The U.S. Animal Welfare Movement Can Save The World, But Will It?
The following was excerpted from the Strategic Plan for the #SaveTheAnimalsSaveTheEarth campaign. You can click here to view the full strategic plan.
It is the greatest crisis in the history of the animal welfare movement: a mass extinction of species is now underway– we’re now losing up to 200 species every day. Scientists are calling it the 6th Great Mass Extinction of Species in Earth’s history. Yet, none of us in animal welfare are talking about it with any urgency. And we all know why*.
The leading drivers of this extinction crisis are global deforestation, rainforest depletion, and climate change. And the #1 cause of all those is Global Animal Agriculture (GAAg).
Of course, U.S. consumers are far and away the largest consumer market for GAAg, which makes U.S. meat and dairy consumers the #1 cause of the dual planetary crises of mass species extinction and climate change.
“U.S. meat and dairy consumers are the #1 cause of mass species extinction and climate change.
*For the 10,000+ animal welfare organizations in the U.S., meat and dairy consumers also make up +90% of the donor base. Animal welfare leaders at both the local and national levels are afraid to challenge the habits of their donors for fear of losing their financial support.
In our silence, we are complicit in the single greatest crisis in human history.
The Mission of this campaign is to encourage animal welfare agencies across our movement to adopt a public vegan policy, promote veganism as the single most effective means to mitigate the dual planetary crises of mass species extinction and climate change, and to encourage other animal welfare groups (AWGs) to do the same.
Given the unprecedented urgency of mass species extinction and climate change*, we wanted to establish the most optimal target metrics for this campaign. To benchmark our analysis, we used the 2014 research of Drs. Sailesh Rao and Azul Jain, The Lifestyle Carbon Dividend (LCD).
The LCD is a landmark study that underscores the massive impacts of Global Animal Agriculture (GAAg) to climate change. Specifically, LCD found that if 41% of the lands now used by GAAg (for grazing farmed animals and growing feed crops for farmed animals) were reforested (the 41% was identified as original forest lands now deforested for use by GAAg), the recovered forests would sequester (absorb) more carbon dioxide (CO2) than has been put into the atmosphere by humans since the beginning of the industrial age (1750)!
In such a scenario, the related reduction in “livestock production” would further eliminate proportionate (viz. ~41%) methane gas (CH4) emissions that result from “livestock production”. GAAg is the leading contributor to global CH4 emissions. And CH4 has 86% more global warming potential than carbon dioxide in a 20-year timeframe. So, the LCD proves that a market-scale reduction (viz. ~41%) in GAAg production would achieve substantial reductions in both short-term and long-term global greenhouse gas emissions.
Further, the reforestation scenario afforded by market-scale reductions in GAAg production as prescribed in the LCD solution would provide significant new habitat for recovery of land-based wildlife populations. And the added sequestration potential of reforested lands would also help mitigate the burgeoning mass extinctions of marine wildlife due to ocean acidification (driven by excessive CO2 absorption).
Of course, to make way for such market-scale reductions in GAAg production– and within a meaningful timeframe to forestall the escalating crises of mass species extinction and climate change underway– 100s of millions of global meat and dairy (MAD) consumers would need to reduce consumption proportionately and with commensurate urgency. Such a transition would require abrupt and comprehensive social change…
In reviewing the science on social change dynamics for such an abrupt and comprehensive social change scenario, we found recent research that proves “a prevailing majority opinion in a population can be rapidly reversed when [ just 10% of committed agents within that population ] consistently proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to influence.”
“majority opinion can be rapidly reversed when just 10% consistently proselytize the opposing opinion.
For our part in America, there are about 330 million Americans, and almost all are MAD consumers. If we assume an ideal best-case scenario where America leads a global transition to a vegan diet, then, borrowing from the research above, ~33 million Americans would need to transition to a vegan diet, to affect the 10% “tipping-point” dynamic.
As stated in the Constructive Program section of the strategic plan, “we cannot rely on government or industry to encourage this change; the change will have to come from the grassroots.” And as animal welfare advocates, we know that animal rescuers are among the scrappiest, most dedicated grassroots activists.
We live our work 24-7. And, all indications are that if such an abrupt and comprehensive change is to occur in America, it’ll be animal welfare advocates who lead the way:
America is far and away the world’s leading consumer of meat and dairy. However, a 2016 poll found that about “85% of Americans support ‘animal protection;’ 79% agreed that “animals should be protected from all suffering and harm caused by humans;” and that Animal Protection is “the cause most favorable to Americans, garnering support from 85 percent of Americans, up from 71 percent in 2005.”
“…the animal welfare movement is the most potent catalyst for social change in America.
That makes the animal welfare movement the most potent catalyst for social change in America. So the burden of opportunity is on us; we need only the courage to lead.
But the window of time to seize upon this opportunity is imminent: according to a press report in 2012, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency claim(ed) that “within five years, greenhouse gases may increase to irreversibly catastrophic levels if nothing is done to change course.”
That was five years ago- we’re out of time.
Thus, the urgency and specificity of this campaign: we are challenging the leaders of the +10,000 registered local, regional, and national animal welfare groups in the U.S. to adopt a public vegan policy; to promote “the transition to a vegan diet as the single most effective change we can make to help mitigate the dual crises of mass species extinction and climate change;” and to encourage the leaders of other AWGs to do the same.
We used the social change research above to determine optimal target metrics for the key audiences of this campaign: to achieve the 10% “tipping-point” dynamic within the animal welfare movement, our target metric for campaign “success” is to encourage 1,000 animal welfare groups (AWGs) to adopt and promote a new vegan policy. To achieve buy-in among the estimated ~6 million vegans in the US, we have set a total goal of 600K signatures* for our campaign petition. *At the 100K mark in our petition drive, we will begin a letter-writing campaign to the leaders of all +10,000 registered animal welfare groups, referencing our petition progress, and seeking dialogue regarding their transition to a new public vegan policy.
These are aggressive targets, but only represent the minimum requirements needed to achieve the dynamics of rapid social change outlined above. We are confident that our colleagues can/will rise to meet this most urgent challenge.