Are All Major Environmental Organizations Cowards?

» June 19th, 2014

Why is it that institutions with the power to initiate genuine beneficial change diminish their own effectiveness? I’ve railed in the past against mainstream environmental groups for refusing to promote veganic agriculture as a critical component of ecological amelioration. The evidence is simply overwhelming and undeniable: removing animals from agriculture would almost totally resolve the defining environmental (not to mention ethical) problems of global food production.

In the face of that evidence, though, leading environmental groups peddle the snake oil of untested or ridiculously utopian “solutions”—such as rotational grazing and urban animal agriculture—and insist that we can have our meat and eat it too. It’s a terrible shame, almost as if the cure for a fatal disease were sitting on an upper shelf but we decided it was too much effort to get off our ass and reach for it.

And it’s not as if these organizations aren’t willing to pursue extreme measures to advance their agendas. Bill McKibben’s 350.org has focussed like an attack dog on the XL Pipeline. Forget that abolishing this pipeline would ensure that oil and gas would move across the nation through less safe means [see this], the point here is that 350.org has boldly chosen to use the transcontinental pipeline as a symbol of the organization’s desire to end the consumption of fossil fuels altogether and replace them with alternative sources of energy. Doesn’t that strike you as more radical than pursuing a meatless agenda? Once again, there’s something about meat, and meat alone, that prevents making any suggestion that, for all its problems, we give it up. (Oh, right, it tastes good).

What’s particularly distressing about this cowardice, this craven refusal to call for the kind of change that demands sacrifice (yes, I know, veganism is not a sacrifice, but most people think of eschewing meat in that way) is the fact that even organizations explicitly committed to animals and the environment refuse to insist that veganism is the answer to our agricultural ills. In fact, with HSUS leading the charge, they support the small and “humane” alternatives as acceptable stepping stones to a stable alternative they refuse to explicitly define, much less place on a billboard: a plant-based diet.

To provide a more concrete sense of this cowardice, note what a representative from a notable organization concerned with animal welfare wrote in response to a request that the organization do an undercover investigation of a so-called “humane” farm:

If we expose “higher welfare” farms as being cruel too, then the majority of people who would have otherwise reduced their consumption or chosen higher welfare standards think it is useless to even try and stop eating factory farmed animal products. So, instead of moving people closer to the goal of veganism, it would have the effect of moving people further away. (I think it’s similar to citizens who feel politically alienated and powerless. Sometimes these individuals believe their vote doesn’t count and so don’t they vote at all.)

My thoughts are many in response to this rationalization. But first and foremost among them is this: if these organizations don’t believe in their own mission, why should we?

24 Responses to Are All Major Environmental Organizations Cowards?

  1. Sailesh Rao says:

    This is precisely the theme of the documentary, Cowspiracy:

    http://cowspiracy.com/

    McKibben’s 350.org is heavily funded by the Rockefeller foundation. Having endured the industrialization of agriculture in India, courtesy the Rockefeller foundation, I find that fact speaks for itself.

  2. Teresa Wagner says:

    Totally understand your concerns. I feel similarly about many of the marine conservation organizations who are involved in disentangling whales from fishing gear entanglement, and do NOT want to hear about how humans eating fish is the root cause of it. Boggles me. A ten year old could figure out the root cause of this grave threat to whales. I was asked to write an article a few years ago for the American Cetacean Society about an entanglement I witnessed in Silver Bank. Of course, for me, the whole point of writing such an article is to point out not only that entanglement occurs and creates horrific suffering, but how we can stop it: stop eating seafood. The organization made me take that part out. God forbig whale lovers or researchers who eat seafood would be offended. Boggles, boggles my mind.

    However, if you want to explore an organization that fully faces the issues, learn about Sea Shepherd. Direct action to resolve issues for marine animals, and every single employee and volunteer eats a vegan diet on their ships. Impressive!

    • Mary Finelli says:

      Thank you for noting this problem with marine conservation organizations, Teresa, and relating your experience with the American Cetacean Society. Oceana, which bills itself as “the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization,” actually produced a book entitled “Perfect Protein,” which promotes the use of fish as food.

      Fish are by far the greatest category of exploited animals yet they receive the least protection or attention, ironically even from the animal protection community. Science has shown that fish are sentient and, in fact, a recent scientific paper confirming this and many other admirable qualities of fish is deservedly getting a lot of press right now.

      Sea Shepherd does terrific work, and it’s great that the food they provide is vegan. It also takes a position against seafood, although it states “if you must eat seafood” and goes on to explain how then to select it. No one they are addressing “must eat seafood.” It would be better stated “if you insist upon eating seafood.” Alternatively, they could leave it at explaining why seafood should not be consumed. Being so key to what they are trying to accomplish, one would think the point about not eating seafood would be in the forefront of their advocacy. However, I only found it on their website by doing a search for it. How many people are going to do that?

      The exploitation of fish is also extremely relevant to so many other animal issues (wildlife, farmed animals, etc.). It very much needs to be in the forefront of animal and environmental advocacy. Our organization, Fish Feel, is trying to help get it there.

  3. Teresa Wagner says:

    Totally understand your concerns. I feel similarly about many of the marine conservation organizations who are involved in disentangling whales from fishing gear entanglement, and do NOT want to hear about how humans eating fish is the root cause of it. Boggles me. A ten year old could figure out the root cause of this grave threat to whales. I was asked to write an article a few years ago for the American Cetacean Society about an entanglement I witnessed in Silver Bank. Of course, for me, the whole point of writing such an article is to point out not only that entanglement occurs and creates horrific suffering, but how we can stop it: stop eating seafood. The organization made me take that part out. God forbid whale lovers or researchers who eat seafood would be offended. Or God forbid we actually SOLVE the problem instead of continuing to rescue 3% of the impacted whales while the rest suffer (though I absolutely do deeply respect the disentanglement teams who do incredible work to save whales). Boggles, boggles my mind.

    However, if you want to explore an organization that fully faces the issues, learn about Sea Shepherd. Direct action to resolve issues for marine animals, and every single employee and volunteer eats a vegan diet on their ships. Impressive!

  4. Eric says:

    I am a vegan who supports the big green groups for the most part. Two points:

    1. Politics is the art of the possible. I believe big green groups should promote good outcomes regarding nonhuman animals, human workers, and more. But if they can advance climate goals by dealing with meat eating politicians and the public, they need to be able to do so.

    2. Climate change, toxics, and other enviro ills are as cruel to nonhuman animals as big ag. Consider the seabird whose stomach bursts from ingesting ocean-carried plastic waste. Her plight is as important as the hen in a battery cage.

    So let’s fight the real enemies, not the folks who are mostly on our side.

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      You might be interested in an article by Johann Hari in the Nation from 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

      “Groups like Conservation International are among the most trusted “brands” in America, pledged to protect and defend nature. Yet as we confront the biggest ecological crisis in human history, many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world’s worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return. Sometimes the corruption is subtle; sometimes it is blatant.”

      http://www.thenation.com/article/wrong-kind-green#

  5. Rucio says:

    It is apt that you bring up Bill M‘Kibben because in fact his efforts are in fact far from radical. Simply replacing fossil fuels with other sources of energy maintains (or even worsens) the relation of human consumption to the rest of life on Earth. Like the avoidance of demanding (or at least expressing the desirability or benefits of) the end of animal agriculture, M‘Kibben also avoids demanding a drastic reduction of energy consumption (which would also occur with giving up meat and dairy). So instead of actually changing anything, the result is the promotion of “alternatives” – wind and solar, grass-fed beef – that are just as bad, if not much worse, than what they pretend to replace (just as blocking the Keystone XL pipeline will only cause the sludge/slurry to be transported in worse ways).

    Our sanctimonious politicians never tire of admonishing us that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That is true, but what is good can only be accepted by first enunciating and fighting for the perfect. And then the fight continues to bring us closer to that ideal.

    Most of the big mainstream organizations seem to think that actual radical ideas – like the ones on which most of them were founded – would scare away funding. So they come out swinging with a compromise already in hand.

  6. Ellen K says:

    I don’t understand the reasoning in the quotation you include, especially its first sentence, but maybe I’m missing something?
    I wonder if they have some kind of research or survey data to support that claim about effective tactics?
    In any case, is the organization otherwise clear on its vegan messaging and goal? Some are, some aren’t.

    • Ellen K says:

      To expand just a bit, and draw a distinction: if I’m reading the quotation correctly, maybe it has to do only with their investigation priorities and what they think will have the widest public impact, not their mission or advocacy. I am of course frustrated with not targeting Whole Foods suppliers, Applegate, and Niman et al, and wish they’d be fully exposed as the factory farming they are, and I don’t grasp the rationale for not doing so. But still, two organizations besides HSUS which do undercover work that I’m aware of (COK, MFA) are unequivocal and explicit in their vegan mission and messaging.

      Still, your overall point is on target, and a big reason I also support the approach of Engine 2, FOK, and its ilk: no hemming and hawing about organic, local, humane, blah blah blah …. none of it’s good, so don’t eat it, period.

    • Rucio says:

      Indeed, it is a rationalization, not reason. It also ignores the possibility that people concerned with animal welfare might actually give up meat if the illusion of a humane alternative to animal slavery and slaughter is shattered rather than coddled.

  7. Rebecca Allen says:

    Surprisingly, to me, The University of Oxford voted to have vegan meals 5 days a week! Now that’s leadership. Hopefully that will inspire other institutions to move forward on this issue.

    And, the Citizens Climate Lobby will be serving a vegan meal dinner at their annual conference in Washington, DC. It was vegans that had to push for it, but maybe it will help spread the word. Other Environmental organization need to catch on quick.

  8. Elaine Brown says:

    I support anyone who makes any kind of inroads. We are dealing with a corrupted and greedy society that marks its prosperity by the quantity of meat eaten. If I did not advocate for one step at a time, I would have never accomplished anything in this life.

    Yes, you are right, but right does not get rid of wrongs. I appreciate anyone or thing that moves us toward a sustainable world.

    I am concerned about the incredible consumption of sugar, trans fat oils, and GMOs as well.

  9. Teresa Wagner says:

    Thank you!

  10. Sailesh Rao says:

    Here’s a review of Cowspiracy, which premiered last night. It is indeed a game changer!

    http://climatehealers.ning.com/profiles/blogs/cowspiracy-bending-the-arc-of-the-moral-universe

    • Isabella says:

      thank you, Sailesh, I was happy to also attend the San Francisco premiere, and this review is a very accurate assessment of this ground-breaking film. we need to get this film in front of as many human eyes as possible as soon as possible!

  11. Elaine Livesey-Fassel says:

    This is such a VITAL conversation . I agree with Ms. Brown. The TRUTH/RIGHT must be articulated loud, clear and often and must be heard and listened to by the multitudes to have a chance of being acted upon. These ‘truths’ ARE self-evident to the few ( practicing vegans) but are’ opaque’ to most of the Public ,and are denied by all self -interested related Industries in such a practiced manner as to be exceedingly challenging. There is a VERY steep mountain to climb, but it is exciting to be on this journey! Thank you to all writers, philosophers,filmakers and other persons who help give voice this to vital, life affirming quest.

  12. Sailesh Rao says:

    Johann Hari’s findings from 4 years ago: the major environmental organizations are not cowards, they are just corrupt…

    http://www.thenation.com/article/wrong-kind-green#

    Meanwhile, Al Gore continues to deny the number one cause of climate change, while calling out climate deniers. A clear cut case of the pot calling the kettle black…

    http://hpjmh.com/2014/06/20/al-gore-guilty-of-misinforming-by-virtue-of-omission/

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