Our generation must choose: which do we value more, short-term profits and appetites for unsustainable animal products, or the long-term habitability of our planetary home?
1. Sensible, zero- or negative-growth human reproduction.
Sorry, folks, but human population growth is the number one cause of other species' extinctions. A one- or two-child family ensures that you are not helping to increase the population. The instinctive urge to have children is strong; so strong most people have them for the wrong reasons. Nobody needs more than two children. There are already far too many people on the planet. If we can reduce that number by 25%, it would virtually eliminate the growth pressures put on our ecosystems, and allow the remaining forests and wildlife to continue to exist without danger of disappearing. Even then we would have to treat them with care, but it would help reverse today’s trend towards annihilation.
2. Sound environmental policies by governments.
Nations need to stop worrying about killing off wildlife to help ranchers, and concentrate on saving what natural areas they have left. If they would stop subsidizing the raising of meat animals, they could use the money saved to protect natural resources.
New regulations banning wasteful practices must be enacted. Some pastimes that are popular but are pure wastes of energy are: aerial shows like those featuring demonstrations by the Blue Angels, etc.; auto races (NASCAR, etc.), all waste massive amounts of fuel. Most county fairs in the U.S. have derbies… this means thousands of races going on for a week, every year, all over America, with Americans watching while a big share of the globe’s oil goes up in smoke.
Energy and raw material consumption, especially in the U.S., is incredibly wasteful and must be curtailed. Automobiles need to be more fuel efficient, a goal foolishly and astoundingly discouraged by the Bush administration.
And governments, usually as slow and ponderous as dinosaurs, must be more proactive. For instance, all those undercover videos you see of labs, factory farms and such that shock the world when broadcast never come from government investigations; they’re always taken by members of animal welfare groups. Then they usually have to file complaints to their governments to do their jobs and protect the animals according to their own laws! Governments worldwide need to stop dragging their feet and start taking the lead in environment and animal protection.
3. Adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle.
Most of the types of abuse listed above are easily avoided; others are more difficult. One can simply choose not to go to a circus or rodeo; foie gras can be skipped, and fur coats can be passed up for better materials. More tricky are the types of products whose background is not so clearly based on animal abuse. Many products are tested on animals; more contain animal products and derivatives I never knew existed until just recently– “rennet” in cheese comes to mind (Google it; it’s pretty gross). PETA, no matter what else you may think of them, produces some very helpful lists on their websites and have entire books on the subject.
Many also cannot make the leap to vegetarian or vegan diets; they were raised eating meat, and for various reasons and rationalizations will not try doing without ingesting animal products. But by purchasing them, they are directly supporting the factory farm abuses listed above. By necessity, the only way to truly consider yourself kind to all animals is to not eat them as well. Perhaps the best way for those to whom the diet seems too restrictive is to gradually reduce meat consumption. Many choose not to eat red meat, for example. Or you could start with a meat-free dinner once a week– easy enough, considering a nice pasta with marinara sauce, a salad and garlic bread and some good wine is an excellent vegan meal. Some helpful websites include goveg.com and tryveg.com.
4. Teach your children well.
While dozing in my cabana by the beach in Jamaica, I was awoken by the voice of a boy saying, “Find something to throw at it”. I looked out my window to see three little boys reaching for rocks, about 10 feet away from a large brown wading bird (possibly a crane or ibis) as tall as them, quietly standing and watching them. It was a beautiful bird, one I had never seen in the wild before. I asked them not to throw anything at it; they dropped their rocks and left. I don’t really hold it against them; I bet just about every little boy has that impulse at some time in his childhood; I remember shooting my slingshot at a bird once (luckily I missed!). If I may venture a guess, it’s probably a residual instinct from our early ancestors, who had reason to be afraid of wild animals.
It’s important that children are taught from an early age to show respect and compassion for animals. If their parents never talk about animals, never give them books on the subject, or teach by example, how are children to know any better? Those that are not given this valuable lesson may go on to join the millions of trophy hunters, people who, when they see beautiful wild animals, can think only to kill them. They may even continue the cruelty, which has been well documented to be a prelude to domestic violence. It’s very important to nip those impulses in the bud. It’s pretty likely that rodeo “cowboys”, bullfighters, those that slaughter animals, and others who make a living doing terrible things to animals, were never taught this lesson.
Also, never force them to eat meat if they don’t want to. If they are told they should love animals one minute, then made to eat their bodies the next, these conflicting messages could be very confusing and lead to possible psychological problems later on. Millions of lifelong vegetarians do just fine without any animal products whatsoever, despite what the meat industry, which greatly influences government nutritional recommendations, would have you believe.
5. Respect and compassion
Respect and compassion for our fellow creatures on this planet is still greatly lacking today, and I have noticed a distressing number of people express attitudes of “They’re only animals”… which is the worst kind of speciesism and translates to “Humans are the only species that matter”. However, I have also seen a great deal of positive views stated by more enlightened people. The internet is helping to spread the word. A growing number of humans are acknowledging that their fellow animals are not theirs to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment. We must stop using nonhuman animals as test tubes to make sure our chemicals, drugs and cosmetics are safe; our vanity and laziness must not be the reason so many millions of other beings are tortured and die. The greed for ever more consumer goods must be checked. There are many better tests that can be done on chemicals and drugs that give more accurate results, but many laboratories and companies are still making money off animal testing, and are locked into the old mindset that it’s an acceptable solution. Surely we are advanced enough now to not rely on crude, outdated tests like injecting chemicals into animals and recording how long it takes them to die?
6. Protect what we have left.
“Large areas of forest and grasslands are being destroyed frivolously and carelessly by humans who are heedless of the beauty of our cousins the trees and ignorant of the possible climatic catastrophes which large-scale burning of forests may bring. We ravage the earth at an accelerated pace, as if it belonged to just one generation, as if it were ours to do with as we please.” ~ Carl Sagan, “Cosmos”, 1980.
This indiscriminate destruction is also wiping out many animal species. Some of the Earth’s richest and most diverse remaining ecosystems–Indonesia, Brazil’s ancient rainforests, poor Madagascar– are being mindlessly and irrevocably remade into farmland and grazing pastures to feed out greed for meat. Driving through Malaysia I passed mile after mile of palm tree plantations (for palm oil) where tropical forests recently stood, and New Zealand’s trees are being bulldozed at a massive rate to make room for dairy cows.
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