“Help me Princess Pangolin, you’re my only hope.”
World news watchers may have noticed a few days ago two stories, one of which should have had us sitting on the edge of our seats in alarm.
The two stories were that a) Princess Leia died and, b) Chinese wildlife officials made the largest haul of Pangolin scales – three thousand kilograms, in total. The stories broke on 27 and 29 December, respectively.
“Say what?” I hear you all cry. “Princess Leia died?”
“No takers for the Pangolin story?” I ask, hopefully, only to be shortly disappointed.
“What the hell is a Pangolin, anyway?” comes the reply.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a Pangolin is not a fictitious character from the Star Wars franchise. Instead, it is the generic name for one of eight different species of ant-eaters, all of which are critically endangered to extinction – and all of which are regarded as delicacies and valuable additions to the Chinese Natural Medicine market. Pangolins are the most trafficked wildlife on Earth and they are almost all gone. The scales, the flesh and even the fetuses of the Pangolins fetch high prices. $1,000 a kilo for the scales, for example. The Pangolins’ natural range is across Africa and Asia, so there is no shortage of poor people willing to trade some biodiversity for cash.
The Pangolin is famous for curling up into a ball when it is threatened, as showing in the doctored photo of Princess Leia, above. “Help me Obi Wan. You’re my only hope.” Who doesn’t remember those famous words. Carrie Fisher and her character was a cultural icon, even to a crusty old iconoclast like me.
The question is, though, in the context of ensuring the habitability of the living systems of our home planet (that’s ‘our’ home planet, not Luke Skywalker’s home planet, Tatooine) – which is the most important story – the Princess or the Pangolin? Obviously, the story about the Pangolins ought to be front page news around the world. But was it?
After-all, a 3,000 kg seizure of Pangolin scales – representing some 7,000 or so dead Pangolins – suggests a significant uptick in smuggling of this endangered wildlife, or renewed success on the part of the regulatory authorities. Either way, it is important.
But of course, the story about the one dead human, and not the 7,000 dead Pangolins, dominated the headlines for days. As a result, the story about the slow bleed-out of our biosphere was relegated to a few column inches on page 300 of google news, to use a metaphor.
This suggests either that the corporate people who decide what is newsworthy are culpable for keeping the public ignorant, or the public, who choose which news stories they prefer, are to blame.
Either way, the Princess Leia versus the Pangolins saga – the Princess Pangolin saga – is a serious wake-up that we need to be discerning about what is existentially critical information, and what is culturally interesting. Big difference between the two.
We need to discern between that which is existentially critical information, and that which is merely culturally interesting.
To help the public make these important distinctions, I write fiction novels with sustainability themes. While the Pangolins don’t feature in any of my seven novels (yet), the issues around biodiversity conservation are writ large in The Moogh – available here as ebook and here as paperback.
The Moogh is a mysterious creature that wanders out of a forest and gains a cult-like following as a new-age spirit that helps people to connect with nature, before it is too late. The story of the Moogh is told through young journalist Maggie Tarp who works with the Fractious News Network… (see reviews here).
A central theme in The Moogh – as indicated by the cover image – is the importance of the Planetary Boundaries. In environmental-science speak – these are the nine biophysical systems that need to be protected if the humans are to enjoy a long future. We have already broken four of them.
One of the broken planetary boundaries is called Biosphere Integrity, and it has two sub-categories: functional diversity and genetic diversity. Both of these subcategories are squandered as the Pangolins are slaughtered.
The purpose of my novels is to help normalize conversations about sustainability, to try and help Western culture become sustainable – to be discerning about what news we read, for example. It might be too late for the poor Pangolins, but there are plenty of other species shuffling towards extinction. Maybe the memory of Princess Pangolin can save them from the Dark Side of human behavior.
All the fiction titles by Guy Lane.