GEIG – A Coda and a Step Forward for Animal Ethics

This was a very productive 5 day meeting of GEIG.  In addition to attending some fine discussions and papers over the last several days, I also officially joined the IUCN CEL Ethics Specialist Group, something I mistakenly thought I had done in Barcelona at the IUCN Congress back in the fall.  The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is the world’s largest NGO and the oldest environmental organization in the world. The Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) is a subsidiary organization of the IUCN and the Ethics Specialist Group (ESG) forms a subgroup of the CEL. The ESG wishes to add animal rights to its agenda, a development about which I could not be more happy.

The IUCN (the parent organization – not the CEL) has traditionally excluded animal organizations from membership because their aims do not align with those of the Species Survival Group, a powerful constituency within the IUCN, which advocates for traditional hunting.  As I mentioned a while back, I believe this policy of exclusion serves only those who oppose a diverse environmental agenda.  Environmentalists do not agree on everything but we share a common goal.  Given the stakes, we would be wise to focus on the areas where we agree rather than where we differ.  Part of my mission for the next few years involves working to open the IUCN to animal groups and to the vision such organizations bring to the world’s environmental agenda.

I feel very good about joining the ESG and even better about the warm welcome my animal advocacy agenda received.  The larger IUCN moves slowly (it convenes only quadrennially) but this is important work and I am willing to (try to) be patient.

–David Cassuto

A quick follow-up from Barcelona…

Over the last several days I have talked to a number of folks about working the animal agenda into the international environmental arena. I am cautiously optimistic about the chances for substantive reform. My conversations with some of the directorate of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law (an organization of law schools around the world which devote significant resources to the teaching of environmental law) proved productive. I believe Animal Law will make its way on to the Academy’s radar as an important component of environmental law. In addition, I have joined the IUCN Ethics Specialist Group with the expressed intention of promoting this issue within that group. My views and agenda were welcomed there as well.

This will be a multi-year effort that will require diplomacy and patience. I welcome the assistance of any or all who wish to help and I look forward to continuing this discussion both on and off-line.

David Cassuto

The IUCN and Animal Advocacy

I write this post from Barcelona where I am attending the World Conservation Congress, the quadrennial meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is a unique coalition of countries, NGOs, and others whose common cause is protection of the environment. I am a member of the delegation representing Pace Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies, which is a member of the IUCN. My delegation forms part of the 8000 or so people who have converged on Barcelona for 10 days of meetings and politicking aimed at setting environmental policy for the world for the next four years. Last night featured an address from 2006 Nobel Laureate, Mohammad Yunus and today we heard from Ted Turner.

What does it have to do with animals? Well, that’s exactly the issue. Animal advocacy, which should be front and center at a congress like this, is instead relegated to subtext. Many sessions focus on endangered species, ecosystem and habitat management, and marine mammal protections but nothing specifically treats animal welfare for its own sake, ethics or rights. That gap underscores an issue about which I intend to blog a fair bit in coming days – the schism between the animal and environmental communities and if and how it can be healed.

At first blush, it is hard to see why friction should arise between those whose passion is environmental protection and those for whom animals (who both live in and form part of the environment) come first. One would expect synergy and cooperation between linked causes. Alas, no. Here at the IUCN, for example, animal advocacy cannot even find a place at the table. Not long ago, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) applied for membership but was denied because its mission did not align with IUCN’s stated goals of supporting indigenous groups’ right to hunt and of sustainable take policies.

I find this exclusionary policy baffling. Nowhere is the “big tent” approach more necessary or urgent than in the realm of environmental protection. IFAW (and other animal advocacy groups) may have a different set of goals than those who support hunting but both find common cause in IUCN’s larger mission of the conservation of nature. Excluding those who support the protection of animals because they are sentient, self-aware beings whose lives matter for their own sake is divisive and unnecessary. It ignores enormous areas of agreement among the parties and sows dissension instead of unity.

I consider myself both an environmental and an animal advocate. Yet, I do not find common cause with everyone or every issue in either community. In my view, those differences create strength and diversity rather than problems. By contrast, rigid doctrinal requirements undermine momentum towards shared goals and create needless friction among would-be allies.

I intend to raise this issue everywhere I can in the next week and a half and to see what I can do to put in on the agenda for the future. Further bulletins as events warrant.

David Cassuto