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Nature

Where Issues Intertwine: Why Animals Matter

Why Animals Matter bookI’ve always thought that many of the issues I am concerned about—the environment, human rights, peace, overconsumption, animal welfare—are all really one big issue. Everywhere I look I see countless connections between many social, political, and environmental issues. I may be involved in many separate causes, but they overlap so often that I feel that I’m really just part of one big movement. Which is why when someone asks me why I’m vegetarian, I am so overwhelmed with reasons that I don’t know where to even start explaining. The top ones are the environment, animal rights, and health, but no matter what you call them, they’re all one big issue to me.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this overlap, of course. And rarely have I encountered such a thorough examination of the connections between animal welfare and just about every other issue that concerns me than in the book Why Animals Matter by Erin E. Williams and Margo DeMello.

This well-organized book examines all the areas in which animals are exploited: the meat, hunting, clothing, vivisection, pet, and entertainment industries. Each section of the book offers a detailed look at the history of each industry, how animals are abused, current laws regulating them, corrupt practices each one uses, and what we can each do to help. Interspersed in the book are pictures and stories of animals that have been rescued from the horrible fates these industries had in store for them, offering welcome reprieve from otherwise somber content. Although it’s sad and difficult to get through, Why Animals Matter ends on a positive note, highlighting recent victories for animal welfare and shining light on the road ahead.

Throughout the book, the authors mention not just animal industries’ abuses of animals, but also of people and the environment. The ties between animal welfare, human rights, and the environment—and why anyone who is concerned about one should be concerned about the others—were highlighted again and again. Even though I’ve read several books about animal rights, I learned a lot from Why Animals Matter. I learned about the state of modern hunting, which isn’t so much about conservation as canned hunts, ego-boosting exotic trophies, and throwing ecosystems into imbalace. I read about the age old practice of stealing baby animals from the wild (and often killing their families) for human entertainment in circuses, zoos, and films. I found out the dirty secrets of the meat, dairy, and egg industries. And I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about the horrible abuses of animal testing, breeding, racing and fighting. But what I really came away with from this book was, of course, the idea that animals matter. Not just because they can feel pain and pleasure just like we can, but because their issues are our issues, and they are an integral part of the natural world that we share and rely on.

What follows are some key quotes from Why Animals Matter concerning the overlap between animal issues and environmental ones.

Regarding the environmental damage caused by factory farming: “The Worldwatch institute explains that industrialized agribusiness is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future—deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.”

On the meat industry’s impact on global warming: “…the evidence is stronger than ever that animal agribusiness and its use of ever-increasing numbers of animals is among the most serious causes of environmental degradation. A 2006 United Natins Food and Agriculture Organizaton (FAO) report detailed the overwhelming destruction that animal agribusiness poses to the environment…. concluding that farm animal production is a greater contributor to global warming than automobiles and other forms of transportation.”

On wasted resources: “A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that meat production takes 6 to 17 times more land, 4.4 to 26 times more water, 6 to 20 times more fossil fuel, and uses 6 times more biocides than processed soy protein…. We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.”

Regarding the pollutants that come along with using animals for clothing: “In addition to the cruelty involved in factory farming and slaughter, leather production has its own environmental problems and public health hazards. The tanning process uses a veritable broth of toxins to prevent skins from rotting…. For every pound of leather, a pound of waste is produced, which can contaminate the air, water, and ground.”

About the connections between animal welfare and other issues: “Whether it’s factory farming, the exotic animal pet trade, hunting of endangered species, or a legion of other kinds of animal exploitation, there are very real consequences to both the environment and other people…. Animal welfare is not only consistent with social justice and environmental concerns, but in many cases, caring about animals actually furthers advancement on these important issues. These movements have so much in common, and so much to fight for.”

While the facts about how we treat animals can be depressing and daunting, Why Animals Matter does not leave the reader in a hopeless state of depression. After exposing the dirty deeds of animal-exploiting industries, each chapter ends with a section on what you can do and offers ideas for creating change. The last section of the book, called “A New Relationship with Animals,” is uplifting and motivating. It focuses on the many advances made recently in the animal welfare movement, and on how we can make choices that have a positive impact on animals, people, and the earth. We do have a choice, and this book makes a case for making compassionate, animal and environment friendly choices without being preachy.

If you’re concerned about the environment, you should be concerned about animal welfare as well. The two issues are very much intertwined, as Why Animals Matter clearly illustrates. While not an easy read at times, it is an enlightening one. This book will allow you to learn the dirty secrets animal exploiting industries don’t want you to know about and start making informed, compassionate choices. You can read more about the book on its web site, read Alternet’s in-depth review for a closer look, or order the book at Amazon.com.

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7 comments
  1. Kendra

    Thanks for another good book recommendation. I have a whole shelf of animal welfare books, I’ll add this one to my other latest rec, “Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals.”

  2. Megan

    Thanks for the comments everyone – glad to hear that others will be checking out this book. It took me a while to get through because it’s hard to read about the horrible things that happen to animals, but overall it’s an uplifting and inspiring. The book would be a great introduction to animal welfare issues and how to get involved, too. Happy reading! 🙂

  3. Jon

    Thank you for the thoughtful review, Megan. I found the book to be a very enlightening read as well and am elated to see these issues being discussed more and more these days.

  4. Sharon

    Thanks for this review, Megan. I will definitely check this book out. People always ask, “what are your reasons for going vegan” and my favorite response is, “All of them.” Always good to see people taking a holistic look at the issue.

  5. Jay Andrew Allen

    Thanks for recommending this book. It sounds like a must-read.

    The connection between animal welfare and sustainability is what first turned me vegetarian. Compassion for animals – and concern for my own health – eventually lead me to go Vegan.

    Re: interconnected issues, I would add fitness to the list, which is my own hobby horse. The damage we’re doing to our bodies is a by-product of the damage we’re doing to the environment.

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