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We Are Legion… If We Decide To Act Like It

Some of you might have seen the headlines in regard to Lumber Liquidators, and the fact that they have now admitted to importing, and subsequently selling, hardwood which was illegally harvested from the habitat of the highly endangered Siberian tigers and Amur Leopards in the far east of Russia. Since I’m in Virginia, which is where the company is headquartered, I’d heard back in the beginning of October that something fishy was going on, but details as to what, exactly, were not yet available. Then, on October 8th PilotOnline.com ran an article on the matter, which shed a little more light on it. You can read that one here. There still wasn’t much National attention on the subject, though.

Now, that’s changing. Multiple news sites like CBS, CNBC, NBC, and The New York Times, are picking up the story and making noise about it. Their coverage ranges from blurbs, to more in depth information. Overall, most people involved seem to be satisfied with the ‘hefty fines’ that Lumber Liquidators has agreed to pay. But the term ‘hefty fine’ means something different to the lawyers, and judges, than it does to me. Or to Lumber Liquidators. Oh, I’m sure that they’re wailing internally, but let’s examine this ‘hefty fine’ in the format of numbers.

The company will pay $13.2 million dollars in fines. Seems legit. Written out, it looks like this:

$13,200,000

But in stark contrast, the company made about $1.05 billion in profits last year, which looks like this:

$1,050,000,000

So basically, the company is giving up just over one percent of the total profits they received in just one year of existence.

Look at it this way: You find a $100 bill, and your big brother takes it from you and gives you a $10 bill instead. Sucks hind tit, right? Now, imagine that your big brother came into your room, stole a bunch of your super hero figurines that you’d been collecting , sold them for $100, and you caught him, and he said he’d give you $10 because he’s sorry. On a very simplified scale, this is what Lumber Liquidators did.

Between 2010 and 2015 they pulled in roughly $5.6 billion dollars in profits. That’s $5,600,000,000. They’re paying only $13.2 million dollars, or $13,200,000 in fines.

And they only have to do it once.

Next year they’re (probably) going to make another $1,000,000,000. And the year after that. And so on and so forth. If the company only stays in business one more year and does well, it’s still going to make over 7 times more than what they paid in fines. Presuming, of course, that they actually pay the fines now, and don’t drag their feet about it. With a hearing not even set until February of 2016, a speedy payment doesn’t seem too likely. But according to the Justice Department, Lumber Liquidators’ fine is the largest financial penalty ever imposed for illegal timber trafficking, and it is a huge success.

This is one of the greatest, and most heartrending issues within the conservation community. Laws, both those of specific countries, and global, are woefully underdeveloped in regard to the current, and continually growing needs of the environmental world. Humans have been recording history for about 5,000 years, but the first American environmental law dedicated to protecting the environment was passed in 1899. We’ve only been legally protecting our world and the animals within it (in America) for 116 years. Just 116 years out of 5,000. And the number one penalty for breaching the laws we do have, is paying a simple fine, and promising not to do it again. As a rule, there is no loss of business licenses, or jail time given, even to those who made the decisions to break the laws in the first place.

Not only is that just not good enough, it doesn’t even work to penalize anyone. After all, why should companies stop cutting corners, and breaking rules when the only consequence of doing so is to make slightly less profit, when their proft line has already been doubled or tripled by skirting or ignoring those rules to start with? In business (and military) terms this is called Acceptable Loss. The term Acceptable Loss is used to indicate casualties or destruction inflicted by the enemy or market situation that is considered minor or tolerable.

Minor and tolerable. For the company who is making money.

There is nothing minor or tolerable for the Siberian tigers, and Amur leopards who lost thousands of acres from an already dwindling habitat. There is nothing minor or tolerable about the fact that of the just 500 Siberian tigers and 57 Amur leopards left in the wild, a portion of them will likely starve, or die in altercations over the meager, and much too small, habitat they ‘re forced to share. Habitat that is now even smaller.

What our law enforcement groups consider to be massive success stories are nothing more than footnotes in the annals of companies’ histories. Acceptable losses within the churning mechanisms of huge corporations who plow onward in their endeavors, continuing to rake in profits hand over fist. So inconsequential are these payouts that most businesses actually set aside money to be used for them if they crop up. They often pay their own lawyers more to render a settlement on their behalf than they pay in the actual settlements themselves.

But we have more power than any court, or judge, or law enforcement agency in any country anywhere in the world. We can bring these companies to their knees, and we don’t even have to exert ourselves in order to manage it. The only thing we, the people who must live under the umbrellas of these inconceivably colossal  entities, need to do in order to tear them apart, is to not give them our money.

It’s not easy to find out exactly where your food comes from, or where all of the products we use in our daily lives come from. No one has time to google their toothpaste, their rice, or juice, or napkins and see how they’re made, and whether or not the mother company is environmental conscientious. Women, you know what it’s like just trying to see if your sanitary products are 100% cotton, instead of full of chemicals and manmade fibers. It’s incredibly hard to sort out the origin of many of the things we use.

However, it is easy to find out about some of the products we use. The internet is full of farms which focus on producing pesticide-free heirloom fruits and vegetables – more than you would ever imagine, if you google your own area. Small farmers are slowly fighting their way back into the market. Reclaimed lumber is now thoroughly in the mainstream, and many companies focus on using it in their building projects. There are log home companies which specialize in environmentally conscious timbering. Organic dairies are springing up everywhere, along with rabbitries and farms which raise hormone-free beef and even bison. By and large, these products don’t cost more than the conglomerate stuff, they’re just not as ‘in our face’ as the former.

We have the power to choose to utilize these things. We have the power to choose to not use the products of huge corporations. At least some of the time. And you know what? Some of the time beats the hell out of none of the time.

If every single person out there decided that buying a little less of something grown, made, or reclaimed within a hundred miles of their residence, was more important than buying more of something that was imported, or made by a large corporation, those corporations would notice. If every single person who’s never done something like try fresh milk from a herdshare, or rabbit meat (better than chicken) or bison meat (leaner than beef) chose to just try something new, instead of going right for the old stand by microwave chicken tenders, it would make a difference.

A huge percentage of the damage done to the wild spaces we have left in this world, and to the wild animals who live in those wild spaces, is done either to create land which will be farmed by corporations, or to render a ‘cheaper, easier’ product for the consumer. And we keep taking the bait.

These incidents of gross negligence, and the disregard of giant corporations will not be stymied by any law, or fine. It’s like throwing rocks into a swift-running creek. The only way to change the course of that much water is to change the landscape it’s running through. We are that landscape. Us.

We are Legion, if we but stand up and unite.

It will not happen all at once, but it will happen. We have the strength and ability to turn the flow of the consumer river in any direction we want. All we have to do is start.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature Image Credit: Tapiture

What do airplane bathrooms, Donald Trump and Wildlife Conservation have in Common?

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I never imagined that the start of our first ICARUS Project journey would find me trapped in an airplane bathroom at a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. To be fair, I don’t think anyone imagines that in any scenario, but there I was clinging to the sink and praying for the travel gods to take mercy on my weak stomach. In that moment I said to myself, “And so it begins”.

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It’s a common problem, creating a viable thesis, students all over the world spend late nights crying over their laptops and wishing for the end of days. Me personally, I just ignored it for as long as possible. No really, I spent the last two years in the field trying to avoid the subject. Luckily, that’s how it found me. I knew, in theory, the difficulty in tackling something as broad as wildlife crime. To expose individuals and organizations that traffic, possess, breed and abuse the wildlife that is imperative to keeping our ecosystem balanced. Not only do they keep our planet in check, but keep its human inhabitants grounded and humble. Our animal cohabitants remind us that we do not in fact own everything around us. When it comes to marking territory, it’s humans that feel the need to piss on every tree.

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So how did I get here, in this cramped, putrid plane toilet? How does a grown woman of 36 find herself with a one way ticket out of America, all her belongings packed in her tired old chevy and headed to Costa Rica, and hoping to save some animals.

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In a nutshell, I’ve got nothing to lose. At the age of thirty I found myself bankrupt and jobless (after losing a job as the manager of a posh horse farm due to a horrific bout of meningitis). I spent two long years shelving videos at Blockbuster (yes, it was THAT long ago) and wondering when my bright future had snuffed out. At some point you put up or shut up, so I emptied my bank account, a whole whopping 500 bucks, rented a Uhaul and headed to NYC to sort it all out.

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Long story short, the concrete jungle was not my mecca, but it did lead me to an opportunity through my school to travel abroad to Africa, Namibia to be specific. An opportunity to work with wildlife, specifically big cats, for the first time. Perhaps, Namibia was my mecca and the cheetahs my saviors. There was no turning back after that. I left NY and gave impoverished internship living a shot. From the diversity of the rescues at The Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, to the majesty of the North American wildlife at The Wildlife Center of Virginia and then the ferocity of the Big Cat Rescue residents in balmy Tampa, Florida. I finally found my purpose. Not only did I learn to understand the biology and behavior of the animals that inspired me to live off of peanut butter and toast, but I was exposed to the suffering and neglect that these sentient creatures fell victim to, not only in the countries spotlighted by the media, but also in the pseudo sanctuaries, roadside zoos, canned hunt farms and backyards of America. That’s when I found my purpose. That’s how ICARUS came to be. No matter how idealistic, I believe this project can effectuate great positive change and my ICARUS cohorts share my crazy mission.

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Flash forward to the misery of my airplane bathroom captivity. In the fetal position and my head between my knees, I had no idea this was only the beginning of my nearly 24 hour journey into the jungle. When fellow ICARUS member Sarah and friend Becky picked me up at a bustling and slightly overwhelming San Jose airport we couldn’t forsee that we were climbing into a car that would drop its clutch just before the mountain pass, resulting in a 500 dollar garage bill. We would then find ourselves throwing Sarah’s credit card into the pot and doing a hail Mary, in the hopes that we would have just enough to rent a car and get us over the pass on a dark and rainy night. Somehow we managed to get back on the road and three women, a ton of luggage and a failed scat dog named Cody, barreled over what is perhaps the shiftiest mountain road my poor stomach has ever encountered. Despite any emotional, mechanical or financial obstacles we arrived at our destination alive and well, thankfully!

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So, here we are, in Puerto Viejo. We are currently living in a house (The Love Shack) with a leaking gas cooker, fans that probably started the Ebola epidemic and floors that are slowly becoming holes beneath our feet. This is apparently what happens when you embark on an epic journey with absolutely nothing in your bank account! Within my first 72 hours in Puerto Viejo I found myself advocating against turtle poaching, the sale of endangered animal meat and … wait, cock fighting…really? All of which is apparently occurring right here now. Sadly, this was just with the American residents. I even found myself trapped in a supermarket queue while a preening, peacock of a man preached to a local woman that she needed to look past Donald Trump’s inane racist comments to find the true value he has as a presidential candidate. I momentarily questioned if I was indeed in Costa Rica or perhaps trapped in the Twilight Zone. This was right before I evaluated how much time I would spend in a Central American prison if I stapled this man’s mouth shut. I decided not to risk it.

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So, here it begins. We hope that you will join us as ICARUS embarks on a journey to pool together the greatest minds in animal welfare, to create resources that we can all draw from no matter our race, religion or creed. To gather the good and expose and bring an end to the corrupt. To use global unity to begin to repair global wildlife issues. Human Beings are the root cause of wildlife devastation, but we are also capable of its salvation.

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