The first is I've started reading Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, and it's turning out to be a great read. I'm only 90-some pages into it, but it's packed with (cited) information and is really interesting. To be completely honest, I'd thought it would be more of a story than the factual, non-fiction read that it is, but that's okay- it's wonderfully written.
The second issue is one I feel very strongly about-- whaling. For anyone who doesn't know, whaling for commercial purposes is against international law (according to the 1986 international moratorium on whaling put forth by the International Whaling Commission). However, killing whales in the name of scientific research is legal, given that the organization responsible leaves as little waste as possible which means selling byproducts on the open market.
Iceland and Norway, both countries with strong whaling traditions, have periodically started whaling throughout the last 22 years, but have been shut down by international conservation groups every time. Recently, Japan has joined the roster of countries to support whaling. Their Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) has been conducting large scale whaling operations, stating that their purpose was to do research on the corpses of killed whales to find out things like age and diet, among other things-- general demographic sampling of the fin, humpback and minke whale populations, among others. More details are on their site.
Every summer (in the southern hemisphere, so in the winter, for all you northern hemisphere folks), the ICR has sent a fairly large whaling fleet down to Antarctica to conduct their research by taking somewhere around 1,500 whales. After conducting their research, they process the whale meat for mass consumption on the market.
Antarctica is a protected zone, as apportioned by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and is given to the protection of Australia so long as Australia does not claim sovereignty over the continent.
Okay, so now you have some of the background.
Here's what's going on--
Australia has a huge problem with the Japanese whalers-- it's generated some pretty nasty press based on photos of the operation and the ICR is behaving like they are illegally whaling. Their site, in English, seems given over to dispelling the "myth" that they're a commercial operation. They constantly defame the most active conservationist organization opposing them, Sea Shepherd (Sea Shepherd uses direct but non-lethal methods to stop activities that damage the marine environment, generally aiming to make operations economically unsound). It's comical how much about whale demographics isn't on the site and how much propaganda is.
Anyways-- back to Australia. Australia seems to be generating more and more anti-whaling support. Enough that the IWC is considering let Japan whale in Japan's coastal waters instead of them taking as many in Antarctica. Here's one of the original articles (the one I'm getting my information from)-
Basically, this is Japan coming out and saying that they'll abandon ALL of their research in the Antarctic. They're abandoning their controls to "continue" the experiment under vastly different circumstances- whales migrate through Japanese waters during a different time of year. They'd be adding this intensely skewed data to their data bank-- this is not something responsible scientists conducting an experiment do.
So the other reason Japan is whaling? Profit. Japan is commercially whaling through the ICR and in the name of research. It explains why they put up such a front and why they are so okay with having messed up research results. Sure, there are other explanations, but Occam's Razor (the simplest solution is most often the correct one) prevails.
Japan is illegally whaling, and the IWC is giving them permission to do it. The IWC has failed the conservation movement.
So what can we do?
It's really up to where you live. If you live in a country that's a part of the IWC, send a letter to your country's leader, telling them that you think that whaling in Japan (or Norway or Iceland) is not okay. Whales are an integral part of the marine ecosystem, and no one knows the kind of devastation to marine ecosystems their disappearance would cause.
If you want more direct action, write to Greenpeace or another organization, telling them to start another campaign against whaling. Or, if you're feeling even more radical about it, make a donation to Sea Shepherd.
Well, thanks for reading my thoughts. As always, debate is welcome in the comments.