J. B. MacKinnon: The rewilding of the tortoise in its ancient habitat represents not only the species’ slow drift away from extinction, but an overall movement toward a more plentiful world. What the bolson tortoise reminds us is that it is ultimately less important to choose a baseline than it is to choose a direction.
I understand how difficult it is to get on board with a new idea before you are given some practical demonstration of its use. So far, I’ve tried to show the ecological necessity and the motivational potential of the Extremophile Choice philosophy by using scientific evidence and reasoned argument; but now, my brother Terry (that’s him in the picture; he has for many years been involved with Greenpeace as an activist, consultant, and trainer in rope and climbing technique) has challenged me to offer something more substantial. Just before he left to take part in the Kinder Morgan pipeline protests, in progress in Burnaby BC at the time of this writing, Terry asked me what I thought about his involvement, and whether I thought it was justified. “What would this issue look like from an Extremophile Choice point of view” were his exact words.
For those who haven’t yet explored this website, the Extremophile Choice is a philosophy that argues, based on fundamental evo-ecological principles, that Humans and Nature are two sovereign creative forces, implying that technological systems must become progressively contained in respect of authentic Natural systems; and it further argues, based on the commonly experienced motivational power of “just knowing who you are”, that if this view of our natural human future can become established among those who create the built world we live in, the scientists, architects and engineers, then we will become naturally disposed to make technological and social decisions guided by a long term goal of species conservation and the rewilding of habitats.
The following then is a test of the practical value of this way of looking at Humans and Nature:
There are at least four issues with respect to the Kinder Morgan trans-mountain pipeline project linking the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific coast in British Columbia. The first two issues seem to get most of the attention, and they are closely related: the encroachment on First Nations treaty territories, and the environmental impact of a pipeline rupture. Tragically, the rights of First Nations have always been easily argued away simply by citing the economic interests of the nation as a whole; so we shouldn’t expect any counter-argument, involving local cultural rights alone, to prevail here. The related issue, about the immediate and (relatively) local environmental risk of a pipeline breach, can also be easily dismissed by arguing that the risks of transporting bitumen over the mountains by train presents an even greater risk. A decision made from the Extremophile Choice perspective is not likely to look any different from a decision made by some other ecologically conscientious point of view regarding these two issues; except that there would be no ‘baseline’ of acceptable risk to, or encroachment upon the habitats of, irreplaceable species, and also the ‘direction’ of any new development proposal must always at least maintain, or wherever possible improve upon, existing species and habitat protection.
This brings us to the third issue respecting the Kinder Morgan pipeline project: the even more likely risk of more widespread damage due to spillage from a breached tanker once the diluted bitumen leaves the BC coast for the high seas. And here the argument against the pipeline is indisputable, for it invokes the primary reason for the project in the first place which is to speed up the transfer of diluted bitumen to the coast. When the objective is to float up to seven times the current number of laden tankers through sensitive ecosystems on dangerous waters, it’s hard to argue that the pipeline won’t increase the risk to the human world, let alone the Natural world. Given the Extremophile Choice of a clear direction, which persistently takes the best option available from advancing technologies to minimize the human impact on Natural systems—in fact restricting ourselves to options that at least maintain, or represent an improvement upon, existing protections—we would certainly find a way to deliver energy to where it is needed, and at a rate appropriate to its long term viability, that doesn’t involve expanding a dying industry at the expense of vulnerable maritime, coastal, and river ecosystems.
So, finally, it is this speeding up of the transfer of fossil fuel that sets up the fourth issue, and it is here that the advantages of the Extremophile Choice long-term perspective really comes into play. Because a clear long-term viewpoint also provides a clear direction. We can easily see that any heating up of the carbon economy is going in the wrong direction if we seriously want to avoid the environmental dangers of climate change to both Humans and Nature; and this acceleration is also certainly going in the wrong direction if the economic purpose is only to sustain an industry that is obviously in decline. Two obvious realities, to me at least. But I also suspect that most of us believe, and only hope it ain’t so, that we can’t be trusted in the long run to act upon the obvious! Why this widespread gloomy picture? Perhaps it is because: as long as we are allowed to argue that we are part of a co-evolving natural selection that requires us, in the crunch, to put humans first and ‘other species’ second, or as long as we can only cling to a desperate hope that our fast changing technologies and political systems can exist in sustainable long-term relationship to slowly evolving ecosystems (systems that are, as a consequence of our ‘management’, thoroughly humanized; that is, they are simplified for “productivity” and they are irreversibly eroding with every inevitable extinction), then the dissonance between this ‘one with nature’ paradigm and human history itself creates doubt. We simply can’t agree on ‘where we’re supposed to be going’, and we intuitively recognize that the decisions we make must always take us in directions that are confused by self-interested and short term arguments.
We don’t need to change how we do species conservation; we need to change why we do it. Because learning what technology ‘is for’ gives us an operational direction, and knowing who we are reinstates our moral compass.