Yet, when it comes to other animals, how many of us think of the places they live as their homes, as their communities? How many of us contemplate the pain, the fear, the suffering and the indignity endured by countless individual animals every time a piece of forested land is bulldozed for a parking lot, or every time oil is spilled in a waterway? Because we have been taught to view animals who live outside direct human control largely as a collective "natural resource," as species, and not as individuals, it hardly occurs to most of us that each of them cherish their homes and communities as much as each one of us does. When we open our hearts and minds to this reality, it suddenly becomes more clear why preserving, protecting and restoring animal habitats is not only the right thing to do, but also an uplifting, inspiring, and rewarding use of our time, energy, and resources.
We live in a complex world, and it is impossible to avoid harming others in some ways, even when we have the best of intentions. However, the most important question may not be whether or not we could theoretically avoid all harm to others, but rather, whether we are doing all we can to minimize the harm we do.
In the last 439 million years, there have been five great mass extinctions that wiped out between 50 and 95 percent of the species then living. These events were so devastating that each time, the earth took millions of years to repopulate and rediversify. And right now, we are living through the sixth mass extinction. It's projected that by the end of the century, half of the millions of species of plants and animals that now populate our planet will be gone--forever. Half! If we focus our minds on this staggering trend for a moment, and consider just how many individuals are presently being killed as a result of being displaced from their homes and communities, it becomes clear that we need to act, and act now.
Thankfully, each of us has the ability to play a significant role in reversing this catastrophic trend. First, we must come to grips with the environmental and ethical consequences of consuming a diet based on animal products. Animal agriculture is one of the top causes of environmental degradation, resource depletion, species loss, and global warming, not to mention the devastation of billions of individual lives. A single act, switching from a meat-based to an animal-free diet, is a major step in reducing the harm we are doing to so many vulnerable beings, not to mention to ourselves. Each year, for example, vast swaths of irreplaceable rainforest are cut down in order to grow feed crops for animals destined to be killed for human consumption. Each year, rivers and oceans worldwide are polluted with ever-growing quantities of animal waste along with vast amounts of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers that run off of land on which crops are grown to feed billions of animals doomed to be killed for no other reason than to satisfy human taste buds. And while all this goes on, millions of human beings starve, all of whom could be fed a healthy diet on crops grown on just a small portion of the land now used to grow animal feed.
Therefore, by merely changing what we put on our dinner plates three times a day, we can make an immediate and significant contribution to preserving, protecting and restoring animal habitats. The simple act of switching to an animal-free diet reduces by several-fold the amount of farming and farm land necessary to sustain our lives, and vastly reduces the needless harm we are doing to countless vulnerable beings, to ourselves, and to our ecosystem. As more and more of us make this switch, we allow for the possibility that the land thus freed up could return to its natural state, at the same time ensuring that our ecosystem will be proportionally less burdened by the air and water pollution caused by unnecessary farming.
In addition to adopting an animal-free diet, we can join with others to prevent unnecessary development, to preserve wild areas and waterways from encroachment, pollution and outright destruction, and, as a last resort, to relocate animals that have been displaced by these activities. We can get involved in local land trusts, and join efforts to clean up and restore habitats. Most importantly, we can learn to ask ourselves and others, each time we become aware of disruption of the environment: "Whose home, whose community, human and nonhuman alike, is under threat by development, resource extraction, or violence, and how might we help them?"
If we can imagine even for a moment what it would mean to us if someone were to come to our aid when our own homes were being threatened with destruction, we can begin to grasp the magnitude of the good we do each time we protect, preserve and restore the homes and communities of the vulnerable beings who share our world.
Reference for species extinction figures: Gone, Mother Jones magazine, April 2007.
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