By Ryan Pearson
I'm probably going to get a lot of hate for this (if anyone out there is actually reading), but I feel obliged to voice my concerns regardless. We live in an age where somebody out there has an issue with abso-bloody-lutely everything, and they have the means to make their voices heard. This is both a good thing and a bad thing for the planet, and the greater good. So, here's my plea for people to think about the impact their particular cause is having, pull their heads in and start working towards the causes that are likely to have the greatest positive result.
The technological era has brought forth many wonderful outcomes for the human race, and the planet as a whole (see solar power and milo). It has also resulted in many... umm... "hiccups" shall we call them? These are things that have jeopardised the very existence of life itself (see nuclear warfare, anthropogenic induced climate change, reality TV, etc, etc). In between these extremes lays almost everything else. Things that could be argued to have both positive and negative effects depending on who you're talking to. In this piece, I'm going to talk a little bit about a couple of the 'causes' that fall into the 'in between' region, but exactly where they lie is on a bit of a sliding scale and should be considered deeply before taking up a cause and cluttering the airwaves with your point of view.
Why you ask? Because there is simply too much protesting going on these days. There is so much that even someone as outspoken and environmentally minded as myself sees many of them and thinks "Meh! It's too much effort doing anything or even caring about that". Now stop for a moment, and think to yourself that if I, someone who has put in the effort to organise protests and regularly writes environmentally focused blogs can't be bothered... what does the average Joe think of your cause? The answer is not much, but why? Because there are so many causes these days that no single cause is worth spending the time to think about, let alone care about and act upon.
Before I look at specific examples, I need to highlight two side notes:
1. I'm environmentally focused, and I'm more than aware that overpopulation by humans is the single greatest cause of most of the worlds issues. So, I'm going to steer clear of human-centric issues like famine, cancer, etc etc. and focus on non-human animal based problems because while the aforementioned are very bad for the human race, reducing the human population is undoubtedly actually a good thing for the health of the planet.
2. This is probably where the hate begins thanks to both my previous statement, and my next one.
Now, to look at some specific examples. First on the chopping block is the always prominent cause regarding animals in captivity, particularly those trained for entertainment. On face value, this is a worthy cause... right? I mean, these animals have been taken out of their natural environment, placed into small enclosures and forced to do tricks! On top of that... they DIE in there! Well, for those of you who are passionate about this type of cause, I'm here to tell you to... umm... focus your efforts elsewhere (that's a nice way to say it right?). Why you ask?
Here's a number of reasons that I'm sure many advocates recite eagerly. Most of which I know you have heard before and you have (probably very valid) arguments against, but I'll say them anyway.
1. Yes, they die in captivity, but they die in the wild too.
2. They get fed regularly - something that isn't guaranteed in the wild.
3. They get medical attention - something that definitely doesn't happen in the wild.
4. The 'tricks' they perform, may actually be fun for them.
Now that that's out of the way, I'll tell you that whether these points are valid or not... I don't care. Here's the two points that outweigh any other argument you or the advocates make:
1. Compared to some other issues which affect entire populations of creatures, captive animal programs have quite a low impact in regard to raw numbers of animals.
2. Despite some clear negative impacts (which again only affect low numbers of individuals), they to have some positive impacts for the survival of the species. Most notably through awareness. They help the general public witness individuals and therefore actually care about the species involved.
I'd like to take this opportunity to state that I'm more on the positive side of this issue. I can see both positive and negative things coming from captive animal programs, but overall, I think they generally actually have a positive influence for the greater good. Again, it's a blurry issue, which falls smack bang in the middle of the spectrum. It's for this reason that I think we should aim to minimise the uproar (see protests, media coverage, etc etc) on this particular issue and focus on something else that will have a greater positive result.
Another issue that seems to get a lot of attention is in the feeding of wild animals. For this example I'm going to use the example of the whale shark tourism industry in Oslob, Cebu, in the Philippines. Mostly because I have been there, and experienced it, and I have seen some of the whinging that goes on about it. The haters go on about affecting the animals natural behaviours, increasing their reliance on humans, etc etc. Again, these are valid points that shouldn't be taken lightly. But what the haters fail to acknowledge is the alternative... if the locals aren't making money from tourists, they'll resort to making money by other means of exploiting the same animals - most likely by catching the whale sharks, killing them and selling their fins to the shark fin trade. We can't expect the poor communities in third world countries to just let this resource go to waste while they starve to death. So, if we ban the whale shark tourism, they will resort to shark finning whether it is legal or not.
On top of this, again, the tourism aspect is presumably sustainable (especially when compared to shark finning), and raises awareness for the real (bigger) issues. Now, don't get me wrong... sometimes feeding wild animals is a very bad idea. But in this case there are clear benefits from the act... so again, I say to you all 'wild animal feeding haters'... focus your efforts elsewhere.
This brings me to the crux of my argument... we need to unite, reduce the overwhelming number of individual causes, and focus on the big issues that will really make a difference. Our planet is telling us there's something majorly wrong, and biodiversity is one of the keys to its survival. More species help maintain the balance in all things and increase the resilience of the whole system, and acts to reduce changes that could eventually eliminate all life on Earth. So we need to focus our efforts on issues that will protect biodiversity, reduce the impact on whole ecosystems, and ultimately allow this planet to sustain life in the long term... not just help improve the welfare of a couple of individuals.
Issues like shark finning, overfishing, protecting ecosystems (i.e. the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon), deforestation, climate change, and eliminating fossil fuel consumption are some of the real issues, the big issues that are worth fighting for. These are the issues that we should be talking about and fighting for on a daily basis. These are the causes that should get the majority of the air time, and allow people to find out the facts and really care enough to act upon them. These are the issues that will have the greatest positive result. So my call to you is to think about your personal cause, and if it's not one of the big issues (see above - yes, there are a few more but they need to be on the same sort of scale)... divert your focus, rethink your need to grab media attention, or if it's really trivial, just plain suck it up and shut up about it.