Here in Middletown, Connecticut, on the verge of the Animals in Society annual conference, I stumbled across an article in last week’s New York Times by a biologist named Matthieu Ricard who became a Buddhist monk and moved to Nepal forty years ago. The article, well worth reading in full, discusses the challenges with getting people in the wealthiest nations to take responsibility for their levels of consumption and the adverse effects on 25% of the world’s poorest. What jumped out at me, though, was Ricard’s premise that the way we treat non-human animals is critical to the shift towards reducing consumption as well as emissions, much of which is caused by the industrial “factory” farm industry. The numbers he mentions are staggering and the suffering they represent…
From Ricard’s piece. To read it in its entirety
“Unchecked consumerism operates on the premise that others are only instruments to be used and that the environment is a commodity. This attitude fosters unhappiness, selfishness and contempt upon other living beings and upon our environment. People are rarely motivated to change on behalf of something for their future and that of the next generation. They imagine, “Well, we’ll deal with that when it comes.” They resist the idea of giving up what they enjoy just for the sake of avoiding disastrous long-term effects. The future doesn’t hurt — yet.
An altruistic society is one in which we do not care only for ourselves and our close relatives, but for the quality of life of all present members of society, while being mindfully concerned as well by the fate of coming generations.
In particular, we need to make significant progress concerning the way we treat animals, as objects of consumption and industrial products, not as living beings who strive for well-being and want to avoid suffering. Every year, more than 150 billion land animals are killed in the world for human consumption, as well as some 1.5 trillion sea animals. In rich countries, 99 percent of these land animals are raised and killed in industrial farms and live only a fraction of their life expectancy. In addition, according to United Nations and FAO reports on climate change, livestock production is responsible for a greater proportion of emissions (18 percent) of greenhouse gases than the entire global transportation sector. One solution may be to eat less meat!
As the Dalai Lama has often pointed out, interdependence is a central Buddhist idea that leads to a profound understanding of the nature of reality and to an awareness of global responsibility. Since all beings are interrelated and all, without exception, want to avoid suffering and achieve happiness, this understanding becomes the basis for altruism and compassion. This in turn naturally leads to the attitude and practice of nonviolence toward human beings and animals — and toward the environment.”
Matthieu Ricard was a scientist in cell genetics 40 years ago when he decided to live in the Himalayas and become a Buddhist monk. He is a photographer and the author of several books, including “Happiness: How to Cultivate Life’s Most Important Skill.” He lives in Nepal and has been involved in more than 100 humanitarian projects.