Long ago, there was animal protectionism. If that wasn't enough for you, you became vegetarian and maybe let the dog sleep inside. Fast forward a few decades. Now old-school wildlife preservers, who often choose the wrong allies, and urban animal defenders, who often choose the wrong battles, are barking at each other over seals. Again.Toronto's Freedom for Animals, the group that campaigned against the tormentors of "Kensington" the cat on video, is now encouraging a boycott of this years CN Tower Climb, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) fundraiser. The WWF, they say, registers itself as an "animal protection" charity yet supports the seal hunt in Nunavut. "The climb has been promoted as a way to help save wildlife," explains FFA member Rosemary Amey, "and the WWF supports hunting, particularly the seal hunt and whaling. This hurts wildlife."
Might Nunavut not be a bit context-sensitive? What would FFA have First Nations folk in the far north do -- just take the sled down to Noah's to pick up some miso burgers? Maybe some imitation blubber? "We don't have a Nunavut division right now," Amey chuckles, "so we haven't researched those issues." Maybe I can help. Take Toronto. Multiply its winter by 10. Take away many buildings (including Fressen and Juice for Life). Make almost everyone Inuit. Now tell them not to hunt. Oh, look, they're starving! But, hey, the seals are happy.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm vegan(ish) myself. I just want no part of dietary colonization. "Sealing is extremely important," elaborates Carey Bonnel of the Nunavut government's Fishing and Sealing Ministry. "We live in a region of extremely limited opportunities." What would happen if the hunting were stopped? "It would have many health consequences, because meat from the hunt is very important to the diet of the Inuit people."
WWF-Canada president Monty Hummel, raised in a hunting family himself, is eager to riff on the accusations of hypocrisy. "I think if you were raised in the north of this country, on a farm or in a small coastal community you'd find (anti-seal-hunt arguments) to be (based on) strong urban-based attitudes. There's some cultural intolerance going on here."
And maybe a bit of impatience, too. By manoeuvring within the system, orgs like the WWF hope to make changes that save millions of animals. "If we don't succeed at the level where the WWF is working," Hummel says "(that of) saving the ecosystem, then the groups concerned about hunting or not hunting aren't going to have anything to argue about."
Nonetheless, both camps could learn a lot from each other. Animal rights activists are often unable or unwilling to acknowledge the cultural rift between the urban and the far-flung. In many northern communities, buying packaged foods shipped from half a world away that are unrecognizable as a plant or animal is as unthinkable as hunting is to vegetarians. It's even unthinkable to some urban ecologists who are aware that global warming results from trucking in your tofu and kills even the non-cuddly animals.
While conservationists and habitat protectors like the WWF do see the big picture of ecological degradation, as in their campaign against chemical pollutants, they tend to see eco-restoration as the way to maintain a resource they very much wish to keep using. Animal rights organizations, on the other hand, traditionally haven't shown up much in environmental showdowns around logging or contamination. But they are skilled at reminding us of the suffering of animals lost in this paved-over society, particularly pets and animals tortured in factory farming. And they challenge us to think of all living things as our equals, partners in a shared biosphere.
If they could only tone down the "Don't let the natives eat" thing they might be taken a bit more seriously when they point out some of the old guard's transgressions. I wonder, for example, what Nigeria's rural communities think of the WWF's decision to nominate Shell Canada for BC's Minister's Environmental Award for donating thousands of acres of oil drilling rights to the Nature Conservancy. Shell certainly didn't do that in Nigeria. In fact, it imported weapons for paramilitaries to keep down enviro activists. And why is the WWF involved in the U.S Environmental Protection Agency's "endocrine disruptor screening program," which exposes thousands of lab animals to toxins?
Hummel insists that the WWF simply worked with the EPA to make sure testing on "specimens" is kept to a "minimum. It's not WWF doing this testing," explains Hummell. "It's the EPA." Some might not see the difference (Sir Paul McCartney wrote them a nasty letter). The testing has been justified because without torturing animals in labs now we won't know if we're going to poison them in the wild later, but it might also have something to do with cash support the WWF receives from animal-testers like Procter & Gamble or Johnson & Johnson.
Despite this, Hummel says he'd "like to think that the animal rights, conservationist and environmental communities have more in common with each other than we do with large corporate interests." Well, yes, that's a very nice thought. But something tells me we won't all be sitting down over soy lattes any time soon.