Should we make mosquitoes extinct? An application | tutor2u Economics
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Should we make mosquitoes extinct? An application of Cost-Benefit Analysis.

As the WHO declares mosquito borne Zika fever a major health emergency, scientists claim that we now have the knowledge to make extinct the species of mosquito which carry disease.

With approximately 1 million people dying from illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever each year, there seems a clear-cut case for proceeding with human engineered extinction of the mosquito species responsible.

Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

However, the economic principles of cost-benefit analysis teach us to pause in situations like these - where the balance between the benefits and costs of a policy seem overwhelmingly on one side. It may be that significant factors have not been taken into account.

What possible negative consequences could there be to making mosquitoes extinct? 

The typical response that it would interfere with the food chain has largely been discounted by scientists - they believe other insects would simply take the place of mosquitoes.

Where mosquitos have proved useful is in their effect on human expansion. 

Bizarrely, mosquitos may have saved the rainforests - their presence makes large areas of the world’s rainforests virtually uninhabitable.

As science writer David Quammen has stated in a BBC article I recently read on this subject:

"Nothing has done more to delay this catastrophe [the destruction of the rainforests] over the past 10,000 years, than the mosquito."

The article goes on to argue that, for some, the idea of the eradication an entire species is morally wrong (something particularly poignant in a week in which the West African Black Rhinoceros has been declared extinct). 

In my opinion, the danger is more that engineered extinction might become a commonplace solution that each time risks incurring large-scale unintended consequences. I don’t know the exact magnitude of these, but there is a chance they could be significant. 

Cost-benefit analysis suggests that if there are large possible costs (or benefits) that cannot currently be quantified, the best idea is to postpone a course of action.

An interesting counter-suggestion is that, instead of killing mosquitos, we could make them disease free - after all, having being infected by parasites, disease carrying mosquitos are themselves sick. 

And some scientists believe we could actually cure them! 

However, by doing this, we could make the destruction of the rainforests an even more likely outcome. 

So - is it better to leave nature alone at the cost of so many human lives?

Read Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes?

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