Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The $2.1 billion dollar question

I mentioned before that there are a lot of emotional arguments for and against whaling. One of the points I was hoping to make was that logic just isn't sufficient to convince anyone about this issue. I know this because anti-whaling folks seem to have all the logic and facts on our side, but the whaling nations aren't budging an inch. So despite a recent post over at Slate's The Big Money about the economics of not-whaling, I don't think anyone's going to reconsider. The article notes that Iceland is still using the discredited argument that fewer whales = more fish to justify their unprofitable whaling industry as a rebuttal to the sensible argument that whale watching, unlike whaling, is a growing and profitable industry, which a recent paper from the University of British Columbia conservatively values at $2.1 BILLION dollars. That figure could get even bigger, particularly if developing countries with whale-watching opportunities develop their tourism infrastructure. Much like Rwanda has reaped enormous benefits from its gorillas, other poor countries with plenty of whales nearby have a lot to gain if wealthy tourists come for the whales and stay long enough to spend money on hotels, food, and other items.

The real problem here is that people just aren't logical - if they were they wouldn't spend one single minute trying to kill the apparent tourism goldmine that is your average cetacean. There are entrenched interests that want to kill whales in the whaling countries, and they have outsized political influence. The only hope is that if we repeat the logical arguments often enough public opinion in whaling countries will turn decisively against whaling. As I've noted before, Australians love their whales, and so you won't see the Australian government dare to make any pro-whaling decisions, $2.1 billion dollars or not. To do so would be political suicide. The Big Money post notes that whale watching is growing fastest in Japan. Maybe all we need now is a study showing conclusively that whaling activities make whales avoid ships - some anecdotal evidence suggests that species that are no longer hunted become friendly towards humans. Once the Japanese public comes down with a collective case of whale fever, they might convince their government to adopt an emotionally based but economically beneficial policy of whale protection.

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