Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Back in the winter of 1976, I happened to catch an evening TV news report which graphically depicted the killing of baby seals near Newfoundland. Outraged at what I was seeing, I hurried to the phone to chide the station for showing me this carnage. As I began dialing, though, I realized that I was about the blame the messenger rather than the actual perpetrators of these horrors that so offended my sensibilities.

I never made the call, but my new-found crusade soon led me to anti-fur rallies, meetings of a local animal welfare group — and later to environmental issues: I campaigned for solar energy proponent Barry Commoner’s 1980 third party presidential run, helped organize a local nuclear freeze referendum, and eventually founded E Magazine.

Concern for animal rights and environmental issues always seemed to go hand-in-hand for me, though I guess I’m a rarity. Environmentalists, I find, do care about animals, but, in practice seem to limit their campaigns to the more awe-inspiring creatures like whales, elephants, dolphins, and wolves.

Indeed, some feminists say that environmental animal crusades are mostly limited to those rugged creatures we associate with wildness-and maleness. Concerns for cows, sows, and chickens-long ago torn from the wild into the service of mass-produced milk, cheese, eggs, and meat-are rare. Similarly, we no longer associate animals used in experiments with the wild (though they are either obtained there or are descendents of wild creatures). So they, too, seldom make the cut.

Let’s be honest: Most people, environments included, eschew the animal rights message for two main reasons: For one, they find it unpleasant and shrill, often delivered in a single-minded diatribe. But more important, animal rights encompasses issues that challenge us-far more than do most others-to rethink ingrained habits such as meat-eating, and very basic and long-held religious beliefs about the value of human versus non-human life.

I feel that animal rights, despite its many complications is quite central to the environment movement which, in its grandest form, demands a complete re-evaluation of our attitudes towards nature. And animal rights has emerged as a formidable movement that has made significant, measurable progress. Its issues deserve to be considered seriously.

With this issue, E begins a three-part series, funded by the Summerlee Foundation, designed to promote a dialogue between these two disparate communities. Our hope is that environmentalists who read E will keep an open mind — regardless of how they view the animal rights movement. We need to focus on the merits of the issues, not the messengers, as I learned in the winter of 1976