UKIP are under attack again, this time from animal rights activists and conservative columnists alike. Their latest crime? Failing to have voted for some legislation in the EU parliament designed to curb the illegal ivory trade. Apparently this is “morally repugnant”.
Except it isn’t, not remotely. In fact the whole incident reflects very well on Nigel Farage and the five other UKIP MEPs who voted against the measure (only 14 MEPs did so in the entire European parliament) for at least two good reasons.
The first has to do with UKIP’s ideological commitment to British sovereignty. As UKIP’s Hermann Kelly points out in the comments below Tim Stanley’s attack blog:
UKIP MEPs do not recognise the democratic legitimacy of the European Union or
any of its institutions to legislate over the British people. The only Parliament they
recognise with a legitimate right to legislate over the British people is their own properly constituted and democratically elected national Parliament.
In the European Parliament UKIP MEPs oppose all legislation, and non-legislative
resolutions, motions or proposals in any form that call for legislation
over the British people or endorse the legitimacy of the European Union
and its institutions.
In other words, the UKIP MEPs were simply resisting yet another EU power grab.
So that’s the technical, political reason. But the other one is much more interesting. Well-meaning attempts to ban the international trade on ivory are doing far more harm than good. Like Prohibition, it has simply driven up prices, increased violence and encouraged criminals. But no more has the ivory ban helped save elephants than Prohibition prevented people from drinking booze.
The best article recently on this was one by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian called If You Really Want To Save The Elephants Farm Them.
Ivory bans, he says, may be what green campaigners, glib politicians and rich bleeding hearts want. But they’re certainly not what Africa – or its elephant population – needs. Particularly sick are the publicity stunts staged by Cites – the wildlife equivalent of the Drug Enforcement Agency – where piles of poached ivory are immolated or crushed to show that the West means business.
This time Barack Obama ordered the US to crush six tons and China duly crushed the same.
France crushed three tons. This appalling waste merely increases
poachers’ profits and insults Africa, to which the value of the ivory
properly belongs. It is like medieval princes burning food to taunt
In fact what’s going on here is a form eco-fascism: brutally authoritarian environmental policy, devised by activists, codified by democratically unaccountable technocrats, enforced by zealots – and thoroughly imbued with a poisonous misanthropy which rides rough shod over human desires and human nature.
Demand for ivory is largely driven by the Chinese market. If Greenpeace, and the WWF and Friends of the Earth want to educate the Chinese with an elephant rights awareness programme good luck with that. But this demand is not going to go away any time soon.
What we have here in other words is the same situation as we had in the US during Prohibition and we still everywhere today with the war on drugs: demand for the prohibited item remains fairly inelastic – which means that if you reduce the supply artificially by banning it or destroying it it doesn’t stop people wanting it; all that happens is that prices rise and it becomes more valuable still to the criminal gangs who make money out of it.
Yes of course it’s theoretically possible to pursue a zero tolerance policy where, say, gangs of poachers are shot on sight. But in practice, how do you police millions of square miles of African savannah, especially in a world when – economic realities prevailing – the poaching gangs are much better armed and better paid than the hapless wildlife officers whose job it is to prevent them. (And does any wildlife officer on a game reserve really want to throw his life away for so little money?)
This is Jenkins’s point about ivory belonging to the Africans. Of course it should. Suppose you’re struggling to make a living, subsistence farming out in the African bush: elephants aren’t your friend but a dangerous and destructive pest. No amount of finger-wagging from visiting mzungus with wanky degrees in ecology and empathy studies is going to change your view. The only thing that might make a difference is if your tribal community is able to gain some benefit from these elephants. Otherwise, you’re far better off throwing in your lot with the poachers.
The survival of wild animals depends entirely on those among whom they
live. Elephants eat up to 453kg of vegetation a day and, in India, kill
up to 200 people a year. They may be glorious creatures but they are
destroying their ever-shrinking habitats. Unless local people want to
save them, they will be poached to the point where just a few remain in
Quite. Though I sincerely doubt that any of this stuff was at the front – or even the back – of those six UKIP MEPs’ minds when they voted against that harmful legislation, one thing is beyond question: anyone who seriously thinks that elephant abuse or elephant insensitivity ought to be added to the lengthening, confected, increasingly contrived and ludicrous anti-UKIP charge sheet is in danger of exposing himself as a jumbo-sized prat.