Wait…wait, “You can’t say something BAD about saving rainforests,” I have been told. “You want to save the rainforests too.” All right, I want to save the rainforests. My point was, or should have been that movies are a bit simplistic when it comes to such issues. At the risk of sounding political, something I like to avoid since my Libertarian instincts annoy friends both on the left and right, “Just Say No,” didn’t work for illicit drugs or teen sex, and it doesn’t work for species survival or for carbon emissions either. There’s an economic reality to conservation and environmental issues. Way back in the early 1980’s in Africa several countries discovered that the best way to pay for Game Parks was to sell a hunting license to rich foreigners for large sums of money. The hunters killed a few trophy animals, and fees paid for a lot of rangers to curtail poaching. It was species survival that paid for itself, and thus worked and didn’t require aid from outside the region. Eco-tourism is another facet of the same concept. Telling peoples that slash/burn agriculture, or cutting tropical hardwoods are destroying forests and should be outlawed sounds good but accomplishes nothing. If you can’t replace slash/burn with a better system… if you can’t provide timber interests and mills with alternatives, and workers with jobs… you’re right back to Just Say No. It’s a reality that we have to consider whether we’re discussing fossil fuels or the importation of elephants to zoos and circus. Yes, it would be nice if most elephants could live in the wild. But the wild is almost gone and somebody has to protect genetic diversity. If we need to improve management and training in domesticity, we need to improve it – but ending captive conservation is a suicidal solution to past mistakes we may have made. We’d all like to see an end to the captor/hostage relationship between oil producing countries and large-scale oil users like the US. We can throw hundreds of billions of dollars at alternative energy but there’s no solid assurance that ten years from now we’ll have a wind network, or safe nuclear plants, or working hydrogen fuel cells. On the other hand we can compromise and drill like mad for natural gas. There are some environmental risks to ground water, but it buys us forty years of freedom during which time we can get alternatives to really work for us. And we don’t have to drill for oil in Alaska wildness or off the California coast, or tailor our foreign policy to the wants of the Middle East. So it isn’t that I’m against saving the rainforest, or breathing clean air, or keeping greenhouse emissions within agreed upon “norms.” But Just Say No doesn’t get us there. Never really did.
All of which brings me to the real topic of this post. Animal Liberation has targeted circuses and zoos for years now in the guise of “Animal Rights.” Most of us believe in strong animal welfare protections, but even the American Veterinary Association decries the notion of “animal rights.” In the captive animal world we’re all familiar with PETA, or PAWS, or HSUS, or IDA. But many of us may be unaware of the growing strength of anti-farm groups like FARM SANCTUARY. PETA preaches the gospel of vegan lifestyle but compromises now and then and cuts deals with food chains settling for strict animal welfare reforms. (Not that they aren’t gunning for more draconian outcomes.) Farm Sanctuary is rather more fervent on the topic of what we eat. No compromises. All or nothing. As such they’ve engineered outright bans on certain foods, or production of those foods in certain places. Goose liver pate, for example. Personally I’m not a fan of factory farms with thousands of dairy cows, or pigs, or chickens. They’re a bit too toxic in waste management. But for centuries we managed to raise cows and pigs and chickens without those factory farms, so the basic idea of husbandry whether in the production of milk, or eggs, or chickens, or pork, or beef is pretty sound. Farmers, particularly family farmers aren’t the bad guys and animal agriculture is not by definition cruel. You wouldn’t know that reading Farm Sanctuary literature. where even your back-to-the-land neighbors producing organic yogurt from goat’s milk and protesting against fur are enemies of the perfect vegan world. If you want to be a vegan, that’s all well and good. But we aren’t vegans by nature – neither are chimps for that matter – and the notion that an ideological philosophy trumps basic biology is a stretch. Be aware.