At not one sparrow, Dean Ohlman explores how Christians can respond to the question, "Aren't people more important than animals?" This is a question posed to animal advocates not only by Christians, and I would like to propose another response to this question.
I think an individual with literally zero concern for the suffering of animals, but compassion and concern for human beings and humankind, should be a committed opponent of the way animals are currently used on our planet.
The first chapter of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's The Face On Your Plate, "The Only World We Have," focuses not on the suffering of animals, but on the environmental and health impact of factory farming. The chapter offers us many examples to raise questions about how current animal agriculture impacts human beings.
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to global warming. How does this affect human beings?
Factory farming creates a massive amount of animal waste (the poop and pee), which has a devastating impact on the local environment, and a history of making people living nearby such farms sick. How does this affect human beings?
The conditions of factory farms, including the excessive overuse of non-therapeutic antibiotics on animals, may lead to superbugs resistant to our drugs, and may one day become responsible for a global flu pandemic. How will that affect human beings?
Raising animals for food requires massively more resources, including fresh water and arable land, than growing plants for food. How will scarcity of water affect human beings? Will we deplete the earth's good soil? How does use of resources for meat affect worldwide hunger and undernourishment?
It is important that we continue to inform people about the impact factory farming has on the world, and on us. A person with zero regard for animals, when informed of the truth of factory farming, may emerge as an ally and opponent of factory farming. When I read about such things, I am, frankly, terrified (more on this in a later post). I only became serious about environmentalism after and because of becoming a vegetarian, but more and more I'm coming to see the cause/effect direction can go the other way too.
And that's how the question could be answered. To a religious person committed to a belief that God granted us the right to dominate animals, or to a cynic unconcerned with the suffering and death of animals, or to a conscientious person sincerely struggling to make life better for humankind, I would say, for now, forget about the animals. I would ask another question: can we continue and support an industrial activity that has the potential to wreak such catastrophic consequences on human beings, and that wastes so many resources that might otherwise be used to help human beings?