WHY WE ALL MUST CARE
ANIMALS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Michael W. Fox
is striking to me that the rights and welfare of animals and protection of
endangered species and their threatened habitats were never mentioned in all
the various public, political debates I have heard in the U.S. Solutions to
various environmental and
related public health issues are deferred if jobs, increased tax revenues from
new “developments” and the GNP are threatened.
Appeals to protect wildlife and wilderness, save the last of the Asian
elephants and Africa’s lions are made for our children’s sakes, not for
animals’ or Nature’s sake. Yet
indigenous wild animals and properly husbanded farmed animals are vital
contributors to maintaining healthy ecosystems and biological cycles as well as
contributing to the human economy and greater good.
must therefore include animals in our politics and put them on the public
agenda because of their many values and services to society ecologically,
economically, emotionally and morally.
Their moral value lies in our recognition and prohibition of animal
cruelty and wanton annihilation of living beings and their communities because
such actions are considered immoral.
Animal welfare is the compass of our compassion. The same must be said
concerning the wanton
annihilation of trees and other wild plants whose many services and values
include bio-fuels, food and medicines; and also the microorganisms in the soil
and in our digestive systems that we harm to our detriment. Public health consequences
and costs are
considerable. Immorality in any form is unacceptable in civil society.
consumption’s underbelly of corporate hegemony and global military-industrial
imperialism is sagging with its many industries that have contaminated our
drinking water, the food we eat, the air we breathe and poisoned the rains, our
brains, bodies, mothers’ milk and wombs with pesticides; created super-bugs
with insecticides, killing the bees and butterflies; made super-weeds with
herbicides that harm our own gut-gardens of beneficial bacteria in our
intestines and spawned super-bacteria resistant to antibiotics that will soon
surpass prior diseases of civilization such as cancer and heart disease in
reducing our numbers, already far in excess of the Earth’s capacity to sustain.
The causes and consequences of this expanding, pathogenic dystopia are
self-evident, not hypothetical. Yet
they have been ignored by governments and rationalized as the price of progress,
but for the last of the old forest trees and indigenous peoples this means
feel my life’s work and many writings* as a veterinarian, ethologist and
bio-ethicist, dedicated to restoring the human animal bond and advocating
mutually enhancing relationships between my own kind and the rest of the Earth
community, seem pointless in these times where human rights and interests take
precedence over all else for every good reason in the minds and hearts of most: Humans come first. I see no hope of significant progress until animal and environmental
issues are put on the political agenda with the same level of public concern as
human rights and interests.
find it challenging to empathize with those afflicted, ruled and corrupted by
the social and eco-pathologies of greed and indifference toward the ways we
humans harm each other and the entire Earth community, aquatic and terrestrial
to satisfy so many non-essential needs.
What immediately come to mind are beef and tuna steaks, fast cars, mansions,
private estates and public and tribal lands over-managed for recreational
hunting and fishing and desert-making “livestock” ranches. Meanwhile,
rising numbers of families and
communities are descending into poverty, hunger, crime, drug addiction,
violence, depression and teen-age suicide.
may feel trapped in the cultural nihilism of unbridled capitalism, conspicuous
consumption and addiction to fossil fuels compounded by non-sustainable
population growth where escalating crises and chaos (ecological, climatic,
political, social, financial and personal) assail us directly or indirectly
every day. The biological deserts
created by agri-industry are a testament to human ignorance and irreverence for
life. These crises are all connected,
in my opinion, to a fundamental lack of ethics, as I reason in my book Bringing
Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society. The denial
of responsibility for the
environment, our living world, for global warming and climate change and of the
connection between the often cruel exploitation of animals and violence toward
our own species imperils all.
against humanity and crimes against Nature, and acts of terrorism against
innocent peoples and other animals are of the same currency of psychopathology
variously rationalized on the grounds of necessity by the executioners. Various
beliefs and denial in particular can
inhibit empathy and lead to indifference toward others’ suffering and
acceptance of their demise. The recent
report by the World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society of London shows that
the world’s wildlife population has dropped by a staggering 58% since 1970,
with the greatest decline (81%) in lakes and rivers. Also, considering the billion
and more of our seven billion
population suffering war, poverty and starvation and many indigenous cultures
becoming extinct, we must either evolve and flourish or devolve and our
humanity/virtue of being humane will perish.
the role of human-centered ideologies in the decline and fall of past
civilizations and the genesis of terrorism may facilitate their renunciation
and the adoption of Earth or Creation-centered values and responsible planetary
care. From chauvinism arises the
bigotry of sexism, racism and species-ism (regarding other animals as inferior)
coupled with xenophobia and zoophobia. Disarming and disingenuous sympathy to
cover up injustices and to preserve the status quo of exploitation and
expropriation is a perversion of empathy and ethics. Disinformation, especially
to discredit sound scientific evidence and to sow the seeds of discontent,
coupled with control of the media and educational system ultimately corrupts
not just government and the justice system but the collective ethos of the
people. But we may yet evolve and
become truly civilized, humane, living not by the rule of gold where absolute
power corrupts absolutely, but by the Golden Rule, where the power of love is
greater than the love of power. This
translates into the equalitarianism of justice for all beings, social justice
and environmental eco-justice being complementary, and establishing mutually
enhancing relationships with each other and other species wild and
concept of One Health is gaining momentum as policy makers and civil society
leaders, economists and healers alike see the connections between a healthy
environment and a healthy populace and economy. As the organic farmers say,
“take care of the land and your animals and they will take care of you.” One of
the greatest mistakes of the dominant culture of mammon is to believe that the
Earth is ours to exploit as we chose without regard for the other inhabitants
because it is divinely ordained, or for the “greater good.” But
in the final analysis, we and all life
are interconnected and interdependent: one health, one economy and one Earth.
This means planetary CPR (Conservation, Protection and Restoration), which is
enlightened self-interest for the dominant species on this planet to prevent it
from becoming a self-destructive infestation eternally at war with itself that
no god or autocrat can prevent: Only we the people.
find a glimmer of hope when I hear from many other people who are following the
old dictum “Think global, act local.”
Also trying to live lightly and as harmlessly as possible that others
may simply live. We can all find ways
to make a difference as responsible citizens in our various communities
including: recycling and composting, turning our lawns into wildlife-friendly
rain and kitchen gardens, implementing energy saving technologies and “green”
energy alternatives to fossil fuel and nuclear power; supporting organic and
humane food producers and local cooperatives and implementing more effective
laws and enforcement of same to protect the environment and animals wild and
domestic in our communities and states.
We and all life are interconnected and interdependent: One Health, One
Environment and One Wealth.
studied and treated many species of non-humans, wild and domesticated, I see my
own kind as “unfinished”, in part because it continues to change as it changes
its environment: Man adapting to man.
Right relationships and right-mindedness go hand in hand, leading to
mutually enhancing symbioses. Our collective wrong-mindedness now imperils
civilizations and planet Earth.
community or culture can remain viable for long with such an arrogant and
indifferent mind-set based on the objectification and unbridled exploitation of
life, on materialism, reductionism and moral codes and laws disconnected from
bioethics and spiritual values, especially respect for the sanctity of all life
and a sense of the sacred.
of the consequences of this adversarial, anti-life mind-set highlighted by
deploying indiscriminately, antibiotics (anti-bios/anti-life) and pesticides,
has been the evolution of resistant “super-bugs” and super-weeds and a host of
human illnesses, many being incurable. The biocidal and suicidal consequences
of a culture embracing such bio-terrorism amount to Nature’s retributive
justice and the nemesis of anthropocentrism.
biologist Aldo Leopold long advocated the extermination of the wolf and other
predators across the U.S. until he accepted the scientific evidence of the
ecological value of predators and with this epiphany, advocated “the Land
Ethic” in his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There that
include his Golden Rule of Ecology:
thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty
of the biotic community. It is wrong
when it tends otherwise.”
sound scientific, empirical evidence of the intrinsic value of predators, the
realities of climate change and hazards of petrochemicals cannot change
attitudes set by values rarely examined and by vested interests that see such
scientific evidence as subversive and threatening the status quo. So there must
be public protest until there
is appropriate policy change and legislation effectively enforced in accord
with the Land Ethic and the lives of all living beings accorded equally fair
collective anthropocentrism, ranging from uninhibited procreation to unbridled
consumption regardless of consequences, we are now paying for as our
increasingly dysfunctional biospheric ecosystem and its climate adversely
impact communities, economies, agriculture and public health. So researchers
are genetically engineering
crops to be drought and saline resistant, to produce insecticides and resist
herbicidal sprays which enter our food-chain, and are developing new ways to
treat cancer and other anthropogenic diseases.
New therapies include bone-marrow transplants, cancer vaccines and
therapeutic antibodies. Veterinarians
are at the helm of some of the companies pioneering these new treatments. While
these advances may save lives and are
highly profitable for the biomedical industry, they will not prevent illness
of postponing effective bioremediation and outlawing hazardous pesticides and
other agrichemicals and industrial pollutants that have had minimal, if any
toxicity evaluation and which now contaminate our food, drinking water, the air
we breathe and mothers’ milk and amniotic fluids will far outweigh the
short-term, and very costly benefits of these new therapies. Furthermore, the
greater the dissonance between the politics of public health and consumer
protection and the practice of holistic, preventive medicine, the more
dysfunctional the health care system becomes: Ivan Illich’s Medical Nemesis
major preventive health measure for companion animals, veterinary eugenics, has
been long neglected. But it is at last
gaining some traction as more diseases of hereditary origin and selection for
extreme, abnormal physical traits are being recognized and correctives
initiated from closing down high volume puppy and kitten breeding “mills”
(where there is no progeny testing) to changing breed standards to reduce the
severity of selected abnormalities.
Genetic screening rather than invasive gene editing is integral to
effective preventive medicine for both human and animal lineages, along with
nutrigenomics: appropriate nutrition.
trauma in children and other animals, especially during critical and sensitive
periods in development, can have adverse physical, immunological, psychological
(cognitive and affective) consequences throughout life, calling for intervention
when identified. Prevention calls for optimal
nurturing, both physical and emotional, and recognition of the epigenetic,
generational consequences of neglect and mistreatment. The most primal emotion
of fear, especially
associated with physical pain, helplessness and abandonment, awakened early in
life, can permanently wound man and beast alike.
true altruism, enlightened anthropocentrism discards those values, beliefs and
aspirations that cause harm to the environment and other living beings. The
ethical and empathic compass of compassionate respect for all life should be
activated as soon as children reach the age of reason and ability to feel for
others. Keeping animals as in-home family companions is ethically acceptable
when their catalytic presence awakens such sensibilities which a visit to the
local zoo or animal circus more often blunts, leading to desensitization and
acceptance of keeping animals in captivity for our entertainment.
visits to a natural history museum, wildlife rehabilitation facility and
structured time-out in the timeless presence of nature in protected and
restored wildlife preserves can expand awareness and connectedness--antidotes
to anthropocentrism and narcissism. Every
child should also learn how other beings, plant and animal, contribute to
health and beauty of the living Earth, and also how those whom they consume and
wear were treated and what more humane and environmentally sustainable
alternative choices they can make.
While the malleability of the human psyche
facilitates adaptability and creativity, its vulnerability can be its nemesis.
With rare aberrant genetic exception, the psyche of every human infant has the
chimeric quality of becoming more or less angelic or demonic, and all grades
between good and evil. Our chimeric nature allows for objective
discrimination/discernment and can facilitate cultural diversity and
creativity, but also lead to conflict and division where there is no unified
sensibility in accord with the Golden Rule.
Ideologies can function like genes, (mnemes), possibly a uniquely human
capacity, influencing behavior and perception and spreading like a virus
through the culture. Teaching every
child the virtue of adhering to the Golden Rule may be our specie’s best hope
for the future when that moral principle extends to embrace all sentient
beings, though some may argue that this would not help arm them to face the
real world where gold rules and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
mutually enhancing (symbiotic) relationships are the foundation of functional
and sustainable ecosystems and should be the template and praxis of any society
and economy if they are ever to remain viable. These relationships are
destroyed when natural ecosystems (polycultures rich in biodiversity) are
supplanted by the monocultures of industrialized agro-forestry, commodity crop
agriculture, plantations, aquaculture and farmed animal factories. The backlash
(karma) of invasive weeds, insects
and other pests, predators and diseases from these fragmented natural
ecosystems mean ever more pesticides and other poisons and even genetic
engineering being applied in the “war against nature and wildlife”.
the last wave of global industrialism and its commoditization of the living
Earth has all but exterminated indigenous cultures, tribes, habitats and
species. So I retire in mourning but
embrace the hope that this looming planetary apocalypse will awaken the light
of understanding and redeem our species through concerted planetary CPR:
Conservation, Preservation and Restoration.
This is the template of sustainable, ecologically sound and humane
organic agriculture. There is Natural
Law, the basic principles of which any educated ecologist and observant
naturalist can articulate. These
principles every traditional, sustainable society sought to live by,
understanding the consequences--nature’s retributive justice; eco-karma.
attitudes are changing as consumers seek organically certified food and
products from humanely raised animals. Society questions various forms of
animal exploitation and very soon we may no longer see or permit performing
elephants and other wild species in circuses and orcas and dolphins in marine
aquariums. But without concerted
international support we may never see these and other endangered species ever
again in the wild. The veterinary
profession can do much to facilitate species’ conservation but needs to
question the ownership and marketing of “exotic” pets and its pharmaceutical
industry backed support of the non-sustainable, habitat-destroying and
climate-changing livestock industry, especially its inhumane and
disease-promoting concentrated animal feeding operations or animal factories.
humanity can be judged by how well we care for the natural environment and all
our biological relations as it is defined by our respect for other animals,
refined by their trust and often affirmed by their affection and as our
protectors, rescuers, guides, co-workers, healers and devoted companions.
still the mind and open our hearts to feel for the Earth and all who dwell
therein, we experience the suffering of all sentient beings under our
collectively inhumane dominion. Their
plight awaits our compassionate intervention in the name of loving kindness and
justice. All beings have personhood,
individualized sentience, a will to live and degrees of sapience which, in some
sensory and cognitive as well as physical realms, often far surpass our own. When
our hearts are open we also experience
the miracles of life that are our primal source of joy, inspiration, communion,
devotion and wisdom. When we care for
the Earth we care for ourselves. When
other animals are part of such a community of care and concern, we will be
closer to enjoying a humane and sustainable society with respect and justice
*For example see Agricide:
The Hidden Farm and Food Crisis That Affects Us All. NY. Shocken
Books, 1986 and Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals.
NY St Martin’s Press 1990. The author is an Honor Roll member of the American
Veterinary Medical Association, holds doctoral degrees in ethology/animal
behavior and medicine from the University of London, England and writes the
nationally syndicated Animal Doctor newspaper column with Universal
Uclick. Website www.drfoxvet.net.