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Friday, June 23, 2006

Save the Wails?

This probably isn't the mainstream position on pandas:

Do not panda to misty-eyed sentiment, by Alan Beattie, Commentary, Financial Times: ...Every week, the worldwide panda industry strikes another blow for soft-headed sentiment over rational cost-benefit analysis. This week’s feel good tale was new research suggesting there were 3,000 giant pandas left in the wild, twice earlier estimates. So what? If pandas can stand on their own four feet, good. If they cannot, tough. We should stop subsidising them. Pandas are endangered because they are hopelessly incompetent.

Take their diet. As we all know ..., pandas eat almost exclusively bamboo shoots. What panda apologists ignore is that ... bamboo has so few nutrients that the piebald buffoons have to spend 16 hours a day stuffing themselves with it. It is like trying to subsist on sugar-coated cardboard.

To shovel twigs into their mouths they use what Big Panda tries to pass off as an opposable thumb but is basically a deformed bone. And ridiculously, given their diet, giant pandas have a short digestive tract suitable for carnivores, not vegetarians, so most of the bamboo they eat goes through undigested.

They are also famously bad at sex. Even in the wild pandas do not mate much... Little wonder no respectable family of animals wants them. ... Yet thanks to soft-headed anthropomorphism – their big eyes and round faces remind us of babies, apparently – they are fêted everywhere, notably as the logo of the charity WWF. ...

Pandas are badly designed, undersexed, overpaid and overprotected. They went up an evolutionary cul-de-sac and it is too late to reverse. By cosseting them we are simply rewarding failure. Pandas are doomed. Let them go.

The author is the FT’s world trade editor. He sports a proper opposable thumb, eats most things and has a digestive system perfectly suited to his omnivorous diet

Whatever makes you happy, in a utilitarian kind of way.

This is a bit outside my area, but I thought I'd try to add something. This is an assessment of the Noah's Ark model of species preservation from a textbook I just received in the mail, Environmental Economics by David A. Anderson.

The Noah's Ark model asks how to best preserve biodiversity and other benefits from protecting endangered species under the constraint of a limited budget. It takes account of four specific factors in the decision of whether a species should be preserved (invited on the Ark), the species distinctiveness, the direct benefits from preservation (e.g. recreational and emotional), the likelihood the species will survive, and the economic cost of preservation efforts. The problem is, as usual, to match the marginal benefits (measured as direct benefits plus diversity benefits times the probability of survival) and the marginal costs:

Are We Loading the Right Species Onto the Ark? Andrew Metrick and Martin Weitzman (1998) collected data on four criteria of the Noah's Ark Model -- direct benefits, distinctiveness, survivability, and cost -- and examined whether actual rankings correspond with the logic of the model. For measures of society's rankings of species, they looked to the nomination process for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This included counts of positive comments made about the species, the decision whether or not to include species on the protected lists, and the amounts of public expenditures on the recovery of the species.

Direct benefits were measured in terms of species' size and taxonomic class. As a measure of distinctiveness, they determined whether a species was the sole representative of its genus and whether it was a subspecies. For survivability they used a 1 to 5 ranking of endangerment created by the Nature Conservancy. For cost they used a variable indicating whether or not recovery of the species conflicts with public or private development plans.

The findings indicate that we place a high priority on the large, cuddly "charismatic megafauna" like bears and cats. More surprisingly, they suggest that society spends more money on less endangered species than on more endangered species, and expenditures do not increase significantly for more unique species. Further, society is more likely to spend money on an animal whose preservation conflicts with development plans than on those that could be saved at a lower cost. In other words, according to this study, our current strategies for environmental protection do not coincide with what most economists would recommend in terms of maximizing social welfare.

    Posted by on Friday, June 23, 2006 at 01:28 PM in Economics, Environment, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (10)

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