Editorial: The fallacy of “progressive” legislation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1994:

Animal and habitat protection advocates breathed relief on October 7 as Russia
withdrew an objection to the May 1994 creation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by
the International Whaling Commission. Under IWC rules, the objection meant that Russia,
already holding an objection to the whaling moratorium in effect since 1986, could have
gone whaling at any time––within the sanctuary. Despite the instant claim of Greenpeace
and the International Fund for Animal Welfare that the latest Russian turnabout was all their
doing, the full story behind the reversals may take years to emerge. Yet somehow the ele-
ments in Russian politics who seek good trade relations with the rest of the world did tri-
umph over those who would prefer a return to the stagnant but secure isolation of the Cold
War. Ultimately, the threat of private boycotts carried more weight in Moscow than the
certainty of escaping trade sanctions through the loophole in the IWC treaty.

Ironically, the Kremlin showed more respect for democracy than our own
Congress did, meanwhile, in downgrading the proposed East Mojave National Park to a
national preserve, before finally approving the long-pending California Desert Protection
Act. The downgrading, like the hunter harassment clause in the Crime Bill, was a bone
tossed to the gun lobby in an election year to keep their campaign money on the side of
incumbents. Like the hunter harassment clause, it is mostly symbolic: hunters annually kill
only 26 deer and five bighorn sheep, on average, in the East Mojave, which is bigger than
many heavily hunted states. On the good side, two new national parks have been created,
at Joshua Tree and Death Valley, and 6.6 million acres of fragile habitat are now protected
from most abuses. Though compromised, the victory is for animals and habitat.
We may congratulate ourselves that animals and habitat make tangible gains while
the hook-and-bullet crowd gnaw concessions; but we’ve been at this point, trying to keep it,
since 1973, when Congress adopted the Endangered Species Act. Gains still come, but
come hard, and it is the nature of politics that no gain on any matter of moral or ecological
principle is ever so secure that the power brokers will not try to trade it away at the first
opportunity to pick up an advantage in monetary matters. Deciding who gets the money is
the real business of politics; as Bill Clinton put it, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
We delude ourselves if we ever think it is anything else. As long as anyone has a
vested interest in killing animals and raping habitat, the price of ecological legislation is not
only eternal vigilance but also eternal activism. We pointed out in June and July/August,
for instance, that with a $625 million missile sale to Norway pending, involving big con-
tracts in Democratic-held Congressional districts, Clinton and vice president Al Gore
weren’t about to push Norway hard over its unilateral resumption of commercial
whaling––and sure enough, not a peep about trade sanctions came until after the deal
cleared Congress toward the end of summer and the Norwegian whaling season. Without
intense last-minute activist pressure on the White House, which in turn brought last-minute
pressure to bear on the IWC to insure the approval of the Southern Whale Sanctuary, the
Clinton/Gore administration would have been just as happy to please Japan and Norway by
pushing through the Revised Management Plan, as it did, which expedites the resumption
of legal commercial whaling, and never mind the sanctuary. After all, whales don’t vote,
and money donated to save the whales doesn’t end up in campaign coffers, but trade with
Japan in particular is a big piece of the U.S. economy.
Now two more critical treaties are up for political action. The 123-nation
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, meets November 7-
18 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while Congress will consider ratifying the General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in a special lame-duck session after the elections––when
unseated members can vote without fear of a further accounting at the polls. The House
balloting is to be on November 29; the Senate is to vote on December 1. In each instance
the U.S. delegations appear to be actively involved in dismantling protections for species at
risk, under cover of buzzwords including “sustainable development” and “scientific justifi-
cation,” which no more mean what they sound like they mean in today’s political parlance
than does “wise use.” As we editorialized at length in June, both terms have been debased
as rationales for trophy hunting to finance species conservation, which would only convey
the message that killing endangered species is okay for a high enough price. And that, of
course, is what the poachers and wildlife traffickers have thought all along.
Proposals by South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana to lift the 1977 and 1988
bans on traffic in rhinoceros and elephant parts, proposed trade sanctions against Taiwan
for contining to traffic in rhinoceros horn and tiger bone, and a Norwegian effort to remove
minke whales from the protected species list head the CITES agenda. Less publicized but
potentially even more menacing is a proposed tightening of the CITES definition of “threat-
ened with extinction,” pushed by pro-hunting World Conservation Union, which could
strip many species of their present Appendix I (top level) protection.
The elephant parts trafficking ban has demonstrably slowed elephant poaching
wherever the beasts survive, and has even brought some recovery of the species in many
parts of Africa. Yet the various African proposals have economic appeal. Due to stringent
protection, South Africa is the only nation in which white rhinoceros numbers are up, bred
from a mere dozen who survived the trophy-hunting excesses of the first quarter of this cen-
tury, and can also demonstrate elephant population growth. South Africa even blames a
surplus of rowdy young males, since culled, for disemboweling 10 rhinos during the sum-
mer at the Pilanesburg game reserve. Two orphaned baby rhinos died in consequence, one
of whom fought unsuccessfully to protect his mother’s body from lions. South Africa
argues that it should now be allowed to prevent such tragedies, and profit by conservation,
through permitting big game hunters to export rhino and elephant trophies, except rhino
horn and elephant tusks. This proposal is endorsed by the WCU. Not mentioned is that
poaching got out of hand in neighboring states partly because South African military leaders
long encouraged and profited by it, using the proceeds to finance clandestine support of
destabilizing wars that kept black-led regimes from helping South African rebels to end
apartheid. Apartheid is now ended, but the poachers thus armed butcher on.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, argues that outright prohibition of rhino horn sales has
been, in chief warden Glen Tatham’s words, “a spectacular failure,” as the black rhino
population has plunged from 2,500 in 1991 to under 300 today, and dehorning rhinos,
begun in 1992, has failed to protect them when even the stump of a horn can bring a poach-
er $350, a broker $1,000 a pound, and Asian medicine merchants $13,600 a pound. Horn-
shaving has, however, given economically desperate Zimbabwe a rhino horn stockpile
worth an estimated $4 million. Operating with a budget that has fallen from $18 million in
1981 to just $5 million now, dropping directly parallel to the rise in poaching, Tatham and
colleagues would like to cash in––for conservation, they claim, but the administration of
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe may have other priorities if sales are permitted.
Similarly, Botswana claims to have both elephant overpopulation and a crying
need for the income that ivory sales could bring to finance further conservation measures.
While no one seriously claims that Asian elephants are recovering from comparable poach-
ing pressure, many southeast Asian nations are also eager to relax restrictions on elephant
parts trading, making much of incidents in which elephants deprived of their rainforest
habitat have stampeded villages and killed residents. The incidents are not what they
appear, however, as Vietnam News pointed out on September 23 after 25 elephants killed
two people and crippled three in north-central Vietnam. “The rage of these wild beasts
might have been caused by uncontrolled hunting,” the editors wrote. “In the last four years,
at least 48 elephants have been killed by hunters in the region.”
You may express your opinion to Al Gore, head of the U.S. delegation, at 202-
456-2326, or fax 202-456-7044. Messages for Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior and
Gore’s chief advisor on CITES, may be left at 202-208-7351, or fax 202-208-6956.
Incidentally, a multi-million-signature Body Shop petition on behalf of more strin-
gent CITES enforcement that will be presented to the delegates may be a marketing ploy,
but it isn’t just a response to recent exposes of Body Shop failures to fulfill ecological
promises: Body Shop International began gathering signatures back last spring.
Menaced by GATT, reports the American Humane Association, are the Humane
Slaughter Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Pelly Amendment, the Wild Bird
Conservation Act, the High Seas Driftnet Fisheries Act, the Sea Turtles Act, and the African
Elephant Conservation Act, all of which regulate how animals may be killed if their remains
are to be sold in the U.S. The World Society for the Protection of Animals warns that the
repeatedly delayed European Union ban on imports of furs caught with leghold traps may like-
wise be gutted by GATT. Each of these measures imposes what GATT calls a “process stan-
dard,” a “technical barrier to trade” requiring that a commodity be produced in a particular
way––not necessarily the most economical way for the exporting nation.
Already, in 1992, a GATT ruling forced Canada to repeal a law barring imports of
puppy-mill-bred dogs; Norway threatened GATT action in 1993 to forestall any U.S. action
against its resumption of commercial whaling; and GATT rulings in 1991 and 1994 have held
that the U.S. requirement that imported tuna not be netted by means that kill dolphins is an
illegal trade barrier. In anticipation that the U.S. may be forced to relax the dolphin-safe tuna
requirement, the Clinton/Gore administration has ratified the less stringent conservation plan
of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which will allow the slaughter of 12,500
dolphins in tuna nets next year, up from 8,500 this year. Either figure is substantially higher
than the reported kill by vessels of member nations in 1993: 3,500.
The potential of the sort of legislation that GATT would forbid is illustrated by the
Taiwanese response to U.S. trade sanctions authorized by CITES and imposed in August: on
September 26 the Taiwanese parliament moved to strengthen laws against trafficking in endan-
gered species, on October 13 Taiwan offered to donate $1 million a year to international con-
servation groups, and on October 18 it announced a phased-in ban on bear gall imports.
Express your views on GATT to your representatives in the House and Senate.
The bottom line in all of this is not that politicians can’t be trusted. On the contrary,
most politicians can be trusted to concern themselves most with what most consistently con-
cerns their constituents and campaign donors––personal income. Otherwise, the safest course
for any official is to uphold the status quo. The fallacy of “progressive” legislation is that even
when laws are passed, which is seldom, no law works without the tacit consent of most of
the individuals or industries supposed to obey it. Note how the California Downer Bill adopt-
ed in September was amended to legalize the very abuses, such as hauling crippled animals,
that it was intended to prevent: these are the present norm, not exceptions, and because the
norm is profitable, there is presently no will within the livestock industry to change it.
We can expect effective legislation and treaty negotiation on behalf of animals and
habitat only to the extent that we convince people and industries to make concern for animals
and habitat a priority. Lobbying for anything more is like trying to convince a bat to fly by
daylight: he’ll do it when the world turns, no sooner. Until the world turns, our best chance
for progress remains in educating the public and exerting informed consumer pressure.
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