Archive for February, 2011
Comparison of water use
Original source: http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Report12.pdf
Worldwatch Institute study
In this study factory farms account for 51% greenhouse gas emissions, globally.
United Nations endorsed study – “Livestock’s Long Shadow”
In this study factory farms account for 18% greenhouse gas emissions, globally.
Of the two studies — Worldwatch and U.N. — the U.N. study is more widely accepted.
A Facebook discussion on animals and climate change …
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
The climate change and “food justice” activists who eat meat, knowing that it causes global warming, are like chainsmokers protesting cancer. There is now an environment movement around sustainable food which will not even bring up the elimination or reduction of meat from diets as an issue. They say “you can’t tell people what to do.” I say “you can educate, and you can live by example.”
I agree Paul and David Suzuki is a culprit.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
A new group, Green Education Council, will not even discuss it. This is what upset me a little. Virtually the entire climate change and food justice movements have chosen not to discuss it. It’s not on the table. They plan to tackle climate change and food issues but will not bring up the number one cause of climate change and food injustice in the world. It’s astounding. The emperor is wearing no clothes.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
Suzuki is not alone; there are literally millions of people concerned with climate change and food issues who are deliberately staying silent on this issue. Millions. Entire movements of people.
David Suzuki told people to reduce meet from their diets, I heard him say that in a talk in Halifax a decade ago.
Perhaps but he does not advocate veganism at all.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
That is true, I heard this too. It was part of the Suzuki challenge: do not eat meat once a week (same as McCartney’s Meat Free Monday). So he is off the hook. I think the criticism is that he eats fish. Most of the environmental NGOs don’t even talk about it, though. What really irks me is the local food and food justice movements.
If he advocated veganism in a stronger manner he would have a huge influence. I can’t help feeling he’s politically motivated. He’s a disappointment to me anyway.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
18% to 51% of all greenhouse gases caused by factory farms, depending on your source, massive water consumption, massive water contamination, massive waste of arable land for growing grain for feed, massive pesticide use, endless needless suffering of billions of animals the scale of what’s happening is just off the map. To not even discuss it, to pretend that it’s not even an issue, is mind-boggling. I am just astounded that millions of people can claim to care about the environment and about social justice and ignore of the most easily preventable causes of environmental destruction and social injustice on earth. It makes me despair of any chance that humanity will redeem itself, when the supposed vanguard of the movement to reform us is itself ethically blind.
I doubt we will ever reform, and then when we’re almost wiped out we’ll start again, memory loss intact.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
A vegan diet is 7x as effective at reducing GHGs as a meat-eater’s diet.
What’s the problem with these “green” organisations then? WHY are they being reticent about the truth and hesitating, which is so detrimental to our future? There’s something very deep and very wierd going on.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
About 1.5 yrs ago I would have agreed with you that we’ll start over again, but that was before I became aware of Hansen’s Venus Syndrome theory. Basically, if we burn all the coal, oil and gas there is – and it looks like we will – and if this is enough to releae the huge underwater methan pockets – which it could – then the computer modelling Hansen did shows that the global temperatures go up and up and up until nothing living can exist on earth anymore. It is an inferno, like Venus. There is no second awakening of life, in this scenario: all life is eradicated on this particular planet forever.
“They say “‘you can’t tell people what to do.’” If that’s what they really think, then why does the group even exist? Do they never make recommendations to anyone on what to do? Do they never advocate a position that would require action on someone’s part? What a ridiculous argument. Just to remove any doubt about what I’m saying. I mean what a ridiculous argument on THEIR part.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
This was a conversation I had with my roommate, who started the Green Education Council. He is a meat-eater. He was the one who said “you can’t tell people what to do.” His position on this is typical. Millions and millions of environmenta, global warming and food justice activists feel the same way. Entire movements of people who absolutely refuse to discuss it or who, if they do discuss it, do not so sincerely, but dismiss the issue — and yet at 18% it is the single largest industrial industry for causing greenhouse gases, ahead of transportation and building. Silence.
Other groups that have failed on this front:
- Green Party of Ontario
- World Wildlife Federationl
- Toronto Climate Campaign
- Climate Action Network
- Stop Community Food Centrel
- Toronto Food Policy Council
- Science for Peace
- University of Toronto Students Union
- Greenpeace Canada
These are just a few. There are literaly tens of thousands of such groups and organizations focused on food and climate change and environment that have failed. Millions of people. And against that a relative handful of animal rights activists and serious environmentalists not afraid to tell the truth. That’s what I see happening.
So totally in agreement with you!!! Well said!
Again, your criticisms are valid for all industrial agriculture, whether plant or animal based. I would again remind you, as a practicing farmer, building on 10,000 years of sordid history, that plant based arable agriculture is not sustainable. Bring any FAO suit into a room full of farmers and they will tell him this is so. Why do you continue with these useless figures from feedlots. It is as though you are condemning sex because some people have been sexually abused. I am not condoning people eating meat as such, but again, on enviornmental grounds animals are not a problem but an asset. These groups likely don’t discuss it because a qualified discussion requires greater expertise than they have or appreciate that it is more complex than a sound bite allows.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
While it is true that any agriculture destroys wilderness lands, locally growing plants for human consumption is the least harmful in this respect, and in terms of global warming and water use. Of the four options we are talking about here: industrial animal agriculture, industrial agriculture for growth of plants for human consumption, local animal agriculture and local agriculture for growth of plants for human consumption, the last one is the most environmentally friendly.
George Wuerthner provides a lot of evidence for the argument that grass-fed cows are more environmentally destructive than feedlot cows in some important respects. As for plant agriculture the ideal for minium impact is locally grown organic food.
Some good excerpts from this article:
“Just because raising cows in factory farms on grains is bad for the Earth, does not mean that cows grazing on pasture or hay are better for the Earth. Indeed, as a generalization, almost all the negatives associated with Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) exist with grass-fed beef.”
On GHGs …
“Researcher, Nathan Pelletier of Nova Scotia has found that GHG are 50 percent higher in grass-fed beef. If somehow magically we could convert all factory grown cattle to free range grass-fed animals, our global warming situation would be greatly accelerated.”
Soil compaction …
“Beyond the GHG issue, free ranging cattle present other problems that CAFO raised animals do not. For instance, one of the major consequences of having cattle roaming the range is soil compaction. There’s not a single study that demonstrates that having a thousand pound cow trample soil is good for the land. Soil compaction reduces water penetration, creating more run-off and erosion. Because water cannot percolate into the soil easily, soil compaction from cattle creates more arid conditions—a significant problem in the already arid West, but also an issue in the East since the soils are often moister for a longer period of time.”
“Every blade of grass going into a cow’s belly is that much less forage for native animals, from grasshoppers to elk.”
[one thinks also of deforestation for cattle grazing land]
I think the case against Suzuki or any high-profile environmentalist who is not a vegan (Al Gore, Elizabeth May, George Monbiot, and others) is that they know the environmental costs and ethical arguments against eating animals and do so anyway, out of self-interest, but they are taken to task for doing this because they are — in the minds of many people — supposed to represent the hightest ethical standards.
They are ethical archetypes, role-models, and if they can succumb to self-interest, by meat-eating, living in big houses, frequent flying, and driving SUVs, then why should anyone listen to what they have to say? This is not take away from what they have done, but it is a sticking point for many people. Suzuki, for instance, says that he eats fish because he’s Japanese; the cultural argument is a poor one, always, since it can also be used to justify slavery or genital mutilation, and since he writes about the perils of overfishing.
But his point of view is consistently not about the harm that is done other animals, but about the environmental costs — and one has to wonder what the point of saving the environment is, if it is not for the benefit of the creatures that inhabit the Earth. It is only for the benefit of human beings? Or does water and rocks and air have some inherent value but animals do not? My guess is that Suzuki has never given a great deal of thought to the eating of animals — that is, what it means for them — or he would not do it or give a cultural excuse.
As for Gore and Monbiot I admire what they’ve done, but I also know that on a personal level, there is more they could do, at least with respect to leading by example in terms of diet. Both have been very weak on this point.
We eat meat and dairy for one reason: Worldwide industrial Capitalist lobbying. In the states we CANNOT defeat the meat and dairy lobbyists–however, that is nor the root of the problem since every industrialized leader (presidents, prime ministers, etc.) take their marching orders from the international business complex. I majored in Economics and I know this has been going on for well over 50 years. So my friends, if we want to eliminate animal abuse, global warming, starvation, we must start with the root–WORLDWIDE INDUSTRIALIZED CAPITALIST COMPLEX.
Hey Paul – keep pushing the envelope on this. I was thinking about it last night, and how to do more education on the animal side of the food system. Most of the environmental movement has disregarded food entirely, except for some foray into GMOs and “local”.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
Thank you Darcy! I would like to collaborate with you on figuring out how to present this in a palatable way. The original comment above was just an expression of frustration on my part because Pieter, my roommate — whom you know — and I discussed his Green Education Council, which is working on food isses, and he admitted that he has no intention of bringing up the idea of reducing meat consumption, for political reasons.
Again, I was just astounded that entire movements on sustainable food could be formed which fail to address this fundamental point, and take the arguments for grass-fed beef at face value, without addressing the methane issue. So my comments above seem judgmental, but they are just frustration at the veil of silence. I would like to open the discussion, and have conversations about it. Funny part is that Pieter, in his defense, invoked your name and said Darcy Higgins is doing work on food issues — as though to validate his (Pieter’s) own position on it. I love Pieter as a friend, but we have this argument occasionally. Thank you for the comment above. Much appreciated.
Independent groups who have studied the issue, such as the UN, Worldwatch Institute, Pew Charitable Trust, Carnegie-Mellon, and others have all come to the same conclusion: We must significantly curtail our consumption of meat – and animal products generally – so that we can use fewer resources, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and feed more people.
At current levels of demand for animal products, factory farms are practically a given. The amount of grain, water, fertilizer, and other resources required to support the raising and killing of billions of animals is phenomenal. Most of the grain and half the water in the US is used for livestock. The amount of land needed to grow plant-based food directly for people is much less – this is what virtually every independent study shows. And no, it’s not a question of “we can only grow livestock feed on this land.” In fact, much land would probably be able to revert back to much-needed wilderness if everyone sharply reduced their meat and dairy intake.
If meat and dairy production at current levels were to all be truly “free range” – a highy unlikely scenario – the amount of land used would be devastating, as would the displacement of native flora and fauna. Lynn Jacobs in “Waste of The West” has thoroughly documented the decrease in biodiversity in the Western US when land is used for grazing. The UN and Wordwatch Institute have identified meat production as one of the top causes of all major forms of environmental destruction. The writing’s all over the wall.
Enviromentalists avoid talking about going vegan or even sharply reducing meat intake because they like it too much, don’t want to give up that privilege, don’t want to incriminate themselves, and have irrational fears about a meatless diet. I see this ALL THE TIME when I do vegan outreach. I talk to a ton of people who are involved in environmental action, and their defense mechanisms about their meat-eating are like everyone else’s.
Yes, it’s a complicated subject, but environmental groups takcle plenty of complicated subjets, and the main conclusion actually can be encapsulated in a sound byte: Eat less meat.
And just to give context, the environmental costs of eating animals are in addition to the widespread moral crimes in animal agriculture: breeding animals to grossly overproduce flesh, milk and eggs; denying them a mother or separating them from their mothers far too early; confining animals; amputating animals’ body parts without any painkillers; transporting animals long distances in cramped, hot or freezing cold conditions; brutally killing animals, mostly at very young ages, in slaiughterhouses in which repeatedly we discover extreme suffering and gratutious abuse – basically creating animals just to abuse and kill them as soon as possble, for maximum profit. This is morally repugnant and should compel us to find more peaceful alternatives as quickly as possible – and the most straightforward way to do this is to quit eating them.
Gore and othes have done plenty to raise environmental awareness. I’ve praised them and so have many other, for years. But right now we’re identifying key failures. We can’t always be giving accolades; sometimes we need to constructively criticize if there is a massive problem and solutions are being ignored.
I appreciate your frustration, and also glad you can keep good friendship and still have these arguments. I think education and more options for reduced animal diets are always a good start. TVA [Toronto Vegetarian Association] works on this. Food Forward could be. What I haven’t really figured out is how to bring less animal-based food into any sort of policy framework at different levels. I wonder if this has been considered in other places. I think everyone working on all these issues at least ‘understands’ that we must reduce animal consumption for environmental reasons.
The policy is harder because of this ‘choice’ thing. And to be honest there hasn’t even been much policy and advocacy success even in simply creating more humane animal standards for factory farms. That might be a policy start on the animal welfare side – though not specifically “animal rights” or climate change.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
This is a very good discussion, because I am seeing entrenched positions on both sides, and collaborative / bridging positions being taken. This illustrates the variety of positions.
I am for a collaborative discussion taking place across multiple movements. One of the complexities I’ve noted in recent years is that the climate change and food movements are largely not biocentric, despite the widespread impression that they are all environmentalist.
In fact, most people in them think anthropocentrically — that is, they are human-centered in their approach. Even if they are not, they pragmatically tailor the messaging to be anthropocentric, believing that altruistic or biocentric messaging won’t sell.
Appealing to individual or collective self-interest to sell an idea in the marketplace of ideas is a certain approach, but I think the wrong one when we’re talking about climate change, because that is the penultimate issue for moving us beyond our narrow interests to a wider understanding of life, one that includes others — whether they be future generations, poor people in developing nations or animals (wild and domestic).
If we cannot move beyond some sort of collective self-interst towards a true moral concern for others then our species is beyond redemption. But I don’t think it is. We still have the opportunity to rise above this narcisstic culture; it’s not just about “solving” climate change for the sake of survival; this crisis presents us with an opportunity to become more human by learning to care about and take responsibility for non-humanity.
While I may not bring up “animal rights” per se, I’ve found that I usually get agreement from people of all stripes about the cruelty in factory farms, and that they’re generaly receptive to learning about some vegan foods that can help reduce their dependency on meat and dairy in their diet. If I can offer them some food, that is often powerful; it helps melt away misperceptions about taste and enjoyment of foods made without animal ingredients.
I appreciate people working to craft policy changes and agree that that’s important, but don’t underestimate the power of working the problem from the consumer demand side. It’s something that can be done on weekends and on a relatively small budget – VegFund.org will fund many vegan food outreach events. Industries will fight regulations with everything they’ve got but will be highly responsive to shifts in demand.
@ Gloria. I would point out that, in northern climbs, man has always eaten animals.
Without agriculture, which for better or worse is relatively recent, there is nothing else to eat much of the year, so the issue of whether we should or shouldn’t is fairly recent. The notion that capitalism is the sole cause of modern consumption is odd at best, given it predates said system.
I read the Weurthner article and, like the previous article your recommended last week he totally ignores the carbon offset provided by carbon storage in the soil. He makes the usual references to GHG emissions (UN) but fails to consider the emissions caused by ploughing the fields to produce grain, regardless of whether it is fed to animals of people.
The notion that animals ranging on grass cause soil compaction is rubbish. Did the great herds of bison compact the once 12′ deep soils of the Great Plaines? They built them, fixing carbon from the air. Ploughing has reduced these soils to less than a foot in little over a hundred years. Try sustaining that for another generation. I have yet to find the Pelletier article but I will look.
Remember, the UN FAO and their like may know what I am telling you about the biology of soils but they are not in the business of undermining industrial perspectives. An industrial plant based diet serves them just as well as any other industrial diet. The last thing they want is for you to look elsewhere for solutions.
Find anyone in this electronic debate, or anyone in the articles you’ve quoted, and see if there is one farmer who is honest and cares, and I will debate him on these points. I would love to be wrong.
I am working on perennial plant based systems, permaculture if you will, but the most productive of these is grass, and only animals can eat it.
Studies from Carnegie Mellon et al have shown that it is more efficient to import vegan food than to eat meat. We don’t have the transportation constraints of the past.
Much of that ploughing is feed crops for livestock.
Half the water in the US goes to animal agriculture. And the exrement from industrial hog, chicken, beef cattle, and dairy farms – a result of demand for meat and dairy – is choking the diminishing amount of water we have left. Water is our most precious resource.
Bison are suited for the great plains; cattle are not. Their hooves, waste, habits, and diet are different and they do indeed wreak havoc on the ecosystems into which they’re imported. They’re an invasive species. Waste of the West thoroughly documentats this, and much of the info comes from government sources, which are biased in favor of meat and dairy.
I’m vegan for ethical reasons first, environmental reasons second, and health reasons third.
I support efforts to improve permaculture, vertical farming, veganic farming. Not just in theory but with my dollars to the extent I can. Let’s build a sustainable, peacefu future. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
I will check the study you mention. A reference would be appreciated.
The fact that cattle are fed much of the produce of ploughing does not make ploughing for people any more sustainable. Raising animal protein on human grade food is foolish and inefficient. Traditionally farmers raised only enough non-grass eaters as waste from their farm would support. Pigs and chickens only to consume waste products.
Excrement is not waste, it is vital to fertility. Referring to it as waste either means you don’t know its potential or their is more profit in handling it incorrectly. That industry seeks short term profit elsewhere is because they can.
Animals are part of our biology. They do not waste water, they cycle it. If the result is toxic, natures rules are being ignored. People talk of water as if it disappears. Where do they think it goes? All industries will poison water because they can profit from doing so. Concentrated cattle in feedlots produce run off, on grass they do not.
I will check Waste of the West. The grain you eat today is largely the result of fertility they built.
Traditional breeds of cattle have a synergistic relationship with grasslands as do bison. They evolved together. Their confirmation is little different. I have no doubt they could damage an environment into which they were not native. Who was suggesting that?
My ethics require that I not see these relationships in isolation.
Trashing the earth because I shun my roll out of fear is not helpful.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
Re: northern climes: man has always raped and murdered too. The fact that we have always done something, or that it is considered ‘natural’ doesn’t make it right.
Eating animals is a moral issue, above all. If it’s unnecessary to do so, we ought not to do so, for the same reason that we ought not to rape and murder: it’s wrong to harm others. Now, if we live in a post-carbon world, in which commerce is relegated to the local, and there is not enough plant food for all, would it be necessary?
One could argue that in an extreme climate, like the far north, that it would be for, for subsistence, perhaps — but how many people live in the far north, on a susbsistence diet at present? A few thousand.
With our ingenuity and creativity and know-how, Europeans and Canadians and Russians are entirely capable of creating a local plant-based agriculture that is sufficient for all, I believe.
The problem is that there is no interest in doing so because human being have infinite power over animals and this affects their moral judgement: absolute power corrupts.
I’ll get the Carnegie-Mellon reference.
Every study I’ve read concludes that it requires less land to feed Western citizens a vegan diet instead of a meat and dairy-centered diet. So – less ploughing, more sustainable.
Waste is a common term, not mine. The problem is the amount and the concentratons. Are you not familiar with the myriad pollution and health problems from factory farm runoff? And then there is the e coli that spreads to spinach from upstream feedlots. Even when chicken manure from the Delmarva Peninsula is used in crops, there is far too much of it.
Concentrated animal feeding operations are practically inevitable at today’s demand. And it is unlikely that we will disperse the billions of animal in factory farms to true free-range operations.
It’s a fantasy to talk about getting rid of factory farms without a sharp decrease in condumption of animal products. Huge amounts of fish are also used as animal feed, which is contributing to depletion of fish populations.
No cows are native to the US so I guess we agree at least roughly on their negative evironmental impact when brought here. For instance, cows’ eating habits are much different than those of bison. They eat tree saplings, leaves, and twigs which promotes desertiifcation and decreases bird habitat. I could go on and on.
I fully agree that one should try to discern relationships and view things holistically to connect the dots. Drug companies sell more antibiotics to livestock than to humans, fueling the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Grain fed to cattle makes their stomachs more alkaliine which promotes novel types of bacteria including new strains of e coli. The oldest known word for war has to do with cattle. Cattle and chattel have the same root. Foraging cultures tend to be more peaceful than herding cultures. Veal – a horrid practice – is a byproduct of dairy. Diabetes is rare among vegans.
Cheese consumption jumped amost a thousand percent over the last century and animal protein in relative dollars has never been cheaper. Government subsidies and lack of animal welfare laws – a result of meat and dairy lobbying – makes a hamburger more expensive than a salad.
Diabetes is at an all time high. Only a quarter of Americans eat the minimum recommended servings of vegetables each day. When there’s a report of e coli in spinach, all spinach is removed from the shelves; when there’s a report of e coli in hamburger, that doesn’t happen. Michael Pollan, who loves meat and seems to despise vegetarianism, explains: the hamburger lobby is stronger.
The Orwellian-named “Willdlife Services” government agency kills dozens of species of willife at the behest of ranchers. They use poisons, aerial gunning, and the hideous practice of setting fire to dens with pups in them. The negative impacts from animal agriculture spread far and wide.
Paul AndBaby York-Vegan
The argument over these issues arises because ethical veganism attacks well-entrenched cultural habits, upon which many people base their identities and incomes, and because the victims themselves are not capable of objecting to subjugation in a language that those in power understand or respect. Cows, for example, are just regarded as chattel, property, and it has always been thus.
It is such a deep-seated cultural practice to regard them as property, as mere things to be used, that suggesting otherwise is viewed as a threat, as an attack, and ethical veganism is often scapegoated as unrealistic, self-righteous, mistaken, insane, racist, etc.
I am certain that if laws were passed against animal agriuculture that there would be a widespread revolt against it, even though CAFOs are ruining the life systems of Earth. The best that governments can do is suggest a reduction in meat-consumption.
The idea of eliminating it one day per week has been around at least since WWII, when they had “meat-free Tuesdays” – for rationing purposes. Now McCartney advances “meat-free Mondays” and some European cities have advocated that, and China is considering it as well. The IPCC chairman promotes that as well.
As oil prices rise and water becomes scarcer, meat and dairy consumption will decrease dramatically, until eventually it is only for the rich. That is where our society is headed. Ethical veganism wish to get a head start on that. They are not wrong for doing so. Ultimately it is best thing for human societies.
Paul York AndBabyVegan
The following article verifies that grass-fed cows produce four times more methane than feedlot cows.
Journal of Animal Science, Vol 77, Issue 6 1392-1401, Copyright © 1999 by American Society of Animal Science
Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle
L. A. Harper, O. T. Denmead, J. R. Freney and F. M. Byers
Southern Piedmont Conservation Research Unit, JPCSNRCC-USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Watkinsville, GA 30677, USA. email@example.com
Methane (CH4) emissions from animals represent a significant contribution to anthropogenically produced radiatively active trace gases. Global and national CH4 budgets currently use predictive models based on emission data from laboratory experiments to estimate the magnitude of the animal source. This paper presents a method for measuring CH4 from animals under undisturbed field conditions and examines the performance of common models used to simulate field conditions. A micrometeorological mass difference technique was developed to measure CH4 production by cattle in pasture and feedlot conditions. Measurements were made continuously under field conditions, semiautomatically for several days, and the technique was virtually nonintrusive. The method permits a relatively large number of cattle to be sampled. Limitations include light winds (less than approximately 2 m/s), rapid wind direction changes, and high-precision CH4 gas concentration measurement. Methane production showed a marked periodicity, with greater emissions during periods of rumination as opposed to grazing. When the cattle were grazed on pasture, they produced .23 kg CH4 x animal(-1) x d(-1), which corresponded to the conversion of 7.7 to 8.4% of gross energy into CH4. When the same cattle were fed a highly digestible, high-grain diet, they produced .07 kg CH4 x animal(-1) x d(-1), corresponding to a conversion of only 1.9 to 2.2% of the feed energy to CH4. These measurements clearly document higher CH4 production (about four times) for cattle receiving low-quality, high-fiber diets than for cattle fed high-grain diets. The mass difference method provides a useful tool for “undisturbed” measurements on the influence of feedstuffs and nutritional management practices on CH4 production from animals and for developing improved management practice for enhanced environmental quality.
I recently gave a speech on climate change to students. It was inadequate insofar as I could not leave them with a despairing assessment of the situation (that we are headed towards almost certain disaster), but nor could I promise a false hope that all will be well (when I know it will not), so I wavered somewhere between the two.
The same answers I present below, with regard to climate change, also applies to animal rights, as I will explain.
However, perhaps what I should have done, in retrospect, was explain the deontological and non-consequentialist position, which locates meaning in the virtue of actions regardless of the outcome. I did not do so as I was still working it out in my mind. Deontology is just a fancy word for an ethics based on rules one gives oneself in order to conform to some absolute sense of right and wrong. This is what I’ve come to so far:
Two good illustrations of the deontological philosophy are the Parable of the Widow’s Mite (in the Gospels) and the choice of the conscientous objector in war not to kill, despite the fact that war entails killing everywhere one turns.
To explain: the parable locates meaning in the purity of the intention of action, not in the consequence of the action. The purity of the will, intentionality, matters, not the end result. So too with war resisters: they cannot stop the war, but they refrain from causing harm themselves, which is meaningful to them. In the same way way, we can say that murders occur every second of the day, but we do not commit themselves ourselves, as it is morally wrong to do so. I will not stop all murders from happening, but I will not cause any more to occur either. This matters.
Saving a few still counts
Another good example is the famous story of saving starfish on the beach, the less on which is that one cannot save them all, but for the ones that are saved, that means the whole world to them. A boy who is throwing them back says as much to the man who questions his actions. Schindler’s list also comes to mind: not all were saved, but it meant everything for those who were. Schindler’s actions were ultimately meanginful. In the same way, even if we don’t stop global warming our efforts, trying to do so still count. Another way of looking at it: it is not the length of one’s life that matters, but the meaningfulness of it, the degree to which one does one’s duty, trying to be a good person, to do good in the world. Good, in this sense, simply means not harming others, and respecting them.
A more consquentialist view of the worst case scenarios of climate change will lead some people to unethical shortcuts (e.g. nuclear energy, which produces radioactive waste), or “the last man standing” hoarding mentality (kill everyone, save yourself), or hedonism (dance band on the deck of the Titanic), and lastly despair and cynicism and hopelessness. All are ethical pitfalls to be avoided.
In the animal rights sphere of thought and action, short cuts could be violent solutions to the crisis. This is very controversial becaue not all animal rights activists agree on tactics or what is “violent” or “non-violent” — but I think it’s safe to say that killing a human being is violent. Resucing animals is not. Burning down property is debatable, if no sentient being is hurt in the process — but many people would say it is violent. Again, this has been debated, so I won’t get into it here.
Death with dignity
In previous centuries, prior to modern hospitals, people died at home and were attended to by their families and loved ones. Death was a meaningful ritual, not something to be feared and shunned and avoided. There was dignity in death. If our civilization is to end, eventually, this is an attitude that we might adopt, as a society, in case the worst case scenario of climate change comes to pass and the world is plunged into chaos and war and privation from which we will never emerge. This will come later for Canada than other places, but even the fact that it has started in other places, should be of concern to us if we view the fate of humanity and other species as being of importance.
With regard to animals: we cannot save them all. We know that. But we also know that saving those we can does matter. The effort has moral value.
Mitigation and adaptation
One way of articulating this is through the idea of duty. One has a duty to try to change things for the better, for the whole of Creation, for at least as long as the opportunity exists. That is the duty of mitigation, to try to stop global warming from happening, or slow it down. One has a second duty to one’s immediate kin and community, which is the duty of adaptation, which is trying to survive the coming negative effects of global warming.
These duties do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe they are complimentary. Global mitigation efforts and local adaptation efforts can be consistent with one another, if one’s efforts at adaptation are just and sufficiently sustainable. I believe this is a practical prescription reflecting a deontolgoical, and also universally inclusive religious worldview. At least, this is how I intend to proceed, for now, in my own life.
Local food movement
I think others feel the same way and that is why a local food movement is forming right now. The food movement appears to be the strongest vehicle for collective community transformation, at a local level right now. It is many local movements all over the globe. Articulating a vision for the food movement is important, as Wendell Berry tries to do in “Bringing it to the Table.”
The food movement needs to include a discussion of and acknowledgement of animal rights. They are part of this. They must not be relegated to the status of things, of food or food producers for humans. Their lives matter to them, so they should also matter to us.
Animal matter, individuals matter
Bringing animal rights to the food movement is important, so that all Earthlings are included, and it does not become another exercise in human arrogance and speciesism — worldviews which are in large part responsible for the climate crisis. All of Creation must be included in any ethical response to the crisis, for the response to have moral worth.
If it is only about some species (or one species) and not the majority, it has no moral worth. Individual rights are important too: if it’s only about a group, a collective, and individuals are sacrificed when they need not be (following a utilitarian ethics), that solution also has no moral worth.
A solution which is universally inclusive, and takes into consideration the well-being of all species and all individuals in all species has the greatest moral value.