Lessons from animal-rights activists

I attended an afternoon workshop organized by animal rights activists (and others) at PSU last weekend.  Part of the message was the need to work across activist groups (environmental, political, animal-rights, etc.) and ended with an incredible panel including the founder of the Portland Black Panther Party (Kent Ford), a lawyer with the Civil Liberties Defense Center (Lauren Reagan) and the editor of the International Middle East Media Center (Saed Banmoura).  The ideas of working across groups got me thinking of what I should be doing to help improve our transportation options in Corvallis … more on that soon.

This was also the first time I had spent any amount of time with animal-rights activists.  One thing that struck me was that veganism was a default (as I guiltily ate my cream-cheesed bagel) — that is, their activism started with personal responsibility.  Among the environmental activists with whom I have worked, personal responsibility usually only goes so far.  In particular, most own and use (albeit not as frequently as the average) personal motor vehicles.  Some environmental activists even make their main point that of blaming the oil industry as an explicit replacement for eliminating carbon-hungry flying and driving.  One possible reason may be the following:

Some CO2 release is okay and, well, necessary if we are to continue to eat cooked food and compost food scraps.  The problem is in the rate and quantity of CO2 release.  And so as an individual, it is okay to continue to burn some carbon.  So maybe it’s okay to take that flight to Hawaii, right?   On the other hand, an animal-rights activist usually starts from the premise that the rights of animals should be equal to the rights of humans.  So the cruel treatment or unnatural death of any animal for any reason is not okay.  Hence veganism and no animal testing (although I am curious if extant drugs that have undergone animal testing are kosher).  There is less “grey” for the animal-rights activist.

But we do know that if we are going to prevent catastrophic climate change we need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas output.  Most numbers point to 10% of our current (worldwide) consumption as being okay.  And remember — that is 10% worldwide.  If we also subscribe to ideals of social justice, we shouldn’t take that to mean every individual must reduce their consumption to 10% of their current consumption.  Those of us in heavy GHG-polluting nations should bear a greater reduction.  We should also accept that that level of reduction is impossible through efficiency gains alone.  Our way of life, at least in places like the United States, will have to change.

I know, everyone has their shtick — and almost all of them (more efficient heating, more solar and wind power, reduced consumption and waste, carbon taxes and legislation) are wonderful environmental-activism shticks.  It’s pretty clear that mine is the car-free lifestyle (and associated transit improvements).  Why?  Well, the GHG emissions due to the manufacturing of a personal motor vehicle (and unlikely to change by much) is in the ballpark of 10% of the total GHG emissions for one person, given the average life-expectancy of a motor vehicle.  This is (one reason) why I find it so upsetting that people, especially environmental activists, are unwilling to divest their lives of their car.

Isn’t there some quote about living your life in the way in which you want the world to be?

One thought on “Lessons from animal-rights activists

  1. Mike Gretes

    I think the quotation you’re looking for is “Be the change you wish to see in the world — Gandhi”, a slogan (sadly without any apparent intentional irony) pasted to car fenders. According to a 2011 NYT op-ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html) this is a misattribution. But here’s a far better quotation apparently attributable in fact to Mohandas K Gandhi:

    “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

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