Category: Environment/Energy (page 2 of 2)

Legalizing the Rhino Horn Trade: A Terrible Idea? Pt. 1

Two weeks ago, I came cross a provocative piece  (paywall, free version here) Foreign Affairs published earlier this year by Alexander Kasterine from the UN/WTO International Trade Center on legalizing the trade in wildlife, namely for rhino horn, but conceivably for other species that are currently illegal to trade under the Convention on the International Trades in Endangered Species (CITES). Indeed, South Africa, host to the 2016 CITES meeting and home of the majority of the world’s remaining rhinos, is angling to legalize the trade in rhino horn in the face of an unprecedented onslaught of poaching that the current is facing. Is legalization of the trade in these species a good idea? In the first of several posts, I’m going to begin to analyze this question. My initial take on this question is that legalizing the trade is not a good idea, but I’m using these posts to try to work through the arguments for and against the idea, beginning with rhinos but then I’ll assess some other species.

Kasterine’s main argument is that the ban is failing Africa’s wildlife:

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After Tenure

While the lead up to tenure is often terrifyingly stressful, even attaining that goal is a bit daunting as it raises the question, “Now what?” I suppose on some level one can then set one’s sights on the next thing, Full Professor, but that obviously doesn’t have the same significance in terms of career and life trajectory that tenure does. Getting tenure raises all sorts of questions about what you want to be when you grow up, if a life in the academy makes you happy, or if the kind of life you are leading in the academy is what you want to be doing.

When I first started graduate school, I had no intention of going in to academia, though it is the family business. No, as I told my designated mentor on the first day of graduate school, the veteran comparativist Sam Barnes, “I want to run for Congress and if that doesn’t work out, I will teach.” Pretty clueless. As Dan Drezner has pointed out, the gravitational pull of universities is strong for those pursuing a PhD, and I succumbekd to the temptation to go into academia with the continuation of the same kinds of incentive structures I was familiar with from before, get publications out replaced get good grades. Aim for a top 3 journal! Try to get the citation count up! I had the nagging suspicion that there is more to life than that and more out of this episode experience that I had to have if I wanted to stick with it.

I made the decision upon getting tenure that I wanted to teach and work on issues that I cared about. While that was always true before,  I had less flexibility in terms of teaching choices. I was a price-taker: we need you to teach a writing class so here you go. After tenure, I made the choice that I wanted to teach a mix of classes, one that obviously the school needed and others that I needed. I was an environmental activist and development campaigner twenty years ago in college (and indeed knowledge of that space greatly informs my scholarly interests in social movements). I often ask myself, would my 20-something self be proud of the person I have become? Sometimes, in the slog for tenure, publications, and provincial university politics, you can lose track of what is important.

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Iconic Wildlife Species Threatened With Extinction

I’ve been MIA of late on the blog, mostly a function of end-of-term obligations. I’ve led a year-long graduate course on global wildlife conservation (course blog here). If you haven’t followed the news of late, iconic wildlife species like rhinos and elephants are threatened with extinction, mostly because rising incomes in China and Vietnam in particular are allowing more people to satisfy their desires for wildlife products.

Since the late 2000s, there has been a surge in demand for wildlife products. For example, poaching of rhinos, most of which survive in South Africa, have increased from negligible levels in 2007 to in excess of 1000 animals slaughtered per year. Much of the demand comes from Vietnam where ground rhino horn is erroneously thought to be a cure for a cancer, a hangover cure, and other maladies.

We recently presented our findings in Washington, DC before different audiences, and in the coming posts, I’ll be highlighting the key findings from six different areas – consumer demand, security, multilateral approaches, sport hunting, ecotourism, and public-private partnerships. I invite you to watch a video of our findings below or to review a powerpoint of the key issues here.

The planet is set to experience an extraordinarily tragic loss of species. This is inherently a political problem – weak range states in Africa, strong states in Asia with populations that lack an ethos of care for wildlife, and Western states with vibrant conservation communities but where other issues take center stage. I encourage bright minds in the Duck audience to bring their talents to bear on this issue. Can incentives be aligned? Can global, bilateral, and minilateral processes change outcomes in range and demand states? Can publics in Asia be persuaded to change their behavior? Time is running out.

Road to nowhere?

Roads. Who can be against them, right? They allow us to get from A-to-B. And as anyone who has been to a place where there were no roads can attest, their absence is a real impediment to the modern political economy. The construction of roads is thus a central feature of the international development agenda. The World Bank publishes analysis of road investment by developing countries. The World Trade Organization claims ~30% of all overseas development aid ($25-$30 billion) is spent on trade related development—central to which is road construction and maintenance. Continue reading

What Would Nature Say About Ecological Warfare?


I thought of this incredible eco-ad campaign, NatureisSpeaking.org, when I read Bronwyn Leebaw’s fascinating article “Scorched Earth: Environmental War Crimes and International Justice” in Perspectives on Politics.  This is a much-overdue analysis of the place of the earth and environmental damage in the laws of armed conflict – two issues areas rarely studied by political scientists.

Leebaw examines representations of the natural environment in laws of war as they have evolved in four stages:

  • under Grotius, a conception of Nature as Property, with protections articulated in the same way that men were once protected from the rape of “their women”  during wars
  • under early efforts to ban chemical weapons, the notion of Nature as Combatant, with chemical weapons’ development and prohibition internationally relying both on a notion that the weapons were too “inhumane” to use on humans in battle yet perfectly appropriate to use against insects domestically – insects being framed as ‘the enemy’ and later themselves conscripted into military service.
  • under the environmental movement of the 60s, the notion of Nature as Pandora’s Box, an untameable force preparing to unleash ecological consequences humans can’t predict or absorb – a yet-anthropocentric discourse which viewed natural disaster in consequentialist terms
  • Nature as Victim, a view more associated with the resurgent notion of “ecocide” as an international judicial claim – a perspective invented by Richard Falk in the 70s but ill-reflected in treaty law on environmental war crimes and revitalized in the post-Rome Statute era of international criminal law.

Reading this, and enjoying the many theoretical directions Leebaw maps out for scholars rethinking boundaries between national, global, human and planetary security, I was brought back to the NatureisSpeaking.org movement and the distinctively gaialogical way I Am the Ocean frames the planet – as fundamentally indifferent to the human race. Continue reading

World Wildlife Day is Today: A Poaching Crisis Threatens Iconic Wildlife with Extinction

Today is World Wildlife Day, and species we think of as part of the fundamental awesome creatures of the natural world – elephants, rhinos, and sharks – face unprecedented risks of extinction, particularly as a result of rising demand from Asia and China in particular.  I’m currently teaching a year-long class on Global Wildlife Conservation for which my students have been writing some excellent posts on the poaching crisis and what can be done. If you are not familiar with this problem, this brief post provides a bit of background.

Over the past couple of years, news of the global poaching crisis of iconic species like elephants and rhinos has spread. Elephant tusks are prized for ivory for carvings and trinkets, with increased purchasing power and greater China-Africa commerce and ties leading to surges in demand. Countries in Central Africa have experienced steep declines in elephant populations due to poaching, losing by one estimate 64% of their elephants in the past decade.  Late last year, this culminated in news of involvement by China’s  presidential delegation in ivory smuggling in diplomatic bags out of Tanzania in 2013.  This week, China announced a one-year ban on imported ivory, which is welcome news, but this is a critical time for the global community to put pressure on the Chinese government to rein in domestic demand forever. Even as China announced this positive move, elsewhere aging Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe celebrated his 94th birthday by treating his guests to baby elephant.  Continue reading

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