Energy Central Professional


Why Conservatives Suddenly Care About Saving the Whales

The New Republic  


    Taking time out from less sympathetic causes—preventing the exercise of popular rights like abortion, policing who gets to use the bathroom, defending our freedom to be poisoned by our stoves—some American conservatives have acquired a surprisingly relatable obsession: saving the whales.

    The New York Post reported in late April an “’alarming’ surge in whale deaths as wind farms grow off New York and New Jersey.” Earlier this year Marjorie Taylor Greene fueled panic on this subject on Sean Hannity’s Fox show, saying she didn’t know why “AOC isn’t…crying for the dead whales that keep washing up on the beach from wind farms that are being placed all over the ocean. Greene said whales were “beaching themselves in record numbers” because of offshore wind power. And Tucker Carlson jumped on this “think of the cetaceans!” bandwagon before his ignominious departure from the network last month.

    Now, Politico is even suggesting that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s wind plans and environmental legacy could be “on the line.” What’s going on here?

    The major threat to marine wildlife is global warming, and renewable energy sources like wind power are among the most promising solutions to that problem.

    The good news is that when extreme right-wingers weaponize concern over whales and other wildlife to score propagandistic points, it shows that they realize that protecting wildlife is popular. This represents, in a limited sense, progress. The bad news, though, is that this narrative about wind energy harming wildlife is dangerously misleading. The major threat to marine wildlife is global warming, and renewable energy sources like wind power are among the most promising solutions to that problem.

    In March, Republican congressmen Jeff Van Drew (New Jersey), Chris Smith (New Jersey), Scott Perry (Pennsylvania) and Andy Harris (Maryland) held a hearing on the issue on the Jersey Shore, where nine dead whales had recently washed up on beachesl The hearing was attended by more than 400 concerned citizens. Republicans in Congress even introduced a resolution calling for a moratorium on wind farms and this month wrote a letter to the General Accounting Office demanding further study of the matter.

    The month before the hearing, hundreds convened at a rally to “Save the Whales” at Point Pleasant Beach on the Jersey Shore, bearing hand-lettered signs with slogans like “Stop Offshore Wind!” In some ways it looked like a left-wing environmental rally, with participants wearing fish-shaped hats and carrying signs warning of “mass whale extinction.”

    Whales have not always been this beloved by the American right. During the 1980s, the environmentalist slogan “Save the Whales,” popularized by groups like Greenpeace, was mocked by conservatives and disaffected youth. “Nuke the Whales,” an ironic slogan from a punk rock song, rapidly became a country-rock band name and a widespread bumper sticker displayed all over the country with varying levels of sincerity (with an edgier variant, “Nuke a Gay Whale for Jesus” as well as the ad feminam “Feed Jane Fonda to the Whales”). Princeton historian D. Graham Burnett called the bumper sticker “the epitaph for the two decades that get called ‘the sixties,’” arguing that it expressed the spirit of “America in the age of Reagan.” Another popular right-wing sendup of the Greenpeace cause—also expressed by bumper sticker, since we did not have memes back then—was “Save the Whales, Collect a Whole Set.” Even well into this century, right-wing pundits were mocking liberals for wanting to “kill the babies, save the whales.”

    Whales are beautiful, profoundly intelligent animals and it’s great that conservatives want to save them. But while the whale deaths are awful, there is no evidence that the wind farms are causing them.

    Experts say the spike in whale deaths predates the growth of offshore wind. Scientists, environmental groups, and state and national governments agree that whales are being killed, but not by wind turbines. Instead, the culprits are boats, fishing nets and plastics. And one of the worst threats that whales now face is climate change—the problem that wind farms are intended to mitigate by helping the world move away from fossil fuels.

    In fact, new data shows that the ocean is warming more drastically and more quickly than anyone realized. As the earth’s atmosphere heats because of global warming caused by fossil fuels, the ocean absorbs much more of the heat than land. This is already having disastrous consequences for underwater life, bleaching coral reefs, killing the plants upon which marine animals feed. Climate change affects where and when the plankton and fish that whales eat can thrive, a problem that scientists expect will make it harder for them to find food. Changes in ice patterns can complicate their migration: as mammals who need to surface for air periodically, whales run the risk of getting trapped under the ice. Climate change also intensifies of pollution, raising the concentration of toxins in the ocean, which can suppress whales’ immune systems and also make it harder for the females to reproduce.


Copyright © 1996-2023 by CyberTech, Inc. All rights reserved.
Energy Central® and Energy Central Professional® are registered trademarks of CyberTech, Incorporated. Data and information is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended for trading purposes. CyberTech does not warrant that the information or services of Energy Central will meet any specific requirements; nor will it be error free or uninterrupted; nor shall CyberTech be liable for any indirect, incidental or consequential damages (including lost data, information or profits) sustained or incurred in connection with the use of, operation of, or inability to use Energy Central. Other terms of use may apply. Membership information is confidential and subject to our privacy agreement.