Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Titanic Mindset for a Doomed Planet

The New Jersey office where I work will likely be under water in less than twenty years. When I mentioned this to a coworker, she just smiled and walked away.

"Long-term disaster is now the best case scenario" wrote Nathaniel Rich in "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change." The planet is warming much more quickly than climate models predicted. It is now very probable that global temperatures will increase to 3.5 degrees by 2035 and may possibly warm to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, according to NASA.

In the past two million years it has taken the planet about 5,000 years to warm 5 degrees and yet we stand to do it in just one century, a rate of warming that is extremely unusual and at least 20 times faster. Already the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up prompting one meteorologist to describe it as "scary."

The writing has been on the wall for some time, but it continues to get pushed under the rug for many reasons, not the least of which is apathy. There are the proponents of economic-growth-at-all-costs. There are the climate deniers, deregulation diehards, and the human extremists. And there are those who nullify the moral depravity of exploiting and consuming the bodies and fluids of other animals, which happens to contribute mightily to our and our planet's woes.

The Vegan VineThe numbers speak for themselves. A recent analysis of life on Earth published by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America showed that humans are directly attributable for the deaths of 83 percent of all non-domesecrated nonhuman animals, as well as half of all plants.

We have replaced these free-living beings with tormented captives. Now 70 percent of all birds on Earth consist primarily of enslaved chickens and turkeys, while 60 percent of all mammals comprise mostly of captive cows, pigs, and goats. We murder 60 billion of these birds and mammals and trillions of sea animals annually just so we can needlessly eat them.

Our changing planet has been so impacted by humans in such a short amount of geologic time that scientists have coined this epoch the Anthropocene—the age of humans. Human overpopulation, farming, logging, development, resource depletion, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the sixth mass extinction in roughly 540 million years. Half of Earth's nonhuman animals have already died in the last 50 years and many species will become extinct by the end of this century, to say nothing of the individuals within these species who will lose their lives.

Professor Ron Milo from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work published by the National Academy of Sciences, reiterated our monstrous influence on the natural world and at least one step all of us can take immediately—adopt a vegan diet. "Our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants, and other organisms," he said.

He's right. Raising other animals for their flesh, milk, and eggs has caused worldwide pollution and soil erosion, and is responsible for converting one-third of the earth's surface to desert. It also consumes much of our land and most of the world's depleting fresh water supply, polluting what is remaining with excrement, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and hormones. From feed to fertilizer, to refrigeration and transport, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are needed to power the nonhuman flesh, milk, and egg industries, making these enslavement cartels one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

"I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume," Professor Milo said. And yet Milo went on to admit, almost contritely, that he has failed to commit himself to a vegan diet. "I have not become vegetarian . . . but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?"

And therein lies the problem. As dire as things are, even when we know what the right thing to do is (both ethically and environmentally), we still don't do it, which is disheartening (especially coming from a scientist who knows the facts), and doesn't bode well for our future and the future of all life on Earth.

Rich found a common principle: "Human beings, whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties or as individuals, are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations."

According to Rich, thirty years ago we had a chance to put policies and actions in place to forestall climate change but there was little political will to overcome competing short term self-interests . . . like making money. The inevitable has caught up to us and thus far, economic concerns and personal pleasure (if you can call eating the babies, milk, and ovum of other animals pleasurable) still trump environmental disaster even though we stand to lose a lot more than just money and our affinity for flesh.

Our policies are as self-centered and myopic as we are. For example, the NJ Shore will one day be a thing of the past, but that hasn't stopped state and local governments from wasting billions of dollars to "restore the shore" even though that money could be better used elsewhere. In spite of the menace of Hurricane Sandy and hurricanes that have taken place since then, there has been rapid coastal development. Many local governments, in cahoots with developers, fuel this insanity. The Lofts Pier Village in Long Branch, NJ, (a Kushner Companies project, as in Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law) offers a 30-year tax abatement to buyers of million dollar beach condominiums so they can enjoy lower property taxes at the expense of everyone else. People continue to move to places that are likely to end up disaster areas and then taxpayers foot the bill for programs that help people rebuild in these same high-risk locations. Stephen M. Strader, an assistant professor in the geography and environment department at Villanova University, refers to this folly as disaster amnesia.

"I'm not waiting for the next Sandy," said Roman Grinshpun, 40, who recently moved to a flood-prone area in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, even after his previous building was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
"I don’t think it’ll ever happen."

Simple forgetfulness is too easy a scapegoat; immediate self-gratification seems to be the name of the game. This kind of mindset, this arrogance, is analogous to that which compelled people to believe the RMS Titanic couldn't/wouldn't sink.

It's a surprisingly common attitude even within families. For many, their own children's future isn't reason enough to make the necessary changes to preserve the planet for them. The majority keep spending and consuming and devouring more and more. As a childless, vegan, environmentalist, it's ironic that my choices may be doing more to help preserve the planet for other children than their own parent's choices.

Nonhuman oppression and climate change are interconnected, human-created atrocities. There are parallels not just between these two grave injustices but between the mindsets that allow them to happen. We've identified the problems; we're just lacking the personal and political wills to enforce the solutions. But there is a price to be paid for such obstinacy.

Check out Climate Central's interactive map to see what these temperature increases will mean for flood-prone areas around the world. 

How Do I Go Vegan?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Separating Families of Any Kind is Wrong

The Vegan VineA friend and I were lamenting the injustice of President Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. Even though the policy was later reversed, it will have residual negative effects for those families (many who still remain separated), as well as the United States. For my friend, the horror of seeing families being torn apart conjured up harrowing stories and images of other animals enduring the same and worse.

Humans are not the only species to experience closely connected bonds between mother and child. Cows, like many other mammals, are known for their deep maternal instincts. Human supremacists, however, resist acknowledging that nonhumans have thoughts, feelings, and genuine relationships because empathy and exploitation are mutually exclusive. A willingness to relate to other animals is often dismissed as anthropomorphism.

"There are a number of very valid arguments against anthropomorphizing the creatures with whom we share this world, not least of which is that their inner lives deserve to be evaluated on their terms—not ours," wrote Susan Casey in The Orca, Her Dead Calf and Us about Tahlequah, a whale who mourned her deceased daughter by carrying her body for seventeen days. "At times, interpreting their behavior through a human lens might be misleading, silly or even harmful. But at other times—and they occur more often than science would care to admit—perceiving ourselves in these others is exactly the right response. When an animal’s emotional state is obvious to anyone with eyes and a heart."

Clarabelle had been deeply scarred by the loss of her previous children. Clarabelle isn't an immigrant; she's a cow who had been confined at a cow-milk factory. Her milk had been waning so her enslaver decided she wasn't worth keeping alive anymore. A sanctuary heard about her plight and took her in only to discover that she had secretly given birth. Clarabelle had hidden her newborn in a nearby patch of tall grass in fear of another baby being stolen from her.

Dr. Holly Cheever, a former veterinarian, relayed another story about a pregnant cow who gave birth to twins. Knowing that her enslaver would take away her babies as he did many times before, the mother took only one calf back and kept the other calf out in the pasture, hoping her enslaver wouldn't notice. When he realized she was carrying less milk than usual (because she was feeding her calf), he found the baby and took him away, too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Frogs in Peril

The Vegan Vine
by guest writer Matt Ellerbeck, frog advocate and conservationist

Frogs are in terrible trouble. Around 30 percent of all the world's frog species are threatened with extinction! Many human-induced hazards are killing frogs and contributing to their decline.

Habitat destruction is largely responsible for the loss of frogs. Areas that were once suitable for these nonhumans to live have now been destroyed. The areas that still remain are often polluted with hazardous substances like chemicals, oils, gasoline, and pesticides.

​Habitats are often isolated and cut off from one another by roads and highways that now slice through them. Countless frogs are killed on roads and highways every year when they are hit by vehicles.

A 2006 study from Carleton University in Ottawa found heavy traffic to be a larger threat to frogs than habitat loss.

Sadly, many frogs who are migrating to mating and egg-laying sites must cross over roads to reach such areas where many of the maturer individuals are killed. This greatly limits their reproductivity and makes it incredibly hard for various frog species to rebound.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Bigoted Vegans Among Us

The Vegan Vine
Our world is awash in hatred and no one seems to be immune, not even vegans.

Having learned about the interconnectedness of all systematic forms of oppression and their root in nonhuman exploitation, it confounds me how some vegans can advocate for nonhumans while disparaging fellow humans over race, sex, class, religion, etc. It's like "shelters" for cats and dogs that hold fundraising events where they serve up the bodies of pigs, chickens, and cows. How can anyone who abhors the oppression of one group support the persecution of another?

"To see real change for nonhuman animals, advocates must challenge inequality for all," wrote Corey Wrenn in "Status Contamination: Women, Nonhuman Animals, and Intersectional Liberation."

Earlier this year, two former senior officials at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) were accused of sexually harassing employees for some ten years. "According to interviews, emails and an internal document reviewed by POLITICO, [Paul] Shapiro suggested a female employee should 'take one for the team' by having sex with a donor, sent pornography and lewd emails to male employees, and discussed with colleagues his sexual philosophies, such as having as many sexual partners as possible." According to another employee who attended a work trip in 2006, former CEO Wayne Pacelle "asked her to take off her clothes and perform oral sex, and asked her whether he could masturbate in front of her."

At HSUS, Shapiro and Pacelle apparently sought to reduce the objectification of nonhumans as things to be used and consumed all the while objectifying their own female colleagues as sexual playthings to be used and consumed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

U.S. Taxpayers Forced to Pay $38+ Billion a Year to Kill Other Animals

The Vegan Vine
A cat used in deadly experiments inside USDA laboratory.
Follow the money!

It's a commonly heard phrase that originated with the Watergate scandal. We hear it a lot today in reference to the investigation into President Trump's ties to Russia. But the popular phrase also applies to the nonhuman-abuse-industrial-complex. If you want to cut through the lies and deceptions to get at the truth, just follow the money.

Over the centuries we have built an entire economy and culture around the enslavement and exploitation of nonhuman animals. Working to end this grave injustice is as much an economic issue as it is a matter of political and social will. We simply cannot ignore the financial incentives that continue to drive nonhuman oppression.

Successful operations, whether they be military or social, usually require besieging the opposition on multiple fronts. Likewise, nonhuman advocates have many battlegrounds. In addition to advancing veganism and nonhuman legal rights, it is essential that we also deprive nonhuman enslavement institutions of their financial enticements. Nonhumans do not yet have legal rights in large part because too many sectors of society profit off their exploitation and deaths.

"People who purport to act on behalf of nonhuman animals must be urged to do much more than change their shopping, eating, etc. . . . citizens have to make time for policy," said David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals.

In his 2013 book, Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon found that $38.4 billion of United States taxpayer monies are used to further the nonhuman flesh, milk, and egg industries. Here's what else he found:

  • 63 percent of federal and state government subsidies go to promoting nonhuman flesh, milk, and eggs, while less than 2 percent go to fruits and vegetables.
  • Taxpayer subsidies create artificially low prices for nonhuman-derived "foods" that do not reflect the real costs to produce them, thereby encouraging Americans to consume greater amounts. For example, if we were to account for the full burden of a Big Mac—the abuse, environmental and health care costs, etc.—a Big Mac would actually cost $12.
  • A significant portion of the nearly $1 trillion in annual health care and lost productivity costs related to just three diseases—cancer, diabetes, and heart disease—are directly linked to the consumption of nonhuman-derived "foods."
  • Nonhumans bred for their flesh, milk, and eggs are routinely fed 75 percent (28 million pounds) of the US market of antibiotics to bolster their abnormal growth and prevent imprisoned-induced diseases. 
  • Nonhuman flesh, milk, and egg industries now rank with mining, oil production, and electricity generation as one of the most ecologically damaging to the planet. The EPA found that groundwater sources in one-third of US states are contaminated with urine and feces from factory farms.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Where Are the Rights in the "Animal Rights Movement"?

The Vegan Vine; Bill of Rights
When Lisa Vanderpump of Real Housewives fame and a nonvegan restaurateur is said by the New York Times to be championing "animal rights" for having dogs and running a dog rescue, you know there is a problem.

For most nonhuman advocates, the term "animal rights" has lost all meaning and efficacy. The phrase has been denigrated by a self-described "animal rights movement" and has been co-opted by anyone and everyone imaginable, from those who promote veganism to those who simply "love animals" like cats and dogs.

When we speak of "animal rights" (AR) it usually has absolutely nothing to do with the actual attainment of legal rights for nonhumans. This is regrettable because doing so only hurts those we're trying to help.

Activists and organizations alike misuse "animal rights" when applying it to the context of treatment and the lessening of cruelty and suffering. This only adds to the confusion and detracts from the real work being done to advance nonhuman rights. Similarly to the way veganism has been watered down by consumerists, fads, and those who want the label without the effort, so has "animal rights."

"Many animal advocates mistakenly think nonhuman animals have rights which 'animal rights' organizations work to enforce. The reality is that nonhuman animals have no rights," said David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA). "Despite massive injustice toward nonhuman animals, the first wave of the 'animal rights movement' has made no progress these past three decades because it is not a rights movement."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Untold Victims of Gun Violence

The Vegan Vine
Hunted Haunt the Hunter
Sue Coe
The recent Parkland, Florida school shooting has raised the specter of gun violence once again. And once again, politicians and pundits alike employ hunting rhetoric to absolve themselves and others of their own contribution to violence.

Almost every discussion following a mass shooting pointedly incorporates what I call the "hunting clause," whereby the purposeful targeting of nonhuman animals is deemed an "appropriate" use of guns in contrast to the inappropriate use of guns to purposefully target human animals. This self-gratifying distinction by which nonhumans are "hunted" whereas nonhumans are "killed" or "murdered" is deeply speciesist and immoral. What's worse is that these same people, who seek to justify their gun ownership for the purpose of slaughtering other animals, brag about teaching their children to do the same.

"Like Texas church shooter Devin Kelley, Nikolas Cruz also had a history of hurting animals. For Kelley it was beating a dog. For Cruz it was a string of reported cruelty that included shooting squirrels and chickens with a pellet gun, trying to get a dog to attack a piglet, jamming sticks into rabbit holes and killing toads. His social media reportedly included photos of dead animals," reported Jessica Scott-Reid in the New York Daily News.

Akin to hunters of humans, hunters of nonhumans also get a thrill from murdering. In a 1996 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer detailing a canned hunt, Rex Perysian, a hunter, was anxious to begin. "I wanna peg one of these babies," he said. The boar Perysian set his sights on writhed and cried out with each shot. After four minutes of hell, she laid down and died. "I was pumpin’, man," Perysian said. After wiping blood from the boar's nose, he lifted her head by the ears for the cameras, and then dropped her head "and bellowed into the woods, boasting that the kill had sexually aroused him." Later, as ranch workers dragged away the corpses, Perysian sang a Miller beer jingle and summed up his enjoyment of hunting for the reporter. ‘‘It's just adrenaline, it’s great," he said. I'm sure Cruz and Kelley experienced similar adrenaline rushes at they aimed at students and churchgoers respectively.

Edward Stack, Dick's Sporting Goods chief executive, who was praised for his decision to remove all assault-style guns from his stores after the Parkland shooting, explained why his company will restrict some gun sales. "We don't want to be part of a mass shooting," he said. But Stack doesn't seem to mind being part of some mass shootings.