The Cove and the Knowledge that Hurts

Last night I watched a documentary called The Cove on ABC TV online (the only kind of TV I can watch since I don’t have the electricity to run an actual television). It’s about the annual mass killing of dolphins in a Japanese village called Taiji. Like the documentary about the live export of Australian cattle, I found it really hard to watch. Not that it was ultra-graphic (well, except the part where the water of the cove is dyed red with the blood of hundreds of slaughtered dolphins). It’s just that watching it made me feel so damn depressed about human beings.

I’m an environmentalist. I don’t work for Greenpeace, nor do I get around in dreadlocks and cheesecloth (though I used to – the cheesecloth anyway). These days you’re more likely to find me at a climate symposium or a Greens policy meeting than camped up a tree during a forest protest (though I’ve done that as well).

For years I’ve tracked, through media, scientific reports, and my university studies, most of the major environmental issues that have faced the planet during my lifetime. Species loss, habitat destruction, pollution, resource depletion, global warming – issues that make many people want to stick their head in the sand are like air to my lungs. If it’s happening, and if it exists, then I want to know.

But it’s not easy, knowing.  Because once you know something, you can’t un-know it. Even as I write this, I know that large tracts of Indonesian jungle (home to the orang-utan) are being razed for palm oil plantations, so that we in the West can have cheap ingredients for our processed biscuits and shampoo. I know that in oceans around the world, commercial fishing practices like bottom-trawling and dynamiting  are wrecking coral reefs, and that just plain greed is threatening collapse of the world’s fish stocks within a few decades if we continue pillaging the oceans at the current level. I know that species are being wiped out on Earth at a rate greater than since the end of the dinosaurs, and that scientists have started to call this the age of the Anthropocene, though I think an equally apt term is the age of Self-Delusion.  I know that our ever-increasing human population is pumping ever-greater amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and that all attempts to reverse this are being met with cynical self-interest from the vested interests of industry and politicians. I know all this, and yet I don’t know enough.

Because what I don’t know is how it’s possible that the mass killing of dolphins is still continuing in Japan, two years after The Cove was made. Or how, for years,  Japan has gotten away with openly buying votes from a host of tiny, poor island nations to sway International Whaling Convention policy in its favour. Let alone how the Japanese representative to the IWC can give, with a straight face, a PowerPoint presentation that blames dolphins for the decline in fish stocks worldwide, and labelling these incredible creatures a pest species.

Here are some features of a pest species: rapidly expanding population, invasive, threatening to the biodiversity and ecological integrity of ecosystems.

Seven billion of us on this planet and counting, with our many real needs and countless more manufactured ones, churning our way through forests, fish, minerals, oil, and anything else we can get our hands on. It’s the neon-lit, fluorescent-pink pachyderm in the room. When will we get it? 

The real pest species is us.

You can watch The Cove on ABC catchup TV here for another week.

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