Critical Days for the Earth

[This column was written just before the recent International Whaling Commission meeting in London. Thanks to Japan’s vote-buying, the two new proposed sanctuaries were defeated. The global moratorium on commercial whaling remains in effect, but one wonders how long it can be sustained].

In this time of globalization Nature is more threatened than ever. The consumption of fish and whale meat in Japan affects marine populations in the Sea of Cortes and in Antarctica.

In London today begins the 53rd meeting of some forty countries who belong to the International Whaling Comission, (IWC), with NGO’s from all over the world in attendance. In the spotlight specifically is Japan, whose representative for fisheries, Mr. Masayuki Komatsu, has just stated that the Minke whale – the most plundered species by Japanese whalers – is “an ocean cockroach”.

Although for fifteen years there has been a moratorium on commercial whaling , with an exception permitted for supposed scientific and research purposes, Japan kills about 500 whales annually. We have seen that the so-called scientific hunting only serves as a cover for the illegal sale of whale meat in Japanese markets and restaurants.

Analysis of the ADN (acido desoxirribonucleo) of whale meat on sale in Japanese markets has provided proof that it comes from various species in danger of extinction, such as the whales Yubarta, Common Rorcual and Sei Rorqual. Ironically one of the reasons for this “scientific hunting” is to establish the most efficient method of killing a whale.

Norway (recently rated the wealthiest country in the world on an individual basis) is another member country of the IWC that carries out commercial hunting on the grounds that she has objected to the moratorium since it was voted upon. The Norwegians hunt about 500 whales every year. In April Norway decided unilaterally to resume exporting whale products to Japan (in violation of several international treaties), now that the nation had stockpiled at least 400 tons of whale blubber, something that was much appreciated in Japan. However SAS, the Scandinavian airline and 22 other airlines have refused to carry exports of whale products. Among these are Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways and Finnair.

This year Iceland (with a quarter of a million inhabitants), will seek to rejoin the IWC, but with the right to hunt commercially, since they did not accept the moratorium. Iceland gave up hunting in 1986 and left the IWC in 1992. Possibly Russia and Korea will go back to commercial hunting if Japan succeeds in ending the moratorium. Some indigenous groups are granted the right to hunt a limited number of certain species to satisfy their own traditional needs. In Japan, due to its high price, whale meat consumption is restricted to the elite and to special occasions. For everybody else it is a recent food custom, dating from the postwar period when there was a shortage of protein sources.

The campaign to lift the moratorium is headed by Japan, who has just admitted that she is giving economic aid to other member countries of the IWC so that they will vote in favor of whale hunting. Last year, at the fifty second meeting of the IWC, six Caribbean countries who had been bribed voted with Japan on various resolutions, thus helping defeat the proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific, where new species could reproduce. This initiative is led by two other countries in the Pacific basin: New Zealand and Australia. The South Pacific Forum, which represents sixteen island countries in the region, supports this initiative, because a large part of their income is derived from whale watching tourism. In Tonga alone, annual income from this source reaches a million dollars annually. (These are the same island nations whose existence is threatened by global warming, since if the water level were to rise they would disappear). At the same time, Brazil is proposing the establishment of a similar sanctuary in the South Atlantic.

According to a report issued by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, whale watching generated one billion dollars in the world last year, and more than nine million people enjoyed this extraordinary privilege, which represents the most ethical and sustainable purpose for the whale. Already there exist two sanctuaries, in the Indian Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean.

The arguments against whale hunting are ethical, political, legal, environmental and scientific. The whales and their habitats are threatened. The populations of different species have still not recovered from the massive hunting of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Whale hunting in itself is cruel and unecessary. Since the cetaceans house toxins that are found in their environment, eating whale meat is an unacceptable risk to human health.

We hope that the Mexican delegate to the IWC votes against the adoption of any management plan that favors a return to commercial whaling, and that he votes in favor of continuing the moratorium and establishing the two new sanctuaries for the whale, and not strive to curry favor with Japan and Norway.

An environmental factor that affects the whales also is that of climate change. According to a scientific report from the U.N., the Earth is heating up at a rate faster than at any other time in the last thousand years. There is no doubt now that gas emissions produced by human activity are raising temperatures and changing the global climate, causing more catastrophic events, like torrential rains, droughts and the melting of glaciers. In Bonn around 180 nations are now trying to save the Kyoto agreement, which endeavors, in the face of the unwillingness of George Bush and the government of the United States, to slow down and reverse these emissions and the consequent global warming.

In these days also has taken place the meeting of the Group of Eight in Genoa with the first death of a young demonstrator against globalization, so the repression of governments against the “globophobics” becomes each time more brutal, as has been the case in Cancun, Quebec and now Genoa.

Certainly in this time of globalization, Nature is more threatened than ever. The consumption of fish and whale meat in Japan has an impact on the marine populations of the Sea of Cortez and Antarctica. The excessive consumption of energy of the United States and other industrial powers is producing climate change. The expansion projects of petrochemical companies are felt in the forests of Indonesia and Nigeria and in the Gulf of Mexico and the Persian Gulf. The lumber needs of the so-called North are causing devastation in Amazonia and other forests in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Flora and fauna are being affected irreversibly; they are incidental victims of the subjugating developement.

The “globophobics” need to be conscious of one thing: in this globalized era, in the same way as it occurs in stockmarkets, any offense against nature is local; a wound in Amazonia, in the Sea of Cortez or in Borneo, has global consequences. And the fires and pillaging in Amazonia can be more serious for life on Earth than a fall in the stockmarkets of New York or Tokyo. Human beings need to globalize, yes, but in order to defend the spheres of life.