Pourquoi cette Végane ne Regarde-t-elle plus de Programmes Animaliers

Translated by Hypathie

J’adorais regarder des programmes animalierEVis quand j’étais enfant. J’ai toujours été une amie des animaux. Cependant, plus je vieillis, moins j’ai de patience envers ces programmes. En fait, je les boycotte pratiquement tout le temps à cause de leurs inévitables scènes de mort et de souffrance (scènes que les documentaristes passent des mois à capturer afin de donner du peps à leurs documentaires), que je trouve traumatisantes.

Aujourd’hui, je me souviens encore de ces scènes graphiques et horrifiantes. Une bête sauvage éventrée par des lions alors qu’elle se débat et pleure pour sa vie ; des hyènes attaquant une lionne, la laissant mourir lentement, la mâchoire brisée, assoiffée, dans la chaleur africaine ; un groupe d’épaulards noyant un bébé baleine à bosse pour le plaisir pendant que la mère se bat pendant des heures pour le protéger, etc.

Même la Marche de l’empereur, classé G, donc présumé pour enfants, était, pour moi, un film profondément dérangeant car il mettait en scène des familles séparées par la prédation et la cruelle mort lente par hypothermie et famine, sentences de mort prononcées pour des poussins et des partenaires dépendants.

Quand j’étais jeune, je devais m’endurcir et me forcer à regarder. Après tout « c’est la réalité » disait le slogan. Mais maintenant, je le vois pour ce que c’est : une glorification de la violence et une tentative forcenée de formater la nature (un espace généralement pacifique caractérisé par la coexistence et la symbiose) en un univers brutal et sans pitié. Ces programmes deviennent une justification idéologique à la société violente que les humains ont construite.

L’incantation « c’est réellement comme ça » encourage la société à étouffer la compassion, la paix et la non-violence. Un autre exemple : la même intention préside aux films de guerre. Le public est supposé assister à des scènes horrifiantes de garçons et d’hommes tuant d’autres garçons et d’autres hommes parce que « c’est comme ça, que c’est la réalité ». D’implacables images de violence envers les femmes qui paraissent désormais obligatoires dans les scénarios actuels, convoquent la même chose. De la même manière, on attend des activistes qu’ils s’endurcissent et absorbent l’imagerie de violence contre les animaux non-humains commise par des humains à travers d’incessants messages sur les medias sociaux véganes, de nouveau, « parce que c’est la réalité ».

Le piège réside dans le fait que la violence n’apparaît pas tout le temps, ni même la plupart du temps. Les médias sont une construction sociale. Ce qui y est présenté est consciencieusement fabriqué par des auteurs, des metteurs en scène, des patrons d’associations, et d’autres, dans le but d’accroître leurs audiences et leur volumes de donations. Cela sert aussi le pouvoir en confortant la société dans l’idée que l’inégalité est un fait incontestable. C’est donc une narration de violence, de hiérarchie et de domination patriarcale qui est une perspective parmi d’autres, mais qui devient l’idéologie dominante, noyant toute alternative.

En m’affirmant féministe, je me suis finalement endurcie, mais pas de la façon dont les médias s’y attendaient. J’ai acquis la confiance de dire non et de rejeter cette narration. Je change de programme ou j’éteins. Je réalise maintenant que je n’ai pas à me punir en adhérant aux normes patriarcales qui m’enjoignent de supprimer mon empathie et d’être honteuse de trouver la violence abominable. Pour moi, ce n’est pas du divertissement, c’est de l’endoctrinement, et ça va mieux en le disant.

 

A version of this essay was first published on The Academic Activist Blogger on December 19, 2015.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

Why This Vegan Doesn’t Watch Nature Programs

I used to love nature programs as a kid. I was always a lover of animals. Yet, the older I get, the less patience I have for them. In fact, I boycott them now almost entirely because of those inevitable scenes of death and suffering (scenes which film-makers actually spend months hoping to capture to give some “excitement” to their documentary) are just too traumatizing for me. 

Some of the most graphic and unsettling scenes I witnessed as a child I can still recount today. A wildebeest disemboweled by lions as they kick and scream for life; hyenas attacking a lioness, leaving her to die slowly from a broken jaw and thirst in the African heat; a pod of orcas drowning a baby humpback whale for fun after their mother struggles for hours to protect them, etc.

Even March of the Penguins, rated G and presumably kid-friendly, was, to me, a deeply upsetting film that spotlighted families separated by predation and the cruel slow deaths from exposure and starvation that were sentenced to dependent partners and chicks.

 

When I was younger, I felt the need to toughen up and force myself to watch. After all, “that’s how it really is,” or so the mantra goes. But now I see it for what it is: the glorification of violence and a forced attempt to frame nature (a generally peaceful space predominantly characterized by coexistence and symbiosis) as a brutish, merciless world. These programs become an ideological justification for the violent society that humans have constructed.

The incantation of “That’s how it really is” encourages society to stifle compassion, peace, and non-violence. By way of another example, the same intention is associated with war movies. Audiences are expected to sit through graphic scenes of boys and men killing other boys and men because “that’s how it really is.” Relentless images of violence against women, which appear to be mandated in modern script-writing, demand the same. Likewise, activists are expected to toughen up and absorb imagery of violence against Nonhuman Animals committed by humans through endless posts on vegan social media spaces, again, because “that’s how it really is.”

The catch is that violence is not really how it is all of the time, or even most of the time. Media is a social construction. What is being presented is consciously fabricated by authors, directors, nonprofit leaders, and others who have an agenda to increase ratings or donations. There is also an agenda to protect the powers that be by ensuring society that inequality is a fact of life. This is a narrative of violence, hierarchy, and patriarchal dominance that is only one perspective, but it becomes a dominant ideology, drowning out alternatives.

As I found my feminist groundings, I finally “toughened up,” but not in the way that Big Media expected me to. I grew the confidence to say no and reject this narrative. I change the channel; I tune out. I realize now that don’t have to punish myself to adhere to patriarchal norms that expect me to suppress my empathy and be ashamed of finding violence abhorrent. To me this isn’t entertainment, it’s indoctrination, and there’s got to be something better on.

 

A version of this essay was first published on The Academic Activist Blogger on December 19, 2015.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

whyveganism.com

Should We Retire “Mother Earth”?

Image of a celestial mother earth holding planet earth in space.

By Eve Wetlaufer

We have all heard the ubiquitous term “Mother Earth,” and often in reference to treating the environment with more care. While the term might seem innocent, does anthropomorphizing the Earth actually help or hurt the environment? What about when the gender is female? What about when the female is a mother? What does the feminization of the Earth do for the feminist movement? I will first look at the ways in which giving the Earth a gendered role as our “collective Mother” is harmful, and then the ways in which it is beneficial. This is a topic that, for me, raises many more questions then it answers, but that is quite all right. As long as we continue to use this term, it is important to discuss the implications.

In the English language, nature and natural forces (hurricanes, tornadoes), many animals (cats, deer, rabbits), and, in general, whatever cannot be controlled take the feminine pronoun; when applied to nature, “she” still carries the connotations of femininity. ‘We should check carefully whether we really want to view our relationship with the Earth through genderdized lenses,’ warns Yaakov Garb. ‘What baggage will carry over from one domain to another (especially in a culture whose relation to both women and mothers is as misogynous as ours is)?’

– Greta Gaard, Ecofeminism, p.303

Femininity as well as motherhood carry many, often-stereotypical connotations in the world we live in today. When the Earth is given both a gender and a familial role, those connotations carry over. Gaard goes on to say that when the Earth is seen as female, she becomes associated with some of the cliché female attributes projected on to her such as the “damsel in distress,” “out of control,” and the sexualized female who can be a virgin, pillaged, and raped. In the later example, and issue Gaard points out is that the one who does the raping is culture, thus “culture is masculinized, and the human-nature relationship becomes one of compulsory heterosexuality” (104).

The second layer of the Earth’s given femininity is that she is a mother. The mother role takes on a whole other array of linked attributes such as nourishing, caring, supportive, and forgiving, and then on the flip side, stern, punishing, and spiteful. Mother Earth is often (subconsciously, even) seen as the female counterpart to “Father God,” who is most always male in the three major monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. God is commonly understood to rule over (Mother) Earth, he created the Her (i.e. Psalm 24:1 states, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it,) and in contemporary commentary, God is often portrayed as working through the Earth with natural disasters, weather patterns, and the like. God and Mother Earth are commonly seen as separate from one another, but they are also in a hierarchical and heterosexual relationship of control.

A serene forest with a large tree canopy blotting out the sun

The many different characteristics associated with a female and mother Earth can be harmful not only to the Earth itself, but the humans living on it. For example, Simona Sacchi, Paolo Riva, and Marco Brambilla begin to answer the question of how anthropomorphizing the Earth helps or hurts it, especially when wearing the “wise mother” hat in their 2013 study, When Mother Earth Rises Up. They conducted two studies that tested whether or not a group of people would feel more or less inclined to help victims of a natural disaster when the Earth was anthropomorphized. They found that “humanizing nature undermines the tendency to support victims of natural disasters.” While hypothetically it could actually help people cope with natural disasters because the natural force that caused it is rational and therefore must have had a deliberate reason, that is, in fact, the exact reason people were less likely to help victims. If Mother Earth deliberately caused this natural disaster to destroy a group of people, she must have had a reason, the thinking goes, according to the study. The Earth is simply acting as the “wise and all-knowing” mother role attributed to her.

Mother Earth Painting

Another example of a Mother Earth characteristic that works against it is the “always-loving” and “ever-replenishing” role. It is said that you can treat those who love you the most, the worst, because you know they will forgive you. Time and again, we see how mothers of convicted killers, for instance, still deeply love their children. Unconditional love is something a parent often has for their children, and that dynamic carries over to the way humans can be careless in their treatment of the Earth. These individuals separate themselves so deeply from the Earth that they view environmental degradation as an outside problem, one that She can deal with, especially because She is a mother figure, who is often seen as a fountain of replenishing love, wisdom and forgiveness.

A final critique of the term “Mother Earth” is that it is typically linked with whiteness. Although artistic depictions of Mother Earth often show her with green skin, the Earth-loving, granola-eating, White people have appropriated sustainability and care for the Earth as their movement. Lolaboloca writes about this issue in her article Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge As A Brown Ecofeminista. She writes:

The thing is, I DO care about the environment but I cannot stand it when white people pretend they are all connected to the earth and refuse to understand that many of us — Migrant Brown People — come from backgrounds where “environmentalism” is not talked about because we grow up doing unintentional “green” things.

She gives the example of reusable pads during menstruation. Associating Mother Earth singularly with whiteness also discounts many People of Color whose religious and cultural traditions incorporate Earth fundamentally and often in a maternal role, such as many Native Americans tribes, who have long linked the Earth with spirituality and the Mother of all.

An interesting case study regarding these issues can be seen in the current state of the Yamuna River. Snaking down from the Himalayas and passing through Delhi, the Yamuna River spans 853-miles through India. With the rapid industrialization and increasing population of Delhi, and India as a country, the Yamuna has become neighbor to many manufacturing plants that directly dump their waste into the river, while 60 million people rely on the Yamuna for drinking and bathing water. Although there have been protests and a movement to protect the river, in some areas it is a thick, black stream of sewage. For many Hindus, the Yamuna River is much more than just a holy river; it is quite literally the Goddess who is giver of life and a lover of Krishna. Many devotees perform rituals at the river, in which they bathe and then drink it ceremoniously.

Devotees wade in the Yamuna River, which froths heavily with pollution and is littered with trash

In David Haberman’s ethnography, River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India, he describes how the belief in the Yamuna as a Goddess can actually cause a lack of environmental action for some people who believe Her to physically and spiritually wash away all sins, including the material waste. If She makes all unclean clean, then the pollution is inconsequential, and even offensive to some to discuss the current state of the river. Others feel the river’s condition can harm the living creatures in Her, but not the Goddess herself. And lastly, there is a group of Hindus who believe She (the river) is a victim and must be protected. This group has been a part of the protests and show us that personification of nature can in some cases be a motivator for action to create a more healthy Earth.

Before I explore the benefits of calling the Earth our mother, it’s important to take a step back and ask: Is anthropomorphism always bad? I don’t think so; in fact it seems to be a natural tendency for humans. We often relate the knowable (human) to the unknowable (non-human) in order to better understand. This is why we narrate what our companion animals are thinking, yell at technology when it isn’t working properly, and exclaim how wonderful the birds sound when they “sing.” In the same way, referring to the Earth as our mother allows us to frame the complexity and unspeakable mystery of the universe into terms we can easily relate to. This bridge has the budding opportunity to lead to empathy and compassion.

The Earth is a living, conscious being and the personification of it can help people to see that. This is one reason why James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory was so influential for the scientific community and beyond. In the late 1960’s Lovelock developed the Gaia Theory, which stated the organic and inorganic elements of the Earth have developed together as a single, self-regulating, living system. This allowed people to connect the Earth to any living organism, such as the human body. It also showed how humans as a species are dramatically effecting the harmony of the Earth, but how we also have the potential to live in accordance with the Earth’s equilibrium because we are a naturally occurring part of it. The theory is named after Gaia, Earth Goddess, whom in Greek mythology is said to have given birth to the universe.

"The Gaia Hypothesis: The earth is more than just a home. It's a living system and we are a part of it."

With all the problems discussed in calling and experiencing the Earth our Mother, it has shown to also be a pragmatic tool to help the environment. There are countless nature-based schools, gardening and conscious living publications, vegan cafes, cruelty-free beauty brands, health food stores, and more all using the name “Mother Earth,” “Mother Nature,” or “Gaia,” which draw people closer to nature-based living.

But perhaps the greatest benefit from identifying the Earth as our mother is something that goes much deeper into our core understanding of our place in the world. When we identify the Earth as our Mother, there is a greater likelihood that we will create a connection that allows people to empathize with the Earth and her suffering, as they would with a member of their family. Viewing the Earth as a member of one’s family is a profound shift from the mainstream understanding of our relationship to the environment, and even different than the mainstream environmental thought. If the Earth is a part of our family, or better yet, we are a part of it and all that lives and grows upon it, how could we ever bring ourselves to harm it? To harm her is to harm ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh elaborates on shedding the common dualistic mindset when it comes to our perception of the Earth and ourselves in his book Love Letter to the Earth. Just as we are made up of our biological parents, we are also made up of the Earth:

We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.

He goes on to say that by realizing our interconnection with the Earth, and understanding it to be our Mother, we are bound to change the way we act for the better.

We too can see that the Earth is a living being and not an inanimate object. She is not inert matter. We often call our planet Mother Earth. Seeing the Earth as our mother helps us to realize her true nature. The Earth is not a person, yet she is indeed a mother who has given birth to millions of different species, including the human species.

But don’t think that Mother Earth is outside of you. Looking deeply you can find Mother Earth within you, just as your biological mother who gave birth to you is also within you. She is in each of your cells.

If we need to turn to anthropomorphic terms to feel this connection and subsequent care for the Earth, is that worth the baggage that comes along with feminizing and giving the Earth the role of our collective mother? Ideally, we would simply be at peace with the Earth as it is; with utter awe, reverence, and respect for its intrinsic value. Ideally, we would break free of the desire to relate everything back to human terms, as if the very essence of our species is the central tenet of what all else needs to be compared to. But we do not live in an ideal world. So I believe that in order to get one step closer to it, we can call, and more importantly feel, the Earth to be our Mother. Moving towards a more inclusive sense of family; towards an interconnected relationship with our human and non-human brothers and sisters, and with our Mother Earth.

References:

Conniff, Richard. “The Yamuna River: India’s Dying Goddess.” Environment: YALE Magazine. : The Journal of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Spring 2011. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Gaard, Greta Claire. Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993. 303-04. Print.

Haberman, David L. River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2006. Print.

Hạnh, Thich Nhất. Love Letter to The Earth. Berkley: Parallax, 2013. Print.

Lalobaloca. “Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge As A Brown Ecofeminista | Autostraddle.” Autostraddle. N.p., 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Sacchi, Simona, Paolo Riva, and Marco Brambilla. “When Mother Earth Rises Up: Anthropomorphizing Nature Reduces Support for Natural Disaster Victims.” Social Psychology 44.4 (2013): 271-77. American Psychological Association. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.


EveEve Wetlaufer is in her third year at New York University in the Gallatin Program, with an individualized major investigating the historical human orientation toward animals, spirituality, and the environment, with a minor in the Animal Studies Initiative. Eve also holds a certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. She has worked at several animal rescues, most recently Catskill Animal Sanctuary, as an Outreach and Education intern. She is also the loving companion to a rescued hound named Chrissy.

whyveganism.com

Sustainability If

Painting of two bluefin tuna surrounded by swirls of hundreds of little fish

By Lisa Kemmerer

All oppression creates a state of war.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

 

“Sustainability” refers to an “ability to endure across time.” In the environmental movement, “sustainability” statements always entail an unstated “if.” In this usage, a particular action is deemed unsustainable if we value and wish to protect and preserve certain aspect of the natural environment.  Certain actions/consumer options are considered sustainable if they do not cause worrisome environmental problems.  Environmentalists who note that our beef habit is unsustainable are really saying that our beef habit cannot be sustained if we are to preserve rainforests and freshwater, if we are to arrest dead zone growth and climate change.  In these instances it is readily apparent that sustainability rests on common shared moral commitments to protecting the environment on which we depend. In this context, if we were to make a full and complete statement with regard to sustainability, we might say:

  • Eating bluefin tuna is unsustainable if we intend to protect endangered species.
  • Eating cheese is unsustainable if we hope to arrest the spread of dead zones.
  • Eating shrimp is unsustainable if we value ocean ecosystems, including essential, fragile deep-sea reefs.

In each of the above cases the “if” is rarely stated, and what we are likely to hear or read would look or sound something like this:

  • Bluefin tuna is unsustainable.
  • Cheese is unsustainable.
  • Shrimp is unsustainable.

When we finish the sentence, stating clearly the unspoken but essential “if,” we realize that statements of environmental sustainability rest on a moral commitment to make selections that decrease, rather than increase, environmental degradation.  In short, we come to see that sustainability statements rest on commonly held moral values.  We also come to see that our responsibility as consumers is often omitted—the product is labeled “unsustainable.”

What is most interesting about the missing “if” in the environmental context is that reinserting this conjunction allows us to see that sustainability is the key not just to environmental justice, but to social justice more broadly. Sustainability can fruitfully be employed in any social justice context. Consider in these more diverse applications of the term:

  • It is unsustainable for racist police to brutalize Black civilians if we hope to arrest the spread of hatred and violence.
  • Forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term is unsustainable if we value self-determination.
  • Permitting only heterosexuals to enjoy the financial and social benefits of legal marriage is unsustainable of we intend to protect human rights.
  • If we are committed to an ethic whereby we value justice and protect the vulnerable from the exploitation of the powerful, eating chickens is unsustainable.

 

Landscape view of a cattle herd in a cleared rainforest area

Sustainability is not just about cycling and recycling, it is also about redistributing wealth, yielding wrongly-gained power to the disenfranchised, and protecting all who are vulnerable from the miseries of exploitation and oppression.  Unsustainable behaviors—racist, sexist, homophobic, speciesist, ableist, ageist, and consumer behaviors—ought to be avoided not only if we value clean water and forests, but also if we value justice and peace.

At the end of the day, these unsustainable behaviors are interconnected. For example industrial fishing is unsustainable not only because it harms ocean ecosystems, but also because it is unjust—industrial fishing harms indigenous communities dependent on depleted ecosystems for subsistence survival.  Industrial fishing is therefore unsustainable if we intend to protect the comparatively powerless—ocean ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and fish—from powerful corporate interests and their indifferent/uninformed consumers. Similarly, factory farming is unsustainable if we value rainforests, fresh water reserves, and the earth’s present climate, and also if we value worker’s rights, the protection of defenseless farmed animals, and the health of unsuspecting consumers who suffer from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and obesity because of animal products they consume. These practices are unsustainable if—but not only if—we intend to protect the natural environment from horrendous environmental degradation. They are also unsustainable if we value justice and peace—if we intend to protect the vulnerable, whether minorities, the disenfranchised, or other species.

 

Further Reading

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Defending the Defenseless: Speciesism, Animal Liberation, and Consistency in Applied Ethics.” Les Ateliers de l’éthique/The Ethics Forum 9:3 (2015).

Kemmerer, Lisa. “Ecofeminism: Women, Environment, Animals.” DEP: Deportate, Esuli, Profughe. Ca’ Foscari University of Venezia, Italy, 23 (2013).

Click here to download the introduction to Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices

Click here to download the introduction to Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice

 

KemmererDr. Kemmerer is a professor of Philosophy and Religion and a prolific author in animal ethics.  Her books include In Search of Consistency: Ethics and AnimalsAnimals and World ReligionsSister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice, Call to Compassion: Reflections on Animal AdvocacySpeaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Voices, and Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education. She is particularly interested in intersections of Nonhuman Animal advocacy and environmental advocacy in the spirit of Marti Kheel, as is evidenced in her 2015 publication Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice and her editorial work for the 2015 anthology Animals and the Environment: Advocacy, Activism, and the Quest for Common Ground.

 

Vegans, Procreation, and “Overpopulation”, Oh My…

Vegan overpopulation“There are definitely too many of you!”

If you spend enough time reading vegan blogs, websites, and social media, or if you frequently participate in vegan forums, you will inevitably encounter vegans making arguments against human procreation. Invariably these arguments are premised, at least in part, on the assumption that the world is overpopulated with humans and that the size of the human population is the primary driver of just about every ecological and social crisis we are facing today. Often the people making these arguments go even further, suggesting that there is no ecologically acceptable place on this planet for humans because humans are destructive and parasitical by nature. Some vegans will even go so far as to declare that procreation is decidedly not vegan because, given all these obvious problems caused by human overpopulation, the decision to add to the surplus of humans harms countless nonhuman animals.

These simplistic arguments – that “there’s too many people on earth, just look at all the destruction humans cause to the planet” and “obviously 7 billion humans is too many because that’s a really, really big number” – are typical among the vegan and non-vegan anti-procreationists/populationists, but if we examine them we can begin to see how they are deeply flawed and how they necessarily obscure much more than they reveal.

The truth is that most of us 7 billion humans are not endangering the planet; The primary drivers of environmental destruction, pollution, resource shortages, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, species extinction, climate change, and many other pressing problems often attributed to “too many people”, are, in reality, our unjust political and economic systems -controlled by a small minority of humans- and the military industrial complex that allows them to function and expand. The tragic irony of the blame-the-“breeder” position is that the vast majority of humans are actually the victims -not perpetrators- of this profoundly exploitative system in various ways.

We need to understand that our materials economy is designed to create an endless supply of “cheap” disposable stuff merely for profits gained by a small percentage of humans (think about the “1%” articulated by the Occupy Wall Street movement), and not for the needs and well-being of humans or other animals, for the health of our ecosystems, or to create sustainable and equitable social systems. Rampant ecological destruction that negatively affects the lives of many humans (particularly marginalized groups) and countless other animals is inherent in this infinite growth economic model, from the extraction of materials and resources, to the production, distribution, and disposal of all this stuff, much of which is intentionally designed to become obsolete after a very short period of time.

Additionally, it has been reported that the US Department of Defense is “responsible for the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet” and that “This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil”. Futhermore, “the Department of Defense … produc(es) more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined. Depleted uranium, petroleum, oil, pesticides, defoliant agents such as Agent Orange, and lead, along with vast amounts of radiation from weaponry produced, tested, and used, are just some of the pollutants with which the US military is contaminating the environment”. It should go without saying that the vast majority of people on this planet are not included in any decision making process within the US DoD.

Many people challenging anti-procreationist/populationist arguments often attempt to shift focus and blame onto individual consumption choices, and in some ways this also misses the point. According to Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff, 97.5% of solid waste in the United States comes from industrial operations, not household waste, and up to 97% of  all energy and material that goes into manufacturing products is simply wasted. This is not to say that individual consumption choices don’t matter, but clearly the vast majority of us have little or no immediate control over, or even any say in the decisions made that use the most resources, produce the most waste and pollution, and cause most ecological destruction.

Moreover, populationists often tend to overlook or ignore substantial inequalities, and thus disparate levels of consumption, even within rich nations. In reference to individual greenhouse gas emissions, David Satterthwaite writes that “…the lifetime contribution to GHG emissions of a person added to the world’s population varies by a factor of more than 1,000 depending on the circumstances into which they are born and their life choices…”

On top of all this, it’s downright silly for vegans, of all people, to argue that the planet is overpopulated with humans when it is estimated that “livestock” systems occupy nearly half (45%) of the global surface area. This is a true overpopulation problem for the planet: we breed billions of land animals into existence every year -roughly 8 times the human population- just to exploit and kill them for unnecessary purposes, misusing vital resources and causing widespread pollution and environmental catastrophe. Not to mention the many billions of aquatic animals unnecessarily killed every year, brutalizing our oceanic ecosystems.

Can we seriously maintain that the size of the human population (or even human existence), in and of itself, is the main driver of the destruction of our world? The issue of human “overpopulation” is, and historically has always been, a huge distraction.

Note that none of what I have mentioned above even addresses the fact that the human population is not currently exploding as many populationists claim. Rather, it is experiencing a global trend that will likely result in stabilization, if not decline, later this century. Nor did I address the inherent racism, classism, and misogyny in an argument that focuses blame on women’s bodies and on folks that still have rising populations: mainly poor people of color. Nor have I begun to address the history of the “too many people” position, or what groups of people have constructed these arguments to justify elitism, racial supremacy and oppression, or how overpopulation theory has beenand is currentlyput into horrifying practice.

If anything is “not vegan” or unethical, it’s attempting to shame fellow vegans (or anyone else) for their reproductive choices and relying on flimsy “overpopulation” arguments to validate one’s own shallow misanthropy. Now that’s a real shame, and we should not tolerate such nonsense if we are truly concerned about challenging oppression and promoting social justice…

By Lucas

You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog, Our Vegan Pregnancy.

This post was originally published by Our Vegan Pregnancy on January 8, 2013.