Why our modern lifestyle spells disaster

Seth Victor

Do you love your meat? Well, love it or hate it, it may well cause the collapse of our global society. In the latest report confirming the strain factory farming and overconsumption of animal products causes our environment, The Guardian reports that mass food shortages are predicted within the next 40 years if we as a species do not scale back meat consumption. It’s a simple matter of not having enough water to produce the crops necessary to support the animals needed to satisfy current consumption, to say nothing of what another 2 billion human mouths will bring to the table. If we do not scale back, food shortages and water shortages could be a worldwide reality, as well as food price spikes. Continue reading

Taking Animal Advocacy Seriously (Part 2 of 3)

A couple of months ago I wrote a post on why it is that people fail to take animal advocacy seriously. Today I want to elaborate that claim by illustrating it with a recent example. As most readers of AnimalBlawg probably know, President Obama swatted a fly during an interview with John Hardwood several weeks ago. Most viewers and commentators believed the episode was kind of funny. The President was amused by the event and commented on his Miyagi type ability to kill a fly with just one quick hand movement.

The people at PETA, however, were not pleased. Condemning the President’s “inhumane” treatment of the fly, PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich commented that “[w]e support compassion even for the most curious, smallest and least sympathetic animals…[w]e believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals.” In order to curb similar future incidents, PETA sent Obama a fly trapping device named “Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher”.

If all that they were trying to do was poke fun at the President, PETA’s reaction to the incident is amusing. One suspects, however, that PETA is actually taking this seriously. Lashing out against this conduct is misguided at best and counterproductive at worst. There are at least two problems with PETA’s position.

First, it is unclear whether flies are sentient beings. Several scientific studies suggest that flies do not have the capacity to feel pain (see, e.g., Eisemann, et al). Animal interests or rights stem from their sentience. Therefore, animals that do not have the capacity to feel pain should not have the same rights or interests as animals that have such a capacity. If flies are not sentient beings they should have the same interests or rights as other non-sentient beings such as trees and plants. If plants and trees do not have a right to life (as most people would argue), non-sentient animals should not have a right to life either.

Second, and more importantly, assuming that flies have the capacity to feel pain, the problem of insect mistreatment pales in comparison with other more pressing problems for the animal advocacy community. Most animal advocates agree that the chief evil that we should unite against is the incredibly inhumane practice of factory farming. The problem with PETA’s response to the fly swatting incident is that it provides the people we are trying to convince about the evils of factory farming (and other evidently cruel practices) with an argument against taking us seriously in general. The argument goes something like this:

(1)   PETA represents animal advocates.

(2)   PETA believes that swatting insects is immoral.

(3)   PETA’s position regarding insects is ridiculous and should not be taken seriously.

(4)   Therefore, PETA and other animal advocates should not be taken seriously.

I am well aware that (4) does not follow from (1),(2) and (3). I am also aware that PETA does not necessarily represent the animal advocacy community. This, however, is irrelevant. Regardless of the soundness of the argument, I believe it represents the way in which most people think about these issues. Take, for example, a comment posted on MSNBC’s website by a reader:

“Are you kidding me?  PETA is upset because Obama killed a fly?  Comments like this take away from their organizations credibility and make them look ridiculous.  Are there not any other situations they could make an intelligent comment about this week?”

-Rebecca Alford, Hartsville, South Carolina (June 17, 2009).

The problem with this is that we have limited political capital with the community and have to be very judicious in our use of it. We should not use up our precious resources to combat acts that – like fly swatting – are neither clearly immoral nor central to our principal anti-cruelty crusade (eradicating factory farming). The costs of doing so are obvious. It weakens our credibility with the general public. The benefits, on the other hand, are marginal at best. If we want people to start taking animal advocacy seriously we should stop fussing over minor issues that make us look silly and concentrate on big picture issues like factory farming and animal experimentation.

Luis Chiesa

Animal Issues Front & Center at Sunstein Confirmation Hearing

Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s choice for administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (a sort of Administrative Law Czar), is a law academic (U of Chicago and now Harvard) and an advocate and scholar of animal law.  He supports (among other things) the creation of a private right of action for animal protection statutes and the acknowledgment that such statutes create a basic foundation of rights (legally enforceable claims) for animals.  That and the fact that he once called for the abolition of hunting made his hearing less than smooth.  More details here; some posts about Sunstein here and here.

–David Cassuto

Wolf-delisting: The Politics of Blood

gray-wolf-gazingGeorge Bush and his peeps thought gray wolves should be delisted as endangered species in Montana and Idaho.  So does Ken Salazar and, we must assume, Barack Obama.  Bush and peeps also thought it okay to ignore allies.  So, apparently, do Ken Salazar and Barack Obama.  But never mind politics.

Wolves were hunted to near extinction in this country due in large part to their (undeserved) reputation as dangerous predators and to the caterwauling of ranchers who like to poison, shoot or trap anything that might eat their animals before people do.  Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and a well-executed reintroduction program in the Northwest (carried out over the vociferous protests of ranchers and others), there are now approximately 1600 wolves in the Northern Rockies.

That, apparently, is too many.  Since Montana and Idaho have pledged to maintain populations of 400 and 500 animals, respectively, wolf-hunting may soon commence.  Supposedly, states can be trusted to create sound management plans for the animals.  Idaho Governor Butch Otter has a plan: kill as many as possible without the wolves being relisted.  You see, wolves eat elk and that means less elk for people to shoot.  It’s a crime perpetrated on the American sportsman.  Upon hearing the news of the imminent delisting, Governor Otter howled with glee and declared, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.”

One wonders if Idaho and Montana will be like Alaska — where “hunters” can shoot wolves from the air.  Or maybe it will just be another classic confrontation of a heavily armed man against an unarmed animal who, when it dies, will almost certainly be attempting to flee.  You see, in the history of the United States, there has never been a fatal attack on a human by a wolf.  Never.

My son is doing a report on wolves for his class.  He has become fascinated by their language, their pack life, and their intelligence.  He is incredulous that they were extirpated from most of the United States and indignant about their undeserved reputation.  Last night, I told him of the Obama Administration’s decision.  He was heartbroken.

dnc

And Now For A Brief Survey of the News…

First, I want to live in a world where no member of my species thinks the best way to relax a cat is to stuff it into a bong.

Second, President Obama has re-empowered the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  One of our former president’s last minute parting gifts was to decree that federal agencies could decide for themselves whether their proposed actions ran afoul of the ESA instead of attaining an independent opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This meant that an agency could both propose an action and decide for itself  if that action had any adverse consequences instead of seeking a second opinion from a disinterested agency.  While the Bushies thought this a wonderful idea, most everyone who cares about endangered species and the integrity of the statute thought it horrific.  President Obama fell into the latter category and has now suspended the new rule and restored the status quo ante pending a full review.  Sweeter legalese has rarely been spoken.

dnc

UPDATE, 4/29/09: REVOKED!

Some Election Musings

Last night’s election was remarkable for all kinds of reasons, including the passage of California Proposition 2, which outlaws gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates over a period of seven years. Reasonable people can differ over whether the initiative well serves interests of farm animals. However, I think it beyond dispute that the electorate has begun taking a real and lasting interest in issues of animal treatment and welfare. And that (in addition to Senator Obama’s transcendent victory) is historic.

As further evidence of this trend, last night Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 3, which will eliminate greyhound racing in that state by 2010 (more about this initiative here and here). A similar proposition offered eight years ago failed. I see the success of this measure as an unalloyed positive and an encouraging omen.

Overall, last night’s results, as well as those of other ballot initiatives across the nation in recent years, demonstrate that concern over the way animals are treated in industry (both food and recreation) has begun percolating upward within the nation’s consciousness. Even if one believes – as Professors Colb and Francione do – that the California initiative represents a practical step backward, I think the fact that Americans are beginning to care more about animals and act on those concerns ought to present cause for hope. We in the animal advocacy community can differ on strategy and argue about the status and direction of the movement. Perhaps we can all agree, though, that the more people differing and arguing about how best to take these issues forward, the better it is for all – especially the animals.

David Cassuto