Human, Animal & Environmental Rights: Why they are Intrinsically Linked
By Global Vegans
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In a world as connected as ours, it is impossible to compartmentalise the behaviours and struggles of humans and non-human animal species. Animal rights and human rights are undoubtedly linked, and understanding how and why is crucial to living as ethically as possible. However, there is a third factor that conversations about animal and human rights must not ignore: the environment.
Considering our environmental impact - both as individuals and as larger communities - is more important than ever. On this issue, the science truly speaks for itself.
Today, high levels of air pollution are being linked to increased heart and lung-related mortality rates.(1) Ocean pollution is reaching such levels that by 2050, discarded plastic could begin to outweigh fish.(2) More than one million animal and plant species are under threat of extinction, with biodiversity losses set to accelerate further if global behaviours don’t change.(3) Countries like Australia are already yo-yoing between tackling blazing forest fires and protecting towns against extreme flooding. This might sound like something out of a dystopian novel, but it’s happening right here, right now. Climate change is no longer a future issue: it’s a modern-day crisis.
It is evident that now, more than ever before, we must consider the protection of the environment to be a vital campaign. This is true for everyone, but it is especially prominent for animal rights and human rights activists. From the above statistics alone, we can see that treating these issues as separate will never be conducive to change.
Every decision we make has a knock-on effect for animals, other humans and the planet. Even a seemingly small action, such as buying a coffee on your way to work, does not exist in isolation. Think about it this way. The coffee beans in your cup may have been picked and transported by underpaid and poorly treated farmers. The lid of your cup may, one day, end up contributing to the ocean’s microplastics crisis. If you drink dairy, the milk in your coffee came at the cost of a cow’s freedom and right to live without suffering.
One thing is clear: when we compromise the rights of animals or humans, we inevitably harm the planet. Let’s take animal agriculture as an example. We know that the factory farming industry is guilty of exploiting its workers. Substandard pay, unsanitary working conditions, unrealistic work targets, a clear lack of psychological care and exposure to dangerous equipment are just a handful of the issues facing abattoir workers.(4) The same industry is, of course, responsible for the slaughter of billions of animals and one of the leading drivers of global ecological disaster.
This works in reverse, too. When we act in an environmentally destructive way, we threaten the safety and wellbeing of both humans and non-human animals. We can see proof of this in every corner of the globe, but perhaps one of the starkest examples comes from the production of palm oil, an industry that has only recently garnered public attention.
It is no secret that palm oil yields are a key player in global deforestation, with the industry responsible for an estimated 50% of recorded deforestation rates on the Asian island of Borneo.(5) Unsurprisingly, many animals also suffer as a result. Studies show that up to 100,000 orangutans have been killed in just 16 years - and guess what? Palm oil-fuelled deforestation is one of the major culprits.(6)
As with every commodity, there is also a very real and very insidious human cost to the palm oil trade. This includes the displacement of Indigenous communities for the expansion of palm plantations, with the knock-on effects of this ranging from a loss of homes to a decrease in livelihood opportunities.(7) By saying no to unsustainable palm oil production, we can help to fight against non-viable land usage, the steep decline of orangutan populations and the exploitation of the people being pushed out of their communities.
This is where it becomes necessary for the vegan movement to step up.
Despite what we know about the palm trade, many people believe palm oil to be a vegan-friendly ingredient. As it doesn’t contain animal-derived components, products containing unsustainably sourced palm oil could still be slapped with a vegan-approved logo. This hypocrisy is something we must acknowledge and address if we’re going to fight for a future where compassion and kindness come first.
How, in good conscience, can we fight against the exploitation of animals while ignoring the suffering of those displaced for an ingredient we might still be consuming? What does the future of the vegan movement look like if the products we’re eating, wearing and using continue to harm people across the globe? If vegans also contribute to some of the world’s most ecologically destructive practices, is it right to call our lifestyle ethical?
You might be thinking: isn’t going vegan still the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact?(8) This is a valid question. Yes, going vegan is much more environmentally sound than eating meat. It is also - by far - the kindest way of living. Our cruelty footprint is significantly smaller than that of a meat-eater. But, we should never be complacent: kindness and compassion are at the core of the vegan movement, so we need to keep fighting against any practices that exist to the detriment of animals, humans or the planet.
This also means calling out hypocrisy within the vegan community - a challenging yet necessary step for the better. Doing so is the only way we can pave a more ethical way forward for veganism. Large corporations and industries are on a mission to commercialise every aspect of the lifestyle, and this comes with its own set of problems. We cannot trust these brands to make the best choices for people and the planet. We must take this into our own hands, by continuing to challenge everything and anything that threatens the safety of other species, communities, land masses and oceans.
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1. Emily Craig, "Air Pollution May Increase Heart And Lung Deaths, Study Finds", MSN, 2021 <https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/air-pollution-may-increase-heart-and-lung-deaths-study-finds/ar-BB1eXpP0> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
2. Rebecca Harrington, "By 2050, The Oceans Could Have More Plastic Than Fish", Business Insider, 2017 <https://www.businessinsider.com/plastic-in-ocean-outweighs-fish-evidence-report-2017-1?r=US&IR=T> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
3. United Nations, "UN Report: Nature's Dangerous Decline 'Unprecedented'; Species Extinction Rates 'Accelerating'", United Nations Sustainable Development<https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
4. "Confessions Of A Slaughterhouse Worker", BBC News, 2020 <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-50986683> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
5. Erik Meijaard, "The Environmental Impacts Of Palm Oil In Context", Nature Plants, 6 (2020), 1418–1426 <https://www.nature.com/articles/s41477-020-00813-w> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
6. Victoria Gill, "'100,000 Orangutans' Killed In 16 Years", BBC News, 2018 <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42994630> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
7. "“When We Lost The Forest, We Lost Everything”", Human Rights Watch <https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/23/when-we-lost-forest-we-lost-everything/oil-palm-plantations-and-rights-violations> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
8. Olivia Petter, "Going Vegan Is ‘Single Biggest Way’ To Reduce Our Impact, Study Finds", The Independent, 2020 <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/veganism-environmental-impact-planet-reduced-plant-based-diet-humans-study-a8378631.html> [Accessed 28 March 2021].