Recently I've been thinking about how a lot of my left-wing and socialist circles are almost entirely human-centric and discuss animal issues very little at all. As an animal rights activist this upsets me. Likewise a lot of animal rights activists don't consider human struggle any worth either. The environmentalist movement doesn't take veganism as seriously as it should considering animal produce is the leading industry for greenhouse gasses. I believe animal rights and veganism needs to be a big part of the left-wing and environmental movements, and I'd like to explain why.
First of all I think we need to understand animal rights before we can understand why it needs to be a part of left-wing movements. When I say animal rights, I mean abolitionist animal rights as opposed to animal welfare which is not the same thing. Abolitionism within animal rights means abolishing all forms of animal use, because there will always be animal exploitation otherwise. This means we all have to go vegan, zoos and animal circuses will be banned, animal testing to be abolished, and we stop all breeding of animals. This includes pets, which for some people I can understand is a difficult concept to get their head around. It certainly took me years of being vegan before I figured out why we shouldn't have pets. I will say this about pets though - looking after an animal from a rescue centre or animal sanctuary is giving that animal a better quality of life so most abolitionists don't have an issue with having rescued pets/companion animals. The basic idea is that if humans use animals then it is for their own gain and not for the animal's gain, and the animal doesn't have complete freedom. In other words, it's animal slavery. Animal welfare still supports animal slavery, just a "kinder" form of animal slavery. There isn't a single form of animal use which is necessary to human existence. We don't need to eat, hunt, be entertained by, play with, watch or do any of the other things we do with animals. I see no moral justification for not caring about animals this way. Furthermore, I see an important part of being left-wing is opposing all forms of discrimination, and that must also include speciesism. Speciesism is discriminating a being based on it's species, which it cannot help, the view that your own species is superior to other species.
I guess I could describe myself broadly as a green veganarchist. This means I favour a form of anarchism which looks after the interests of the environment and doesn't involve any animal exploitation. Veganism without anarchism is just another consumer lifestyle, anarchism without veganism is just another oppressive regime. I could also describe myself as an eco-socialist. Basically whatever you label give to my politics, I believe that there are several ways we could run society that I would be happy with as long as a few things are taken into consideration. I will not be happy with society until we have egalitarianism (an equal share of wealth and resources), a fully democratic society, an ecologically sound society and the abolition of all animal exploitation. If we are to create a society where all people are to be considered equal, and to be given equal rights and equal share of resources, then I find it hypocritical and wrong if we don't have a relationship with animals where they are also our equals. Humans and non-human animals are all sentient beings. We all share the ability to suffer. On this basis all animals should be given equal moral value. If it's morally wrong to exploit humans, why is it not also morally wrong to exploit other sentient beings? In my view, you can't have a truly left-wing society until all sentient beings have freedom and are not being exploited, and that must include all non-human animals.
When it comes to the environment there is no excuse to ignore veganism and animal produce. The industries that produce animal products are the single largest contributing industry to greenhouse gasses contributing over 18% of greenhouse gasses (some people report the figure to be as high as 51%, but I'm unconvinced) which is higher than the entire transport industries, including aviation which in total produce around 13.5% of global greenhouse gasses. I say the word greenhouse gasses because carbon dioxide is not the worst gas for climate change by a long way. Methane is at least 20 times worse than carbon dioxide and nitrus oxide is over 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Cows, pigs, sheep and chicken all produce both methane and nitrus oxide. When you take into account that for 1 pound of meat it can take up to 1,000 times more water and 10 times more land than producing 1 pound of plant based food it really doesn't make any environmental sense not to be pursuing a plant based diet. Getting our food sources from animals is so much more inefficient than plant based food because through an animal's life they use up energy in moving, growing, digesting food, excreting, etc. This means that you have to feed an animal far more pounds of food than you get out of it. It is far more efficient and environmentally friendly to feed plant based food directly to humans. If animal product industries are causing nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gasses, more than any other industry, why isn't the environmental movement focused on veganism? Why does the environmental movement focus far more on aviation when the aviation industry causes a lot fewer greenhouse gasses? I've never been able to understand this. I'm not at all saying we shouldn't challenge the aviation industry, I'm just saying there's little point if we're not also challenging the bigger causes of climate change at the same time.
This also has a huge knock on effect around the world. In 3rd world countries around the world more and more land is being stolen for food production, without the the locals getting any of the food or being able to afford any. A transition to a vegan diet will mean that we require a lot less land to produce the same amount of food. This would mean more land in places like Africa and South America could be kept under local control rather than under control of massive multi-national food corporations. It could also prevent wars as there have been wars over land scarcity in places like Darfur.
To be an animal rights abolitionist, all you have to do is be vegan. I'm not saying that we have to go any further out of our way to help animals, all we have to do it just leave them alone. If you're committed to veganism, it will come easily to you. It's not as difficult as you might think and there's plenty of help out there. Once you're vegan it's up to you if you want to do more for animal rights and there are plenty of local groups all around the country. You can focus on human issues or environmental issues if you'd prefer to do that. Veganism can be a healthier diet as meat and dairy are generally not healthy for you. Either way, we can't continue to ignore veganism and animal rights if we call ourselves left-wing or environmentalists.
Further information on veganism and animal rights:
- The UK Vegan Society, the oldest vegan society in the world: http://www.vegansociety.com/
- Greens for Animal Protection: https://www.facebook.com/GreensForAnimalProtection
- UK animal rights gathering: http://www.argathering.org.uk/
- Animal Rights UK: http://animalrightsuk.org/
- Gary Francione, animal rights philosopher and founder of The Abolitionist Approach: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/