Roger Clarke: Ignoring animal cruelty while fighting for environment is foolish
Here’s a bit of news that really should be more surprising: On March 23, the Dogwood Initiative staged a demonstration at Liberal MLA Ida Chong’s office in Victoria. The environmental group was upset over a provincial government decision to allow private land to be removed from tree-farm licences without compensation. Chong’s silence in regards to this issue inspired the protesters to toss six live chickens into her office to make the point that she was being “chicken” and squawking without actually doing anything.
Several animal-protection groups, including Liberation B.C., the Vancouver Humane Society, and the B.C. SPCA, were outraged, and asked Dogwood to apologize. Two days later, after initially insisting that the chicken stunt was the act of a random University of Victoria student and therefore not their responsibility, Dogwood issued an apology and admitted that the activists involved were, in fact, affiliated with it.
Why should this be surprising? Well, we should expect that environmental and animal-protection groups would be working together closely enough that an incident like this one would be baffling.
It’s not news that animals benefit from environmental protection. One of Dogwood’s major campaigns is against oil tankers—and what evocative image does an oil spill call to mind? A bird or an otter covered in crude oil. In fact, Dogwood’s own No Tankers campaign has a loon as its symbol. When we disturb an ecosystem, when we overfish, and when we pollute, animals suffer. Habitat loss causes animal suffering. Climate change causes animal suffering.
Even if you are unconcerned with animal welfare—even if your only goal is to preserve the environment for future generations—it makes sense to acknowledge that this is a two-way street. True, animals benefit from environmental protection, but what we sometimes forget is the fact that the state of the environment is similarly reliant on our treatment of animals. After all, many of the worst causes of environmental destruction are related to some of the most extreme forms of institutionalized animal cruelty.
Scientists have clearly demonstrated that animal agriculture is a leading—probably the leading—contributor to climate change, more significant even than all the cars, trucks, and airplanes in the world. Livestock farming is a terribly inefficient way to use land. When we raise fewer animals, fewer trees are knocked down for farmland and for grazing. Feeding massive amounts of grain and water to farmed animals and then killing them and processing, transporting, and storing their flesh is extremely energy-intensive. Meanwhile, waterways are polluted with the run-off from lagoons of animal manure.
Those who want to protect the planet should work hand-in-hand with groups focusing on animal advocacy, and vice versa, for maximum benefit. Ignoring humanity’s environmental impact while fighting against animal cruelty is counterproductive. Disrespecting animals in an attempt to benefit the environment is similarly foolish.
The six chickens dumped at Victoria Animal Control could tell you that.
Roger Clarke is a director of Liberation B.C.