Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mum, why is it OK for us to kill cows and sheep but not to kill whales?

I read this on a poster in town and it got me thinking, how would I answer this if one of my own children asked this?
Well, first of all I’d remind them that I’m their dad, but I certainly wouldn’t be offended. [if anything, “Mum” should].
Anyway… the interesting thing about the question is the “OK” part, and how that all fits with Nature.
We all love Nature, right? And we wouldn’t dream of questioning Her methods. [Yes, yes – I know nature doesn’t have a gender any more than the wind does]
So let’s look at Nature; who’s killing who and why.
If you divide up the creatures that eat stuff, there’s basically 3 kinds of ‘vore’.  You’ve got your Herbivore, Carnivore and Omnivore [including us!].
Herbivores chow down on poor defenceless plants all day long. Where are their Greenpeace zealots, hurling themselves in the path of those relentless molars?
It’s fine. Nature has a plan. The herbs in question produce masses of extraneous biomass in the complete realisation that a vast percentage will be gobbled up by the next step up the food chain. And, besides, plants don’t feel anything so there’s guilt-free dining all ‘round.
It’s even a bonus to a lot of them. Look how many seeds get dispersed via herbivore poop.
RIghto, carnivore time. Now events take on a whole different tenor.
Every creature, all ‘vores’ alike, run the risk of being dinner to a carnivore. From field mice to you and me.
And in Nature’s hands, do you know how those dinners play out? Every single object of every carnivore’s meal  – with the exception of those dead already [cheers, scavengers] – died and was devoured by horrifically brutal and ruthless means without the slightest consideration for the pain and trauma experienced.
Nature, eh? What’s she like? She has no feelings about it, actually. But, just as she did with the plants, she has a plan for the walking meat.
Many, many more offspring are produced under Nature’s governance than is ever likely to survive. The more chance you have of being eaten, the more of you there are born.
She’s got it all worked out. There’s this many meat-oriented appetites out there, so I’m going to need this many edible beasties out there to be eaten. The ferocious pain each of them feel at the receiving end of each gruesome encounter is not a factor in Her calculations.
So, to get to ‘us’.  [“why is it OK for us…”] What we’re talking about is a controlled system.
We just happen to be the ones who have a high sense of the control involved and have engineered it our advantage.
Just like Nature, we’ve assessed volumes of appetites and managed populations of edible living things accordingly. We gave it a name. Farming.
We produce artificially exaggerated numbers of plants. And we produce artificially exaggerated numbers of animals. All to eat. Because we are biologically omnivores.
Yes, we can survive just on plant matter but I think that’s denying our essential make-up.
[Ever see a David Attenborough where the bear is having an existential crisis about eating the bunny it just caught and dismembered?]
We are probably unique in the animal world regarding the philosophical enquiry we put into the ‘nature’ of killing our dinner. Why else would we, for the large part, go to such trouble to contrive ‘humane’ ways of ending the lives of our next meals? Show me one other creature who gives a flying darn for the howls of terror and agony coming from the creature in their jaws/talons/coils?
Yes, we artificially inflate numbers of edible animals where we are able to manage it – and can do so with a reasonably justifiable imperative.
What we cannot do for the moment is manage numbers of whales in any direction but down.
And that’s probably the big reason why it’s not OK.
The issue is confused further with the awareness of their intelligence. Though that doesn’t seem to stop us eating pigs, does it? But nor we get all activist when we see killer whales do a number on another Minke.
If we could successfully farm whales in viable numbers – I wonder what we’d do? Would it be OK then?
But that’s not the question is it?

Footnote: Since writing I came across this well-reasoned and informative article in the SMH on similar themes