Category: Meat Consumption


Note: This is the REVISED version  (June 23, 2020) of an essay written for an international cyber-conference on the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

How To Destroy Civilization: COVID-19 and the Exploitation of Animals and the Earth

Steve Best

“Imagine the amazing good fortune of the generation that gets to see the end of the world. This is as marvelous as being there in the beginning.”  ― Jean Baudrillard

  1. Apocalypse

Many past cultures have thought that they lived in apocalyptic times and expressed a foreboding sense of doom and ending. From the Book of Revelations to cyberpunk, apocalyptic visions have been a mainstay of human culture. In contemporary 21st century conditions, the signs of apocalypse are everywhere, from collapsing ice shelves in the Arctic to wildfires raging in California, Australia, and Brazil; from superstorms pummeling coastal towns and island communities to millions of refugees fleeing the ravages of drought, poverty, famine, and conflict; from lingering specters of nuclear annihilation and (bio)terrorist attacks to species extinction and runaway climate change. And now, on the heels of numerous recent viral outbreaks, we are witness to the scourge of a global pandemic inflicting suffering and death around the globe, a massive economic meltdown, and cities turned into ghost towns or petri dishes when not in flames over systemic racism and police brutality. All the while, authoritarianism rises, democracy wanes, and power concentrates into ever fewer hands, as promising signs of resistance emerge.

Whereas all past apocalyptic visions were rooted in fear, paranoia, fantasy, and superstition, visions of chaos and collapse today find grounding in mathematical projections and scientific facts. In our current era, apocalypse is an immanently unfolding objective reality that we are accelerating toward at breakneck speed. For the last 50 years or so, postmodern forms of culture and theory have articulated pronounced feelings of exhaustion and endings. We have heard much about the death of metanarratives; the end of history; the disappearance of the social; the demise of truth, reality, and the subject; and of course, the passing of postmodernism itself.[1] Postmodernism arises amidst paradigm shifts that register across the disciplines. but these changes barely scratched the surface of seismic changes unfolding in society and the objective world that had allegedly disappeared into the text or impenetrable fog of hyperreality. For what we are witnessing is not the end of modernism or modernity, but rather the immanent collapse of the expansionistic, growth-oriented enterprise we call civilization — the dominant institutional structures and ideologies that human beings have built over the last 10,000 years during the Holocene epoch.

Our present moment is so radically novel and extreme we have to think of it in geological, not merely historical terms, for we have created a new geological epoch — we are transitioning from the Holocene to the Anthropocene.[2] Humans have expanded their technological and world-altering prowess to such an extent they have disrupted every living system on the planet – most evidently in the emergence of a sixth (human-caused) mass extinction (right now, 150 species go extinct every day) and with the rise of fossil capitalism and its causal effect in global warming and climate change, thus creating  a radical break in the history of humanity and the earth itself. Since the 1970s, in just the last half-century, humans have reduced wild animal populations 60%, and within the next few decades we will obliterate an additional million plant and animal species.[3] To indicate the extent to which one species has usurped the planet on its unending path of destruction, humans have hitherto destroyed 83% of all wild animals and half of all plant species, such that 96% of all mammals on earth are now humans and their cattle.[4] Only 15% of the planet’s forests remain intact, the rest have been cut down, fragmented, and degraded, as grasslands and wetlands suffer a similar fate. Continue reading

Total Liberation In the Age of the Anthropocene And Climate Emergency

Steve Best[i]

The Global Crisis

I want to impress upon everyone just how serious the planetary crisis is at this moment in time, and what this likely means for the global struggle for animal liberation. We need to grasp the frightening novelty and uniqueness of the current era. There are two great facts with which we must reckon.

The Sixth Great Extinction Crisis

First, we are bringing about a sixth great extinction crisis: the last one 65 million years ago, caused by a huge asteroid strike in the Gulf of Mexico, which wiped out all the dinosaurs and 76% of all species. All the last 5 extinction events were caused by natural events, this one is being caused by human activity – by deforestation, agriculture, urbanization, road building, mining, poaching, overfishing, growth-based economies, and climate change. Now we are the asteroid striking the planet. But we keep smashing it, over and over again, with ever-greater force and accelerating speed, so that it never has a chance to recover, it just keeps reeling from our impact.

The roots of this extinction crisis go back 100,000 years ago, when humans migrated out of Africa to colonize every continent except Antarctica. Everywhere humans went species went extinct. From the marsupial lions and giant kangaroos of Australia the saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths in North America large, charismatic species died from causes attributable to human overhunting, not, as many argue, to climate change. After annihilating animal species, Homo sapiens turned on another Homo species, and likely slaughtered the Neanderthals within ten thousand years of first encountering them in Europe.

The past reveals our dark history of genocide, overkill, and boundless plunder, and we are now pushing countless other species to oblivion at an alarming rate. Since the 1970s, in just the last half-century, humans have reduced wild animal populations 60%, and within the next few decades we will obliterate an additional million plant and animal species. To indicate the extent to which one species has usurped the planet on its unending path of destruction, 96% of all mammals on earth are now humans and cattle.

It is not just the large charismatic animals such as the African elephant, the rhino, and whales who are threatened with extinction. Bees, ants, and beetles are vanishing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles. Insect populations have declined by over 75% over the past 25 years. The “insect apocalypse” is enormously consequential as insects provide food sources for other animals such as birds, bats, reptiles, small mammals, and fish; they pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food crops; and they recycle wastes and replenish soils. Clearly, humans are systematically destroying the life support systems upon which they and other life forms depend. Clearly, our fates are intertwined, and what we do the animals, we do to ourselves. Because nature is in trouble, we are in trouble. The planetary ecosystem is breaking down.

A principle cause of extinction is a global meat-based agricultural system, which destroys habitats, consumes rainforests, creates monocultures, and spreads poisonous chemicals on land and sea. Climate change is another key driver of extinction, thereby linking the twin threats of species extinction and human-induced global warming. Continue reading

I have blogged often against fatuous “Vegan Victory” celebrations and parades to remind everyone that while meat consumption is temporarily down in the US, it is growing at staggering rates on a global level (see, for instance here and here). Particularly, I have tried to warn people that the world’s most populous and rapidly modernizing nations — such as China, India, and Indonesia — continue to expand their economies, develop Western-capitalist social-economic models, enlarge their populations, and dramatically increase their production and consumption of meat.

China continues to lead the way in posing grave ecological threats to the world and slaughter ever-more animals for consumption. I have emphasized the ambiguity of China, which is that as animal advocacy grows, so too does meat consumption.

In a major new and foreboding development, on May 29, meat producer Shuanghui International bought Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for nearly $5 billion dollars, in what many consider to be the largest Chinese acquisition of a US corporation in history.

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Smithfield Foods, founded in 1936, was a major meat producing corporation particularly of pork. The transaction was beneficial to both parties, for while pork consumption has declined in the US, it is steadily rising in China. The US slaughters 100 million hogs for food consumption annually, whereas China butchers 470 million hogs per year. Thus, in a classic case of demand stimulating supply, Smithfield Foods is now part of Shuanghui International. China — with a population of 1.6 billion compared to 300 million people living in the US — is the world’s leading producer and consumer of pork.

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As if US meat production methods were ever safe, or there is a thing as safe pork or healthy meat, some members of Congress are voicing hypocritical health concerns voiced. “I have deep doubts, said  Representative Rose DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, “about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first.” But this is China, after all, and such “safety” concerns are not without merit: “Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river.Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river.”

china-produces-nearly-six-times-as-much-pork-per-person-as-the-rest-of-the-world

China produces nearly six times as much pork per person as the rest of the world

Apart from underscoring the oxymoron of “safe” or “healthy” meat of any kind, the more important issues are not sickened consumers foolish enough to consume animal “products,” but rather the ethical issue of a growing global animal holocaust and the catastrophic environmental impact of factory farming and the global rise of agribusiness and appetites for flesh, especially in the large, rapidly modernizing nations such as China.

14-facts-about-the-staggeringly-huge-chinese-pork-industry

Chinese Pork Industry

Despite foreign ownership, USA Today notes:

“Shuanghui has 13 facilities that produce more than 2.7 million tons of meat per year. Under the agreement, there will be no closures at Smithfield’s facilities and locations, including its Smithfield, Va., headquarters in the historic southeastern Virginia town of about 8,100 where it was founded in 1936, the companies said.

Smithfield’s existing management team will remain in place, and Shuanghui also will honor the collective bargaining agreements with Smithfield workers. The company has about 46,000 employees.

“This transaction preserves the same old Smithfield, only with more opportunities and new markets and new frontiers,” Smithfield CEO Larry Pope said in a conference call. “This is not a strategy to import Chinese pork into the United States … this is exporting America to the world.”

Sadly, this statement is true, and when US carnivorous culture influences global markets and massively populated nations such as China, it is the perfect storm for ecological collapse.

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Also see: “14 Facts About The Staggeringly Huge Chinese Pork Industry”

The nature of evolution is speciation — to produce diversity of life, even in the harshest and most challenging conditions. Indeed, after the five previous major extinctions events on earth, nature responded not only by restabilizing ecological dynamics, but by proliferating even more life and enhancing biodiversity such as happened during the Cambrian Explosion.

The diversity of life involves not only the proliferation of plant and animal species, but also of unique human cultures and languages. At all levels, we are currently losing the rich diversity of biological, cultural, and linguistic forms; in a profound sense, we can no longer speak of “evolution” but rather must understand that planet earth is undergoing a profound devolutionary process in the sense that diversity of all kinds is rapidly receding not advancing.

Thus, in the midst of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of this planet that is currently underway, we are also witness to the precipitous loss of cultural and linguistic diversity as well, as we leave the prior Holocene epoch and enter the new Anthropocene era. This new and emergent geological epoch is  defined by the dominant role played by humans, not the natural world, in altering the planet, and clearly not in desirable ways. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the combined forces of the modernization, the Industrial Revolution, fossil-fuel addiction, a grow-or-die metastasizing system of global capitalism, the spread of agribusiness and rising world meat consumption, human overpopulation, mass culture, rampant consumerism, and other forces have brought about habitat loss, rainforest destruction, desertification, climate change, and species extinction.

In fact since the emergence of agricultural society 10-15,000 years ago, the now dominant mode of production began a war of extermination against hunting and gathering tribes that preserved traditional nomadic and non-hierarchical life ways, as opposed to the growth-oriented, hierarchical farming societies based on domesticating nature and animals, obsessive concerns with control, expansion, war, and conquest.

The war still being waged against indigenous peoples, first nations, and other non-modern/non-Western cultures certainly fully advanced with colonialism five centuries ago, but ultimately is a continuation of the exterminism agricultural society launched against all peoples who did not conform to the pathological imperatives of “civilization” and “progress.”

While from the standpoint of the earth and nonhuman animal species, the ideal would be for Homo rapiens as a whole to die off as rapidly as possible. But the alternative to what most humans find repugnant and nauseating, for those who believe we still have a right to inhabit this planet even if we prove we do not have the ability to harmonize our societies with animal communities and the natural world as a whole, is to do everything possible to resist global capitalism and its war against tribal and indigenous peoples everywhere.

For not only is it vital that indigenous peoples and ancient lifeways be preserved in their own right against the genocidal onslaught of global capitalism, and that we have more diverse languages, cultures, and lifeways than market societies and forces of cultural homogenization will tolerate. It is also crucial, if we want to preserve what biodiversity is left, that we protect and preserve premodern and non-traditional peoples.

One obvious reason — although this has often been overstated in romanticized ways — is that they retain a more reverential ethic toward the earth, they have a far deeper connectedness to life and land, they value tradition over novelty and create far more sustainable cultures, and that they are far more capable of caring for the earth and animals that predatory and rapacious capitalist societies.

Despite the fact that indigenous peoples (such as the Clovis Indians who first inhabited North America) have often throughout history overshot ecological limits and driven animals into extinction, they nonetheless are clearly more suited “custodians” of the earth than the IMF, World Bank, WTO, ExxonMobil, Shell, Monsanto, Cargill, Maxxam, Du Pont, Japanese whalers, NGOs, ignorant narcissistic Western consumers, and so on. 

As the essay below makes clear, the areas now highest in biodiversity are the same areas inhabited by indigeous peoples (and this is partly so because plant and animal species are struggling to adjust to escape the ravages of climate change). Thus, the key to preserving what biodiversity remains amidst the rapidly unfolding sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet is to preserve the remaining cultural and linguistic diversity — to support, help defend, and sustain the indigenous peoples inhabiting the areas with the most dense and diverse plant and animal species.

Thus, here we see yet another vivid example of the politics of total liberation, and how the multiple struggles to save humans, animals, and nature from the devastating effects of the capitalist-dominated Anthropocene era are ultimately one struggle ad must be formulated in theory and practice accordingly.

So there are two main options to save biodiversity: either through the collapse of “civilization” and the extinction of the human species, or through advancing the only politics suitable for the twenty-first century and era of global social and ecological crisis — a politics of total liberation that preserves biodiversity by preserving cultural and linguistic diversity. And this, unavoidably, demands a total war against global capitalism and the sundry institutions and forces of destruction bound up with advanced market societies and this nihilistic world system.

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By  NEWS JUNKIE POST, Oct 11, 2012

An unprecedented study of global biological and cultural diversity paints a dire picture of the state of our species.

Like the amphibians that climb to ever tinier areas at higher altitudes to avoid being extinguished by global warming, most of the world’s species currently huddle in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface, and most human cultural diversity — as measured by the number of languages — occupies essentially the same tiny fraction of the planet.

We are dying.

A scientist would never say it quite this way. Instead, he would tell you that the world’s animal and plant species are disappearing 1,000 times faster than ever in recorded history. He might add that some areas of the world have lost 60% of their languages since the mid-1970’s, and 90% of the world’s languages are expected to vanish by the year 2099.

In Haitian Creole, we would yell “Amwe!” (Help!), and this would be right and proper.

As ever, the best scientific studies merely quantify what everybody has known all along. Life, in general, has suffered horribly from the runaway spread of European values and the notions of progress that began with the Industrial Revolution. A sharp bit of mathematics finally brings forth the maps that expose the poverty of the world’s major carbon emitters and the little wealth that remains in those parts of the world where the indigenous are making their final stand.

High-biodiversity wilderness areas

There currently exist very few places on Earth that could be considered intact. The researchers found only five such areas, which are numbered 36-40 on the biodiversity map and colored in shades of green.

These are, by number: 36: Amazonia; 37: Congo Forests; 38: Miombo-Mopane Woodlands and Savannas; 39: New Guinea; 40: North American Deserts.

Together these intact spots amounted to only about six percent of the terrestrial surface but were home to 17 percent of vascular plants and eight percent of vertebrates that could not be found anywhere else. The same areas were the refuge for 1,622 of the world’s 6,900 languages, with little New Guinea topping the chart at 976 tongues.

The only glimmer of hope from the study was the discovery that, contrary to what conservationists might presume, a place does not have to be untouched by humans to serve as a refuge for the world’s plants and animals. Instead, habitats must be handled in the right way, and more than anything, they must be protected from the kinds of blows dealt by industrialization.

Biodiversity hotspots

The researchers additionally identified 35 “biodiversity hotspots” (numbered 1-35 and colored in shades of yellow to red on the biodiversity map), defined as places with a high density of endemic species despite having lost over 70% of natural habitat.

These were, by number: 1: Atlantic Forest; 2: California Floristic Province; 3: Cape Floristic Region; 4: Caribbean Islands; 5: Caucasus; 6: Cerrado; 7: Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests; 8: Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa; 9: East Melanesian Islands; 10: Eastern Afromontane; 11: Forests of East Australia; 12: Guinean Forests of West Africa; 13: Himalaya; 14: Horn of Africa; 15: Indo-Burma; 16: Irano-Anatolian; 17: Japan; 18: Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands; 19: Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands; 20: Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany; 21: Mediterranean Basin; 22: Mesoamerica; 23: Mountains of Central Asia; 24: Mountains of Southwest China; 25: New Caledonia; 26: New Zealand; 27: Philippines; 28: Polynesia-Micronesia; 29: Southwest Australia; 30: Succulent Karoo; 31: Sundaland; 32: Tropical Andes; 33: Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena; 34: Wallacea; 35: Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.

The biodiversity hotspots amounted only to about two percent of the Earth’s surface, but they were home to a whopping 50% of plant species and 43% of vertebrates that could be found nowhere else. Again, there was a stunning correlation of biodiversity with culture, with the hotspots being home to 3,202 of the world’s languages.

Biodiversity is being lost, but what’s far worse is that the ability to express this loss is vanishing. For example, 1,553 of the languages in hotspots were spoken by only 10,000 or fewer people, and 544 were spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Ironically, the American researchers who did this study are now regarded as experts on biodiversity, although the only real experts on how to maintain biodiversity in places occupied by humans are the world’s indigenous.

The logical conclusion to take from this study is that modern science, with all its sophisticated technology, is completely trumped by the thousands of years of experimentation by the world’s indigenous, although their findings have been transmitted by oral tradition and other simple means. To be fair, it isn’t so much the fault of modern science as the fault of the industrialized world, which worships power, greed, and the absurdity of exponential growth.

One cannot disdain all other living beings, grind mountains to extract minerals, build roads without a thought for habitat fragmentation, design gardens to please only human aesthetics, or harvest monocultures that serve solely human needs, and expect one’s world to continue for long. There is room for humans at Earth’s banquet, but only those who have lived in place long enough to have learned the contours of their terrain, the language of their plant and animal neighbors and, more than anything, the needs of non humans.

When a shaman leaves a lock of his hair where he has uprooted a medicinal cactus, it is not a bit of imbecility, but a humble acknowledgement that, for each living thing taken, one must give a bit of oneself, however small. For centuries humans have spilled their most beloved animals’ blood to the earth to acknowledge the cyclical aspects of life in preparation for battle and celebration of life’s milestones. These are not concepts that a pharmaceutical corporation could ever understand.

As for every other scientific report, this one concludes that yet more study will be needed, but what is needed, and urgently so, is more humility, because as the world’s indigenous cultures go, so does all humanity.

The essay below reports still more disturbing news in the war against wildlife, specifically, the war of hunters, ranchers, and the US government against the gravely endangered Mexican Wolf. (For details on the longstanding role the US government has played in extirminating millions of wolves and other animals to protect the cattle industry, see past blog posts here and here.) As this article shows, neither scientists, nor conservationists, nor politicians have the will or influence to advance the interests of wolves over cattle and biodiversity over steaks and hamburgers. To this day, entire wolf packs have been taken into custody or massacred following livestock losses. The time is coming soon when the miniscule fragments of land set aside for wolves will be scraped altogether, with no pretense of anything but total annihilation of wild animals and simulacra of wilderness, in favor of a vast unbroken chain of Golden Arches, steak joints, slaughterhouses, and fast-food courts, stretching from coast-to-caost and crisscrossing this besieged planet like a web of doom.

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For Wolves on the Brink, A Hobbled Recovery Plan

Caroline Fraser, Yale Environment 360, October 25, 2012

Few creatures in the United States have come as close to extinction as the Mexican wolf, which was wiped out in the U.S. by 1970. Now, scientists and conservationists contend, federal officials are caving into political pressure and failing to implement a legally mandated reintroduction plan.

For a melodrama of persecuted fugitives to rival Les Misérables, look no farther than the Mexican wolf, the subspecies of gray wolf that once populated the U.S. Southwest. Hunted and trapped by ranchers and federal agencies since the late 1800s, now detained by the same agencies in pens called “wolf jail,” few species in North America have come closer to extinction. Fewer still have suffered through attempted recoveries so plagued by reversals and allegations of mismanagement.

Like Jean Valjean (#24601), they are known by their numbers. Extirpated in the U.S. and nearly gone in Mexico by the 1970s, the wolves became the focus of a captive breeding program launched by 1980 with a handful of individuals, some interrelated. In 1998, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — the lead agency responsible for the wolves’ recovery — reintroduced the first of 11 in the wild. That January, alpha female #174 from the Campbell Blue pack was carried into a snowy stretch of the Blue Range mountains of eastern Arizona and her cage door opened by U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. By August, she was dead, shot with a high-powered rifle by an unknown killer. Her companions were slain, disappeared, or removed by wildlife officials for leaving the recovery area, a violation of conditions of their parole.


Wolf Management Area

Arizona Game and Fish Department. A female Mexican wolf paces in a pen before her release into the wild.

Since that time, many scientists and conservationists contend, the Mexican wolf recovery in the wild has been a failure. Even the Fish & Wildlife Service deemed the population “at risk of failure” in its 2010 assessment of the program. The recovery has been shadowed by accusations that U.S. officials have shied away from their obligation under the Endangered Species Act to fully protect Mexican wolves because of vehement opposition from western states. A successful breeding program now maintains several hundred in captivity, but only 58 survive in the wild, a marked contrast to the more than 1,700 gray wolves that have repopulated the northern Rocky Mountains after widely publicized reintroduction efforts.

The main reason for the faltering Mexican wolf program is a set of rules — negotiated between the federal government and the states — more restrictive than those governing any other endangered species reintroduction. The Mexican wolves in this “nonessential experimental” population may only be freed inside a small patch of Arizona, although much of the recovery area lies in New Mexico; those preying on cattle can be removed or legally killed; those straying outside must be trapped and brought back, subverting natural behavior and dispersal. In the temperate Southwest, they are surrounded year-round by cattle, an ever-present temptation, unlike gray wolves to the north, where severe winters limit grazing to a few months.

While defending the program as a success, Fish & Wildlife Service officials have recently expressed frustration with those restrictive rules. Tom Buckley, the agency’s spokesman in the southwest, pointed out that “second and third-generation animals [are] living and breathing in the wild” and called the program “pretty successful.” But he notes that the release area is “full of wolves” with established territories, making future releases hazardous for newcomers and halting progress.

So it was all the more surprising earlier this month, many experts say, when the agency opted for the staus quo and denied a request to classify the Mexican wolf, Canis lupus baileyi, as a subspecies of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. The protection already enjoyed by the wolf, the agency claimed, had raised its numbers “from none… to 58.” Sherry Barrett, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, echoed that assessment, arguing that “It’s a big success when you started from no animals in the wild.” But scientists and environmental groups argue that a subspecies listing is essential for a robust recovery, as it would require a new recovery plan and the identification of “critical habitat,” which might extend into the neighboring states of Colorado and Utah.

Biologists and geneticists summoned by the agency to revise the Mexican wolf’s 30-year-old recovery plan have grown incensed over what they see as political and bureaucratic interference. Their fears — that the Fish & Wildlife Service is allowing states to hijack the scientific process — are the basis of a formal complaint of “Scientific and Scholarly Misconduct” filed in June with the U.S. Interior Department, charging that the federal Mexican wolf recovery program has become “the antithesis of scientific integrity.”

The whistleblower organization behind this J’accuse is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which has harried the agency over the Endangered Species Act since the Clinton years. In 14 single-spaced pages, PEER’s complaint also assails the agency’s National Wolf Strategy, including the controversial, congressionally mandated decision to remove the gray wolf in the northern Rockies from the endandered species list. PEER claims Fish & Wildlife’s decisions have lacked public transparency and review by independent scientists, violating the Obama administration’s promise to honor the best available science.


Mexican Wolf Release

A Mexican wolf is released at Gila National Forest in New Mexico in 2010.

PEER has taken up the cause of scientists who recognize that the lobo is the most genetically distinct of all remaining wolf subspecies, a Pleistocene relict of the first wave of wolves to colonize the continent. The Mexican wolf is an irreplaceable fixture of the modern-day restorationist’s fondest dream — that a Noah’s Ark of wolf, jaguar, and the Bolson tortoise may one day revive ecosystems in the Southwest degraded by centuries of overgrazing and development. Since the 1990s, expert panels of wolf biologists commissioned by the Fish & Wildlife Service have consistently advised the agency to follow the science: Modify restrictive rules that require constant trapping and relocating of the wolves, release them in Arizona and New Mexico, and establish several wild populations so that the existing one cannot be wiped out by disease, fire, or other threats.

The agency has consistently declined to do so, dismissing previous panels tasked with revising the recovery plan. Philip Hedrick, an Arizona State University genetics expert who served on those panels, has grown increasingly alarmed by the agency’s failure to act, saying delays erode dwindling chances for “genetic rescue.” Says Hedrick, “The long-term and even the short-term survival of the wild population is in jeopardy.”

Over the years, pups and entire wolf packs have been lethally “removed” or taken into custody following livestock losses by public lands ranchers, who lease forest allotments for cattle grazing. Among them was Mule Pack alpha female #189, who lost a leg to frostbite while caught in a trap. Re-released, she survived on three legs until she disappeared. Overall, the Fish & Wildlife Service has removed more wolves (153) than it has released (92). Nearly half the 88 reported deaths have been caused by illegal shooting, while rural communities have complained ceaselessly of threats to livestock and pets.

The Mexican wolf reintroduction program has played out on a remote stage, the rugged, juniper-covered canyons, grassy meadows, and heights studded with ponderosa pines of the “Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area” on the border between Arizona and New Mexico. To reach it from Albuquerque requires hours of driving, crossing the Continental Divide, passing through the desolate Plains of San Agustin and its strange spectacle of the Expanded Very Large Array, enormous dish antennas trained on black holes. Spotting the elusive creature is nearly as difficult. Smaller than the gray wolf, the lobo is cryptically colored in browns and grays, and its numbers have remained tiny and its movements tightly controlled.

It took until 2010 for a Fish & Wildlife Service assessment to acknowledge that Mexican wolves were “not thriving.” At that point Benjamin Tuggle, director of the service’s Southwest region, summoned a new recovery team. Its science panel was charged with updating the recovery plan “consistent with the best available scientific information.” That year, Obama’s Interior Department adopted a policy demanding “clear and unambiguous… use of science in decision-making.”

Scientists began preparing a confidential plan, proposing three populations of at least 250 animals connected by corridors, standard practice in recovering endangered species. Among suitable habitats, the plan identified areas encompassing the north rim of the Grand Canyon and border regions of Arizona and Utah, as well as New Mexico and southern Colorado. That draft document was leaked last fall by state game officials, igniting ferocious opposition from hunters’ groups and prompting an angry letter from the Utah governor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In an op-ed, U.S Senator Orrin Hatch stated that Mexican wolves “do not belong in Utah” and decried the “environmental extremists” who would put them there.

The science panel nonetheless carried on, completing a longer draft plan by May. PEER’s June complaint quoted Fish & Wildlife Service emails in its contention that federal officials tried to improperly influence the plan’s proposals for wolf numbers and potential habitat, with Tuggle’s staff requesting a range of numbers instead of the “3 x 250” recommendations: “You should not feel undo [sic] pressure at this point to accommodate, per se, but you should recognize that this is his way of telling you… what information he would like to see.”

Furthermore, the complaint argued that the broader National Wolf Strategy paid more attention to state opposition and “political concerns” than to science, proposing recovery efforts only for states without objections, arguably a violation of the law. In June, the American Society of Mammalogists warned the Fish & Wildlife Service that further delays in reintroducing Mexican wolves will cause “irreparable harm,” as captive wolves grow older and genetic opportunities are lost. By September, the FWS had investigated and exonerated itself, finding the complaint “not warranted.”

Scientists have recently begun to understand the vital role played by top predators in ecosystems and the profound impacts that occur when those predators are wiped out. Now, Caroline Fraser writes, researchers are citing new evidence that shows the importance of lions, wolves, sharks, and other creatures at the top of the food chain.

Michael Robinson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity — one of the groups seeking to have the Mexican wolf declared a subspecies — accused Fish & Wildlife Service officials of “congratulating themselves on releasing wolves and not shooting every one of them.” Robinson called the handling of the program “one of the more spectacular” examples of the agency’s mismanagement, pointing out that its own projections had called for 102 wolves and 18 breeding pairs in the wild by 2006. The refusal of a subspecies listing was political, he said, noting Colorado’s importance as a swing state in the upcoming election.

In the midst of this heated debate, the Fish & Wildlife Service announced in August that it would “lethally control” another wolf for killing cattle. She was the Fox Mountain alpha female, caring for four pups. After wolf advocates protested to the White House and legislators, she was granted a reprieve, with plans made to place her in captivity. She eluded authorities until Oct. 10, when she was caught in a federal trap. A local conservation center has agreed to keep her for the rest of her life

The Crucial Role of Predators: A New Perspective on Ecology

READ THE e360 REPORT

Quammen’s article below provides a powerful and relevant example of the continued biological fallout of the revolutionary shift to agricultural society ten thousand years ago, and the decision to “domesticate” animal species to exploit for human purposes. Since that decisive historical watershed, human “evolution” in fact has been a long co-evolution with other animals. Animals shape our lives and history as we shape theirs. But as the victims of human domination, they have borne a tragic toll and catastrophic cost due to the implacably violent nature and hyper-alienated mindset of Homo rapiens. Yet in the vast web of ecology and the infinite dialectic of action-reaction, the debt of destruction is soon to be paid in even more astronomical terms. For all our scientific, technological, and cultural brilliance, humans have yet to learn that they can never overshoot their ecological boundaries, disrupt and destroy animal communities, or relentlessly assault the earth without catastrophic consequences. Here is just one such known example of biological “karma,” vividly demonstrating that hubristic humans have “mastered” nothing on this planet and that violating the laws of ecology carries the most severe penalties.

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David Quammen, Yale Environment 360, October 4, 2012,

The Next Pandemic: Why It Will Come from Wildlife

Experts believe the next deadly human pandemic will almost certainly be a virus that spills over from wildlife to humans. The reasons why have a lot to do with the frenetic pace with which we are destroying wild places and disrupting ecosystems.

Emerging diseases are in the news again. Scary viruses are making themselves noticed and felt. There’s been a lot of that during the past several months — West Nile fever kills 17 people in the Dallas area, three tourists succumb to hantavirus after visiting Yosemite National Park, an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claims 33 lives. A separate Ebola outbreak, across the border in Uganda, registers a death toll of 17. A peculiar new coronavirus, related to SARS, proves fatal for a Saudi man and puts a Qatari into critical condition, while disease scientists all over the world wonder: Is this one — or is that one — going to turn into the Next Big One?

By the Next Big One, I mean a murderous pandemic that sweeps around the planet, killing millions of people, as the so-called “Spanish” influenza did in 1918-19, as AIDS has been doing in slower motion, and as SARS might have done in 2003 if it hadn’t been stopped by fast science, rigorous measures of public health, and luck. Experts I’ve interviewed over the past six years generally agree that such a Next Big One is not only possible but probable. They agree that it will almost certainly be a zoonotic disease — one that emerges from wildlife — and that the causal agent will most likely be a virus. They agree that sheer human abundance, density, and interconnectedness make us highly vulnerable. Our population now stands above seven billion, after all, a vast multitude of potential victims, many of us living at close quarters in big cities, traveling quickly and often from place to place, sharing infections with one another; and there are dangerous new viruses lately emerging against which we haven’t been immunized. Another major pandemic seems as logically inevitable as the prospect that a very dry, very thick forest will eventually burn.

That raises serious issues in the realm of health policy, preparedness, and medical response. It also suggests a few urgent questions on the scientific side — we might even say, the conservation side — of the discussion. Those questions, in simplest form, are: Where? How? and Why? Addressing them is crucial to understanding the dynamics of emerging diseases, and understanding is crucial to preparedness and response.

First question: From where will the Next Big One emerge? Answer, as I’ve noted: Most likely from wildlife. It will be a zoonosis — an animal infection that spills over into humans.

Everything comes from somewhere. New human diseases don’t arrive from Mars. Notwithstanding the vivid anxieties of The Andromeda Strain (1969) and other such fictions, lethal microbes don’t arrive on contaminated satellites returning from deep space. (Or anyway, knock wood, they haven’t so far.) They emerge from nonhuman animals, earthly ones, and spill over into human populations, catching hold, replicating, sometimes adapting and prospering, then passing onward from human to human.

According to one study, 58 percent of all pathogen species infecting humans are zoonotic. Another study found that 72 percent of all recently emerged zoonotic pathogens have come from wildlife. That list includes According to one study, 72 percent of all recently emerged zoonotic pathogens have come from wildlife. everything from Ebola and Marburg and the HIVs and the influenzas to West Nile virus, monkeypox, and the SARS bug.

In Malaysia, a virus called Nipah spilled over from fruit bats in 1998. Its route into humans was indirect but efficient: The bats fed in fruit trees overshadowing factory-scale pigsties; the bat droppings carried virus, which infected many pigs; the virus replicated abundantly in the pigs, and from them infected piggery workers and employees at abattoirs. That outbreak killed 109 people and ended with the culling of 1.1 million pigs.

Second question: How do such pathogens get into humans? The particulars are various but the general answer is: contact. Contact equals opportunity, and the successful pathogens are those that seize opportunities to proliferate and to spread, not just from one host to another but from one kind of host to another.

Wild aquatic birds defecate in a village duck pond, passing a new strain of influenza to domestic ducks; the ducks pass it to a Chinese boy charged with their care, after which the boy passes it to his brother and sister. A man in Cameroon butchers a chimpanzee and, elbow deep in its blood, acquires a simian virus that becomes HIV-1. A miner in Uganda enters a shaft filled with bats carrying Marburg virus and, somehow, by ingesting or breathing bat wastes, gets infected. Contact between people and wildlife, sometime direct, sometimes with livestock as intermediaries, presents opportunities for their infections to become ours.

Third question: Why do such spillovers seem to be happening now more than ever? There’s been a steady drumbeat of new zoonotic viruses We are interacting with wild animals and disrupting the ecosystems they inhabit to an unprecedented degree. emerging into the human population within recent decades: Machupo (1961), Marburg (1967), Lassa (1969), Ebola (1976), HIV-1 (inferred in 1981, first isolated in 1983), HIV-2 (1986), Sin Nombre (the first-recognized American hantavirus, 1993), Hendra (1994), the strain of influenza called “avian flu” (1997), Nipah (1998), West Nile (1999), SARS (2003), and others. These are not independent events. They are parts of a pattern. They reflect things that we’re doing, not just things that are happening to us.

What we’re doing is interacting with wild animals and disrupting the ecosystems that they inhabit — all to an unprecedented degree. Of course, humans have always killed wildlife and disrupted ecosystems, clearing and fragmenting forests, converting habitat into cropland and settlement, adding livestock to the landscape, driving native species toward extinction, introducing exotics. But now that there are seven billion of us on the planet, with greater tools, greater hungers, greater mobility, we’re pressing into the wild places like never before, and one of the things that we’re finding there is… new infections. And once we’ve acquired a new infection, the chance of spreading it globally is also greater than ever.

We cut our way through the Congo. We cut our way through the Amazon. We cut our way through Borneo and Madagascar and northeastern Australia. We shake the trees, figuratively and literally, and things fall out. We kill and butcher and eat many of the wild animals found there. We settle in those places, creating villages, work camps, towns, extractive Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics. industries, new cities. We bring in our domesticated animals, replacing the wild herbivores with livestock. We multiply our livestock as we’ve multiplied ourselves, operating huge factory-scale operations such as the piggeries in Malaysia, into which Nipah virus fell from the bats feeding in fruit trees planted nearby, after the bats’ native forest habitats had been destroyed. We export and import livestock across great distances and at high speeds. We export and import other live animals, especially primates, for medical research. We export and import animal skins, exotic pets, contraband bushmeat, and plants, some of which carry secret microbial passengers.

We travel, moving between cities and continents even more quickly than our transported livestock. We eat in restaurants where the cook may have butchered a porcupine before working on our scallops. We visit monkey temples in Asia, live markets in India, picturesque villages in South America, dusty archeological sites in New Mexico, dairy towns in the Netherlands, bat caves in East Africa, racetracks in Australia — breathing the air, feeding the animals, touching things, shaking hands with the friendly locals — and then we jump on our planes and fly home. We get bit by mosquitoes and ticks. We alter the global climate with our carbon emissions, which may in turn alter the latitudinal ranges within which those mosquitoes and ticks live. We provide an irresistible opportunity for enterprising microbes by the ubiquity and abundance of our human bodies.

For decades, deadly outbreaks of cholera were attributed to the spread of disease through poor sanitation. But recent research demonstrates how closely cholera is tied to environmental and hydrological factors and to weather patterns — all of which may lead to more frequent cholera outbreaks as the world warms.

Everything I’ve just mentioned is encompassed within this rubric: the ecology and evolutionary biology of zoonotic diseases. Ecological circumstance provides opportunity for spillover. Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics. But the majesty of the sheer biological phenomena involved is no consolation for the human miseries, the deaths, and the current level of risk.

There are things that can be done — research, vigilance, anticipation, fast and effective response — to stave off or at least mitigate the Next Big One. My point here is different. My point is about human ecology, not human medicine. It behooves us to remember that we too are animals, interconnected with the rest of earthly biota by shared diseases, among other ways. We should recall that salubriuous biblical warning from the Book of Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” The planet is our home, but not ours only, and we’d be wise to tread a little more lightly within this wonderful, germy world.

Italian Facebook Steve Best Rome Lecture Tour Event Page

Per Animalia Veritas Steve Best Event Page

“Interview with Steve Best,” Asinus Novus

“Steve Best in Italy: From Philosophy to Action,” by the blog (and more), Asinus Novus. The writers provided a nice summary of my talks and main ideas.

A Key Meeting,” Arielvegangfashinblogspot.com; a refreshingly intelligent, fair, and incisive essay on my work, thank you Ariel.

“Now Enough,” Barbara Balsalmo

 

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I wish to thank everyone in Italy for inviting me to speak again this year, and for being such gracious hosts, fantastic activists. and amazing people. There are dozens, perhaps over a hundred of people who made this tour possible and joyful. I cannot possibly name them all. I do however, wish to offer a very special thank you to:

Kostia Troinia and Barbara Balsamo for inviting me and being the principal organizers of my talks in Rome. You are the best!

Marcos Aragao for your excellent photos.

VeggieChannel.com for your tremendous effort in interviewing me, taping my lectures in Turin, Rome, and Latina, and for having the courage to post my talks on your channel.

The kind women at Asinus Novus for showing enough interest in my work to summarize my talks and interview me; it was a pleasure, thank you.

Per Animalia Veritas; thank you for your activism, support, and bold defense of militant direct action!

The ReWild Cruelty Free Club; you guys rock and make the best vegan food!

Paolo Trono and his club, Vegan Città di Latina (a former abattoir transformed into a space for music, lectures, and culture!) in which I gave my final speech in the Rome area before moving north to Brescia; thank you for your kindness, the great audience, and the great free food and beer!

Piercarlo Paderno for inviting and hosting me in Brescia. You are a great new friend and did amazing work to help liberate the Greenhill dogs.

The Occupy Greenhill movement (see here and here) for their bold act of liberation that will go down in history as one of the most important actions of this century. In their post-Greenhill reorganization, the group is now called Animal Amnesty, and will keep opening chained fences and locked doors!

This talk was given at Sapienza University of Rome, September 5, 2012. 

Photos of the talk

A long analysis, but well worth the read. Williams makes the connections between the ongoing, mutually reinforcing crises in the social and natural worlds, as brought about by capitalism, class society, corporate globalization, and animal agriculture — by which of course I mean the industrialized, profit-driven, chemicalized system designed principally to produce feed (for animals) not food (for humans), and which unconscionably treats animals as flesh/dairy/egg machines and spares them no discomfort in the use of intensive confinement and violent murder. This piece demonstrates how market anarchy leads to social struggle and chaos, how the impersonal profit imperative results in mass suffering and death, and how veganism and animal liberation are central to any sane, humane, and ecologically sustainable future — a future I personally have an increasingly difficult time imagining systemic change is possible, given the indifference of social movements to veganism and animal liberation and the insular, marginalized, elitist, single-issue, consumerist, and corporatized and/or paralyzed state of vegan and animal advocacy “movements” worldwide. The combination of increasingly aggressive corporate plunder policies, the growing crisis of climate change, and the inability of various social movements to grasp the big picture and unite to overturn corporate hegemony, global agribusiness, and slaughtering hundreds of billions of land and sea animals to feed seven billion people (often barely for two billion of these) portends utter disaster for humanity, animals, biodiversity, and an inhabitable planet.

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Chris Williams, Counterpunch, August 3-5, 2012

More than 50% of counties in the United States are now officially designated “disaster” zones.  The reason given in 90% of cases is due to the continent-wide drought that has been devastating crop production.  48% of the US corn crop is rated as “poor to very poor”, along with 37% of soy; 73% of cattle acreage is suffering drought, along with 66% of land given to the production of hay.

The ramifications of the drought go far beyond what happens to food prices in the United States.  With the US producing half of all world corn exports, as corn and soy crops wilt from the heat, without coordinated governmental action we can expect a replay of the disastrous rise in food prices of 2008, which caused desperate, hungry people to riot in 28 countries.  In that instance, food was available, but hundreds of millions of people couldn’t afford to buy it.  Should food prices increase to anywhere near the levels of four years ago, it will be a catastrophe for the two billion people who are forced to scrape by on less than $2/day.

The poor in developing countries spend 80% of their income on food, much of it directly as grain, rather than as manufactured products like bread or cereal, and so any increase in the price of basic necessities immediately puts them in dire food distress.  In the US, prices for a loaf of bread or a corn muffin are unlikely to see major increases because, in a nod to capitalist priorities, the cost of those products is largely determined by packaging, advertizing, transportation and storage costs – and ultimately the labor that is embodied in those activities, not the cost of growing the corn or other natural base material.

However, because about one third of corn in the US goes to feed animals, the US dept. of agriculture predicts that the price of animal products such as beef, dairy products, chicken, eggs and turkey will increase by 4.5% or more, depending on just how bad the harvest turns out to be.  There will be a similar impact on vegetable oil due to the dire predictions on soy production, though these effects will likely not be felt until early 2013.  The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) publishes its monthly Food Price Index figures on August 9th.  Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO commented, “It will be up…How much up is anyone’s guess”, ominously, he adds; “It would really surprise me if we didn’t see a significant increase.” Continue reading

The Guardian, June 2, 2012

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says.

An cattle ranch in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The UN says agriculture is on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth.

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.

Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: “Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products – livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides.”

Both energy and agriculture need to be “decoupled” from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.

Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: “Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation.”

The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.

Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, says the report, which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on Saturday.

Last year the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth.

Prof Hertwich, who is also the director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western world’s pattern of increasing consumption: “Developing countries should not follow our model. But it’s up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods.”

 
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