Projecting the Effect of Introducing In-Vitro Meat into the Marketplace




In-vitro meat (aka cultured meat, synthetic meat, or more comically “shmeat” and “frankenmeat”) has been proposed and is currently being researched to replace animal agriculture while still keeping meat on the table. Rather than raising an animal for slaughter, in-vitro meat is grown from muscle stem cells in a medium and thus would not be reliant on large-scale livestock animal agriculture (Fountain 2013). This innovation, although still not on the grocery shelves, has support and funding from environmentalists and animal rights groups (Travis 2014) because it would decrease animal cruelty on farms as well as the vast majority of the environmental costs of the meat industry (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011).

First, I discuss the economics of in-vitro beef, projecting future costs in 2030 to determine the feasibility of in-vitro beef entering the market. Then I discuss the differences in environmental costs, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, between in-vitro meat and conventional meat. Finally, I project the environmental effects of in-vitro meat replacing different proportions of the conventional meat market in the global marketplace 2030.



One of limitations to in-vitro meat entering the market with large-scale production is economics and funding. In 2013, Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University produced a five-ounce burger patty for $330,000 (Zaraska 2013), or $1,056,000 per lb ($478,993.15 per kg; Zaraska 2016). In 2015, Post told the press that the price had dropped by nearly 80%, meaning around $66,000 per five-ounce burger, or $211,200 per lb ($95,798.63 per kg; Ferdman 2015). By January 2016, an American cultured meat firm Memphis Meats produced an in-vitro meatball for $18,000 per lb ($8,164.66 per kg; Zaraska 2016). Post expects the price of a five-ounce patty to drop to $10 by 2020, or $32 per lb (14.5 $/kg; Ferdman 2015).

In order to project the cost and therefore feasibility of in-vitro meat competing with livestock meat, I graphed these data in linear space without transformation (Figure 1) and log-transformed (Figure 2,3). The best-fit line was linear in the log-transformed data, demonstrating an exponential decrease in the cost of in-vitro meat over time (R2 = 0.981). In order to better project the price of in-vitro meat by 2030 such that the cost does not drop to $0/kg, I also fit an exponential curve onto the log-transformed data (Figure 3). This line also had a good fit (R2 = 0.940). Using the equation of the exponential line, I project the cost of in-vitro meat in 2030 to be $1.436 per kg. This is a rough estimate based on limited data in small-scale operations. Nonetheless, the cost of in-vitro meat will surely be low, if not as low as $1.436 per kg.


Figure 1. Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat per year in linear space. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).


Figure 2. log(Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat) per year in linear space. Linear trend line and equation are added with an R2 = 0.981. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).


Figure 3. log(Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat) per year in linear space. Exponential trend line and equation are added with an R2 = 0.940 such that the price is projected to stabilize rather than equal 0 by 2030. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).

Economic Implications

Under this projection, would in-vitro beef be able to economically compete with conventional livestock? Globally, beef prices have a positive linear growth in price/kg in the past 12 years, currently around 2.99 USD/kg of beef (Trading Economics 2016, Figure 4). Because these data cost money to obtain, I was not able to project the cost/kg of beef in 2030. However, based on the positive linear trend in price/kg, I expect the cost to be above $4/kg. Thus, by 2030, in-vitro beef will be able to compete with conventional beef, potentially being a cheaper alternative to conventional beef. These calculations are only done for beef as other in-vitro meats are only recently being developed.


Figure 4. The price of beef (in BRL/kg) over time with a linear trend line added. Adapted from Trading Economics (2016). For reference: 1 BRL = 0.29 USD.


Environmental Impacts of In-Vitro Meat

A 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report breaks down the environmental and economic impacts of animal agriculture (FAO 2006). The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of anthropogenic GHG when accounting for the sum production chain – including crop agriculture for animal consumption, land use, respiration, ruminant methane emissions, and transportation (FAO 2006). Currently, the developed world consumes 232% of kg of meat per capita (95.7 kg per capita) than the global average (41.3 kg per capita) and is projected to consume 221% of kg of meat per capita (100.1 kg per capita) than the global average (45.3 kg per capita) in 2030 (FAO 2003). Thus, disproportionate consumption of in-vitro meat in the developed world can also influence environmental effects. It is important to note that meat consumption is not equitable across the world.

Tuomisto and de Mattos (2011) summarize the primary FAO (2006) results, broken down by meat type, relative to land use change, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and water use of the report. They then compare those impacts to projected environmental impacts of large-scale in-vitro meat production (Figure 5). According to their analyses, 1000 kg of in-vitro meat, relative to European meat, requires 26-33 GJ, 7-45% less energy input (45% less than beef, 7% less than pork) and is only more energy intensive than poultry. In-vitro meat emits 1900-2240 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg, 78-96% less than that of conventional meat. In-vitro meat uses 367-521 m3 water/1000 kg (82-96% less water than conventional meat) and 190-230 m2 of land/1000 kg (99% less than that of conventional meat). Variation in the impact of in-vitro meat relates to the effects of different climates on production costs (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011). Should in-vitro meat reach large-scale production at a competitive price, switching meat consumption from conventional to in-vitro meat would therefore mitigate GHG, water use, and land use. Previous pasture and agricultural land used for livestock feed could potentially be converted to standing forests or biofuel, potentially further mitigating GHG in the atmosphere.


Figure 5. Relative energy input, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land use, and water use across livestock-cultivated beef, sheep, pork, and poultry, and in-vitro meat (Cultured meat). Adapted from Tuomisto and de Mattos (2011).

Using these data, we can project the impact of cultivated meat on GHG, land use, and water use in 2030 with both low and high estimates. First, I calculated low and high estimates of GHG emissions, land use, and water use of 1000 kg of conventional meat using the relative impact percentages of cultivated meat (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011). Calculations were done using the mean impact values for in-vitro meat. For example, in calculating GHG emissions, I estimated GHG emissions for in-vitro meat to be 2070 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg. I then determined that the low estimate of GHG emissions/kg of conventional meat is 9409.09 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg and the high estimate is 51750 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg. These results are presented in Table 1.


Table 1. Calculations of GHG, land use, and water use impact estimates.

In-Vitro Meat (Low) In-Vitro Meat (High) Meat (Low) Meat (High)
GHG Emissions (kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg) 1900 2240 9409.09 51750
Land Use (m2 of land/1000 kg) 190 230 21000 21000
Water Use (m3 water/1000 kg) 367 521 2466.67 11100



The global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 with Europe and North America making up 1.19 billion or 14% of the global population (UN Economic & Social Affairs 2015). By 2030, global per capita meat consumption is projected to be 45.3 kg per capita per year (therefore 385.05 billion kg in total), with industrial nations consuming 100.1 kg per capita (FAO 2003). Assuming that industrial nations are made up of Europe and North America, this translates to 119.119 billion kg of meat – 30.9% of global meat consumption.

I calculated the raw (Figure 6), raw savings of (Figure 7), and proportion saved relative to no in-vitro meat of (Figure 8) 2030 GHG emissions, land use, and water use from meat with low and high estimates relative to how much of the meat market is replaced by in-vitro meat.


Figure 6. The effects of in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions (kg CO2-eq), land use (m2), and water use (m3) in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Figure made by author.


Figure 7. The environmental savings of in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions (kg CO2-eq), land use (m2), and water use (m3) in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Calculations based on a given percentage of in-vitro meat in the market subtracted from 0% in-vitro meat in the market at either a low or high estimate. Figure made by author.


Figure 8. The proportion of environmental impact otherwise avoided when in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions, land use, and water use in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Calculations based on a given percentage of in-vitro meat in the market subtracted from 0% in-vitro meat in the market at either a low or high estimate. This number is then divided by the impact of 0% meat in the market using a low and high estimate. Figure made by author.


These projected data show that even if only the industrialized world switches completely to in-vitro meat, GHG would drop 23.4% to 28.8%, 29.7% of land otherwise used for animal agriculture and feed could be used for other purposes, and 24.6%-28.8% less water would be used. Increasing the proportion of the meat market made up of in-vitro meat saves GHG emissions, land, and water.



As the meat industry is responsible for 18% of anthropogenic GHG (FAO 2006), the prospect of in-vitro meat curbing the demand for livestock agriculture, particularly in the developed world, could provide solutions to GHG emissions, land availability, and water use by 2030. Although the production costs are viewed as a limitation to the feasibility of large-scale in-vitro meat production, prices have been dropping and both academic researchers and tech start-ups have been rapidly decreasing the price of in-vitro meat. It is therefore realistic to expect in-vitro meat to be competitive with conventional meat by 2030, providing a replacement for the more environmentally costly conventional meat.


Works Cited

Ferdman, R. A. (2015, May 20). This is the future of meat. The Washington Post. Retrieved from < >


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2003. World agriculture: towards 2015/2030: An FAO perspective. Economic and Social Development Department, FAO, Rome.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: environmental issues and options. Agriculture and Consumer Protection, FAO, Rome.


Fountain, H. (2013, May 12). Building a $325,000 Burger. The New York Times. Retrieved from < >


Trading Economics, 2016. Beef. Retrieved December 12, 2016, Trading Ecoomics. Retrieved from < >


Travis, J. (2014, March 3). PETA Abandons $1 Million Prize for Artificial Chicken. Science. Retrieved from < >


Tuomisto H. L. and de Mattos M. J. T., 2011. Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45(14), 6117-6123.


United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Divisions, 2015. Population 2030: Demographic challenges and opportunities for sustainable development planning (ST/ESA/SER.A/389). United Nations, New York.


Zaraska, M. (2013, August 5). Lab-grown beef taste test: ‘Almost’ like a burger. The Washington Post. Retrieved from < >


Zaraska, M. (2016, May 2). Lab-grown meat is in your future, and it may be healthier than the real stuff. The Washington Post. Retrieved from < >


Increasing Wind Power in the Energy Portfolio May Decrease Annual Bird Fatality



As we decrease our use of fossil fuels for energy production and increase our reliance on alternative energy production, organizations such as the Audubon Society have publicized worries that wind farms will increase bird mortality (Bryce, 2016). Such concerns should be handled seriously, considering US wind turbines currently kill between 140,000 and 328,000 birds annually (Loss et al., 2013) and killing of many of these bird species is considered illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Erickson et al., 2005). Given wind turbine placement is best in areas with increased wind and that migrating birds selectively use winds to decrease flight costs in migration (Alerstam, 1979), it should not be shocking that bird mortality has been shown to increase during migration (Jain et al. 2009a), further posing a problem to wind power development under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Donald Trump has even brought up this issue in arguing against increasing wind energy and phasing out coal stating, “And [wind energy] kills all the birds. I don’t know if you know that… Thousands of birds are lying on the ground. And the eagle. You know, they put you in jail if you kill an eagle. And yet these windmills [kill] them by the hundreds” (Galloway, 2016).

Annual bird fatality due to wind power in comparison to other anthropogenic causes of death and other energy sources, however, can place the threat of wind turbines in perspective. Currently, wind turbines account for less than 1% of annual anthropogenic bird mortality whereas building collision, power lines, and cat predation in sum account for 82.5% of annual anthropogenic bird mortality (Erickson et al., 2005). Even amongst energy sources, Sovacool (2013) estimated that wind energy has only 0.269 avian fatalities per GWh, compared to 5.18 avian fatalities per GWh for fossil fuels and 0.419 avian fatalities per GWh for nuclear power.

If we were to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 following Socolow’s stabilization wedges, wind energy and nuclear energy would need to increase relative to fossil fuel production (Pacala and Socolow, 2004). Even more so, following the Department of Energy’s “Wind Vision” plan, wind energy in the form of both on-shore and offshore wind farms will increase to 35% of our energy portfolio (U.S. Department of Energy, 2015). Wind farms can, though, intersect with the typical pathways through which migrating birds fly during migration, known as “migration flyways.” Thus, looking at whether certain migration flyways are disproportionately affected by turbines is important for placement of on-shore turbines, and projecting how bird mortality per year changes due to a changing energy production portfolio is important to understand implications on bird conservation. Such results could aid in advocacy for conservation and renewable energy, as well as determine if following through with different carbon emissions mitigation strategies decreases violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Here, I first analyze if on-shore wind turbines disproportionately affect certain migration pathways, which could be the case if certain migratory pathways are more heavily trafficked. Then, using current data on the U.S. energy production portfolio, projected energy production, and avian mortality rates, I estimate current annual avian mortality in 2050 and project future avian mortality should we 1) continue with business as usual, 2) implement Socolow’s stabilization wedges, or 3) adapt the Department of Energy’s “Wind Vision” plan in conjunction with Socolow’s stabilization wedges.


Migration Pathways and Avian Mortality

Methods. In order to see if wind turbines placed in certain migration pathways have a disproportionate effect on bird mortality, I cross-referenced wind energy farm locations and capacity information (OpenEI, n.d.) and fatality/MW data from 21 locations (Erickson et al., 2004, 2008; Johnson et al., 2002, 2003; Howe et al., 2002; NWCC, 2010; Young et al., 2003, 2009; Nicholson 2001, 2002; Koford et al., 2005; Derby et al., 2007; Jain et al., 2008; Jain et al., 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). I then assigned each location to one of four migratory flyways as mapped by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2016; Fig. 1): the Pacific Flyway, Central Flyway, Mississippi Flyway, and Atlantic Flyway. I further determined the mean bird fatalities/MW/migratory pathway ± standard deviation (Fig. 2).



Figure 1: Map of U.S. migratory flyways. Adapted from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (2016).


Results. Although mean number of bird fatalities per MW differed between flyways, with the Mississippi Flyway having the highest mean number of bird fatalities per MW (5.265 ± 4.73), the variation in bird fatalities per MW suggests the flyways are not significantly different than other migratory pathways (Figure 2), and that migratory pathways had similar bird fatalities per MW of wind turbines within the range of uncertainty (Figure 2). These results therefore suggest that on-shore wind turbines do not disproportionately affect certain migratory pathways. Therefore, mitigation of avian mortality should focus on local site selection and modification of turbine function rather than broad-based location.



Figure 2: Mean ± SD bird fatalities per MW across the four US Migratory Flyways. Data sourced from: Erickson et al. (2004, 2008), Johnson et al. (2002, 2003), Howe et al. (2002), NWCC (2010), Young et al. (2003, 2009), Nicholson (2001, 2002), Koford et al. (2005), Derby et al. (2007), Jain et al. (2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c), and OpenEI (n.d.).


Effect of Carbon Emission Mitigation on Annual Bird Fatality

Methods. To assess current bird mortality and project future bird mortality by 2050 through 1) business as usual, 2) stabilization wedges, and 3) the implementation of the “Wind Vision” plan (Figure 3), I first accessed data on US energy production sources from the EIA “Electricity Data Browser” to obtain the total generated GWh and GWh per energy sources (U.S. Energy Information Administration, n.d.) for 2015. I then multiplied fossil fuel energy, nuclear energy, and wind energy production by Sovacool’s (2013) calculated bird fatalities/GWh for each of these energy sectors. To determine bird fatality/year in 2050, I applied an EIA forecast of 24% growth in electricity from 2013 to 2040 (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015).

Using the 1-yr average in energy growth (0.89%) obtained from averaging 24% growth from 2013 to 2040, I forecast energy production in 2050 to be 5,519,435.81 GWh. I then broke down energy production between sectors using the 2015 energy portfolio. Then, I applied Sovacool’s (2013) rates of bird fatality/GWh for each sector to determine total bird fatalities/GWh. Following suit, I generated new energy portfolios where the added energy production between 2015 and 2050 was broken down by Socolow’s stabilization wedges (Pacala and Socolow, 2004) where 1/7 of added energy is produced by wind, 1/7 is produced by nuclear energy, and 2/7 is produced by fossil fuel. I was not able to get estimates for bird fatality/ GWh due to solar or hydroelectric; however, both seem to have a negligible effect on bird fatality (Turney and Fthenakis, 2011).

Then, I determined the energy portfolio for a 35% growth in wind farms by 2050 following the “Wind Vision” plan (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015a). The added energy production between 2015 and 2050 was split in a similar method following Socolow’s stabilization wedges.


Results. As a result of applying carbon mitigation proposals, bird mortality would actually be lower per year when compared to continuing with business as usual (Figure 3). In contrast to public concerns about wind, increasing the wind energy in our energy portfolio would lead to a decrease in the number of bird fatalities due to energy generation per year such that annual bird fatalities would be lower in 2050 than they were in 2015 despite a 31% increase in projected energy generation during this same period (Figure 3).


Bird fatality projections.png

Figure 3: Bird fatalities/yr based on 1) switching to Socolow stabilization wedges’ energy portfolio by 2050, 2) continuing with “business as usual” and not shifting our energy portfolio, and 3) applying the “Wind Vision” report and expanding wind energy to 35% of our energy budget while applying stabilization wedges for carbon mitigation. Figure is made by author. Data is sourced from and projected based on U.S. Energy Information Administration (2015a, 2015b, 2016), Pacala and Socolow (2004), and Sovacool (2013).


Synthesis and Implications

Even though there are concerns regarding increasing wind farms in the U.S., particularly due to legal ramifications under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Erickson et al., 2005), increasing the proportion of energy generated by wind actually would decrease the number of avian mortalities due to electrical energy generation/year, particularly when done in conjunction with other mitigation strategies (Figure 3).

One limitation to these data, however, is that fatality other than direct kills (such as exhaustion of birds leading to increased mortality during migration or kills by power line electrocution; Manville, 2005) is not considered in this analysis. Other energy sources though, pose some of these same risks to birds – particularly that of power line electrocution. At present, power lines alone account for 130 million annual bird mortalities, 13.7% of annual anthropogenic bird mortality (Erickson et al., 2005). Therefore, decreasing a reliance on fossil fuels by increasing wind production and nuclear production would decrease annual avian mortality by avoiding fatalities that are due to fossil fuel extraction, combustion, pollution, and climate change. Contemporaneously, we can invest more research and technology in decreasing bird mortality due to public utilities like power lines, for which steps have already been taken (Manville, 2005).

It is clear that, contrary to public and to Trump’s opinion, increasing wind energy would theoretically benefit bird population viabilities. As research into mitigating and avoiding avian mortality increases, technological advances could potentially further decrease annual mortality rates. Given that available data indicate that migratory pathways do not have significantly different avian mortality rates due to wind turbines (Figure 2), variation in mortality rates could be due to wind energy management and differences between specific wind turbines and size of wind farms. Currently, research is being conducted to further mitigate mortality rates at and around wind turbines. For example, determining diurnal and nocturnal migration densities and locations around proposed and developed sites could determine peak migration times. Avoiding building wind turbines in these sites would decrease future mortality, and turning off currently functioning turbines during these times can decrease both current and future mortality (Hüppop et al., 2006). More work should also be done though in deciphering what types of wind turbine structures and management allow birds to better recognize and avoid wind turbines.


Alerstam, T., 1979. Wind as selective agent in bird migration, Ornis Scandinavica, 10, 76-93.

Bryce, E. (2016, March 16). Will Wind Turbines Ever Be Safe For Birds?. Audobon. Retrieved from

Derby, C., et al., 2007. Post-construction monitoring report for avian and bat mortality at the NPPD Ainsworth wind farm. Unpublished report prepared by WEST, Inc., Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the Nebraska Public Power District.

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Linking social theory to science for a more just conservation: the case of the ivory trade

Hello all!

As some of you may or may not know, my interests in the sciences (and outside of them) are a bit all over the place. I’m doing my thesis in hummingbird plumage evolution, however I’ve been exploring political ecology both in my undergrad career and in my graduate career secondary to my work in evolution and behavioral ecology.

I think it’s necessary for those in the sciences to understand the social frameworks within which they work and make recommendations. Historically, conservation has functioned in a colonialist framework that ideologically separates “human” and “natural” processes, often in coercive measures in what’s known as “fortress conservation.” These practices have been negative and problematic, particularly when carried out by developed nations forcibly in colonies, as people have been forcibly removed from parks and antagonism between conservation and disenfranchised locals have grown. Although the era of colonialism has passed, many of these practices and social effects of these practices have remained in a neocolonialist conservationism.

One of the most evident and interesting cases of this is militaristic conservation in Subsaharan Africa to combat wildlife exchange and particularly the ivory trade. There, “shoot-to-kill”/”shoot-on-sight” policies have been passed and internationally endorsed, legalizing and condoning the killing of suspected poachers on park grounds in an escalating “war for biodiversity.” This has been justified internationally because of the connection between the ivory trade and terror networks, who gain funds as middlemen, trading ivory from poachers to developing and developed nations – particularly China, Japan, and the U.S.

Is this just, though? and is this the right tactic we should be taking considering African elephant numbers due to poaching have continued to plummet in recent years despite increased resources in poaching prevention?

I think our approach is flawed. First, I think that the concentration by NGOs and by international groups on poaching rather than on decreasing demand abroad fails to focus attention on the indirect roots of the ivory trade. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge the myriad reasons people may be driven to poach, effectively making us dehumanize African poachers and perpetuate a neocolonial outlook on conservation.

Studies of poaching incentives show that those participating in bush meat poaching are doing so because of a demand for bush meat in local areas, lack of stable governance, a lack of benefits of wildlife, lack of understanding rights over wildlife, and a lack of other viable livelihoods. The latter three are also viewed as incentives for ivory poaching, as well as a dissatisfaction or conflict with conservation policies and a global demand for ivory. Creating an all-inclusive definition for illegal hunting places both those reliant on bush meat (often poor marginalized groups) and those that take part in the ivory trade (yet again often poor marginalized groups, which may fund groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, in the same discursive category. Simultaneously, concentration on the American, European, Chinese, and Japanese consumer is ignored. Thus, the concentration on combatting the poor “African Other” by killing them rather than on the implication of the global North in consumption continues to support a colonialist conservation view and also purport a Malthusian perspective that targets the poor direct exploiters rather than the indirect market drivers. As a result, this black-and-white moral dichotomy between the evil African poacher and the morally upright park and international wildlife protection goals allows for human abuse of the locals while abdicating the roles of the North, similar to the previous colonialist conservation structure.

Social theories also illuminate ways we can rethink the role of elephants and thus our conservation strategies surrounding elephants. Rather than viewing them as resources, we can few them as individuals that affect change both in their ecosystem and amongst those that “speak for them” (mainly international NGOs and donors from affluent countries).

Conservation of elephants does matter, both to elephants and to people. Elephants are keystone species, meaning that they disproportionately affect their ecosystem. By trampling down large trees, elephants break up dense woodland and increase habitat heterogeneity. This allows increased seed dispersal and increased biodiversity, as well as increasing pastureland and ecosystem services. In fact, past over-poaching of elephants during the ivory trade of the 1800s led to decreased pastureland and ecosystem-level change in East Africa. So, decreasing poaching does benefit locals when they have access to parks. It also benefits elephants (obviously in that they aren’t killed but also) by decreasing the killing of matriarchs, those that are selectively poached, and thereby securing herd stability and recovery.

Elephants, though, are also viewed as flagship species by NGOs and thus increase funding and attention to conservation. They make great flagships given their charismatic features (everyone loves elephants, right?) and their similarity to humans (we’ve all seen those elephants paint videos) in both intelligence and social traits. The issue is, though, by humanizing the elephant we’re recreating a historically unjust system in a modern context: the poacher is dehumanized and the elephant humanized, making this war for biodiversity more digestible. Furthermore, this tension in who we prioritize can lead to local people feeling antagonized by conservation, particularly given their lack of power in decision-making. This can perpetuate the extreme human-elephant conflict we’re seeing.

So what should we do about conservation?

Obviously poaching is terrible. But our current strategy has only led to an arms-race between poachers and rangers. We have to concentrate our efforts on decreasing demand, which should also translate to decreased incentive to poach given the decrease in price. We should also acknowledge the incentives to poach and change our discourse surrounding poaching. Then we can develop strategy that targets different incentives. We should also create participatory management practices, which has had some success in South Africa and Namibia. We can then decrease tension and benefit both humans and elephants.


Sources here if you want to read more:

Agrawal, A, MC Lemos. 2007. A greener revolution in the making? Environmental governance in the 21st century. Enviornment 49: 37-45.

Archie, AA, CJ Moss, and SC Alberts. 2011. Friends and Relations: Kinship and the Nature of Female Elephant Social Relationships. The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal. Edited by CJ Moss, C Harvey, and PC Lee. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press: 238-245.

Baruna, M. 2010. Whose issue? Representations of human-elephant conflict in Indian and international media. Science Communication 32(1): 55-75.

Baruna, M. 2014. Circulating elephants: unpacking the geographies of a cosmopolitan animal. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39(4):559-573

Bingham, N. 1996. Object-ions: from technological determinism towards geographies of relations. Environmental and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 635-657.

Bond, WJ. 1994. Keystone Species. Springer Studies Edition, 99: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 237-253.

Constantin, F. 2000. L’humanité, l’éléphant, et le paysan. Bien commun et pouvoir local. Critique internationale 9(9): 117-130.

Douglas, LR, D Veríssimo. 2013. Flagships or Battleships: Deconstructing the relationship between social conflict and conservation flagship species. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 4: 98-116.

Duffy, R. 2014. Waging a war to save biodiversity: the rise of militarized conservation. International Affairs 90(4): 819-834.

Gobush, KS, B Kerr, SK Wasser. 2009. Genetic Relatedness and Disrupted Social Structure in a Poached Population of African Elephants. Molecular Ecology 18: 722-734.

Gobush, KS, BM Mutayoba, SK Wasser. 2008. Long-Term Impacts of Poaching on Relatedness, Stress Physiology, and Reproductive Output of Adult Female African Elephants. Conservation Biology 22: 1590-1599.

Gobush, KS and SK Wasser. 2009. Behavioural correlates of low relatedness in African elephant core groups of a poached population. Animal Behaviour 78: 1079-1086.

Håkansson, NT. 2004. The human ecology of world systems in East Africa: The impact of the ivory trade. Human Ecology 32(5): 561-591.

Jepson, P, M. Barua, K Buckingham. 2011. What is a conservation actor?. Conservation & Society 9(3): 229-235.

Keesing F. 2000. Cryptic consumers and the ecology of an African savanna. BioScience 50(3): 205-215.

Knapp, EJ. 2007. Who poaches? Household economies of illegal hunters in the Western Serengeti. Human Dimensions of Wildlife12(3): 195-198.

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Law, J, J Hassard (Eds). 1999. Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lindsey P, G Balme, M Becker, C Begg, C Bento, C Bocchino, A Dickman, R Diggle, H Eves, P Henschel, D Lewis, K Marnewick, J Mattheus, JW McNutt, R McRobb, N Midlane, J Milanzi, R Morley, M Murphree, P Nyoni, V Opyene, J Phadima, N Purchase, D                           Rentsch, C Roche, J Shaw, H van der Westhuizen, N Van Vliet, and P Zisadza. Illegal hunting and the bush-meat trade in savanna Africa: drivers, impacts and solutions to address the problem. Panthera/Zoological Society of London/Wildlife Conservation Society report, New York. 74 pages.

Murdoch, J. 1998. The spaces of actor-network theory. Geoforum 29: 357-374.

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Nishihara, T. 2003. Elephants poaching and ivory trafficking in African tropical forest with special reference to the Republic of Congo. Pachyderm 34: 66-74.

Soulé, ME. 1985. What is conservation biology?. BioScience 35(11): 727-734.

Vaccaro, I, O Beltran, PA Paquet. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology 20: 255-272.

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White, N. 2014. The “White Gold of Jihad”: violence, legitimisation and contestation in anti- poaching strategies. Journal of Political Ecology 21: 452-474.


CITES press release,

“Al-Shabaab Kenya attack: death toll rises to 147-live updates,” The Guardian, 2 April 2015,

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, “We all have a role to play in ending the ivory trade,” Financial Times, 23 February 2014,

Monica Medina, “The White Gold of Jihad,” The New York Times, 30 September 2013,


How my veganism impacted my conservation (pt 2)

I hope that I have at least successfully made the following thematic points in part 1:

(1) Successful tactics in furthering an ethical stance do not come from forcing another to conform to one’s own ethics. Education may or may not lead another to realize they hold the same stance, but they have a right to differ.

(2) Subjective experience, particularly when culturally-relevant, and acknowledging privilege matter when thinking about moral dilemmas and people’s abilities to act.

(3) We (the West) seem to have a trend of ignoring issues at home while forcing conformity to some sense of morality abroad. This is generally problematic and hypocritical in many regards and follows the above two issues.

Where am I going with this and what does it have to do with conservation… 

I’ve had the fortune of taking a few eye-opening courses during my undergraduate career that exposed me to critical environmental history as well as political ecology. My discomforts I had always felt in discussions in conservation seemed to grow, but also were theoretically and practically validated in terms of justice. These issues follow those from which I had drawn the above conclusions.

When it comes to mainstream conservation historically and presently, we have failed to acknowledge the power relations and implications in decision-making. We have focused attention abroad or outside of our local sphere rather than acknowledging and acting on our local-scale problems. This theme has followed a neo-colonial narrative of enforcing our moral views often violently abroad while not acting in the same intensity to stop the localized issues.

How is it that we should expect it to be okay (let alone successful) to enforce policies upon others on a global scale and regional scale when on an individual basis, other morally valid ideas (that also obviously improve environmentalism and conservation such as veganism) are viewed as condescending or disrespectful when done in the same manner?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but the irony has strongly influenced my perception of morality in conservation schemes. Grass-roots approaches matter to conservation, particularly given that many threats to species stem from habitat destruction often to do with our own consumption, and in the long-run, global warming – also related to our own consumption.


I hope this wasn’t too all over the place. Alas, I have not myself been able to ethically resolve these issues. On that note, have a great Sunday!