we have to do that, because they may not be the right solution... Time after time we've gone about it the wrong way. The conservation efforts of one set of ten years will be about as much as anything else undoing the progress of the last set of ten years. So it is a question of a constant self-education, trying to assimilate the information, trying to see what the consequences of what we've done so far has been, and what we can learn from that... There may be effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences. I think the best thing we can do is to continuously inform ourselves of what is actually happening... I'm worried it may be a good answer but I'm also worried it may not be the rigth answer, which is a complicated way of saying, "I don't know."

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