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Eco-honesty

8/17/2005

While I was driving back from picking up the mail, a car with a "Save the Whales" bumper sticker passed. Lots of those seem to be around after Earth Day.

Eco quiz question: Just how many whales swim the oceans:
a) hundreds, b) thousands, c) millions?

If you have been listening to the eco-activist and animal rights organizations, and their friends in the media, you probably answered a or b.

The correct answer is c.

Swimming in our oceans are: 25,000 gray whales (more than before commercial whaling began); 1 million minke whales; close to 1 million pilot whales and beluga whales; and well more than 1 million sperm whales.

Of the 75 species of cetaceans, only five are endangered: the North Atlantic right whale (less than 1000) being the most threatened, followed by blue whales (10,000 to 14,000), humpback whales (10,000 to 15,000) and bowhead whales (8,000 to 12,000).

The real story about whales and other tales of eco-dishonesty are laid out by Eugene LaPointe in an important book that reveals the dark side of the force in the environmental movement, "Embracing the World's Resources: A Global Conservation Vision" (Sherbrooke, Quebec: Editions du Scribe, 2003).

LaPointe has unique credentials to write a book on sustainability.

He is the president of IWMC World Conservation Trust, a global coalition of experts promoting sustainable resource use guided by science.

An attorney who grew up in the woods of Quebec, Lapointe served 14 years in the Canadian government before becoming the secretary general of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, from 1982 to 1990. CITES is the international trade commission that oversees the multi-billion-dollar-a-year commerce in wild animals and their products.

Lapointe was dramatically dismissed from his post at CITES by United Nations Environment Programme executive director Mostapha Tolba in November 1990. The campaign to remove him was led by a handful of U.S. officials and 28 major non-governmental organizations, who, according to Lapointe, "claimed I had become the worst criminal on the planet."

His "crime" was advocating a sustainable use philosophy that allowed for scientifically directed hunting of whales, elephants and other animals, especially in situations that respect local cultural values.

Thirty months later, a panel of judges of the United Nations described Lapointe's dismissal as "capricious and arbitrary," resulting from "… the worst case of character assassination in the history of the United Nations."

In a unanimous decision, the judges vindicated Lapointe, awarded him financial compensation, ordered his reinstatement and forced the UN secretary general to write a letter stating, "Mr. Lapointe had fulfilled his duties and responsibilities in every way and in a highly satisfactory manner."

In 167 passionate pages, Lapointe lays out in "Embracing the World's Resources" his pragmatic philosophy of sustainable use, and describes the attack on him and the organizations responsible for it. Lapointe distills out their common approach to fund-raising as:

  • Pick campaigns that can be publicized with graphic, shocking and gory photos.

  • Develop simple, catchy slogans, such as "Save The Whales" and "Don't Buy Ivory."

  • Identify a human villain — Norwegian or Japanese whalers, big-game hunters and the like.

  • Launch an emotional appeal, versus a scientific one: humanizing animals and dehumanizing people, for example.

  • Always include the threat that this will decrease the quality of life or threaten ecosystem stability of people and the world.

Lapointe's book harpoons myths.

What is the biggest threat to blue and right whales? Lapointe suggests it may not be whalers, but an overabundance of minke whales that compete with blue and right whales for the same food, and killer whales, which ruthlessly prey on young leviathans swimming in their packs, or pods.

He also points out that toothed and baleen whales consume three to six times the combined 90-million-ton annual seafood catch of all the world's commercial fisheries.

How often have you ever heard the media suggest that an overabundance of some species of whales is a contributing factor to the decline of some stocks of fisheries? Lapointe argues that controlled whaling, for meat, could help restore ailing fisheries.

Seal of approval

Another eco-issue fraught with a lot of heat and far too little light is the annual hunt for harp seals off the shores of the Maritime Provinces in Canada, which is currently underway.
Pictures of white baby harp seals being clubbed to death are heavily used for eco-fund-raising, even though whitecoats have been protected since 1987. The fur seal population is now more than 5 million, and the fur seals are suspected of being a contributing factor in the dramatic decline in cod and other fish in the Grand Banks.

In the face of such facts, the Boston Globe recently ran an article from a writer in Nova Scotia that described in graphic detail how the harp seal hunt began with "hunters on about 300 boats converged on ice floes, shooting seal cubs by the hundreds, as the ice and water turned red."

Graphic story, but on the day that the story was supposed to take place, no sealing was going on because of inclement weather conditions.

The Canadian Government called the Globe on the carpet for the faux-sealing story, and they got an apology. Retractions usually are buried near the obituaries, but to the media's credit the story of the phony sealing is getting some attention.

Too much "environmental education" in the mass media is sensationalism fed by the high-profile fund-raising campaigns run by eco-groups that are dependent on eco-crises for their survival.

I have a suggestion to bring some sense to this nonsense.

Many schools begin the day with students reciting the pledge of allegiance. To set the tone to help kids learn to cut through the eco-bunk, why not at the beginning of science classes have kids recite Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic":

A thing is right if it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the basic biotic community. It is wrong otherwise.

With that standard in mind, kids could be encouraged to ask critical questions about whales, seals, deer, snow geese, Canada geese and caribou living around arctic oil fields.

From objective analysis they could come to see through eco-sensationalism and understand how and why hunting is essential to contemporary wildlife management.

Of course, such a practice might result in a serious drop in revenues for some eco-groups. Maybe some of them would even go extinct.

That would ultimately simply affirm Leopold's land ethic, because "Save the whales" so often really means "Save my salary" rather than "Practice conservation."

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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