Environmentalism, sentience and our need to do better
We use many ways of staying informed of the ongoing shenanigans of the world around us. Yet, the stories reported to us are seldom tales of good news.
We may view our world on a local, national or international level. But still, the news is more often than not something negative that has occurred.
Wars, austerity cuts by those in power, international tensions, murders, corruption. The list could go on. All these ingredients form the staple diet of the news media industry.
“Why can’t we all just get on?”
I get it that some people will pigeon-hole such world-views into the naive, hippy niche.
Stating the obvious, We understand why the world is the way it is.
We understand the components of today’s neo-capitalism; the bastard child of the industrial revolution.
What is now neo-capitalism has progressed from such modest yet unjust beginnings. I use the word progress in the context that it is only progress for capitalism. There is no discernable altruistic view from capitalism. A view that advocates for the benefit of the well-being of the many that inhabit this world.
The stout and stoic capitalists out there care little for environmental economics. From the same camp, they give little consideration to the preserving of what sparse natural resources we have left.
Superpower nations and international corporations run the world. Profit, status, and monopolisation drive their ambition.
New superpowers emerge and find themselves included in this unjustifiably perceived elitist group of nation-states. Some are members based solely on their ability to contribute considerably to the international marketplace. Whether they do this ethically, is of little concern to the other members of this collection of nations.
Some nations will go to great lengths to exploit sections of their populations to increase their export markets. Some of these nations are able to produce a staggering half a million phones a day in factory complexes. Such vast volumes of products feed the mass-consumerism that surrounds us. A by-product of today’s neo-capitalism.
The powers and influence of such nations are not used for the betterment of humanity.
Our so-called leaders are an entrenched part of our modern-day neo-capitalism.
So where did it all go wrong? Is capitalism to blame? And if it is, is there a plausible way back? I do not believe so.
I do not see coming, a solution on a global scale. A global solution would need a shared and committed new world view. Undertaken, practiced and lived by every single one of us.
I am a realist. This will never happen, not in the current climate of world politics.
So what do I suggest? What naive proposal am I putting forward to improve the world? My answer is the practice of kindness and compassion.
Easier said than done right? Of course, it is.
Let us look at the impact we as humans have had on the Earth. This is since we have evolved into a highly intelligent and advanced species.
An estimated 2.2 billion tons of waste is dumped in our oceans every single year?
It only took us 55 years to wipe out 90% of the ocean’s predators. In turn causing a disruption of the marine ecosystem?
In just one generation, our production of man-made chemicals increased by 40,000% — from 1 million to 400 million tons?
In the last 200 years, we have added 2.3 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? Half of this amount was added in the last 30–35 years.
Energy & Climate
The Earth’s supply of oil will run out in 34 years.
This year so far, we have used more than 23 million terajoules of electricity
Globally, right now only 3.7% of renewable energy is being used.
So far this year more than one trillion terajoules of solar energy have struck the Earth.
Food & Beverages
So far this year 97 million tons of meat has been eaten by us humans.
Over 626 million tons of water have been used so far this year in the production of meat.
Considering the famine in certain parts of the world, we have so far this year lost or wasted 220 million tons of food.
(All statistics were taken from The World Counts website.)
Many of the world’s biggest corporations are now taking on board and practicing a sense of corporate social responsibility.
On the one hand, this is a positive change. But is it not a case of too little, too late when faced with the above statistics? I would argue yes, it is. So what can we all do on a much smaller scale? What can we all do within our respective communities?
Start by asking yourself one question. “Do I consider myself a kind and compassionate person?”
If the answer is no, goodbye. If the answer is yes, then you must also believe in equality, right? Equality for all. Anything less is inequality.
Equality, kindness and compassion are innate human behaviours. Most of us believe in attributes such as equality, kindness and compassion. But do we reflect and consider if we are implementing them for the betterment of the world around us?
Such traits and behaviours should not be difficult for us to undertake. We exhibit them every day, in some shape or form. Yet, they are rarely acknowledged in the right context.
Let us widen our scope of equality, kindness and compassion further. Lets not include just us humans, but let us include all sentient beings.
Sentience is defined as the capacity to perceive, feel or experience subjectively. So by definition, the inclusion of sentient beings equates to the inclusion of animals. Why wouldn’t it? We are talking about equality? So why should we restrict the boundaries of equality to only include one sentient species? Namely us humans. Any exclusion is simply not equality.
Many western cultures are known for being animal lovers. Particularly the most popular of domesticated animals, the cat and dog.
Many of us that are dog owners value the relationship and bond that we have with our pet. We protect them, provide them with love, shelter and food. In return, they give us love and companionship. It is a reciprocal relationship. There is a transactional exchange of the meeting of needs, as in any relationship. But we form loving bonds with animals that are our pets.
The pig is the 4th most intelligent animal on Earth. And yet our mistreatment of this species is abhorrent. In stark contrast to the social expectations of how we treat domesticated animals.
This is what I am not proposing. That the higher the level of intelligence of a species results in a higher level of respect from or protection from harm by humans.
The pig reference allows the discussion of why we treat one or two species of animals with love and respect. Yet we abuse and exploit others. In the most horrifying of circumstances for financial gain and a ‘pleasurable meal.’
How can we label such abusive behaviours towards certain species within the meat and dairy industry as being equal, kind and compassionate?
Are we justified in reserving equality, kindness and compassion? To humans and domestic animals only? I would argue no.
Even if you are not convinced by my moral argument, please consider the following.
If the world went vegan, it could save 8 million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (source).
A 2019 Harvard University report found the UK would be able to sustain itself with enough calories and protein if it returned meat, dairy and egg farms back to forest and grew health-promoting crops for human consumption in place of feed currently grown for animals (source).
A 2018 Oxford University study — which is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet — found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’ as animal farming provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of our farmland (source).
A 2018 Greenpeace report found that “global meat and dairy production and consumption must be cut in half by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change and keep the Paris Agreement on track. If left unchecked, agriculture is projected to produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of which will come from meat and dairy” (source).
A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production (source).
There are many elements of our modern lifestyles that are not sustainable. Such as meat eating, the production of waste, the misuse of natural resources. And the lack of harnessing of natural sources of energy is not sustainable. This argument is underpinned by the above statistics.
I am not proposing that each of us are all responsible for every case of misuse and maltreatment of our planet. Both its ecosystems and animals.
But, what if as many of us as possible chose to have as little contribution to this abuse and exploitation?
We could do it for the animals if we wish. Or we could do it for the planet. We could do it for health reasons.
Or, we could do it because it is the most equal, kind and compassionate way to treat our home. And all the other species that we share this beautiful planet with.
Originally published in Medium publication ‘The Ascent‘ 04/06/19.