Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Type of Corruption

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) starts Monday. Sidney Holt, ASOC's representative to the IWC, has written a series of blog posts to provide context for this meeting and the issue of whaling in the Southern Ocean. This post, the second in the series, is also cross-posted on the IFAW blog.

What do the Fukushima nuclear disaster and scientific whaling have in common? Both are in part consequences of the continuously revolving-door between corporations, government and the Diet (Parliament) in Japan. The earthquake and tsunami of 2011 was the work of God or nature, according to one's theological inclinations, but its appalling effects on people and Nature from the breakdown of the nuclear plants was largely the fault of man. Such things should not be built by the sea on a known earthquake zone in the first place. And as the IAEA report and others on the 'accident' demonstrate the operating company was utterly incompetent and unprepared to deal with the situation, a failure enhanced by years of lax or absent regulation by the authorities. Cascading human errors occurred, the kind of errors we must expect and try to protect against when dealing with vastly complicated and dangerous materials and instruments. Luckily the consequences of decades of fake 'scientific' whaling are not so disastrous, but they have practically destroyed the International Whaling Commission as a regulatory instrument for an inherently destructive 'mining' industry. And the same governments and political institutions have been responsible.

This discourse would not be relevant were it not that rumours abound that we should all be nice to the Japanese delegation to the IWC in Jersey next month because the Japanese people have suffered and are still suffering so terribly from the earthquake, the tsunami and their outcome, especially radio-active pollution. What a fine opportunity for those in the Obama Administration to pursue the dreaded 'compromise' with the pirate whaling industry, mainly - it seems - to ensure that Alaskans get their share of whale meat in 2012 and thereafter. Making deals to ensure the continuation of albeit limited global commercial whaling for the next five, ten, or more years will not be the slightest help to the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by natural disaster and their government's reckless incompetence. Nor help the uncounted millions who in the future will still be wondering what to do with the accumulated permanent waste from nuclear power production, something not counted in - in fact carefully shielded from - the debate about whether to continue or cease this industry.

Our generation professes to care about the welfare of future generations. That, after all, is what 'sustainable use and development', 'preservation of biodiversity' and so on are supposedly all about. But do we really care, except perhaps about our own direct descendants in the first, maybe second, generation? The consequences of nuclear games will be with us for at least tens of thousands of years. I thought about that while reading in National Geographic magazine yesterday about the excavation of a newly rediscovered temple at Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, close to the modern Syrian frontier, that is twice as old as the great Stonehenge - and with much better decorated, shaped limestone pillars, with animal bas-reliefs like the gargoyles of Notre Dame. Yet we are forcing our descendants to look after our radioactive rubbish for much longer than that. And pay the rising cost and the interest on our debts. The pains of modern Greece in comparison with classical Greece are nothing compared with that.

With luck the effects of over-exploiting fishes like cod and bluefin tuna and numerous shark species could be repaired in a few years, a decade or two, by serious management of fishing. But the effects of whale-mining will, with ecological luck, take nearly a century of restraint to repair themselves. (The long-lived fishes such as the Antarctic toothfishes, that the Marine Stewardship Council declares are being sustainably exploited, might take nearly as long to recover, eventually, from the current massacre). And these creatures, the cetaceans, are self-aware; I wonder what their descendants will be thinking when they look into the mirror that is the great World Ocean, their Ocean?

As for the surviving humans, they won't even remember what happened. We lost Göbekli Tepe for 12,000 years. Later, much later, those ancient engineers. the Babylonians, left messages on clay tablets that have come down to us. Later the Eastern Europeans and middle-Easterners wrote on animal skins and paper, some of which survived until now, though not so intact as the clay tablets. Now it is being said that keeping libraries full of paper, and continually adding to them, is too expensive, so everything will go on magnetic, optical or other digitised media. My librarian and information technology friends tell me we shall be lucky if those can persist, let alone be read, by the end of the 21st Century - that is by about when the whales will be swimming again in abundance in a warmer Southern Ocean. There's progress! Meanwhile I do hope that the Golden Record of humpback whale song, on the Voyager 2 spacecraft, just about to leave the solar system, will one day be heard, by someone; now, was it 33.33LP, 78 or 45 rpmEP ?

Meanwhile, let us continue pressuring the Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whalers until they decide to act in accordance with the intentions of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling 1946 and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

-Sidney Holt, Paciano, Italy.

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