It's the Environment, Stupid.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

We killed the baiji

There are some that say species extinction is a natural process, an evolutionary fate that some creatures can not escape. The baiji dolphin may be the latest casualty in this 'process'. But according to Dr. Robert L. Pitman in a New York Times commentary article, the dolphin is an indication that our ecosystems are failing.

Dr. Pitman studies marine mammals and recently returned from an expedition to the Yangtze River to find the baiji.
"The whole river ecosystem is going down the tubes in the name of rampant economic development. There is a huge environmental debt accruing on the Yangtze, and baiji was perhaps just the first installment.

Globally, scientists have been warning for some time of an impending anthropogenic mass extinction worldwide. Previous bouts of human-caused extinctions were due mainly to directed take: humans hunting for food. What we are seeing now is probably the first large animal that has ever gone extinct merely as an indirect consequence of human activity: a victim of market forces and our collective lifestyle.

Nobody eats baiji and no tourists pay to see it — there were no reasons to take it deliberately, but there was no economic reason to save it, either. It is gone because too many people got too efficient at catching fish in the river and it was incidental bycatch. And it is perhaps a view of the future for much of the rest of the world and an indication that the predicted mass extinction is arriving on schedule

I'm not sure that anyone besides ecologists, biologists and other enviro-minded folk are clued into how important animals and plants and ecosystems are to our survival. The modern environmental movement has shifted away from the conservationist mindset to a responsible-consumerist framework, and I'm not sure that alone will be enough to save habitats on the brink of destruction. In the quest for global economic equity (poverty reduction) and the elusive emission reduction goals, there really must be more of a consideration and effort on an international level for preservation and restoration, because we're not only destroying the ability for animals to live, but we are also compromising our own health and safety.


  • I'd hate to think that this poor blind albino dolphin died off because it wasn't cute enough for "eco-tourists" to spend their money to see. It's a bad precedent to set because once the tourist dollars dry up and there's no infrastructure to help these animals they drop off the radar and then off the planet.

    By Blogger Whirling Productions, at 15:33  

  • Hi Amy,

    This is an ominous sign. I've read some very troubling estimates of the rate of species loss right now. One well informed estimate has it at a loss of about 27 species per day (based on 1,000 species per million lost per year, and a conservative estimate of 10 million species) I believe that's a thousand times the normal rate.

    And a lot of this also has to do with vast amounts of land being converted to agriculture in developing countries as a result of population growth.

    We're really facing a global ecological crisis.

    By Blogger John Feeney, at 01:49  

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