Friday, June 11, 2010

Will people care about climate change and overfishing if they harm cute animals?

It's a no-brainer that animals like Antarctic penguins that are dependent on krill, that are in turn dependent on sea ice, won't do all that well in a warmer climate. Some, including the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) would downplay the idea that there krill might become a problem. MSC recently certified the Antarctic krill fishery as sustainable. Throughout the process, the consultants assessing the sustainability of the fishery insisted that the catch was low, because there are thought to be millions of tons of krill, and a very small percentage of that estimated amount was being fished. But ASOC colleague David Ainley explains that there's a big difference between the overall number of krill or other fish and the number that you, Jane and John Q. Penguin, are going to get to eat. Penguins, Dr. Ainley says, need a lot of food. And looking for that food burns even more energy, so it's bad if they waste time going to locations where prey is no longer plentiful due to fishing.

People (most of them, anyway) don't have emotional attachments to krill and the other fish penguins eat. There seem to be few people who don't find penguins at least a little charming. Is it possible that if environmental problems can be shown to hurt innocent penguins who just want to waddle around cutely, people will start demanding better from their leaders?

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