What is it that a child reading a book about red pandas can do about their endangered status? While the red panda is a cute animal, it appears unlikely that it is long to have a robust life outside of zoos. And that is a great shame, because red pandas are obscure but cute animals who would appear to have plenty of problems apart from the reduction of their habitats. But it happens that even though they live in a remote part of the world, in the area of Tibet, northern Burma, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, that the remoteness of their mountain fastness is not nearly remote enough. Almost everywhere the red panda lives, there is rising pressure to develop areas, if not for human settlement, then at least for human use in raising cattle and growing food of some type. And while we might think that cows and crops are not that dangerous, they are apparently dangerous for the well-being of the solitary red panda, whose interest in remote territory is frustrated by its decline.
And yet despite the fact that the red panda lives a long way away from the people who read about it and might have some fondness for it, writers cannot help but urge on the reader of such books designed for young readers to try to save the red panda in the wild. It is hard to see how this is to be done. There are, to be sure, people who could decide on behavior that could help the red panda to endure in the wild. These people could, if they wished, decide to set aside bamboo forests for the red panda and other animals to live in, and decide to restrict human use of the land to areas outside of those where the red panda can make its home. Yet this decision is one that must be made by people on the spot. It is the local inhabitants of the area where the red panda lives that must decide to restrict their behavior to deliver the red panda from the threat of extirpation and extinction if they wish to do so. They may not wish to do so. They may prefer to wear red panda hats for long enough that they might need to explain where it is that the hats came form when the animals that gave them are no longer around. This is a possibility, and there is very little that can be done by outsiders about it.
Nor, it should be noted, is this problem a matter that the red panda deals with alone. It may be largely forgotten now, but in 2012 there was a massive and equally pointless slacktivist movement to bring Joseph Kony and his soldiers to justice for their various crimes against humanity in Uganda and Congo. Apparently someone thought that motivating humanitarian-minded Americans and similar Westerners would somehow change what was going on in remote Equatorial Africa. As is the case with many African countries, the problems that led to Joseph Kony’s terrible actions are bound to the problems inherent in Uganda’s structure, where multiple different and alien groups of people were forced together in a nation where cultural and economic and political power were focused in the Central part of the Ugandan protectorate, specifically in the titular Buganda Kingdom that has loaned its name to the entire country as a whole. Unfortunately, military power was focused on the northern peoples, who themselves were a part of the Nilotic peoples who inhabit Southern Sudan, but have long been separated from them thanks to having their territory divided during the British imperial period. If Uganda is a poor and corrupt and backwards country, and it is, then the Northern part of the country is still poorer and less developed, and it seems unlikely as if Uganda has the political will to encourage development in such areas, given the history of mutual mistrust within Uganda. There is, of course, still less that can be done by those who view Uganda as a place to show themselves to be humanitarians without having any understanding of Uganda’s history or of its peoples.
The world is full of difficulties, and we are greatly limited about what we can do about them. People make choices about what they prefer to do and whose interests they prefer to support, and from those choices spring consequences that spring far outside of their own lives and situations. We might want to see red pandas live securely in their remote mountain homes, but for that to happen, there must be a fairly large amount of mountain forests set aside for the red pandas to live their mostly solitary existence in peace. There is little that we can do about that. We might want to see evildoers who force people into child soldiering and sexual slavery brought to justice, but our ability to set to right areas of the world where corruption is rife and where ethnic identity politics have sabotaged the unity of post-colonial states is likewise limited. If we cannot keep identity politics from destroying our own republic and cannot keep our own elected leaders from behaving corruptly, there is little that we can do on behalf of other nations to make them behave justly. At best, we can set a good example for others to follow, but seeing as we cannot even do that, we cannot expect to have any better influence on the world through our hashtags and petitions.