9th Circuit Continues to Rubber Stamp Illegal Whaling

Stephen O’Donohue

harpoon2 On February 25th, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a district court’s order denying the Japanese whaling fleet’s preliminary injunction and dismissing its piracy claims.  The Institute of Cetacean Research kills thousands of whales every year in the Southern Ocean under the pre-textual guise of “research,” despite the uncontested fact that the whale meat is sold for human consumption.  Despite a moratorium on whaling, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling allows its member nations to issue whaling permits for research purposes.  The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, lead by ex-Greenpeace member Paul Watson, operates a number of vessels whose purpose is to disrupt the whaling efforts of the Japanese fleet.  Sea Shepherd employs tactics such as disabling boat propellers, firing smoke canisters at whaler decks, and ramming whaling vessels.  Sea Shepherd justifies its actions by arguing that no government will enforce the whaling moratorium, therefore they are doing so on behalf of the whales.  This struggle is the subject of the Discovery channel television show, Whale Wars.

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THE PRIMARY RIGHT

Carter Dillard

Thinking about our first or “primary” human right is actually a new way of thinking about how to protect the environment, and how to visualize what our planet ought to look like.

When we think about the idea of being free, we usually think about the freedom to act, or the right to do what we want without others interfering. But freedom also means the right not to be acted upon and to be free from other people, in other words, to be let alone. Unless we have some special obligation, like being the parent of a child, we are generally free to get away from other people and the influence they would otherwise have over us.  When it comes to particular countries and governments, which are really just collections of individual people, unless we have committed a crime or done something unusual, we also have a right to leave and be free of them. For example, we are free to leave the United States, and forcing people in the former Soviet Union to live behind the Iron Curtain violated their human rights.  We should not be forced submit to any other person’s influence, or collection of persons’ influence, against our will.

Because we have the right to leave any person and any country, it follows that we have the right to leave every person and every country. One implies the other.  If you were to leave every country on earth until you got to the last country, you should be able to leave that one as well.

How do we do that? First, we have to see the earth as actually made up of two worlds – the human and the “nonhuman,” or those species other than humans.  Countries are political entities – they are based on the organization of human power and influence. Leaving every country on earth does not mean having to fly to the moon; it means leaving, as best one can, human power and influence and entering the nonhuman world – what we generally call wilderness. The nonhuman world is, by definition , comprised of those places in the world occupied by species other than humans living in their natural habitats.

Keep in mind that nonhumans don’t live in countries or organize into systems of rights the way we do. So the earth divided into human and nonhuman worlds would look something like the earth did for most of human civilization – limited human societies surrounded by a sea of relatively complete biodiversity and wilderness.  It would be other species, living and flourishing in their habitats, all around us in an interconnected system. This view of earth is no fantasy – if biodiversity can be protected, our birthrates continue to decline, and we continue to urbanize, this planet will look very much like that: city-states awash in a sea of nature.

But this is the point: For us to be free, for it to remain possible to be free of every person and country on earth, the nonhuman world must be protected and allowed to flourish. Without it we would remain locked in that last country on earth, permanently subjected to others’ influence, or as one senator said in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964, “without wilderness this country will become a cage.” Because we have a right to leave all others and their influence, or the “cages” we create for each other, the nonhuman world must remain and flourish. It is a necessary condition for freedom to actually mean something.

Why call this right to be free from others the “primary right?” Rights are about other people, and your relationships with them. Given that, the primary right, or the first thing that is decided in any systems of rights, is whether you relate to or are influenced by other people at all. The first thing about any system of rights that is decided is whether you are even part of it. People in the Soviet Union would not have had to worry about the lack of human rights in that system if they could have simply gotten away.

How does thinking about the environment in terms of the primary right change things? First, it gives us a theoretical baseline, a way of seeing what our planet ought to look like. This is something most environmentalists have not been able to agree on. Second, it changes the basic thinking in environmentalism: the focus should be on freedom, not well-being. Third, protecting the nonhuman world because it ensures the very possibility of human freedom is different than protecting nature for its own sake. Those most responsible for harming the nonhuman world have gone unpunished because humans are less apt to act until we know we have something to lose. Thinking about our primary right shows us that we are losing something right now, that those most responsible for destroying the nonhuman world are violating our right to be free.

If we value freedom we value nature, or the nonhuman world, because it makes the act of consenting to others’ influence possible. Protecting the environment is not about making a world dominated by humans safe, healthy, and sustainable – a pleasant place for humans to live. It is about restoring the nonhuman world around us as best we can so that freedom actually means something.

Legal Issues with California’s Foie Gras Ban

Seth Victor

Late last month PETA filed a suit against Hot’s Restaurant Group in Los Angeles County, CA, alleging that the defendant violated the California state law that went into effect earlier this year prohibiting the sale of foie gras. The essence of the hots-kitchencomplaint is that Hot’s Kitchen, the specific restaurant in question, has skirted the law by selling a hamburger for an increased price and including with the hamburger a “complimentary side of foie gras.” Being that foie gras is sold legally at gourmet restaurants around the country for a pretty penny, on its face Hot’s seems to be blatantly rebelling against California’s ban, taking a position common among many restaurant owners. Taking the ethical debate over foie gras (ahem) off the table for a moment, is what Hot’s Kitchen doing illegal? Continue reading

Sheep (and ranchers) Find No Home on the Range

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Seth Victor

From the tone of the NY Times article, John Bartmann doesn’t sound like a bad man. Though some readers might demonize him because he is involved in animal farming, this isn’t the CEO of a major industrial producer, and it would be inaccurate to lump him in under the same heading. I expect Mr. Bartmann knows a thing or two about sheep husbandry, and likely has his own grievances with the CAFO industry. Still, his plight is indicative of the complicated issues surrounding modern farming, and is not free from critique. The decline of the modern rancher, especially in the drought of 2012, highlights many of the problems with food in the United States, through both animal and environmental perspectives. Continue reading

Why International Trade is not Dolphin Safe

Seth Victor

You may have your own opinions about the World Trade Organization (WTO), whether positive or negative. Regardless, the WTO wields influence over imports and exports worldwide. As we have discussed at length on this blawg, animals are commodities, and thus the policies of the WTO are important when considering animal rights.Dolphins in Net

Over the last several months the WTO has taken issue with dolphin-safe tuna. To summarize what is a long and involved debate, since 1990 the United States has provided labels specifying whether dolphins were killed (though “harmed” isn’t covered) through the harvesting of tuna to be sold in the U.S. market under the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act (originally the labels really meant that purse seine nets, the type that often harm dolphins, weren’t used). Mexico, via a complaint to the WTO, claimed that these dolphin safety measures unfairly impeded Mexico’s tuna trade. The WTO agreed, and ruled that the dolphin-safe labels are “unnecessarily restrictive on trade.”  This ruling comes out of one of the core principles of the WTO’s policy of non-discrimination. Under the doctrine of “the most favoured nation” all WTO countries must extend to each other the same trade advantages as the most prefered trading nation would receive. National equality also states that foreign traders must be treated the same way as domestic traders. When you consider the long history of violence and discrimination associated with international trade, including the United States’s own origins, this is sound policy. Yet as always, the devil is in the application.

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Shark Week

Allen Shiu

 In August, Discovery Channel ran its 25th Shark Week Special. This week-long television tribute to sharks has generated quite a cult following in recent years. Originally intended to raise awareness for sharks, it has now evolved into a video montage of Jaws’ Greatest Hits. While the hazards of tangling with “Bruce” certainly shouldn’t be trivialized, who is really doing the killing?

It’s estimated that as many as 73 million sharks are killed annually by long line fishermen for a bowl of soup. Long considered a delicacy in Chinese cooking, shark fin soup was once a dish reserved only for royalty. The soup itself tastes of nothing. Almost like plain rice noodles and while the broth is certainly good, the fin itself adds nothing. This symbol of status can now be bought for upwards of $400 in upscale restaurants making it one of the most expensive soups in the world. This strive for status has contributed to the decimation of 95 percent of the species since the 1970s. Unfortunately, the number of sharks being killed for what amounts to 3 percent of its body is not what is most appalling.  In probably one of the most barbaric and wasteful acts committed by human beings, hooked sharks have their fins sliced off, while they’re still alive. The actual meat of the shark however has little or no value to fisherman. What’s left of the shark, still wriggling in agony, is generally dumped back into the water where the shark will eventually drown. Continue reading

Myths, More than Traditional Medicine, Driving Rhino Slaughter

 Andrew C. Revkin

x-post from Dot Earth

Rhino horns seized by Customs in Hong Kong

Rhinoceros populations from Asia through Africa are plummeting in the face of burgeoning illicit trade in their horns, much of it driven by myths promoted by criminal smuggling syndicates and targeting the new wealthy in China and Vietnam. The Green blog and Dot Earth have explored these issues, but it’s worth a slightly deeper dive, here provided in a “Your Dot” contribution from Matthew Wilkinson, the founder and editor of the informative Safaritalk blog.

Here’s an excerpt and link to the full essay by Wilkinson, which I’ve posted via Slideshare.net:

Matt Wilkinson: As someone who devotes his days to highlighting wildlife conservation in Africa, when I’m asked to name my greatest concern, without hesitation I say the poaching onslaught devastating rhinoceros populations. With so many pressing problems besetting wildlife and the environment, why this one issue over and above everything else? The answer is shaped by the shocking way in which the rhinos are killed and their horns removed, the widespread myths fueling the recent poaching escalation and the apparent inability of governments to tackle this massive problem with anything approaching competence. Continue reading

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