article above was published in the December 1999/January, 2000 issue of the
Earth First! Journal (Vol.20, No.2). Feel free to reproduce it, with due
acknowledgements. Go to http://home.ca.inter.net/~greenweb/
for more essays.
The proposal to establish Marine
Protected Areas (MPAs), made by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans
(DFO), under the new 1996 Oceans Act needs to apply deep ecology to an actual
environmental issue. The literature that I have seen on MPAs seems to appeal to
human economic self-interest, such as how fishers can benefit. Yet fishers seem
to feel that they have some proprietary lock on the oceans from which the
public is excluded. It seems a stupid strategy to try and mollify fishers while
trying to establish MPAs. In order to create fully protected, extensive ocean
sanctuaries which are not undercut by fishing or fossil fuel interests there
must be a new social base, including more than just fisher people. Conservation
must raise an all-species perspective and oppose anthropocentrism. The primary
issue in any MPA discussion should be philosophical, trying to change how
humans look at the oceans and their life forms.
Choices in life are driven by
philosophy, although few of us think about how our actions and philosophies are
related. Those who support deep ecology believe that there has to be a
fundamental change in consciousness of how humans relate to the natural world.
This requires a change from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric
perspective-seeing humans as a species with no superior status. All other
species have a right to exist, irrespective of their usefulness to the human
species. Humans cannot presume dominance over all non-human species of life and
see nature as a resource for our utilization. We have to extend the ethical
circle outwards, towards the oceans and the Earth. All life is one.
The true conservationist, or
Earth-citizen, must be prepared to oppose his/her own self-interest for the
benefit of other creatures and their habitats. The justification for MPAs
should not be one of self-interest. Protection of marine areas should not be
based on which (human) shareholders shout the loudest in opposition. A
fundamental question about MPAs is whether to appeal to economic interests or
to rise above this, by promoting overall ecological and social interests.
A Marine Protected Area must mean
full ecological protection from human exploitive interests, otherwise the term
itself becomes debased. Degrees of restriction of the human use of an oceans
area could be encompassed, using another term such as Marine Regulated Area,
rather than using, and debasing, the term "protected area."
According to the Oceans Act, MPAs
rest on an assertion of ownership over the internal waters, the territorial sea
and the exclusive economic zone. In a press release December 19, 1996, the
federal fishing minister said the passage of the Oceans Act "reaffirms Canada's
sovereign ocean rights..." Supporters of deep ecology believe no one can own
the Earth, whether from a state, individual or collective point of view.
Asserted ownership is ultimately a convenient social fiction deriving from a
human society bent on enforcing a claim of control over other creatures and the
The Oceans Act is not based on
deep ecology. According to this Act, Canada's Ocean Management Strategy (of
which MPAs are a part) is to be based on support for the principles of
sustainable development. This concept, which sanctifies continuous economic
growth and consumerism, should not be accepted. We need to drastically scale
back economic growth and consumerism not expand it. Mathis Wackernagel and
William Rees, in their 1996 book Our Ecological Footprint, though
presenting quite a human-centered perspective, point out that to live
sustainably, we must ensure "that we use the essential products and processes
of nature no more quickly than they can be renewed, and that we discharge
wastes no more quickly than they can be absorbed." Moreover, they point out
that if everyone on Earth had the average Canadian or American lifestyle, then
three planets would be needed for a sustainable lifestyle for the world's
The Oceans Act uses the word
"resource" to cover non-human creatures living in the oceans. The automatic
assumption that nature is a resource for corporate and human use is an
indication of our total alienation from the natural world. It implies a human-
centered, utilitarian world view and that humans are somehow the pinnacle of
The word "stakeholder" means
anyone interested in MPAs, lumping together those who want to exploit the
oceans with people who have ecological and social interests. It makes no
distinction between, say, inshore fishers who have a long term personal
commitment to living off of the oceans, and oil and gas companies who pack up
and move whenever richer fields are found. The concept seems to imply that out
of the various competing interests, a lowest common denominator, general good
will emerge. Ultimately, we are all stakeholders in a planetary well-being
sense, yet non-human stakeholders are not considered. In terms of MPAs, who has
more at stake than the seals, the fish and the algae?
The Oceans Act says that its
legislation upholds existing treaty rights of aboriginal peoples as outlined in
the Constitution Act of 1982, under section 35. Translated, this means that a
MPA can be subject to exploitation by aboriginal peoples. This puts ecology
subordinate to human society.
The DFO seems to have replaced
Parks Canada as the leading federal agency in marine protection, yet it has
been intimately concerned with promoting corporate exploitive interests in
fisheries policies. Put another way, the DFO does not question the assumption
that marine ecology should serve the industrial capitalist economy. For Parks
Canada, maintenance of ecological integrity was considered the first priority
in park zoning and visitor use.
The nature of our capitalist
society influences how we think about MPAs. I support protecting marine areas,
but free of human exploitation. MPAs need to become a reflection of ecocentric
thinking. The question is: Will MPAs be the beginning of a new ecological way
of preservation or a subterfuge for the continued industrial exploitation of
the oceans using greenwashing?
A step in choosing marine areas to
protect is to assess all the stakeholders. Humans are one group-those with a
direct economic interest being only a sub-group. After all, the term protected
area implies protection from humans. The other stakeholders, who usually remain
voiceless at meetings, are the marine animals, plants and other organisms.
Their interests have to be given more weight than human concerns.
MPAs cannot be just minor
set-asides. We cannot have dead zones between them. MPAs are not about creating
wildlife reservations, because the nature of our society influences life inside
these areas. Wider phenomena, like global warming, do not stop at MPA
boundaries. Therefore a new, global, marine vision is necessary. Why don't we
set aside oceans giving them protected status and then have workshops and
meetings about which small areas should be opened up for human exploitation, of
course, done sustainably?
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