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On Eating Dolphin

An invitation to drown yourself in guilt


Having written “On Eating Dog” as a follow-up to an apologia for exporting livestock, and having pretended to think Impolite Conservation was set up as a platform for repellently ill-judged discourse, where should I regress to now? I’ve got no experience of cannibalism so it has to be On Eating Dolphin.


Dog was knockabout comic stuff. Sadly, there are no jokes on Eating Dolphin. The truth is I’m squeamish about eating dolphin and I’ve only tried it once. The way it was cooked was excellent. It’s much like buffalo steak, but I can’t say I ate it with pleasure.


I tried to explain my misgivings to Haji Syukri, the boss of the fishermen who accidentally caught the dolphin and intentionally killed it. I witnessed the killing on the beach. There was a lot of blood and the poor bloody dolphin took a long time to die. Dolphins can spend up to fifteen minutes underwater without breathing so they can thrash around, despite terrible loss of blood, for a similar length of time.


The fishermen explained that they didn’t often kill the dolphins that frequently tore their nets, but the dolphins were persistently naughty. Those fishermen were poor. I doubt they understood my scruples. I doubt it partly because I don’t think those scruples have a just or rational basis. If it’s wrong to kill dolphins to eat them, then it’s wrong to kill other animals to eat them (or to kill them just for the thrill). That is a simple enough argument … but I’m not a vegetarian, so I’m going nowhere with that.


There’s a bigger and more complicated argument that I shall try to burden you with.


What I think it comes down to is this: in these moral questions of how we interact with animals and nature, we can probably recognise clear good and evil, but we are none of us in a position to censure or exhort without hypocrisy. And that is because we are all unavoidably responsible for terrible damage to life on earth. You, me and everyone except George Monbiot*.


If I didn’t travel by air so often I’d be relatively virtuous. I’ve got no car, and for years I sailed around in boats with no motor. For more than a decade I worked in museums which must be the epitome of benign inactivity. I hardly ever go shopping for more than basic foodstuffs because I can’t think of anything I want to buy (except for dozens of bottles of wine). If I’m paying an airfare I pay the extra to offset the carbon emissions… Sometimes I do, honestly. I’d really prefer not to be responsible for wrecking the earth.


I’ve got solar voltaic panels on the roof and they suit me very well. They earn significantly more than the cost of the electricity I use. But they were assembled from stuff that was made in factories from hydro-carbons and other raw materials that were extracted from the earth by huge corporate investments, and transported to ports by heavy infrastructure, to be loaded on ships, and those colossal ships were built using many thousands, millions of tons of steel that was smelted from billions of tons of ore using inconceivable amounts of energy derived from burning hydro-carbons… those ships were built in staggeringly huge shipyards that incorporate countless tons of cement that was made in a process that uses lots of energy and releases volumes of CO2 that I can’t get my head around, and, and, and… it’s endless, it’s an infinite regress that makes us all infinitely guilty. Those solar voltaic panels are not really on my roof to reduce my carbon footprint – they are just a tiny part of a constantly, exponentially, uncontrollably escalating world economy. It is a mad runaway train. There’s no driver with real control even if there are billions of passengers excited by the speed, urging the thing along, and nobody gets off alive.


I’m not really clever enough to expound the following argument, but I’ll give it a go. I suspect this uncontrollably accelerating system is just a manifestation of a fundamental property of the universe.


Some molecules replicate to form crystals, some of the almost infinite range of molecular permutations replicate more successfully in a greater variety of circumstances, and sooner or later, in increasing complexity there are arrangements of self-replicating molecules that constitute something like life. Carbon is to blame. And on it goes, ever more complex, until here we are. Here we are: growing technologically more brilliant and ecologically more exorbitant by the second. Is there anyone with the wherewithal to read Impolite Conversation who isn’t part of the problem? What problem? There are plenty who deny that there is a problem. Many deny that anthropogenic atmospheric warming is a serious problem.


Even if they are right, there are hardly any fish left in the sea. When I was young you could see schools of dolphins that stretched almost horizon to horizon; pods of dolphin numbering more than about thirty are now rare because there’s not enough fish for them to eat.


The bees are dying almost everywhere. In England even sparrows are becoming rare!


I now live in an area of Australia where a month when we receive rainfall equivalent to the long term average seems like the deluge because the climate has been drying so fast and so consistently for more than a century.


The smoke haze that leaches all the colour from a large part of bright equatorial Southeast Asia every dry season looks like the kind of future-horror become unprotested-reality that you experience reading a J. G. Ballard novel.


This is the anthropocene. We human beings are altering the environment. We intentionally alter our environment to suit us, and we unintentionally alter the environment in ways that ain’t all good. We cannot know how close we are to some cataclysmic tipping point.


Getting sanctimonious about whales and dolphins won’t make any difference, no matter how much I’d prefer they were left alone. We are all too guilty to tell poor fishermen how to treat their environment. Sometimes I have a great notion that the only way we can really make a difference is by joining the dolphins, by going down to the beach and pulling a wave over my bonce… Me and every one of you (except perhaps George Monbiot). But not while I’ve still got a house full of wine to drink.


*I'm sure George Monbiot’s life is genuinely sustainable to the extent of off-setting all the damage done by the embedded carbon of the infrastructure that supports him and his way of life, but I can’t imagine how he does it.



Nick Bickeringtone

About the Writer

Cantankerous and pretentious.


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