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There’s a Role for Conservatives in Conservation

“Conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root, and it’s not generally the liberals who dedicate themselves to preserving that which is worthwhile in the world.

by
Jeffrey H. Anderson

Bio

November 25, 2010 - 12:13 am

It may be tempting to lump this week’s “tiger summit” in St. Petersburg, Russia, in one’s mind with a global-warming convention or an Al Gore movie premiere. But the “tiger summit,” despite its slightly silly name, deserves better. The summit serves to highlight some deeply disturbing facts that will require dedicated action to reverse.

According to the AP, the “World Wildlife Fund and other experts say only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, a dramatic plunge from an estimated 100,000 a century ago.” According to wildlife experts, “tigers could become extinct in 12 years if countries where they still roam fail to take quick action to protect their habitats and step up the fight against poaching.”

To attempt to undertake such action, the tiger summit is seeking to raise $350 million to implement the first five years of the Global Tiger Recovery Program’s 12-year plan to try to double the tiger population in the wild.

Okay, I know what some of you are thinking, but issues of conservation should not be the exclusive domain of the political left.  “Conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root, and, whatever their high-minded ideals, it’s not generally the liberals who dedicate themselves to preserving, protecting, and nurturing that which is worthwhile in the world. Moreover, there is no bigger, more legitimate issue of conservation than the pending extinction — at least in the wild — of many of the earth’s greatest animals.

In a recent op-ed titled “The Earth Doesn’t Care” (subtitled “About what is done to or for it”), George Will summarizes the views of Robert B. Laughlin, co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics. Characterizing Laughlin’s arguments, Will writes:  “What humans do to, and ostensibly for, the earth does not matter in the long run, and the long run is what matters to the earth.  We must … think about the earth’s past in terms of geologic time.”

The upshot of Will’s piece is that the earth is remarkably durable; that it often endures natural changes of far greater significance than any effects caused by the automobile or the air conditioner. Will writes, “Damaging this old earth is, Laughlin says, ‘easier to imagine than it is to accomplish.’ There have been mass volcanic explosions, meteor impacts, ‘and all manner of other abuses greater than anything people could inflict, and it’s still here. It’s a survivor.’”

But there is one exception: “Laughlin believes that humans can ‘do damage persisting for geologic time’ by ‘biodiversity loss’ — extinctions that are, unlike carbon dioxide excesses, permanent. The earth did not reverse the extinction of the dinosaurs.”

With that in mind, we ought to talk a lot less about the “need” to reverse global warming or to stop sensible oil-drilling in the vast open expanses of Alaska, and a lot more about a key way in which our actions — or our collective inaction — truly can change the natural world for the worse.

Tigers currently roam freely in 13 countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. But each of these countries, on average, has only about 250 tigers (though the exact number varies from place to place). Tigers’ habitat, in the AP’s words, is being destroyed “by forest cutting and construction, and” — rather disturbingly and perversely — because “they are a valuable trophy for poachers who want their skins and body parts prized in Chinese traditional medicine.”

The Global Tiger Recovery Program aims, the AP reports, “to protect tiger habitats, eradicate poaching, smuggling, and illegal trade of tigers and their parts, and also create incentives for local communities to engage them in helping protect the big cats.”

So the plan to save the tiger will move forward on several fronts. The AP reports that “[the head of the World Wildlife Fund, James] Leape said that along with … [taking] stronger action against poaching, it’s necessary to set up specialized reserves for tigers and restore and conserve forests outside them to let tigers expand.” Leape adds, “And you have to find a way to make it work for the local communities so that they would be partners in [tiger] conservation and benefit from them.”

All of this, of course, will require money. And the $350 million that the tiger summit hopes to raise is a lot of money. But it’s less than a day’s worth of ObamaCare — literally. (Once up and running — if not repealed — ObamaCare would cost more than $500 million a day.) Even without the compulsion of the taxman, $350 million seems an attainable goal. That’s only about $1 for every American, never mind contributions from the rest of the world.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who attended the tiger summit, made news this week by donating $1 million to the World Wildlife Fund to help conserve tigers’ habitats. Again, this might prompt mocking in some quarters, as actors and actresses are easy to lampoon — and often justly. But why not think of it instead as a wonderful example of a private citizen (and a tremendous actor, to boot) exercising his natural right to control his own property and to use it in the service of good. There are a lot of other things that DiCaprio could have done with that million dollars, but I, for one, am glad he chose this.

His motivation? DiCaprio says it well: “If we don’t take action now, one of the most iconic animals on our planet could be gone in just a few decades.”

The powerful tiger has to be on — and may well head — the short list of the most gorgeous and splendid animals in all of creation. And yet many of the greatest of animals, the tiger and the great apes chief among them, are in very serious jeopardy of essentially disappearing from the wild. The AP reports that tiger populations have declined by over 40 percent in the past decade alone, and three of the nine tiger subspecies (the Bali, Javan, and Caspian) have all become extinct — and not just in the wild — since around the start of World War II.

One might be motivated by the biblical teaching that the creation of the animals was “good” and by our attendant responsibility to exercise “dominion” over them in a way that isn’t tyrannical but is just, or by the notion that a world in which a tiger can only be found in a zoo is an impoverished and imbalanced place. Or perhaps one’s motivation is simply a general sense of duty to protect incarnations of greatness, grandeur, and beauty in our world.

Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to take action. I encourage you to do so. The tiger is well worth saving.

Jeffrey H. Anderson, an independent writer, was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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