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What Whales Have to Teach Humans About Capitalism

By Laura Bridgeman - Common Dreams, October 22, 2017

The International Whaling Commission meets every four years to decide the future of the whales. That is, it decides which nation will kill how many, and for what reasons (commercial, subsistence, “research”). Stakeholders from around the world are engaged, from whaling and non-whaling nations alike.

Notably absent in these discussions on the future of whales, are the whales themselves. But this is not just because they would have a hard time fitting into the conference room. It’s an intentional omission, since whales are a part of the commons: that great, amorphous void which we draw individuals out of, pour refuse in to, and in which lives the nameless, faceless “biomass” that we refuse any real legal or political consideration on a categorical basis. According to our current paradigm, the whales, and everyone else in the oceans, are resources to be protected, conserved or exploited: divided up (albeit unequally) amongst ourselves, and consumed.

This might sound like an article about whales, but it isn’t. It’s really about us, and what we chose to believe about ourselves, our societies, and what our future can look like. For perhaps the first time in history, we human cultures of the world are largely united in a struggle for what comes next – an active discussion, a exercise in collective imagination that’s becoming all the more urgent as we watch our current world, and worldviews, fall apart – or more aptly, being ripped apart by late-stage capitalism.

Our current system is incapable of addressing the problems within our own species because inequality is embedded within its very foundation. Strategies to dismantle plutocracy and eradicate poverty often involve new ways of managing the commons. However, as long as we try to preserve or manage “habitats” and “ecosystems” for human benefit alone, the resulting devastation of the lives of other species will reverberate into our own in increasingly disastrous and unpredictable ways.

Within capitalist models, individuals of other species are not only neglected - their very existence is denied. They are instead relegated to the realm of property, only to be considered or “conserved” when their bodies are seen as necessary for the health of an ecosystem of value; and then, they are lumped into “populations” or “stocks” rather than recognizing them as individuals with interests, deserving of their fair share of resources like any human being.

When we begin to consider this legion of individuals of other species, the commons can transform into a system for “mutualizing responsibilities” wherein other species are considered active stakeholders as they participate and benefit from those responsibilities. This can maximize the health and generative capacities of a given area, be it in the ocean or upon the grasslands or within a forest.

Let’s go back into that conference room again, with its notable absence of the whales who are being discussed. The changes I’m proposing might sound extreme, but not if we begin with species that we can all agree are intelligent and sophisticated enough to have interests of their own. We can begin by considering whale’s needs, desires, and perspectives as stakeholders. Rather than having conservationists advocating for whales’ protection, we ought to be giving whales a seat at the table – via a representative such as a guardian ad litem - to express what’s in the best interest for these individuals in matters concerning them, such as establishing Marine Protected Areas designed to protect their culturally relevant spaces in the ocean. Whales should also be considered stakeholders where industrial projects, such as salmon farms, may have adverse impacts on their lives. And, one day, whales should be considered stakeholders at the very meetings where their kin are being scheduled for slaughter.

This is no quaint idea rooted in sentimentality towards charismatic megafauna. It’s an idea that can save us - all of us – because when other species thrive, we all thrive.

Any accounting of the commons without acknowledging the presence and interests of others within these spaces will lead to their continued destruction, to our human detriment as well. But when we consider the perspectives of the other species, whom we rely upon for our survival and vice versa, can we begin to work towards nurturing an environment that is actually sustainable. Doing otherwise will only doom us to repeat history. And it’s already a bit late for that.

The Global Ocean Grab

By Carsten Pedersen, et. al. - World Fishers, September 2014

The term ‘ocean grabbing’ aims to cast new light on important processes and dynamics that are negatively affecting the people and communities whose way of life, cultural identity and livelihoods depend on their involvement in small-scale fishing and closely related activities. Small-scale fishers and fishing communities in both the Global South and the Global North are increasingly threatened and confronted by powerful forces that are dramatically reshaping existing access rights regimes and production models in fisheries. This process is leading not only to the dwindling of control by small-scale fishers over these resources, but also in many cases to their ecological destruction and very disappearance.

Today we are witnessing a major process of enclosure of the world’s oceans and fisheries resources, including marine, coastal and inland fisheries. Ocean grabbing is occurring mainly through policies, laws, and practices that are (re)defining and (re)allocating access, use and control of fisheries resources away from small-scale fishers and their communities, and often with little concern for the adverse environmental consequences. Existing customary and communal fisheries’ tenure rights systems and use and management practices are being ignored and ultimately lost in the process. Ocean grabbing thus means the capturing of control by powerful economic actors of crucial decision-making around fisheries, including the power to decide how and for what purposes marine resources are used, conserved and managed now and in the future. As a result, these powerful actors, whose main concern is making profit, are steadily gaining control of both the fisheries’ resources and the benefits of their use.

Read the report (English PDF).

Report: World's Oceans on Brink of Collapse Global Ocean Commission says rescue needed within five years

By Nadia Prupis - Common Dreams, June 23, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The world's oceans face irreparable damage from climate change and overfishing, with a five-year window for intervention, an environmental panel said Tuesday.

Neglecting the health of the oceans could have devastating effects on the world's food supply, clean air, and climate stability, among other factors.

The Global Oceans Commission, an environmental group formed by the Pew Charitable Trust, released a report (PDF) addressing the declining marine ecosystems around the world and outlining an eight-step "rescue package" to restore growth and prevent future damage to the seas. The 18-month study proposes increased governance of the oceans, including limiting oil and gas exploration, capping subsidies for commercial fishing, and creating marine protected areas (MPAs) to guard against pollution, particularly from plastics.

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