Why the Rift Between the Environmental and Animal Rights Movements?

Graphic: Big Mama Earth Learning Academy

Graphic: Big Mama Earth Learning Academy

– by The Shitty Activist

Most activism focuses on improving the lot of humankind. However, the environmental and animal rights movements go beyond Homo sapiens to advocate for the remaining 99.9% of life on Earth.

Environmentalists traditionally work to protect and preserve natural ecosystems, such as forests and rivers, and the wild creatures that live there. Animal rights activists tend to promote the welfare of the creatures humanity has plucked from nature, including domesticated pets such as dogs and cats, zoo dwellers like elephants and apes, and farm animals like cows and chickens. While each movement deals with non-human life, each typically operates independently of the other (with some exceptions, such as the recent global outrage against the killing of Cecil the lion.)

Why do these two efforts so rarely intersect? And is this lack of solidarity an obstacle to their success?

While anti-poverty activists certainly have their work cut out for them, their advantage is that most people can at least picture what it’s like to be poor and downtrodden. But not everyone can put themselves in the place of an abused pit bull or a western red cedar about to be carved into lumber; movements turning their attention to other species are missing that home court advantage.

Environmentalists genuinely care about the forests, rivers, grasslands, and oceans for which they campaign, knowing that without these ecosystems there would be no life on Earth. They often venture into nature to unwind, recreate, reflect, and heal, taking pleasure and comfort wandering through leafy forests, hiking through majestic mountains, and boating on rushing rivers. For many, any danger to their green retreats is a personal attack on their psychological and physical well-being.

Likewise, animal rights advocates have a heartfelt compassion for the animals entrusted in our species’ care. A good number of them count an animal among their closest friends, be it a dog, cat, bird, snake, or rat, valuing their companionship and love. When an animal is at risk, so too is the joy and solace they get from hanging with their furry, feathered, or scaled kin.

So, on top of their desire to do good for a cause separate from themselves, animal rights and environmental activists may also be driven by a deep, personal connection to a Burmese python or old-growth hiking trail. While an emotional investment can generate the passion necessary to launch a campaign, it doesn’t always inspire the strategy necessary to win.

With the global consumption of meat at an all time high, natural ecosystems unraveling, and the sixth great extinction well underway, even an optimist has to admit the environmental and animal rights causes are struggling. Now would be a great time for the movements to unite, mending the tear between them with the common thread of love and respect for life.

For example, the Rights of Nature acknowledges that every ferret, fire ant, juniper tree, and salt marsh has the right to exist, independent of its benefit or value to humankind. It’s just one of many examples of a campaign that both greenies and bunnyhuggers can agree on.

Any other efforts you can think of that could bring the environmental and animal rights movements together? If so, please leave them in the comments.


  1. says

    Animal rights activists, environmental activists, and others have been focused on some of the same goals since the groundbreaking documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ was released last year. The new Leonardo DiCaprio cut of ‘Cowspiracy’ is now streaming on Netflix in all territories. The original release of the film is on the Cowspiracy web site. http://www.cowspiracy.com/

  2. edith49 says

    Environmentalists are addicted to their animal flesh eating habit, like most people. To suggest that they “sacrifice” their beloved habit, makes it difficult right from the start. I don’t think any effort will have much impact (I’ve tried several). The only impact that I think will be successful in getting people off of the planet-destroying habit is a (or several) massive climate change event (s). Maybe then the remaining segment will be open to the solution of going vegan and afterwards tackling the other causes of the environmental catastrophe.

  3. cseeman says

    A more complete view of ecology would acknowledge and support the symbiotic relationship between the environment, human and non human beings as entities whose “rights” all must be supported. Even “eco”nomics should be drive by sustainable rather than avaricious relationships.

    It’s why I’m active in the Green Party although I think the systemic changes needed go beyond electoral politics alone. We are a system out of balance and why we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction, first ever fomented by the actions of a single species. As long as we compartmentalize environment, non human rights, human rights (both humans and non humans are animals and I don’t like supporting that artifice linguistically), we won’t be able to connect the dots.

  4. says

    There is an organization whose agenda cuts across animal rights, environmental rights and even feminist rights and any other divisive issues that emanate from civilizations. The organization is called Deep Green Resistance (DGR). DGR’s position is, as this article rightly states, given everything including the whole living planet is at stake, we need to go to the ‘roots’ of issues to find the cause and again be open minded to consider all possible actions that can be and should be taken if we want to leave an inkling of nature. Thus, as a ‘radical’ (radic == roots) organization, DGR has come to the conclusion that the root-cause of all the problems is civilization. DGR goes one step further to identify what causes civilizations themselves (each of the 25+ civilizations of the past, without an exception, thrived on violence and collapsed eventually).

    Thus, DGR calls itself a radical, ecofeminist, anti-civilization organization. DGR believes that the chance of a mass movement is very thin and that time is running out really fast (exponential nature of growth is a certain driver). Given that the situation is very unlike earlier political struggles of the past where it was always about some people benefiting at the cost of others, here it is civilized humans as a whole benefiting from the exploitation and destruction of the web of life. DGR analyses and understands the dominant culture of civilization to be primarily self-serving and will remain so until it crashes (this is based on actual evidence of structures and policies today as well as evidence from anthropological studies of past civilizations (ref: Joseph Tainter’s “collapse of complex societies”)). Thus, just like how the dominant culture talks of “full spectrum dominance”, DGR advocates for normalizing the need for “full spectrum resistance” efforts of which the above-ground legally allowed actions (such as rescuing animals or building animal sanctuaries or doing eco restoration and such) are directly engaged by its members while the normalizing and movement building will give rise to firewalled splinter cells which undertake heroic “under ground” ecosabotage work.

    The above-ground and under-ground efforts can be distinguished as the need to mop the floor (above ground, post-civilization cleanup work) and the need to stop the tap (under ground, sabotage work). The motto of DGR is “Defend. Disrupt. Dismantle” and “Repair. Restore. Rejoin”.

    Personally, after having explored various options such as environmental organizations – including having setup a farm to go off into a recluse given vast majority of people are so inclined to keep the privileges of their environmental / animal exploitation, to me, DGR sounds like the only possible plan to stop the madness. More about the plan here:


    And the website: http://deepgreenresistance.org/

  5. says

    There are a growing number of groups and individuals who are devoted to spreading the word about the connection between animal agriculture and environmental destruction. Several are listed below.

    In my experience, the most effective tool for educating about animal agriculture and the environment is the groundbreaking documentary ‘Cowspiracy.’ ‘Cowspiracy’ presents the information in an engaging way and inspires positive change and veganism.

    ‘Inspire Awareness Now’ is a web site of Richard Oppenlander who was featured in ‘Cowspiracy’

    Dr. Oppenlander on ‘baby steps’

    Global Depletion, Sustainability and Food Choice – What Everyone Needs To Be Aware Of

    ‘Comfortably Unaware’ and ‘Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work’

    Climate Vegan

    Truth or Drought: Making the connection between animal-based diets & increasing water scarcity.

    Got Drought?: A Billboard Project About the Relationship Between Water, Pollution, Energy and Diet

    Meat Your Future: Our goal is to concisely summarize the implications of animal consumption on health, the environment and ethics.

    Petitioning IPCC Secretariat C/O World Meteorological Organization Bruce Stewart, Acting Secretary and 1 other
    Put Meat on the Agenda of Climate Talks
    Meat Climate Change

  6. Super Suz says

    The Nonhuman Persons movement could connect the two perhaps? At the moment its focusing on animals but the hope is that we can extend nonhuman person rights to all earthlings, furry and green.

    When corporations are seen as ‘persons’ its diabolical that we’re not extending these rights to all living beings (currently animals are seen as legal ‘things’ and are invisible to a court of law).

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