In that poll I offered the option that: “This is just red tape dyed green, strangling legitimate business. If you want to keep the grey whales then you pay for it!” At the time of writing this is the only option to have received no votes, which I think is a real shame for I think it encapsulates a reality that many Western environmentalists fail to grasp.
It is nice to be able to assert that wildlife has intrinsic value and should be protected for its own sake. But such moral values are more often than not the preserve of the relatively well off, a category into which only a minority of the world’s people fall today. For the rest, jam today nearly always beats jam tomorrow. If cutting down a forest may lead to devastating soil erosion then it is possible to convince even the poorest farmers that conservation is in their own bests interests. But when arguments get more esoteric, such as bemoaning lost opportunities to find possible anti-cancer drugs, it is not so much a case of jam tomorrow, as somewhat hypothetical and probably irrelevant jam in twenty years time. Poor peoples’ priorities, quite simply, are elsewhere.
All this may offend the purists who will contend that the natural world is priceless, and/or that whaling is morally wrong, but such cris du coeur will only ever motivate a minority. Putting your money where your mouth is, on the other hand, will always get somebody’s attention. A more important concern is that of a small minority of richer people paying for public goods that everyone enjoys, including those filthy rich rapists and pillagers of our natural patrimony whose business interests have created the opportunity cost in the first place. That, however, is how much of the world goes much of the time, and in the meantime you could at least achieve something useful with your money.
ps. If you made it this far, congratulations. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series. I’ve enjoyed writing it, but am still hoping for a few more votes in my poll. Us bloggers don’t ask for too much and voting in a poll is a lot less effort than writing a post or even commenting upon one, and we do so love to get a bit of feedback every now and then! So it would be great to hear from a few more of my readers before I conclude with my own position on the Grey Whales of Sakhalin tomorrow.
In considering the question of the morality of whaling it depends first upon why you are hunting. Although not exactly a pressing conservation problem, I supported the ban on fox hunting which the previous UK government introduced because I think hunting for fun is barbaric, and has no place in a civilised society. On the other hand it has to be said that licensed hunting of big trophy mammals (elephants, lions etc.) in southern and eastern Africa has proven a big conservation success due to the extremely high fees that hunters are prepared to pay. Although I would hate to pull the trigger myself, I very much support this as a pragmatic solution to biodiversity conservation and habitat protection, for without the funds these hunters pay the large mammals would just be hunted and chased away by farmers, and the habitat degraded if not destroyed.
In the past a major incentive for whaling was the oils and fats that could be harvested from their bodies. However, since the advent of better synthetic replacements derived from petrochemicals, most whaling is done for food (discounting the pseudo-scientific hunting practiced by Japan to get around the current moratorium). So anyone who voted for this option had better be a vegetarian or they are a complete hypocrite. I eat meat so ultimately cannot agree with this position, although I do admire people prepared to live their ideals in this regard.
So I promised you that I’d come off the fence on what I think about whaling, and specifically the case of the Western Grey Whale that Richard Black discussed. So far sample size on my poll is too low for me to bother reporting, but I hope that these following posts may prompt a few more to cast their votes. For now the only way for you to find out what your fellow blog readers think is to vote and then you will see the current breakdown.
I’ve been reading Richard Black’s updates from the latest IWC* annual conference with interest. Like him, and many fisheries experts, I am struck by the fact that the IWC was set up to regulate whaling not ban it, and that it has been somewhat hijacked by more fundamental conservation interests.
That is not to say there are not moral arguments against whaling, but that I do find it hard to know why the line should be drawn at whales and not other apparently sentient animals. This is the conservation world’s version of the Iraq war argument: sure toppling an evil dictator like Saddam Hussein may be a good thing**, but why stop there? Why not Burma (as it was in 2003), North Korea and Zimbabwe? (Why also not the Central African Republic which is equally badly governed but gets far fewer column inches?) To which one inevitably concludes that the second Iraq war was at least partly about oil, just no-one would admit it. Similarly one concludes that the ban on whaling is at least partly about public opinion driven by idealistic visions of majestic oceanic leviathans and impressively intelligent dolphins than the Hobbesian reality of life in the open seas.***
But the first of Richard’s posts got me thinking about the opposite point of view. Before giving my perspective, I’m going to try an experiment, and post a poll on this blog for the first time, to get reader perspectives. So go and have a read of this, then tell me what you think.
I think all of the above have some legitimacy, but I’ll expand on that and come off the fence next week. If enough of you have voted by then I’ll let you know the results, but either way will leave the poll open for a while and see what transpires.
* International Whaling Commission
** In practice, of course, it didn’t exactly turn out the way everyone hoped, but that is a different kind of argument, that suggests that going to war very rarely achieves the aims of the aggressor, but definitely will lead to huge loss of life and human suffering.
*** Ref that scene in David Attenborough’s magnum opus, the Blue Planet , in which a baby grey whale is mercilessly hunted down by killer whales.