Activism

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The TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, is the newest trade agreement being proposed and “fast-tracked” here in the U.S. The TPP is an agreement with 11 countries in Asia and Latin America that proposes major changes in property rights of intellectual property and the enforcement of infractions regarding them. It appears to be quite complicated (at least to me who is a non-attorney) and basically requires the signatory countries “to adopt heightened copyright protection that advances the agenda of the US entertainment and pharmaceutical industries agendas, but omits the flexibilities and exceptions that protect Internet users and technology innovators.”

Now that alone is concerning to me, but as this is an animal rights blog, I will leave it to others to explain why the TPP is bad for jobs and for anyone trying to make a decent wage.

So what DOES the TPP have to do with animals?

Well for one thing, the other signatory countries present issues regarding their treatment of animals. The other countries are Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam. Some of these countries have abysmal records of animal abuse on a systemic level, particularly in the food and research areas (not that the U.S. necessarily has a lot to be proud of). We only have to look at the world outrage over the confinement, torture, and slaughter in Taiji, Japan, of hundreds (it will be thousands before the season is over) of dolphins and whales so that the captive marine mammal entertainment industry can have more victims for their grotesque “theme parks.” In addition, as stated above, this agreement is a financial blockbuster for the pharmaceutical industry, a major abuser and killer of animals worldwide. The TPP does not appear to deal with either of these major issues as a condition of passage.

The other major concern with the TPP regarding animals is the disgusting crime of shark finning. As many know, shark finning is the obscene practice of removing a live shark from the water, slicing off its fins WHILE STILL ALIVE AND CONSCIOUS, and tossing its tortured, disfigured body back into the ocean (shark “meat” is not nearly as profitable as the fins). These sharks, of course, will not survive, dying by asphyxiation (since they cannot swim and move water over their gills to breathe), blood loss, or predation. No doubt the suffering of these sharks is unimaginable. Currently, it is estimated that 100 million sharks each year are killed in this horrific fashion. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in some places, which is responsible for much of the demand.

Sharks are vertebrates. They have the same basic nervous system and limb structure (in their case fins) as any other vertebrate. Their capacity to feel pain and suffering is the same as any vertebrate. The horrific suffering that they endure before their deaths is almost unimaginable. In addition to the massive suffering inflicted on the individual sharks, there is the issue of their conservation and ability to continue living in their environments. There are 18 species of sharks listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At the rate of killing, sharks could be eliminated from the oceans in 10-20 years.

So back to the TPP. In March of 2013, some steps had been taken at a meeting in Bangkok to outlaw this brutal practice. A positive step to be sure. And some countries and cities are taking it upon themselves to ban shark fin products in their jurisdictions. But the news regarding the TPP is not good. The latest draft of the TPP does not include any language to ban shark finning. It merely “acknowledges commitments” previously made. In other words, nice-sounding phrasing which essentially does nothing to bind any of the participating countries to any prohibition on finning. To put in perspective, according to Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s.”

So what can we do?

1. If in the U.S., write to your congressional representatives and senators and voice your disapproval with this blatant pandering to international niceness and urge them NOT to put their seal of approval on any agreement which doesn’t include specific and enforceable prohibitions on shark finning (or, urge them not to approve it at all if that is your position). If in another of the signatory countries, follow the normal protocol for expressing disapproval with your government’s decisions, where appropriate.

2. Get the word out in whatever way you do – social media, email, telling your friends, families, and coworkers, however you choose to – speak out and inform as many people as possible of this travesty against our environment and its inhabitants.

3. Sign and share a petition to ban shark finning.

The omission of any clearly worded shark protection from the TPP is part of the attempt to fast-track it – bickering over wording and dealing with countries that do not want to stop this hideous practice would take time, and apparently time is not something the administration or congress want. They want to move this along as quickly as possible. But this appeasement of a brutal and obscene crime against sharks and the environment cannot be allowed to pass. It will be yet another blow to environmental conservation efforts and humane treatment of animals and another win for powerful, environment-killing corporate power.

Let’s try and stop it.

Photo of great white shark from 4freephotos.com

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Due to various life events, it has been a while since I have put up any new content (apologies for that). I normally like to address one topic in depth, but since there are about a million topics swirling around in my head, I will mention a few of them now. Some I might go into in a later post, some maybe not. But here’s a bit of what I’ve been thinking about:

1. What are the ethics of giving and receiving gifts (especially food gifts) between vegans and non-vegans? I try and give only vegan and/or cruelty free gifts even when I know the recipient might really enjoy a sausage from Hickory Farms, for example. But I always keep the recipient in mind and try and get a gift that they will really like, just not something based on an animal’s death. When I receive a gift, I have no problem returning/exchanging it (a wool sweater, for example), or passing it along to someone else if it is a food item. I wonder how much this is an issue in families, particularly at holiday time.

2. Speaking of gifts, I saw an article in a local paper about giving live animals as gifts. It was a syndicated article, and I have no memory of where it came from. But the gist of the article was that it is not a good idea to give live animals as gifts, a premise I wholeheartedly support. But it was the beginning paragraph of the article that appalled me. The author was talking about being out shopping and seeing a dog/cat in a pet store and being inclined to an impulse purchase. Is he/she kidding me?? Millions of healthy animals are still being killed in shelters because of a lack of space and homes, and there are still people BUYING animals from pet stores? I didn’t think you could even sell live animals at pet stores anymore (and that needs to stop forthwith). Hey folks, how about adopting? Saving a life? And that goes for breeders, too. They still want to sell their $500 puppies to a person with that much to spend, meanwhile perfectly nice, sweet shepherds, goldies, and too many cats to count are being killed. Shame on all of them.

3. A 12 year old girl was among those arrested at the US Thanksgiving day parade. A group of protesters wanted to stop the Sea World float – understandable. To me it’s akin to having a slaughterhouse float or a vivisection lab float. What was interesting to me is that shortly afterwards, Sea World put out a letter calling the protesters “extremists” and basically attempting to portray them as fringe lunatics. As many others have written and as I have on this blog and on twitter, it appears the days of Sea World and other such institutions are numbered. Word is out about the appalling tactics of capture, abuse, and, in the case of Taiji (which rounds up dolphins for marine mammal parks), slaughter. Sea World is losing its grip on this because the facts are coming out, so they are attempting to portray anyone speaking the truth as a non-mainstream wacko. I guess it sucks to be them as people realize that captivity, exploitation, and abuse are not very entertaining.

4. There have been too many cases lately of cows being left out in the elements and dying of exposure. The most recent one was a local case of a farmer who had left newly born calves out at night – in the high winds, blowing snow, and below zero wind chills that have plagued much of the northern US in recent days. If this had been done to a dog or cat, criminal charges might be pending. But since someone has decided that animals to be killed for food do not get the same protection, nothing will happen. Let’s all remember though that cows have the same nervous system, sensitivity, and capability of suffering as dogs. I guess it is easier for those who profit off of their deaths to imagine that somehow the rules of science get suspended when it is for something that they want. Or perhaps they simply don’t care.

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There has been a fascinating and lively conversation over at The Pitchfork which started from the issue of Starbucks having a pumpkin spice latte drink that appears to be dairy free but is in fact not vegan. As often happens, many other discussions grew out of the initial one. A reader and frequent commenter at The Pitchfork suggested that, while the current situation in Syria might be much more serious than the issue of a non-vegan drink at an expensive coffee shop, we might actually have more input on the Starbucks issue than the awful situation in Syria.

This got me to thinking about local vs. global activism on matters of animal cruelty and exploitation. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have been rather preoccupied (obsessed, perhaps?) with the horrible and vile killings and kidnappings of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales in Taiji, Japan. In a recent post I discussed it and listed a few things that one could do in terms of activism. But even with a list of things that we could do (boycott marine parks such as Seaworld that benefit from the capture and killing of these creatures, donating to organizations such as Sea Shepherd which have people on the ground, etc.), most of us are not there and are not in a position to do any direct action or feel like we are actually saving lives. It is easy to become depressed, disillusioned, and discouraged when faced with the reality that there is much cruelty and exploitation going on of sentient nonhuman animals and that we are not able to stop it. This often leads to much heartache and a feeling of helplessness. One of the unfortunate outcomes of having these feelings is that we may just give up and drop out of activism altogether. While that is a completely predictable and understandable result, there may be something we can do to avoid giving up on our ideals.

Somewhere in between giving up in despair and burning ourselves out by trying to do all things for all creatures all the time, is, I believe, a place where we can put our ideals and ethics into everyday action. Here are a few thoughts:

Our food choices – taking in nutrients is one of the few truly necessary activities we must engage in to survive. Most of us eat every day, multiples times per day, and it is in this simple and frequent act where we have immense power to effect change. Every time we buy groceries, patronize a restaurant, sit down to a meal, get together with friends, grab a snack, or seek out a morning coffee, we have the ability to vote with our dollars and to make the choice to consume only the products we feel are ethically appropriate. For many of us it will be vegan choices-for others it may be only locally grown food, organic food grown by small farms, or avoiding certain restaurants. In addition, every time we sit down to a meal with friends or family, there may be an opportunity to educate others about the issues of animal cruelty and environmental devastation which result from a meat-based diet. No other single choice we make in our daily lives has as much power as this one to put our ethics into action.

Non-food purchases and donations – our clothing, shampoo, shoes, choices of entertainment (as in avoiding the aforementioned Seaworld for example), and where we donate our money if we are able to do so also can have a tremendous effect, especially when combined with the efforts of others. Many non-food purchases are done quite frequently, and if we continue to purchase only cruelty free health and beauty items, this action, along with others doing the same thing, can have a large cumulative effect. Seaworld, for example, is experiencing a downturn in ticket sales, perhaps as a result of the movie Blackfish and the light being shed on the inhumane treatment of orcas in captivity.

Our time – we have options here, too. We can choose to donate our time to local organizations that help animals – whether a farmed animal sanctuary, wildlife, or companion animals, we can do direct activism and rescue work. We can also table or do fundraising for these organizations. Some of us might choose to adopt an animal from a local shelter. Some of us might become wildlife rehabilitators. Some of us might table for a local vegan group to educate people about their food options.

While participating in online petitions, tweeting, writing, blogging, or writing to people in positions of power to try and stop animal abuse and exploitation are all worthwhile activities, we can combine these globally oriented actions with local activism which may help us to feel more capable of enacting change. Hopefully, this can help us be encouraged to continue the fight for all animals.

photo: publicdomainpictures.net