What is it about trees and whales that stir the emotions of so many folk? When people tie themselves to trees in order to prevent their felling for so-called development, or spend days and nights on a beach keeping stranded whales wet until they can be returned to the sea, are they being noble or are they demonstrating their shallowness and bigotry? Let me explain.
Blue whales are the world's largest mammals and many of their whale cousins hold lofty positions on the mammalian size list. Whales, elephants and other macro-animals, when they are in danger, stir humans to all kinds of noble action in their defence. It's the same with trees. Let's all hope we don't return to the practices of earlier generations in some countries (including this one), of felling for short term gain, trees that took thousands of years to grow, but there is huge discrepancy between the perceived importance of treading on a small whorled pogonia and felling a New Zealand kauri tree. No problem with anyone doing what they can to help and save these various large species, but what of the smaller plants and creatures, which through no fault of their own don't capture the imagination of large numbers of people. Take the peripatus worm, whose habitat is threatened by a motorway development. I'm not suggesting there is no human concern for the worm, in fact a great deal of trouble is being taken in attempting to ensure its future, but it doesn't cut it in the emotional stakes with whales or gorillas, does it?
So then, are whale-watchers and treehuggers shallow and bigoted when they fail to show equal concern for all species regardless of size, fame or cuddliness? Certainly they would be thought of that way if they applied the same rules to their fellow humans. But then, don't we all? Of the one-and-a-half million humans who die every day, how many are considered important enough to have their obituaries published?