It's the Speciesism, Stupid!: Animal Abolitionism, Environmentalism, and the Mass Media

It's the Speciesism, Stupid!: Animal Abolitionism, Environmentalism, and the Mass Media

Paula Brügger (Santa Catarina Federal University, Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4757-0.ch006
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In a time of intense instrumentalization of life, nature becomes a mere factory from which natural resources are withdrawn. This system is causing immense social, ethical and environmental impacts, and livestock raising is at the core of these problems. The concept of speciesism – a prejudice concerning nonhuman animals, analogous to racism and sexism – is paramount in this realm. This chapter analyses the role of the mass media in perpetuating speciesist values and the urgent need for a paradigm shift. A genuine concern about the future of the planet and nonhuman animals involves questioning our speciesism and our narrow instrumental and economic paradigms.
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We live in a time of intense instrumentalization of life. The paradigm still dominant in the Western culture has helped to weave a concept of nature as a set of instruments for the human species. A consequence is that out of the three pillars underlying sustainability the economic one becomes prevalent in its “green” version. Markets for environmental commodities and payment for environmental services are mechanisms born in this context. The quest to tackle the climate change problem via a carbon market is probably the most emblematic example.

Although the climatic issue is a real question to be faced, other problems associated with the so-called “Anthropocene” (Lewis & Maslin, 2015; Zalasiewicz, 2015) are equally or even more severe. Extensive destruction and degradation of habitats – main causes for biodiversity loss, are primary cases requiring urgent attention.

Rockström et al. (2009, p. 472), for example, proposed nine “Earth-system processes and its associated thresholds which, if crossed, could generate unacceptable environmental change”. Their analysis shows that “three of these processes – climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and interference with the nitrogen cycle – have already transgressed their boundaries” (Rockström et al., 2009, p. 475) and the rate of loss of biodiversity, terrestrial and marine, appears as the most critical, since the border for a safe range of operation is already far exceeded (see also WWF, 2016).

Likewise, according to the 2016 Living Planet Report (WWF, 2016, p. 3), “species populations of vertebrate animals have decreased in abundance by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012”. Although climate change is a significant menace, the most common threat to declining animal populations is the loss and degradation of their habitat (WWF, 2016).

It is also paramount to focus on a specific group of vertebrates – mammalians. Smith et al. (2016, p. 101) point out that there has been “a fundamental shift from a world dominated by wild animals to one largely composed of humans and their livestock”. This transition in the biosphere has a number of important implications in terms of ecosystem functions. As the megafauna animals (including elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, hippopotamuses, lions, bears, elks, wild buffaloes etc.) have been important ecosystem engineers, “there is an urgent need to understand in a holistic way just how ecosystems may ´unravel´ with their decline or extinction” (Smith et al., 2016, p. 107). Smith et al. (2016) evaluate several proposals of “rewilding”, but in order to look at this issue through a genuinely holistic perspective, one must investigate the underlying context. In this case, the historical, economic, political and cultural causes of such decline must be taken into account, along with a critical analysis of the dominant solutions that prevail today, which are market-based and extensively dominated by a chrematistic view.

Aristotle, in his book “Politics” (see Aristotle, 1999), explained the difference between economics and chrematistics or wealth getting. The first is concerned with the material supply of the oikos (the family, house or family property) or the polis (the city, city-state or body of citizens) while the latter, even being part of the economy, is essentially an acquisitive technique. Aristotle also made explicit that chrematistics can become unnatural, breaking all limits, and anticipated that the accumulation of wealth would end up destroying the good way of living (Rossi & Tierno, 2009).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Neoliberal Ideology: A worldview which endorses privatisation of all goods and services, seeks deregulation of markets and sees competition as a strong trait of human relations.

Animal Abolitionism: Animal rights advocacy opposing the use or property of animals under any circumstances.

Environmental Services: Natural ecosystem processes that ensure water purification, climate balance, soil fertility etc, safeguarding the sustainability of all forms of life on Earth; they also provide “products” such as food, natural remedies, fibers, fuels etc.

Chrematistic: Related to wealth creation as measured in money.

Anthropocentrism: A philosophical view that makes humans most significant by putting them at the centre of all events.

Anthropocene: According to some scientists, the current geological age whose characteristics are highly influenced by human activities.

Speciesism: A belief that humans are superior to nonhuman animals; a form of prejudice, analogous to racism and sexism, based on morally irrelevant differences.

Mammalian: Belonging to the class Mammalia which refers to “mammals” – vertebrate animals who possess hair and mammary glands with nutritional functions when the females have young; examples include dogs, lions, giraffes and humans.

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