After Cecil: What Africa And Its Lions Need Is Economic Progress, Not A Green Moral Panic

Cecil, just lion around.  Source: Wiki Commons/Daughter#3
Cecil, just lion around. Source: Wiki Commons/Daughter#3

Economic progress is vital for the third world so that the human population can live longer lives than the current paltry life expectancy in mainland Africa of 46 in Sierra Leone up to 65 in Botswana. Economic progress would also deliver better services, better housing, better electricity supply, and better jobs, leading to a superior quality of life than the suffering and back-breaking conditions currently endured by Africans. However this ‘humanist’ case for economic progress is likely to fall on deaf ears in the West today. Humanism has been hunted down over the years by green ideology. Now, as the international outrage over Cecil the lion attests, all that seems to morally matter is individual members of wildlife. Therefore in this degraded ethical context, I will argue in this blog post for economic progress as a way of saving the lion population of Africa.

The reaction to the death of Cecil the lion makes economic matters in Africa worse than they were. This will have a deleterious effect on lion populations, something that is tragically ironic given how the international community has been so keen on advertising its moral credentials by chest-thumping over poor Cecil. As has been explained by scientists writing in the National Geographic magazine, myself on spiked, and in a radio debate here (available to listen to until late August 2015, and commences at 01:13:40), lion hunting generates millions and millions of dollars that is desperately needed in Africa, revenue which does go back into broader conservation projects and supports 88,000 human families. An EU and US ban on the import of trophies, coupled with pressure from charities and NGOs to place lions on the ‘endangered species list’, will effectively ban hunting, depriving Africa of this money. This will disincentivize Africans from having policies that lead to sustainable lion populations, including removing the motivation for communities to combat illegal poaching. Add to this, a dominant view in the West that African governance is corrupt and that there should be closer UN oversight (which is apparently morally pure), and we are inviting a scenario where there is no socio-economic compulsion to protect any lions, only ineffective coercion from on high. The way the international community has reacted to Cecil’s case is therefore really bad news for lions in general.

Since the 1980s, the lion population of Africa has roughly halved, with between 32,000 and 35,000 on the continent today. Although this doesn’t mean the lion, as a species, is ‘endangered’, the downward trend does need some explaining. Amid the hysteria over Cecil, greens claim the decline is all due to legal hunting. This claim does not stand up to objective scrutiny. A far more believable explanation is that lion populations have dwindled because of habitat loss and illegal poaching. It is the shrinking of the areas in which lions can breed and roam that is the main cause of the decline. Illegal poaching is also important, and African governments have taken steps to combat this. So what causes habitat loss?

Once again greens contribute very little to the debate over habitat loss. They argue it is ‘overpopulation’ (of humans) that causes habitat loss. However the term ‘overpopulation’ has no clear meaning. It is simply not clear what an ‘optimum’ population would be, given available land. Africa’s total population is just over 1bn, whereas China and India each exceed this, yet don’t seem to have the same problems with sustaining biodiversity. ‘Overpopulation’ is actually a morally loaded term that leads to draconian birth control policies. It has no scientific merit in explaining anything, and is essentially anti-human.

Another implausible green idea is that habitat loss is caused by climate change. Whilst it is true that certain weather phenomena can temporarily disrupt an ecosystem, the general climate trends are no more life-threatening than they ever have been. Even if some studies have shown temperature increases of 1 degree celsius since the 1980s, it is difficult to see how this would directly cause habitat loss for lions. In Australia, it is often as hot as Africa, and it is drier too, yet Australian wildlife habitats are thriving.

The real cause of habitat loss is poor agricultural technique. Lacking much industry, African countries rely on agriculture to sustain themselves. Whilst this doesn’t generate enough wealth to extend life expectancy or the standard of living, it would not inherently be a cause of habitat loss if modern technology was used in agriculture. Yet thanks to the ‘fairtrade’ scam that is promoted in the West as a form of ‘ethical consumerism’, African farmers are deprived of the latest technology, including use of GM crops, that would allow for increased agricultural output from the use of less land. Therefore the agricultural use of land has to expand to meet human needs, and this impinges on lion habitats. Furthermore, with the absence of reliable energy sources caused by the green belittling of power stations (‘we have to cut carbon emissions!’), some African countryside dwellers are forced to burn wood for fuel. Again, this impinges on lion habitats. So once again, green ideas have made a bad problem worse. The most immediate concern for economic progress in Africa then is that agriculture should become high-tech rather than low-tech, and that energy supply needs to be increased. Both these things will involve less hectoring from the green international community. These progressive humanist policies will also be of benefit to lions.

Removing the political fetters imposed on Africa by the green international community will firstly lead to increased agricultural output. What next? After the ball has started to roll, increased agricultural output will lead to an accumulation of capital rather than the meagre sustaining of an impoverished population. This increased capital will want to be invested, and expect to be rewarded. Naturally then, it would lead to an industrial revolution in Africa, as has been experienced in the countries of the Western world, China, and elsewhere. This economic progress will lift millions of people out of poverty, increase life expectancy, and the overall quality of life. Furthermore, being less reliant on the agricultural sector for economic sustenance, and with the moving of more people to cities that accompanies industrialisation, lion habitats would grow back. In addition, the newfound wealth would disincentivize illegal poaching. Therefore, in a few years, the lion population would return to 1980s levels, without ever having ignorantly to clamp down on permitted hunting. So if one cares about the plight of lions, it is far more effective to focus on improving the real world rather than be engulfed in a post-Cecil moral panic, demanding bans, and more crippling green policing.

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