Alejandro Nadal, a Giant in Global Conservation

The following tribute to Alejandro Nadal appeared in La Jornada newspaper in Mexico, penned by his longtime editor at the paper. It highlights work Alejandro did on the economics of the illegal wildlife trade, one of the many areas in which Nadal left his indelible mark.

By Luis Hernández Navarro, La Jornada, March 24, 2020

On 13 April 2012, the King of Spain, Juan Carlos de Borbón, stumbled into Botswana, broke his hip and dented his crown. The setback initiated the political decline that would culminate in his abdication to the throne. The monarch was in that African country accompanied by his lover on an elephant hunting safari.

Killing elephants is not a crime in several African countries. Every year 35,000 pachyderms are killed on the continent, on average one every 15 minutes. This figure, to which natural mortality must be added, already exceeds the birth rate of elephants, which are in danger of extinction.

These pachyderms—explained Alejandro Nadal Egea, who died last March 16th—are not hunted, they are actually killed. They are animals that live in community, very intelligent, with an exemplary way of life, exceptional in the animal kingdom, from which we must learn. They suffer for their dead, they have a history. A matriarch—for example—can remember the watering hole to which she led her family 30 years ago.

Alejandro’s opinion was neither improvised nor romantic. He was a great connoisseur of the life of pachyderms, the ivory trade and biodiversity. His contributions along with Francisco Aguayo were central in debunking the myth that the legalization of wildlife trade is a solution to protect endangered species. He denounced the falsehood, held in some environmentalist circles, that legalizing this business serves as a brake on illegal transactions because it lowers prices. He showed how legal trade increases illegal trade and poaching, since the real demand for these goods is greater than the legal supply. Even worse, it serves as a cover.

According to Nadal, the multi-million-dollar ivory trade behind the killing of thousands of elephants is a metaphor for the predatory nature of capitalism, which seeks to transform anything that comes its way into a profitable space. In fact, the only use of ivory is as a status symbol. It does not produce some sophisticated technological device or a healing medicine.

It is, moreover, a business intimately linked to the slave trade. “Now we talk about China,” he said, “but in the 19th century Europe was the great market for ivory. Where did it come from? The elephants were in the savannah, inland, not in the ports of Africa. The traders had to go there to kill the animal, remove the tusks and transport them. They did this through the slave trade. The transfer of ivory was done on the back of slaves, their blood and exploitation.”

Alejandro took this metaphor even further and maintained that it symbolized the problems of profitability that present world capitalism suffers from. We have, he explained, a problem of stagnation in the profitability of capital since 2000. Before that there was some recovery, but between 1966, 1980 and 1985 there was a tendency to very strong falls in industrial and service activities. We have been seeing a trend of stagnation in the global economy for 40 years, a fall in the rate of return, which led to the boom in financial capital.

According to him, financial capital seeks all kinds of opportunities for profitability in speculation, and when this is exhausted, it enters into what has been called the financialization of nature.

Alejandro Nadal discovered the economy after finishing his law degree.  He then studied a doctorate in economics at the University of Paris X Nanterre.  He taught comparative economic theory at El Colegio de México.  He worked on microeconomics, which is the theory of the market, of how prices work, of how the famous invisible hand works.  Then he ventured into macroeconomics, that is, the analysis of entire capitalist economies.  At the same time, he carried out several in-depth studies on different industries.

Concerned with what we do with the planet, he researched and dedicated himself to the defense of the environment.  He documented in depth (as in the case of elephants), the economic forces that drive the destruction of the environment, from climate change to genetic resources.  He was a member of the Board of Directors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

For more than 20 years, he published a weekly article in La Jornada, in which he explained, with rigor and relative simplicity, complex issues in the national and international economy.  “I think,” he told In Motion Magazine-“that it is very important to go out and try to send the general public the alarming things I discovered in my research.”  Those columns were his passion.  He wrote the last one seriously ill, just a week before he died.

In Alejandro Nadal’s obituary, written by Dr. Adam Cruice in the Journal of African Elephants, he describes him as a giant of global wildlife conservation, with a colossal legacy. According to him, his immense knowledge illuminated from within the economy of the legal trade and illegal trafficking in wildlife. However, this being true, his contributions to the critique of contemporary capitalism went beyond this field. We will miss him.

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6 Responses to “Alejandro Nadal, a Giant in Global Conservation”

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