Monday, August 13, 2007

China's river of life

A number of things make this post interesting. 
First, the title reminds me of all those National Geographic articles that were the only glimpse a generation had of other places, other lands, other cultures.  Today, the internet and social networks like Facebook, provide for this generation a far more accessible and unedited glimpse of other cultures. 
Second, the post refers to the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin.  Now hands up: how many of you even knew that there was a dolphin in the Yangtze River before reading this?  In fact, look at a map of China: how many can find the Yangtze River?  I point this out to bring some perspective to the outrage at another lost species.  More importantly, this is only the fourth species of mammal to become extinct since 1500 -- the biodiversity figures most banded about  are (1) grossly inflated, (2) guestimates, not observed, empirical data, and (3) concern the loss of insects and plants most of us wouldn't be able to recognize anyways.  4 lost species in 500 years: not quite as dramatic is it?
Last, the article excellently describes the complexities of resource decision making: how to balance the tradeoffs between natural environment and human occupancy.  The Yangtze dolphin has gone: but the river provides a viable livelihood and prosperity for millions  -- prosperity, not subsidence level poverty.
Resource decision always involve trade-offs.  Anyone who presents a simple solution usually doesn't have all the information or has an agenda that precludes them from seeing all the perspectives.  Sustainability is change: change that benefits the most people in the most places, most of the time.  It is not about preserving the past or precluding human prosperity.