Who knew global warming was so useful
March 25, 2008 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Global warming - good for elephants? The melting of the tundra means that more wooly mammoth remains are surfacing. And this means more mammoth ivory for carvings and other purposes. The linked article says conservationists are happy with this development, as it means ivory for the Asian market coming from extinct species rather than species that are nearly extinct. But is this really the answer?
posted by Megami (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
hopefully: "Global warming - good for mammoth cloning?"
posted by Auden at 4:58 PM on March 25, 2008

But will the mammoth penis help save tigers?
posted by binturong at 5:01 PM on March 25, 2008

I guess that should be the sabre-tooth penis.
posted by binturong at 5:04 PM on March 25, 2008

Another "wow, global warming may not be too bad after all" story.

When deltas are flooded, farms are dustbowls, rivers are dead, millions on the move.... we'll be heartened that ivory may or may not be sourced from elephants anymore.

disaster averted
posted by mattoxic at 5:07 PM on March 25, 2008

it means ivory for the Asian market coming from extinct species rather than species that are nearly extinct. But is this really the answer?

If that's a real possibility, then no. They'll just be creating a market for ivory, and people will supply that market in whatever way possible. Even if not a single elephant dies for the next however many years because of people getting ivory from dead mammoths, all you'll have when the mammoths are gone (and unlike living elephants, the mammoth supply is definitely finite) is a bunch of people who have gotten used to having ivory around and still want some.

The answer is really for people not to want ivory, but good luck with that.
posted by LionIndex at 5:10 PM on March 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

LionIndex, that was what I was thinking too. Much the same as when countries sell off poached ivory that they have recovered from criminals - how is that the answer to stopping the trade in ivory?

ps: thanks for everyone being so nice (so far) on my first link.
posted by Megami at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2008

and unlike living elephants, the mammoth supply is definitely finite...

That's just libural ivory-tower thinking. The Market will ensure that our methods of extracting mammoth ivory will become increasingly efficient until there is enough ivory for everyone, forever.
posted by Avenger at 5:17 PM on March 25, 2008 [8 favorites]

You know what? You're right, it's obvious that getting 'free' ivory is not worth the problem. Let's just reverse this 'global warming' thing and forget that it ever happened.
posted by Memo at 5:33 PM on March 25, 2008

Someone please explain to me this fascination with ivory?
Is it because it is rare? Taboo? Easily workable? Cheaper than gold? All of the above?
Have I answered my own question?
posted by Dizzy at 5:37 PM on March 25, 2008

Surely a market with lots of mammoth supplied Ivory is less likely to hurt Stampy than a market who's ivory supplies are low?
posted by Navelgazer at 5:43 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well Dizzy, the day that we figure out how to mass produce ivory in a vat will its use as a decoration increase or drop to nothing? If the amount that we use increases (think aluminum) then ivory is probably being used because of intrinsic merits.

If its use drops down to nothing then it's probably only being used because it's rare.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 5:44 PM on March 25, 2008

Excellent point, O-Pamp-- but please tell me what the intrinsic merits ARE?
posted by Dizzy at 5:46 PM on March 25, 2008

As a kid I wasn't convinced the market for elephant ivory was a bad thing until I learned that poachers chainsaw the faces off of still-breathing elephants to "harvest" ivory. There's a photo up on National Geographic's site, but I warn you it's the very definition of "graphic:" Deadly Trade. Just one image said so much to me.
posted by sdodd at 5:49 PM on March 25, 2008

This is fascinating, if only because I'm stunned that there are (apparently) so many mammoth remains out there.
posted by uosuaq at 6:11 PM on March 25, 2008

Wouldn't this just drive down the price of ivory, resulting in the killing of more elephants just to make the same amount of money?
posted by delmoi at 6:25 PM on March 25, 2008

I'm just glad to hear that ozone, CFCs, and ivory can live together in perfect harmony.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:27 PM on March 25, 2008

In some products, you can accept no substitute for ivory. So, mammoth ivory is a welcome source.
posted by paulsc at 7:00 PM on March 25, 2008

In other (related) news, another Antarctic shelf collapses. How do we spin that? Cheaper ice cubes?
posted by dawiz at 7:12 PM on March 25, 2008

Dizzy, ivory is one of those natural products, like wood, in which simulation is ubiquitous (think wood veneer on everydamnthing) but the tactile effect is lost. To those to whom it matters, a plastic pick (or gun grip, or netsuke) will never have the feel of an ivory original.

It should be noted that objects in which feel isn't important - pool balls, for instance - or which can have a close substitute for momentary touches (piano keys), ivory should never be used. And ivory from elephants is appalling. There are decent alternatives: fossil ivory is one, tagua nuts (for smaller objects) another.

Good post, BTW.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:13 PM on March 25, 2008

Bring Back the Elephants!
posted by homunculus at 7:52 PM on March 25, 2008

My parents have an antique piano with ivory keys, and I've got to say that tactically it's a very pleasing texture to me. Not worth the life of an elephant or a wooly mammoth corpse raid, of course, but if there were ever an ethical vat-grown substitute that felt like the real stuff I would be interested.
posted by Benjy at 10:04 PM on March 25, 2008

Never mind ivory, what about oil? This early harvesting of Mammoth will surely deplete future oil deposits. Another bad result of global warming.

Me personally I can't wait for the first cloned mammoth. Hella cool!
posted by Gungho at 9:10 AM on March 26, 2008

As a knifemaker, I occasionally work in mammoth ivory. Why? because it's frickin' beautiful, the mineralization gives effects I've not seen elswhere -- greens, blues, reds, yellows, all in the same 1" x 3" x .25" piece. It's hard, durable, and while expensive, it also commands a higher price when sold. And pretty -- oh so very pretty.

I do not personally see this doing anything to the illegal ivory market other than providing a legitamite, legal source of a much valued material, driving out the illegal trade. While eventually this source will run out, at the present time, as mentioned in the article, more is lost to natural forces than is recovered.

There are substitutes -- the aforementioned tauga (nut ivory), as well as assorted plastics, laminated cloth (aka ivory micarta), and wood (pink ivory), but none of them quite match up to mamoth ivory in terms of beauty, durability, and feel.

If I felt that mammoth ivory was in some way making it more likely for modern elephants to be poached, I would immediately stop using this material -- but I just don't see it. Anytime a knifemaker shows up with "real" ivory on a knife at a show or conference, they are usually interrogated about origin, documentation, and so on by the other makers just to make sure they're on the level.

I actually have a matched set of mammoth ivory knife handle scales that I won in a raffle that IMHO is too white and looks too much like elephant ivory to use in a piece -- the mineralization only occurs on the back of one slab. Not sure what I'm going to do with that, honestly. Maybe donate it to another auction. :)
posted by Blackanvil at 11:04 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Blackanvil, do have any pictures of your mammoth ivory knives you could link to?

You should make three with a "MetaFilter" inscription on them and give them to cortex, Jess and Matt. Then nobody would dare argue with them.
posted by homunculus at 11:34 AM on March 26, 2008

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