The Physics Police

The Physics Police

Friday, March 7, 2014

Pierce Brosnan and the Navy

Let me preface this post by saying that I like whales. Star Trek IV, and all that. I like cetaceans, too. Pretty much any mammal that lives in the water full time has my respect.

Now, I recently saw this video where Pierce Brosnan says:
Together, we can save the whales.
Sounds good to me! So how are we going to accomplish this? Well, the video is paired with a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petition which asks the Secretary of Defense to:
Protect whales during the Navy's routine training and testing exercises
Well, that sounds reasonable and in line with the NRDC mission statement:
We strive to protect nature in ways that advance the long-term welfare of present and future generations.
The NRDC claim go on to claim that sonar and explosives testing kill whales, and that:
The Navy's Environmental Review concedes it could kill nearly 1,000 marine mammals.
That may sound like a lot, but one should also consider the big picture. More than 650,000 marine mammals are killed by commercial fishing each year.

Anyway, this number of 1,000 marine mammals seems to come from a 2011 NBC article by Miguel Llanos. For reference, he lists the website, which is an entire website dedicated to hosting information about the Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement. This makes sense because the report is truly humungous. Just section 3.4 on marine mammals is 394 pages long!

Strangely enough, you won't find the number 1,000 marine mammals anywhere in this long document. Hmm, suspicious. Instead, the synopsis at the very beginning says that:
The use of sonar and active acoustic sources are not expected to result in mortality, although the potential for beaked whale mortality coincident with use of sonar and other active acoustic sources is considered. The Navy has requested two annual beaked whale mortality takes under the MMPA as part of all training activities combined to account for any unforeseen potential impacts.
So that number was only exaggerated by 500 times, no big deal. But wait, if he didn't get the number from the document, where did it come from?

Well, the NBC article has it wedged in with a bunch of hyperbolic remarks from one Zak Smith, an attorney for, you guessed it, the NRDC! Apparently, this guy has been spreading this false claim about the Navy's report for years.

Neither Miguel Llanos nor Pierce Brosnan seem to have cared enough about saving the whales to check the facts. Not even a little. They got duped into making a 100-mile mountain out of a 2-foot mole hill.

In other words, the Navy's annual take authorization of 2 accounts for only 0.0003% of the 650,000 marine mammal deaths each year.

Clearly, there are bigger fish to fry!

But seriously, this episode amounts to nothing more than a political attack on the Navy. Now, I don't much like military spending, myself. Put me in charge and I'd give half the pie to NASA in a heartbeat. My goal isn't to fight against political viewpoints that I'm opposed to. I share both environmentalism and anti-military-industrial-complex viewpoints with Zak Smith and the NRDC.

Where I part ways with these activists is the lying lies they tell in order to gain attention. Not to mention donations to their contrived cause.

Some people might ask, what's so bad about a little white lie?

I'll tell you what's so bad about it. People can tell. People who aren't on board can sense the self-righteous denial. By telling lies, you miss the chance to get them on board which you might have with a reasoned argument. They may not literally be able to do the math, but emotionally, people can detect the red flags of rhetoric and phony activism. It's a turn-off. It doesn't help save the whales.

Antagonizing and making ignorant demands at the Navy doesn't help save whales, either. It gives them less reason to care if they feel like they're being treated like the enemy. Clearly, they've put a lot of time and effort into this report. Why make an enemy out of a potential ally?

I'm sick of this nonsense.

I want people to be better environmentalists, dammit! Mindlessly clicking on hollow petitions makes a mockery of environmentalism. The popularity of this particular scam betrays a grievous lack of skepticism in the movement.

If we want to follow the NRDC mission to protect nature in ways that advance the long-term welfare of current and future generations, we're going to need to stop mindlessly believing celebrities, and start thinking for ourselves.

Check your facts, Mr. Bond!

1 comment:

  1. If you look on NOAA's National Marine Fisheries site, you can read the research going into permitting the Navy to use sonar around marine mammals. There's a lot of it. Let me give you the short version: if there's proof sonar hurts marine mammals, it hasn't been discovered yet. I doubt if NOAA's marine biologists are fans of the Navy but NRDC does themselves no favors by exaggerating and/or lying.