Conservative Conservation

You know, I just hate clean air. Polluting oceans and rivers happens to be a great pastime of mine, and gosh those elephants? Let’s just get rid of them.

Right. That’s totally what conservatives believe when it comes to environmentalism.

But wait… What do conservatives believe about environmentalism?

In recent decades, unfortunately, the Republican Party has kept its nose out of environmental issues except for the debate on climate change. In fact, not a single question was asked at the Republican Debate in South Carolina about ways in which to protect the environment, which has most likely led some to believe that the Republican Party simply doesn’t care about the preservation of Earth and its resources.

Conservatives need to change that way of thinking.

I can’t speak for the men on the debate stage, but I know that I, as a conservative, care deeply about conservation and the environment. I can’t magically shield my skin from the holes in the ozone layer. I don’t breathe in contaminated air and say, “Ahhh, it smells like spring and pollution. My favorite!” I have a vested interest in protecting the environment just like any other human being.

Conservatives, however, have a different approach than their liberal counterparts on the best way to protect the environment, and that is through conservation. While liberals feel the need to advocate for costly programs that claim to save the environment, conservatives try to find the solution that is sufficient to address the problem at the least economic cost to all the parties involved.

I am going to use the example of poaching to explain, in general, a conservative conservationist approach to an environmental issue.

At a Penn Law Symposium on International Wildlife Crime, many prominent individuals from agencies such as the Fish and Wild Service, the World Bank, and the Department of Justice spoke on how we, the United States, can combat illegal wildlife crime.

The discussants focused on the need to cut off demand for products such as the ivory tusks that come from elephants and rhinoceros. They suggested that the best way to accomplish this is to educate people on where these products come from and to encourage communities in Africa to preserve the elephant and rhino populations for industries such as ecotourism that depend on the conservation of these species.

Now, I’m not saying those are inherently bad ideas. In fact, I think they’re great ideas that have the possibility to make some significant changes.

But there’s a problem.

Robert Dreher from the Fish and Wildlife Service explained that the population of rhinos in the world is currently around 20,000, but 1,000 to 1,200 rhinos are being killed each year. At this rate, we could see the extinction of the rhino population in less than twenty years.

The problem with the education and community building approach is that it will, quite simply, take too long to make an impact. Cutting off demand completely is going to take years and decades, and these populations don’t have that much time.

Before I explain what I think the best approach to this problem is, I want to make one thing very clear. I love elephants, rhinos, and all animals. I get upset when I see a dead bird let alone a mutilated elephant. This being said, my argument is going to sound strange at first, but hear me out.

I think the best solution to this problem is to make hunting wildlife legal.

If you look at the elephant population in Zimbabwe compared to the elephant population in Kenya, you will see a strange trend. The population in Kenya is taking a sharp dip where the population in Zimbabwe is slowly increasing.

kenya zimbabwe.png
Zimbabwe and Kenya have followed very different trajectories when it comes to elephant hunting.

In Zimbabwe, it is legal to hunt elephants. In Kenya, it’s illegal.

In a lot of environmental problem situations there is a “Tragedy of the Commons” where no one has incentive to conserve public goods, which leads to everyone using them freely. This, in turn, leads to the decimation of that good.

That’s what’s happening in Kenya.

Elephants can be seen as pests to local communities. They can come onto a farm, destroy all the crops, and leave a family or community without food or means of living. In order for the family to survive, they kill the elephant to reap the benefits themselves. When they see poachers, they don’t try to stop them because they have no incentive to do so. Keeping the elephant alive isn’t helping them. Instead, it could actually hurt them – economically, if not physically – if the elephant comes onto their property.

The poachers have incentive to kill the elephant as quickly as possible so they don’t get caught. Therefore, too many elephants are being killed before they have the opportunity to reproduce, thus, sharply reducing the population.

In Zimbabwe, however, there is a win-win-win situation.

The people of Zimbabwe can charge safari operators for the right to conduct hunts, which brings wealth to their communities. Since the people are gaining wealth, they have a vested interest in promoting herd growth. That is why we have seen a steady increase of the elephant population there. They also benefit from coming together as a community to prevent poaching because they would not gain any benefits from not getting paid for a hunting outing.

Poachers, now classified as hunters, also benefit because they don’t have to take the risk of hunting illegally.

This capitalistic approach combined with promoting education and ecotourism to cut off the demand for illegal animal parts, is a conservative conservationist approach to solving the decimation of elephant and rhino populations.

Of course, some animals may still be hunted, but their killings would be moderated to the point where we would see an overall increase in their herds, growth in community economies through hunters’ fees, and the opportunity for hunters to still acquire a prized specimen.

It’s not the perfect solution that the liberals want, but it’s what these populations need right now.

This case proves that there is a way to be a conservative environmentalist. Conservatives actually have a lot of potential to fix some of the environmental issues the world faces, but they need to put conservation back into the Republican Party dialogue. Taking a look at conservation efforts using capitalist principles is a good way to start.

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