Brasilia and Now Ghent (Belgium) — Still Talking Climate Change & Agriculture

David Cassuto

So here I am on a plane again – this time to Belgium on my way to the Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which is taking place in Ghent.  I’m back in steerage this time; no business class for our hero.  I swore I would never go back but here I am.

Amidst all the hubbub, I need to recap my time in Brasilia even as I head for Europe.  Brasilia was a very interesting time and I once more want to reiterate my gratitude to the U.S. State Department for making my time in Brazil so rich and rewarding and for taking such good care of me.  This was my first time in Brazil’s capital and I enjoyed it – from the stunning architecture to the fact that the city is laid out like an airplane.  In addition to speaking at private university (entirely successful and well-attended), I lectured also to a government think tank called IPEA.  There, I encountered probing questions from a very informed audience.  When I mentioned the idea of treating meat consumption as a luxury for purposes of regulating and taxing carbon emissions, one of my hosts asked what I thought of the idea of a “meat cap.”  Not only is it an intriguing notion about which I need to think more, but so much do I love the term that even if it were a completely wacky idea, I would probably support it anyway.                   

Another questioner, responding to my call to integrate ethics into agriculture, wondered whether such a thing as agricultural ethics were even possible.  He referred to the fact that there seems to be no ethical way to interact with beings whose lives we exploit for human gain.  His question beautifully encapsulates the ontological quandary underlying animal law and policy.  It also dovetails with the issue I lectured on in Salvador.  In my view, it is no more possible to not use other nonhumans than it is possible to not use other humans.  All relationships involve use.  I use my son, for example, just as he uses me.  That is how it both is and should be.  “Use” need not be a pejorative term.  However, all relationships need not involve exploitation.  Of course, determining which is which remains a deeply problematic undertaking.   Nonetheless, that is the inquiry upon which I believe we should embark.  And, since ethics are a work in progress – a set of bounding principles rather than iron-clad rules of behavior, my answer to the gentlemen who wondered if agricultural ethics could exist was a hopeful albeit qualified, “yes.”

I will test out my thinking on this issue on the other end of my current plane journey; I will lecture at the IUCN Colloquium on agriculture and climate change at this gathering as well.  The audience this time will be environmental academics from around the world.  I expect skepticism but am hopeful for support as well.  So, once more, please stay tuned.

3 Responses

  1. Wow, that sounds exciting. Am I hare-brained for not thinking a meat-cap is a hare-brained idea?

    As for ethics and agriculture, I wish it was like Greek life. Young people join fraternities and sororities use each other for notes, frienships, popularity, catch-phrases, jokes, fashion, parties, and memories all in exchange for paying a monthly fee. There are no hard feelings, its ethical (kinda), and its exploitative too!

    I guess what I am trying to say is that even relationships involving exploitation can be ethical. Why cant we be nice to animals?

  2. Interesting points, Doug. I’m not sure how exploitation, which by definition is inequitable, can be ethical. Or am I misunderstanding? And, if I may answer a question with a question: Why are meat caps any more hare-brained than carbon caps?

  3. Well, I guess you are right, inequitable things cannot be ethical, but I was just trying to convey the point that there are relationships out there involving exploitations not as hideous as the agriculture industry. So, why can’t we make factory farms more like “Animal House” for the animals.

    I thought a cap on meat meant just a limited amount of meat people would be allowed to eat. I did not think of it in terms of tradeable carbon caps. I like the cap idea, but I do not like the trade part.

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