Environment: Rich investors make profits from killing leopards, tigers and rhinos

Dec 3, 2023
Big cats: Lion, tiger and spotted leopard, together on a black background Image:iStock/GlobalIP

Western financial institutions are funding the extinction of threatened species. Many EV batteries make lights work.   

Investing in the extinction of leopards, tigers and rhinos

Feeling feverish? No problem, rhino horn will cool you down. Joints stiff and painful? Tiger bone works wonders. Difficulty breastfeeding? Pangolin scales ease the flow. Wind problem? Blown away with leopard bone.

Despite an international ban on the trade of animal body parts and despite Chinese government claims that domestic trade in animal body parts is illegal, at least 88 Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) products are licensed to contain body parts from threatened animals according to information on the manufacturers’ websites. (To be fair, it’s important to note that most TCM products do not contain animal body parts.)

TCM is big business in China, currently worth US$28 billion per year and growing. So, it’s not surprising that it’s attracted investors from outside China. At least 62 foreign financial institutions (banks, insurers, investment houses, many of which like to parade their ESG credentials) have made investments into three TCM companies that are listed on the Chinese Stock Exchange. One of the 62, Sunsuper Fund, now part of Australian Retirement Trust, is Australian.

It’s easy and appropriate to blame the poachers, the illegal traffickers, the international crime syndicates, and the manufacturers and retailers for the supply, and the members of the public who believe that these products are good for their health for the demand. However, investors in the West are happy to take a profit from the desperation, criminal activities, deception and ignorance that are driving threatened iconic mammals to extinction.

The Environmental Investigation Agency who conducted the investigation recommends better national adherence to international agreements about trade in threatened species, better protection laws, better implementation by China of their existing laws, financial institutions outside China stop investing in TCM companies that use animal body parts, and requirements for investors to report their investment activities.

Thank goodness Australian chemists, health food shops and supermarkets don’t sell voodoo medicines. But even if they did, I’m sure Australian consumers wouldn’t be taken in by unsubstantiated claims of health benefits.

Question

Where do you think this is?

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Australia’s big batteries

We may not hear much about them but there are 17 big batteries already operating in Australia. A further 17 are currently under construction and about 60 more have been announced or are proposed. The map below (interactive in the link) shows their location. There are also maps for solar farms, wind farms, offshore wind projects and pumped hydro projects.

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Scott Morrison (then Australia’s Treasurer) demonstrated his usual grasp of the important issues when in 2017 he mocked South Australia’s deal with Elon Musk to deliver Australia’s first big battery.

Take it away, Scottie: ‘It is so at the margin it barely is worth a mention. I mean, honestly, by all means have the world’s biggest battery, have the world’s biggest banana, have the world’s biggest prawn like we have on the roadside around the country, but that is not solving the problem. I think he saw Jay Weatherill (the SA Premier) coming. It doesn’t measure up to a big solution.’

A big battery doesn’t need to be one physically large battery sitting behind a razor-wire fence. It can be lots of little batteries (for instance EV car batteries) scattered around the country, all linked together as a virtual battery. At the moment, there aren’t enough EVs on the road, or rather in owners’ garages, to use their batteries as a back-up to the system when the grid goes down but that’s not far away. All the car owner needs is an EV with ‘bidirectional charging’ and some home hardware and software.

Connecting an EV to the grid is referred to as a Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) system and requires the electricity distributer to have the same foresight as the home-and-car owner and set up the system appropriately. The individual can use their EV battery before that though by connecting the battery directly to domestic appliances at home during a blackout or while camping in the country (Vehicle-to Load or V2L) or to their home electrical system (Vehicle-to-home or V2H).

Ford claims that the battery in their F-150 Lightening EV pick-up truck can power an average home for three days on full power, or ten days if you’re saving electricity during a blackout.

Self-described but phoney ‘climate leaders’

More than 100 senior executives of private companies from the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders have shared an open letter to world leaders and policy makers ahead of the COP meeting in Dubai. The leaders suggest policy changes to maximise the impact of private sector action to limit global warming to 1.5oC:

  1. massively scale up investment in renewable energy and streamline approval processes.
  2. phase out fossil fuel subsidies ‘in a just and equitable way’. (Phasing them out is a just and equitable act in itself.)
  3. set ambitious, science-based procurement targets for public sector purchasing.
  4. turbocharge nature- and technology-based targets for removing CO2 from the atmosphere using carbon pricing, credits and markets.
  5. simplify and harmonise climate disclosure and measuring standards (I assume they are referring to emissions and it’s telling that they obfuscate).

All these initiatives (well, number 4 is dodgy) are worthwhile but it’s clear the CEOs’ priority is using government money and legislation to boost the private sector. The phoney ‘climate leaders’ have carefully avoided the big issue – the only outcome that really matters – getting rid of fossil fuels. It doesn’t matter how much renewable energy is produced unless the burning of fossil fuels is rapidly phased down and out. Otherwise, we just keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and global warming continues apace.

Answer: Antarctica

Or rather, it’s what Antarctica would look like tomorrow if all the ice were removed overnight – ice which is in places 3 kilometres thick. To be honest, I had always thought that all the area within what we conventionally recognise as Antarctica’s boundaries was land – but apparently not. Or at least not land that is above current sea level.

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If all Antarctica’s ice were to disappear as a result of global warming, two additional phenomena would appear. First, the ice would melt gradually, not overnight, and as it did the sea level would rise all around the globe by about 60 metres (simultaneous melting of the Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers would add another 10 metres). Second, the weight of the ice over Antarctica presses the continent down into the Earth’s crust. Over tens of thousands of years, the land would slowly spring back and rise by about 500 metres.

The highest point in Antarctica is currently just under 5,000 metres above sea level. Once all the ice has gone, the highest point will be, if my logic and arithmetic are correct, somewhat higher than that.

The future of coal

Here is the Christmas present we’ve all been waiting for: the World Coal Association is no more. Its members have seen that there is no place for it in the modern world and have allowed it to become extinct.

Unfortunately, it has evolved into FutureCoal – The Global Alliance for Sustainable Coal (several Australian coal miners are members), complete with a new identity, a common purpose and, the corporate rebranding must-have, a new logo. According to FutureCoal’s website:

‘For too long our global coal value chain has allowed anti-coal sentiment to dominate and fragment us, which has resulted in a lowering of the global coal IQ [Que? ‘global coal IQ’??]. The organisation advocates for an inclusive all fuels and all technologies international policy framework to support the sovereign rights of all coal producing and consuming nations. The FutureCoal Global Alliance will embed this transformation through Sustainable Coal Stewardship (SCS) [and] Responsible Coal Principles including responsible investment in sustainable coal and clean coal technologies’.

Clean coal, you can find it in the same aisle as dry water.

FutureCoal Chairman July Ndlovu said, ‘You have asked, and we have responded. The leaders of this new legacy understand that this is our responsibility to the future. That this future is before us. And that this future is now.’

I think your responsibility to the future is to stop pulling the stuff out of the ground and telling us that a ‘range of efficient technologies can abate and capture up to 99% of emissions’. I suppose ‘up to’ is the escape clause here.

Florida manatees: are they threatened or endangered?

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Nearly 2,000 manatees died in Florida during 2021 and 2022 – about 20% of the local population. This followed a downgrading in 2017 of the species from endangered to threatened despite opposition from experts and conservation groups. Loss and degradation of the manatees’ habitat and boat strikes are the main problems but the transition to renewable energy is also likely to cause a problem – not because of global warming but local ocean cooling. About 60% of the population is dependent on the artificially warm water found around coal-fired power stations where the manatees gather in winter.

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