Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How humanity is loving nature to death

I read an interesting article from BBC a while ago. It is about endangered species, and how our love of endangered species is endangering the species. You may read about this interesting theory here.

It starts with a bit of human psychology. Humans love rarity. I recall my marketing lesson where the lecturer explained the marketing strategy for a dying product which had no growth and no market share: To exploit brand loyalty by raising the price of the remaining outdated stock, claiming them the last batch to be bought as collectors' item. A French biologist Franck Courchamp suggested that it is human nature to see animals and all wild things in this light. As something becomes rare, the value we put on it will rise. This will make the harvesting of the creature even more profitable, hastening its exploitation and probably its extinction.

Dr Franck Courchamp conducted an experiment. In a garden there were two cages keeping chipmunks, one labelled rare and the other common; they were in fact the same species. There were two doors and a notice saying that one would have to pay extra to see the animal inside, which was said either to be rare or common. The experiment monitored people's behaviour and choices. It turned out that visitors valued the rare over the common. People would spend more time looking at or looking for an animal if they were told it was rare; they would walk up more flights of stairs, spend more money, or get wetter and colder to reach its cage.

Franck Courchamp thought this could result in an Anthropogenic Allee Effect. The theory was developed by Warder Clyde Allee. The general idea is that for smaller populations, the reproduction and survival of individuals decrease. Below a critical density, the population of the species will continue to decrease.

This could be the beginning of a route to extinction. If people think they prefer the taste of a rare species of caviar, then that caviar will command a higher price than the other, and fishermen will seek the sturgeon that makes it. It is also happening in the pet trade, an amphibian specialist confirms that the rarer the frog (or other animal), the more money it could fetch. One might think that hunters and traders would have an interest in keeping a sustainable population of these creatures alive so they have something to hunt for years to come. But the economics say otherwise.

In fact, so much do people desire these scarce things that some organizations are starting to be more careful about publicizing the rarity of anything that could be collected. The paradox is that only by publicizing it can they raise a wider awareness that could prevent its extinction.

On the Allee effect, Dr Courchamp also has a research article on Rarity Value and Species Extinction published in the journal of the Public Library of Science. While standard economic theory predicts that human exploitation alone is unlikely to result in species extinction because of the escalating costs of finding the last individuals of a declining species, the research reports that human predisposition to place exaggerated value on rarity fuels disproportionate exploitation of rare species, rendering them even rarer and thus more desirable, ultimately leading them into an extinction vortex. The article is difficult to read and it comprises mathematical models. However, in simple term, it listed out six human activities that could create an Anthropogenic Allee Effect.

Collections. The most straightforward example of a nature-related activity where rarity is valued is that of hobby collections, where the rarest items are the most valued and thus demand the highest prices.

Trophy hunting. Trophy hunting represents another form of collection. For thousands of years, several cultures have valued trophies as a sign of manhood and virility. Species that were difficult to kill symbolized power, because power was required to kill them. However, because sophisticated firearms are now used, the emphasis of hunting has shifted from dangerous to rare animals. Rarer species are harder to find, so greater hunting skill and greater wealth are required, and greater prestige is gained by killing them.

Luxury items. The consumption of rare species as luxury food items is another way of displaying wealth and social status. The rarer the item, the more expensive it is, and the more prestige is gained by its acquisition.

Exotic pets. Another activity that can lead to a Allee Effect is exotic pet ownership, which is an increasingly important part of the wildlife trade business. Reptile, bird, and monkey pets are becoming ever more fashionable in some parts of the world, with the rarest species being especially sought after.

Ecotourism. Ecotourism ventures have expanded greatly in recent years, with the public increasingly wanting to experience a closeness to natural ecosystems or species. Such activities often involve encountering and observing rare species. Given that some ecotourism activities have been shown to generate disturbances that are detrimental to the fitness of observed species, we can assume that rare species, especially those that are charismatic, will be disproportionately impacted upon by ecotourism.

Traditional medicine. Traditional medicine uses many rare and endangered species. Although other aspects may influence ingredient choice, rarity certainly plays a role and may therefore result in an Allee Effect.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

生仔姑娘醉酒佬

睇官司學英文很久以來很多同事都在做。近期流行睇官司學中文,一來法庭用多了中文,二來近來趣味性官司多了,新聞又加油添醋的報導。看著下面的報導,是否覺得難以置信?看面相以定是否忠心,不用再攪見工或升職試、搬屋以避起訴、燒銀紙以贏官司、掘洞種玉錢來醫病;現在看來是迷信,不過這亦是「馬後炮」的一種。證人說「生仔姑娘醉酒佬」唔制又制,但並無解釋為何唔制,但後來又制。道教風水法術導人迷信,這只是云云騙局的其中一種。我有一朋友相信風水,他說這是幾千年的經驗統計而來的專業技術。但中國幾千年來何來有統計學以數據考證,其實全都是由師父話事再由權貴發揚光大。

找哨牙通指點迷津的不是無知市民,更不是無助只有聽天由命的一群。入局的全是社會精英,知識份子,富豪和議員。他們和其他人一樣,受騙全因為貪婪和恐懼:希望再增加財富,永遠健康,反過來是要避開一切威脅,包括疾病、惡運和官非。我在看一本書談及3K黨和地產經紀相同之處,就是利用人的貪婪和恐懼;3K黨利用白人至上的利益和暴力威脅的手法以達到其目的,而地產經紀就利用資訊來誘惑買家賣家盡快完成交易,賣家貪婪地以為已獲得最高價錢而買家就慶幸不用買貴樓而有損失,但其實地產經紀將價錢以完全相反的方式向買賣方表達。人貪婪希望上天堂得永生,又恐懼下地獄受永苦,但當無法解決這個難題,唯有「生仔姑娘醉酒佬」唔制又制。

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「生仔姑娘醉酒佬」
2009年5月21日 星期四 05:10
觸發「龔陳戀」的關鍵人物梁錦濠,昨終現身法庭作供。93年為化解官非而相信陳振聰之言、1年內 每晚燒毁15張100元紙幣的前立法局議員梁錦濠,雖最終難逃牢獄之苦,但原來陳事後曾指摘他,輸官司全因梁以「紅衫魚」代「金牛」。其間梁為申請保釋,仍執迷不悔再信陳,他自嘲當時心態猶如「生仔姑娘醉酒佬」。

梁錦濠指出,92年初經現任立法會議員石禮謙介紹下認識陳振聰,當初陳為他看下屬的面相,評論他們是否忠心或「功高蓋主」等,梁因官非被起訴後,陳指示他由沙田祖屋搬到西貢及尖沙嘴覺士道,又建議他每晚燒15張千元鈔票以贏官司,自此梁每月付5萬元予陳作風水費,至1年後入獄才停止。

陳振聰的英國御用大律師Ian Mill質疑,假如梁照做,燒1年將會花上500萬元,梁指他覺得太貴,故在陳同意下,改燒15張100元紙幣。但Mill仍感驚訝:「即使是百元紙幣,也會燒上50萬元吧,你有很多錢可以燒?他只是叫你燒『溪錢』吧?」梁否認陳叫他燒冥鏹:「我有更多錢。我相信他的風水指示要照做,我當時是全心全意信他。」

梁錦濠指93年被裁定賄賂公職人員罪成後,陳振聰前往探望,要他在15張白紙上簽名,陳稱認識中國前副總理田紀雲,可協助辦保釋,但就指他「輸官司是因為不聽建議,燒100蚊唔夠好。」Mill質疑陳既同意改燒百元紙幣,不可能反怪責梁。梁回應指這都是陳的「馬後炮」而已。Mill即追問,「如此說來,你應該很憤怒才對,為何你在口供中形容自己很沮喪呢?你還繼續相信他,要他辦保釋上訴。」梁對此無奈回應:「問題是米已成飯啦,有咩得嬲呢?埋怨投訴都是於是無補,當時我的心情,就似中國一句諺語:『生仔姑娘醉酒佬一樣』,對件事後悔,但又再做。」
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