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Animal Rights/Vegan Issues: Where's the Left?

By       Message Mickey Z.     Permalink
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In a recent article, I discussed how America's top liberal (sic) eco-spokesperson, Al Gore, conveniently ignores the primary cause of climate change: factory farming and the industrial meat-based diet (and thanks to Hope Bohanec at In Defense of Animals, I've learned of a new report from World Watch that found animal byproducts are responsible for 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide human caused greenhouse gas). A man of Gore's reach and influence is squandering an immense opportunity to educate, inform, and to inspire serious change.

What about those far to the left of Gore? Where are the "real" progressives on dark green issues pertaining to animal rights, veganism, and the environment? Unfortunately, in most cases, the record is equally abysmal.

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For example, there's Z Magazine and Z Net founder Michael Albert. With nearly a half-century of lefty credibility and one of the largest liberal/progressive audiences around, how does Albert use this platform to address, say, fur farms or shark hunting? In his memoir, Remembering Tomorrow, Albert unabashedly clarifies his perspective: "I see no comparison in importance between seeking to eliminate the roots and branches of sexism, and seeking to eliminate the roots and branches of violence against animals. I see no comparison in importance between how chickens are treated and how women or any humans are treated. In fact, for me the animal rights agenda resonates barely at all, and the anti-sexism agenda is part of my life."

Let's be clear: Attempting to separate violence against humans from violence against animals (and all nature) is like trying to disconnect the human circulatory system from the respiratory system. The entrenched Left is not grasping obvious connections and what Albert is doing--intentionally or not--only legitimizes his personal myopia. Like Gore, he is wasting a chance to reach a large audience with an urgent message.

Which brings us to example #2: Ward Churchill. I have nothing but admiration for this American Indian scholar/activist"until he says stuff like this: "For most people in the anarchist community who organize in their little collectives and get together and eat their bean sprouts and sh*t, it's only for themselves at the present time. If you want to talk to factory workers, you need to connect with them where they are, not where you think they should be. You need to get over your prohibition on ashtrays" Get over your bicycles and go down and bend a wrench with a gear-head for a while. Do what he's f*cking doing."

Take-home message: "Real men" fix cars and smoke cigarettes. Wimps ride bikes and eat sprouts.

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With 80% of the world's forests already cut down, 90% of the large fish in the ocean already gone, over 100 plant or animal species going extinct each day, and our eco-system rapidly approaching the dreaded point of no return, I'd say there's never been more urgent time to be a wimp. Yet, in the face of such a palpable global crisis, most of the Left continues to ignore the big picture--even going as far as to mock the vegan/animal rights movement.

Let's suppose Al Gore, Michael Albert, and Ward Churchill are hanging out and happen upon an old metal lamp. Immediately thinking of its recycle value, Gore decides the rub the lamp to give it a shine. Voila, a multi-cultural genie appears and offers the men three wishes. Churchill doesn't trust the genie, Albert wants to know if the genie has read anything about Parecon, but Gore convinces them both to go along. They make their wishes and in a flash, everyone in America is driving a hybrid, sexism is outlawed, and the US decides to honor at least some of its long standing treaties with this land's indigenous population. Great news all around, right?

But none of these breakthroughs will bring back a single endangered species or end deforestation or enlighten those who partake in the standard American diet and now have the standard American diseases. Single issues are not the path to a more sane culture. We need a far more holistic view of radical activism and that cannot happen until most of us recognize the connections between humans and animals, humans and nature.

Let me provide one example: Between 50 and 100 million sharks are killed each year around the world, for their fins or simply as "by-catch" (the marine version of collateral damage). Sharks are apex predators that help ensure ocean diversity. The human-induced loss of sharks has led, for example, to their sudden absence from coral reef ecosystems. As a result, large predatory fish like the grouper increase in abundance and feed on the herbivores. This reduction in herbivores, in turn, leads to an increase in macroalgae. Coral cannot compete with the algae dominance and the survival of the reef system is in question. Why does that matter? Coral reefs have been called "rainforests of the sea" and are home to a quarter of all marine fish species. Coral reefs also buffet coastal regions from strong waves and storms. When threats to coral reefs is coupled with sea level rise"well, you get the idea. Perhaps most importantly, coral reefs are invaluable carbon sinks and play a role in the earth's surface temperature range. Not a bad reason to start caring about sharks, huh?

Lesson for the Left: Industrial civilization is the enemy. Not this particular president or that particular gender or those particular laws. The Left's absence on issues of animal rights, veganism, and darker shades of green is not just inexcusable. It's suicidal.

For those who still choose to hide behind the "there's too much human suffering for me to focus on animals" canard, I'll close with the words of Peter Singer: "Everyone has a limited amount of time and energy, and time taken in active work for one cause reduces the time available for another cause; but there is nothing to stop those who devote their time and energy to human problems from joining the boycott of the produce of agri-business cruelty. It takes no more time to be a vegetarian than to eat animal flesh. When non-vegetarians say 'human problems come first,' I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for humans that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals."

Mickey Z. is probably the only person on the planet to have appeared in both a karate flick with Billy "Tae Bo" Blanks and a political book with Howard Zinn. He is the author of 9 books--most recently Self Defense for Radicals and his second novel, Dear Vito; he is a regular writer for Planet Green and can be found on the Web at He will be participating in a panel called, "Speciesism, the Forgotten Oppression: Why Should the Left Care?" at the Left Forum on March 21.

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