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Iceland didn't hunt any whales in 2019 – and public appetite for whale meat is fading

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Whale watching (here, off Húsavík, Iceland) may be better for the local economy than whale hunting. Davide Cantelli/Wikimedia , CC BY

One of the most important global conservation events of the past year was something that didn’t happen. For the first time since 2002, Iceland – one of just three countries that still allow commercial whaling – didn’t hunt any whales, even though its government had approved whaling permits in early 2019.

Many people may think of whaling as a 19th-century industry in which men threw harpoons at their quarry by hand. But humans are still killing whales today in other ways. Thousands of whales are struck by ships, entangled in fishing lines, and harmed by ocean noise every year.

However, most nations support a commercial whaling ban that the International Whaling Commission, a global body charged with whale management, imposed in 1986 to prevent these creatures from being hunted to extinction. Iceland, Norway and Japan have long been exceptions to this international consensus.

I study marine ecology and conservation and spent the 2018-19 academic year on a Fulbright fellowship in Iceland. It is encouraging to see countries come to realize that whales are worth more alive than dead – for their spiritual value, their role in tourism, and the ecological services that they provide. As more Icelanders adopt this view, it will be good news for ocean conservation.

As recently as 2018, Iceland was hunting whales in defiance of international criticism.

The ecological value of large marine mammals

For years, ecological studies of whales focused on how much fish they ate or krill they consumed, which represented costs to fisheries. Starting around 10 years ago, my colleagues and I took a fresh look at whales’ ecological role in the ocean.

Whales often dive deep to feed, coming to the surface to breathe, rest, digest – and poop. Their nutrient-rich fecal plumes provide nitrogen, iron and phosphorous to algae at the surface, which increases productivity in areas where whales feed. More whales mean more plankton and more fish.

Whales also play a role in the carbon cycle. They are the largest creatures on Earth, and when they die their carcasses often sink to the deep sea. These events, known as whale falls, provide habitat for at least a hundred species that depend on the bones and nutrients. They also transfer carbon to the deep ocean, where it remains sequestered for hundreds of years.

Whales are economically valuable, but watching them brings in more money than killing them. “Humpbacks are one of the most commercially important marine species in Iceland,” a whale-watching guide told me one morning off the coast of Akureyri. Whale-watching income far outweighs the income from hunting fin and minke whales.

Octopus, fish and other underwater scavengers feeding on the carcass of a dead whale in California’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The end of Icelandic whaling?

For years after the international moratorium on whaling was adopted in 1986, only Norway allowed commercial whaling. Japan continued hunting in the Antarctic under the guise of “scientific whaling,” which many whale biologists considered unnecessary and egregious.

Iceland also allowed a research hunt in the 1980s, with much of the meat sold to Japan, but stopped whaling under international pressure in the 1990s. It resumed commercial hunting in 2002, with strong domestic support. Iceland was ruled by Norway and then Denmark until 1944. As a result, Icelanders often chafe under external pressure. Many saw foreign protests against whaling as a threat to their national identity, and local media coverage was distinctly pro-whaling.

This view started to shift around 2014, when European governments refused to allow the transport of whale meat harvested by Icelandic whalers through their ports, en route to commercial buyers in Japan. Many European countries opposed Icelandic whaling and were unwilling to facilitate this trade. Whalers no longer looked so invincible, and Icelandic media started covering both sides of the debate.

In May 2019, Hvalur – the whaling business owned by Kristján Loftsson, Iceland’s most vocal and controversial whaler – announced that it wouldn’t hunt fin whales, which are internationally classified as vulnerable, this year, citing a need for ship repairs and declining demand in Japan. In June, Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, owner of a smaller outfit, announced that he wouldn’t go whaling either. These decisions meant that the hunt was off.

Whalers haul a dead whale onto their boat off the west coast of Iceland in 2003. AP Photo Adam Butler

During my year in Iceland, I met for coffee every couple of weeks with Sigursteinn Másson, program leader for the local whale-watching association IceWhale and representative of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. At times he seemed animated about the prospect that no whaling permits would be allotted. At others, he looked gloomy because whalers and their allies in the Icelandic government had co-opted the conversation.

“I worked on gay rights in Iceland, which was opposed by the church, and mental health for ten years,” he told me. “They were peanuts compared to the whaling issue.”

At first, both companies insisted that they would start whaling again in 2020. But Jónsson’s outfit no longer plans to hunt minkes, and Másson doubts that whaling will continue. “Nobody is encouraging them anymore – or interested,” he told me last summer.

Now trade is getting even tougher. In 2018 Japan announced that it would leave the International Whaling Commission, stop its controversial Antarctic whaling program and focus on hunting whales in its coastal waters, reducing the demand for Icelandic whale meat.

Tourist behavior in Iceland is also changing. For years, tourists would go out whale watching, then order grilled minke in restaurants. After the International Fund for Animal Welfare started targeting whale watchers in 2011 with its “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” campaign, the number of tourists who ate whale meat declined from 40% to 11%.

A generational shift

For many Icelanders, whale meat is an occasional delicacy. Over dinner a few months ago, I met an Icelandic woman who told me she thought whale was delicious, and she didn’t see why whaling was such a big deal. How many times had she eaten whale? Once a month, once a year? “I’ve had it twice in my life.”

About a third of Icelanders now oppose whaling. They tend to be younger urban residents. A third are neutral, and a third support whaling. Many in this last group may feel stronger about critiques of whaling than about hvalakjöt, or whale meat. Demand for hvalakjöt in grocery stores and restaurants has started to dry up.

Although few observers would have predicted it, whaling may end in Iceland not through denial of a permit but from lack of interest. How long until the world’s remaining commercial whalers in Japan and Norway, who face similar shifts in taste and demographics, follow a similar course?

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]

The Conversation

Joe Roman received funding from the Fulbright-National Science Foundation Arctic Research Scholar program.

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mkalus
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Victims, virtues and the fight for liberal democracy: Andrew Coyne in conversation with Francis Fukuyama

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In his new book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama explores the surprising parallels between such disparate groups as Black Lives Matter and white nationalists — and why both are “a broad-based threat to modern liberal democracy.” The Stanford University political scientist talked to Andrew Coyne earlier this week. This is an edited and condensed version of their conversation.

Andrew Coyne: The core insight of your book is that the identity politics of the left, the populist nationalism of the right, Islamism, even Trump himself, all are driven by a demand for dignity, a demand for recognition and respect. But why are all of these happening now?

Francis Fukuyama: I think these movements have been triggered by economic developments, globalization. This neo-liberal period of increasing flows of goods, services, trade, investment, has benefited a small number of people but left quite a few behind. But it’s not just de-industrialization and offshoring of jobs — I think it’s also the physical movement of people, really extraordinary levels of foreign-born people moving into Western Europe and the United States. I think a combination of the insecurity caused by economic disruption plus rather rapid cultural change is what’s triggered the demand for recognition. And that was there to be exploited by opportunistic politicians.

President Donald Trump Trump is a steady hand and always down to earth.

People try to come up with purely economic explanations for, let’s say, Trump. But it’s not as simple as that, is it?

Identity politics were born on the left. Following all the big social movements of the 1960s, based on race, gender, gender preference, you had a lot of groups demanding better equality. They felt they were marginalized —which they were — and that’s what shifted the agenda of the left away from the broad working class towards the specific grievances of all of these groups. And I think over time, this sort of decomposition of the left triggered a reaction on the right, where white people are now saying, “Well, actually, we’re the victimized minority, we’re the ones that are invisible to the elites, and we’re the ones being left behind.”

How crucial is Trump himself to polarization we now see in American politics?

Trump has made the polarization worse in very specific ways, but it would be a problem even without him, and it’ll continue to be a problem once he departs. Which I hope will be sooner rather than later.

You are careful to note that many of Trump’s supporters do have legitimate grievances.

Well, what’s happened to the white working class has been a social disaster. In many rural communities, you’ve got this raging opioid epidemic. The latest estimate was that 72,000 Americans died in the last year. You’ve had social breakdown in terms of single-parent families and children growing up in extreme poverty. And I think a lot of this was actually invisible to people until the election of 2016. During the New Hampshire primary, for example, it turned out that the biggest issue in the state, a state that is almost 100 per cent white, was heroin addiction. Until then, what had happened to a lot of working class Americans had not been brought to the fore.

US President Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a “Make America Great Again” rally in Billings, Montana on September 6, 2018.

You also argue that before we grapple with some of the negative aspects of identity politics on the left, we have to acknowledge the legitimacy of complaints among racial and sexual minorities, and other marginalized groups.

There’s no question about that. The Black Lives Matter movement, the #metoo movement — these are built around real abuses that needed to be corrected.

Obviously, though, identity politics can also lead to a kind of fragmentation, a challenge to some pretty basic Enlightenment values of the universality of human rights, of the individual as the building block of society.

It can. Here’s a concrete example: Martin Luther King basically said, “Black people are just like white people. We want the same rights. We don’t want anything special. We just want to be treated as Americans are supposed to be treated.” But in certain interpretations of the black power movement, that shifted over into saying, “No, actually black people are not just like white people. We have our own culture, we have our own values. We have a separate way of living. And that’s what we want to have respected.” Then it gets translated to a lot of different groups. The problem is that a lot of those groups are defined by biology, or characteristics you’re born with and you don’t have very much choice over — like the religion that you grew up in. So in a certain sense, that returns us to this pre-liberal notion that we’re actually all different from each other in fundamental ways.

There seems to be a built-in tension in identity politics between those two demands. On the one hand, there’s this desire for integration into the larger whole. On the other hand, there’s this insistence on difference and apartness — on separatism, almost.

Yeah, and I think in a liberal society you don’t want to demand that everybody be identical. But there are certain versions of multiculturalism where that separateness begins to challenge core liberal values. The clearest case of this is a Muslim family where the daughter wants to marry somebody of her own choice and the family sends her back to Morocco or Pakistan for an arranged marriage. You have this clear contradiction between the cultural values of the immigrant community and a fundamental liberal principle, which is that each individual — including women — has the right to make their own choice in matters like who they marry. And in that case, I really do think that it’s a bad interpretation of liberalism to say that we have to respect community values rather than the rights of the individual who lives in a liberal society.

I’m struck by how often what’s called “diversity” is, on closer inspection, more about emphasizing the sameness of individuals within a group, about conformity.

This is another problem with certain interpretations of identity politics. Where you say that, because you’re born into a certain group that experience then determines what you’re going to think about politics, about culture, about a whole range of things. That’s a misunderstanding about how people are, they are actually capable of rising above these given identities and thinking for themselves.

Attendees recite the Pledge of Allegiance before President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, Mont., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018.

It’s almost inevitable, though, if you’re going to stress the differences between groups, that you create these false archetypes, or stereotypes.

Yeah. An example is the idea that there is this uniform thing called “white privilege.” If you look at what’s actually going on in the United States right now, it’s really remarkable, there is such a variance in the fortunes between college-educated whites and working-class whites. They’ve gone in completely opposite directions over the last 30 years.

You’re quite critical of the political left for taking its eye off the ball, if you will, for getting so consumed with narrower and narrower group identities that it’s lost its focus on bringing justice to the impoverished, and to the lower classes.

It’s easier to argue about some of these identity issues than to actually do something substantive to help the situation of marginalized groups. My personal opinion is that in the United States — I think Canadians have been better at this — we really stopped thinking about social policy seriously a long time ago. It’s much easier, for example, to push for the funding of an ethnic studies department at a university than to actually think about how we help the concrete socioeconomic situation of a group as a whole.

Let’s talk about ways out of this morass. You place a fairly heavy premium on the idea of rebuilding national identity. But you are referring to a particular type of national identity — what we often call civic nationalism, versus ethnic or cultural nationalism.

Right. In Europe, you have a number of countries that define citizenship in ethnic terms. I don’t think that’s an acceptable way for a de facto multicultural society to think of itself. You need an identity that is not based on ethnicity, not based on religion, but is based on shared political values. So in the United States, this is a belief in the constitution, a belief in the rule of law, a belief in the principle of human equality. You’ve got to get that civic understanding of nationalism.

And yet you say that’s not enough, there’s got to be something more. What is the more you think is needed?

I think the thicker cultures are, the more binding they are. So I think that there are other kinds of positive virtues that you need to cultivate. A sense of civic obligation, for example, which is why I’m in favor of something like national service — this idea that, as a citizen of a democratic society, you’re not just a rights bearer that is constantly getting stuff from the government, you’re also somebody that actively has to contribute.

How do you manage the trick of of cultivating this kind of nationalism but not becoming exclusionary, or unwilling to cooperate with other countries — especially as so many of the issues we face are global.

International cooperation still has to be based on nations. The nation still provides this one characteristic that is not shared by either sub-national or supranational organizations, which is that it can legitimately use force to uphold laws, to protect citizens. So it’s very important to hold on to that. But that doesn’t mean that nations can’t voluntarily cooperate with one another. In fact, the global economy wouldn’t work if it didn’t have this whole layer of all sorts of international agreements and organizations. I don’t think you have to give up vital aspects of sovereignty to deal with the kinds of problems created by globalization.

Let me close with, maybe an obligatory question, but why do you think Canada has been the exception to some of these trends? We’ve certainly had our share of identity politics, but we haven’t had that populist nationalism to anything like the same degree.

I was hoping you’d get to that. I actually think that part of the answer to that may be the way that you handle immigration. First of all, you’ve got a skill-based immigration policy. And you don’t have anything like the level of illegal immigration to the U.S. I really think that some of the opposition to immigration here is based on xenophobia, racism, and so forth —but a lot of it is based on a sense that immigration is out of control, that we don’t control our borders.  That is much less salient in Canada.





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sillygwailo
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Some Kind of Quest

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What compels people to do things? Especially things that don't make sense to other people? Bruce Zaccagnino has, by himself over the past few years, built Northlandz, a massive model train installation 75 minutes away from NYC. The facility is 52,000 square feet, where more than 100 trains travel over 8 miles of track.

But can it last? While Bruce has even grander plans for Northlandz, his dream has grown beyond what anyone initially imagined. Yet the audiences he hoped Northlandz would attract just aren't coming. He's transformed from a creator into a caretaker, wrestling with upkeep instead of making art. Northlandz is not just another roadside attraction. It's a man's life, work, and home.

The true scale of the thing becomes evident at 3:40, when you see Zaccagnino walking through a valley with the walls towering over him. As someone who has built a massive, sprawling thing by himself without knowing why or how it was going to be successful, I hope Zaccagnino finds a way to keep Northlandz going.

Tags: Bruce Zaccagnino   video
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samuel
1287 days ago
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Northlandz is a 75 minute drive from NYC and Philadelphia.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
1287 days ago
Aw man. Now I really wanna go.
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Over 40 in Vancouver Microblog Episode 1: Internet 2020-2029 With @sillygwailo

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100 million on the Indy web and more decentralized food prep

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No Diet Works For Everyone, And Every Diet Works For Someone

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As has been my tradition, in December I repost old favourites from years gone by. This year am looking back to 2016
Two weeks ago Kevin Hall and I had our diet commentary published in The Lancet. Not surprisingly, we upset some folks - primarily low-carbers. Some accused us of being low-fat cheerleaders. Others that we fostered an "animus" towards low-carb diets.

While I can't speak for Kevin, I can honestly state that I'm totally fine with low-carb diets. For some people they're a life changer and our office is happy to work with patients on them. I've also got nothing against low fat, Paleo, intermittent fasting, vegan, gluten-free, or any other diet that has a name.

What matters most to me, and what was also the crux of our commentary, is whether or not a person likes their chosen diet enough to sustain it. Food is not simply fuel. Food is comfort, food is celebration, and food serves as the foundation of a huge part of our social lives. Regardless of whether or not one diet vs. another diet affords a person an additional few pounds of loss (or even whether or not it confers specific health benefits) pales in importance to whether or not a person likes that diet's style of eating enough to live with it for good

As noted in our piece, every diet out there has its long term success stories, and so moving forward, if you see anyone out there suggesting their diet is the best (or that your diet is the worst) rest assured they have an agenda. Their agenda might simply reflect an n=1 mentality of, "it worked for me therefore it's what you should do", it might reflect basic post-purchase rationalization, or it might reflect genuine science and studies that infer greater short term losses or potential health benefits. But if they can't wrap their heads around adherence (which on an individual basis is an expression of whether or not you like what you're eating and don't miss what you're not) as any diet's long term's most critical component, their ideology is showing.

Temporary efforts will only yield temporary outcomes no matter how exciting the outcomes might be in the short run.
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A farewell to Toronto’s CLRV streetcars

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IMG_6892-001.JPG

On December 29, 2019, the Toronto Transit Commission’s venerable Canadian Light Rail Vehicles disappeared from the city’s streets. To mark the occasion, six CLRVs, offering free rides, were put into service on Queen Street between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM before a ceremonial last run to Russell Carhouse in Toronto’s east end.

The first six CLRVs, 4000-4005, were built by SIG in Switzerland, and entered service on the 507 Long Branch route on September 30, 1979. An additional 190 streetcars were built by Hawker-Siddeley in Thunder Bay, with the last cars arriving in 1981. Those were followed by 52 articulated ALRV streetcars, which were delivered between 1987 and 1989, and retired earlier this year.

The CLRVs were unique to Toronto, designed by and for the TTC. Other North American cities that still operated streetcars in the 1970s opted for different designs to replace their ageing PCCs, though Boston have the CLRVs a try.

Several CLRV and ALRV streetcars will be preserved at transit museums, including the Halton County Radial Railway near Rockwood, Ontario; two CLRVs will remain on TTC property for special events.

With the arrival of the last of the 204 Bombardier Flexity low floor streetcars this month and the retirement of the CLRVs, the entire TTC fleet is now 100% wheelchair accessible and fully air-conditioned. Gone, too, with the CLRVs are back-lit vinyl destination signs, treadle rear doors that open by stepping on the stairs, and windows that open at face level and the warnings to keep arms inside.

Streetcar 4124 on December 29, 2019Streetcar 4124 picks up passengers at Yonge Street, December 29, 2019

Though the accessibility and the capacity of the new Flexity streetcars represent major improvements, I will miss the old CLRVs, and not just because they’re the last transit vehicle in Toronto that are older than I am. I was fascinated by Toronto’s streetcars at an early age. As a child growing up in Brampton, I would lobby hard to ride Toronto’s subways and streetcars whenever we went downtown as a family. My parents took me on a ride on the 501 Streetcar between downtown and Parkdale (with lunch at Harry’s Charbroiled Burgers when it was across from the Gladstone Hotel) when I was seven.

IMG_6907-001Streetcar 4178, A Streetcar Named Toronto, at Greenwood Avenue, December 29, 2019

Once I was old enough, at age thirteen, I was making my own trips to Toronto, taking GO Transit trains from Downtown Brampton or Mississauga Transit buses from Shoppers World and Square One to the subway, buying a day pass, and then spending a day wandering the city. The high floor CLRV and ALRV streetcars with their open windows offered great views of the city rolling by.

I continued to ride the rocket regularly when I attended university, taking advantage of breaks between classes to ride further out into the suburbs, eventually riding nearly every bus route in the city. Even after I moved to Toronto, a streetcar ride was an affordable delight (as long as I wasn’t in a rush).

IMG_6927-001.JPGShort turn: Swiss-built CLRV 4001 turns into Wolesley Loop at Bathurst and Queen

My favourite seats were right at the back, with the curved rear with great views on three sides, similar to the bullet lounge at the end of VIA Rail’s Canadian and Ocean trains. The single seats on the operator’s side of the streetcar were also favourites.

Though the last of Bombardier’s 204 new Flexities have finally arrived, there is still a streetcar shortage in Toronto. The 505 Dundas and 502/503 Kingston Road routes continue to be operated with buses. Many of the new vehicles planned for Dundas and Kingston have been reallocated to King Street, where the transit priority project resulted in a significant increase in ridership. The TTC wishes to purchase 60 more streetcars to fully furnish the existing demand and support expansion on the waterfront, but funding isn’t yet available.

Unfortunately, buses will have to fill in those gaps as the CLRVs disappear.

IMG_6936.JPG
Retired streetcars at Russell Carhouse await their fates

Thanks for the memories!



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mkalus
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