Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Beyond principles

Because it took me two evenings to find the book on the photo, I keep thinking that I should really find the time to clean up the mess on the numerous bookshelves I've got at home and in the office.

The book I was looking for is a 1989 publication called "The Greenpeace Story." The page on the photo shows me with two other Greenpeace colleagues in 1982 at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) the night after the moratorium on commercial whaling was adopted. The caption says: "Success Hans Guyt (left), John Frizell and Remi Parmentier are delighted by the IWC vote."

I clearly remember the time this photo was taken nearly thirty years ago, many drinks after the IWC adopted the resolution that started the moratorium on commercial whaling. It was in July 1982 in Brighton, England. What the IWC decided on that day was a moratorium effective only four years later, after the 1985-86 whaling season. And yet all the environmentalists who were there did celebrate. I don't recall anyone suggesting at the time (or even now) that we'd sold out to whaling interests, and the moratorium on commercial whaling is widely perceived as one of the landmark victories of the global environmntal movement.

This is a point I made last week in Paris, at a consultation organized by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the French Government delegation to the IWC was seeking views as to whether it was okay to give consideration to exemptions to the moratorium on commercial whaling. The IWC starts meeting in two weeks in Agadir, Morocco, and the main dish on the menu is the so-called package deal which as it is everyone (whalers and anti-whalers alike) is opposing.

I don't think there should be a deal at any cost. But if a deal means that there is a way to end whaling in the Southern ocean, to restrict whale meat consumption to local communities in the countries where whaling is still taking place in some shape or form, to put whaling back under the control of the IWC and its Revised Management Procedure as it was published almost a decade ago, to prevent the commercial killing of vulnerable species, to end the abuse of the IWC treaty Article VIII clause which Japan says it allows them to decide which whales and how many they can take if they allege it's for scientific research, if everyone agrees in good faith and says they won't object to the deal or any parts of it; if all these conditions are fulfilled (what with Greenpeace, Pew and WWF we call the Six Fundamental Elements), then I think there can be a deal. It does not mean there will be celebrations in Agadir (as we wrote in April, no-one enjoys eating rats), but if these conditions are fulfilled, the situation would considerably be improved, I think.

The odds are not very good though, because of course for all sides it's easier to retreat and to maintain their principles. But would that be the best thing for whales in the water? And would it have been right to reject the moratorium resolution in 1982, on the basis that it was going to be effective only several years later?

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