In our time of ecological crisis, we see two movements trying to tackle the problem head-on. These are the environmentalist movement and the animal rights movement. Though these movements are certainly not equivalent, they have both seen that something is seriously wrong with the current world order and seek to attack the current problems at their source. This being the case, it might only seem eminently reasonable to propose that both of these movements should work together for a common cause. However, this is mistaken; for as I will attempt to demonstrate, the modern environmentalist movement is speciesist at the core. As vegans, we have a world view which is entirely incompatible with the environmentalist movement, making any prospect of a shared common cause very grim indeed.
This will surely appear to be a bold claim, so let's start off with a brief lay of the land. By the 'animal rights activists', I mean vegans who are pushing for the end of all animal exploitation. Central pillars of this are opposition to hunting, animal agriculture, the use of animal skins and body parts for human benefit, and animal experimentation. By the 'environmentalist movement', I mean the mainstream activists who are attempting to curtail the causes and effects of climate change and who seek to promote environmentally sustainable ways of living.
Stated quite plainly, it is my thesis that the animal rights movement and the environmentalist movement are fundamentally irreconcilable because the environmentalist movement supports just those exploitative practices that the animal rights activists are seeking to eliminate.
Let's consider the question of hunting. From the animal rights perspective, all individual sentient beings have a fundamental right to life, and since hunting is a violation of the right to life, hunting is an immoral act. This is standard fare in the animal rights movement, but when we turn to the environmentalist movement, we find another approach entirely. Granted, we are all aware of the work that such notable groups as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund have done to combat illegal poaching, but we should not make the mistake of concluding that the environmentalist movement opposes hunting full-stop.
For instance, The Conservation Fund works toward saving open lands for recreational hunting. Furthermore, such notable groups as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) openly promote hunting. The Sierra Club claims "hunting and fishing is defensible only when it is managed in a way that benefits wildlife and ecosystems," while the World Wildlife Fund "accepts or supports hunting in a very limited number of contexts where it is culturally appropriate, legal and effectively regulated, and has demonstrated environmental and community benefits".
We can see therefore that these environmentalist organizations do not believe nonhuman animals have an inalienable right to life, for they are perfectly willing to allow humans to hunt them for food/recreation just so long as this doesn't cause any damaging effects on the environment. This is quite plainly an example of speciesism, since if human interests are permitted to override the interests of nonhuman animals, then humans and nonhuman animals are not on equal footing.
The troubles don't stop there though. Quite apart from supporting hunting, such organizations as the WWF also support animal agriculture, just so long as it is performed 'sustainably' and 'responsibly'. It goes without saying that the animal rights movement is fundamentally opposed to the animal agriculture industry, because it violates numerous inalienable rights, not the least of which are the rights to life and liberty. So for us as vegans and animal rights activists, to suggest that there can exist a form of animal agriculture which is either sustainable or responsible is anathema.
Furthermore, to suggest that the interests of nonhuman animals can be supplanted by human culinary interests is obviously speciesist. And need it also be said that if it is permitted of us to eat nonhuman animals, this can only be because we have ownership of them?
From a related point, the vegan movement is wholly opposed as well to the various industries which use animal skins and body parts for practical purposes. Now it is only natural to think the environmentalist movement would also be opposed to this, seeing as there doesn't seem to be any sensible environmental benefit that could arise out of such use. This is quite mistaken though. For a rather shocking example, take a look at this recent initiative by Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. Here we have, in no uncertain terms, an environmentalist organization which is quite willing to use exploit the body parts of an invasive crab species for the purpose of making an environmentally-friend alternative to plastic. Even supposing that following this plan of action would create better outcomes for the environment, it is wholly objectionable from the animal rights perspective, since the interests of these crabs are being violated.
But these are not at all the worst things the environmentalist movement has done against the interest of animals. For the most damning action the major environmental organizations have done is to directly support animal experimentation. The major culprits in these atrocities are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the WWF, but many other such organizations have also participated. Some experiments that such organizations are involved in include chemical tests, neurotoxicity tests, and endocrinological tests (to name few). These experiments are often directly funded and sometimes even conducted by the organizations themselves. (To research this in further detail, please visit the Animal Ethics webpage on this subject).
It goes without saying that the animal rights movement is fundamentally opposed to animal experimentation. So the fact that the major environmentalist organizations are in support of this practice demonstrates that the two movements are directly opposed. To treat animals as means to an end in experiments is a profound affront to their interests.
So to conclude, it is my considered view that any collaboration between the animal rights movement and mainstream environmentalism has very grim prospects, and is therefore ultimately undesirable. But clearly vegans must have a plan to do with the environmental crisis, since merely avoiding the use of animal products is insufficient. In my view, the best option here is the use of advanced technologies both to reduce wild animal suffering and to heal the environment. In this way, we can directly address the ecological crisis while respecting the rights of individual animals.