[cw: animal rights, scrupulosity, donation requests, mass animal death, veganism]
This post will be based around a question: How much do animals matter to you?
If your answer is “they don’t”, this essay probably isn’t going to do much for you.
But I think that most people, on some level, do care about animals. Maybe less than humans–maybe much, much less, even–but they do, in fact, care. And a lot of people care about animals a lot, but they don’t know how to help, or they’re afraid of facing guilt from having not helped before, or they’re in a situation that makes it hard for them to help, or it’s just easier to not do anything.
Here is the first idea off of which I am operating: There is currently a great moral tragedy occurring. Hundreds of millions of animals are dying daily, at unprecedented rates. Every second, over 4,000 animals die. Each of them has as deep of a life as your pet; each of them has a personality, a love, a way of responding to pain, a schedule of when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Each loved, hated, experienced joy and pain, who ate and slept. Each died a completely, 100% preventable and unneccessary death because of humans.
It is not only their deaths. They are living lives of torture–body parts hacked off without anesthetic, cages or crowding so tight they may live their entire lives without ever flying (for birds) or even just turning around (for mammals), injuries and illness left untreated or treated with excessive antibiotics that cause side effects and unnatural growth, left to linger in their own waste and blood. There are billions of them at any given time, numbers so large we do not, can not understand the scale. And we are the reason why–not some ill-defined Other, not even the people who carry out this death sentence, but us, every one of us that has paid for and eaten meat or eggs or dairy and done nothing.
To put context to this idea: This is a rate almost 60x higher than the rate of deaths during the holocaust, and it has lasted decades longer–over the past 3 years, working off the most conservative estimates of the dead animals and the highest estimates of people who died in the holocaust, the scale is 7,950x larger than the deaths of the holocaust (a more balanced estimate gives the number 23,900–for every single death from the holocaust, almost 24,000 animals died). You may argue that it is a bad comparison because of how tragic the holocaust was, that you would in a heartbeat trade 24,000 animals for a single human life, so let me give more examples. If you think that humans are 100,000 times more important than animals, you believe that eating meat is equivalent to the Ukranian genocide (also known as the Holodomor). Up that to 1,000,000 times as important, and you get equivalents to the Armenian and Rwandan genocides.
Just in the years we have numbers from, there have been over 500 billion deaths (most after extended torture). The human brain cannot process 500 billion; it struggles with thousands. 500 billion is larger than the number of human beings who have been born in the entire history of earth. If you lived just a single second for each death, assuming that the deaths stopped the moment you were born, you would live to be 15,854 years old. Just a single second. There are more deaths per minute than there are words in the english language. Every single one was the death of a being that felt and dreamed and thought. Every single one could have been prevented with small personal sacrifices on the part of humanity, but they weren’t. Unless you value every single human life as thousands of times more important than the life of, say, a pig (before you laugh: pigs are about as smart as 3-year-old children, are as good of companion animals as dogs are, are clean animals capable of empathy, have excellent memories, play video games using a joystick, and live in complex social communities), you agree with me: this is the most pressing moral issue of our time.
You may try to rationalize this away. You may feel crushing guilt or shame. You may feel sad, or angry, or useless. Don’t flinch. Hold it in your mind, look it in the face, and tell yourself: I will do what I can to help fix this.
What you can do might not be very much. That’s okay. It is still something. Something is always better than nothing. I hope this essay helps you. Do not feel pressured, because of this article, to do more than you can handle; put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
What you can do might be, in fact, nothing. In that case, this essay is kind of useless to you, and I am not sure why you are reading it, but I hope you’re enjoying it anyway?
In case you haven’t guessed it, the tragedy I am talking about is eating meat. The statistics I am using are from 2003, with a year or two from 2013 added on–it is likely that it has grown since then, and that it will grow in the future if people like you and me do not do something to try and stop it. I will not describe the torture they go through; there are enough graphic descriptions of that on the internet to last a lifetime. If you want to know what they go through, and you can handle it, watch Earthlings. But do know that they do not live idyllic lives before their slaughter; these are animals that can love and learn and play, and they are deprived of that until their death. There are no laws regulating how their lives are lived; while deaths of cows and pigs are regulated, chicken and turkeys are exempt from humane deaths. The regulations that do exist are rarely enforced.
With every blink of your eye, their painful lives begin and end. This will likely awake emotions in you. Face them, do not avoid them. Breathe.
You may rationalize this with your love of humans–humans matter more than animals, that’s just how this works, I shouldn’t prioritize animals.
The first objection is clear: we are not discussing a situation where you value one animal over one human. we are discussing a situation where you value thousands and thousands of animals over one human.
However, even if we were, you do not have to stop caring about human lives to help animals. You can support animals and the environment and human rights and hunger and water availability and education and social justice. You can choose the thousands and thousands of animals and the one human instead of choosing between them. You can care about more than one thing at once, and just because you care about something less doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it at all.
The second objection is less clear, but no less important: causes overlap.
Animal agriculture is the single largest user of freshwater resources, accounting for 70% of freshwater use and 93% of freshwater depletion. If you care about people getting enough water to drink, you should support veg*nism.
10-25% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal agriculture (the lower estimate only counts the amount directly emitted by the animal farming, while the higher estimate also includes the amount emitted by e.g. deforestation to develop the land into a farm). 65% of global nitrous oxide emissions are due to animal agriculture, along with 37% of methane emissions and 9% of carbon dioxide emissions. If you care about climate change, you should support veg*nism.
36% of calories from the food we grow goes to animal feed instead of the humans starving. If you care about world hunger, you should support veg*nism.
If you care about health, vegan diets have been approved by many organizations as healthy for all stages of life–in fact, they significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases as long as a B12 vitamin is taken or B12-fortified food is eaten (vegetarians need not worry about B12, as it is found in non-meat animal products).
Around slaughterhouses, the rates of PTSD are high, the emotional toll of being exposed to constant death and cruelty. The violence they are forced to be a part of plays its own role–domestic violence is also high in these areas. They are frequent in poor rural areas, and many farm workers have no real choice but to work there. If you care about human rights, mental health, women’s rights, poverty, or worker’s rights, you should support veg*nism.
These issues do not contradict. We will not starve if we go veg*n or support veg*n causes–quite the opposite: we will have enough food for an additional 4 billion people.
But there is good news, and a certain joy, that comes with all this evil: things are bad, but you can help. Veg*nism is not just the lesser of a host of evils, it does not prioritize animal lives over human lives. It is just good. It saves animals, it saves humans, it saves the environment and water. Sometimes, things are just good! Tragedies are sometimes completely and utterly preventable, not a necessary evil, not a balancing act, and you can help prevent them.
One obvious step is to go vegan or vegetarian, or to take steps towards doing so. There are many resources on the internet to try and help you with this. You can also do meatless mondays, or cut out poultry and farmed fish (if you care a lot about animal suffering and death) or beef and large fish (if you care a lot about world hunger) or beef and lamb (if you care a lot about climate change). You can try to convince others to become veg*n as well, spread awareness, cook or buy more veg*n food for yourself and others, or take other steps towards embracing veg*nism.
Another step is to donate. According to Animal Charity Evaluators, you can save 100 animals for every dollar you donate to The Humane League. The least amount of money you can save a human life for is $3,500 with the Against Malaria Foundation–for the price of one human life, you can save 350,000 animals! Not only this, but even very small donations can make a significant impact. For every dollar, 100 animals are saved. That is 100 animals who are not dunked alive in boiling water, who are not cramped together in cages thick with their own filth. 100 animals who are now free. 100 animals who are capable of love and play and feeling the sun on a hot day and grass and dirt beneath their feet and the taste of cold water, each as valuable as any pet cat or dog or snake or rabbit or fish or any other animal.
Remember what we talked about before, the lives that blink in and out over a second? For a donation of $40, for a second, all of that stops. 4,000 animals are killed every second, and 4,000 animals will be saved by your donation. Just a moment, just a second–a moment worth 4,000 lifetimes.
If you are too poor to donate, too disabled to go veg*n, that’s fine. You should not feel guilty for doing your best. Try to do everything you can do healthily and happily, whether that’s a lot or whether that’s nothing.
Remember: There is a massive tragedy going on, of a huge scale, and you (yes, you) can help save its victims. That is not something to be guilty about–you are not the one who caused the tragedy. It is something to celebrate–you can help stop it.
If you donate to The Humane League before 2017 begins, your donation will be tripled.
And not contributing to this tragedy is the best way to help stop it in the long term. Consider going vegan or vegetarian, or taking steps towards veg*nism. Make 2017 a year that is better, not worse, than the one before it.
There is an awful, awful, tragedy going on, but instead of being upset, know that you have the power to help stop it.
For the next week, it just takes a single penny to save three lives. Please, consider taking action for animals–however you can. There is no better Christmas gift you can give animals than the gift of freedom and life.