(Credit: Martin Robertson/flickr)

Peter Dykstra: Of whales and men

How our difficulties protecting big wildlife could be a bad omen for protecting humanity.

Charismatic megafauna is the mouthful of a phrase used to describe the big lovable beasts the world wants to save – or at least cast as stars of our cartoons.


Two recent setbacks with saltwater giants illustrate how being big and adored doesn't always get the job done.

Compared to other more daunting environmental challenges, ending commercial whaling was thought to be easy. The industry was already on its heels due to lack of demand, not to mention, lack of whales.

Global public opinion helped chase whalers out of all but a few nations. And the conservation movement focused its strength on ending commercial whaling everywhere to seal what seemed a major victory.

In 1984, a ban on commercial whaling took effect, over the objections of Japan, Norway and Iceland. With a few exceptions for subsistence whaling by native communities, whaling was dead.

Or so we thought.

Almost immediately, Japan's whaling fleet leveraged a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's decree, allowing for limited whaling to continue for scientific "research."

Hundreds of whales per year, mainly minke whales, gave their lives for this research, the premise of which was so shabby that opponents described it as "more sushi than science."

Whale meat found its way to Japanese markets, just like in the good old days.

Norway and Iceland chipped in and whaling hung on, albeit at far lower levels. Last month, Japan announced it was quitting the IWC after decades of battling its decisions.

Instead of steaming to the Antarctic, their fleet will stay close to home to kill minkes and two other species, Bryde's and Sei whales.

Frozen Bluefin Tuna ready for auction at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. (Credit: Matt Saunders/flickr)

Similarly, much has been written about the bluefin tuna, a half-ton torpedo of a fish whose value has skyrocketed as its numbers have plummeted. Again, Japan is the eco-villain.

In December, a single bluefin sold in Tokyo for $3.1 million – a perverse free-market incentive to catch the last one. The fish, relatively small at 612 pounds, was one more withdrawal from a Pacific bluefin stock estimated to be 96 percent down from its original population.

And if our global imagination isn't stoked by saving big fish, and even bigger whales, what about more ephemeral challenges like rising CO2 levels? In 2017 and again last year, our output of the dominant greenhouse gas increased, despite the torrent of warnings about our climate death wish.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Antarctic Treaty and Montreal Protocol, two international agreements that succeeded in protecting a frozen continent and the ozone layer.

They're examples of how international cooperation can work. But if we can't come together on protecting charismatic megafauna, or even achieving modest gains in CO2 reduction, they're examples of the tough battles ahead.

How Biden and Kerry could rebuild America’s global climate leadership

Strengthening partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.

John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader.
Keep reading... Show less

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

insideclimatenews.org

As Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry will be no stranger to international climate negotiations

The Kigali Amendment is a little-known climate accord meant to phase out the use of super-polluting hydroflourocarbons. Kerry helped make it happen.
insideclimatenews.org

The first African American Cardinal is a climate change leader

Wilton Gregory, as archbishop of Atlanta, asked for an action plan in 2015 to help boost Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change.
www.msnbc.com

What we should know about Biden's appointment of Kerry as climate czar

If we want livable futures for our children, we must constantly criticize and question those who are tasked with providing them.
www.nytimes.com

As hiking surges during the pandemic, so do injuries

Novice hikers and climbers have flocked to the outdoors, but some are unprepared for the dangers on the trails.
talkingpointsmemo.com

Trump races to weaken environmental and worker protections, and implement other last-minute policies, before Jan. 20

This story first appeared at ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter...
www.theguardian.com

Climate ‘apocalypse’ fears stopping people having children

People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse, according to the first academic study of the issue.