Daily Archives: May 15, 2012

China – better living through mass extinctions

Maybe I’ve just got a case of imperial sour grapes because the Chinese are the new kids on the block and we Americans are feeling the pressure but I seem to get particularly angry over stories about Chinese environmental negligence.
The Yangtze Finless Porpoise is on the brink of extinction. Another freshwater mammal, the ‘Whitefin dolphin’ was declared extinct back in 2007.

Scientific American has a superb long article on the transition of poaching in Africa from being a subsistence activity to one for profits. It is grim but it’s also an important read.

“Having largely emptied its own jungles of furry, scaly, and feathery creatures, Asia’s thirst for exotic blood, bile, and bones has turned to the African continent.”

China is not only destroying it’s own environment but it’s at the forefront of leading a frenzy of extinction and animal abuse that is really quite staggering. I’m no fan of the Western industrialization of animal consumption but at least (!) we can say that we’re using domesticated animals that are in no fear of extinction. And while the amounts of meat we eat are excessive for good health and inefficient uses of resources we aren’t slaughtering animals in the hopes it’ll cure our cancers or give us better hard-ons.

And what, if anything can be done? Well, we’re unlikely to see much in the way of effort as we hear the cries of “At times like these we can’t afford to be sentimental! We need jobs.” And when times are good and we’re living large? “At times like these we can’t afford to be sentimental! We might lose these jobs and plunge into recession!”

Intentionally or not, China is ushering in a new era of colonialism.

…it’s not about poverty and a source of income for poor rural people living next to wild areas.

Unlike other organized criminal activity with big profit margins (like narcotics or arms smuggling) enforcement and penalties are weak across the board but especially in the areas where it drives the market (like China). Many countries in Africa (beholden to their new Chinese overlords) give foreign animal smugglers a pass knowing they’ll skip the country and continue their activities.

While a perfect solution might not be in the cards, significant improvement really isn’t that difficult. Imposition and enforcement of laws on the books in Asia (and really, are we to believe that China couldn’t turn it’s powerful police state apparatus to this if it was determined to be important?), training of personnel in Africa (training, equipping and fighting corruption in African courts would have to be some of the best money you could spend).  Of course, those are all top down approaches.  While not sexy, public awareness campaigns would be just as important in getting people to realize that jaguar bladder isn’t going to make you the neighborhood stud, no matter how much you shove up your nose.

The EIA (of which I am a fanboy), has a related piece out about the (lack of) success in the regulated sale of ivory stockpiles to stem the illicit demand for the stuff. I recommend this not only because it’s related to the issue at hand and provides some insight into the weak regulatory (and enforcement) environment surrounding the trade in ivory but it’s also an example of a strong, concise product designed to elicit action from a decision maker. EIA does both traditional advocacy work like many NGOs but it also does a lot of its own investigative and analytical work. The quality of their work should be an example that government agencies in the US consider following rather than the tired, color by numbers work that has been the standard for years, particularly in the homeland security and law enforcement arenas.