Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Environmentalism: part of Animal Rights

chicken at pps

Seems like a no-brainer to me. We have to be environmentalists if we’re to be animal rights activists, otherwise what is the point?

Humans are putting unfathomable amounts of pressure on animals as it is, encroaching on their habitat, pushing them into ever smaller and less sustainable areas, killing them when they compete with the human desire for bloodsport. We poison the air, the land, the water, until they die drinking the water they need to survive. Plastic chokes the oceans, and the few fish that are left are filled with it. Baby albatross are dying from starvation, their bellies filled to bursting with plastic that somehow finds its way to their remote nesting areas. We compete for resources, for land, for life. This is only going to get worse as the climate change puts more pressure on all of us. We saw this with the tsunami, with Katrina, we can see it in the Amazon’s rainforest failing, while farmers continue to cut it down for unsustainable crops.

What are we doing? We don’t have a choice, we have to be environmental activists as well as animal rights activists if we’re to be taken seriously. Yet are we reaching out? Are we spending time on the environmental issues as well as the animal issues? Are we going to the Social Forums, as the other movements are?

Not so much. And we need to.

That’s something that was pointed out again and again last weekend, at the AR conference in LA.

I’ve been reading a bit on environmental issues in the past few months, partially inspired by a good friend (who would probably be shocked to learn the impact he had), partially inspired by pattrice jones, and once I got started reading my awareness really took off. Diet For a Dead Planet, Food Not Lawns, Aftershock and With Speed and Violence, I know I have to do more. I have to make changes in my personal life, where I can, but I also have to educate myself on the environmental issues, and join in their fight. Because it is also our fight.

RAN was at AR07, and I had the pleasure of hearing Debra Erenberg speak several times. RAN was the only environmental group at the conference, which doesn’t seem like much, but I think it was an important start in what I can only imagine will be a growing trend. These movements need to connect. We need to connect with them, and that means putting in some time on their causes. I don’t just mean the Environmental movement, either. The whole range. It gets talked about, but what do we actually do about it?

Debra wrote an entry in RAN’s blog about the conference, which includes one of the speeches she gave, and I think it is a great into into why it is so important that our movements hook up.

The first step is always education. RAN’s blog seems like a good place to start, and they have other blogs listed. I’m just getting started. I’ve read a few books. I’d love to hear what else is on the must-read list. Bird Flu is in my to-read pile.

I’ve made a few changes in my life in the past year – energy efficient light bulbs, the bus to nyc instead of driving, cloth menstrual pads, buying more food from farmers markets, and paying more attention to whether the food at the local organic grocery is locally grown…I still drive to work, and I don’t see that changing. I’m sure there are other changes I can make though.

And of course there is the need to get involved. I’ve joined RAN, and I’ll participate where I can in their local campaigns. I don’t know yet where this will take me, but it feels right to be on this path.



17 responses to “Environmentalism: part of Animal Rights

  1. Kenneth Cassar July 25, 2007 at 1:53 am

    On a personal level, of course it makes sense to be an environmentalist and to convert one’s life to one based on a least-harm principle. However, on a practical level, I feel that animal rights activists (as opposed to welfarists) cannot afford to spend much time on other issues for the simple reason that there are too few of us. When compared to environmentalist activists (most of whom are omnivores), we immediately see the discrepancy. I think a good way to proceed would be perhaps to convince environmentalists to become vegetarian/vegan. I mean, take a look at Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth – not even a mention of veganism, notwithstanding the fact that animal “agriculture” is the major polluter of the planet. It is here that we should perhaps work more on. Environmentalists should be more receptive to our message, since they are already inclined to act upon moral principles.

  2. Mary Martin, Ph.D. July 25, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Along Kenneth’s lines, I was at a potluck for environmentalists last week, and none of them were even vegetarians. They were all about the light bulbs and not buying bottled water and using gDiapers. And that’s great. And they read environmental blogs, like Grist, which refuses to take a stand, and do some very responsible shopping. From speaking with them, the problem was clear: Their leaders do not give them the whole story. Not one person had ever heard that going vegan is, as they say, far better for the planet than buying a Prius. They simply don’t know how important veganism is to their cause because it’s been downplayed or left out of their information sources. When Al Gore doesn’t mention veganism, and when the climate change sites put eating less meat way down on the list of things that regular people can do each day to help, there’s something profoundly wrong. It’s intellectual dishonesty. It’s omission. They don’t give the rank and file members of their movement the most important information. The reason is perfectly understandable: Environmentalism (for mainstreamers) is all about not inconveniencing yourself too much. Not making too many sacrifices. You can have your SUV and drive it too (if it’s a Highlander or an Escape). Veganism, to the mainstream, is the opposite. Veganism is proud to say: If you take the lives of nonhuman animals seriously, you simply cannot eat or use them (to the extent possible). Environmentalism isn’t yet at a point where the leaders feel they can demand ethical behavior, whether or not it’s easy or convenient. They (again, mainstream environmentalists) don’t want to lose people, lose whatever momentum and support they have, and they certainly don’t want to appear “radical,” so they refrain from taking a real stand.

  3. Eric July 25, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for this post. Wish we’d had the chance to meet at the conference! I enjoyed Debra’s presence and what she had to say as well.

    I respectfully disagree with Kenneth to the extent that we should incorporate what environmentalism we can into our own lives and help those around us to better understand environmental issues, including factory farming. This does not mean we should drop what we do as animal advocates, but that we must incorporate ecological thinking into our views.

    Just as I take every opportunity to share animal interests with humans, I don’t see why we can’t share our knowledge of environmental issues with others where possible as well, especially when we can bring the two topics together.

    It seems to me that a holistic approach to restoring respect for life on our planet will have greater probability of effecting change than isolating ourselves into one movement, as it is somehow disconnected from all the other suffering in the world.

  4. Deb July 25, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Kenneth: that there are so few of us is one of the best arguments for forming coalitions. that animal agriculture is one of the polluters of the planet is indeed a great reason that everyone concerned with the environment (which should be, but regrettably is not, everyone) should go vegan. However pointing fingers at the environmental activists is a pretty poor way of trying to form a coalition.

    Mary: consumerism as a supposed solution is a huge problem in just about every social movement, veganism included. That doesn’t change the fact that the activists who are campaigning to prevent the clear cutting of an old growth forest are helping the earth as well as the inhabitants of the forest. RAN’s blog contributors include at least two vegans that I saw, who are making the point that veganism is part of the overall solution. I’m sure you’re right about the average environmentalist, but I suppose I didn’t make it clear that I thought activists from both movements should hook up. RAN, in fact, is more or less asking for AR organizations to join them in the planning of their October event.

    Of course we can be as picky about the groups and causes we work with and on in other movements as we are in this one.

    Eric: We did kinda sorta meet. You gave Joe a hard time about his request/demand for a hug. 😉

    I agree that we need a holistic multi-faceted approach to these issues, but that means more than going around telling people in other movements that they should be vegan. If we put in time on their terms on causes we can get behind in their movement, we’ll see the rewards in relationships and coalitions when we need it. And yeah, in general we should be looking for ways to improve our own impact on this earth, because if we don’t “fix” it, saving the animals will have been a bit pointless, as we drive all of us to extinction.

    I know that sounds alarmist, but seriously, the expectation is that we have a window of about 10 years in which the major tipping points could potentially be avoided. Massive global climate change is expected by 2050. Get ready for a wild ride. We really don’t have time to even build bridges, as one of the speakers said at AR07. We have to BE the bridges.

  5. RichB July 25, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    Deb thanks for pointing this out and reminding us. The AR movement is so small and we have such a little voice in the world. As much as it may hurt some to admit it the environmental movement is huge, how many global warming headlines have you seen? Yes An Inconvenient Truth totally missed the veg*n message, and yes Al Gore may not practice what he preaches, but he and others have brought it to the forefront of peoples’ minds and conversations. Environmentalist’s are not longer considered tree-hugger’s and wacko’s unless you listen to FOX “news.”
    The people in the environmental movement nay not be vegan or vegetarian but they are aware of the issues and with the right activism they might be educated enough to change.
    Kenneth said “I feel that animal rights activists (as opposed to welfarists) cannot afford to spend much time on other issues for the simple reason that there are too few of us.”
    I disagree with him, environmentalist are closer to understanding the truth and can more easily converted than the Hummer driver, George bush following, card-carrying NRA member.
    Mary mentions that they are not yet ready. True or not why would we not want to “make” them ready?
    The problem of time is a false problem for most AR activists and most abolitionist. If these activists spent less time attacking other activists and actually did some activism they would have all the time in the world to work with many causes and not hurt their AR activism.

  6. Kenneth Cassar July 26, 2007 at 2:19 am

    Eric: There is no disagreement…just a misunderstanding. I did say that we need to try to convince “environmentalists” to become vegan…and the only way to do this, like you suggest, is to form coalitions. I do this all the time, and have personally attended far more environmentalist demos than animal rights ones for the simple reason that environmentalists in my country (as I suspect all over the world) are more numerous and more organised. Some of the environmentalists I meet have gone vegetarian and vegan…I like to think I played a part in that. However, my point is that though we should support and take part in environmentalist campaigns, we cannot afford to devote much time on this, since it takes away from our limited time devoted to AR issues. Perhaps I am pushed to this conclusion because in my case, I am the only AR activist in Malta who is articulate enough and who is persistently puching the abolitionist AR agenda and message. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but I won’t give up.

    Deb: I am not pointing fingers. I am only stating a fact (that most “environmentalists” are not even vegetarians. Of course, I don’t go around calling them “hypocrites”. I form coalitions, make friends, and educate. I never said that we should not deal with environmental issues. I only wished to point out that the environmentalist message has several advocates, and while we should devote some time to showing that AR makes sense from an environmentalist perspective (going vegan is the best way to help the environment), the more we devote to environmentalist issues (which are dealt with by numerous well organised groups) the less time we have for our AR abolitionist message. Time-constraints requires that we strike a balance, but the balance needs to be tipped on the side of AR advocacy.

    RichB: If you read my first post again, you will see that I did say that “I think a good way to proceed would be perhaps to convince environmentalists to become vegetarian/vegan…Environmentalists should be more receptive to our message, since they are already inclined to act upon moral principles”…which is basically what you also are saying. Regarding the comment: “The problem of time is a false problem for most AR activists and most abolitionist. If these activists spent less time attacking other activists and actually did some activism they would have all the time in the world to work with many causes and not hurt their AR activism”, I only wish to comment that I personally do not have the luxury and option of working in a paid animal activist job. I have to work a regular 8am-5pm job, and can only devote my time on AR campaigning during short breaks and/or after my office work. As for attacking other activists (I don’t know who you have in mind), I only devote some of my limited time to criticizing the policies and actions of organisations which are counter-productive to animal rights. To give an obvious example, time devoted to criticizing a policy of killing healthy animals is time well spent.

  7. Kenneth Cassar July 26, 2007 at 6:09 am

    RichB said: “If these activists spent less time attacking other activists and actually did some activism they would have all the time in the world to work with many causes and not hurt their AR activism”.

    It would be more appropriate to check the facts before making sweeping statements. Have 21 letters published in the major newspapers in my country (this year alone)? – done that. Organize successful public protests? – done that. Take part in live televised and radio debates? – done that. Single-handedly create and maintain (all content) more than one AR website? – done that. Reply to thousands of AR related emails each year? – done that. And all this after my regular non-AR day job and not getting a single cent for it. So when I say that I have limited time for other issues, it’s not because I am wasting my time, as you seem to suggest. If on the otherhand,you mean something else by “doing some actual activism”, I would like to know.

  8. Mary Martin, Ph.D. July 26, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Deb, et al,

    I am a vegan and activist who is very much part of a mainstream, upscale, suburban community. When I talk about environmentalists, I am not talking about activists as you know them. There’s no way I’m talking about RAN. My peeps don’t have a huge amount of initiative and they (maybe) subscribe to one or two “green light” newsletters which do not tell them the whole/real story, and my GUESS it’s because the leaders think it’s too “radical” and they’d rather have them at least change some of their buying habits. It reminds me of the abolition vs. welfare debate.

    I’d love to try to make them ready to hear a “holistic” message, and I’d love to believe that message would succeed. But it’s their leaders who it seems either don’t have faith in them, or who themselves do not see the full picture.

    If you think about it, my situation is representative of the majority of at least the US. Most people have not been reached and educated. We are having a potluck with environmentalists, raw people and vegans (I’m making raw macaroons) tomorrow, so I shall report back about any progress. Everyone is bringing some kind of resource or information. I’m bringing a list of blogs. Wish me luck!

  9. RichB July 26, 2007 at 9:54 am

    Kenneth, I am not going to get into a huge debate with you on Deb’s forum, but there are no facts to check. If I said “If Kenneth Cassar spent less time attacking other activists and actually did some activism they would have all the time in the world to work with many causes and not hurt their AR activism”. Then I would have needed to check my facts, but i did not.
    I think it is great that you do your activism and have had 21 letters published, etc., etc. We need more activists and especially in smaller nations where their voices can be heard.
    However I think your initial comment was clearly misunderstood by the people who followed up on it. Your follow-up restated your position clearly.

  10. Kenneth Cassar July 27, 2007 at 12:55 am

    RichB: When I said that time was a problem, you said that the problem of time is a false problem. That’s why I felt I needed to clarify that it is not. To be fair, you did say that it is a false problem for “most AR activists and most abolitionists”. I don’t think this is the case, and think you actually had a few people in mind. The overall majority of activists are grassroots activists who do not get paid for their activism. This creates the problem of lack of time, since they have to earn their living some other way.

    So when I made the claim that activists cannot afford to devote much time on other issues (though coalitions are a good thing), I had in mind most grassroots activists, and not the few paid activists. The paid activists of course can devote plenty of time to whatever issue they want.

  11. Deb July 27, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    Rich should probably have put the word activist in quotes. Maybe it isn’t true in Malta, but I sure meet a lot of “activists” who don’t seem very active. Who don’t walk the walk, you could say. Hence the issue of time being more an excuse than an issue in reality.

    And honestly, though I know that paid employees of organizations are technically activists, I am personally never referring to them when I talk about activists. That isn’t to downplay the fact that they presumably are putting in more activist time than I am, but I’m simply able to speak only from my perspective, and lazily refer with one term to others who are like me – using their free time to accomplish their activism.

    My opinion: when environmental concerns cross animal issues as they so often do, you are emphatically not taking time away from animal advocacy to join an environmental campaign. I think I’ve used the example of the clear cutting old forests ad nauseum, but it is still relevant.

    Mary, I hope you have much success at your meeting with the environmentalists! I do know what you mean – my county prides itself on being green, being part of some AIRE initiative, and they push certain things that are good – buying local grown food, public transit and/or biking – and they are trying to make the county as friendly for these as possible, making the city/county bike friendly (work in progress, believe me!) and sending newsletters for their farmers markets with a big effort to sell the purchasing of local grown foods. Yet not a single mention of the environmental impacts of what is grown, beyond that it be local.

  12. Mary Martin, Ph.D. July 28, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    not an environmentalist in sight, from what i heard (i didn’t know anyone). loads of peta people and peta literature. also raw food stuff (hippocrates, the famous raw center is down here, so people from there were at the potluck). there were probably 100 people and it was all about food. it wasn’t the forum for me, as i was being introduced by a good friend and it would have been socially inappropriate for me to bust out about welfare and rights, or the environment. but now that i know the landscape, i can make a plan for next time that will be more productive.

  13. leindiemeister July 30, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I really can’t get over the photos you capture and post here. They’re always amazing.

    The strange thing is that recently, Facebook’s turned me on to a lot of this stuff. I guess it’s good that kids are finding this type of thing more accessible. Like there are Causes and there’s an Application about going Green and my good pal Divya actually turned me on to websites like and this other one, both of which are just eye openers, plain and simple. And then I have two friends back in Richmond, a brother and a sister, actually, who are campaigning for Darfur, looking for help and supporters. One of the favourite quotes I found while reading up on animal rights was something about how you can’t call yourself an environmentalist if you still consume animal products. While this is pretty true, the two movements actually go hand-in-hand. You can’t really have one without the other.

  14. Deb July 30, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Mary, good luck next time! Hopefully you’ll have more of an opening to at least discuss some of the issues.

    indiechouette, I have been very impressed with the dedication of the young people in the AR movement. I imagine it is the same in environmental and the various social movements as well. I don’t know if it is one of the benefits of the ‘net, compared to when I was growing up, but the people I knew when I was growing up (potential excuse of a very small town) weren’t involved in anything at all. That includes me. RAN, the environmental group I’ve mentioned a few times now, has an associated group for young people:

    On RAN’s blog they have been talking about some actions/protests that young people took in SF, and it is really encouraging to me.

    Also at the AR07 conference, there were quite a few young people! Some kids who it was hard to tell if they were there mostly because their parents were there, or vice versa. But then there was a 13 year old who seemed really focused on it. I met a 19 year old who’d gotten active when she was about 16, and had started a club in her high school and would have presentations and movie screenings and stuff.

    Anyway, I’m glad that you and your friends are all sharing insights and information with each other. It really does give me hope for the future! Do your friends in Richmond with the Darfur campaign have a website?

    I really think all these issues are related. Even if we don’t get active in the other issues, I think it is really important that we educate ourselves on them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to someone about AR issues, and they’ve brought up things like workers rights, immigration, sexism, racism, resource wars, globalization, internationalization, all sorts of things. Sustainability came up once (via 7th generation) but that was online, not in person. That’s something I still know little about, and need to learn more about. It is overwhelming sometimes, but at the same time it makes me realize how deeply entwined everything is.

    And there is always something we can do. Don’t buy Coke. (human rights issues, resource wars) Don’t buy bottled water. (resource wars and internationalization/privatization of resources needed for survival) Buy sustainable, organic, local produce. (environmental, sustainability, human rights/farm workers rights)

    Our purchasing power should never be our only focus when it comes to the actions we take, but what we purchase is something we should think about.

    Thanks for those links, indie! I’d heard of 43things, but not the other. I’ll have to check them out!

  15. Cynthia July 31, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Deb,I enjoyed reading your very thoughtful response.I am an environmentalist,minister and artist who began a non-profit organization several years ago using music,art and entertainment to promote social causes. I am passionate about the issues of social rights,social justice and providing a means for every one who wants a voice to have it count and make a difference.You are welcome to visit my various blogs:

    “Cynthia D. Wilson Speaks and Writes” (just Google in) I wrote a very challenging piece about Michael Vick and the whole dog-fighting controversy. You might be interested in reading. I’d like to know what you think.

    I also wrote several blogs about “Live Earth” and the Seven Point Pledge among other things.I think our purchasing power is significant and can make a noticeable difference. But I also think it is more important how we think about things and how we treat each other on a one on one basis.

    Please check out my other blogs:

    I hope to hear from you…

  16. Deb July 31, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Thanks Cynthia, your blogs look interesting. I’ll have to keep an eye on them!

  17. Cynthia D. Wilson January 24, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Deb-

    I just wanted to edit a post I made on July 31,2007 to include the changed website address of Creativessel. It is now I hope you’ll stop by and take a look.

    Keep up the good work on Animal Rights,


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