Interspecies Wealth Transfer

Interview with Bill Tomlinson

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Video transcript: "So one concept I've been thinking a lot about recently is the idea of an interspecies wealth transfer. So, over the last couple of hundred years, human population has skyrocketed, there are now over 7.5 billion people, in addition, during that same period of time, human standards of living have gone way up as well. We use much more energy per capita and that translates into a high standard of living.

During that same period, many other species have gone extinct. Right now there is pretty strong scientific evidence that we are in the mist of the 6th great extinction across geologic time. Right now, the extinction rate is about a hundred to a thousand times the geologic baseline level. In addition, beyond those that are going extinct, lots and lots of other species are having their standards of living compromised. Even those species that are really thriving, like cows, for example, if you see the living conditions of many of those cows, I would not necessarily say that they are thriving and flourishing. Taken together, the population growth and standard of living increase of humans, and the biodiversity loss and decreasing standard of living for other species, represents a huge interspecies wealth transfer. If you think about wealth not in terms of dollars, but in terms of ecosystem services and it terms of natural capital, the ability to take advantage of other aspects of the natural world, we humans are taking a great deal of that for ourselves, to the disadvantage of many other species.

And coming up some recent conversations that we've just been having, there are also some interesting extensions of this - looking at wealth transfers across space and time, looking at how we are potentially utilizing resources that have been accumulating for millions of years. There's a book called The Last Rays of Ancient Sunlight, which talks about how fossil fuels are the end product of millions of years of sunlight shining on plants that gets converted into oil, and coal, and natural gas. And we are now utilizing the last hours of ancient sunlight. This represents in some ways utilizing wealth or taking for ourselves wealth that has been accumulating for a long period of time and also centralizing that wealth in locations of great human population, like cities and certain section of the world to the disadvantage of other areas.

The interspecies wealth transfer potentially provides a mechanism, this sort of conceptual framework, provides a mechanism for thinking about how we can reverse that in some ways. The default mindset in much of industrial civilization and much of computing research is looking at how we can increase that, how we can increase human well being without much regard to where that abundance comes from. Being aware that certain kinds of human benefit come at the detriment to many other species, potentially, can shed light on new directions that we can go in terms of designing systems. And that's why I feel like it's a potentially useful piece for a conceptual toolkit for engaging with set of issues." 

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Related tags: Production, Life Quality, Biodiversity Loss, Natural Capital, Well-Being Increase, Fossil Fuels,