Environmental Vigilantes

I just wrapped up an excellent New Yorker article about the environmental vigilante organization Sea Shepard and its leader Paul Watson. Watson is a charismatic and volatile character, with a rabid and, in some cases, famous group of followers. His methods are extremely questionable and it is difficult to tell whether or not his results are productive or counter-productive. However, his cause, it seems to me, is unquestioned. The plight of sea creatures due to over-fishing is very distressing and its hard to fathom just how much damage has been done.

Still, the lack of an international will which Watson rails against poses a difficult problem. What do you do when there is a tragedy occurring and no one is doing anything to stop it? As Watson states, its the "curse of the commons." Where there is no rule of law, no ownership, it's a free for all. It also highlights the utter inability of internationalism to address difficult problems and to stop those willing to defy international sentiment or treaties (as in Darfur).

Is vigilantism the right response? Is Watson justified in ramming whaling ships because no one else is willing to stop them?

There is a love affair with these types, a romanticism about guys like Watson (which is aided by the fact that he sounds like he walked right out of a Melville novel). However, as fascinating as the guy is, as true as his cause is, the wrong guy is leading the charge.

International management of the seas has failed miserably. It does not mean it is time for vigilantes. It means it is time for a new way. What is that way? Private ownership of the seas? The extension of national waters? I'm not sure. The lesson of Paul Watson is not that vigilantism is justified when the rule of law fails, it is that the current rule of law has failed and new rules need to be established.

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