They have wings but cannot fly. Theyre birds that think theyre fish. And every year, they embark on a nearly impossible journey to find a mate. For twenty days and twenty nights the emperor penguin will march to a place so extreme it supports no other life. In the harshest place on Earth loves finds a way.
~ March of the Penguins~
There are 17 species of penguins in the world, and 11 are in danger of becoming extinct. For example, there are only a few thousand Galapagos penguins left because El Niño depleted the fish they eat. There are also only a few thousand left of the yellow-eyed and fiordland penguins which live south of Australia. Penguins are dying off because of pollution, overfishing, coastal development, and climate changes.
Penguins are native to the southern hemisphere. They live in Antarctica and off the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America, with some as far north as the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador.
A report by Usha Lee McFarling of the Knight Rider Newspapers, December 6, 1998, states that 40,000 penguins are killed each year by oil spills off the coast of Argentina. Pollution in the ocean also reduces the ability of penguins to reproduce. In New Zealand and Australia, non-indigenous predators such as cats, dogs, and ferrets feed on the vulnerable penguins.
The penguins have limited territory and rely on fishing near their nests. They depend on specific fish such as anchovies and sardines. Human fishing competes with the Penguins and can eliminate their food supply. Flying birds can hunt in a wider territory, and some such as sea gulls can adapt to other types of food, but penguins must eat the local fish. In some places, the human fishing industry also directly kills the penguins. They get snared in nets, and are even deliberately killed and their meat used as bait.
In Peru, the guano (droppings from penguins) is harvested as a resource. This can harm the penguins, since they burrow into guano piles to hide from seals.
Live penguins can be an economic resource, since they attract tourists. But if not properly managed, tourism can threaten the survival of the penguins. Tourists step on the eggs and interrupt breeding. Tour boats also pose the danger of oil spills.
These combined forces that threaten the penguins are patterns that impact on the environment in general. Because penguins are popular with us humans, their cause could be a catalyst for greater global efforts to save the natural environment. We need an international treaty on wildlife to make those who destroy wildlife pay for the damage they cause. Tour boats and ships, for example, should not be allowed to operate unless they have insurance or other funds to pay for any oil spills.
The greater problem of global pollution requires an international agreement to make all polluters pay for their damage. This cost would have two effects. The pollution charges would be passed on to the consumers of the products, making those items more expensive and thus reducing the quantity purchased, and thereby reducing the pollution. The charges would also induce polluting firms to reduce the charge by putting in equipment and changing their production methods to reduce the pollution. The charges could be used to pay for monitoring the wildlife to enforce the payments.
Fishing is a problem because the oceans are unmanaged common property. The remedy is to limit the fishing to a sustainable level and then auction off the rights to fish. The payment for fishing permits would be a type of rent for the use of the fishing water. Killing penguins and other endangered wildlife should be penalized as well, and non-native predators need to be controlled.
Because penguins capture the public imagination, environmental groups can use their plight to educate the public on the general problem of the destruction of wildlife. But environmental groups should also educate themselves on the economics of conservation. Often the best environmental policy is not command and control, but to affect human action through the market, by making consumers and producers pay the full social cost of their damage. That cost may be difficult to measure and estimate, but such things are better done badly than not at all.
Let us hope the tragedy of losing most of the world's penguin species will help spur greater efforts to preserve the natural environment. You can help by supporting environmental organizations and joining the dialogue on environmental economics.
The earth has a bipolar disorder. Global warming threatens the wildlife of both the north and south polar regions. In the north, the polar bears are dying off because the ice shelves they depend on to reach their prey have been melting. In the south, melting ice and snow create huge cracks and caverns which trap penguins and make it difficultSkeptics of global warming can point to areas such as the center of Antarctica where there has been no warming, but the evidence is clear now that average global temperatures are rising, and the visual evidence of melting glaciers is there for anyone to see. In the U.S.A., Glacier National Park will have to be renamed Park Meltdown.
The various types of birds are classified as “orders,” and the penguin order is called Sphenisciformes.This order contains aquatic flightless birds which live in the Southern Hemisphere. As only penguins are in that order, penguins are quite different from all other birds in walking upright and in some of them being able to live in extremely cold climates.
Penguins are dying throughout the Southern Hemisphere. In the Prince Edward Islands by South Africa in the Indian Ocean, penguin populations are shrinking. As the oceans warm up, the prey eaten by penguins move south to cooler waters.
The 900-mile-long Antarctic Peninsula which sticks out from the main continent is warming up at a greater pace than the world average. There the ice is melting rapidly, and huge chucks of ice sheets are braking off. The Adelie penguins there have to swim ever longer distances to get food, and there is also less food, especially krill, small shrimp-like animals that depend on the sea ice. If the warming continues, they will be unable to survive there.
In the Ross Sea by Antarctica, two huge ice sheets have broken away from the ice sheet and block the passage that penguins use from feeding to breeding areas. They have to walk 30 miles (50 kilometers) more to get to the feeding waters. This creates an extreme hardship for penguins as they waddle on land at only one mile per hour. The population of the impressive emperor penguins in Antarctica has been cut in half during the past 50 years.
The penguin order is not overall threatened with extinction, as some species can live in warmer climates. Nevertheless, penguins everywhere are under pressure, as while there are no predators on Antarctica, penguins further north are threatened by predators such as cats, dogs, and rats.
The warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and decline of the penguins there is a warning to humanity about the looming global threat for humanity. Many people world-wide have viewed the documentary film by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It is unfortunate that this persuasive film dwells almost entirely on the problem, with very little on solutions. It’s fine to replace old light bulbs with new ones that are more energy efficient, but there is no good substitute for economic policies that make people pay the social cost when they do damage to the planet.
In a speechat the New York University School of Law on September 18, 2006, Al Gore, proposed replacing payroll taxes with a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Gore has advocated “the elimination of all payroll taxes -- including those for social security and unemployment compensation - and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes -- principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution.”
Some Green parties and environmentalists and geoists (Georgists) have gone further and propose a complete green tax shiftthat would replace all punitive taxes with levies on pollution and land value. By shifting public revenue to land rent or land value along with pollution, the shift to efficiency taxes would benefit both the economy and the environment, as it would eliminate the deadweight loss of the punitive taxation of wages, profits, and trade.
A rapid green tax shift would stop the human contribution to global warming and help save both the penguins and human beings from the looming damage of rising temperatures. The bonus is that there is a great economic benefit from this shift even if human activity is contributing little to global warming.
In cost-benefit analysis, the probability of an outcome has to be multiplied by its estimated cost. The potential cost of runaway global warming, of reaching a tipping point followed by an exponential increase in global heat, is colossal, so even a small probability warrants quick action. So Al Gore and those properly alarmed by global warming should focus on the green tax shift. Anything else, whether greener light bulbs or pollution permits, will only help a little. Regulations and permits impose economic costs, while the green tax shift provides big benefits. Only a global green tax shift will save the penguins, humanity, and the planet from a possible global catastrophe.
article written by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
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