Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dolphin Dialogs and Whale Wonderings

One of the age-old questions is whether or not the end justifies the means. Are there points at which we accept questionable means in order to reach lofty ends?

I recently heard Paul Watson speak. Watson is the controversial star of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” co-founder of Greenpeace, and founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. TIME Magazine selected him as one of the Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century. Neither Watson nor any member of his crew has injured a single person or been convicted of a felony in their activist attempts to put an end to whaling and seal hunts. He contends, “I uphold international conservation law; I don’t break laws, unless I have to.”

That’s one approach, and the only one Watson would have you believe is effective. About the time Watson founded Sea Shepherd in 1977, another man, Jean Paul Fortom-Gouin, purchased a facility in the Florida Keys and re-named it The Institute for Delphinid Research (now The Dolphin Research Center). His goal was to convince the world to stop whaling by proving cetacean intelligence in the smaller cousins, bottlenose dolphins. He achieved his mission with science rather than force when the International Whaling Commission adopted a voluntary moratorium on whaling in 1983. Japan, Norway and Iceland are the holdouts and have not abided by the moratorium. Those are the countries in Watson’s literal crosshairs.

He’s as entitled to his opinion and actions as I am to mine; however, in listening to him speak, I found his antagonistic nature and approach to detrimentally overshadow his message. And his message consisted of countless statistics rattled off without taking a breath… or more importantly, without substantiating them. In a packed auditorium, predominantly populated by college students, sadly, I think an important message was lost. Any questions posed that took issue with his means were answered with a confrontational attitude and more unsubstantiated claims.

Watson claims his objective is to make sure whalers (specifically the Japanese fleets at this point) don’t make any money. Now that’s an approach with which I agree. And I agreed with that same approach to end the slaughter of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific by tuna fleets. That effort succeeded and was driven by consumer boycotts rather than ramming tuna boats. When the market dried up, fishing techniques were altered, and as importantly, a compromise was reached that enabled fishermen to maintain their livelihoods without dolphin deaths.

Fishermen are the ultimate bad guys according to Watson. I certainly agree that we’ve globally overfished, and Watson and I agree that an expanding population is a root cause for many, if not all, environmental problems. Reality is: there are a lot of people, and people need to eat. His claim: “You can’t be an environmentalist without being a vegan.” Well, I’m an environmentalist… and I’m an omnivore. Watson claims that beef production causes greenhouse gas and that 35% of the fish take goes toward feeding pigs and chicken. I haven’t researched those claims and won’t disagree with them out of hand; however, the question becomes: Where do we get all the land we’ll need to support the agricultural demands if we all opt for veganism? And if that’s the route we should take, then maybe global warming is a good thing. We’ll have more arable land.

As with every environmental issue, there are shades of gray, and compromise is sometimes the answer for long-lasting solutions. No doubt an opinion with which Watson heartily disagrees. His end is admirable; it’s his means I’m not so sure about. So does one justify the other? That’s the age-old question… and one we’ll debate forever.

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