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The Race to Save the Axolotl (jstor.org)
156 points by onychomys 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

The iconic creature is Mexico’s national symbol, and, because it breeds easily in an aquarium, a beloved pet around the globe. So many axolotls live in captivity that certain restaurants in Japan serve up the axolotl as a fried snack. Many thousands of axolotls a year are also used in scientific research: Because of their miraculous regeneration abilities, axolotls are studied in labs the world over. But in the Xochimilco canals around Mexico City, the axolotl’s only remaining natural habitat, pollution and the loss of water habitat mean that the axolotl has become a rare sight.

Wouldn't that mean it's the wild axolotl which is threatened, but otherwise it has been essentially domesticated? Of course the body of the article explains more, but the headline is quite sensational, implying that all axolotls are disappearing.

The article mentions that captive axolotls are in bad shape due to severe inbreeding.

It mentions an inbreeding coefficient of 35 (or 0.35 in the fractional scale), which although high, is not unusual; a quick search reveals https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21076095 where some lines of domesticated chickens go as high as 61.

I don't think that taking the most used and cheapest of our three main food-producing domesticated animals is a good data point to decide what is and isn't "unusual" in this context. Given that it is an animal whose relationship to humans includes the most extreme of exploitations, meaning trade-off to push this to extremes to get a specific benefit is more extreme than anywhere else[0], it likely represents the most extreme outlier.

This is a very different context than the health of wild/pet axolotls.

[0] Well, short of lab animals who have been deliberately inbred to effectively be clones. But that kind of breaks the purpose of this coefficient by definition.

Amphibian species are thought to be the proverbial canaries in the coal mine of extinction. Frog species have been crashing, salamander species are crashing, insect numbers have been crashing, reef systems are dying.

When it all falls down on our heads, we won’t be able to say we didn’t have massive flashing warning signs.

It's not all bad news, at least. Some species are recovering.


What can we do?

Increase the standard of living so that people have the leisure to actually care about the environment.

Easiest way to accomplish that is with more energy.

... and luckily wind and solar are or are swiftly becoming economically viable.

They live quite well in captivity, so are unlikely to go fully extinct. But the real requirement would be to preserve the habitats, which depends on the politics and economy of Mexico.

Support conservation orgs. The best ones are not just focused on nature but on sustainable systems that include humans.

The kinds of organisations paying literal tons of euros/dollars/whatever to their CEO's? I have yet to find a charitable organisation that doesn't basically funnel my money into the pocket of someone like that.

If you object to high CEO compensation for large NGOs, support small NGOs. They are typically run on a shoe-string, and the leaders are idealists who are definitely not in it for the money. One of my favorites is the Alliance for Tompotika (http://tompotika.org), run by a true visionary and very effective.

Like who? Every conservation org I've come across has been misanthropic.

Just as an example, people who advocate for getting rid of parking, to make it harder to drive.

One of my favorite initiatives is the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund [1]. They identify ecological hotspots and convene (and fund) a diverse team of local organizations. If you read their description, you'll see that they view sustainable development for humans as an integral part of nature conservation. IMO, this is now the mainstream view among most conservation NGOs. (Twenty years ago, perhaps, it was not; but it is now.)

[1] https://www.cepf.net/our-work

The example you cite sounds reasonable and not misanthropic to me. Disincentive personal car user/ownership and incentivize public transit use. Can you expand more on why you find that problematic?

Because you are doing that by making life harder for people.

Instead, make life easier, so they want to use public transit.

And that means not making existing solutions worse, but rather focus only on making the new stuff better. And if that turns out to be impossible to do, then public transit is simply not a solution.

It's not really possible to improve public transport beyond a certain point without impacting parking and personal car transport.

If you want to improve buses, you need more of them, you need dedicated bus lanes, you need to give buses priority at intersections, and you need to modify road layouts in regards to things like one-way streets. All of these markedly improve quality of life for bus passengers, but also reduce the quality and convenience of personal car transport.

Similarly, if you need to expand a rail or subway network, you need a lot of roadworks and construction, which inconveniences drivers. For streetcars, you combine the impacts of bus and rail improvements.

Simply put, car drivers have been receiving preferential treatment in cities for far too long, and it's about time they were relegated to second-class transport, behind buses and rail.

And if I don't want to improve public transport, because I think it's worthless? Why should I allow you to make my preferred transport worse, just because you think yours is better?

If you think it's better, go for it, make it so good people want it, and maybe I'll go for it. But do so without making things worse for anyone else.

I know what you are thinking "but my way is so obviously so much better, that of course we should give it priority". Except I disagree, I think public transit is horrible.

And I'm saying this because I tried it, using it exclusively in a city with probably the worlds best public transit. It was horrible, I would never trade my car for that. And I would never live in a city that required me to.

Because public transport is objectively better on a number of very important points. It reduces pollution and congestion. It frees up space otherwise used for parking for better purposes. It is massively cheaper for the individual.

Like I said, after a certain point, you will have to choose to downgrade other forms of transport, in order to optimize the ones you choose.

Why do you think public transport is horrible and worthless?

Where did you live? Because I live in Copenhagen, which in my experience has the very best public transport system in the world. Usage and popularity is very high, and a lot of people bike as well, also great for easing congestion.

Is it annoying when the bus is packed full and you get squeezed a bit? Yeah, but it generally only happens when there's an unforeseen delay on one of the main lines in the middle of rush hour. Another bus will come in 5 minutes, with fewer people on it.

Are some routes a little odd? Yeah, it takes me 35 minutes to get to my girlfriend, compared to 15 minutes by car. But on the other hand I don't have to look for parking, and it takes less than half the time to get to work from her place, compared to driving.

Since selling my car, I am saving so much money, it's a little bit silly. I pay DKK 375/month for the two main zones, and that covers 90% of my monthly travel. With my car, I filled the tank twice a month for around DKK 600 each time, not to mention parking fees, insurance, yearly tax, plus repairs and maintenance.

I'd much rather use that money for more traveling and other experiences.

Not OP, but I have strong opinion about this:

I believe that if you want to motivate people so they would do something, positive motivation ("Let's make someone's life better/easier by doing what we want him to do") is much more effective than negative motivation ("Let's complicate someone's life so he would have no other option than doing what we want him to do"). It's easier to hate/rebel against when someone is punishing me for doing something than hate when someone is rewarding me for doing it differently.

I recently read the book Nudge, if you haven't read it I strongly recommend it. [0]. The author just won a nobel prize for his work in socio-economics and it discusses exactly this. One of the fascinating examples discussed is a study that showed offering somebody $100 to do something is significantly less effective at motivating (whether or not they're about about it, their behavior changes) them than fining somebody $100 if they fail.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00A5DCALY/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?...

The problem is that people are 100% certain their way is the best way, so disincentivizing those who disagree seems perfectly fine with them.

I'm not OK with this.

If you truly believe your way is better, then put it out there and lets see if people adopt it. You don't get to "cheat" by making the other options worse, just to make yours seem better.

Where people advocate for getting rid of parking just to make it harder to drive, you have a point. But often the argument is that repurposing parking space (e.g. as bus lanes, bike lanes, pedestrian space, or to increase density) is better than the status quo, where a huge amount of infrastructure is dedicated to cars.

Stop (or cut back on) flying. Drive a lot less or stop driving. Go vegetarian or at least eat less meat than the typical American does. You don't necessarily need to go vegan.

Pee on a tree. (I would provide a link, but I made that a private site as it wasn't being developed.)

Is there a way we can build tech that helps for this?

Why would someone downvote this?

Pigovian taxes on a massive scale.

Who would you tax for pollution caused by sewage leaking after a flood?

You need your population to have more money, not less, so that they can afford to pay for improvements in their living environment.

It's not an accident that the higher the standard of living, the lower pollution is.

> It's not an accident that the higher the standard of living, the lower pollution is.

Citation? The richest countries in the world pollute (CO2e) far more per-capita than than anyone else. Even that's with much of their pollution outsourced to developing nations.

Co2 is not pollution. It has issues obviously, but it's not pollution.

People are so focused on Co2 these days, they've completely forgotten about actual pollution. Forgetting is understandable in developed countries because we've all but eliminated it, so what's there to think about?

But go visit some non-developed countries, or maybe read the news, and you'll suddenly realize what a huge problem actual pollution is.

> the introduction of harmful substances or products into the environment - http://www.dictionary.com/browse/pollution

So Co2e is pollution, it's a harmful substance in currently produced quantities.

By that definition too much water would also be pollution.

You can not define pollution by quantity, that completely erases the meaning of the word.

Vote for politicians who will Work to enact sustainable policy at the national level.


The USA would benefit a lot if it moved to a more proportional voting system. It seem ridiculous to me that such a large country effectively only has 2 parties.

That’s totally besides the point. Let’s not ignore facts or downplay how destructive the Republican Party has been to environmental policy. Anti-environmentalism has been a major feature of the Republican Party’s agenda for decades now, and to this day they’re actively involved in rolling back environmental protections and literally denying climate change.

Environmentalism has been a major distinction between Democrats and Republicans for a loooong time, and here on HN Republican voters are still trying to whitewash it and are probably the ones downvoting me.

"Drill, baby, drill!” - Chairman of RNC Michael Steele

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Donald Trump

It's (in my view) actually part of a more fundamental cultural issue that glorifies ignorance and faith. Faith is not a bad thing, but you shouldn't base your decisions on it if it is not necessary. Until that issue gets fixed, everyone can start voting democrat (or that other third flavour nobody seems to like) but it won't actually do anything. All the insane people will flock to the democratic party (because that's where all the power is!) and you'll have a new giant problem, just with a different name.

Downvote apparently. /s

The single most significant thing an average uninfluential "western" individual can do currently, is not reproduce or at least reproduce less [1] [2]. Possibly then use your abundant available time and resources to inform and educate the public - try become influential, or just take it easy and watch the madness.

Curbing unnecessary air travel doesn't hurt either.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/12/want-to-...

[2] http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541

For those interested, Julio Cortazar gave an "in depth" account of Axolotl in a short story:


Set in an aquarium :(

I always think of this story when I see axolotls.

Now I know where the Axolotl tanks in a Dune got their name. The Thelieux grow ghoulas in Axolotl tanks.

That was my first thought when I saw the headline. I thought it was a reference to Dune, and not to an animal species.

My first thought was neither of those, I thought the headline was referring to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_Ratchet_Algorithm

That’s precisely what I was thinking.. “oh no! What broke!?”

I read the title and was thinking someone want the original crypto ratchet back, before it got rebranded by Signal/Moxie and kept from mass adoption by means of a GPL lawsuit threat.

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