Category: Environment/Energy (page 2 of 2)

PETA’s Shock Tactics: Irresponsible Advocacy or Strategy and Positioning?-Part 2

[As two fellow NGO researchers, Wendy and Maryam are going to collaborate on some posts to provide contrasting views on hot-button issues related to NGOs. Think of us as the Siskel and Ebert of NGOs – we definitely agree on certain things, but clearly not on others (and don’t ask who’s who). Our points of view will not always reflect what we personally think of an issue–we need drama and suspense!–but we will always provide food for thought.]


By now everyone is well aware of the recent tragic killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Josh shared a post about this incident here on the Duck, as have countless others. One opinion from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), no stranger to controversial statement, has caught plenty of attention:

“If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.”

Needless to say, calling for Palmer to be hanged has generated a public outcry of its own.  We weigh in here.

 

 Irresponsible Advocacy

PETA is a firebrand, their statement is not out of character for the type of militant activism they exercise and their other campaigns and advertisements have been shocking as well. As Wendy argues, being a provocateur is part of their brand, they raise awareness by making noise. They completely own their shock tactics as a deliberate organizational strategy:

“We will do extraordinary things to get the word out about animal cruelty because we have learned from experience that the media, sadly, do not consider the terrible facts about animal suffering alone interesting enough to cover. It is sometimes necessary to shake people up in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and, of course, action.”

As advocates, NGOs like PETA do not need to be fair, impartial or neutral; they advocate for a position or course of action that reflects or advances the interests of their members. They do, however, need to be responsible. Continue reading

A Storify post on Cecil the Lion

People who follow this blog know that I’m not jumping on the wildlife conservation bandwagon. I taught a course on global wildlife conservation and have blogged about it repeatedly here on the Duck.

So, here are my thoughts on Cecil the Lion, the lion killed by an American hunter in Zimbabwe, where I wade in to advocacy, sport hunting, the value of animal life compared to human life, why we have an emotional reaction to iconic wildlife but not animals we eat, Internet vigilantism, and more. These include a series of tweets and exchanges I had with others over the past several days. My main concern is that I hope some good can come from this in terms of wildlife conservation. Continue reading

4 Things the US Can Do to Reinforce China’s Actions on Climate Change

Sarang Shidore and I have a new paper for the Paulson Institute on what the US can do to encourage China to do more on climate change (in English and Mandarin).  China recently reaffirmed its pledge to peak emissions around 2030 and to increase non-fossil energy to 20% by the same year. China also announced a new target to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP (its carbon intensity) by 60 to 65 percent below 2005 levels. How can the US ensure that China sustains and even accelerates progress in this direction?

Our starting premise is that air pollution is a more salient issue in China than climate change and that the country is likely to take more heroic and costly measures to reduce the threat of air pollution for Chinese citizens than they are to contribute to the global public good of climate change mitigation. From this perspective, much of the discussion of using climate change to produce co-benefits for air pollution is misplaced. We need to ensure that air pollution policies create co-benefits for the climate. As we note, some actions, reducing the use of coal, will be beneficial for both air pollution and climate goals. Other policies, such as producing synthetic gas from coal or relocating coal plants to the interior, might produce benefits for air pollution but make the climate problem worse.

The US has limited leverage over this domestic dynamic in China, but we identify 4 strategies the US can engage in to make it more likely that China will choose policies that produce co-benefits for climate change. These include: 1) the US keeping its own climate commitments (2) fostering transparency through research partnerships (3) pursuing complementary processes to the UNFCCC and (4) considering border tax adjustments.  Let me say a bit more about each one of these ideas. Continue reading

Additional Arguments Against Legalizing the Trade in Rhino Horn Pt. 3

In my last two posts (here, here), I wrote about a recent Foreign Affairs piece that proposed lifting the ban on trading rhino horn and the political and substantive reasons why such an idea is problematic.

Are there reasons to think that a one-off sale or even a permanent normalization of the trade might go well? While Save the Rhino is against one-off sales, it is a little more equivocal on a semi-permanent regulation of the trade (though I doubt this is where other NGOs are):

Save the Rhino International is generally in favour of sustainable use, believing that conservation efforts must, as far as possible, be income-generating in order to avoid over-reliance on international donor support (and any undue strings attached to funding support by those donors). In reality, we recognise that some rhino conservation field programmes have very few options for income generation (unlike, for example, government wildlife departments that derive income from National Park fees), so we accept that there will continue to be a need for donor funding in many cases. However, we have not yet reached a position on the debate over a (semi) permanent legalisation of the trade in rhino horn.

On the demand side, South Africa (if it is to propose a legal trade at the next CITES CoP in 2016) still needs to establish a credible trading partner. Neither Vietnam nor China nor any other country has yet come forward. Being a credible trading partner will entail a much higher level of law enforcement and political will to combat the illegal trade in rhino horn than has been evidenced so far. Who knows how rising affluence in other Asian countries will affect the demand for rhino horn? And who knows how many more Vietnamese or Chinese will want to buy rhino horn once the stigma of buying illegal products is removed.

Will either regulated trade or a one-off sale of rhino horn incentivize demand?

Continue reading

Arguments Against Legalizing the Rhino Horn Trade Pt. 2

In my last post, I reacted to a Foreign Affairs piece that suggested lifting the ban on rhino horn, as South Africa has toyed with in the lead up to the 2016 CITES meeting it will host. Whether or not this would be a one-off sale like the one for ivory in 2008 or more of a permanent lifting of the trade ban is uncertain. A committee in South Africa is currently reviewing evidence and accepting testimony on the topic. Though South Africa is home to nearly 3/4  of the world’s remaining rhinos, lifting the ban in some capacity  would require 2/3 of the voting members at CITES’ approval. In this post, I review some of the main arguments advocates have mustered to oppose legalization of the trade, with which I largely concur.

I admit that the current situation is untenable, but I’m not convinced that the legalization argument is politically or substantively wise.

What is the political argument against lifting the ban?

It’s not going to  happen. Getting 2/3 of the countries in the world to approve lifting the ban in 2016 is a heavy lift. Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation makes a pretty strong case that this legalization discussion is a non-starter and counter-productive:

“Let’s say SA does put through its proposal, and that it has a central selling organisation as part of its proposal with lots of safeguards built in. Perhaps there’s even some designated trading partners. That has to be approved by 66 percent or more of the attending parties to COP17. In total, there are 180 parties to Cites. But let’s say 160 parties turn up at the meeting.

“That means SA will have to get 107 votes for that to fly. At the moment, my understanding is the EU is against trade. That’s 28 votes. I don’t think the US is going to take it. Australia is going to say no. Kenya too. There’s a whole raft of countries against. We only have to tip up to 55 votes against, and the blocking minority prevents it.

“You know what I’d say to SA? ‘Don’t bother. Don’t do it.’ It’s hugely embarrassing to go to the conference and get 30 votes on the table. It’s happened in the past where people walk out sweating and feeling ill. And you’re the host country.

What are the substantive arguments against lifting the ban? Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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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