Please excuse the mildly philosophical thought experiment:
Imagine a giant tree that was planted many years ago in an empty meadow. This tree provides many things – fruit, shade, and beauty to name a few – that almost anybody you ask would agree makes it superior to the empty field. Some small, shade-dependent plants grow beneath the tree’s branches, but the extent and thickness of the foliage prevents much else from growing in the area.
What would grow there if the tree were to suddenly cease to exist? It would be naïve to assume that the small shade plants would just remain constant, or that the area would simply regress to the field it was many years before. Over the years, fallen branches and leaves along with the shade plants will have altered the soil and the wildlife that frequents the area, making it possible that many other kinds of plants could grow there in the vacuum left by the disappearance of the tree.
What benefits would these new plants provide? There’s no way to know with the giant tree continuing the way it is. It need not be eliminated to allow new and different things to grow, merely pruned or trimmed back.
If you guessed, “the tree is government controlled space exploration!” you’re right! If you didn’t, well: the tree is government controlled space exploration!
I wanted to get the analogy out there because people seem to have an intuitive sense for how nature fills in gaps that emerge, but not for how human activity can act in the same way. It’s also much more agreeable than the cold and academic sounding “Consider the Counterfactual” even though that is really what we need to do.