Editorial feature: Art, nukes, & ethical energy
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2011:
Chilean shock artist Marco Evaristti won global notoriety in
February 2000 with an exhibit at the Trapholt Art Museum in Kolding,
Denmark, consisting of 10 blenders containing live goldfish.
Visitors were invited to puree a goldfish.
Friends of Animals/Denmark, not affiliated with the U.S.
organization Friends of Animals, won an injunction ordering that the
electricity supply to the blenders should be cut off. When two
goldfish were pureed anyhow, FoA/Denmark pursued criminal charges
against Evaristti and museum director Peter Meyer. The case against
Meyer went to court in May 2003. Meyer was acquitted, but even in
Denmark, whose national identity is intertwined with commercial
fishing, whale massacres in the Faroe Islands, and the Copenhagen
fur trade, public opinion clearly rejected the notion of pulverizing
live fish as “art.”
Evaristti, however, took the show on the road. On April
20, 2006 the blenders and goldfish arrived in Dornbirn, Austria.
That night four animal advocates broke into the art gallery, smashed
the blenders, and took the fish.
The methodology of Evaristti’s exhibitions could be compared
to the use of live maceration by agribusiness, in routinely killing
unwanted male chicks and “spent” egg-laying hens by the
multi-million. People who fish for sport cause more prolonged animal
suffering just by impaling a worm or other live bait on a hook, then
hooking and reeling in a fish.
From a traditional animal welfare point of view, which
accepts the use of animals to satisfy human needs, the argument that
Evaristti’s exhibits are uniquely depraved and cruel rests on their
evident lack of redeeming purpose.
From a conservation point of view, Evaristti’s exhibits are
But from an animal rights point of view, pulverizing a live
fish would not be any less wrong if done for some socially acceptable
Stopping Evaristti is easy compared to stopping the practices
of the poultry and fishing industries, but stopping the poultry and
fishing industries are longtime acknowledged goals of the animal
rights movement. Indeed, some of the activists who publicized the
break-in at the Austrian museum saw it as a symbolic gesture of
opposition to the entire spectrum of cruelties inflicted on fish
killed for food, and hoped that the episode would help to promote
public awareness about the capacity of fish to suffer.
Rocky alliance with enviros
Surveys of animal rights advocates have repeatedly
demonstrated that upward of 90% also define themselves as
environmentalists, yet most acknowledge a wide gulf between animal
rights perspectives and the prevailing views among mainstream
Mainstream environmentalism, for example, accepts the
paradox of the “hunter/conservationist,” who kills wildlife in the
name of protecting wildlife. Mainstream wildlife conservation is
funded in part by the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping
licenses–and, in consequence, wildlife conservation policies and
priorities are often warped to suit the interests of hunters, rather
than the needs of wild animals.
Mainstream environmentalism also accepts–and
promotes–ecological nativism, a pre-Darwinian theory of habitat
which holds that only the species who evolved in a particular
geological location actually belong there. Thus mainstream
environmentalism encourages the massacre of “non-native” species,
regardless of how well-suited to the habitat they may be, and how
integral to the ecosystems which have evolved as result of habitat
Mainstream environmentalism exempts much anti-animal activity
from the ecological precepts it selectively advances, and is
especially self-contradictory in opposing pollution from factory
farms without opposing the products of factory farms.
However, despite the clear conflicts between the
perspectives of animal advocacy and mainstream environmentalism,
animal advocates mostly perceive parallel interests in protecting
habitat and endangered species, preventing pollution, seeking to
remedy effects of climate change, and pursuing the safest, least
ecologically damaging forms of energy development. Emerging at about
the same time in the mid-1970s, the contemporary animal advocacy and
environmental movements have sometimes found themselves in awkward
alliances despite often being at odds. Animal advocates have
generally regarded environmentalists as acceptable political
partners, despite the tendency of mainstream environmentalists to
prefer to keep company with hunters.
Along the rocky way, energy policy has been among the few
areas of consistent agreement. No major animal advocacy group has an
independent energy policy, but almost all of them frequently endorse
energy-related legislation and policy statements originating with the
major mainstream environmental organizations.
In all likelihood the alliance of animal advocates and
environmentalists on energy policy will only strengthen in the
radioactive aftermath of the apparent triple and possible quadruple
meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear complex in northeastern Japan. Few
people in either camp appear to favor expanded nuclear energy
development, despite the acknowledged contribution of fossil fuels
to global warming. Both animal advocates and environmentalists have
reservations about wind power, as well, since wind turbines have
become recognized as major killers of bats and birds.
There is considerable reason to regard both nuclear and
fossil fuel generating stations as of concern from the animal welfare
and animal rights perspectives, too–even if they run perfectly,
with no catastrophic failures of technology, such as meltdowns, oil
spills, and coal mining disasters. The greatest harm to animals
occasioned by energy production occurs not as result of nuclear
disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima magnitude,
nor as result of oil spills as huge as the Ixtoc I, Exxon Valdez,
and Deepwater Horizon debacles, but rather in routine operation of
generating stations with “once through” water cooling systems–and
amounts to repeating the Marco Evaristti exhibitions several billion
times per year per plant. There are about 550 such plants in the
U.S. alone, which together puree and boil alive more than one
trillion fish per year. Though both nuclear and fossil fuel
generating stations are culpable for sucking fish through their
cooling systems, nuclear reactors are proportionately many times
more so, because they use vastly greater quantities of water.
This is no more a new insight than the recognition that
earthquakes and tsunamis can destroy nuclear reactors, yet has been
surprisingly little recognized.
Fifty-three years ago the California jazz great Lu Waters
(1911-1989) retired from performing, became a geology professor at
Sonoma State University, and in 1962 became alarmed over Pacific
Gas & Electric Company plans to build a nuclear reactor on Bodega
Head, on the ocean side of Bodega Bay.
Waters’ concerns were twofold. First, he had mapped ancient
tsunami activity in the area, and had discovered gigantic stones
which had been thrown on top of the seaside cliffs by the waves.
Waters knew that a seaside reactor anywhere near there would be
vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis triggered by seismic activity
along the San Andreas Fault. This was the concern that eventually
stopped that particular nuclear development; but Waters also warned
that pumping sea water into cooling towers and discharging warm water
would destroy the aquatic wildlife of the region. Small fish and
plankton would be sucked in through the screens meant to keep debris
out of the cooling systems. Large fish, marine mammals, and birds
would lose their food sources.
Though the latter concern has not been completely ignored,
it has rated low among environmental objections to nuclear energy
development, in part because similar occurs in cooling fossil
fuel-burning generating stations, while hardly anyone has paid
attention to the differing magnitudes of harm done by the different
types of plant.
Energy Matters blogger Roger Witherspoon, who formerly made
tiger conservation grants for Exxon, recently re-examined the
impacts on wildlife of nuclear and fossil fuel cooling sytems.
Witherspoon found that “The most destructive power plant in New York
State,” according to the state Department of Environmental
Conservation, “is the coal and oil Northport Power Station in Suffolk
County, along the north shore of Long Island Sound. That plant
alone sucks more than 9.5 billion mature fish into its system
But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found an impact on
young fish that is magnitudes greater, Witherspoon continued, in an
“environmental assessment of the twin Indian Point nuclear plants in
Buchanan, New York, 30 miles north of Manhattan in the heart of the
Hudson River tidal estuary. In determining that the overall impact
on essential fish habitat is ‘small to moderate,'” Witherspoon
wrote, “the agency noted approvingly that new screens installed in
front of the 40-foot-wide intake pipes in 1984 had reduced the
destruction of baby fish between 1984 and 1991 by 187 billion per
year,” from nearly 500 billion per year, “to its present rate of
just 300 billion.”
This not only causes enormous suffering to fish, but would
be illegal for conservation reasons, if done by an individual. “In
most states,” noted Witherspoon, “if you catch undersized fish you
would be fined. But the Office of Management & Budget only sees
value in the end product [of energy production] and the Environmental
Protection Agency has applied this rationale when examining the
thermal impact of cooling systems.”
Noted for filing lawsuits against factory pig and poultry
farms under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the environmental organization
Riverkeeper, headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., invoked the Clean
Water Act in a recent federal lawsuit against “once through” cooling
systems. Riverkeeper lost on April 1, 2010, when the U.S. Supreme
Court refused to order the EPA to require Indian Point to use a
closed cooling system, which would not kill fish. But the EPA in
November 2010 settled further Riverkeeper litigation by agreeing to
introduce new regulation of “once through” cooling by the end of
At this writing, publication of the new regulations has
already been delayed once, and may be delayed indefinitely, or
scrapped, as result of the anti-EPA and anti-regulatory attitude of
the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
What if we talk about cruelty?
What if animal advocates were to decide that needlessly
killing a trillion fish per year by methods every bit as grotesque as
those of Marco Evaristti is an animal rights and welfare concern?
In legal terms, the U.S. and indeed most of the world is
still far from ready to accept the idea that a person may be
convicted of cruelty to a fish–though fatal neglect of fish has
occasionally been successfully prosecuted. But what may be legally
prosecuted tends to follow years and even decades behind general
public recognition that a particular practice is unnecessarily cruel
In political terms, there may be value in promoting
recognition that there are cruelty issues in our societal choices of
energy generating systems–and in our choices about how much energy
we use in the first place. Concern that a particular method of
generating electricity kills fish, frogs, birds, and muskrats or
sea otters is unlikely at this time to have the greatest influence
when political choices are made; but where other considerations may
be seen as having comparable weight, concern about which choice
might cause the most harm to animals could tip the balance.
Animal advocacy organizations have in recent times been
reluctant to raise cruelty to fish, crustaceans, cephalopods, and
other invertebrate marine life as a humane issue–but this was not
always the case. Specific concern about cruelty to fish and
crustaceans was from 1952 until 1977 included in the proposed United
Nations “Charter of Rights for Animals” promoted by the Dutch-based
World Federation for the Protection of Animals. This language was
lost only after the World Federation and two other organizations were
merged to form the present World Society for the Protection of
Animals, which debuted in 1981 and now promotes a revised version
of the charter as the “Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE and SHARK have each urged attention to the
suffering of fish since each debuted in 1992. People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have
each in recent years waged sporadic campaigns against cruelty to
fish, more or less “testing the waters.”
An encouraging hint of a “sea change” in public attitudes on
behalf of fish, reported in the March 2011 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE,
was the favorable public and media response to a recent Mercy for
Animals undercover investigation of live skinning at a Texas catfish
farm, and subsequent unsuccessful effort to prosecute the proprietor
Emboldened by growing success in opposition to cruelty to
factory farmed animals, after decades of despairing that the public
could be brought to care about species slaughtered for food by the
multi-millions and billions, the animal advocacy cause may be close
to rediscovering cruelty to fish.
But despite the magnitude of fish suffering caused by energy
plant cooling systems, fish are scarcely the only animals who are
harmed by energy production. Though fish are by far the most
numerous victims, the case for raising animal suffering as an aspect
of the energy debate does not rest on harm to fish alone.
Neither does raising concern about animal suffering as an
aspect of the energy debate require politicians to become any more
enlightened about fish suffering in specific and animal issues in
general than they already are. Politicans merely must be brought to
recognize that the considerable numbers of voters who care about
animals perceive cruelty as a dimension of energy issues.
Politicians still like to be photographed in the act of
fishing, especially while proclaiming interest in maintaining a
healthy environment. This may not change soon. Few of those
politicians, however, might like to be perceived as someone who
would switch on Evaristti’s blender.