I was going to write a post on animal rights a few months ago but thought better of it. I changed my mind and fluffed up what I had written in order to supplement (but not invalidate) the discussion initiated by Jason over here.

Environmentalism and animal rights should remain separate groups. Their interests, though sometimes related and even mutually beneficial, are just as often too disparate for a harmonious union. For example, hunters can make powerful conservationists (conservation being a major branch of environmentalism), but hunters and animal-rights activists mix worse than oil and water.

This article makes mention of the hundreds of thousands of goats that have finally been eliminated from the Galapagos Islands. By eliminated I mean: they were shot. Had an organized and well-funded animal-rights campaign arisen, accomplishing that task might have taken much longer, or cost a great deal more. Or it might not have happened at all. I use these goats as an analogy for the horse roundup mentioned in Jason’s article. Both species of domesticated animal are the result of many thousands of years of genetic engineering by human beings to produce an animal of use to them. Neither has a place in the wild. The ecosystems they evolved in are human-generated.

I suspect most enviro-types favor a reduction in the suffering of lab and domesticated animals, and are in general empathetic to the cause. I certainly am. PETA has made a lot of progress in this direction and many of their efforts are worthwhile indeed.

But what movement does not have its extremists (they have ALF, we have ELF)? A recent editorial in Science described how a researcher closed shop and moved because of threats to his life. A bomb had been left on his neighbor’s porch step (the activists having gotten the wrong address).

On the other hand, here is a case where PETA made its own bed by bad-mouthing the late Steve Irwin. I recall one episode on the topic of introduced species where Irwin was trying to catch feral cats with a net, which is as hard to do as it sounds. It would have been a lot more effective to just shoot them out of the trees, but there is no way they could have suggested such a thing without bringing the animal-rights activists into the fray.

I recall reading an article by a biologist describing his return to an isolated oasis in the Australian outback. The first time he had visited this place it had been a rich, diverse ecosystem. He found a sterile, silent, wasteland on his second visit. He couldn’t explain it until he found the desiccated remains of the house cat that had eaten its way through the ecosystem and starved to death.

Hampering efforts to eradicate feral domesticated animals is one of the main points of contention between animal-rights types and conservation types. On the other hand, they can effectively join forces on issues like saving mountain gorillas or orangutans. Their motivations for doing so are less important than the fact that they are doing so.

Another thing people should try to keep in mind is the difference between suffering and death. Suffering can happen without death, often proceeds death, but always ends at death (with the exception of all of you going to hell of course). Striving to end extreme animal suffering is good, but striving to end the deaths of ubiquitous domesticated animals is largely irrational. Not all things must suffer, but all things must die (again, with the exception of those select groups of religionists who have earned a pass).

I also put a poll together to test how rewording a question might change the results.

Sorry, the poll you are seeking no longer exists. If you’re in a voting mood, suggest a poll and you might just see it on the site.