Editorial: Potty-and-other environmentalism
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1997:
The 28th annual Earth Day celebration came and went, 10 days after the close of
the 14th Summit for the Animals, a convocation of animal rights organization heads that
perennially does nothing. Chances are, most ANIMAL PEOPLE readers were as unaffected
by either as the organizers were by one another, despite the stated intent of Earth
Day organizers to spotlight the Endangered Species Act, and of the Summit organizers to
court the thoroughly indifferent environmental movement, whatever is left of it.
Better potty training might have prevented this sibling schism, along with air and
water pollution, before the popular concept of the environmental cause came to be eliminating
waste. In a time when “environmentalist” is misleadingly synonymous to much of
the public with Big Brother, as much due to onerously mandated recycling as to wise-use
wiseguy machinations, and when some leading “environmental” organizations such as The
Nature Conservancy as aggressively extirpate nature and wildlife as any commercial developer,
it is worthwhile to recall that the first Earth Day, which the ANIMAL PEOPLE editor
helped publicize as a cub reporter in Berkeley, California, offered the notion of an
ecology-centered approach to living as a direct challenge to the environmental establishment
as much as to Washington D.C. and Wall Street.
Participants in the Berkeley march, which was miniscule compared to the antiwar
marches of the era, were forthrightly agreed that hunter/conservationism is inherently
exploitive, anti-ecological, and just plain wrong. There was near-universal concord that a
movement had to be built to oppose pandering to wealthy hunters in order to raise enough
money to preserve token green spaces within which rangers like latter-day King Canutes
would try to hold back the tides of climatic change. We talked at teach-ins about acid rain
and global warming, which were scientifically predicted if not yet confirmed as upon us.
No one denigrated the efforts of a John Muir to save Yosemite from development,
Julia Butler Hansen for her dedication to saving the Columbian whitetailed deer, or Velma
Johnston, better known as “Wild Horse Annie,” for fighting the extirpation of mustangs.
We honored their work––but the job ahead, we saw, was to advance the notion of reverence
for life beyond application to signal species and singular beauty. The importance of
saving the whales, someone explained, was not that we would ever be able to go and see
whales, since commercial whale-watching was still an unrealized concept, but rather that
whales inhabit the whole globe. The oceans themselves are their critical habitat, making
them the appropriate signal species for a whole-earth movement.
The editor does not remember any dissent from three prescriptions for basic
lifestyle change to achieve a healthier planet: recycle, use renewable energy, and become
vegetarian. The object was not just to clean up air and water, an immediate goal, but also
to prevent pollution in the first place. The editor was already vegetarian, as were the scientists
who spoke, each of whom made the point––emphasized memorably 18 years later by
John Robbins in Diet for a New America––that no action accessible to every individual can
do more to save water, fossil fuels, forest, and topsoil than abandoning meat, nor does
any action do more to show regard for fellow living beings than ceasing to eat them.
There was no animal rights movement in 1970, nor talk of one, but animal protection
was central to the Berkeley Earth Day, with much talk of the need for an
Endangered Species Act and other legislation to protect the existence of all creatures great
and small, including coyotes, bats, and spiders as well as bald eagles and bison.
Representing the humane movement, someone from the Berkeley SPCA brought a dog and
a cat in wire carrying cages, and spoke about neutering to prevent dog-and-cat overpopulation
after a speaker from Planned Parenthood addressed human overpopulation. She adopted
out the dog and cat on the spot. It never occurred to anyone that an ecology movement
might separate human concerns from those of the other animals on Spaceship Earth.
There was an antivivisection thread to the activity as well. Bruce Ames, of the
University of California at Berkeley, pointed out the failures of animal testing to protect
public health, arguing that vegetarianism would do far more for public health than banning
trace amounts of pesticides. Ames offended disciples of Rachel Carson by denouncing the
Delaney Clause, the 1959 law which until repealed last year stood as both the bulwark of
public protection from cancer-causing food and drug ingredients, and the primary legal
mandate for animal testing. The editor found Ames’ arguments so uniquely compelling as
to interview Ames on Earth Day 1971 for the San Jose State University radio station.
Of the three prescriptions for lifestyle change, recycling proved the easiest sell,
until the Arab oil embargo of 1974 briefly roused public interest in renewable energy.
When gas prices dropped, recycling regained the spotlight. Practicing what A N I M A L
PEOPLE now terms “potty environmentalism,” the editor cofounded a recycling center at
SJSU in 1970 that evolved into the first city-wide recycling program in the U.S., then spent
13 years exposing air and water pollution. The editor helped win construction of 14 sewage
treatment plants in Quebec, and helped defeat proposals to site two toxic waste dumps plus
a nuclear waste repository in northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Yet each victory
brought a defeat: the public saw the need to keep pig poop out of the rivers, but not the
need to quit eating pork, so as to eliminate not just the pig poop problem but also many
other humane and ecological abuses. Hunter/conservationists rallied against the dumps,
which might have fenced off deer habitat, but were oblivious to the greater harm done to
biodiversity by wildlife management policies holding abundant deer as the highest value.
“Save the whales!” become the rallying cry for the passage of the ESA and the creation
of CITES, but along the way the environmental establishment refashioned their purpose
into a weapon used chiefly to preserve scenic landscapes––and not incidentally, raise
funds. The anti-nuclear testing committee Don’t Make A Wave evolved into Greenpeace.
Energized by the tactics of cofounder Paul Watson against whalers and sealers, Greenpeace
became the flagship cause of the Baby Boom generation, only to oust Watson once it accumulated
enough assets to have something to lose. Greenpeace then abandoned the anti-sealing
campaign along with an offshoot anti-fur campaign in 1986, as a gesture toward making
common cause with hunter/conservationists against northern development. This was billed
as seeking solidarity with Native Americans, but the Native leaders we knew mostly wanted
economic development, if their people could own and control it, and had pointed out for
decades how the commercial fur trade brought the destruction of their people by alcohol.
More recently, as ANIMAL PEOPLE exposed in June 1994, Greenpeace senior
staff advised themselves in an internal memo that “Greenpeace does not oppose whaling, in
principle,” and “Greenpeace is neither for nor against the killing of marine mammals.”
Greenpeace took this position to win the creation by the International Whaling Commission,
on paper, of the unenforced Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary, at cost of accepting an
agreement, in principle, that commercial whaling shall resume, not just by renegades like
Norway and Iceland, but by other nations as well, with official approval. The transformation
of Greenpeace from voice of whole-earth consciousness to traditional hunter/conservationist
preservationism was complete. We discern little if any practical or moral difference
between protecting bison in Yellowstone National Park, the signal accomplishment of
hunter/conservationism, only to kill them wholesale at the park boundary, and protecting
whales in the Antarctic only to eventually allow their massacre a few degrees north. Both
amount to “saving” species by replacing free-ranging behavior with thinly disguised agriculture.
Neither advances an ethic of respect for life and nature.
Swirling down the drain
ANIMAL PEOPLE believes that authentic ecological conduct and humane consciousness
begin with doing by the animals around us, including other humans, as we
would be done by. This encompasses maintenance of healthy habitat. We believe it is
important that no creature be deprived of essential habitat. At the same time, we believe it
is absurd to think one is protecting biodiversity against ongoing and eternal habitat transformation
by cruelly mistreating members of one species on purported behalf of another–– for
instance, by trapping coyotes ostensibly to prevent predation on endangered Columbian
whitetailed deer at the Julia Hansen Butler Refuge, who would be much less endangered if
cattle were not encouraged to eat and trample much of their habitat.
Nature allows no viable niche to go unfilled. When a species is lost, for whatever
reason, a surviving species soon adapts and then evolves to fill the void, not necessarily in
the same way, continuing the very process that created biodiversity. If we hold off the
extinction of any species by heroic means, and ANIMAL PEOPLE certainly encourages
many efforts to do so, let us clearly understand that we undertake heroic measures for our
own reasons, much as we may have caused the decline of that species, and let our conduct
be governed by humane principles. Nature holds no mandate against extinction. Most of us
oppose extinction not for intellectual reasons, though we have some, so much as because
we feel that causing an extinction is an act of criminal violence against nature.
Yet nature has no intrinsic preference for kindness and tolerance. Our very concept
of “living in harmony” with nature is a construct adopted from the humane movement
by the ecology movement of circa 1970, as part of distinguishing itself from hunter/conservationism,
which professes a need to kill nature in order to save trophy remnants.
The environmental organizations formed around the first Earth Day forgot the
humane component when they set aside vegetarianism to seek popularity, sought political
clout by courting hunter/conservationists, and eventually allowed hunter/conservationists
to set the agenda. By the 10th Earth Day, 17 years ago, the environmental movement had
already been swallowed by the meat-chomping old guard it originally opposed.
The animal protection cause swirls down the same drain when it tries to unite with
either old guard hunter/conservation fronts such as the World Wildlife Fund and National
Wildlife Federation, or coopted environmental fronts like Greenpeace. The national environmental
groups, both “old” and “new,” avidly court animal protection d o n o r s w i t h
appeals failing to mention, for instance, that WWF was founded and has always been headed
by trophy hunters, while NWF is a federation of 49 state hunting clubs. Even Defenders
of Wildlife, founded as an anti-trapping group, years ago came around to endorsing
Animal Damage Control program wolf-killing in rural Minnesota as part of the price of
achieving wolf reintroduction in places where wolves are not wanted and will not be treated
kindly. Such organizations have made plain by their actions, if not their words, that “be
kind to animals” is neither in their vocabulary nor among their goals.
Potty environmentalism, meanwhile, continues to preoccupy the public.
Believing that the national groups are looking after wildlife, most average citizens loosely
define themselves as environmentalists, haphazardly recycle, struggle with local water and
waste disposal issues, and are unaware that whales and seals are not saved from cruel
slaughter, Paul Watson is in jail, half of our National Wildlife Refuges are now open to
hunters, and species conservation is advanced by both the Clinton/Gore administration and
leading environmental advocacy groups as a pretext for leghold trapping.
It is incumbent upon the animal protection movement to realize that the organized
environmental groups and the wise-use wiseguys are dickering over price, not the principle
of prostituting ecology. The enviros put a nicer dress on Mother Nature, but the individual
animals who represent her still get the shaft, whether loggers hack down old growth or the
Nature Conservancy burns off the second growth in Chicago-area forest preserves. Animal
defenders must present a cogent, conscientious, uncompromising opposition to both.