Sell the Whales

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Once
upon a time, Socialism was sold as a superior economic system. My
public high school teachers told me in the 1970s that Socialism
was more efficient and would inevitably replace free enterprise.
Socialism was horribly immoral, but oh, so scientific and productive.
So it was natural for Free World governments to adopt as much socialism
as the reactionary, tradition-loving public would allow. It made
sense for space exploration, conservation, education, etc., to be
run as government programs.

How
things have changed… rhetorically speaking. Now everyone talks about
"the problem of calculation under Socialism," "rent
seeking behavior," "the benefits of free trade,"
etc. The Economist and other mainstream business publications often
mention the Austrian explanation of the so-called "business
cycle" (i.e., inflation-driven malinvestment). Rhetorically,
business leaders and politicians (even Russian and Chinese politicians)
make noises about the superiority of free enterprise. But in the
US, space exploration, conservation, education, etc. etc., are still
run as government programs. In the real world, we are trapped in
a permanent New Deal which is getting mighty old.

In
theory, in most areas we're in a free enterprise renaissance. Theoretically,
most thinking people accept that space industrialization should
be privatized. And everyone (especially NEA members) accepts that
their OWN children should go to private school; it's only those
OTHER people who should have their children bussed across town to
the dangerous educationist gulags. The one area where government
still has a big theoretical following is in conservation, which
has been given a coat of Deep Green paint and renamed environmentalism.

The
Greens-who-used-to-be-Reds have modernized their case for nationalization
of land ownership. Today, Socialism is not presented as more efficient
than free enterprise, but less. Government ownership of land is
supposed to protect the biosphere more effectively because government
is too slothful to develop the land. The average American thinks
of government as the trustworthy guardian of Old Faithful and the
Grand Canyon, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of
"public service" propaganda ads. But in reality the Corps
of Engineers has always wanted to dam the Canyon, and the Park Service
has been no protector of Yellowstone's forests.

Every
well-read Green knows that Socialist environmental policies have
made deserts of much of Russia. They managed to turn Kazakhstan
into a dust bowl, dry up most of the Aral Sea, and wipe out all
but a few of the Aral's fish species. The oil-drilling area around
Baku looks like the Moon, with slime pits that have been there since
the Czar; and of course there was Chernobyl. The Soviet economy
wasn't productive enough to afford to clean up its messes. But somehow
the same sort of centralized, command-economy system is supposed
to protect the environment of North America.

Government
at all levels in the US owns about 42% of the US land area, plus
the continental shelf, the rivers, oceanic whaling and fishing rights.
Only about 10% of the Federal land area is National Parks. By far
the majority of the Federal acreage is under the Bureau of Land
Management or the Forest Service. This land can be exploited by
anyone who can pay the necessary campaign contributions, but the
users can never own the land. The result is tragedy of the commons
on a massive scale.

The
government's terrible forest management has been made obvious over
the last few years of ever-bigger forest fires. A couple years ago
the Forest Service announced that Smokey the Bear would be supplanted
by Reddy the Fire Squirrel (really!). Instead of a shovel the Squirrel
carried a flamethrower, and his motto was: "Only You Can Prevent
Forest." I was ready to see the Fire Squirrel and his friends
the Crispy Critters in public-service cartoons, to the theme music
of Metallica's "Fight Fire With Fire" (OK, that part I
made up… but it would have been catchy). But eventually the Forest
Service decided on a different PR approach.

The
environmental bottom line is that the Forest Service loses money
to cut down trees, and for decades it maximized the amount of timber-road
construction without regard for erosion. For decades the BLM has
lost money to create low-grade grazing land by smashing forest;
they would tie a chain between two bulldozers, and let the Cats
scamper merrily through the pines. No private companies could do
this sort of profitless damage without going out of business.

Even
the “friendly”Park Service has its share of ecocollapses. Yellowstone
Park is the best-known recent example; far too many elk with far
too few predators (killed off by government bounty hunters) damaged
the forest and largely eliminated the habitat for other species
such as mule deer and beaver. Recently wolves have been reintroduced,
and Yellowstone's ecology has recovered some diversity.

Predators,
of course, still must be strictly controlled because the tourists
in National Parks are legally disarmed. The Forest Rangers have
attempted to build a Disneyland with Ursus horriblis as a
costumed character. Since grizzly bears don't wear mouse ears very
well, many of the bruins end up getting clandestinely assassinated
by the heavily armed Rangers, leaving too few predators for the
elk. Ironically, if the bears were selectively hunted instead of
fed from picnic baskets by the tourists, the Park would support
many more of them.

The
catalog of BLM, Forest Service, etc., land-management ecoatrocities
is too long to list here. If you have a taste for environmental
horror stories, you can find hundreds
of them
.

Government
ownership of water works no better. Since property rights to stream
water depends on so-called "beneficial use," to keep their
water rights farm owners must pump water out of trout streams even
when it is unneeded for irrigation. Nor can river water be traded
to its most profitable use; irrigating farmers can't sell a few
gallons to a computer-chip factory, even if the water would be worth
a hundred times more. So there are still subsidized rice paddies
by the freeway in Phoenix, Arizona.

There
are difficult problems in environmental property rights: underground
aquifers, emission limits in the atmosphere, and several other tough
questions. But that's no excuse for not solving the easy problems.
Private ownership of all Federal land and all streams and rivers
would rationalize land use and increase incentives for conservation.
Parks for hunting and camping could be in life-rich Eastern, Southern,
and West Coast forests, while factories could migrate to deserts,
tundra, and salt flats. Private ownership of rivers would also rationalize
their use. In the US, all major rivers are somewhat polluted; you
don't really want to drink from any of them (though you do). In
a market-driven system, the prettiest rivers would be completely
clean for recreational use, with others used for industry and agriculture
runoff. This is actually done in Scotland, where country gentlemen
take their ownership of fishing rights seriously. To save the environment,
sell the environment.

But
perhaps you don't care about the environment? Perhaps you only care
about improving human technology so you can become a posthuman cyborg?
Well then, you'd better care about saving the whales. Specifically,
saving the Bowhead whales. Bowheads not only have higher technology
than you do, it's the exact technology you need to be posthuman…
because Bowheads are better at fighting both cancer and aging than
we are.

Bowhead
whales have been shown to be over two hundred years old by independent
dating methods: amino acid racemization in the eye lens, and old
stone harpoon heads embedded in the whales. A good introductory
article on Bowhead lifespan is archived at: http://www.agelessanimals.org/bowheadwhales.htm

Bowheads
are big mammals. In fact they're really big; they're the third most
massive of the whales. This makes their longevity extremely significant.
All multicellular species have the problem of controlling cancer.
The chance of a cell mutating into a cancer is proportional to the
number of cells times the lifespan of the organism. So humans have
more than a hundred thousand times the cancer-control capacity of
a mouse. (And mice are really lousy cancer lab animals.) But Bowheads
have to have a thousand times better cancer control than humans
(five hundred times our weight times twice the lifespan). In the
Bowhead, Nature has already proved that a body can be built that
is a thousand times less susceptible to cancer than ours. An organism
the size of a human being, using some Bowhead genes, might be able
to live longer than recorded history.

How
do the Bowheads do it? Is it through some modification of telomere
biology? No one knows. Practically no work at all has been done
on basic baleen-whale cell biology. In spite of the annual Inuit
Bowhead hunt, which produces hundreds of tons of whale cells, there
are no lines of Bowhead cells available to researchers through the
cell collections at ATCC or Coriel. This tragic situation has cost
the entire human race dearly in lost anticancer and anti-aging knowledge,
in part because of EPA endangered-species red tape that prevents
most labs from preserving whale DNA in their freezers without jumping
through regulatory hoops. This costs the whale species itself, too;
if Bowhead DNA were stored in thousands of cryovials in lab freezers
around the world, the species would be much safer from final extinction.

No
one owns the Bowheads, but the Inuit have the right to kill them.
No one really knows how many Bowheads can be sustainably hunted;
the lifespan estimates used to set the kill quotas were drastic
underestimates. The Bowhead may well turn out to be another victim
of the pre-capitalist killer ape racing its way to the last trophy.

The
solution, of course, is private ownership. If private Inuit individuals
owned the whale herd, they would have an incentive to manage them
sustainably as a source of meat, tourism, and cancer research organisms.
The same is equally true of the shorter-lived Blue and Fin whales;
if the herds were owned by individuals, there would be no incentive
for the Japanese to race the Norwegians to the last whale. Nor would
there be scientific conflict of interest when studies were done
to determine sustainable yield.

The
managers of the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, and other wealthy
"ecology" organizations know that Socialism isn't good
for the environment. Once in a while they even complain weakly about
a government program or two, e.g. US "foreign-aid" schemes
that pay to cut down the Brazilian and Indonesian rain forests.
But most of the hundreds of millions of private "ecology"
dollars go to propagandize for forcing more resources into the hands
of the same bureaucrats who have already deforested millions of
acres around the world. I would suggest that if you are going to
donate to any ecology organization, find one with bumper stickers
that say "Sell The Whales."

February
5, 2005

Bill
Walker [send him mail]
works as a Research Associate in telomere biology at an undisclosed
(thanks to legal threats from his tax-financed employer) location.

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