Whales, Sonar and Security
Last week the Supreme Court lifted judicial restrictions on submarine training exercises. These restrictions were in place as a result of campaigns and lawsuits by environmental groups, who have fought the use of sonar by the Navy for about a decade. The environmentalists argue that sonar can be as loud as 2,000 jet engines, causing marine mammals–particularly whales–to suffer lasting physical trauma, strandings and changes in breeding and migration patterns.
The Supreme Court has now overturned these restrictions, saying national security has to prevail over environmental concerns. A few years ago our magazine Ode published a long story on this issue that gives some solid evidence for the damage that the use of sonars is causing at sea.
But beyond the arguments, there is an underlying issue that concerns me even more. By saying that national security is more important than environmental concerns, the Supreme Court acknowledges that the use of sonar has such negative impact. It appears that it is not disputed that there is damage. It’s just that that damage is not important enough. In other words: Men are more important than animals. That kind of competitive reasoning is behind almost all the problems in our world.
Behind environmental degradation, poverty and global warming, there is always that same driving force: Competition. I can only survive if you perish. I’m only safe when you’re not. Gandhi couldn’t have said it better: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” When do we start to approach difficult issues from an inclusive perspective, directing all our efforts to finding a solution that works for all?
Sometimes it seems that only a big disaster will provoke this much needed transformation and that until that moment many more whales, deprived people and natural beauty has to suffer. But as an optimist I just hope that we will become aware and appreciative of our environment in the widest and most inclusive sense, ourselves without any disaster.
And so I write this story. Not so much to provide the arguments why sonar should not be used at sea, but to highlight the fact that even weighing the arguments of environmental damage and national security basically means that we are suspending every principle of justice. Doing that won’t bring us one step closer to any real security.
Jurriaan Kamp is the founder and editor of Ode Magazine, the magazine for intelligent optimists.