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.