I’ve seen it said that veganism is a white person’s movement, or that poor people can’t afford to care about climate change. I’ve also seen people I admire greatly do good work for women’s rights and other social justice movements, and yet not care about the environment. I find these positions intriguing, and in this article I would like to discuss them. From the start, I want to acknowledge my privilege, for though I am a woman, I am also white, middle class, British, able-bodied, well educated, and have English as my first language.
Now, you may be thinking, what’s she on about? What has this got to do with wildlife? Well, in my opinion, it has everything to do with it, and what we are doing to our planet. Bear with me on this. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the complicated motivations behind prejudice. What I am going to say is that it involves a person seeing another person as less important than them. In other words, they see them as less human.
I propose that it is this lack of empathy towards other people that is also the reason for Earth’s current struggles. We (in the West) have not made significant progress on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, deforestation or any other environmental issue, because we do not care enough. Before you get offended, let me explain. Climate change has the potential to wipe out the human race, and yet, we still squabble over who’s responsibility it is to cut their emissions the most. If we truly understood the threat facing us and the global ecosystem, we would have acted by now. So why haven’t we?
I believe that there are a multitude of reasons. Some politicians don’t want to damage their careers by carrying out long-term solutions in a short-term political world. Some companies make vast profits from overexploiting our planet. Some people’s lives are so hard that they are simply trying to survive and can’t afford to think 50 years ahead. Still others aren’t convinced by the evidence provided so far. I am not going to explore each of these suggestions in depth here. Books could and have been written about each and every one of them! I will, however, put forward the idea that at the base of each of these excuses/preoccupations is a lack of empathy. Either by the individuals or companies who refuse to act because it is not in their own short-term interests, or by those who benefit from other’s suffering, and from keeping them in a place where they cannot act.
Whether it is beating someone up because of their skin colour, not employing someone because of their sexuality, or continuing to pump out carbon dioxide in the name of profit, similar emotions motivate such actions. In other words, the underlying cause is not caring about that person/humanity/the Earth. That is why I don’t see, for example, the Black Rights Matter movement as unconnected to habitat protection. They both involve love and empathy, and those are exactly the emotions we need more of, from every person, and every direction. Someone who is caring about someone or something other than themselves is helping the planet. What we need is to connect these people, so that they form one big movement, of course with diversity within, fighting for love.
Selfishness, greed and cruelty are our downfall, but love and empathy are our salvation.
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