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

The Ethics of Culling Wildlife — More News from GEIG

Dateline Florence (I just like saying that), where the Global Ecological Integrity Group Conference continues:

One of today’s speakers — an ecologist from Australia — asked: When is it ethically appropriate to cull wildlife to reduce the disease threat to humans?

While I am pleased that such questions get posed, they raise predicate questions which seldom get asked.  For example:

1) Is reducing the disease threat to humans an objective good?

2) If so, how much are we willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it?

a) I.e., are we willing to likewise ask when it is ethically appropriate to cull humans to reduce the disease threat?

3) What criteria do we use to ethically differentiate ourselves from wildlife?

Please understand that I am not advocating for a policy of culling humans.  I rather wish to question the ethical predicates underlying the culling of animals.

People often assume that this set of questions stems from and is founded on a philosophy of animal rights.  I believe that they first and foremost arise from environmental ethics.  Indeed, I wonder how we who embrace the Land Ethic can avoid shouting them from the rooftops.

–David Cassuto

Talking Factory Farming and Vivisection in Florence

I’m in Florence at the moment and, when not gawking at the Duomo, am attending the annual conference of the Global Ecological Integrity Group (GEIG).  This conference offers a good venue to talk to my fellow enviros about animal issues.  The audience tends to be receptive, albeit sometimes skeptical — just the kind of folks I want to reach.  Indeed, one attendee told me today that after hearing me speak on ethics and agriculture 3 years ago at this conference, he became a vegetarian.

Today, I spoke on the distorted notion of efficiency within industrial agriculture and the implications of that distortion for a post-industrial risk society.  Once again, the questions were thoughtful, probing and rigorous.  One questioner, however, was an archetype.  Even though my talk was about industrial agriculture, she wanted to talk about animal testing.  Then, during the break, she again approached me — this time with the cliched question about what I would do if my child were sick.  Would I, she wondered, support animal testing to save his life?  I said,  “sure.”  She looked triumphant until I also said that if my child were sick and someone told me experimenting on her would save his life, I would support that too.  The fact that I would do virtually anything to protect my child does not necessarily have any bearing on the morality of my actions.

She was unconvinced.  I wonder if anyone has any techniques for reaching out to folks like this.  She’s a neurobiologist who conducts animal research because she believes in its necessity.  She is utterly certain of the moral rightness of her position.  I do not flatter myself that I can convince her of anything but I would like to get her (and others like her) thinking about other points of view.

–David Cassuto