This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology
by Will Anderson
Earth Books c/o John Hunt Publishing
(15200 NBN Way, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214), 2013. 368 pages, paperback. $22.95;
or download c/o www.thisishopethebook.com
The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat?
by Hope Bohanec with Cogen Bohanec
166 pages, paperback. $19.95, c/o www.the-ultimate-betrayal.com
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
This Is Hope, by Will Anderson, and The Ultimate Betrayal, by Hope Bohanec, with her husband Cogen Bohanec, might be described as long and short versions of the same book. They are structured somewhat differently, but mostly summarize the same arguments for veganism, citing many of the same sources.
Both authors are veteran campaigners in animal and environmental causes, who have held senior positions in prominent organizations. Neither, however, makes extensive use of direct personal observation or anecdote.
In Anderson’s case this is clearly unfortunate, since his most memorable and persuasive passages are those in which he does step out from behind the lectern to share something he did not learn from someone else’s book. Especially vivid examples include Anderson’s discussion of watching how a mother cat carried her kittens across a busy street, and of putting his head down to the curb to see the scene as she did; the death of a baby orangutan aboard Anderson’s boat during a volunteer stint for primatologist Birute Galdikas in Indonesia; and the time Anderson almost broke his veganism to eat a chocolate éclair, but was stopped by the scream of a wounded bull moose on a National Public Radio news broadcast.
Hope Bohanec uses the stories of animals she meets at the Animal Place sanctuary near California to illustrate key points, but somewhat as she might use photos in a PowerPoint presentation. Though the animals are briefly introduced, their presence is not allowed to create a distraction.
Subtitled “Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology,” This Is Hope only fleetingly introduces green vegans as other than an abstract concept. The “new human ecology” is a concluding wish-list not all that different from the hopes of legions of other vegan and vegetarian authors going back at least to Mohandas Gandhi’s many 19th century talks and pamphlets sharing the title The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism.
Subtitled “Is There Happy Meat?”, The Ultimate Betrayal rejects the whole premise that meat can be “humanely” produced, in much more gruesome detail about slaughter than Anderson delves into. Yet refuting the “happy meat” illusion promoted by animal product labeling schemes is so far from Bohanec’s focus that she discusses only two of the half dozen labeling schemes that one is most likely to encounter in a supermarket.
Neither This Is Hope nor The Ultimate Betrayal seems likely to make any meat-eaters become vegans, if mainly because meat-eaters are unlikely to pick up either book. Both may, however, help to reinforce the conviction of newly converted vegans. These seem likely to be the main audience for both books.
Longtime vegans, though, may have the same response as the three vegan reviewers who at first offered to review This Is Hope, then kicked it back to me for reassignment. Two of the three found it “too angry,” but if This Is Hope is angry, The Ultimate Betrayal could be construed as being much more so, in less than half as many pages.
I didn’t find either book “angry,” but each might be alleged to be preaching to the choir, and at a certain point the choir may no longer feel in need of being dunked in recitations of abstract data in the name of revival. Hardly anyone reads statistics more avidly than I do, but stats geek that I am, I still found myself mumbling “So quit counting the beads already and get on with the sermon!”
Moreover, This Is Hope in particular drowns in data recitations some ideas that should have been allowed to come up for air.
One of these ideas is the concept of “neo-predation,” which Anderson says “is produced every time we lay down a highway, every time another one of us is born and physically occupies habitat, every time we add greenhouse gases to a warming atmosphere, and every time we consume material goods and services that impair eco-systems. This neo-predation creates harms similar to those that the hunters, fishers, and animal agriculturalists produce, but without our firing a shot, setting a hook, or partaking in any part of animal agriculture.”
Anderson divides “neo-predation” into three types: mega-predation, presence predation, and economic predation. He defines each type in considerable detail. Each would appear to be, in his view, a form of “additive” predation, which increases the stress on the prey, rather than “compensatory” predation, which replaces the risk from one source of mortality, for instance disease, with the risk of being eaten.
But Anderson does not follow through on the predation metaphor. If he did, he might have run into arguments contradicting his central premise that a turn toward veganism is necessary because humans are allegedly destroying biodiversity. Additive predation is the most destructive type, because it can cause extinctions. Yet additive predation also opens habitat to other species, and as such is an engine of evolution, not a one-way street to doom.
The larger the habitat needs of the species who are extirpated, the more habitat niches are opened to immigrant and newly evolved species, from microbes up to Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus.
The loss of elephants, rhinos, or great whales is catastrophic for those species, of course, and tragic for us, but scarcely means a net loss for biodiversity. Indeed, even the microbes inhabiting those large animals’ bodies may merely move into other species, adapt, thrive, and further diversify, much as practically all terrestrial species are now plagued by descendants of the fleas who have recently been found to have once infested dinosaurs.
Neither This Is Hope nor The Ultimate Betrayal delves far into religious teachings or abstract moral philosophy. Both take a superficially scientific and secular approach. Yet both Anderson and Bohanec seem as imbued with the notion that we are approaching an ecological apocalypse, due to human sin, as any messianic “end-timer” steeped in Revelations. Both recite a litany of “evidence” that sometimes contracts their own logic.
Anderson, for example, rails that “Wildlife management is intent on protecting carnism,” meaning the set of values and beliefs that rationalize eating meat. “This does not support ecosystems,” Anderson continues. “It is not biocentrism. The harm this causes is the reason why fish and wildlife management agencies employ hunters and trappers to ‘fix’ the problems that their support for carnism creates.”
Actually, as Anderson well knows through his experience with the Maine Animal Coalition, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Greenpeace Alaska, it is hunters and trappers who employ wildlife managers, through the arrangements that for more than 70 years have ensured that the wildlife agencies of every state are funded by hunting, trapping, and fishing license fees. Won through the political clout of hunters, trappers, and fishers, these funding arrangements ensure that consumptive users enjoy influence over wildlife policy far disproportionate to their numbers, as less than 10% of the total U.S. population. Anderson elsewhere in This Is Hope discusses all of this at length.
Meanwhile wildlife agencies are the chief employers of “carnist” biologists.
Having identified and rejected this central tenet of carnist biologists’ belief system, Anderson proceeds to cite in support of his own views a 1998 American Museum of Natural History survey that showed “70% of biologists believe we are in the Great Holocene Extinction.”
If carnist biologists are ideologically blinded to the basic workings of ecosystems, as Anderson contends and I mostly agree, why should their faith in the imminence of a Great Holocene Extinction be accorded any more credence than their faith that it is possible to shoot our way to ecological health?
Both faiths are based on faulty mathematical models, which among other deficiencies relabel adaptive species “invasive.” Anderson uses the term “invasive” 63 times in This Is Hope, but mostly in a different way from most wildlife managers. To Anderson, the “invasive” species of most concern appear to be livestock and crops planted to feed livestock. This can be confusing, since Anderson does not clearly distinguish his use of “invasive” from conventional usage.
In the lingo of wildlife management, “invasive” species are those that thrive without human help. In Anderson’s use, “invasive” species are often those who need the most human intervention to survive.
Bohanec, a former campaign director for In Defense of Animals, in The Ultimate Betrayal reflects mostly the values and philosophy of the animal rights movement––which has, to be sure, long been influenced by Deep Ecology.
Anderson, though long involved in animal rights issues, appears to have been most influenced by Deep Ecology, and acknowledges the contributions of leading Deep Ecologists to his thinking.
Central to the notion of Deep Ecology is the idea that humans are the ultimate invasive species, whose presence invariably corrupts ecological processes. Though presenting itself as science-based, Deep Ecology has in common with creationism that it supposes technologically capable humans somehow came to exist independent of normal evolution, and did not co-evolve with the whole suite of species sharing our world in an intertwined and inseparable manner.
We are, in short, guilty of Original Sin just by existing. Planet Earth, Deep Ecologists tend to believe, would be healthier without us.
This sounds more like a set of medieval theological constructs than a post-Darwnian viewpoint because it is. The intellectual history of Deep Ecology traces back to Teutonic Naturism, which originated several generations before Charles Darwin wrote On The Origin of Species.
Teutonic Naturism was initially the horrified response of the educated members of the northern European landed gentry to the rise of the Industrial Revolution. The coming of industrialization jeopardized the political and economic pre-eminence of the hereditary nobility, threatened their hunting preserves, and surrounded any stream that could be dammed to build a mill with squalid shantytowns of day laborers, recruited from near and far.
The landed gentry responded by enclosing the former “commons,” as the fields and forests formerly open to anyone’s use were called. This was often rationalized as necessary to prevent overgrazing and deforestation, which were indeed occurring. Enclosure, however, drove much of the peasantry off the land and into the factory workforce, accelerating the pace of development.
The conservation movement rose as a forthrightly conservative effort to protect the holdings of the landed gentry, especially hunting preserves, even as many of the gentry lost their wealth, sold their land, and moved into the rapidly expanding cities. The alliance of consumptive wildlife use with preservationism eventually morphed into the environmental movement of today. Not surprisingly, the “green” shibboleths about land use and biodiversity largely predate and have bypassed most of what we should have learned during the past 150 years about the nature of evolution, the inevitability of change, and the adaptability of life to circumstance.
More-or-less marking the transition of the traditional conservation cause into the much differently packaged but fundamentally similar environmental cause of today was the 1968 publication of Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin. Harking back to the very beginnings of conservationism, Hardin rewrapped for the Baby Boom generation the ancient anxiety of the landed gentry about the proliferation and encroachment of the proletariat, and made it ours.
Anderson twice quotes what may be Hardin’s most famous statement: “The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon.”
Only if Hardin meant that statement in evolutionary time does it really hold up. The world human population in 1968 was only 3.6 billion, half of the present number. Yet far fewer people are suffering food insecurity and critical resource shortages now than then.
One may argue, as enviros often do, that gains on behalf of humans have been won only at the expense of animals and habitat, and indeed, wildlife and habitat have taken woeful hits throughout Africa, Asia, and much of Latin America. The oceans have been depleted to an even greater extent. Farmed animals have been appallingly exploited on all continents, in numbers not only unimagined in 1968 but ecologically impossible, as we then understood agricultural potential.
On the other hand, Europe and North America now have not only more than twice as many humans as in 1968, but also more large wildlife and more forested land than at any time since the Industrial Revolution. With remarkable rapidity, we are finding ways to share our habitat with other species, and there is reason to believe that what we have learned will become part of the ecological philosophy of Africa, Asia, and Latin America too, as more people in those parts of the world gain an education and escape from economic desperation.
While finding Anderson’s arguments, and Bohanec’s too, often much less persuasive than they might imagine, I doubt that our ecologically significant values and practices in daily life differ in more than trivial detail. Among Anderson’s summaries of tenets we all hold are, on page 279 of This Is Hope: “We need wildlife management agencies that will create honest relationships between us and all other species. Honest relationships start with individuals.” And, on page 321: “We could use a world where there is less violence. Veganism accomplishes that; carnism defeats it.”
But on page 361 Anderson appears to unwittingly summarize why neither This Is Hope nor The Ultimate Betrayal seem likely to reach and influence anyone other than those who already feel as Anderson and Bohanec do: “If you are not already vegan for environmental and moral reasons, you and I go through each day seeing different things. If you are intent on having several children, we do not see the same future.”
This strikes me as a statement much like 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney writing off 47% of the U.S. electorate before his campaign really started.
Convincing arguments begin with shared visions and values.