News Roundup

  • Some seventy years ago Orwell mused, “Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.”  Indeed!  Four south African nations gear up for only the second ivory auction since the worldwide criminalization of the ivory trade in 1989, according to the BBC.  They hope to raise tens of millions for elephant conservation efforts.  NGOs are fretting the sale’s an incentive to poachers, while TRAFFIC attempts to sooth them with line graphs.  Just a week ago, eBay caved to pressure to drive ivory traffickers out of its virtual vendue; 39,000 frantic sellers have nine weeks to unload their wares.  Did someone say stocking stuffers?
  • Searchers are giving up hope of every finding those missing killer whales.  “The population drop is worse than the stock market,” proclaims the Center for Whale Research’s Ken Balcomb, tagging into this bizarre fight eco-doomsayers have picked with the Dow Jones.  But in all seriousness, the remaining number of “southern resident” orcas only just outnumbers the years since Black Friday.
  • Bright side: The youth of Rotterdam have got Looten Plunder on the run with their (Dance! Dance!) Revolution! Read about here, or better yet head right to Club Watt’s almost erotic promotional video.  (But big party foul with this head-scratching headline.  What was it Aldo Leopold said about growing accustomed to thinking breakfast comes from the market and heat from the furnace?  Apparently, CNN is hoping electricity comes from Eurotrash.)
Posted by Brian on October 29th, 2008 • • 4 comments
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4 Responses to 'News Roundup'

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  1. Cole said, on October 29th, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Good post with some interesting links, although I guess the wit underlying your “bizarre fight eco-doomsayers have picked with the Dow Jones” is lost on me. Isn’t society’s Dow obsession (=unbridled lust for growth/consumption) a key driver of our environmental problems? And shouldn’t environmentalists use the recent focus on economic problems as an opportunity to promote a more sustainable economy (as in the linked BBC article)? Or am I just a raving “conservation biologist”??

  2. Brian said, on October 29th, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    What I find amusing (though I didn’t make it clear) is that these folks have elected to get into a competition with stock-watchers over who can be more fatalist: a my systems breaking apart faster than your system. It’s a rhetorical skirmish stupidly unconcerned with just the relationship you are calling attention to.

    That market structures, consumptions levels, and such have dramatic effects on biodiversity and ecological systems is undeniable. So is the former’s ultimate (and often immediate) dependence on the latter. I’m not sure the BBC article was particularly interested is showing the causal arrow pointing in either direction. It was more trained on those who have quit peddling the intrinsic value of nature and are now testing out a price-tag approach.

    While certainly worth trying, pricing nature isn’t in itself a plan of action, and I was disappointed to see the article tacitly endorsing voluntary conservation efforts by corporations without even mentioning the idea of regulating companies to require them to account (literally) for what currently they can dismiss as externalities–that is, their effects on biota, soils, climate, and human bodies.

  3. Cole said, on October 30th, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Hmmm, I guess I see such articles quite differently. While I agree that pricing nature is tricky business, and that regulating markets is central to “getting the price right” (ie. internalizing the negative externalities), a necessary prerequisite to achieving economic/environmental sustainability is building awareness among the public and policy makers. So such articles in BBC are indeed helpful.

    For instance, this one helps spread the word for “conservationists [who] see [valuing nature] as a new way of persuading policymakers to fund nature protection rather than allowing the decline in ecosystems and species.” It also helps educate people on these connections between the state of our finances and of our environment. As an example:
    “… as forests decline, nature stops providing services which it used to provide essentially for free. So the human economy either has to provide them instead, perhaps through building reservoirs, building facilities to sequester carbon dioxide, or farming foods that were once naturally available. Or we have to do without them; either way, there is a financial cost.”
    Worthy of debate and discussion yes, but from my perpsective it hardly represents a “stupidly unconcerned rhetorical skirmish”.

  4. Brian said, on October 30th, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for keeping the discussion going! I’ve done a poor job revealing how much we agree. I am excited about the approach the BBC article describes and that the BBC is reporting on it. I, with you, am hopeful it’s a step in the direction of meaningful and sustained regulation–and was disappointed that word show up. What seems less useful is the rhetoric of the article’s title and Ken Balcomb’s remark about the orcas. A pissing contest between environmental degradation and market collapse just seems silly when what is needed is broad publicizing of the relationship between the two. The quotation you include about the financial cost of losing natural services is the one place where that connection is forged; I’m just sorry it was put in the future tense.

    Perhaps the most useful history we should be exploring as we try this approac of pricing nature is Progressive era conservation. The case for national forests was chiefly articulated in economic terms, not only regarding the capital locked up in the lumber but the services that forest provide in keeping valuable topsoil where it is and out of the rivers used as transportation corridors (for timber especially) and later for irrigation reservoirs and hydropower.