Due to the great discussion and responses that this piece elicited, I would like to respond to a number of the comments (sorry that I can’t get to everyone’s).
1. GreenEngineer said, “moral veganism is not the epitome of an ethical relationship with nature, but is in fact its antithesis. To live without making use of animals in any way is to try to place oneself outside of the circle of life.” This doesn’t make sense. By simply eating anything (whether plant or animal) one is automatically a part of the circle of life. Those who choose to eat only plant-based foods in order to conserve resources, reduce animal suffering, and promote personal health are making one of the most life-affirming decisions a person can make.
2. Kaela said, “I think David’s is the key point, to minimize cruelty and prevent suffering in all animals, human and non-human. When you think of it this way, the numbers are irrelevant, because really, one suffering animal is one too many.” I think minimizing suffering is an important metric to consider. It gets very tricky very quickly, but this is certainly a good train of thought, I agree.
3. GoodCheer said, “If I were to face the option of A) being shot by somebody aiming for my heart (aiming to fell me cleanly with one blow), or B) starving or C) being eaten by something like a tiger, I think I would opt for the bullet.” The correct comparison is between killing an animal in its prime versus letting it grow old and die of natural causes, not between killing an old, sick animal painlessly or letting it suffer and die a long, drawn-out death.
4. dwm376s said, “I am not near as concerned with animal rights, because I think the issues that are consistently brought up are the most extreme examples. I believe individuals with a direct tie to the animal rights cause use these examples for their shock value.” I wish this were the case, but in fact the reality is the opposite: extreme forms of animal cruelty are the norm in virtually every society.
Dwm376s also said, “If being an environmentalist means I can’t eat meat, drive my car, hunt/fish, then I’d rather not be considered one.” That’s not what an environmentalist means. It does mean, however, thinking carefully and deeply about our choices and taking into consideration the interests of other beings besides humans. Hopefully, such thoughts lead to some changes in behavior, but no one is suggesting giving up any of the activities you mention above.
5. davidintokyo said, “I think almost all people on earth would consider themselves environmentalists of the type I represent – far fewer currently support the animal rights version, which has little to do with conserving our environment.” David, you argue for a minimalist view of environmentalism — sustaining species and doing whatever we want with them — while I argue for an environmentalism that is greater, which both conserves species and moderates and restricts the ways we can exploit them.
You are free to choose this more narrow version, but please don’t confuse your lack of caring for the well-being of non-humans with a more authentic environmentalism; it is not. Also, don’t forget that morality is not a popularity contest; throughout history the majorities have almost without fail been on the side of oppression until the culture eventually evolves morally and ethically (think slavery and women’s rights).