Category Archives: Activism

The Longest Struggle

longest-struggleThe Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, by Norm Phelps.  Lantern Books, 2007.

This well-researched history of the animal protection movement filled in for me many missing pieces in understanding both the evolution of animal rights philosophy and the development of organizations working to bring compassion for animals into mainstream Western societies. Along the way and down the centuries, we meet a host of committed activists, well-known and obscure.

Among the latter is Lewis Gompertz (1779-1865), an inventor living in London, who campaigned for slaves, women and the poor as well as for non-human animals.  He was advocating a vegan diet as early as 1824 in his book Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes.  He published the world’s first animal protection periodical, The Animal’s Friend, or the Progress of Humanity. His organization was instrumental in getting a nationwide ban in England on baiting and animal fighting enacted in 1835.  He walked the talk in his personal life as well; he refused to travel by horse or mule-drawn conveyance, which meant that everywhere he went in London, he walked.  (This was before London’s subways were built.)  Horses– numbering in the hundreds of thousands–who pulled carriages, wagons and streetcars, were often whipped and driven until they died, their needs for rest and sufficient food and water ignored in the name of profit.  Beyond London, Gompertz went only to places within walking distance of a railway station.  “It is entirely reasonable,” Phelps writes, “to call Lewis Gompertz the first modern animal rights activist.” (p. 103) Continue reading The Longest Struggle

Doing the Most Good

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer.  Yale University Press, 2015.

How fortunate we are to have a practical philosopher as articulate as Peter Singer!  He doesn’t just talk idly about doing the most good for the most people, but shows us how, based on solid research on the effectiveness of charities and on the examples of actual people who are living their values.  (To “meet” Singer and watch him give an 18-minute summary of the book, I highly recommend this TED talk.)

I especially like that he does not limit the good we can do to helping people, but includes animals as also worthy of our consideration.  He points out that we can prevent a great deal of animal suffering for a very low (or no) cost, e.g. switching to a vegetarian diet.

I also like that he encourages simple living in order to have the maximum amount of our income for charitable giving.  He’s not suggesting austerity, but we can ask ourselves, when contemplating an unnecessary purchase or trip, whether the value of more stuff or experiences is greater to us than what that same amount of money could do in preventing suffering, or saving lives in developing countries.  Continue reading Doing the Most Good

This Changes Everything–new book by Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. Simon & Schuster, 2014.

Despite a serious omission (see below), I recommend this highly.  Watch the inspiring book trailer here.  Klein is objective, compassionate, a solid reporter and researcher, and one of our best commentators on politics. Anyone wanting a current overview of what’s happening worldwide about climate change will find here a thorough investigation and explanation, along with a consistently upbeat view of how the frightening current situation could be turned around. Time is very short if we are to keep global warming below 2 degrees C., but people are coming to understand that our leaders are not leading; grassroots groups are rising up around the world to stop extractive projects (fracking, mining, pipelines). I learned a great deal, which would have taken me countless hours to research on my own, on such subjects as Indigenous rights movements and their importance, civil disobedience actions around the world, geoengineering proposals, and much more.

One critical factor was omitted entirely: the impact of livestock agriculture, which contributes more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions. (I hope Klein will watch the new documentary “Cowspiracy.”)  If we are to stay below that 2 degree global temperature increase, we must actively encourage the reduction (ideally, elimination) of meat, dairy and egg consumption. Continue reading This Changes Everything–new book by Naomi Klein

Of Activism and Autumn Aspen

This past week has seen not one but two climate change actions in Denver, both organized by 350.org.  The first was to meet the train filled with people heading on to New York for the People’s Climate March September 21.  We gathered in front of Union Station for speeches and singing, then went around to the back and watched the train come in at the platform.  Several dozen climate activists got off and joined the rally, adding to the enthusiasm. I was able to hand out flyers and talk to some people about veganism.  It was great to see so many others (about 250) who are as concerned as I am about climate change.

Then Sunday, at the same time that the People’s Climate March was going on in NYC, a group gathered in Denver on the west steps of the capitol.  Keith and I were pleasantly surprised to see more vegans there than we expected, several with additional signs, to amplify our presence.  Each group represented there could have someone give a brief speech, so I took a turn standing front and center.  I explained that over half of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture, and urged the crowd to “make a difference every day with your fork.” The group applauded; overall, I felt more support for the vegan message here than I previously had among environmental activists.  In fact, the lead speaker of the event commented, “You vegans are well organized.”  After the speeches, the group marched in front of the capitol and down the 16th Street Mall downtown, chanting, waving signs and engaging passersby.

Two days later, I was hiking in the high country when the fall color was at its peak at 10,000 ft.  Continue reading Of Activism and Autumn Aspen

Standing Up for Rabbits

I was proud to take part in the Day of Action yesterday in Boulder to urge Whole Foods to stop selling rabbit meat.  Rabbits are the third most popular companion animal; would Whole Foods start selling dog meat if some customers asked for it?  I learned that, although Whole Foods does not permit cosmetic testing on rabbits for products sold in their Whole Body section, they slaughter the very same breed of rabbits for their meat department!  “Pets are not food!” was heard across the country.  Margo DeMello, president of the House Rabbit Society, has written a well-reasoned article on the issue.  See these great photos taken at some of the 44 protest events nationwide at WF stores.

Ogallala Road

The Ogallala Road; A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, by Julene Bair.  Viking, 2014.

I was delighted to discover this exceptional memoir about how powerfully our loved ones shape our lives, be those loved ones family members, lovers, or the land we call home. Here the prairie landscapes of western Kansas come alive in exquisite beauty, along with an unsettling concern for the future: the huge Ogallala aquifer beneath them is being pumped out at an alarmingly unsustainable rate to irrigate crops that could never be grown there otherwise.  It’s not a case of outside developers coming in to exploit the land’s resources, as happened in Appalachia, for example.  On the prairie the long-time residents who love it the most are responsible, whether they fully realize it or not, for robbing their descendants, and many species of indigenous wildlife, of a future there.

As I read I was reminded of another skillful and moving book I loved about the prairie ecosystem: PrairyErth, by William Least Heat-Moon.  But Julene Bair has the advantage of having grown up on the land she describes, telling the story as only a native can do.  She went away for some years, then returned to the farm with a young son to raise. She develops an environmental awareness that puts her at odds with the locals.  Later on, her family must decide what to do with their land after the patriarch dies, his son is ready to retire, and none of the younger generation wants to farm.

Bair combines the sensibility of a poet with an activist’s command of the facts, but neither side runs away with the narrative.  The prairie is not just a place on the map to her, but inhabits her mind and heart, allowing her to persuade readers to care more deeply.

50PlusPrime Interview and Other Earth Day Encounters

While tabling on behalf of Denver Vegans at the city of Denver’s Earth Day Fair, I had several chances to increase the effectiveness of my outreach by talking with people who influence many others.  A friend had told me that 50PlusPrime, the TV News Magazine for Baby Boomers, was in town looking for stories on boomer generation people involved in community service, and would I be interested in talking to them?  I would.

It turned out that the program’s president and founder is a vegan himself!  So he was glad to film a segment on that topic.  He and a cameraman came to the Earth Day Fair, interviewed me on camera and showed our vegan literature table.  The program will not air until this fall, in limited markets, but will be available for viewing online after air date.

I also mentioned that I would like to encourage boomer-age viewers not to give up on personal goals or dreams they’d had in their youth, out of a fear that maybe now they were too old to achieve them. I’d wanted to be a published author since my youth, but put that on the back burner as I gave my attention to other worthwhile projects.  I picked up that dream in my late 50s, and wrote my book The Practical Peacemaker: How Simple Living Makes Peace Possible.  It was picked up by New York publisher Lantern Books, published just after my 60th birthday, and launched with an author event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore.  I was filmed talking about this for a separate segment of 50PlusPrime. Continue reading 50PlusPrime Interview and Other Earth Day Encounters

A Missing Viewpoint about Antibiotics on Factory Farms

The following is a letter I sent to three organizations–Food & Water Watch, Natural Grocers, and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light–who are sponsoring a forum in Denver this week on the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.  Working to change laws on this is fine as far as it goes, but the best solution doesn’t require legal or corporate change: we need to encourage people to reduce or eliminate their use of animal products.  That viewpoint will not be represented on the forum, although grassfed beef and dairy interests will be.  I call on the sponsors to include the veg viewpoint in any future events on this topic.

To Lisa Trope, Food & Water Watch; Alan Lewis, Natural Grocers; and Colorado Interfaith Power & Light:

I just picked up a flyer at Natural Grocers about the potluck and forum you are sponsoring April 2 regarding antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  I know that Food & Water Watch has a petition campaign urging passage of the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act, related to factory farms, where routinely-given antibiotics endanger the health of everyone.  I applaud this campaign.

However, regarding the April 2 event, there is a glaring omission among those invited to be on the panel.  No one is speaking to the approach that is simple, effective, and would greatly benefit human health, the animals, and the environment: namely, encourage people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of meat and other animal products.  This requires no petitions, no changes in laws or corporate agricultural practices.  Unlike the approach of the non-factory farmed meat producers, this would benefit the environment (e.g. grassfed cattle emit more methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, than feedlot-finished cattle, because grassfed animals must live longer in order to reach market weight).  The meat-reduction solution also benefits human health because only animal products have cholesterol; they also contain saturated fat and no fiber.  This solution also addresses the cruel practice of animal slaughter, which occurs at a time far short of the animals’ normal lifespan. Continue reading A Missing Viewpoint about Antibiotics on Factory Farms

Veganomics

Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom, by Nick Cooney.  Lantern Books, 2014.

A very helpful little book for veg activists, Veganomics brings together data collected in recent years about a number of topics, such as: what motivates people to reduce or eliminate meat consumption (answer: primarily animal cruelty and health concerns), what demographic group is most likely to go vegetarian (young women), what are the most effective ways to tailor vegetarian outreach to make it appealing to people (one example: refer to food as “meat-free” instead of “vegetarian”), why to emphasize cutting out chicken, fish and eggs instead of red meat (chickens and fish account for 92% of the farm animals killed for food in the U.S. and represent 95% of the days of animal suffering caused each year by omnivores). Continue reading Veganomics

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd.  Viking, 2014.

The Grimke sisters, at the center of Kidd’s new novel, were among the 19th century’s first outspoken abolitionists and feminists, yet largely forgotten today. Most abolitionists were Northerners, whose knowledge of slavery was second- or third-hand. The Grimkes, however, had grown up in a Southern slave-holding family, and thus brought a dynamic firsthand perspective about the treatment of slaves to their writings and lecture tours. Their pamphlet “American Slavery As It Is” strongly influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose later widely-read novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin persuaded tens of thousands to oppose slavery. Continue reading The Invention of Wings