The environmentalist Sydney-(out)sider
In the SCMP article “Don’t wait five years to ban ivory trade, Hong Kong”, Hubert Cheung discusses China’s recent pledge to stop the ivory trade, and criticises Hong Kong’s lagging action plan. The ivory black market is a lucrative and damaging industry; even though there has been an international ban on ivory for decades, it’s not very effective or well-enforced, and many poachers illegally hunt elephants for their tusks. China recently pledged to halt the domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017, and Hong Kong followed suit by announcing a plan to ban the possession of ivory. The key detail, however, is that the Hong Kong ban won’t be fully implemented until the end of 2021.
This leads to Cheung’s main argument; that this 4-year gap between the two bans, designed to give traders and shopkeepers a grace period of adjustment, will only make things worse. In these four years, ivory could be bought legally in Hong Kong and taken to the mainland, driving up the value of ivory in Hong Kong, which is already one of the world’s largest ivory retail markets. The 4-year window could encourage traders and poachers to take full advantage of the regulatory loopholes before they close. Therefore, Cheung concludes, the grace period would do more harm than good, and the government should speed up the process to close the gap.
I chose this article because of two reasons – first, that as a Hong Konger, the news of my hometown immediately caught my eye. Second, it’s an interesting argument and an important topic, but the actual article isn’t very effective. As we discussed in class, it was clearly written by an academic, not a journalist. Not only was the beginning dull, but it wasn’t even a proper lead – it was a long paragraph detailing the history of the ivory trade. He continues with the same tone of explanation for half the piece, and doesn’t reach his argument until the end of the article when, in a few short sentences, he urges the government to act quicker. I would love to see this article do the topic justice; it needs a lot more quotes (he only used two indirect quotes) from diverse sources, and hard data to back up his claims. I’d suggest he talk to an economist, environmental group, government official, city council member, regular citizen, or an expert on the ivory trade. There’s a whole range of voices missing from the article, and the lack of any statistics makes it a bit unconvincing. Structurally, he needs to start with the main who/what/why/when/how, make his argument early, and elaborate more on his point. The explanation and context should all come later, when we have clearly established his stance.
However, as I said, it’s an interesting topic, and as a Hong Konger, I do have thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see that China and Hong Kong are taking steps to remedy the ivory trade. Growing up in Hong Kong, the environment was never an important topic on people’s minds. We were encouraged to recycle and turn off our lights, but there was close to no discussion on climate change, endangered species, poaching, or what might be the most significant HK environmental issue – land reclamation and dredging of the harbour. Citizens still prioritise material goods and luxuries, paying little mind to the environmental consequences, and roll their eyes at environmental activists (who are seen as well-meaning but naive and annoying). It’s a really unfortunate but prevalent attitude, which is why I’m glad to see this new ivory ban arise. The 4-year gap is a problem, and does pose certain challenges – I agree with Mr. Cheung that a grace period is unlikely to help, and that the process should be sped up. However, knowing Hong Kong’s slow-moving and sometimes tone-deaf government, I don’t think they will listen to these criticisms, and I’m just grateful that they’ve decided to do something about the ivory trade in the first place.