Should a rationalist be concerned about habitat loss/​biodiversity loss?

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion that I’m pon­der­ing.

Now, while I do ques­tion the in­tel­lec­tual hon­esty of this blog, I’ll link to it any­ways, since the ev­i­dence does seem in­ter­est­ing, at the very least: http://​​wattsup­with­​​2010/​​01/​​04/​​where-are-the-corpses/​​


It does seem that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism can mimic some qual­ities of re­li­gion (I know, since I used to be an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist my­self). As such, it can cause many ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent peo­ple to re­ject ev­i­dence that goes against their wor­ld­view.

Fur­ther­more, it’s also pos­si­ble that com­pu­ta­tional chem­istry may soon be our pri­mary agent for drug dis­cov­ery, rather than dis­cov­er­ing more biolog­i­cal com­pounds in cer­tain ecosys­tems (that be­ing said, drug dis­cov­ery is en­tirely differ­ent from drug syn­the­sis, and dis­cov­er­ing a gene that codes for a par­tic­u­lar pro­tein and splic­ing it into an E Coli bac­terium is go­ing to be far eas­ier than any­thing com­pu­ta­tional chem­istry can do in the near fu­ture).

With that all be­ing said, what now? I do be­lieve that there is some­thing of value that does get lost as habitat gets de­stroyed. But it’s hard to quan­tify value in these cases. Cer­tain an­i­mals, like crows, chim­panzees, or­cas, and elephants, are cog­ni­tively ad­vanced enough to have their own cul­tures. If one of their sub­cul­tures get de­stroyed (which can be done with­out a ful­ls­cale ex­tinc­tion), then is any­thing valuable that gets lost? (be­sides value for sci­en­tific re­search that has po­ten­tial to be ap­pli­ca­ble el­se­where?) And is it more im­por­tant to worry about these sep­a­rate cul­tures, as com­pared to wor­ry­ing about differ­ent sub­species of the same an­i­mal? Cer­tainly, we’re now be­gin­ning to dis­cover novel so­cial net­works in dolphins and crows. But most of these an­i­mals are not at risk of ex­tinc­tion, and even the chim­panzees and bono­bos will only get ex­tinct in the wild (at the very worst). There are other less ad­vanced an­i­mals that have a higher risk of per­ma­nent ex­tinc­tion.

What we’re prone to sys­tem­at­i­cally un­der­es­ti­mat­ing, of course, is the pos­si­ble per­ma­nent loss of micro-or­ganisms. And of novel biolog­i­cal struc­tures (and net­works) that may be con­tained within them.