Loggers Said to Wipe Out 22 Million Butterflies
March 6, 2001 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Loggers Said to Wipe Out 22 Million Butterflies It appears that 22 million Monarch butterflies were illegally slaughtered through the use of pesticide in two Mexican butterfly sanctuaries so that loggers can have more forest to tear down. This makes me sick... how can people do stuff like this?
posted by fusinski (20 comments total)
posted by Wizzle at 8:11 PM on March 6, 2001

Wizzle, that may possibly be the shortest MeFi post ever.
posted by pnevares at 9:23 PM on March 6, 2001

Because the loggers couldn't care less about butterflies. In many parts of the developing world, conservation-for-itself, such as preserving butterflies, is as fringe a belief as you could possibly imagine, and has any effect in policy only because of the willingness of the industrial powers to punish the third-world offenders (or, where it can be tied to some form of "indigenous" cultural value, in nations where preserving indigenous ways of life and aboriginal socioeconomic structures has some footing.)

On the other hand, environmentalism-as-public-health, and conservation as a means of stewardship of economically-valuable resources (such as fighting against slash-and-burn agriculture or other sources of mass deforestation, or against depletion of fisheries) has a much more powerful and fast-growing constituency in the developing world.
posted by MattD at 9:40 PM on March 6, 2001


"Yo! Mexicans! Never mind that your children are starving and dying of disease because they're sunk in poverty. You can't make jobs for your men by cutting down trees because it offends our tender sensibilities. Never mind that we Americans have already cut down the majority of our trees; it's got to stop and we're going to begin with you. Just slink back to your villages, be proudly unemployed and starve. The butterflies of the world will thank you for it."

Yes, that's a bit extreme. But let's look on both sides of it. Would you let your own child starve just to save 20 million butterflies? I sure wouldn't.

If we want third world nations to preserve their wilderness, we have to make it a value proposition for them or they will quite rightly consider us busy-bodies and politely ask us to mind our own business. If you want to save twenty million butterflies, you better figure out how to make it so that doing so feeds more children than cutting down the forests does, and I mean right now and not in twenty years.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:41 PM on March 6, 2001

Yeah, I understand where you're coming from, but you can't just sit back and say "well we did it when we were industrializing" and accept the fact that people are destroying the world's ecosystem. That's not being proactive, that's contributing to the problem.
posted by fusinski at 9:59 PM on March 6, 2001

And besides, those butterflies are so pretty...
posted by kindall at 10:11 PM on March 6, 2001

I wonder if we'd see the same outrage here if they'd "slaughtered" flies, or even rats. But, of course, they're not pretty, as kindall so correctly pointed out, so I guess that'd be alright then.
posted by frednorman at 10:20 PM on March 6, 2001

To be non-flip for just a moment, the snail darter did pretty well at raising an eco-ruckus despite being a small brown fish.
posted by kindall at 10:28 PM on March 6, 2001

I don't know whether this situation is really as serious as the article makes it seem, since it's based completely on Homero Aridjis' declarations. The man has made "much ado about nothing" before. Near the end of the article, there's a small quote from officials explaining there's no such slaughter of butterflies. The truth must lie somewhere in the middle.

MattD > ... developing world, conservation-for-itself, ... is as fringe a belief as you could possibly imagine, and has any effect in policy only because of the willingness of the industrial powers to punish the third-world offenders.

I'd like to believe that in my country (México) people are as caring for the environment, if not more, than people on any "industrial power". Certainly people there consume a tiny portion of natural resources when compared with the population here in the U.S.

I appreciate Steven's argument, but economic necessity may not be to blame in this case. Economics is a factor for example in the case of the vaquita (Phocoena Sinus), the smallest marine mammal in the world, endemic to a tiny section of the upper gulf of California. There are a couple of remote fishing villages in the area where the vaquita lives, and the population there has no other means of sustaining themselves other than fishing. Sometimes they catch vaquita too, and while there's (maybe) about 400 of them left, well, that's too bad. Fishermen have to live too. There are no easy solutions.

The monarch butterflies and their sanctuaries are very well known in México, people care, and I hope this article is just an exaggeration.
posted by tremendo at 10:45 PM on March 6, 2001

Its pretty hard to compare the environmental destruction of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the USA with what is going on all around the world today. Ecological resources are being plundered at a far rate than was ever possible previously. We can easily enviage the elimination of all significant forest areas within decades.

This destruction is a result of far greater global economic pressures that are being brought to bear on the Third World. The power of national governments and the influence public opinion to apply political pressure is also far lower.

So, while I agree that environmental protection needs to have a value proposition associated with it (as if simple survival wasn't enough...), I wonder whether that proposition needs to be put not so much to the Third World farmers or loggers but to the First World customers who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this plunder.

posted by lagado at 11:51 PM on March 6, 2001

Fusinski, if you want to preserve the world's ecology, then work on world poverty. You are not going to convince impoverished people in impoverished nations to accept their fate and die just because we think forests are more important then people.

The thing to do is figure out a way that the wild places save more lives and provide more jobs and feed more children than lumber and farmland do -- and that's not trivial. But it can be done.

In Panama the government is actively working to save their jungle. The reason is that the Canal uses a lot of water (for locks) for each ship which comes through. All of it comes out of the lake in the center, which is fed by local rivers, which drain the jungles. It's been demonstrated beyond any doubt that cutting down a jungle results in less rain, and if Panama does this, the rivers will stop running, the lake will accumulate less water, and suddenly they won't be able to make as much money from their newly acquired canal.

In Africa many nations have discovered the value of tourism. Rich Europeans and Americans and Japanese will pay a lot of money for safaris into the savanah to see wild animals -- and doing so (if carefully done) doesn't harm the savanah or the animals. Tourism is very valuable; it brings in hard currency and consumes nothing except large amounts of local labor and other renewable resources. It's a nearly perfect solution. So now those nations, and the people in them, have a vested interest in preserving their populations of wild animals, and the environments in which they live.

In Brazil there are a huge number of people living in breath-taking poverty, and for a lot of them the only escape from the ghettos around the major cities is to move into the jungle, hack down the trees, and make farms. So a lot of that's happened, and it's becoming a problem. Researchers have tried to solve this by trying to find economic value in un-hacked jungle, and they're making progress. They're discovering that there are a lot of plants which really can't be cultivated but which thrive in the jungle which could be harvested and sold, as exotic food stuffs but even more importantly for pharmaceuticals. It's still new and a lot needs to be done, but the potential exists to give those same ghetto-escapees jobs roaming the jungles digging up roots and harvesting berries and leaves instead of cutting down trees.

If you simply say something like my caricature above, more or less "We don't care whether your people live or die but harm not one tree nor one butterfly", you aren't going to make any difference. Solve the real problem, poverty, and preservation of wilderness will be easy. Ignore the real problem and the wilderness will disappear.

Start by working on the crippling debt load the third world nations are carrying.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:12 AM on March 7, 2001

Well, regardless of what you say obviously the government of Mexico found some value in preserving this area regardless of their economic situation. Anyone can see that cutting down a jungle might put food on your kids' plates today, but you're effectively ruining their futures in the process.

And by the way, forests ARE more important than people. Without forests, there are no people. Get it?

Also, I don't believe anybody is going to solve the world's economic problems anytime soon, but that doesn't give us the right to sit back and allow it to get destroyed in the mean time. Do you actually realize how much of the world's ecosystem has already been destroyed? I don't see how you can make your argument and truly believe that it's justified. I'm not saying that I'm holier than thou--I mean, because my house is made out of wood just like the next guy's--but to me defending the practice of raping an ecosystem is unfathomable, regardless of how you try to justify it.
posted by fusinski at 12:30 AM on March 7, 2001

Fusinski, get this straight. You aren't going to win that way unless you convince the people who would die that the forests are more important than they are -- and you're not going to do that. Would you still think that a forest was more important than a person if YOU were the person? Would you die right now if doing so would save a jungle? Somehow I don't think so. It's easy to condemn someone to death for a principle if you don't know the person and don't have to watch them die slowly and in great pain. (And being told that "You don't matter; there're plenty more where you came from" isn't going to be much consolation.)

Like it or not, you've got to appeal to everyone's self interest if you're going to succeed. Otherwise you're just tilting at windmills.

And I'm not talking about my argument as being some sort of justification. I'm not a minister or scientist or philosopher or politican, I'm an engineer. What I'm describing is the only way which will actually work. As an engineer I live in the real world and look for pragmatic solutions. I analyze the problem and try to understand all the factors involved, and try to propose a solution which will actually succeed. I consider an ideologically-pure solution which fails to be a failure, and nothing more. I don't like failure.

If I'm someone living in poverty in Brazil and I have a choice between my child dying in the next week from starvation or living twenty years and then dying because of ecological catastrophe, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the 20 years and I'll chop down every tree I can find.

So if you want to save the trees, you better make it so that I don't have to watch my child starve -- or I'll tell you to go to hell and I'll buy a chainsaw.

Get it?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:10 AM on March 7, 2001

>Get it?

No, sorry, we don't get it. I'm impressed you have again managed to avoid addressing the real issue. Eco-tourism and pharmaceuticals are going to save the rainforests? Please.

Anyway, this is not a third world problem, this is a world problem. This devastation is not being caused just by Third World slash and burn agriculturalists depleting their environments or something. This has to do with the way the world works, the current price of agricultural commodities, the scarcity of capital in developing nations and the demonstrable failure of the world economy to help bootstrap Third World out of poverty.

It's about how much the First World is willing to pay for its raw materials. How much it wants to safeguard its own interests and its own advantages.

Who are these loggers again, exactly? The guy who chops down the tree is probably a landless peasant, sure. Sometimes he might be an indigene whose traditional livelihood has disappeared. But the real loggers are the shareholders of the company that employs him. This kind of logger isn't worried about his children dying of dysentery, he lives in a nice house maybe in a totally different country, perhaps Malaysia, the USA or Japan.

Who owns the timber companies? Who owns the food production? The mining companies? Who owns the wealth of the Third World?

Controversial point: With few notable exceptions, the countries that are undeveloped today have always been undeveloped or, in some cases, had their traditional economies destroyed by 19th century imperialism. The countries that are developed today have always been developed or been populated by people from developed economies.

Despite decades of lecturing from preachy economists little has changed. This is the way we like it and it's the way we like to keep it.

posted by lagado at 4:59 AM on March 7, 2001

In the majority of cases, when the trees are cut down they're burned. Most of the logging isn't happening so that the trees can be shipped to the First World, it's happening to clear the land so that people can grow food for local consumption.

And if this is a world problem, then let's spread the pain equally. If people have to die in order to save trees, then let's make sure some of the corpses are in the US, in Europe and in Japan.

Fair's fair.

And if ecotourism and pharmaceuticals and other ways of making forests more valuable than farmland don't save the rainforests, then nothing will.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2001

I want to make something clear: I think deforestation is a major problem. I'm extremely worried about it. I've been worried about it for about 35 years, in fact, given that I grew up in Oregon and witnessed it first hand.

I fully understand why it's a major problem and understand the long term consequences of it. We're all in massive trouble if it goes a lot further.

But I also understand why it's happening, and my point is that the people doing it in the Third World have legitimate and immediate needs that it's satisfying, and you're not going to make it stop unless you deal with those needs some other way.

People need to eat. They want their children to grow up happy, healthy and to a better life. If cutting down trees makes that happen, they're going to do it and no sanctimonious preaching about ecological damage will make them stop, especially when the preaching is coming from someone in a wealthy country which got wealthy by doing exactly the same thing.

"Do as I say, not as I do" has never been an effective message.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:17 AM on March 7, 2001

Steven Den Beste wrote:

The thing to do is figure out a way that the wild places save more lives and provide more jobs and feed more children than lumber and farmland do -- and that's not trivial. But it can be done.

Um... if you increase the capability to feed more children, people will simply have many more children, and you'll run into the same problem all over again - resources stretched to the limit, everything needing to be sacrificed "for the chiiildruuuuuun".

For a real, lasting improvement, you have to help people deal with the overpopulation problem. Sane family planning *increases* the wealth of families, since they don't have so many mouths to feed.

Obviously this is not something you can impose on someone from the outside - cries of eugenics and attempted genocide would be the result. But you can educate people and encourage them and enable them to *make choices for themselves* that allow them to have a number of children that is consistent with a more sustainable use of resources.

Yes, this is still just another *part* of the picture, but it's a vital, crucial part.

Other parts include: better health care, better education, better jobs, more self-sufficiency.

We first-world nations who have undergone the demographic shift have naturally reduced our birth rates, but we may not have time to wait for the third world to take this particular road. We can help them with a shortcut, though, by directly educating them about and helping them with birth control.

This is the only way that "the chiiiildruuuun" will be truly served. Really.
posted by beth at 8:30 AM on March 7, 2001

So it seems like we actually know the answers, it's just a question of which one to use, eh?

Decrease Poverty
Decrease Population
Decrease Material Consumption in First World

Among these, which have not been tried? Which are working? Which not?

How much of a difference do you think would need to be made in a year? In 5 years? In 20 years?

Which strategy would be likely to bring about the changes required?

Do we focus on this strategy exclusively, or take a 70/20/10% approach on all 3?

Are these really all the answers? Is the problem really as big as we think? If at least part of the problem is caused by the point of view of the participants (protect my children, protect my 1st world lifestyle), is it possible the point of view of the problem-solvers is also involved?

Anyway, just curious.
posted by daver at 9:18 AM on March 7, 2001

And if this is a world problem, then let's spread the pain equally. If people have to die in order to save trees, then let's make sure some of the corpses are in the US, in Europe and in Japan.

Fair's fair.


And yes I agree that people in the Third World are behaving in a rationally, I just wanted to put the unequal economic power relation firmly on the table. Another example: what kind of development can be expected of a country which might need to spend up to 50% of it GDP repaying debts to the First World? That sure doesn't leave a lot of room for an education or health budget.

In the majority of cases, when the trees are cut down they're burned. Most of the logging isn't happening so that the trees can be shipped to the First World, it's happening to clear the land so that people can grow food for local consumption.

Actually most of the forests are being burned to clear land for cash crops or meat production for sale on the international market.

And and it's a buyer's market.

Beth, people in the Third World have large families for good reasons. In agricultural societies, children are needed to help with the work, they are a form of insurance and the only form of old age support. To be without children is to be very poorly off indeed.

While family planning is good for improving women's lot by giving them control over how many children they will have (and this is a very good thing), simply limiting the numbers of children is not a solution to poverty.

The more well off people are, the fewer kids they will have but not necessarily the other way around.

posted by lagado at 4:09 AM on March 8, 2001

daver, i don't think anything has been seriously tried.

Only China has managed to limit its own population growth through very draconian means. Most other countries don't have that level of will or control.

Poverty elimination programs are really about building new economies from scratch. There are very few examples of that happening except maybe in East Asia. Then again these economies could never be truly described as underdeveloped. For example, 200 hundred years ago China had the world's largest economy. Most of this development came from an already existing solid economic base and infrastructure.

Limiting the level First World self-interest to seems to me to be the biggest ask of all.

posted by lagado at 4:21 AM on March 8, 2001

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