An article today in the LA Times discusses the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) attempt to block the Navy from staging certain types of war games off of the coast of California. NRDC contends that the high intensity sonar used by the navy is extremely harmful to any whales and/or dolphins in the vicinity. They propose banning the use of high intensity sonar whenever a dolphin or whale comes within 1.2 miles of the ship. The case was argued before the Supreme Court today and is expected to be decided within the next couple months. This article raises two interesting issues that I would like to discuss.
First, the NRDC’s argument seems to be that the health of dolphins and whales along the California coastline takes precedence over national security. NRDC’s position is this (emphasis added):
Los Angeles lawyer Richard B. Kendall described the sonar as like the sound of “a jet engine in this room multiplied by 2,000 times.” He said beaked whales, in panic, dive deeply to escape the sound, and they sometimes suffer bleeding and even death when they try to resurface… In this case, the National Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica sued the Navy, and asserted it had failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment to see whether its use of high-intensity, mid-frequency sonar would harm marine mammals.
There is no mention of any test to find out what the harm could be to HUMAN BEINGS without these sorts of tests. If the Navy, or any branch of the military for that matter, is constrained so strictly by environmental beauracracy, then we run a very serious risk of leaving ourselves unnecessarily exposed. In addition, it seems quite obvious to me, but apparently not to the NRDC, that enemies of the United States may not be concerned with the comfort of whales and dolphins when said enemies plan to attack the US. Limiting innovation through excessive regulatory red tape in an effort to make very minor gains (this will only affect a small number of whales and dolphins) will stifle our ability to remain on the cutting edge. It isn’t difficult to imagine what that might mean to our security in the long-term.
The second point I want to make focuses on the article itself. Consider the opening sentence of the article:
The Supreme Court justices sounded closely split today on whether environmental laws can be used to protect whales and other marine mammals from the Navy’s use of sonar off the coast of Southern California.
I would argue that the phrasing of this first paragraph gives the article a very pro-environmentalist slant right from the start. Rather than opening with a sentence starts like, “…split today on whether the Navy should be permitted to test its national defense systems,” or “…split today on whether national defense takes precedence over environmental regulations.” These two opening sentences frame the issue in a far different light than the opening sentence the aricle actually ran. I would argue that these two openers frame the issue fairly.
The larger point is this. There is a growing movement in our popular media to cast environmental issues and groups in a very positive light. This might be warranted (it is not) if, for example, scientific evidence of man-made global warming backed up the environmentalist position (it does not), or if the Navy was running tests on something trivial (non-defense related) and it was destroying the ecosystem around the test (they were not). With such strong support from the media, environmentalists have almost free room to run with whatever alarmist cause they feel like taking up on a given day. Today it was the health and safety of whales being more important than national defense. How long until we can’t walk on the grass because it harms the worms? Give it time – the media will soon take up this cause as well.