Deep Ecology and Animal Rights

A Discussion Paper

                                                                                                    By David Orton

        The deep ecology and the animal rights movements are helping to change
    consciousness, away from human-centeredness and the automatic assumptions of
    "resource rights" to exploit wildlife and the natural world. Both movements pose
    major threats to the continuation of industrial capitalist society and the status quo.
    Yet activists from both movements are sometimes at odds with each other, although
    some identify with both movements (perhaps more so on the deep ecology side).
    The comments below are meant to contribute towards a discussion on understanding
    the similarities and differences between the deep ecology and the animal rights
    movements. Previous discussions, sometimes heated, on the internet group "left bio",
    have contributed to this document and are gratefully acknowledged. Most, but not
    all on "left bio", are coming to this discussion from the deep ecology side of the debate.

        I would like to stress that there are many areas in common between deep ecology
    and animal rights supporters, when there would be disagreements with many
    mainstream human-focussed environmentalists who basically accept industrial society.

        Most deep ecology supporters do not approve of the use of the term "rights" as in
    "animal rights". (For a discussion of this, see John Livingston's book Rogue Primate:
    An exploration of human domestication, 1994, Key Porter Books.)  Rights are
    seen as a human-centered extension term applied to animals, with roots in power and
    privilege. The use of this term overlooks the intrinsic values inhering in animals and their
    uniqueness, and hence the need for a movement conceptualization which expresses this -
    not rights as an extension of human rights.

        Below are the two aspects of the debate: first the areas in which there is basic
    agreement between deep ecology and animal rights supporters, and then areas where
    the views differ.

  Basic Agreements Between Deep Ecology and Animal Rights Supporters

    A1. Commercial Use of Animals - Fur Industry, Sealing, etc.
        On a practical level there are many animal rights actions which deep ecology
    supporters can agree with and support, and this cooperation is quite evident among
    activists. For example: opposing the trapping of wild animals and the frequent
    "by-catch" of domestic animals by trappers; opposing the poisoning of so-called
    problem wildlife; actions against the fur industry - including the "farming" of wild
    animals for their fur (mink, fox, lynx, etc.); opposing the annual Canadian seal
    slaughter of harp and hooded seals; etc.

    A2. Habitat Protection
        Some animal rights organizations understand, like deep ecology supporters, that wild
    animals need appropriate habitat for their survival. For example, the International Fund
    for Animal Welfare says: "The well-being of animals - from seals, to bears, to elephants,
    to snow leopards - depends on one common denominator, one absolute key to survival:
    habitat...protected habitat." (IFAW  2000 Calendar)

    A3. Opposing Cruelty
        Deep ecology supporters, like animal rights activists, oppose the cruelty of modern,
    mass production animal agriculture, and the use of animals for experimental purposes
    such as testing pesticides and drugs on mice and rats, or the transfer of animal organs
    to humans. Young people in the school system, whether animal rights or deep ecology
    supporters, would oppose performing experiments on animals in their classrooms. (At
    the high school level, deep ecology has much less impact than animal rights thinking.)

    A4. Opposing Domestication
    Deep Ecology and animal rights supporters oppose the domestication of wild animals
    for human consumption, eg. elk, bison and emu, and aquaculture or fish farming.

    A5. Opposing  Zoos
        Deep ecology supporters also oppose keeping in captivity wild animals such as killer
    whales, dolphins, bears, seals, etc., for entertainment or alleged educational purposes.
    However, some deep ecology supporters feel that a case can be made for zoos, as
    many urban people can first bond with wildlife through this experience. (Of course those
    who financially exploit wildlife cover their self-interest with such a justification.) So there
    needs to be more discussion on this. One of the issues here, apart from the adequacy
    of the cages confining the animals, is whether in the interests of mobilizing humankind
    for animal protection, there can be "sacrificial" individual animals.

    A6. Not Supporting Aboriginal Exploitation of Wildlife Reserves
        Deep ecology and animal rights supporters would generally oppose the opening up of
    parks, wildlife refuges and marine protected areas, to hunting or trapping or commercial
    exploitation, in the name of "traditional" aboriginal or treaty rights. Most animal rights and
    deep ecology supporters have opposed the claim by some aboriginals to resume whaling
    because of an alleged traditional cultural right, e.g. the Makah grey whale whaling. (The
    Canadian First Nations Environmental Network, in a press release of May 18, 1999,
    also opposed the resumption of whaling by the Makah and said that, "spiritually and
    morally, the act of killing whales cannot be justified.)

  Distancing Areas Between Deep Ecology and Animal Rights Supporters

    D1. Concern for Species vs. Individual Animals
        The outlook of deep ecology supporters is more towards species, populations, and the
    ecosystem than the individual animal. Deep ecology does not accept a hierarchy of values
    in Nature, but sees the inherent worth of all plants and animals and the ecosphere itself.
    The land ethic of Aldo Leopold, which has very much influenced supporters of deep
    ecology, includes plants and animals, and soils and waters, as all being in the ecological
    community.  Animal rights is based on a concern for individual creatures foremost. (See
    also a perceptive article on deep ecology and animal rights by Chim Blea "Individualism
    and Ecology"Earth First! Journal June 21, 1986. The article looks at the
    philosophical differences between the two movements, and stresses "the transcendence
    of the community over any individual.")

    D2. Domestic vs. Wild Animals
        Animal rights activists focus on domestic animals, particularly cats and dogs. Wild
    animals are a focus for deep ecology supporters. The concern with "pets" and their well
    being, would be seen by deep ecology supporters in a larger sense, as an extension of
    the human domestication of the planet, at the expense of wild nature.

    D3. Anthropomorphism/Individual Suffering
        Animal rights supporters tend to favour animals that are seen as close to humans,
    which are understood to experience "sentience" or pain or suffering. (The English 19th
    century philosopher of utilitarianism, Jeremy Benthan, advanced this position.) A deep
    ecology supporter would see this position as a form of anthropocentrism or human-
    centeredness. Also, it is a form of anthropomorphism, that is, projecting human
    emotions upon other life forms. As Rod Preece said in Animals and Nature, "To
    assume that other species possess similar emotions to humans is potentially to deny
    them their uniqueness." (Some animal rights supporters argue that giving mammals
    more "value" than "lower" life forms is based on the notion that animals with a
    developed central nervous system can feel pain, rather than on the anthropocentric
    notion that they are "more similar" to humans. The animal rights motivation for
    different  "valuation" of species would thus be compassion rather than
    anthropocentrism.) Animal rights supporters are often highly motivated to become
    agents of social change, by compassion for animals that are suffering. Deep ecology
    supporters are not unconcerned with issues of compassion. They may seem to
    disregard individual suffering, because their concerns are with the larger picture.

    D4. Importance of a Paradigm Shift
        Deep ecology supporters focus on WILD Nature and the health of the total
    ecosystem. They see that our human numbers and industrial consumer lifestyle have
    to be sharply curtailed, so that all wild species can continue their evolutionary
    unfolding. Animal rights activists tend to work within the confines of industrial
    capitalist society without openly challenging its fundamental premises - although
    what they advocate with regards to how we relate to animals, e.g. stopping
    factory and fur farming, does challenge in a fundamental way the industrial
    "resource" paradigm of values. This helps to explain how venomous some of the
    media criticism of animal rights actions is. For deep ecology supporters, there
    are animal rights but there are also plant, mountain and river rights - and all are
    equally of importance.

    D5. Attitude towards Feral/Exotic Species
        Animal rights supporters would normally oppose the removal of feral animals
    (animals that have escaped or been deliberately introduced into the wild and
    established viable populations), or exotic animals that have been imported from
    another ecosystem or country, because of the often destructive impacts on a
    particular ecosystem. Deep ecology supporters would favour removing if it was
    possible (perhaps reluctantly), the feral or exotic animals, if serious negative
    ecosystem impacts can be demonstrated that will impact native species of animals
    and plants. Two examples would be the feral horses in the Suffolk wildlife area in
    Alberta, Canada which were removed, and the possum introduced to New
    Zealand, which has apparently propagated itself in very large numbers.
        However, there are a number of theoretical issues here which need to be
    discussed further. For example, what is an "exotic" given the new reality of
    interrelated ecosystems  in a globalized world?
        Also, can a "feral" animal which has been in place for a long period, become
    non-feral?  Perhaps a more important question is, should humans be looked at as
    "exotics" in most regions of the world, given their reported African origins?
        Deep ecology and  animal rights supporters are also at odds on the issue of
    chemical birth controls for various species which seem to affect their habitats or
    interfere with human exploitation of the environment. Some animal rights
    organizations have advocated or supported the use of birth controls for wild
    animals, e.g. grey seals and deer.

    D6. Vegetarianism
        There is usually an insistence by animal rights activists on being vegetarian. The
    statement is sometimes heard  that, "Those who say they care about the environment
    and continue to eat meat are hypocrites." While many deep ecology supporters are
    also vegetarians or vegans, they do not accept that deep ecology requires this as a
    mandatory belief. Some deep ecology supporters are omnivores. Both vegetarian
    and omnivore deep ecology supporters share support for an organic bioregional
    food policy.

    D7. Hunting
        Some deep ecology supporters who are omnivores continue to hunt or do not
    oppose hunting under specific ecological and social conditions (but still oppose the
    hunting of animals in parks or wildlife sanctuaries), whereas most animal rights
    supporters would oppose all hunting. Deep ecology supporters see a difference
    between ecologically acceptable hunting as a basic form of subsistence, versus
    hunting for sport or "slob" hunting, e.g. shooting from cars along back roads.
    (Also, most hunters are not involved in habitat defence, e.g. opposing industrial

    D8. Philosophical Inclusiveness
        Most animal rights publications do not seem to be interested in deep ecology as
    a philosophy, whereas deep ecology publications often promote animal rights issues.

                                                                                                                 January 09, 2000

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