“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
Many people tend to group environmentalists and animal rights activists together but unfortunately, the two sides often fall against each other due to slight nuances in their positions. Both movements may have apparently similar goals but they actually tend to different philosophies, which has led to opposition against one another. For instance, both groups oppose the consumption of meat. On the one hand, animal rights groups oppose eating meat because of the poor conditions animals are kept in. On the other hand, some environmental groups oppose eating meat because of the devastation caused to environments that are home to animals. The main goal of conservation groups is to save endangered wildlife and wildlands, whereas animal welfare activists seek to end the status of animals as properties.
The opposing activist groups often point fingers at one another and their perceived pitfalls. Animal rights activists argue that environmentalists only care about the “absolute quantity of animals on the planet” but don’t mention the poor treatment of animals. For example, some environmentalists do not oppose hunting because it doesn’t necessarily threaten the survival of a species. Environmentalists argue that animal rights are too “extreme’ but they ignore the fact that like all major issues, there are different views and positions within the movement. Although whether it is the term animal right or animal welfare, both take into account an animal’s well-being and their ability to suffer. Specifically, animal welfare tries to create policies that when animals are used by humans, their capacity to suffer is considered and attempts are made to minimize it.
One policy implemented in the United States that intended to protect wildlife is The Endangered Species Act of 1973. The act recognizes the importance of species and affirms animals and plants as “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and of scientific value to the Nation and people.” While this is true and the act has become the dogma of many environmental movements, animal rights activists believe the reasons for protecting wildlife must go beyond just benefiting humans in order to make more meaningful progress within the movement.
One origin of animal rights and environmental activism can be traced back to the National Audubon Society, which formed in order to save birds from death, whose plumes were being used to adorn women’s hats. In the 1880s, this trend contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Florida’s exotic birds. The founders of the society did not just take into account the rapidly decreasing numbers of bird species but also what was being done to these birds was morally wrong and questioned the vanity and responsibility of women. Nesting birds were easy targets for hunters because they roosted in large numbers and refused to abandon their nests and young when danger appeared. After removing feathers and skins from adult birds, hunters left their bodies and orphaned chicks became easy prey for other animals. This organization wouldn’t have been able to form if they not only recognize the importance of the role of birds in their ecosystem but also possess a deep love and passion for them.
Plume Hats Worn by Women in the 1880s
The two movements have seemingly opposing sides but they are both inspired by the philosophy behind the term biophilia. Coined by the “father of biodiversity”, E.O. Wilson, biophilia is the idea that that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life; this can be seen as the basis of the environmental and animal rights movement and a strong contender in being able to tie the two seemingly opposing movements into one cohesive group. If we start acknowledging animals as individuals, like our pets rather than resources, than the disconnect between humans and nature can weaken and strengthen our urge to protect the Earth and its wildlife. The belief that oppressions are interlinked and cannot be solved alone, is known as intersectionality. This theory allows people make connections with other movements such as human rights, which environmentalists also take into consideration. Both groups need to realize that the oppression and exploitation of the environment, animals, and even humans are caused not by a group of individuals, but by an institutionalized system that profits off of them. New philosophical and economic paradigms to protect the ecosystem are needed that are neither labeled as “environmentalist” or “animal rights” but embrace the best from both philosophies to create radically new conservation policies.
Written by Samantha Sing
Ways to get involved with both movements:
International Fund for Animal Welfare – Are Animal Rights and Environmentalism Incompatible?
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – The Women of the Early Florida Audubon Society