The Burmese Python gets 24-feet long. It can weigh 200 pounds. It has long, needle-sharp teeth, and muscles that can crush any small or medium-sized mammal. This morning, there are more than 4,000 of them on the loose in Southern Florida. People buy them as pets. But about the second or third year, they have a little growth spurt. All of a sudden, your cute little python is eight feet long, and the neighbors come around asking if you know what happened to their cat, and maybe parenting a python doesn't seem like such a good idea any more.
Whatever the reason, a lot of python owners seem to lose interest after a few years, and let their pythons go. Burmese pythons are very much at home in the swamps of Florida. They mate in the spring and lay a hundred eggs at a time. They eat rats and mice and squirrels and birds and bobcats and Everglades deer. They eat the endangered wood stork, which may become extinct in a swamp full of pythons. They eat the endangered mangrove fox squirrel, which may become extinct in a swamp full of pythons. They compete for habitat with the endangered eastern indigo snake, and may soon stamp it out.
They seem to prosper outside the swamp as well. Farmers near the Everglades kill dozens of them in spring plowing. People in the suburbs of Miami are losing cats.
Also, they eat people. A three-year-old python can kill a child. A twenty-footer can take down an adult male.
It's a problem that makes anyone concerned about the environment gnash their teeth. An illegally-imported exotic is extinguishing endangered native species and may decide to eat the occasional human. Something should be done about that. But you can't just go into the Everglades and yank them back out. It's not convenient.
Now, there is a proposal to inject imported pythons with RFID tags: $7 dollars for the tag, $40 for the veterinarian. That's not cost-prohibitive, by the way"what people will spend on pets is amazing.
The tags would identify the owner, which might discourage people from turning loose their python in suburban Miami, at least. Females could be tagged and released as a way of leading wildlife managers to the males, so that both can be culled, and the population reduced. Doesn't sound like a definitive solution, but it is a convenient solution. If the Burmese python can be restricted to its current geography, its power to wipe out other species thwarted, its numbers reduced, and that might be the best we can hope for. Or it might buy time until someone has a better idea.
And that, in a way, is the theme of this discussion. All over the world man is faced with urgent sustainability crises that no one seems to have the will or the technology to solve. In some of these situations, there may be a way to use RFID to begin the battle, or buy some time for technical solutions to be found, or help people to get used to the idea that this problem must be solved.
A study of environmental attitudes in the U.S. conducted last year outlines some basic beliefs. Everyone feels environmental issues are very important. Conservation of resources is important and necessary. Recycling is important and necessary. Lifestyle changes will have to come"eventually. But people say, big personal sacrifices to meet sustainability goals are not appropriate.
Government policies that raise my utility bill are not appropriate (people say). Government policies that diminish my standard of living are not appropriate (people say). Another study in August 2008 suggests that these attitudes have not been tipped by the appearance of $4-a-gallon gasoline.
A worldwide discussion of urgent sustainability problems, pervasive in the media and effectively dramatized in books and movies, has not yet produced much interest in behavior change. But marketers all know the truism that convenience can create behavior change in all kinds of contexts. If you can make a desired behavior convenient, you have a much better chance of making it happen. People in the U.S. don't eat that blue-box Kraft macaroni and cheese because they think it's better than what your mother makes, though they eat millions of cases nonetheless.
In the area of global warming, dire threats have not produced too much behavior change. Convenience may work better than threats.
Eloquent invitations to make personal sacrifices for the good of the planet and of mankind have not produced too much behavior change. Convenience may work better than invitations to sacrifice.
All kinds of draconian regulations have been proposed. Few have been enacted. Convenience may work better than such sanctions.
Economic incentives generally produce some kind of response. A 1% increase in the price of gasoline produces (or used to produce) a ¼% reduction in consumption. That's not much help. But people will spend more for a product or service if it is convenient. That blue-box macaroni-and-cheese is losing sales to microwaveable macaroni-and-cheese, which is yet more convenient, but way more expensive. Consider the possibility that convenience is, for the time being, more powerful than the available economic incentives.
And, as readers of rfid-world.com know, RFID empowers convenience. Many things that involve data collection, or sensing and collection, can be made instant, automatic and inexpensive with RFID.