In 2019 and 2020, wildfires ignited large swaths of the Australian countryside. The conflagrations were devastating to humans, with significant loss of life and home. But the horrors for animals were even worse: a broad range of unique and iconic animals suffered, including dingoes, emus, platypuses, wombats, possums, long-footed potoroos, silver-headed antechinus, regent honeyeaters, and sugar gliders.
“If you don’t think climate change is an animal protection issue,” we wrote about the wildfires, “wake up and smell the embers.”
Out of the tragedy came our interest in kangaroos and, eventually, our Kangaroos Are Not Shoes campaign. The iconic animal is the most commercially slaughtered wild animal in the world, with more than 2 million of them killed each year in their native habitats, primarily to make leather for soccer shoes that are sold by Nike and Adidas. It doesn’t seem to matter to those retailers that modern synthetic materials can make for a better shoe; so long as there is consumer demand, the kangaroos are in danger.
That campaign is just one of many we have mounted and continue to wage for the protection of all kinds of animals. And today, on the 52nd observance of Earth Day, we are especially mindful that what is good for the planet is good for animals, and what’s good for both, is good for us all.
Here are just some of our campaigns where animal health and wellness and human welfare are intimately bound together:
- ReThink Mink. Part of our strategic action against the emergence of zoonotic diseases, this campaign has us working to end mink farming the world over. Human exploitation of animals and encroachment into their habitats produces more human-wildlife interactions and greater threats of disease jumping the species barrier. With its origins in live-wildlife markets, COVID-19 was just the latest example of when we treat animals miserably, we put ourselves at risk from microbiological and viral threats.
- Factory farming, including the extreme confinement systems for pigs, is a driver of greenhouse gas emissions and massive waste loads from billions of animals. Our leadership on the recently introduced PIGS Act is one way we are tackling the significant collateral damage of factory farming – damage that is in many ways as bad for humans as it is for the animals whose lives are miserable in current conditions.
- Wild Horses. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is using drought as a rationale for rounding up wild horses and burros, often with tragic consequences, but then invites cattle and sheep to graze on these lands. This circumstance is a vivid example of industry capture of a government agency, with climate change concerns used as a pretense to expand public-lands grazing – a boon for Big Ag but a bust for one of America’s most revered and iconic species. You can read about our related work here.
- Commercial deer farms. Just as we have seen mink farms serve as intense breeding grounds for COVID-19, commercial deer farms provide a fertile breeding ground for the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) to wild deer and elk, jeopardizing their populations and allowing the disease to spread unchecked across the countryside. The human variant of CWD is a fatal disorder in people – one more example of a dangerous zoonotic disease spawned by human malfeasance toward animals.
In our organization, we’re equally mindful that people are not the only ones who find themselves imperiled by changing meteorological patterns. Animals of all kinds – be they avian, aquatic or bound to the land – face new and worsening threats each year that passes without meaningful reversal of cataclysmic trends.
From our good friends at earthday.org:
- We are currently living through a mass species extinction event, the largest known. Scientists estimate that we are losing 10,000 times more species per year than the normal rate.
- A new study has suggested that insect populations have declined by 40 percent globally, and one third are endangered. This is very alarming; insects play a crucial role in pollinating plants, and serve as the base of a food chain that animals and humans depend on.
- A recent report finds that animal populations worldwide have declined by 70 percent over the last 50 years, due to human consumption, urbanization, population growth, and trade increases
- Primates, our closest animal relatives, are under extraordinary threat. Humans are largely to blame. While deforestation and hunting threaten specific wild primates, a rapidly changing climate threatens nearly 40 percent of all primate species.
- More than 70 percent of grassland bird species are in decline, and one in five bird species in Europe are threatened by extinction.
- We stand to lose several big cat species in the next 10 to 15 years. Lions are down to perhaps 25,000 in the African wild, where 450,000 formerly inhabited the region. Leopards now number just 50,000, down from 750,000.
- Lizard populations are especially vulnerable to climate change. A recent study projects that if the current decline in lizard populations continues, 39 percent of all lizard populations will be extinct and 20 percent of global species will be extinct by 2080.
The potential problem with an annual observance like Earth Day is that it can become a fleeting one, heavy on rhetoric and light on action. We pay attention until the media coverage dies down. We don’t maintain the day-to-day intensity required to drive major change.
This Earth Day, then, we ask you to join our work and be part of an enterprise working every day to drive change for the good. We ask you to think about lifestyle changes that make sense for you – in diet to influence agriculture and to improve your health and wellness, in energy use to drive production practices sensitive to animals, and so much more. We also ask for your monthly support. Your contribution of even $10 a month – a couple of visits to a coffee shop – will add meaningfully to the resources upon which we rely to hire lawyers, fund advocates in Washington D.C. and elsewhere, investigate cruelty, and bring awareness through publishing and media content that reshapes the culture.
Make no mistake: animals are in crisis. The Earth is sending up flares. Are we alert to these moral problems? I know you are. Let’s tackle these challenges together in the days ahead. Starting today.