Monday, September 23, 2013

An unexpected cost of development

China's population is being lifted into middle class, hundreds of millions of them.  And this is a wonderful thing.  It allows longer life, better education, more opportunity and a chance to enjoy rather than just endure (the whole "pursuit of life, liberty and happiness" that we know so well).
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A Baby Pangolin saved from a poacher
But, just like our rise of the great middle class, there are unintended side effects that are only now becoming clear.  Americans wiped out California Condors, Grizzly Bears, Wolves, Florida Panthers, Bison and hundreds of other species of birds, mammals and amphibians.  Some, wolves and bison in particular, have been nurtured back to health. Others haven't bounced back yet or never will.
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China's growth now threatens species as well.  Not just local species, endemic to China like the Yangtze Porpoise, but many that are far afield.  For with money comes access to Chinese Medicines made from endangered animals.  A deadly spiral happens where the more endangered, the greater the bounty and so the more real the threat.
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Since most of these endangered species are located in less developed countries, the immediate return of poaching them outweighs the longer term return in tourism or biodiversity.  It is a tragedy with no simple solution.
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The only real success story ever like this was Japanese trade in Ivory.  In that, the Japanese government mounted a massive public relations campaign to inform people what their artistic luxuries were causing in Africa, the widespread death and possible extinction of African elephants.  On the supply side, Ivory trade was banned and giant stocks of Ivory were burned.
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But China isn't Japan in this regard.  China, it can be argued, has a less open government, and so there isn't a political safety valve.  China wins the populations' respect by increasing their economic position.  And luxuries like Ivory are a big part of that.  Combine that with a reflexive rejection of Western Values, and you have the situation we have now.  Vast tracks of Western and Central Africa have witness an elephant slaughter by heavily armed poachers.  The forest elephants of Western Africa may already be reduced to an unsustainable population.
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Rhinos, which have staged a semi-comeback in South Africa, have once again been killed for their horns - powered and made into many medicines.  Actually, Rhino horns are made of keratin, like horse
Some Rhinos in South Africa have had their horns
cut off to stop poachers.
hoofs and human fingernails.  So just chew your nails.
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Pangolins, one the cutest of animals, are poached for their scales as medicines or served as a status symbol - the stupid rich serve pangolin fetus.  These animals are relatively little known, easy to catch and almost impossible to breed in captivity.
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Even sharks are becoming more endangered due to the popularity of Shark's Fin soup.  In a brutal world, the sharks' fin is cut off, then the shark is left to die slowly at sea.
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You can't blame the Chinese peopel for wanted these long sought goods, anymore than you could have blamed Americans who purchases huge gas guzzling cars a few decades ago.  But we (the international "we", not the US "we") need some way to work with those new consumers to explain the consequences of their new found wealth.

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