Archive for the ‘Industrial Food’ Category

The Economics of Animal Welfare

» April 18th, 2014

Pistol v. Poleax: a Handbook on Humane Slaughter was published in London in 1932. The book’s opening line explains, “If there is one quality in the British character which is so ingrained as to be almost universal, it is love of animals and hatred of unnecessary cruelty.” This sentiment underscores the book’s 500+ page effort to justify the transition from one form of stunning animals to another before killing them.

The poleax was primitive. Men swung it like crazed cavemen and, more often than not, missed their target, which was described as the size of a teacup. Or they hit it too hard, rendering the animal’s brain unsellable. Or they didn’t hit hard enough, which created a prolonged tragedy for the poor animal. As one slaughterhouse employee recounted in 1922:

I have seen three, four, five, and even ten blows levelled at an animal before it has been brought to the ground; and I have known cases, though these are exceptional, where all efforts have failed to bring the animal down through the repeated blows having caused the head to swell.

Hence the pistol: the supposed source of humane reform. Efforts to promote this new devise, avidly supported by the RSPCA, included having one Madame Douchez Menebode, President of the Council of Justice to Animals, dressed in heels and a coat fringed with fur delivering a mechanized death blow to a cow (see above). The gun was called the Temple-Cox Killer.

For those who currently follow efforts to reform animal agriculture in order to make it more humane—for example HSUS’s ongoing effort to eliminate battery cages without a corresponding effort to eliminate animal agriculture—you will quickly realize that history is as much about continuity as change. One form of death replaces another, sensible people feel better, and everyone has their meat and eats it, too. This axiom was as true in 1922 as it is today.

But there’s an interesting change that’s possibly obscured by this so-called humane transition form one form of killing to another. With the adoption of the pistol over the poleax, slaughter became much more efficient. One slaughterhouse owner, after adopting the pistol form of stunning, exhorted his colleagues (upon retiring):

Have you for your own business adopted a certain method of stunning?—In September, 1922, after a lifelong study, I was persuaded that something required to be done to get rid of the antiquated poleax. My firm agreed to my recommendation to adopt the use of the RSPCA gun, and from that day to this was have slaughtered approximately 12,000 cattle. . . . .  It is a decided improvement.

Readers of the abolitionist activist Gary Francione will be nodding their heads knowingly. Francione has long argued that welfarist efforts to reform animal agriculture backfire by making animal agriculture more efficient and, in turn, more profitable. This claim certainly seems to be the case with the historical example of the poleax/pistol transition.

It is not, however, the case today—and this is an important point to keep in mind as we evaluate the viability of welfare reforms. In 1922, humane reforms came through new technologies that happened to blend increased welfare and efficiency. This is no longer the case. Today, humane reforms come at a cost, as readers of Jayson Lusk’s and F. Bailey Norwood’s Compassion by the Pound will fully understand. The upshot is that the economics of welfare reform are, unlike a century ago, in trouble.

Whereas seeking humane reforms in animal agriculture once led to cheaper meat, today the situation is exactly the opposite. As a result, there will never be a mainstream transition to humanely raised animal products. Ever. As long as there’s a cheaper option—and until we seek to stigmatize eating animals rather than only stigmatizing eating industrially raised animals, there always will be a cheaper option—all efforts to improve the experience of animals before they are killed for food we don’t need will merely benefit those who can afford to feel virtuous.

 

 

 

When You Support Eating Animals You Support Industrial Ag

» April 10th, 2014

 

The desire to eat meat often lands anti-industrial food crusaders in the sack with some strange bedfellows.

When a recent study—one that turned out to have severe problems—claimed that saturated fats didn’t correlate with heart disease, the foodie elite exalted the research as justification for eating “humane” animal products. Writing in the Times, Mark Bittman claimed “Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.” The general response by the sustainable food movement was very much in this celebratory vein.

That reaction was predictable. Less so was the way the saturated fat study became a cudgel to batter processed foods. Now, let me be perfectly clear: I’m not in favor of most processed foods. They’re the unhealthy result of an industrial food system that cranks out junk that makes us sick. Most of them, moreover, contain animal products. That said, I think it’s entirely misleading to use a study that makes specific claims about saturated fats (however imperfect) to make a sweeping condemnation of all processed foods. And so, in an article, I indicated as much.

The response to my piece, as I noted in yesterday’s post, was to label me a bona fide “defender of a highly profitable but dysfunctional industry.” That claim, from a defender of the humane meat industry and a Mother Jones writer, not only led me to choke on my chickpeas. It inspired me to investigate whom the conventional defenders of industrialized meat would side with on this recent saturated fat report. Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe Big Agriculture really loved my Pacific Standard critique of the saturated fat study.

So I wondered: would Big Ag agree with an ethical vegan who wrote a column condemning the rush to embrace a flawed study that suggested it was alright to eat more cheeseburgers? Or would they side with the defenders of “humane” meat products who praised the study as a green light for refined carnivorous inclinations? My assumption was that the supports of Big Ag would side with those writers whose message best supported the interests of Big Ag.

Well, guess who Bittman and Mother Jones and the like went to bed with?

The study that Bittman praised in the Times was similarly promoted by none other than Beef Magazine, an industry rag that claimed, “Obviously the theme for today’s blog is beef health news, and there has been an overwhelming amount of positive news lately. It’s hard not to share it all. Keeping with the theme that animal fats and proteins are good for your health, researchers at Cambridge University have found that giving up fatty meat, cream and butter is unlikely to improve your health.”

Equally thrilled was The Dairy Spot—a go-to source for industrial dairy farmers in the Mid Atlantic. Readers of Bittman’s column would experienced a sense of deja-vu had they heard the dairy folks write, “This latest study is a challenge to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which call for consuming mostly low-fat dairy products. And not everyone is convinced by the new studies that question the link between saturated fat and heart disease.”

Not to be left out was the poultry industry. Big Chicken weighed in on the foodies’ favorite study, writing, “Now, the meta-analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine gives further credence to the statement that current evidence suggests saturated fats have little to no effect on heart disease risk.”

So: our agri-intellectuals, those who swear that they are deeply anti-industrial food, happen to be in full agreement on the saturated fat study with the beef industry, the poultry industry, and the dairy industry. Oh, and Fox News and the Center for Consumer Freedom. As for my bedfellows, Big Ag left me alone, leaving me to go home with a bunch of tweeters and a few health websites.

So, you tell me: who is defending industrial agriculture here?

 

 

 

 

Antibiotic Use On Small Farms

» April 1st, 2014

Praising the FDAs move to address the overuse of antibiotics to promote the growth of domesticated animals, the Times editorial board wrote:

Medical experts have long been concerned that rampant overuse of antibiotics in agriculture — to speed the growth of cattle, pigs and chickens and to prevent disease among animals crowded together in unsanitary conditions — is stimulating the emergence of bacteria resistant to treatment by some of the most important antibiotics used to treat humans.

The emboldened text above highlights a major oversight in our thinking—and the editorial board’s thinking— about antibiotics and animal agriculture. They are not just used in industrial settings where confinement is the norm. They are also used by small farmers to prevent disease of domesticated animals who are not crowded together but, because of their freedom to move and natural sociability, interact often enough to spread disease. In a way, this should be common sense. Small farmers have more invested in every individual animal and, as a result, are quick to seek prophylactic solutions when the faintest sign of sickness becomes evident.

Consider this account from a chicken farmer writing about her birds on a popular forum:  ”Been treating [the mysterious disease] really well, but, I am out of Gallimycin [antibiotics that fights respiratory disease], till my order comes in! I am giving the 4 really bad ones LA-200 [another antibiotic] injections, and injections to the other sick pen. I have terrimycin [yet another antibiotic] in the water now, as well as Probios. I am also terrymincing everyone else as a precaution. All are getting Vet RX [compound that treats worms and colds] at the moment too.” (1) As for concerns over the perpetuation of resistance, “I am questioning if giving her the same antibiotic a second time might perhaps be ineffective? (may even lead to resistance in the organism causing this?).”(2)

It’s important that consumers become aware that the problems that we assume are endemic to factory farming happen on small, nonindustrial farms as well.

(1) Smoky73, April 5, 2008 (3:52 p.m.) thread starter “Aye, I am fed up with the weather causing sickness,” backyardchickens.com April 5, 2008: http://backyardchickens.yuku.com/topic/10764/Aye-I-am-fed-up-with-the-weather-causing-sickness. Accessed April 28, 2013.

(2) Eprinex Questions,” various backyardchickens.com  thread started on April 19, 2007 (907 a.m.): http://backyardchickens.yuku.com/reply/28271/Eprinex-Questions#reply-28271. Accessed April 29, 2013; dlhunicorn, November 3, 2006 (3:41 p.m.) comment on halo826’s thread starter “I have a very sick hen too…please help me again,” November 3, 2007: http://backyardchickens.yuku.com/reply/30124/I-have-a-very-sick-hen-tooplease-help-me-again#reply-30124. Accessed April 29, 2013.

 


 

 

Slicing and Dicing Animal Ethics Into Insignificance

» March 24th, 2014

There’s an non-waste ethic infusing foodie culture these days. Emerging from an earnest 1970s-emphasis on “reuse, reduce, recycle,” this ethic is used like a “get out of jail free” card.  In order to justify the unnecessary suffering and death of sentient animals, you just use the whole animal. You’ve thereby done right by the environment, animal ethics, and, of course, your precious palate. Win-win. And win!

It’s due to this freshly dusted and repackaged ethic that the adventurous diner has heretofore unprecedented options. He can skip the traditional pork chop and eat Wilbur’s testicles. Bad-ass chefs–and, really, have anyone else noticed how utterly badass celebrity chefs look these days?–pride themselves on carnivorously-inclined menus littered with entrees that incorporate the strange viscera of dismemberment. You get a sense that the animal you are eating was not only killed, but sliced and diced and vivisected as if he were a medical school cadaver.

Which, of course, he was. And that brings us to the rub. When an animal enters an industrial, USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, his corpse emerges 19 minutes later as not only as chops destined for domestic meat counters, but as pelts bound for Turkey, lungs sent to dog-treat manufacturers, bile for the pharmaceutical industry, caul fat (the lining of organs) for Native American communities and liver destined for Saudi Arabia (which, go figure, distributes cow liver globally). Oh–and as a hog testicle sampler for a clean $11.99 at a savvy little Austin spot teeming with culinary virtue.

Point being: those seeking to use the whole carcass as a measure of their ethical status as meat-eaters are trapped in yet another contradiction. To eat low on the hog they must rely on the very institution that epitomizes the complexity of industrial agriculture: a slaughterhouse. Naturally, some backyard warrior could hack his own primal path to self-sufficiency, but to make the by-products of slaughter commercially available–and what else is animal agriculture ultimately about?–all cravings for “pig face” (not making that one up) must cede to the industrialized abattoir equipped to undertake the requisite dismemberment. The only alternative–mobile slaughterhouses–lack such capabilities.

This might seem to be a peripheral message. But it’s in fact a symptom of the larger contradiction that’s at the core of the push to produce “humane” animal products. Repeatedly, the rhetoric of this movement exceeds the reality. It’s as if everyone interested in reforming the food system jumped on a bandwagon–one that promised having and eating cake–before noticing that it was careening downhill and the road was about to end. How many more crashes will we have to witness before this movement comes to its senses and takes a more thoughtful toe-path to reform?

 

Watered Down Logic and A Lot of Hot Air

» March 1st, 2014

The environmental case against raising animals for food becomes increasingly stronger as more and more research emerges. A closer look at the finer points on the comparative water usage between livestock and plants highlights this correlation quite clearly.

According to researchers recently cited in a Mother Jones article, beef has a water footprint of 15,415 cubic meters/ton. The water footprint for “sugar crops” is 197 cubic meters/ton; for vegetables it’s 240 cubic meters/ton. This dramatic disparity alone raises serious questions as to why anyone seeking to analyze the current California drought would highlight the water footprint of nuts—admittedly, a relatively high 9,063 cubic meters/ton—when cattle consume so much of California’s scarce water supply, most of it in the form of alfalfa. Doing so strikes me as a case of distraction journalism.

A related issue when it comes to comparing the ecological impact of the food is methane–which has 72 times the global warming potential as carbon. Last year was a big year for methane research. Scientists discovered that U.S. methane output is 50 percent more than the EPA was estimating and 70 percent more than the figure cited by th European Environmental Agency’s Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). Especially revealing was the fact that livestock related emissions were twice the current estimates, accounting for up to 33 percent of global methane emissions. Cows burp and defecate, methane escapes, it harms the environment. This claim holds true for factory farmed and pastured animals.

Given these kinds of figures, in addition to the urgency with which environmentalists rightfully urge humans to adjust their behavior to prevent planetary implosion, it strikes me as a little ridiculous that we’re actually having serious arguments over whether or not veganism is a good move for the environment. Of course it is.

Let’s close that case and start talking about why the eco-foodies who wring their hands so earnestly about ecological destruction are not taking the obvious and in many ways the most accessible step of exclusively eating plants.

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A Side Of Diarrhea

» February 20th, 2014

For those who follow the travails of factory farming nothing is shocking anymore. We’ve endured pink slime and Mad Cow and McFibs and we know the industry will literally shove all manner of deception down our throats while telling us how important their products are to human and economic health. But diarrhea? Yup. Add that one to the list.

Last night I got a call from a friend at HSUS. He told me about the details of an undercover investigation they’d just completed at a Kentucky pig operation named Iron Maiden Farms (yeah, I know, too much). Pig farms have suffered massive outbreaks of a disease called “porcine epidemic diarrhea” (PED)–which primarily kills piglets. To combat this disease, Iron Maiden has sought to foster immunity to PED in sows by feeding them a puree made from the infected intestines of their dead piglets.

In response to the accusation, the executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (according to Nicholas Kristof’s reporting), said that “From a public health standpoint, I don’t think there’s a risk there.” He also noted, though, that pig farmers were doing more than feeding PED infected piglet intestines to sows. They were also, as Kristof explained, “increasingly finding that it’s more effective simply to use diarrhea from an infected animal to expose sows to P.E.D.”

Kristof goes on to note that this sinister stew is yet another reason to not eat pigs from factory farms–places that disregard the basic welfare of pigs, not to mention the people who eat them. To guide consumers in the right direction, he contrasts Iron Maiden with the Niman Ranch Pork Company which, according to Kristof, raises “animals humanely.” But this is the wrong lesson to take from the HSUS’s Iron Maiden discovery. In fact, it only ensures that the Iron Maidens of the world will continue their awful work.

HSUS’s undercover work was exceptional. It provides an opportunity to remind ourselves that when people own animals for the purposes of killing them and profiting from that killing for food we don’t need, animals will suffer immensely. Iron Maiden confines it’s pigs and feeds them the diarrheal excretions of their offspring before killing them. Niman allows pigs more pasture time and does not feed them piglet intestines before killing them. But in both scenarios, animals smarter than your preschooler die prematurely and unnecessarily. Both animals become objects from which their owners will benefit. Both are slaughtered for no other good reason than the whimsical human desire to eat them.

All of which makes you kind of wonder why Niman wastes so much time and effort tending to their pigs’ welfare in the first place. They’re going to treat them like junk at the end of the day anyway, just like the factory farms do. Consumers are foolish to think that eating from Niman exonerates them from the horrors of Iron Maiden. In the long run, by reiterating that it’s fine to eat pigs, consumers choosing “humane” pork only guarantee that the Iron Maidens of the industry get to keep pulling off the same old shit.

When we will realize the implications of this connection? When will we react to these scandals in a way that actually prevents them from ever happening again?

Note: Here’s a link to a site on pig management that explicitly directs farmers to add diarrhea to the pigs’s water.

Meat In History

» December 15th, 2013

 

Maureen Ogle is a historian whose work, which includes a history of beer, relies on some pretty big—and, as far as I can tell—perfectly sensible interpretations of the global food system.

The most significant of these is that the entirety of our food reformist ideology—be it local food, slow food, organic food, seasonal food, whatever—is based on the consumer-driven quest to have food that’s cheap, ecologically responsible, and, when possible, humane. In other words: the impossible.

Integral to this chimeric goal, one that frequently traps the sustainable food movement in cycles of contradiction, is the mythical notion of agrarian independence and virtue that foodies routinely promote as a realistic model for change. The damage done by the myth of the happy and hale independent farmer, explains Ogle in her new book, In Meat We Trust, prevents these critics from taking a more sober and historically grounded look at how we ended up with the food system we now have and, by extension, how we might fix it.

This book is bound to be misinterpreted by meat and non-meat eaters alike. There’s a lot of nuance in it (I’m about 1/3 through it). And while I don’t agree with Ogle’s suggestion that, like it or not, we’re locked into ceaseless carnivory (the book has little interest in vegetarianism or veganism), I do support Ogle’s effort to frame the rise of agribusiness in broad and perhaps inexorable historical forces rather than blaming all our culinary ills on a cabal of evil corporations run by sinister capitalists bent on making us fat and sick.

This refocussing matters a great deal. The successful attempt on the part of the food system’s critics to pin the excesses of agribusiness on feckless corporations establishes the foundation for a sort of oppositional hero worship. There’s a reason the food movement tried to draft Michael Pollan to be the Secretary of Agriculture under Obama (and it wasn’t strictly because they were being delusional): the current food movement thinks in terms of heroic individuals rather than broadly conceptualized, and comparatively dull, patterns of cultural change.

Thing is, though, it’s through the ladder category that change happens.

In this respect, Ogle inadvertently creates ample space for the introduction of animal ethics into the growing discourse of food reform. Elsewhere, she has treated animal rights activism with dismissive insouciance. But her productive efforts to sever our ties with a mythical lost agrarian age, in addition to her work separating individuals and movements, appeals directly to a movement that eschews mythology, is suspicious of heroes, and is ready to translate compassion into action.

Although she would not agree, I’d say her analysis suggests that the time has never been riper for a movement that embraces animal liberation.

(You can read my supplemental analysis of Ogle’s work later this week in Forbes)

 

 

Immense Suffering?

» November 11th, 2013

My piece on dairy at Forbes last week has generated considerable discussion. That’s good. The bulk of it has centered on my decision to refer to artificial insemination as a procedure that causes—here come the controversial words– ‘immense suffering.” That’s frustrating. When I wrote those words, I had two things in mind. First, that the physical process caused suffering and, second, that the consequences of that physical process caused suffering. Together, I reasoned, the suffering was not normal. It was abnormal. Immense came to mind.

Putting aside the point that this emphasis on such a small aspect of the article only affirms the legitimacy of piece’s underlying message, it is worth wondering if, in fact, artificial insemination is a procedure that would cause suffering. Did I overstate? “Aaron” thought I was off the mark, writing,

I have artificially inseminated many cows, and it would be the equivalent of a prostate exam for humans—intrusive, but not painful (haven’t had one, but my M.D. wife tells me that). Vets employ the same technique to assess any number of things going on inside cows and horses. Sure, the animals are restrained, but no more than when they would to be given a vaccine, milked, whatever. Depending on a cow’s personality and intensity of her heat, some even stand still in the middle of a wide open pen or pasture to be artificially inseminated.

First, notice that he calls a prostate exam “not painful” (um, Aaron, when that special day comes, you will retract these words faster than you can say “ever do time, doc?”). Notice also that he makes this assessment on the grounds that his wife tells him so (Aaron really is in for a shocker!). Also notice how he makes it sound as if a cow will often act as if she wanted to have a pipette of semen placed in her vagina– “some even stand still” for the penetration. If this all sounds crazy, Aaron has Brian to keep him company. Brian writes,

Cows do not mind being inseminated. I inseminate about 125 cows per year. I am right behind a cow when I inseninate [sic] her, if she did mind being inseminated, I would get kicked very hard.

Hmm. Now might be a good time to consider exactly what must happen in order for a cow to be artificially inseminated. By way of foreshadowing, let’s speculate that the cow might not be able to kick Brian to the curb because she likely has an arm up her rectum. Anyway, here’s this, from a medical manual:

Form the gloved hand into a wedge and insert it with a thrust into the anus as far as possible. As the hand enters the anus, it should be folded for more a loose fist… The cow will exert a fair amount of pressure against the hand and arms – she will try to expel them…Some bleeding may occur during the palpation process. This results from scraping the mucosa and rupturing small blood vessels at the surface of the rectum wall. This is not serious but extreme care should be taken that the inseminator does not rupture the rectum wall…. If a rupture does occur it usually leads to peritonitis and the death of the animal. When a rupture is identified, it is usually best to send the cow to slaughter as soon as possible…
Once the cervix is located, it must be grasped and controlled so that the inseminating instrument can be inserted. Encircle the cervix with the thumb and fingers in such a way that the thumb is on top of the cervix and the fingers re under the cervix. The thumb should stay on top without rotating the wrist. This can be difficult and tiring – it takes effort to stretch the rectal wall. As the inseminating instrument is slid forward the cervix must be pushed forward to straighten out the vaginal folds. Remember, the cow is trying to force the cervix toward the vulva and thus creates more folds. If the cervix is not pushed forward, the tip of the instrument can get caught in a fold and stretch or puncture the vagina.

 

So now how do you feel about “immense suffering”? For the record, I also heard from vegans that I went too far, saying what I had no authority to say, when I noted that the procedure above causes “immense suffering.” All of which leads me to wonder: has anyone noticed that those who take issue with my descriptions seem to have a vested financial interest in, well, inseminating cows? Shouldn’t immense suffering be joined with immense shamelessness, immense hypocrisy, and immense exploitation?
Or am I just being melodramatic? A crass sensationalist?

Concealment and Surveillance

» November 4th, 2013

We discussed Tim Pachirat’s Every Twelve Seconds in my “eating meat in America” class today. For those who don’t know this book, you should. You must. Pachirat’s material comes from his work as an undercover employee in an Omaha slaughterhouse. For five months, as fieldwork for his anthropology dissertation, he studied the Nebraskan abattoir from every angle, every nook, every cranny, documenting in finely grained detail the 121 stages of production required to bring meat to our plate, leather to our jackets, and, of course, fecal blood to our research laboratories. Of course. Of course.

Better than any analysis I’ve ever read, or could imagine reading, the book explores the interlocking politics of concealment and surveillance required to convince civilized society to go collectively brain dead over mass slaughter, worker abuse, and ecological degradation.

As near as I can tell, my students were moved. But in weirdly different ways. The arc of emotions expressed in class ranged from denial to silence to tears. What I mean is that some talkers stayed silent while others took safe refuge in cold intellectual abstraction while another bravely just let it all go. Pachirat writes almost antiseptically about death. He doesn’t hype up anything. He’s about as engagingly objective about the mechanics of killing sentient beings as one could be. And that’s exactly what’s so chilling about his book. Cramming for class this morning, I, too, kept crying. Not your normal day at the office.

Before discussing the book, my co-teacher, a philosopher (who was a NY Times Magazine finalist on justifying eating animals), led a beyond intriguing discussion about the moral implications of disgust. Does disgust signify immorality? Or is it merely an evolutionary response to disease that’s been periodically highjacked by rogues and psychopaths to sow seeds of xenophobia and tribalism? In the end, we sort of nodded in the direction of both options, but we did so under the agreement that disgust should be evaluated in terms of the contemporary goal it’s attempting to legitimate. At the least, we were intrigued by disgust, which more than I ever was as an undergraduate.

What struck me the most was how Pachirat’s conceptual framework kept framing our own discussion. I could see it in too many faces that never spoke: the concealment of big ideas in silence, the surveillance of professorial authority and external expectation. I remarked how stunned I was by the power of crass capitalism to create an institution so perverse that it could, under one roof, make room for paper pushers and fetus bleeders.

And then it was 3:2o and time to move on to who knows what.

 

Nuclear Reactors and Bald Eagles

» October 11th, 2013

The best thing that humans could do for wildlife is to leave wildlife alone. This seems like an axiom so sensible it need not be said. But it must.  In fact it cannot be said enough.

Intervention efforts, even when the motives are altruistic, routinely–nay, inevitably– backfire. When we intervene, we assume we know more about ecosystems that we could ever possibly know. We work under a set of assumptions about plan A leading to consequence B that are, for all the science justifying them, haphazard and untested.  The results speak for themselves.

But here’s the thing: we are human, we are going to manipulate resources to serve our wants and needs, to innovate, to feed our curiosity and, yes, to quest for power. That’s what we do.  But we must do two things if we are to sustain ourselves: carve out proper space for our activities and reduce our numbers.

Population control and density: these are the most environmentally responsible goals we can puruse. We would all be better off if humans undertook most of our transformative endeavors in settings where resources and people were densely packed and there were a hell of a lot of rules that were enforced. I know this is all vague, but work with me because, somewhere in here, I think there’s a Big Idea.

Robert Bryce’s piece in today’s WSJ is instructive. It drives home the ironies of altruistic interventions into relatively natural ecosystems. We want to save the world with wind power so we propose to construct turbines in places we rarely see, places that are landscapes of the imagination. Seems like a progressive plan. But then the turbines spin and we we find ourselves faced with the prospect of killing bald and golden eagles, violating a federal act and, more importantly, mucking up an ecosystem we have no business exploiting to our benefit. “[I]f more turbines are built,” writes Bryce, “more eagles will be killed.”

In other instances, our actions are less altruistic but harm wildlife in unexpected ways as well. Currently Bighorn sheep are dying of pneumonia in the Mohave Desert. One hypothesis is that an angora goat shot by a hunter may have spread the infection. Hunting is often justified as a proper conservation measure. Not in this case. Not in most cases. Another, more likely, possibility is that truckloads of domestic sheep being driven through the region are spreading the disease.

Either way, interventions for food we don’t need is harming wildlife in systematic ways.  Our unnecessary crossover into peripheral landscapes, in this case for cheap meat, is to blame for our destruction of wildlife and undermining of biodiversity.  If we simply stayed out of the few relatively undeveloped regions we have left, allowed them to exist on their own terms, and gradually expanded their range, the fate of wild animals would be much better off. As would that of humans.

Too often we’re our own worst enemies. Our forays into the peripheries are whimsical. And, on the flip side, too often our behavior at the centers are retrograde and romantic. We fail to tolerate potentially beneficial technologies—such as nuclear power or bioengineering—to enhance the power of density to save ourselves from ourselves. We say these are “unnatural” and dismiss them.

Again, all vague at this point, but what I’m proposing is a way of thinking about the human-ecosystem relationship such that we allow wilderness to be wilderness, humans to be humans, innovation to be innovation, cities to be cities, rural areas to be rural areas, and our thoughts about nature to become supple enough to accommodate nuclear reactors and bald eagles at the same time.