Animal lovers who have pets, we are now told, are violating animal rights. And having all of those dogs and cats is also destructive of the environment.
Wesley J. Smith discusses this new front of political correctness in his article Give Up Pets to Save the Planet!
He cites an earlier piece that he had written on the Animal Rights movement and its stance on pet ownership entitled Animal Rights Would Ban Pets.
He cites an article by Gary L. Francione and Anna E. Charlton entitled The Case Against Pets, which argues that the key animal right is not to be property. The authors make a moral equivalence with slavery. Just as it is wrong for humans to own other human beings, it is wrong for humans to own animals:
To say that an animal has a right not to be used as property is simply to say that we have a moral obligation to not use animals as things, even if it would benefit us to do so. With respect to domesticated animals, that means that we stop bringing them into existence altogether. We have a moral obligation to care for those right-holders we have here presently. But we have an obligation not to bring any more into existence.
And this includes dogs, cats and other non-humans who serve as our ‘companions’.
The authors go on to deal with the arguments from pet owners on how they love their animals and how they are part of the family. But this still entails owning the animals, which have become dependent on their owners, and this is where the immorality comes in. The authors say that they too have pets and love them, saying, as above, that we have an obligation to care for the pets animals currently in our care, but they suggest that they should not be allowed to reproduce. “We love our dogs,” they say, “but recognise that, if the world were more just and fair, there would be no pets at all, no fields full of sheep, and no barns full of pigs, cows and egg-laying hens. There would be no aquaria and no zoos.”
The article interestingly contrasts their “right not to be property” approach to the alternative animal rights philosophy of Peter Singer, the ethicist notorious for advocating not only abortion but infanticide. For Singer, the one moral consideration is that of suffering. Animals, like human beings, can suffer; therefore, anything that causes a human being or animal to suffer is morally wrong. As Wesley Smith explains it,
In animal-rights ideology, the ability to suffer, sometimes called “painience,” is the attribute that accords any being—human or animal—value. Since human beings feel pain and cattle feel pain, the theory holds, we are equals; our differences are as insignificant as racial distinctions.
Smith refutes both the suffering argument and the property argument, both of which are one-dimensional in their approach to ethics, neglecting the qualitative difference between human beings and animals. “Slavery is evil because it involves treating one’s inherent equals—that is, other human beings—as objects. All human beings are subjects. That is not the case with animals, which (not who), contrary to Francione, are not ‘persons.’ Since animals are not our equals, owning an animal does not make one the moral equivalent of Simon Legree.”
Smith also examines the environmentalist arguments against owning pets. He quotes an article in New Scientist by Graham Lawton, Why you should worry about your pet’s ecological footprint with the deck “From domestic cats’ ecocide of small animals to the greenhouse gases they emit, owning a pet is an environmental vice we must confront” [subscription required]:
Added together, all the cats and dogs in the US consume the same amount of energy as 60 million people, effectively increasing the population by a fifth.
Ingredients in pet food are often leftovers from the human food chain, but this isn’t always the case. Even if they are, they still have to be processed, packaged and transported. What comes out the other end is an even stinkier problem, equivalent to the faeces of 90 million people, generating 64 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.
Being an animal lover and caring about the environment often go hand in hand. But they aren’t compatible. I hate to say it, but pet ownership is another unsustainable aspect of modern consumer lifestyles that we are going to have to confront. It isn’t the biggest, but it isn’t negligible. Like almost every other environmental vice, the problem is getting worse as pet ownership rises around the world.
I wonder what the anti-pet, anti-animal-ownership people would have us do. Take our dogs and cats out in the country and set them “free”? (Note the assumption in that kind of language that animals can have a human quality such as freedom.) Take the fences down farm and let the cattle, horses, and hogs roam freely across our interstate highways and yards? Or kill them all in a mass slaughter that surely no animal lover could abide? My impression is that these authors would keep them alive until they die of natural causes, but prevent them from reproducing. That is to say, making dogs, cats, cattle, horses, hogs, chickens, and every other domesticated animal go extinct. How could animal lovers abide that?
Photo via Pxhere, CC0, Public Domain