The announcement Tuesday that the Yangtze River dolphin, known as the baiji, is likely extinct has failed to cause ripples in China. The Chinese media have largely neglected to report on the dolphin’s demise, and relatively little uproar has occurred at the international level.
This marks the first extinction of a cetacean species caused directly by humans, and not since the 1950s has a sea mammal of this size gone extinct. A tragic correlation between China’s industrial progress and rapid growth and the dolphin’s downfall can be established. Unfettered pollution, a stalled conservation effort and overpopulation of the Yangtze River all proved decisive in the decimation of a complex and intelligent sea-dwelling species.
As Beijing readies itself for the great international confluence of the 2008 Summer Olympics, it must not forego emphasizing pollution reduction and sustainable development in favor of rapid and often unchecked modernization efforts. As Chinese officials prepare machinery capable of generating rainstorms, others warn that China’s endemic air pollution could force the rescheduling of numerous Olympic events.
China is at a crossroads, not only as an economic powerhouse, but also as a country rapidly ascending in international influence. To push this trend, China must establish a balance between development and destruction, allowing protection for nature so that, never again, will a species stay forever submerged in the Yangtze’s congested waters.