A recent trip to the National Zoo got me thinking. What’s the deal with all the panda stuff? Panda propaganda abounds. There is a panda pavilion, a panda pagoda, a panda gift shop, and, of course, the panda exhibit. My initial reaction was that the panda-tization of the zoo was much ado about nothing. Further research about the panda revealed that we shouldn’t view the panda with apathy, but disdain.
Pandas are also the symbol of the modern conservation/environmentalism movement. Indeed, one of the world’s most well know environmental organizations, the World Wildlife Fund, calls the giant panda “perhaps the most powerful symbol in the world when it comes to species conservation.” I couldn’t agree more with WWF. The giant panda, a stupid, useless animal that has trouble mating and eating is the perfect metaphor for mainstream environmentalism.
Why do people like pandas? Why is it the logo of the WWF? Because it looks cute. It makes people feel good to see a furry, uniquely patterned animal mosey around its enclosure. People feel good when they see the pandas, so they want to “save the pandas,” whatever that means. Why should anyone try to save the pandas? Pandas rarely mate. Pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively, even though they are carnivores, and get almost no nutrition from the bamboo. Nonetheless, zoos continue to waste millions of dollars housing them and paying the Chinese government A-Rodesque contract money to rent the animals. None of this makes any sense, unless you go to the source of panda-love: environmentalism.
Why are people environmentalists? Why do they buy Priuses or separate their recycling? Mainly because they were picked last in gym class. But also because it makes them feel good. People will pay money to feel good. Rich people, according to recent studies by several universities, have more money than most other people. Environmentalists tend to be wealthy because because they can afford it. So they are willing to pay the panda a $56 million 5 year fruit-popsicle incentive laden contact, they are willing to press for regulations that force us to buy crappy lightbulbs that cost more, and they are willing to take tax dollars to subsidize electric cars only well off people can afford.
Just like the panda, these policies make you feel good, but they don’t do anything. So the next time you see a panda, flip him off for old Phil.