A Guaranteed Livable Income for Fostering Social-Ecological Justice

Marv Wheale

Climate upheaval, environmental devastation, poverty, male preeminence, white primacy, normative gender identity dominance, abled superiority and human supremacy all coexist with the prevailing mode of production and life – capitalism.  This system, invented by rich white men, categorically undermines animals’ and human animals’ lives through class divisions and interactions with the other stated hierarchies.  A revolutionary societal remaking is thereby required to end these oppressions and abolish the current top-down market economy.  

Economic inequality has denied people – particularly black, brown, queer and disabled  – a healthy ecosphere and an equitable share of global wealth.  These people live mainly in the global south (many in the northern countries too). They along with resource extraction have made enormous profits for foreign capital while receiving meager financial returns. The poor have contributed little on a per-capita and lower-class basis to climate disruption yet suffer most of the consequences.  

The upper classes consume and invest in the economy, the most, causing high carbon emissions. The cost of justice therefore should be borne by them, the primary polluters and beneficiaries, who lead the profit and growth-oriented hierarchical system.

Social-ecological restitution must also be directed at nonhuman animals used as commodified goods in the structure of production and consumption.  Their rights have been systemically violated and the crimes have added to biosphereic degradation.  

To realistically accomplish the purpose of system change we have to first take non-reform reform steps that don’t re-legitimize these overbearing institutions, like bland reforms do.

A Guaranteed Livable Income, regardless of employment or unemployment status, (also known as Universal Basic Income) is rapidly gaining social approval in dozens of countries. It could be a way of allocating the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, through taxation.  And it has the potential to reduce harm to nature.  There is already enough wealth in the world economy to meet everyone’s needs without more earth-damaging growth in economic output. 

A GLI would afford employees to work less, translating into lower emissions and pollution from decreased production.  Moreover, let’s not forget that numerous workers are being dislodged by capital’s use of robotic technology, especially artificial intelligence, making GLI adoption extra urgent.

To ensure the globalization of a GLI there would have to be a transference of wealth within and from affluent nations to poorer ones by way of tax justice and tax havens to advance the sustainability and equity goals of the impoverished.

Initially, to achieve major social-ecological improvement a GLI has to secure the basic needs of every person to fully participate in society.  Only then will people have the choice to reduce or withdraw from working in the disastrous compulsory capitalist model of production and its animal reproductive/slaughtering industries.  Our fear of financial insecurity and radical social change would be minimized, opening up time and creative energy for pursuing socially and ecologically sound production and lifestyles.  

If other than human animal liberation, grounded in veganism, is not included in the transformation then the democratic process is an exclusionary facade and environmental goals will be thwarted.

All the above is an impetus for the GLI movement, the animal rights movement, the ecology movement, the feminist movement, the LGBTQI+ movement, the antiracist/colonialist/capitalist movement and the disability movement to join forces to construct a world of equality for life’s beings.

Food Justice: A Primer

Food Justice: A Primer, edited by Saryta Rodríguez condenses a wide-angle view of ethical considerations surrounding the production and distribution of food into a concise collection of essays that is richly informative and thoroughly persuasive. This 239-page paperback covers a large range of topics, historical and contemporary. Each section is united by the common thread of undertaking the study “through a vegan praxis.” In other words, viewing non-human animals as deserving the same rights and dignity as people, when identifying the problematics of agriculture and proposing solutions. But this perspective should not be misunderstood as a narrowly defined scope through which to examine the topic. Rather, it is necessarily at the core of the issue and this book’s focus brings that reality to the forefront.

As the arguments put forward in each of the pieces show, food justice is not just about food; it is interconnected with many areas of life, such as how we work, our attitudes toward others, and how we perceive the world around us and affect it with our actions (or inactions). An essay by Lilia Trenkova draws bold parallels between racism as a driving force behind colonialism and neo-colonialism and speciesism—the idea that humans are superior to other animals and by extension, all manner of cruelty may be excused—as the widely unchallenged belief responsible for the inhumane treatment of animals, including their use as food. These parallels follow through their resulting effects on inequitable food supply. Just as the mercantile practices of colonial and neo-colonial countries squeeze the economies and drain resources from less developed countries, the (mis)use of land for animal agriculture significantly reduces the maximum amount of food that can be produced, and applies upward pressure on prices, thereby artificially limiting resources and increasing food costs. In another essay, Saryta Rodríguez points to data that show that cows used for beef consume twenty-five times more food than they produce. Conditions for farm workers are also netted in this equation of systemic superiority, as Trenkova dissects how racist attitudes baked into the North American Free Trade Agreement created second tier system, where laborers in Mexico and immigrants in the U.S. are not afforded the same basic rights that many American workers take for granted.

Land use is also addressed in other contexts throughout. The book’s introduction briefly describes some notable land rights campaigns including the formation of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in 1984 and Palestine’s Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in 1986. The UAWC is referenced as an example of a group that fights for food sovereignty, which is under the umbrella of food justice and pertains to a peoples’ ability to choose how their food is produced, distributed, and consumed. The MST is a movement that settled people to work on unused land and was able to make legal claims on much of that land through a part of Brazil’s constitution enshrining land as serving a public function.

Among the essays, the book also includes an interview by Saryta Rodríguez with Gustavo Oliviera, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm, which comprised of a couple hundred activist farmers who took over an unused plot of land belonging to the University of California, Berkeley that had been slated for commercial development. It is an inspiring story of grass-roots direct action that demonstrates that anyone can take part in effecting change.

Rodríguez aptly curates an enormous depth of information and perspective in this slim volume making for a well-paced read that is small enough to carry on the go. After reading this compelling compendium, one cannot ignore that achieving food justice depends on recognizing that animal agriculture is unsustainable. Therefore, the notion that a complete and internally consistent understanding of food justice has as much to do with issues of equitable supply and distribution as workers’ rights and animal rights should not be a revolutionary one.

Dale Classen is a Brooklyn-based musician and sound designer. Dale performs with the band Grim All Day and lives with two cats, Sonny and Toad. He graduated from Stony Brook University with a B.A. in psychology.

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.