Is it a good idea, or a bad idea, for whale advocates to put their money where their mouths are?
From Wired: A Market Proposal for Saving Whales
Despite the best efforts of activists, more whales are killed now than two decades ago. To people who think killing the majestic creatures is wrong, it’s a tragic state of affairs — but perhaps markets could sort it out.
That’s the premise of a controversial proposal floated Jan. 11 in the high-profile journal Nature. Hunters could buy the right to kill whales. Conservationists could pay to save them….
The idea has something to be said for it. After all, it’s easy to say you care about saving some species, but when someone else’s livelihood depends on harvesting that species, you need to have more than a preference that they stop. And besides, there’s the chance that this scheme just might work where other tactics have failed.
(People who don’t think of whales as food may wonder why this topic fits the mandate of the Food Ethics Blog. But the purpose of most modern whaling is in fact to acquire whale meat.)
But at least 3 problems occur to me:
1. As the Wired article points out, one fundamental problem has to do with the moral status of whales. If whales are as sentient as many people think they are, then creating a market in them is akin to creating a market in humans — and hence seriously morally problematic.
2. Moral status of whales aside, the scheme might set a dangerous precedent. Anyone wanting to squeeze money out of activists could in theory start hunting the activist’s favourite critter, and insist on being paid to stop.
3. There’s a worry about the relative bargaining power of the whale hunters and the activists. If whalers are currently making $20 million / year, activists might say “sure, we can match that.” But what’s then to stop whalers from asking for $25 million next year?