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Friday, October 20, 2006

Environmental Confusion over Whales

Whilst trawling through the web, looking at environmental blogs, I ran across a post entitled "Is caring about whales frivolous?" at gristmill. Here's an extract:

Earlier this summer Japan, Norway, and Iceland announced that they planned to dramatically increase the scope of whaling, extending it to species that currently aren't hunted. (They were eventually rebuffed by a small margin.) Upon learning this, I remember experiencing a strong sense of anger and frustration. Part of this was due no doubt to my recent trip to Hawaii and the opportunity I had to get up close to humpback whales, which were slated for slaughter by the Japanese. These magnificent creatures pose no threat to humans, are highly sentient (their famous songs are as complex as symphonies), and every year take part in the longest migration on the entire planet.

After I called the Japanese, Icelandic, and Norwegian embassies, and sent out emails to my friends urging them to do the same, I took a moment to examine my strong reaction to this news. At a time of genocide in the Sudan, the ongoing carnage in Iraq, and the continuing AIDS epidemic, was the intensity of my feelings misplaced? Was I falling prey to the charge often leveled against environmentalists, that they care more about animals than about people?

After reading through the site, I've noticed a fair amount of confusion, often coming out of the fact that people seem to what to divorce caring for the environment from wider political theory and action. Let's face it, we are in a mess. Not just from an environmental point of view but from economic and political points of view. Essentially, the vast majority of us have no political power or access and are just marks in a global system that is the playground of robber-barons. We are merely consumers. And, in this system of continuous consumption and exploitation, the environment is taking all the hard knocks. Of course, when the global temperature heats up, ice melts, cities drown, and deserts expand, we will take our turn in the suffering (although not what Michael Albert calls the "controlling class", which will have the resources to avoid the worst effects and even migrate to Mars while we all boil). To keep our nice planet, we need to change the fundamentals of our political, economic, and social systems.

So, why whales? Apart from preserving them as species in there own right, saving the whales was one of the great victories (perhaps the only one) of the environmental/progressive movements. They have to be saved, for if we cannot save them, how will we ever be able to save ourselves?

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