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Iceland to Resume Killing Endangered Fin Whales

Animals
A fin whale surfacing in Greenland. Aqqa Rosing-Asvid / CC BY 2.0

By Kitty Block

Iceland seems to be the most confused of nations when it comes to whales. On the one hand it attracts international tourists from all over the world to go out and see whales as part of their encounters with Iceland's many natural wonders. On the other hand it kills whales for profit, with some portion of the kill even being fed to some of the same tourists in restaurants and cafes.


The whaling company Hvalur hf, whose name means "Whale, Inc." in Icelandic, announced Tuesday it would resume its killing of endangered fin whales after a two-year hiatus. The Icelandic government will allow Hvalur to kill 161 fin whales, as well as allow it to use 20 percent of its self-allocated and unused quota from last year, which means up to 191 whales could be killed. And all of this killing will happen in defiance of the International Whaling Commission's global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Iceland's decision will rightly cause outrage all over the world, and the country's government should really know better.

Hvalur is a 70-year-old killing enterprise, owned by a wealthy citizen with outsized influence in the Land of Fire and Ice. And Hvalur is the principal reason why this otherwise ecologically responsible nation continues to support an ecologically irresponsible practice.

The fin whale, our planet's second largest animal after the blue whale, is classified as a globally endangered species. During its last hunt, in 2015, Hvalur killed 155 of them. Then the company took two years off apparently because of a declining market for whale meat in Japan. The commercial whaling industry in Iceland also hunts minke whales in defiance of the moratorium.

Iceland's greenlighting of Hvalur's actions is especially disappointing and surprising in light of the fact that the U.S. has undertaken a rigorous review process of Iceland's whaling activities and certified Iceland under the Pelly Amendment, a legal provision that includes potential economic sanctions against nations that are compromising marine conservation goals. The U.S. imposed sanctions under this process for Iceland's participation in the trade of whale meat and products.

Whales face multiple threats in today's oceans from pollution, climate change, entanglements in fish nets and ship strike. The global moratorium is needed more than ever, and it's a shame that Iceland would bow to the will of one man and one company.

Iceland returned to the International Whaling Commission in 2002 with a reservation to the commercial moratorium, a claim 19 member nations objected to at the time. Controversially, Iceland was allowed to vote on its own readmission. At the time, many IWC governments strongly objected because the country, bound by the moratorium to which it had agreed in 1982, had quit and rejoined but then opted out of the single most important conservation measure of the treaty. Countries do not normally quit simply because they don't like the conservation measures to which they have agreed. You're either in or you're out.

Iceland is one of just three nations that conduct and otherwise encourage commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC's global moratorium, with Norway and Japan being the other two. Japan's whaling fleet recently returned to port with a kill total of 333 minke whales taken in its months-long hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in Antarctic waters. Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, is an unabashed supporter of whaling. The leader likes to invoke cultural arguments even in defense of a rapacious whaling industry that is fundamentally commercial and not genuinely rooted in Japanese tradition.

In this respect, Iceland, Japan and Norway are in the same boat, as nations deeply unmoored from world opinion and sensitivity toward the plight of the whales as a matter of shared feeling and concern. Their continued whaling stands in the way of the urgent work of saving whales from looming threats that require the concerted energy and constructive action of a united global community.

Kitty Block is acting president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and president of Humane Society International.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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