If Beanstalks Had Feelings

Vegan? Becoming a vegan? One day, someone is going to ask you that burning question: “Oh, so you think plants don’t have feelings?”

What About PlantsDepending on your mood, available time, and experience with this classic outburst, your answer might be (1) terse, (2) practical, or (3) biological:

(1) Whatever. You roll your eyes and return to what you were doing before this unoriginal remark was uttered.

(2) OK, but animal farming harms more plants. Obvious, is it not? Animal husbandry requires several times the volume of crops as would be grown if we just grew food for people to eat. Willy could spare untold leafy billions from torture by growing food, not feed.

(3) Plants can’t run. You could also remind Willy that nature gave animals nervous systems to prompt them to self-protectively move away from sources of pain. If beanstalks had feelings, evolution would have equipped them with moveable feet, fins, or wings.

My preference is 1.

Plant Sensitivities, Revisited

So now that we’ve got the retorts laid out, let’s think seriously about plants. They are indeed responsive to their surroundings. And in this time of climate change, plants’ sensitivity to stress is coming to the attention of environmental science. Plants naturally breathe in carbon dioxide. But they can only take so much.

Excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere results from several human activities—including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and animal agribusiness.[1]

We also tend to drive predators out of any biological community we enter. That leads to an abundance of herbivores, standing around the foliage, chomping away without a care. Their bliss is illusory; the absence of wolves and other predator animals is unhealthy. And the put-upon plants can’t absorb the greenhouse gases they could handle in a balanced environment.

A study at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies showed plants around spiders (predators) took in carbon 1.4 times faster than when with only grasshoppers (herbivores). Grasshoppers coping with predators ate less grass, and grasses stored more carbon in their roots when dealing with these herbivores and carnivores together. Where only herbivores were present, plants tended to breathe out, rather than store, carbon.[2]

Compare the way sea otter scarcity correlates with rising emissions. The missing otters’ prey, sea urchins, are free to feed heavily on the kelp forests which would otherwise hold in carbon. With predators gone, CO2 emissions have, in some cases, risen tenfold!

What Are the Implications for Vegan Activism?

We need to get out there and challenge the persecution of predator animals. I’ll gladly help in the writing of educational materials with any vegan group interested in forming, say, a coyote co-existence initiative. coexistence initiative

By being vegan, we’ve already built a solid platform for this advocacy. Predators are so often wiped out because they impede human hunting and animal farming (which a vegan humanity would stop).

And of course, trees and foliage can’t take in carbon dioxide if they’re gone because the forest was cleared of indigenous flora and fauna so corporations could usurp the land to farm domesticated animals.

All told, plants and their sensitivities have diverse and interesting ramifications, and we need to pay attention. In the mystical yet grounded words of my friend Jack McMillan:  “Plants—and, yes, rocks, and water, and all . . . are part of the exceedingly complex web of life and the sacred constellation of consciousness.”


NOTES

[1] United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production” (2010) examines fossil fuel consumption, land use, and the impacts of population growth, and states: “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

[2] The scientific experts who study climate change for the United Nations haven’t been taking these multiplier effects into account in their models. 

Thanks goes out to Jack McMillan for inspiring this post. Coyote coexistence art by Lee Thompson.

Support Animal Liberation Advocacy—Direct!

Big news: I’m now on Patreon.

If you visit Vegan Place regularly, you know On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century is in print. Through Patreon, you can fund the transfer of the book’s ideas into public advocacy.

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

Photo credit: Suzannah Troy

I’m committed to doing at least one presentation monthly.

Through public presentations, I am:

  • Connecting dots for environmentalists.
  • Painting a picture of a new human identity in relation to Earth’s other life.
  • Showing how vegans spare animals from being turned into commodities—and how the commitment to becoming vegan can and does relieve the pressure on our whole global bio-community.

You can support this work of creation and outreach today, at my Patreon page.


Q. What is Patreon?

A. Think of it as a way to be a patron of the arts—in my case, the art of animal-liberation philosophy. And you don’t need to be rich. For the price of a cup of coffee each month, you can contribute meaningful support, as part of a community of funders.

Q. Lee, you teach law and legal studies. Aren’t you already supported?

A. I do animal-liberation work with no institutional support. I am an adjunct professor who, as many adjuncts do, also holds a retail job to make ends meet. Tenured and tenure-track professors are supported; indeed, most tenured professors receive high salaries, benefits, and substantial paid time away from the classroom so that they can do research, attend conferences, etc. But schools are in a race to the bottom when it comes to paying for instructional staff. Most of today’s college and university teachers are educated working-class contributors who—for equivalent work to that performed by fully paid professors—are drastically underpaid, and receive no time off for research and writing.

Q. So in effect, adjuncts are subsidizing the education of U.S. students! This needs to change. Right now, Lee, what work of yours can a “patron” support?

A. This quarter (through 2016), I’m focusing on achieving the ability to produce at least one educational presentation each month. Public presentations are vital to getting the word out about animal liberation, yet they require time I’ve lacked, given my schedule at the retail job. It’s simple: I can’t be in two places at one time. Your support enables my active presence in communities.

Q. So you believe Patreon is an effective way to support advocacy and policy work?

A. Yes, in this sense: Say you’ve considered giving to a nonprofit, knowing the group will direct your donation to a variety of things—very timepatreon logo-limited campaigns, executive and administrative salaries, fundraising, branding consultants and so forth—when your intention is to support focused vegan education. You might prefer a direct channel to fund an educator; and Patreon, which has developed a category for public educators, works well for that.

More questions or comments? Feel free to add them below.

A Performance Review of Humanity

On Earth Overshoot Day, which inches earlier each year, we exhaust more resources than Earth annually regenerates. #Pledgefortheplanet, we tweet! But what of the root-level change needed to address “over-exploitation” of Earth and its living communities?

Throughout our range across the Earth’s surface, we deem ourselves nature’s managers. Managers usually have to account for themselves in performance reviews. What if Earth Overshoot Day prompted a performance review of humanity?

Let’s try it.


Essay by Bill Drelles, Lee Hall, and matt shaw. Banner photo by Mónica Vereau.

Michelle-Melania Plagiarism: Tempest in a Posh Teacup

This graduation season, Michelle Obama gave a commencement speech for the City University of New York. The country’s largest urban public university, CUNY is historically dedicated to bolstering opportunities for people of modest backgrounds. Michelle Obama’s speech, at CUNY’s flagship City College in the Harlem District of Manhattan, lauded this year’s graduates for their own struggles. But the bright-pink elephant in the room—City College reportedly makes higher-than-average use of both part-time and adjunct teaching staff—never got a mention.

. . .At this time, knowledge is critical to a public understanding of civilization-threatening problems. A 2014 Pew Research survey showed that most people who’ve attained a college degree know that global warming is driven by human activity, while most people without that education do not.

And if this is so, higher education matters urgently to sound politics.

But opportunities to contribute to society, its knowledge, and its policies are being denied to current and future teachers and researchers.

Meanwhile, people positioned to change this are speechifying at commencements.

Read this piece in full in today’s edition of CounterPunch.

Climate and Vegetarian Summerfest 2016

On Thursday 7 July in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, I’ll be offering a talk named Climate Change: How the Public Conversation Is Shifting and How Vegetarian Voices Can Be Heard. (The North American Vegetarian Society presentation summary includes a description: “This session will provide updates on farming and climate, and also involve some easy, memorable, and valid points to raise—whether in ordinary conversations or at the policy level. Attorney Lee Hall holds a specialist’s degree in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and will facilitate discussion, including new findings and vital points not raised in most discussions of climate and diet.”)

Some VeganPlace readers might ask: Wait—vegetarian voices should be heard? Don’t vegetarians consume cow products, which are obviously connected to methane and general climate-wrecking?

No. Real vegetarians don’t eat dairy. The ovo-lacto take on vegetarianism has been ruled out by the North American Vegetarian Society for twenty years. The five-day menu at Summerfest is not ovo-lacto-; it’s pure vegetarian. Sometimes vegans rail against the shortfalls of vegetarians, but in my opinion the vegan movement needs to tip its hat to vegetarians taking their mission seriously. Respect to NAVS for encouraging its membership to strive for an authentic vegetarianism and to learn why animal agribusiness is not climate-friendly.

And now, yes, the public conversation about climate change has shifted. It has to. We’re not stronger than the climate system. It’s having the last word in every debate. No lifestyle, no matter how rich or famous, is exempt.

Nor is any place on Earth untouched; we now know that levels of Antarctic CO2 have reached 400 parts per million. For the first time in 4 million years.

The roadways on which we burn so much fossil-fuel energy seem to be bucking us off.

And yet a poll six months ago showed half of U.S. society thinking climate change isn’t a very serious problem.

Nothing could be more serious. Everything depends on climate. Plants are losing the conditions that support them. By 2100, some tropical regions are predicted to have 200 fewer growing days a year. Let that sink in.

And then think about what is happening to untamed animal communities when native plants stop growing where they live.

We keep on releasing stored carbon dioxide (by burning oil and gas) and disrupting Earth’s capacity to store it (by cutting down trees). We’re releasing methane into the atmosphere from our landfills, through fracking, and from domesticated animals, mostly cows. We’re polluting the atmosphere with nitrous oxide through our use of manure too.

And getting our proteins though animals raises costs. If your shopping bag is loaded with flesh products, including the bodies of marine animals, your receipt total is going to come out pretty high, compared to that of the shopper with a bag full of horseradish hummus, red and green cabbage, red pepper and ciabatta, sweet potatoes, etc. When we use cows, pigs, goats, rabbits, birds and other animals to funnel our protein through, we are not advancing culture so much as advancing business. I will use the term animal agribusiness when talking about animal farming and its attendant feed industries, and reserve the word agriculture for the growers who produce food.

Free-range is really another form of sprawl

It’s been ten years since the United Nations published Livestock’s Long Shadow, explaining the enormity of damage done through animal agribusiness. But the U.N. never suggested we stop farming animals or consuming the products (which many of us could do overnight). Its key recommendation? Greater intensification. In other words, consolidate and contain animals into high-volume operations. In situations of intense confinement, animals (along with their emissions and waste) can be more strictly contained; and with animals not moving as much, less feed is consumed.

What we learn from environmental science does not lead us to support any of this:Slide44

The above scenes are evidence of a spreading-out of the environmental problems we need to move beyond.

And the warmer the planet gets, the more intensively animals will be raised, for reasons such as temperature control. Overheated dairy cows aren’t efficient producers of milk. When the Union of Concerned Scientists, in their booklet Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State, say that cows are going to need fans and water sprays to cool them as the hot days multiply (cows drink four times as much liquid as they produce in summertime), they too are indicating that factory-style farming is the way of the future. (Look at page 8 in this PDF.)

Nowadays it’s popular to say that “factory farming” is inhumane. Yet we have environmental scientists communicating some important realities about how “cage-free” systems just spread the emissions around and use up more feed to raise roaming animals. With animal agribusiness, you can’t win.

A better recommendation comes Vegan Environmental Party of Ontario when it calls on the government to divest from animal agribusiness by halting the subsidies.

Consider that we reserve about 20 million acres of land for alfalfa alone. (And it must be irrigated.) Virtually all of it is used as feed.

That is in addition to the imposition of the domesticated animals themselves on the land. We need not continue this overbearing way of living on our planet.

For reasons that are many and interconnected, we need to be creating animal-free meals. Seekers of pure vegetarian cuisine miss nothing and conserve so much.

Make reservations at Vedge in Philadelphia or Plant in Asheville if you want to go gourmet. Most cities now have such offerings. Want to learn to prepare food like a pro in your own kitchen? You can learn. Try a subscription to a home delivery service with recipes and instructions from a professional chef such as Trish Sebben-Krupka at VegTable.

“But I just eat fish!”

That’s another sector of animal agribusiness, and not a sustainable one. The people at Greenpeace say “sustainable seafood” is within reach. They want us to demand better labels on the bodies of marine animals in the grocery aisle so we can tell if codfish are being scraped off the Norwegian Arctic seafloor with massive trawlers. Why do they take this position when they could do better? If we can afford to get food from a grocery store, we can get pure vegetarian food and make it great. And for the climate’s sake, we should.

The personal and political 

Recently a study was published in the journal Climatic Change involving 60,000 “meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans” in Britain. Remarkably, the study found dietary greenhouse gas emissions from the participating omnivores about twice as high as those from vegans. If we have the power to bring our emissions down so low, but we decline to use it, aren’t we committing malpractice as human beings?

By being vegan we can also alleviate social stress. The 2007-2010 Syrian drought, which forced rural people to move in droves to urban areas, culminating in one of the most severe conflicts of today, for example, was driven by climate factors.

What’s to come? We all know, if we read the papers, that 2016 has already shown record global temperatures, month after month after month. The New York Times offers regular reports on this, accompanied by  simplistic, incomplete advice. The Times acknowledges that the problem is complex and can feel overwhelming: “We get it.” 

But they don’t.

They mention “reducing meat” as one item in a list of things to do. They do point to animal agribusiness as the worst segment of agribusiness for the climate. The science would back the Times up on that one.  Slide36

The Times tells us in particular that “some methods of cattle production” demand a lot of land. Now, wait. “Some”? All of it does, and all cows create manure and methane, whether out on the range or within walls.

The Times urges “switching from beef to pork and chicken” and suggests that chicken farming is the least harmful kind.

Let’s not even get into the harmful health ramifications of the “eat pork” advice. Pig manure is still manure and what the world needs now isn’t more of it. And you don’t help the climate even by buying local eggs and chicken or pig flesh. To do so means you’re really relying on a massive feed industry—a serious fuel guzzler. “Local” animal farming isn’t local—because animal feed is routinely shipped many miles for mixing and packaging, and shipped again in distribution.

The huge feed requirements arise in fish farming too. Farmed fish really are “chickens of the sea”; aquaculture is tied into the global grain and feed market and it’s expected to double in size by 2050. Why contribute to that?

Instead, groups such as WWF should be funding vegan festivals.

Slide40

 

WWF’s so-called sustainable seafood standards are pressing small, family businesses, which once used by-products as feed, to enter the global feed market.

Before the pressure to adopt environmental standards like those of WWF’s Aquaculture Stewardship Council, catfish farmers used home-made feeds that included farm by-products. No more. Now the local farmers of the world have to vie for the labels that the affluent populations want to see in the grocery store.

Slide42Is it the height of irony that WWF would expose the “hidden soy” in animal products after pushing this same market?

People listen to the WWF and the New York Times when what they really need is no-nonsense information, and a key part of that information needs to come from those of us who’ve already divested from animal agribusiness in our own lives and can help others to do it.

This is not to say that being vegan is all we need to do. I’m starting to notice a lot of people picking out one kind of change that they like and claiming it as their part. I’ve heard people who bring their own bags back to the supermarket overstate the goodness of this good deed by claiming to be “saving the world, one bag at a time” (regardless of what products are in their re-used bags). Vegans need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re doing so much by being vegan that we ourselves needn’t make deep changes in our mindsets and actions.

I’ll also talk about the influence of religious doctrine and of education on people’s attitudes and understanding of climate change. I expect a lot of informed comments and feedback at Summerfest on Thursday the 7th. Join us in the Scholar’s Room if you can.

Meanwhile I’d like to conclude with a thought question. Should we use “the war on” language when we talk about climate? This language is meant to indicate a serious approach to climate change, which of course is well past due.

Slide50

But are we really in combat?

And should we be “arming” ourselves against the hordes of invaders coming in when climatic zones shift because of our own conduct?

Is warring against a natural system’s response to overload what we need to be doing? Is this the best mindset for the work we must do to put ourselves in good stead with our planet?

Let’s talk about this.

Orlando

Yes, I’m in. Let’s put an end to non-military availability of military-style weapons.

And what of the military use of military-style weapons?

And the use of weapons for terrorizing the other animals in our midst?

How about we put an end to heterosexism, domestic violence, rape culture, hatred against queers or anything perceived as queer? Could we stop requiring everyone to mark “female” or “male” boxes, in light of the way this binary has so long negated the relationships of, and otherwise obstructed, so many people in so many times and places, even resulting in medically prescribed physical harm? Female and male are not absolute categories, and the binary fails a humanity striving to be all we’re meant to be.

How about we make solid efforts to show respect for Latinx, for the LGBTQIA movement, for Muslim communities, for non-citizens?

Consider that we needn’t identify ourselves in terms of nationality, and thus needn’t be involved in a constant reconstitution of enemies which this social construct generates. That we could transcend bordered societies.

And how about we cut out bullying, and teaching bullying at home? How about we rid our everyday, continuing history of the classism that systematically denies creative self-expression to the majority of people?

How about we refuse to accept captivity and habituation of other animal communities as a human prerogative?

How about we respect everyone’s interest in living their way, unmolested, expressing themselves creatively as they were meant to do, and support them in doing it?

How about we stop investing in win-lose scenarios and essentially meaningless competitions and quests for social prestige at the expense of lives of genuine collaboration? Let’s try a little tenderness before we cook the Earth’s biosphere to a crisp, shall we?

Without human decency and mutual support, and empathy for each other and a sense of connection with all consciousness, how can we ever transcend the “I’ve got mine” mentality to save what we love, even love itself?

And right this moment: Listen. You don’t threaten, as Hillary did, to “ramp up” military strikes against a place, a community (even as The Donald seized the moment to emit yet another rant against human migration), because someone’s home-grown soul in Orlando, Florida was so unhinged as to turn a safe space for queer people into their death trap.

Listen. You don’t get to use an attack on queer people to threaten violence on some other community. You don’t exploit the hurting of people who have taken down gender-based social walls in order to fortify your nation-based ones. Enough blood has flowed.

The green stripe in the rainbow flag means nature. The use of military weapons on so-called foreign nations destroys safe spaces for someone’s children, for other conscious beings, and for the biosphere that’s home to all.  Disrespect that biosphere, and you disrespect an integral element of the pride movement.

Red stands for life, orange for healing. Yellow stands for sunlight. Blue is for harmony. Purple, for spirit.

The banner of nation-based bullying can’t hold a candle to this.