Every day on Twitter I see gruesome facts and photographs about the murder of elephants. A headline in Huffington Post refers to an unread article that elephants, highly intelligent and sensitive and emotional animals, will be extinct by 2020. The murder of elephants fills me with grief and anger. It makes me think: “Bomb the f***ing Chinese, because it’s their fault.”
I think: “What is it about the Chinese that means that they don’t care a damn about the imminent extinction – an irreversible destruction by greed and ignorance – of something incredible and beautiful and noble and peaceful as an elephant – undeserving of its willful annihilation?”
These initial, intuitive, “system 1” thoughts are racist, unworthy and unconstructive. They are quickly overtaken by “system 2” reflections that it is not all Chinese (if it was, Africa would be 100% desert already), and there must be a some reason why they and other Asians want to buy elephant tusks, rhino horn and the skin, horn, fur, penises and other body parts of all manner of species on the brink of extinction.
There is a strange thing. When you see news about elephants and rhinos it is 90% about the African guys at the tough end of the supply chain, poachers, the wicked things they do, the declining numbers of animals, the noble rangers and their difficult job.
This focus is understandable: to the extent that there are so few rhinos left, it is imperative to focus on protecting them. But we have to address this problem at both ends. While pioneering work is done by Wild Aid (http://www.wildaid.org/), for example, it attracts far less attention than the war on poaching. We have to stem demand as much as we have to stem supply. Just as in the case of the drugs war which has left 40,000 Mexicans dead, you have to tackle tough problems at both ends. Helicopters and assault rifles are high on testosterone but very low on effectiveness.
This is indeed why we have to bomb the Chinese. We have to carpet bomb them with education and enlightenment. We have to bombard them with propaganda (in a positive sense) about the inconceivable grief and evil caused by their demand for these products. We have to create an explosion of urgency to find safe alternatives that meet their needs. We need to nuke them with care for the natural world.
As long as the fight against poaching focuses on the poacher, we are wasting our time. Even interrupting supply chains and burning piles of seized ivory is a waste of time. We have to hit the problem at its heart: the association of these products with status and virility, the morass of myth and ignorance among consumers of phony medicines.
If a few rich guys could put together a massive program of marketing, education and propaganda in Asia – say a billion dollars worth – it might just be enough to save the elephant. Shooting the poachers won’t.