A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Climate Change and the Animals

Why Al Gore and climate scientists need the animal protection movement

By Michael Mountain

On the old TV drama, 24, Jack Bauer had exactly 24 hours to navigate a maze of terrorists, conspirators, gangsters, sell-outs, and double and triple-agents in order to save New York, L.A., and the world from catastrophe.

Al Gore may not be Jack Bauer, but this week gave himself 24 hours to do a somewhat similar job: convince the world that oil and coal corporation gangsters, conniving politicians, sell-out presidents, and corrupt lobbyists and their well-paid pseudo scientists are destroying our planet. “They have the money and the power,” Gore said, “but we have reality.”

24 Hours of Reality was a multi-media event, online and on TV, with 24 speakers from 24 time zones, each giving a presentation to a live audience about how climate change is already having a major effect on life in their neck of the woods. The talks and presentations are all still online and you can watch any of them at the Climate Reality Project.

Jack Bauer always had some allies he’d never counted on. Al Gore has some allies he seems unaware of, too: the animal protection movement.

This week, as he toured the global media world leading up to his 24 Hours of Reality campaign, Gore was upbeat, talking about how millions of people from around the world have already signed on to his Climate Reality Project. But a new Gallup poll shows that while, for 30 years, Americans consistently put the environment ahead of the economy, that’s now changed.

Today, once again, economic interests have overwhelmed environmental interests.

In the early 1990s, 71 percent of respondents favored the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. But in the new world of economic downturns, more people are saying that the economy is more important. The sentiment flipped back again last year in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. But today, once more, economic interests have overwhelmed environmental interests.

The irony of all this is that economy and ecology are not divergent interests. Quite the opposite, in fact: To save the economy, we’re going to need to save the planet.

Just for starters, there have been ten climate-related disasters in this country so far this year that have each cost more than a billion dollars. (The floods from Hurricane Irene will have cost multi-billion dollars by the time that that recovery effort is complete.) And energy prices continue to soar as we borrow more money from China to buy more oil from the Middle East so that we can pour more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at home in an endless vicious cycle.

While Jack Bauer’s 24 was able to hold people’s attention for a full TV season of 26 weeks, Gore’s 24 Hours of Reality started on Wednesday and was over by the end of Thursday. And the news media has already moved on to the next crisis-du-jour.

So, those who are campaigning to save the planet need all the help they can get – and from people who will care about this for much longer than one day. In those terms, there’s one particular ally they’ve been largely ignoring … a passionate group of people whose energy they’ve barely tapped into: those of us in the animal protection world.

In Gore’s most recent book, Our Choice, it’s more than half-way through before he says anything about animals at all. And then it’s largely in terms of “species” and other scientific terminology.

Many of us want to protect the planet not only because of what climate change will do to us humans, but because of the terrible suffering it’s inflicting on all the other animals.

Another passionate environmentalist, Bill McKibben, whose book Eaarth is a must-read for anyone wanting to know the truth of what we and our children will be facing in the years to come, also largely ignores what’s happening to all the other animals with whom we share the Earth. And when McKibben does talk about the animals, it’s mostly in terms of them having value as resources for food etc., rather than as living beings in their own right who are suffering at the hands of what we humans have caused.

Gore, McKibben and others are doing invaluable work, and they would reasonably note that they need to keep their focus squarely on the environmental issues in order to protect the animals.

That’s true. But there are many of us want to protect the planet not only because we care about what climate change will do to us humans, but because of the terrible cost and suffering it’s inflicting on all the other animals.

The environmental movement should be recruiting the animal protection movement, and vice versa. Those of us in the animal protection world need to see the big picture and play our part in that. And those who are building campaigns to prevent more global warming need to bring in the animal people and show us how we can all work together.

The key to a better future lies not simply in finding technical solutions to the climate crisis. In a world that’s under increasing stress, it’s fundamentally about cultivating a new and better relationship with our fellow animals – one that’s respectful of their lives and homes. And that’s where the animal protection movement can play a vital role.