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Local farming and including animals within the scope of environmental justice

By Paul York

The climate change mitigation movement is struggling with questions of social justice, racism and classism. To this we may also include speciesism.

Food justice for the poor
There are now two documentary films showing the destruction of plot of land used for community gardening – the South Central Farm – which fed 300 families, in Los Angeles, and which had been farmed by poor people as a community project. The City councilors in LA were corrupt and handed it over to developers:

More community gardens needed!
Turning empty plots into community gardens for the use of all is an important and even vital step towards food independence in cities, in a way that does not discriminate against based on income, ethnicity, class, etc. People can eat good food inexpensively, reduce greenhouse gases from factory farming, and it is psychologically beneficial to sit in a garden – as empirical studies from the field of eco-psychology attest.

Less meat, eggs and dairy
Another area where there could be much more improvement among climate activists, vis-a-vis food justice, is is to discourage meat consumption. As most environmentalists know – or should know – about 18% of global greenhouse gases come from factory farming (United Nations, 2007). The factory farms (or CAFOs) use water and arable land (through grain production) that could be far better used.

Factory farms and disease
Additionally, factory farms are responsible for pandemic diseases. H1N1 came out of a factory farm for pigs in North Carolina. The World Health Organization and many medical associations worldwide oppose factory farms for this reason. Factory farm products are themselves very unhealthy, with all the antibiotics and steroids and pesticides in the feed given to animals.

ENGOs need to address meat consumption

ENGOs (environmental NGOs) have been sorely remiss in their duty in promoting a meat- and dairy- and egg-free diet, although the Suzuki Foundation, to be fair, promotes a reduction in meat consumption. Part of the reason is the fear of a backlash against their message from donors. But more and more the idea is catching on and ENGOs are having to acknowledge the necessity of addressing diet.

Veganism is healthy
Veganism is entirely healthy and millions of people are thriving vegans. This requires proper education. Vegans who switch back to meat and dairy because their health may have suffered have not approached it correctly.

Meat is Not Green
The animal rights groups, such as PETA, have been promoting this for some time, with their “Meat is Not Green” campaign.

At this stage, the ENGOs should start working on this. It is hypocritical not to do so, give the large amount of GHGs produced by factory farms, and the fact that it is the easiest way for the general public to reduce their GHGs, aside from not flying or driving SUVs (transportation accounts for 13% of GHGs globally).

What about local organic meat?
There has been a movement towards local organic dairy and egg and even grass-fed meat production, which is supposed to be the solution to the problem factory farms (as seen, for example, in the film Food Inc). However, it presents the same problem mentioned in the article above: it can become expensive and exclusionary.

Moreover, the animals are still enslaved and killed, raising serious ethical issues regarding the violation of their basic rights. That animals are considered property and not persons in this society has been compared to the enslavement of human beings in previous centuries. The environmental and ethical issues cannot easily be separated (which is perhaps why the ENGOs have hesitated to address the issue?).

Environmental justice must include animal rights, as well as human rights

I will make that case here that there is a certain value in bringing human rights and animal rights into environmentalism: by doing so, we can begin to recognize the importance of all sentient beings, which is important for building a more sustainable world that is also more just at the same time. Sustainability without justice runs the risk of becoming “environmental fascism.”

Include all sentient beings
And in a world of finite resources and environmental destruction, there can be no justice without sustainability. Our environmentalism needs to include everyone, people from all backgrounds, and ultimately all sentient beings.

The move towards vegetarianism and veganism, as a part of environmental justice, must also be inclusive and must make efforts not to become elitist. The legacy of racism and elitism has dogged both environmentalism and animal rights for some time now.

Racism is wrong, and so is speciesism. To be radically inclusive, everyone’s welfare must be considered: all humans, all animals. We are all fellow Earthlings. Shutting down factory farms is a first step in that direction. Local farming and a reduction in meat consumption are both major steps.

Paul York is an animal rights activist in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at

If you have a Facebook account, send him a friend request: Paul AndBaby York-Vegan

The world’s most important pie chart
Animals and climate change: the solution to both is greater caring for our fellow Earthlings

Please click HERE for links to request free vegetarian and vegan information and kits.


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