"This Is Hope" is a crossover book for self-identified environmentalists, species rights advocates, vegans and vegetarians, those dedicated to true sustainability, fish and wildlife "management" professionals, students of deep ecology, and those who want to know the biocentric solutions for our dietary, consumer, and reproductive choices.
Will’s Blog

Deep Vegans – Part 1

Tropical rain forest. Whatever our initial reasons for stepping onto the vegetarian or vegan pathway, we must quickly grow into a broader and deeper understanding of how important Veganism is to the future of all life on Earth. For some, like me, Veganism is a product of my past, less informed vegetarianism. I saw that my food choices were not just about relationships with family, friends, and social sharing. It also was about my relationships with individuals from other species, ecosystems, and the impoverished half of humanity. I saw animal agriculture outbid the poor for grains sold on the global market and the terrible toll on humanity that it caused. Once we look more deeply and learn about the connections between our food choices and the rest of the world, our vegan choice is reinforced over and over as practical and moral issues. We understand the pain, suffering, destruction, and injustice we would cause people and other species if we were to return to carnism.

The CITES conference that opened earlier this year in Bangkok, Thailand is an example of the Vegan imperative. CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The fates of many species and individuals from those species are deliberated in this forum, not often effectively. CITES, like many international institutions, is no match for unsustainable, cruel human behavior. But the conference hasn’t been pressed by vegans advocating the ecological benefits of a vegan human ecology that can slow the loss of biodiversity. CITES does not care to recognize that Veganism offers the greenest, most sustainable, and least harmful dietary choice many people can make to protect wildlife. We stop the direct killing, the destruction of their ecosystems, end the commerce, ruin economic incentives to kill, and dramatically slow global warming that is broadly harmful to ecosystem stability. There are many other changes that would need to be made simultaneously to stop the human-caused loss of biodiversity—reducing global human populations around the world being one of them. Still, it is undeniable that Veganism is essential for CITES to succeed.

In fact, Veganism is essential for solving a multitude of environmental problems caused by humankind. Unfortunately, the majority of biological institutions/agencies/sciences and the nonprofit environmental organizations that mirror the fish and wildlife management cultures and values, ignores veganism. They do this without a basis in science. That is unacceptable and indefensible. Vegans should be storming their academic gates and their agency offices.

That isn’t likely to happen until single-issue vegans “grow over time into a broader and deeper understanding of how important Veganism is to the future of all life on Earth.”  Deep ecology, and I am extending that concept to a deep human ecology, is premised on every species having innate value that exists independently of and without having a use or economic benefit to humanity. That innate value extends to ecosystems. In my advocacy, I am bridging deep ecology’s innate value of all species and ecosystems to what has been the “animal rights” movement. This means that we talk about species and ecosystem rights based on their innate values. For species and the individuals from other species, we do not require the “sentience test” before we value them. This opens the umbrella of compassion to protect life itself, not a narrow field of candidates. Species rights is a more effective approach than the limited concept of “animal rights”.

On a practical level, cheerleaders for the sentient can easily remember that the sentient need the non-sentient (like herbivores need plants) and ecosystems to survive and not suffer by: starvation; loss of sheltering habitat; toxic prey; the destruction of species’ culture and social life; contaminated water; the extinction of grasslands; the loss of insects and amphibians; and excessive, unrelenting stressors caused by us. All of those harms would be covered by species rights.

Here and there we can see a glimmer of hope that conservation biologists, naturalists, and mainstream environmentalists will start acknowledging suffering and species rights. These issues are at the core of how our human ecology creates relationships with ecosystems, flora, and fauna. A vegan human ecology should shape their management objectives. All have value and have a right not to be harmed, and where harm is unavoidable, minimized. This leads to a wonderful conversation about human overpopulation, environmentally destructive economic systems, and the current barbaric culture we find in fish and wildlife “management” agencies. That’s part of the argument I build in my book. It’s all interrelated.

The mirror image of this is that if vegans and our organizations hope to change the world, we are required to become informed and active environmentalists who carry a far different message to government agencies and the public. That requires vegan organizations to change and expand their objectives, to show up at public hearings and describe and demand a vegan human ecology before the rest of nature as we prefer it is lost forever. Vegans must become the banner carriers in many movements. As we do this, more people will recognize that Veganism makes winning their particular cause possible. The important thing is that vegans are the only hope of getting these changes realized. Hard to believe, but true. Veganism has untapped power beyond our current appreciation. The sooner we realize and act on that power, the better it will for everyone and every species on Earth.

Next: Deep Vegans – Part 2

Interview on Go Vegan Radio

Hi,

Here is the link to a recent radio interview  where I discussed the contents of my book, “This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology”. Understand it’s contents and you’ll understand the mission of Green Vegans, the organization (greenvegans.org).

http://www.goveganradio.com/2013/11/18/10-november-2013/

Thanks,

Will

October 2—World Farmed Animals Day Information

Tomorrow, October 2, is World Day for Farmed Animals, a time to remind people around the Earth that meat, dairy, and eggs contain terrible contaminants: vast environmental destruction and the loss of biodiversity; soul-wrenching pain and psychological violence directed at billions of sentient individuals from other species–including fish; global warming; grains that were bought to supply animal agriculture and drove up prices in competition with the impoverished half of humanity, people who need those grains to survive; and a host of human diseases associated with consuming animal parts and “products” that drive up the cost of national health care.

You can find the event nearest to you at:

http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/7379/p/salsa/event/common/public/search.sjs?distributed_event_KEY=299 (scroll down to where the October 2nd events begin)

Here is the information for Seattle: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/7379/p/salsa/event/common/public/index.sjs?event_KEY=68290

Don’t forget that whether or not you can attend, remind people about World Day for Farmed Animals on your social media pages (more than once), in conversations with friends, and personal rituals to rededicate yourselves to continue the joy you get working to stop animal agriculture.

Part 16: Omnivore’s Dilemma / Where Animals are Plants

Series Summary

In his previous book, Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan told the story of how plants like apple trees, marijuana, and tulips “thrived” because of humankind’s need and appreciation of them. He defined “thriving” as whenever humans expanded their geographic range and numbers, and modified their genetics which then allowed these and many other plants to live in habitats not otherwise available to them. Interesting stuff as Pollan shared unique insights into the human history of relationships with them. However, in Omnivore’s Dilemma, he causes immense harm because he uses the same story formula and applies it to nonhuman animals. He equates the manipulation of plants to our extreme manipulations, genetic modifications, and artificial expansions of the populations of farmed animals. “Thriving”, in Pollan’s mind, is about humans artificially inducing billions of farmed lives populating the continents even though they are destined for a short existence before slaughter in animal agriculture.

 

Ignoring that animals are not plants, have different needs, and as far as we can tell, have more developed abilities to suffer physically and psychologically than plants, Pollan runs forward without thinking. I earlier described his multiple false assumptions and conclusions, his disdain for vegans (and vegetarians), and the terrible consequences this particular book has for ecosystems, the poor (actually everyone via climate change), and the individuals he so carelessly dismisses before slaughter.

 

There was and still is an audience eager to use Omnivore’s Dilemma as an excuse, as a blindfold, as a pillar of willed ignorance and denial of the harms that carnism causes. And from those unsupportable positions, a parade of chefs, small scale animal agriculturalists, environmentalists, and otherwise good people self-justify their unjust behaviors. They are content to green-, blue-, and humane-wash their idea of goodness and a corrupted understanding of how things work. They stopped short and are ignoring what they say they believe in: humaneness, sustainability, and justice. When I recently applied to speak and sign my book at the world-famous Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR, I was denied. On the other hand, Powell’s had not long before partnered with the Portland National Public Radio station to host Michael Pollan at a large theater. Such is the power of giving excuses and easy answers to a concerned public even while Pollan’s message in Dilemma continues like acid to painfully burn through every living system on Earth.

 

Carnism is defeating civilization because it is destroying ecosystems and altering the entire biosphere in which we and all wild and domesticated species live. Carnism creates competition with the impoverished people of Earth for grain foods. It strips the oceans of species and the food needed by others in the wild who live or die depending upon the health and integrity of their food chains and food webs. As I earlier stated, Omnivore’s Dilemma gets off to a terrible start by corrupting the definitions of those terms, food chains and food webs.

 

All fifteen of the posts, excerpts from my book This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology, will remain on this site. Please direct your friends and strangers to this series. There is much more to what we must do to become environmentally and morally sustainable in our behaviors. I ask that you explore them in Hope. In it’s pages, I do not cut corners or withhold the research that describes what we have done wrong in the past and what Earth, not I, requires us to do now. It is do-able and relatively simple. We just have to say yes to a new human ecology that is entirely within our individual and collective control.

 

There is only one issue: our human ecology and the behaviors that create it.

Part 15: Michael Pollan and His Omnivore’s Disappointment

It is our experience with nature, our increasing awareness of ecosystems, the operational norms of animal agriculture, and the sentient and non-sentient individuals under the yoke of carnism that lead millions of people to campaign for what must come next: a deeper, new human ecology that reflects the intrinsic worth of ecosystems and where we expand the circle of justice to include individuals from other species.

 

Unlike Michael Pollan I did not need to buy, watch the mistreatment of, and have killed steer 534, shoot a pig, cut the throats of chickens, nor pretend that we possess unique genes that compel us to hunt other species to figure out what the Earth and the impoverished other half of all humans on Earth need. The intentional, premeditated purchase, transfer, and slaughter of 534 for the purposes of writing Omnivore’s Dilemma is, in my mind, an act of inexcusable cruelty. Observing any one of the millions of cattle who are in the industrial agriculture machine would have been sufficient. Pollan’s self-indulgent thrill after he shot a feral pig is the same mistake.  I want to believe that the omnivore movement will wake up from its carefully crafted dream that is really the same old nightmare for ecosystems, individuals from other species, and us. The vegan new human ecology, though far from perfect, responds thoroughly to our collective environmental and moral responsibilities as no omnivore’s human ecology can.

 

We can join hands and create a humane existence that is undeniably wonderful. Who would disagree with the warmth and truth of what Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his book, Going Home: “If we observe things deeply, we will discover that one thing contains all the other things. If you look deeply into a tree, you will discover that a tree is not only a tree. It is also a person. It is a cloud. It is the sunshine. It is the Earth. It is the animals and the minerals. The practice of looking deeply reveals to us that one thing is made up of all other things. One thing contains the whole cosmos.”

 

From the very base of the food chain to the very top, from bacteria to baboons, there are countless chemical and biological interactions, and dynamic trends and changes that alter the outcomes of ecosystems and our future. We must not abandon our awareness of the complexities swirling around us. We are biologically attached.

 

Writing in another one of his books, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan does not take much time to dismiss directly the validity of vegetarians and vegans. He does continue his defense of cultural preferences and the epicurean’s approach to “ethical” eating. He writes that he has not found compelling health reasons to exclude meat from the diet, but puts in parentheses, “That’s not to say there aren’t good ethical or environmental reasons to do so.” This is the same pattern that we found in Dilemma earlier; he gives a brief nod instead of an answer to the evidence that calls for a vegan human ecology. Then he moves on. And we all lose, left with the dilemma of not being told the truth, the whole truth.

 

Next: Series Summary

Michael Pollan: Where Plants are Animals

Part 14: You’ve Been Disregarded

Recall that earlier in his book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan saw nothing in the eyes of steer #534 (“As I gingerly stepped toward him the quiet shuffling mass of black cowhide between us parted [Pollen’s steer was now at the feedlot], and there stood 534 and I, staring dumbly at one another. Glint of recognition? None, whatsoever. I told myself not to take it personally; 534 and his pen mates have been bred for their marbling, after all, not their ability to form attachments.”) nor in the chickens whose throats he was cutting (no fear). Extending his seeming innate inability or unwillingness to perceive or research what he thinks he is seeing, he next dismisses people who believe individuals from other species have rights (also species, and by undeniable relationships, ecosystems).

 

Pollan goes out of his way to insult tens of millions of people when he writes, “To contemplate such questions from the vantage of a farm, or even a garden, is to appreciate how parochial, and urban, an ideology animal rights really is. It could thrive only in a world where people have lost contact with the natural world, where animals no longer pose a threat to us … and our mastery of nature seems unchallenged.”

 

He is being ridiculous. Like other conclusions found in Dilemma, he bases his beliefs on false premises. He believes if we choose a vegan response to what ails the Earth and humankind, we are disconnected urbanites who only need to wake up to the reality of his carnist world-views. Pollan’s dismissive attitudes and misrepresentation of vegetarians and vegans exposes his failing to explore adequately what a vegan human ecology offers. It is insulting and more than that, aggravating, because an important portion of the progressive community that really cares about issues is being misled.

 

A new era is unfolding. Our understanding of how the biosphere does and does not work should expand our awareness, not shrink it as it appears in Omivore’s Dilemma. I am vegan because of what I have seen and experienced with ecosystems and other species while doing both animal welfare and rights advocacy and environmental campaigns.I have been charged by a grizzly bear, watched a black bear at play in the wild, had sea otters mating within a few feet of my toes, walked among the poor of many cultures, had close calls with whiteouts in the wilderness, been swarmed by mosquitoes, covered in leaches, and suffered frostbite and heat stroke. Those experiences made me deeply committed, spiritually committed, to the vegan new human ecology and the ecosystems it relieves. By Pollan’s accounting, I have never been to a farm or garden, left a city, or otherwise come to understand anything he experienced in researching his book. I have, and I refuse to be ever again, a carnist omnivore.

 

Next: The Omnivore’s Disappointment

Worldwide Demonstrations for Other Earthlings / Species August 24

Worldwide demonstrations are planned to coordinate with the Earthlings – No Longer Blind to Injustice event taking place in Tel Aviv, Israel. To find your city where organizations are already planned, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/465791990184181/

Part 13: Pollanist Destiny

Michael Pollan wants us to believe that our predation on individuals from other species should exist in the future because it existed in the past, and that our current predation upon domesticated and wild species is a natural (my word) human behavior. He attempts to equate the predatory relationships that evolved over millennia between wolves and deer to those between humans and chickens today. In this view, the evolutionary complexity of relationships between the wolves and deer where two species are free agents acting out their dramas in the context of ecosystems over a grand expanse of time is supposed to be the same as humans completely controlling domesticated species like chickens who are used as food but are not free agents. Instead of ecosystems, we have unnatural captivity. Instead of being shaped by all of the variables found in ecosystems, they are shaped by one species, us.

 

From that, we are supposed to conclude, “The surest way to achieve the extinction of the species [chickens] would be to grant chickens the right to life.” What I get from this statement from Michael Pollan is that raising billions of short-lived, genetically mutilated chickens is a good thing; far fewer chickens who are life-long companions, his extinction theory, is a bad outcome. There is no ecological imperative to keep billions of domesticated chickens. Quite the opposite. Ecosystems do not want them.

 

There is one species (with sub-species) that we need to protect from extinction. The Red Junglefowl, the ancestor of all of today’s domesticated chickens. Though threatened by gene pollution from domesticated chickens at forest edges, they are not endangered. They are stunningly beautiful and found in parts of India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and adjacent countries.

 

The mantra I hear in Pollan’s writing is this: We are animals who are destined to eat other animals because we are animals. Then, after illustrating how American Indians shaped bison and the habitat both shared, he infers it is the model we can paste on top of the carnist omnivore’s ideology. By that reasoning, we should believe it good that African elephants now have shorter tusks and shattered, traumatized familial herds, while their elephant ecology and habitat is similarly disfigured, “shaped” by humans preying upon them. Omnivore’s Dilemma rallies readers to endorse the current human ecology as if nothing has changed, and does not apologize that Earth now serves our one species over all others. Extending a human ecology of the past into the present and future goes against all evolutionary precedent when it is no longer adaptive to ecosystems. Carnist omnivores are maladaptive to ecosystems on a global scale. Carnism has to stop now.

 

As long as omnivorism reigns, carnists will slit the throats of chickens at Polyface Farm. Millions of 534s [the steer Pollan bought to demonstrate “industrialized” animal agricultural] will still die, if not near a feedlot, then at some other butcher ’s hands. Dilemma is not so much a discussion of the bewildering choices for which we have too little information as it is an extravagant self-justification for the continuation of carnism, even when the evidence of advanced sentience and ecological collapse is everywhere around us.

 

If Michael Pollan truly believes “that nature doesn’t provide a very good guide for human social conduct,” I hope he reconsiders. Nature does inform our behavior. She has always taught us to adapt to the grand unfolding of life. In the lives of other species, we see our own experience.

 

Ethologists who study the social relationships and behaviors of other species know they transmit culture and norms of behavior from one generation to the next, including a sense of right and wrong, knowledge about their ecosystems, and how to survive. They possess these attributes and have no need for human validation. Reading the contemporary works of Marc Bekoff, Amy Hatkoff, Franz de Waal, Conrad Lorenz, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Toni Frohoff, Brenda Peterson, and many other animal behaviorists, scientists, and writers on the subject would provide Pollan more ballast to his compassion.

Next: You’ve Been Disregarded

Part 12: The Philosophers Pollan Overlooked

The bias we find in Omnivore’s Dilemma ensures the arguments of vegetarians and vegans will look weak and the carnist omnivores’ positions look strong. For example,  we should reject the book’s inference that philosophers Peter Singer and Tom Regan represent all beliefs held by millions of practicing vegans whom Pollan attacks in his imagined “vegan utopia.” Debate is healthy and ongoing in the vegan community.

 

Philosopher Tom Regan cites in his book, Empty Cages, many compelling examples about the rights of individual domesticated animals, but the closest he comes to including wildlife, and ecosystems not at all, is concern about trapping wildlife for their fur and its undeniable cruelty. Why this gap? Regan deems those species “our moral equality” when they are “subjects-of-a-life.” As a result, there is a vacant sign on ecosystems. This is curious given “subjects-of-a-life” depend upon ecosystems and non-sentient species to live. He allowed “compensatory justice” for endangered species, but that is as good as it got.

 

It is simply painful to me that some philosophers associated with animal rights do not integrate the worth and rights of sentient species with ecosystems. Their moral reasoning must find a practical way to bridge this fault line.

 

Josephine Donovan, in Feminism and the Treatment of Animals: From Care to Dialogue, rings most true with me. I found this guiding light from her: “It is not so much, I will argue, a matter of caring for animals as mothers (human and nonhuman) care for their infants as it is one of listening to animals, paying emotional attention, taking seriously— caring about—what they are telling us. As I stated at the conclusion of ‘Animal Rights and Feminist Theory,’ we should not kill, eat, torture, and exploit animals because they do not want to be so treated, and we know that.”

 

She criticizes both Regan and Singer because “… both rights and utilitarianism dispense with sympathy, empathy, and compassion as relevant ethical and epistemological [the study of human knowledge,including its limits] sources for human treatment of nonhuman animals.”

 

Why in Omnivore’s Dilemma does Pollan not consider deep ecology philosopher Arne Naess? He and his many advocates acknowledge the intrinsic, biocentric value of individuals from other species with absolutely no requirement for them to jump through the sentience hoop, as some philosophical arguments require. In Naess’ biocentric world, nonhuman life is given intrinsic value, as are ecosystems. They are inseparable from the sacred whole.

 

I did not come by my own beliefs because philosophers convinced me of one argument or another. They did, however, challenge and help me develop my views. Philosophers never caused me to exclude any being from my orb of compassion even when their arguments would have allowed it had my allegiance been to them instead of nonhuman individuals from other species and ecosystems. Using Peter Singer and Tom Regan as a shield to justify doing unnecessary harm to individuals from other species is something I do not understand about Michael Pollan. He excluded and limited the review of philosophical debate to an extreme on the questions he raises and conveniently avoids evidence that would challenge his beliefs.

 

Next: Pollanist Destiny

Part 11: Dismissing Philosophers

 

Omnivore’s Dilemma continues its case against the vegan alternative worldview by telling us that animal advocates require sentience in nonhuman animals, and without sentience, we believe there is no innate value. Therefore, species rights activists will not advocate for their protection. I have met some animal advocates who do seem to be concerned only or chiefly about individuals and species who are sentient. They seemed not to be overtly environmentalists. That is a problem.

 

Requiring sentience before we care runs counter to biocentrism wherein every species, individual, and ecosystem has innate value. That demand is useless to any human ecology because non-sentient species, and their ecosystems, are required for all others to exist. Mountains have innate value because they are integrated and essential to the characteristics of ecosystems, if for no other reason. Fortunately, most species rights advocates I know do value ecosystems and the non-sentient species. Animal advocates are rising on the same tide of increasing awareness as all humanity awakens to global environmental issues.

 

Environmentalists, seeing at least the mechanical connections between species and their ecosystems, do not require sentience before respect, even reverence, is given to them. Their shortcoming is that sentience does not figure prominently in their advocacy [I discuss the failures this causes for environmental NGOS in my book, This Is Hope…]. Dilemma’s brush is too wide and misses the environmental work of many species rights NGOs. Perhaps Pollan is relying too narrowly on Peter Singer’s work, Animal Liberation, where sentience, the ability to feel pleasure and pain, to be conscious, is linked to intrinsic value.

 

Dilemma is overly dependent upon citing a few philosophers who have developed arguments about the value of individuals from other species. They do not agree on all points. Their arguments regarding the value of lives are momentary snapshots in an evolving deliberation, not its whole. Confined by the rules of logic required by philosophical debate, these arguments can give rise to conclusions and choices none of us would ever make. In Practical Ethics, Singer acknowledges this when he writes about the logic that would “approve” of killing an “unlimited” number of domesticated species if they had enjoyable lives, and after being killed, were replaced with others experiencing the same, equally enjoyable life. Singer writes, “As a piece of critical moral reasoning, this argument may be sound. Even at that level, it is important to realise how limited it is in its application…. at the practical level of moral principles, it would be better to reject altogether the killing of animals for food, unless one must do so to survive.”

 

We could have used Singer ’s admonition in Omnivore’s Dilemma because it reveals a more comprehensive representation of what Singer wrote. Additionally, in “Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor?” Peter Singer does make the connections between sentient species, ecosystems, and human poverty even when he does not ascribe innate value to ecosystems.

Next: The Philosophers Pollan Overlooked

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