Category Archives: Animals

Dear Auntie Civ: Why do environmentalists eat meat?

Auntie Civ

Ask Auntie Civ, the world's first anti-civilization advice columnist

Dear Auntie Civ:

Thanksgiving is here, which prompts me to ask about a matter that’s been bothering me for quite some time, namely, why are environmentalists and the social justice crowd not on board with vegetarianism?

To be fair, I’m not talking about people with allergies or sensitivities, whose eating options are narrowed for reasons not of their choosing. Instead, I’m recalling the countless environmental meetings where meat and dairy products are served without question, often at the expense of animal-free offerings.

As early as 1971, we had books like the Diet for a Small Planet, exposing the degradation and social injustice of mass meat consumption. There have been hundreds of books and documentaries highlighting the health, environmental, and social equity benefits of animal-free eating.

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Filed under Animals, Auntie Civ, Derrick Jensen, Environment, Politics

Live Nude Animals

Sat, 20 Oct 2007

Derrick Jensen’s captive audience: A discussion with the author about his latest book

I loved animals as a child, but I didn’t like zoos. I found them disturbing and depressing. They smelled like shit and death. But then, adults considered me far too sensitive and sentimental toward animals. When I was five years old, I had what you might call an emotional breakdown after watching my father beat the family cat almost to death in our living room. That was the home life the cat and I shared, back then.

Nowadays, there are laws against abusing animals (and children, for that matter). Zoos are no longer squalid prisons where animals languish and die in solitary concrete cells. Bright, clean cages — complete with natural-looking foliage and ventilation — invite you to peer in at the inhabitants. But still, I am not comfortable visiting them.

Derrick Jensen knows why. He tells us: “Zoos are about power.” And he quotes an admirer of zoos: “You show power by keeping an animal captive; how much more powerful are you if you kill it?”

Jensen is best known for the wildly popular Endgame: The Problem of Civilization, a massive two-volume diatribe on the need to dismantle civilization now, before it self-destructs and takes the natural world with it. His books and lectures dissect our culture’s disease — systemic violence, industrial capitalism and environmental exploitation.

Endgame overturns the mass delusion that our western industrial society is the most peaceful, plentiful and benign in the history of the world. Of course, the majority of the ugliness is exported or otherwise invisible to most of us. We can still rationalize that Western Civ is the acme of human achievement — at least while the oil holds out and the climate is somewhat stable. About ten more years, Jensen figures.

In a world full of violence, brutality against animals is rarely acknowledged. Since shit flows downhill, and humans automatically out-rank monkeys, tigers, sharks and house cats, we get away with murder. For example, Jensen notes that people kill thousands of sharks every year. But when a shark kills a person, a whole country goes into a frenzy. It’s exactly the same dynamic with Canada’s bears, cougars and wolves.

Jensen reminds us we have wiped out 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans already, and great apes and great cats are likely to be extinct in a matter of years. “We should consider that this culture destroys the wild everywhere faster than ever before,” Jensen writes. “We should consider that this culture is killing the planet.”

Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos is Jensen’s latest book, movingly illustrated by photographer Karen Tweedy Holmes with stark monochrome portraits of captive animals. Here, Jensen compares consensual exchanges between human and non-human animals with the dynamics of captivity. “Incarcerating animals in zoos is to entering into relationships with them in the wild as rape is to making love,” Jensen writes.

And like rape, there must be some warped instinct that compels people to do it. “Humans visit zoos because we need contact with wild animals,” Jensen states. “We need wild animals to remind us of the enormous complexity of life, to remind us that the world was not made just for us, to remind us that we are not the center of the universe. We need them to teach us how to live.”

I talked to Jensen at his home in Crescent City, California earlier this month. Here are some highlights of our conversation.

Zoe Blunt: You’re saying zoos are bad for animals and bad for humans?

Derrick Jensen: It should be obvious why zoos are bad for animals. Remember the last time you went to the zoo and you saw the bear that had gone insane and couldn’t stop pacing? It drives them crazy, it would drive anyone crazy.

They keep telling us that zoos are good for education, and that is bogus on so many levels. What we learn is you can take an animal out of the habitat and still have the animal. It teaches us that living creatures are discrete machine parts that can be pulled out of boxes. It teaches us there’s an unbridgeable gap between us and them – a gap with a moat and a cage. It teaches us about our perceived superiority.

This kind of messianic language [zoo proponents] use – “The animals teach us, they are ambassadors.” Fuck that, they’re not ambassadors, they’re prisoners. Zoos are prisons. Living in captivity deprives animals of their homes, and deprives them of their parents. A common way to get zoo animals is to kill the parents and take the children.

Blunt: If not for education, then why do zoos keep animals?

Jensen: Why? Because it’s big money. More people attend zoos than all sporting events combined. They’re amusement parks with live attractions. Zoos are fundamentally pornographic. The animals are there for my use, my entertainment, my gratification.

Blunt: Live nude animals?

Jensen: That’s exactly what they are. Instead of a stripper on a pole, instead of a roller coaster, you can see an animal in a cage.

Blunt: What do you think about British Columbia’s new spotted owl captive breeding program?

Jensen: My position on captive breeding, as I say in the book, there are circumstances where captive breeding is necessary. That said, it is obscene to take northern spotted owls from the wild and to use that as an excuse — which is all it is — to destroy their habitat. Words cannot express how vile that is. In this case, it’s a disgusting, immoral crime against nature. It’s an excuse to rationalize further deforestation for the timber industry.

Instead of zoos, people should just go outside, and bring their children because it’s especially important for children to see wild animals. And not just in Alaska or Central America, but in the irrigation ditch behind your house.

If a child wants to see a bear, we have to tell them, “I can’t show you a bear, people wiped them all out here. I could have showed you a spotted owl five years ago, but now they’re gone.”


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Filed under Animals, Derrick Jensen, Politics

Captive breeding of spotted owls “obscene”

Wed, 26 Sep 2007

Spotted owl fledglings
Spotted owl fledglings

Capturing and breeding spotted owls is “obscene” and a “crime against nature,” charges Derrick Jensen, a best-selling author, environmental activist and lecturer scheduled to visit Vancouver and Victoria in October.

“I’m not unalterably opposed to every captive breeding program,” Jensen explained by phone from Northern California. “That said, it is obscene to take Northern Spotted Owls from the wild and to use that as an excuse – which is all it is – to destroy their habitat.”

“In this case, it’s a disgusting, immoral crime against nature. It’s an excuse to rationalize further deforestation for the timber industry,” Jensen said.

Environmentalists accuse the BC government of failing to protect spotted owl habitat in its recovery plan while implementing a controversial captive-breeding program. Near Pemberton, a research camp is monitoring attempts to capture a spotted owl while logging carried out under BC’s small business Timber Sales Program clearcuts the owl’s home territory.

Two owls captured earlier this year are living in large cages in Langley and North Vancouver. The entire Canadian population of spotted owls is estimated at 17, and the birds have not previously bred in captivity.

“It is obscene to encourage small business at the expense of a species,” Jensen said. “This culture forgets what the real world is. They think it is industrial capitalism.”

“It is insane – by which I mean out of touch with reality – to promote industrial activities that harm the real world. Because the real world is the source of life,” Jensen asserted.

Jensen speaks in Vancouver on Friday, October 19, 8 pm at the Ukrainian Cultural Hall, 154 East 10th Ave. He visits Victoria for the first time on October 20, 6 pm at the David Lam Auditorium at the University of Victoria.

More news about the spotted owls, Jensen’s visit, and the research camp will be posted here this fall.

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Obit for a Spotted Owl

Sun, 12 Nov 2006

A northern spotted owl found injured on a BC highway two weeks ago may be the last nesting female in Canada.

On October 28, a work crew driving through Manning Park in southern BC came across an owl sitting in the middle of the road, alive but unable to move. The workers stopped, put the bird in a box and delivered her to an owl rehabilitation centre in Oliver, BC.

Weighing just one pound when she was rescued, this female spotted owl was starving.

Sherri Klein, founder of the South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls, was astonished to find the bird in her care. In 20 years of caring for sick and injured owls, she had never seen a northern spotted owl. This past spring, researchers estimated 17 owls were living in old-growth fragments of BC’s heavily-logged southern forests.

Experts believe the owl is the female of the pair nesting in Manning Park. Spotted owls are territorial and monogamous, staying with one mate for their whole lives.

The owl was too weak to stand or eat, and she was initially force-fed by SORCO staff, who also treated an internal eye injury with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. The eye injury may have been responsible for the bird’s condition, as she had apparently been unable to hunt for some time.

“Just the procedure of force feeding the bird causes stress upon it and this alone can kill a weakened bird also. The owl is so weak that it cannot stand. This is always a bad sign, for once a bird is down, often death follows even when the best of care is given,” reported Klein.

After two days, the owl was eating on her own at times and staff were hopeful she might recover. But she did not gain weight and never recovered the strength to stand.

“The reality of it was that it was so badly emaciated that its organs had probably already started to shut down,” Klein said.

“The warmth of the food and the nourishment we gave it helped it hang on a little longer. It just prolonged its inevitable death. That’s the sad reality of it.”

The owl died at 5 am on Tuesday morning.

“This is a great loss indeed and it has left us wondering if there was something we could have done better,” Klein writes.

Andy Miller, a spotted owl expert with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, documented three active spotted owl nests in BC early this year. Since then, each nesting pair has suffered terrible setbacks.

First, a windstorm blew down a tree and nest in spring, killing a nestling. In the summer, Cattermole Timber logged out much of the forest at the second nest site, apparently destroying that nest. (See this GNN report.) The death of the female of the third breeding pair marks a devastating year for the spotted owls.

Eleven individual owls, isolated from each other by clearcuts, terrain and development, are estimated to be living in BC.

For years, experts have been warning of the spotted owl’s imminent extinction in Canada as logging continues in the last pockets of owl habitat in BC’s southwest corner. The BC government has played an active role in the logging by selling timber rights to small businesses.

Canada’s endangered species legislation, the Species At Risk act, contains no provisions to protect habitat on provincial land. The provincial Ministry of the Environment is mulling over a proposal to attempt captive breeding of spotted owls, a completely untested strategy. Conservationists point out captive breeding, even if successful, will not lead to the owl’s recovery if its habitat is wiped out.

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Filed under Animals, Environment, Politics

Underground? You could be on national TV!

Attention secret eco-warriors: the CBC wants to interview you for a program on the Earth Liberation Front.

Wed, 4 Oct 2006

Producers Tim Sawa and Theresa Burke of the fifth estate are keen to talk to a real, live ELF saboteur, and they’re prepared to go to great lengths to protect the identity of anyone willing to go on camera.

The fifth estate (spelled in lower-case letters) is a one-hour investigative news journal broadcast weekly on Canada’s public-funded television station. Last month, the show’s producers in Toronto dispatched Sawa and Burke to Vancouver on a mission to track down and talk to anyone connected to the Earth Liberation Front

They found me instead. I came home to a voice mail message: “Hello, Zoe? This is Tim Sawa of the CBC. I want to talk to you about eco-terrorism.”

He looks serious, but fifth estate producer Tim Sawa is a charmer. And very persistent.

What a surprise! I had to call back and ask how he got my number.

Apparently Sawa searched the web for “Earth Liberation Front” and found my article on GNN. There was no contact info there, so he went through my blog looking for clues. Long story short, Sawa hunted down a campaigner I know who gave up my home phone number.

Sawa said he needed my help for “deep background” on the ELF. I wouldn’t appear on camera, they wouldn’t quote me or use my name. What a relief, I said.

Since then I’ve been trading calls and emails with Sawa and Theresa Burke, the other newshound on the case. It’s been a bit of a tussle. I was hostile to the idea of talking with them. Sawa was persuasive, responding to my criticism of mainstream media and its treatment of the ELF and individuals associated with it. The fifth estate is better than that, he said. The segment was a whole hour and he was dedicated to getting “our side” of the story, not just the sensational secret underground terrorist cult angle.

But a quick web search of my own turns up a fifth estate segment that ran a few years ago. “Sensational” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Venomous,” maybe.

January 26, 1999
CBC News and Current Affairs

FRANCINE PELLETIER: Welcome to the fifth estate. We begin tonight with a shocking report about a love that goes beyond all reason. Most of us take it for granted that when it comes to living things, humans are tops and animals, love them though we might, are a distant second. But for some people animals hold a far higher place in the scheme of things and must be protected from any and all harm.

In Britain that urge to protect animals has taken a violent turn, with attacks on property, arson, bombs, and even death lists. Tonight we go inside the British animal liberation movement, with an animals rights campaigner who became horrified by the extreme nature of what his allies were doing. Wearing a hidden camera, he penetrated the secretive upper ranks of the movement. What he found was a shocking disregard for property and human life, a disregard taken for granted all in the name of love.

(Full transcript here. Warning: It’s an appalling example of fascist journalism. The hidden camera footage was turned over to police to prosecute those implicated by the reporters’ sting.)

Sawa was apologetic but unapologetic. “Yes … I’ve read about that. That was a programme that the fifth [estate] bought from the BBC and ran. It wasn’t produced by us. But we did run it. What can I say other than I didn’t produce it.” He insists the segment they’re working on now will be much, much better.

There was no way I could give Sawa and Burke what they wanted – details about the secret lives of individuals indicted for ELF actions and info about two fugitives on the run from the FBI: Rebecca Rubin and Joseph Dibee. Rubin lived in the Vancouver area and the two are rumoured to be hiding in Canada.

Instead, I pointed the two reporters to resources like Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkey-wrenching and the Animal Liberation Front Press Office, and gave them a lecture on security culture. I told them no one involved with an illegal action should ever talk to anyone about that action, outside of the members of their affinity group or “cell.” I mentioned that phoning up strangers and asking them where the fugitives are sets off alarm bells.

Sawa didn’t give up, though. More phone calls. “You know, if you change your mind about going on camera, we could disguise your identity. We could change your voice, too. There’s no way anyone would know it was you.”

But what they really want is to interview an actual eco-saboteur. “Maybe you could use your contacts to put the word out to people that we’d like to interview someone who’s in the ELF,” Sawa suggested. “We can set it up so it’s completely anonymous. We wouldn’t even know who they are.” The CBC’s legal team would fight like wolverines to protect their sources, he said, and in any case the police can’t subpeona info the reporters don’t have, like the identiities of anonymous individuals.

From Burke: “There’s a number of possibilities. It’s a question of what they (ELF saboteurs) would feel comfortable with. There’s masks, there’s having someone read their words so they don’t have their face on tape, or the possibility of doing it through some form of written communication. Maybe even a web cam or something like that?” A one-time anonymous webmail account would work, she said.

Sawa and Burke are in a bind – the Earth Liberation Front Press Office has closed down, and the anonymous press officers I interviewed by email long ago are silent. The pressure is on from their bosses to find and interview genuine ELF warriors (and their supporters) on camera.

This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story, they tell me. We’re as appalled as you at the Green Scare.

I’ve declined their offer, since I’m not prepared to go on national television as a spokesperson for “eco-terrorism.” And much as I’d like to believe their assertions that the program will be sympathetic, what television producer can resist the lurid aspects of the case: arson, conspiracy, betrayal, and so on?

Or maybe I’m just chickenshit. Anyone out there with balls – or tits – of steel? If so – if you’re not afraid – step up to the mike. Put on a mask, set up a web-cam, record an interview, zip it and send it via an anonymous remailer to Theresa Burke: theresa.frances (at)

Be careful out there!

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Filed under Animals, Environment, Politics, Zoe Blunt

“No Threat” to Spotted Owls in Canada?

Northern Spotted Owl nestlings
Northern Spotted Owl nestlings

Despite petitions from environmental groups, the federal Environment Minister won’t step in to save the owl

Sun, 27 Aug 2006

Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose says there is “no imminent threat” of extinction for spotted owls, while experts report the estimated number of remaining owls has fallen from 22 to 17.

Ambrose was responding to an appeal by conservation groups to invoke an emergency provision of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and immediately protect owl habitat in British Columbia. But instead, she shrugged it off. “There is no imminent threat to the survival or recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl at this time,” Ambrose said in a press release August 16.

Environmentalists reacted with dismay and bewilderment to the announcement that Ottawa would take no action to protect the owl.

Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, asked, “How can the Minister claim that northern spotted owls are not threatened when more and more owls disappear each year?”

“Minister Ambrose has set such a low standard for the Species at Risk Act in terms of its protections for endangered species that the law has been rendered meaningless,” said Devon Page, a staff lawyer with Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Instead of taking action, Ambrose was content to praise the “commitment from British Columbia to preserve and increase the population of Northern Spotted Owls.”

The Environment Minister’s press release states:

The Government of British Columbia has announced an action plan that includes halting timber harvesting activities in areas of the interior of the province currently occupied by the remaining Owls.

The “action plan” Ambrose refers to appears to be a decision in April to suspend logging in newly-designated owl habitat areas. Conservationists point out, however, that the areas have not yet received any permanent, legislated protection. Given BC’s record of making vague promises and then reneging, environmentalists say they are skeptical.

Currently, what the province calls spotted owl conservation guidelines actually mandate more logging of owl habitat. In designated areas:

67 per cent of forested habitat suitable for spotted owls (i.e. old growth forest) must be retained;

Harvesting must not take place on more than 50 per cent of the land base; and

No forest harvesting is permitted within 500 metres of a nest site.

In other words, up to one-third of the owl’s remaining forest habitat can be logged, along with up to one-half of the land base, which includes non-forested areas.

Only three nest sites were documented by spotted owl researchers in BC this year. One nest tree was blown down by wind, killing a nestling, and another may have been lost to clearcuts by Cattermole Timber in July. Cattermole and the province both denied any knowledge of owls nesting on the site. Studies funded by the province are still attempting to locate any surviving owls in the vicinity.

The B.C. government also announced in April it would spend $3.4 million on a five-year spotted owl recovery program that focuses on captive breeding and releases to the wild.

In 2005, researchers found evidence of 22 owls in BC, with six breeding pairs. Further population audits carried out by conservation biologists this year indicate 17 owls are now living in BC’s southern inland rainforest.

In her decision to wash her hands of the owl’s fate, Minister Ambrose referenced the provincial Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, which is still in draft form and open to public comment online until September 25. The plan is not endorsed by any BC environmental groups.

The authors of the report, the Canadian Spotted Owl Recovery Team (CSORT), had this disturbing summary:

The CSORT recognizes that certain recovery measures (e.g., population enhancement measures) are not well tested, and the outcome of such actions is uncertain. The likelihood that the Spotted Owl will recover naturally (without human intervention) to numbers sufficient to down-list the species is considered to be extremely low, and therefore, active human intervention is recommended. Although the CSORT believes that recovery is biologically feasible, we recognize that the recovery of the Spotted Owl faces several significant logistical, societal and economic challenges, and that even if all these challenges are met, there is no guarantee that recovery will occur over the short term.

Still, the CSORT report is cautiously optimistic that the population can eventually recover, pointing to the success of species like the whooping crane and California condor. But Ottawa and Victoria are signaling that while public relations are important, the loss of an entire species – through destroying the ecosystem on which it depends – does not merit taking strong and decisive action.

On August 19, members of the Sierra Club of Canada gathered on Parliament Hill for a ceremony to mourn the impending loss of the spotted owl from Canada.

“How low must the spotted owl population go before the minister admits that extirpation is imminent?” asked Stephen Hazell of the Sierra Club.

“Canada’s whooping crane population collapsed in the early 20th century, bottoming out at 16 birds in 1941. Is it not embarrassing to all Canadians that the federal government is not prepared to fight for the spotted owl, as Canadian and American governments did for the whooping crane in the midst of the Great Depression and the Second World War?”

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee is considering further legal action to protect the owl.

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