A white old man in glasses looking at a bunch of flowers in his hand, while delivering a talk from a stage.

Woolly mammoths and a quasi-techbro

I wrote for The Wire Science about George Church’s idea to repopulate the Arctic tundra with woolly mammoths to, among other things, help maintain the permafrost. He isn’t the first person to think of this – that dubious distinction belongs to, and Church himself got it from, Sergey Zimov, whose ‘Pleistocene Park’ in northeast Russia already has the place and fencing required to implement the project.

But Church’s entry into the fray has rendered the idea sexier in three ways. First, Church is celebrated as one of the world’s ‘top’ experts on gene-editing, and brings with him the considerable, if also inconsiderate, validity of being a successful scientist. Second, the company that Church has created to bring woolly mammoths back, Colossal, recently received $15 million in funding, catapulting its mission to the headlines of most major tech news websites in the US. And third (and most interesting for me), Church is almost a techbro.

Now, it may not be fair for me to typecast Church the way it’s been easy to typecast all the other ‘entrepreneurs’ who took money from the late Jeffrey Epstein, ignored the way he treated women and even defended him in public until it was no longer profitable for them to do so. (Church himself only apologised for maintaining “contacts” with Epstein after shit began hitting the fan.) But there’s one more trait all these people share: to want to ‘fix’ the world with technology, often only because the technology exists, without thinking about consequences that transcend geographies. Bill Gates may be the perfect example, but Colossal’s website also says:

We have the DNA, the technology and the leading experts in the field. Next, we will have the Woolly Mammoth. Alive again.

Yet another potential point of similarity could be a latent obsession with a ‘fresh start’. Elon Musk is convinced he can find that on Mars. Peter Thiel called it “disruption” and batted for it with Donald Trump, to the extent of pitching climate-deniers as the head of the Environment Protection Agency and an anti-FDA provocateur as the next head of the FDA (the tell-all excerpt from The Contrarian on Bloomberg is a must-read). And the first sentence on the same Colossal page – which, by the way, is replete with masculine overtones if you know where and how to look – goes: “MAY PREHISTORY THUNDER FORWARD.”

Well, no.