It’s Time for Environmentalists to Care More About Animals!

Environmentalists should do more about animal welfare.

Why should environmentalists focus on animal welfare?

  1. It’s the morally correct thing to do. Let’s start with the obvious. Protecting animals aligns with environmental values. Animals are an integral component of the earth’s ecosystems that we are fighting to protect. That’s why we claim to care about all species and focus on endangered species and biodiversity. Further, we know that animals have feelings and experience pain. But many animals suffer terribly and unnecessarily at human hands. That should be intolerable.
  2. It would address various and significant environmental risks. Bad animal welfare practices exacerbate the very climate, biodiversity, water, and environmental justice challenges we are actively trying to solve. It is self-defeating to allow these practices to continue unfettered.
  3. Take, for example, the waterways in Iowa. Nitrogen pollution — flowing from Iowa’s factory farms to the Gulf of Mexico — has increased by about 50% over the last two decades, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to deter it.
  4. And what is causing this pollution? The vast majority comes from animals confined in factory farms and feedlots. This pollution not only contaminates Iowa’s water and causes great human health risks, but it also builds up in the Gulf to such an extent that there is an area called the “dead zone” where few living creatures can survive because the pollution has deprived the water of sufficient oxygen. It’s the size of New Jersey.

So why hasn’t animal welfare been a higher priority for environmentalists?

  1. To some, it seems off strategy. To these people, the goal is clear: focus on the environment and the environment alone. Anything else is a distraction — even if it ultimately has a direct effect on the end result.
  2. There is a reluctance to challenge the current practices of environmentalist supporters. Many environmentalists and supporters still have meat-oriented diets. Some of them also enjoy sport hunting and fishing. These are ingrained elements of our culture that can feel hard to change. And we’ve worked so hard to bring people into the environmental fold; the last thing we want to do is alienate anyone.
  3. Related: There is a nervousness about upsetting the broad environmentalist coalition. The combined efforts of every part of the environmentalist movement have gotten us this far, but the network is still nascent. Adding new priorities runs the risk of fragmenting the delicate alliance.
  4. There is a reluctance to challenge the business models of environmentalist supporters. There are important businesses providing invaluable support to the movement. These include industries that would be directly impacted by a focus on animal welfare, such as ranching, farming, and the food industry as a whole. We don‘t want to lose this support and engagement.

My recommended, no-regret next steps:

  1. Explain. We need to do a better job clearly highlighting the links between inhumane animal practices and bad environmental outcomes. Get the discussion going. Build awareness. Be fully transparent. The truth shall set you free.
  2. Support. We should enthusiastically support the plant-based food business. In addition to being loyal consumers, we can lobby for more R&D support from the government and to eliminate silly regulations that get in the way. We should also credit traditional business leaders, like Tyson, when they move to get on the right track. This is also a huge business opportunity for the United States! The plant-based meat industry is expected to be worth almost $15 billion in the next six years. It’s just the type of solution The Instigator likes: win-win-win.
  3. Model. We may be reluctant in this case to tell other people what to do. But we can use our own practices as opportunities to model better behavior. We should serve only plant-based meals at environmental events. Or, if that is too big an ask, we should make the default meal selection one that is plant-based; meat can be the special diet request. Let’s make our practices consistent with our values and show everyone else it’s not as hard (and way more delicious) than they assume.
  4. Improve. We should campaign against sport and trophy hunting. We may not be ready to eliminate all hunting practices, but we can certainly improve them. Take, for example, lead ammunition. We know that lead ammunition can harm scavenger animals, and pollute or even poison, meat eaten by humans. So why not champion safer alternatives?
  5. Push. Change doesn’t happen without a little instigating. We have to push our ESG leaders to prioritize animal welfare, broadly defined. After all, it is striking that Nike maintains a favorable ESG score even while it kills kangaroos for soccer shoes!
  6. Advocate. The Sustainable Development Goals should much more assertively acknowledge animal welfare as a global priority. Let’s advocate for its inclusion.

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Former CEO of The Nature Conservancy CEO. “Nature’s Fortune” author. Family man, yogi, ice climber, vegan.

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Mark Tercek

Mark Tercek

Former CEO of The Nature Conservancy CEO. “Nature’s Fortune” author. Family man, yogi, ice climber, vegan.

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