May 27, 2007
China Wiping Out SE Asian Species

A boat discovered off of China draws attention to Chinese demand for endangered species.

Endangered, hunted, smuggled and now abandoned, 5,000 of the world's rarest animals have been found drifting in a deserted boat near the coast of China.

The boat had lots of rare species.

According to the local media, the cargo included 31 pangolins, 44 leatherback turtles, 2,720 monitor lizards, 1,130 Brazilian turtles as well as the bear paws. Photographs showed other animals, including an Asian giant turtle.

All of these south-east Asian species are critically endangered, banned from international trade and yet openly sold in restaurants and markets in China's southern province of Guangdong, which is famous for its exotic cuisine.

The accidental discovery highlights the negative impact that the growing power of Chinese consumption is having on global conservation efforts.

Growing Chinese demand is wiping out species in a growing list of countries.

As a result of demand, the pangolin populations of China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have been wiped out. With traders moving further and further south, the animal is declining even in its last habitats in Java, Sumatra and the Malaysian peninsula. It is a similar story for many species of turtle, tortoise, frog and snake.

As the buying power of Chinese consumers continues to grow rapidly this problem will only get worse. Brian Wang thinks China might surpass the United States in GDP terms by 2020. Brian also believes the rate of urbanization in China is faster than generally believed.

The United States went through industrialization with a much smaller population than it has now and a far smaller population than China has now. Mass Chinese demand for environmental protections will not happen until Chinese per capita GDP rises to some multiple of what it is today. That means Chinese economic growth will cause far larger amounts of environmental damage than US economic growth did when the US passed through the same stages of development. Hence the wiping out of many species in southeast Asia.

Global warming gets all the press. But if you want to look at it from the standpoint of the many endangered species why care about global warming? These species will go extinct and therefore won't still be around to experience global warming.

Industrialization and population growth pose huge problems for remaining shrinking habitats. They pose far larger problems than the possibility of global warming. Western intellectuals who have worked themselves up into a tizzy about global warming are ignoring problems that should be treated as much higher priority.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 May 27 01:35 PM  Trends Extinction

Nick said at May 27, 2007 2:27 PM:

AFAIK the biggest problem is demand for traditional chinese medicine, which requires a lot of body parts from endangered species. I suspect that was the destination for that boat.

I don't see solutions soon, as the Chinese government is not making this a priority, and no one else is either.

Very depressing.

Nick said at May 27, 2007 2:35 PM:

Some of the remaining demand comes from conspicuous consumption of endangered species, precisely because they are endangered, and therefore difficult and expensive to obtain.

I am normally pretty calm, but the thought makes me violent.

Rick said at May 27, 2007 5:16 PM:

With global warming the earth should produce more food. If global cooling happens, hundreds of millions will certainly starve to death. Why do so many left-leaning people want the earth to cool?

Fat Man said at May 27, 2007 7:25 PM:

Nick, I am under the impression (largely from my brother who does a lot of business there) that the Chinese like to eat all sorts of exotic critters. A couple of years ago the SARS epidemic started because they were eating civets.

Americans receive a lot of criticism because of their dietary predilections, but we seldom eat endangered species.

Nick said at May 27, 2007 9:47 PM:

"With global warming the earth should produce more food."

No. CO2 induced climate change will cause drought, changes in growing patterns, flooding, more violent weather. Only a few, northern places will benefit.

Overall, it's bad for food production.

Fat Man, I agree.

quitacet said at May 28, 2007 1:04 AM:

what is it they say? de gustibus non est disputandum

development of proper healthcare systems might reduce the demand for traditional medicine and its component inputs.

brian wang said at May 28, 2007 8:04 AM:

Air pollution and other forms of pollution kill a lot more specie than die from over hunting and fishing.

China by 2020 should have made substantial progress toward shifting from 80% coal use to
58% coal. they will build a lot of hydroelectric, some gas and some nuclear.

Randall Parker said at May 28, 2007 8:20 AM:


Water pollution can wipe and species in a river. But I do not expect it to do much more than that. Air pollution probably does not wipe out many species. I suspect hunting wipes out more species. Also, expansion of the amount of land used by humans wipes out species.

As for a shift toward other sources of electricity: This will not reduce the number of coal plants. It probably will only reduce the rate of new coal plant production. That 58% from coal is for a far larger total amount of electricity than the 80%.

tommy said at May 28, 2007 11:55 AM:

Traditional Chinese medicine, ironically exalted by so many New Age white liberals, will probably prove to be the deathblow of a number of endangered species, some of the most spectacular mammals included.

tommy said at May 28, 2007 12:09 PM:

"development of proper healthcare systems might reduce the demand for traditional medicine and its component inputs."

Unfortunately, a lot of superstition plays into it. For example, ursodiol (ursodeoxycholic acid) can be manufactured synthetically at a much lower price than it can be had by extracting it from bear bile, but people in China still prefer the natural source. China permits the farming of endangered Asiatic black bears so that they can be "milked" for their bile. Even this doesn't solve the problem: poachers kill wild bears for the stuff. Rather than stamping out the practice, China just enables it.

Bob said at May 28, 2007 3:08 PM:

China's rivers are choking on pollution. They won't have time to clean up their environment. China's doomed by the stupidity of its own government.

As for global warming, you're wrong. Global cooling brings drought and starvation. Warming will extend the breadbox of earth farther from the equator and increase precipitation.

Nick said at May 28, 2007 3:18 PM:

"Traditional Chinese medicine, ironically exalted by so many New Age white liberals"

That's an odd swipe at "New Age white liberals". AFAIK Chinese medicine as practiced in the US does not, as a general rule, use endangered species. It's Chinese medicine as practiced in China that is the problem. Do you have info or evidence otherwise?

"As for global warming, you're wrong. Global cooling brings drought and starvation. Warming will extend the breadbox of earth farther from the equator and increase precipitation. "

Do you have evidence for this? Everything I've read says otherwise.

Randall Parker said at May 28, 2007 4:09 PM:


I would expect warmer temperatures to increase surface evaporation. So the atmosphere should contain more water. Will that increase precipitation? Seems like it.

But maybe the precipitation will shift toward more happening over water than over land. Or concentrated in fewer places and therefore less useful for growing crops? Heck if I know.

My guess is the climate historians have some idea what to expect based on previous Earth warm periods. Can they tell from those warm periods whether total rain was higher or lower? If so, how do they do that? Also, do they have that info only for a limited number of areas of the Earth? I'd expect more rain in some areas and less in others.

Certainly, warmer weather will increase the length of growing seasons and allow further north areas to get farmed. That includes northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.

With sufficiently cheap energy water is not a problem anyway. We could use nukes or photovoltaics combined with some nanomaterials to desalinate sea water and pump it inland.

Nick said at May 28, 2007 4:39 PM:

I don't know as much about this as I would like. A few things I've read:

Increased evaporation is hard on farming: it increases water needs, and increases soil salinity.

Higher ocean CO2 acidifies the ocean, and kills ocean life, which is an important food source.

Glaciers and snowpacks are melting, and they're an important source of farming water via rivers.

Rising sea level floods lowlying farmland. For instance, Pakistan is already losing much valuable farmland because seawater is infiltrating the water table.

The consensus seems to be that some areas may get colder, while some get much warmer (thus the move to call it "climate change", rather than "global warming", and that the net effect is likely to substantially hurt food production.

Randall Parker said at May 28, 2007 5:14 PM:


I am much more troubled by the acidification of the oceans than the higher temperatures. Besides, Gregory Benford has proposed a pretty cheap way to lower temperatures. But dissolving of too much CO2 into the oceans might turn out to be the biggest problem from atmospheric CO2 emissions.

cancer_man said at May 28, 2007 7:01 PM:

Due to innovation, China will soon turn the corner and become steadily cleaner every year. It isn't easy to predict when, but likely by 2015.

It would be interesting to set up a poll to see when readers think that year will be in terms of air and water quality.

tommy said at May 28, 2007 10:50 PM:

That's an odd swipe at "New Age white liberals". AFAIK Chinese medicine as practiced in the US does not, as a general rule, use endangered species. It's Chinese medicine as practiced in China that is the problem. Do you have info or evidence otherwise?

Certainly not as actually practiced in the United States, but New Age types are always going on about how traditional medicine is more ecologically friendly and harmonious with nature than nasty old western medicine. Try picking up a book written by one of these fawning goofballs on the subject. Try finding one that doesn't decry western medicine as being "out of balance" while praising the "wisdom" of the Chinese approach. Meanwhile, those "wise" Chinese, with their superstitious medical practices, are threatening to wipe out some of nature's greatest creatures needlessly.

brian Wang said at May 29, 2007 9:35 AM:

The amount of coal usage in China now is about 480GW. 80% of about 600GW.

The 2020 figure is about 710GW out of 1230GW. 58%. 6% gas, 4% nuclear, 10% renewables, 22% hydro.

China is shutting down the dirtiest of the small coal plants and rebuilding with larger and newer cleaner coal plants.
The dirtiest coal plant are about 20 times dirtier than larger and cleaner ones. (cleaner in terms of particulates and some other
pollutants.) The larger coal plants are a bit more efficient in terms of CO2 but nowhere near as much as replacing the plant with hydro or nuclear or renewables.

Coal mining in the US destroys 7% of the appalachian forest when they mountain top remove to get at the coal.
I would think that coal mining in China is as destructive.
Also, air and water pollution can also damage other forest and grassland environments.

An interesting somewhat related note is that China is executing an ex-drug regulatory chief for corruption and approving dangerous drugs.
You really do not want to badly fail a performance review in China. Unlike the US with an attaboy Brownie.

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