A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Questions from a High School Student

high-school-052113A high school student who’s giving a presentation to her class about sport hunting asked if I’d be up for answering some brief questions on the topic.

Here are her questions and my answers. The questions range beyond hunting, and I pulled no punches in responding. After all, today’s teenagers are going to be dealing with the mess that we and other generations are bequeathing to them, so the more they know about the state of the Earth and the sooner they know it, the better equipped they’ll be to mitigate the damage and adapt to the consequences.

When did you start getting involved with animal rights?

I’d thought about it a lot, but in the late-1970s, when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, I became involved with a group that was lobbying the state legislature to ban the “sport” of cockfighting. (We were laughed out of the legislature, but 20 years later the ban was eventually passed.)

What is your view on the issue of sport hunting?

The very idea that killing is a “sport” is part of what fuels the extreme levels of violence all around the world. There is absolutely no justification for going out and killing animals for fun.

Right now, as you know, there’s much talk about guns in the wake of the mass killings at schools, movie theaters, shopping malls etc. But, of course, even those who want to try to control some of this violence always bow  deeply to the sport hunting community, agreeing that “we wouldn’t want to infringe on their rights” to kill all kinds of (nonhuman) animals who are completely helpless in the face of our weaponry.

One simple fact, incidentally: There is not a single case of a convicted serial murderer who did not begin by hunting and killing other kinds of animals.

This is not the Stone Age. In today’s world, there is absolutely no reason or justification for going out and killing animals for fun. Those who enjoy killing can go join a militia in Syria or Afghanistan. At least they’ll get a fair fight and find out what it’s like getting killed by other “hunters”.

How has the issue of sport hunting/animal rights affected you personally?

One of my dogs was shot and killed by a couple of high school students who “thought she was a coyote.” (As if that would have been OK.)

What work have you done in relation to animal rights?

I was the president of Best Friends Animal Society until about 5 years ago. At Best Friends, we helped bring the number of dogs and cats being killed in shelters down from about 17 million a year to what is now below 3 million a year. While the situation for companion animals is much better than before, the situation for all other kinds of animals, without exception, is worse – and deteriorating every year. While there are numerous “animal rights” organizations, the only animal that has any legal rights at all is humans.

So now I work with several different organizations that are seeking to address the plight of all animals and the Earth.

One of those is the Nonhuman Rights Project, which, for the first time ever, anywhere, will be going to court later this year on behalf of a nonhuman plaintiff, seeking to have him or her released from captivity on the grounds that she is a “legal person” with the capacity for certain specific, basic legal rights – e.g. the right to bodily liberty (i.e. not being held in captivity).

Note: when we speak of “legal personhood”, we’re using legal language. A “person” is not the same thing as a “human.” 250 years ago, slaves in this country were considered to be humans, but not “persons”. For a fuller understanding of this, visit the website of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

And by the way, when you use the term “animal rights”, be aware of the fact that although there are numerous “animal rights” organizations, there is still only one species of animal that has any legal rights at all: humans. So the very term “animal rights” will continue to be an oxymoron until the first nonhuman animal is recognized as a legal person with the capacity for basic rights appropriate to her species.

What animals do you think are at the greatest risk of extinction or endangerment?

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – a United Nations body that maintains the Red List of endangered species, the numbers are staggering. The New York Times summed up the IUCN findings thus:

Nearly 20,000 species of animals and plants around the globe are considered high risks for extinction in the wild. That’s according to the most authoritative compilation of living things at risk — the so-called Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This should keep us awake at night.

The full article is here, along with an accompanying graphic. It’s quite large, but you may be able to print it out at full size. It shows that 25 percent of all mammals that the IUCN has assessed are threatened with extinction; 13 percent of all bird species; 41 percent of all amphibians; 29 percent of reptiles, 23 percent of all fish; and much more. The utter trivia that consumes humans today will soon be replaced by wars for food and water, and a struggle for basic survival.

We are now well into a Sixth Great Extinction of Species that’s taking its toll faster than any of the previous five in known history. The fact that the situation is catastrophic cannot be overstated.

And I’d have to tell you that since the generations that have preceded yours are doing absolutely nothing of consequence about it, it will be up to you and your generation to mitigate or adapt to what happens next. Over the coming decades, the utter trivia that consumes humans today will be replaced by wars for food and water on every continent,, including this one, and a struggle for basic survival.

What do you propose people can do to help put a stop to this?

As a student, start with study , study, study. You need to know what’s going on and why. Study the science. Understand climate change and how it’s taking effect. Explore all the things that are causing it. Understand the effects of human overpopulation. Don’t shrink from the facts. Then you’ll be able to make informed decisions as to how you can apply your talents. There’s one simple thing we all can do: Switch to a plant based diet.

Meanwhile, there’s one very simple thing we all can do: Switch to a plant based diet. Stop participating in the horror of factory farming. Stop being part of the vast killing machine. A plant-based diet is better for your health, better for all the animals (obviously), and better for the planet when you consider such simple things as the fact that the emissions from cows, sheep and other farmed animals put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than all the emissions from automobiles and other vehicles worldwide.

Good luck. You’re taking the first steps. You can make a difference.