Political Veganism

As the vegan movement grows it is important that we do not lose sight of what is truly important and realise the potential of political veganism. We cannot allow ourselves to become dazzled by diet book celebrities and wonder workouts or we risk representing veganism as just another edgy trend. We must instead focus on the ways in which veganism can be promoted as the only way to achieve a sustainable future, and this should be done by making environmental benefits and emotional intelligence the forefront of the movement.

With this in mind, a crucial aspect of the vegan movement is in fact to understand its role as a political power. We may not at first realise how veganism fits in with politics, however the more experience we gain as vegans, the more we can see how its core values may be applied to change the face of political landscapes across the globe.

Firstly we must come to terms with what exactly the vegan movement as a whole stands for in terms of politically attributable characteristics:

  • A call for serious societal change:

When we fight in the name of veganism, we are voicing our concerns for the way the world has been configured. The social and political constructions that have dictated thought and behaviour for so long are outdated, and we are calling for serious change. As education and access to information becomes ever more readily available we are becoming far more aware of the inner workings of our world, and so far we aren’t happy with what we have seen. By fighting as vegan activists we are becoming the change we want to see in the world, and we should be educating others as to why this change is the best course of action. Put simply, we are expressing why we aren’t happy with the way the world works and as the movement grows more and more people take notice, and thus our political strength grows.

  • An extremely powerful tool for achieving environmental sustainability:

As we all know, being vegan is considered the most sustainable way to live. However, many people don’t realise the impact this information can have on influencing environmental change. From personal experience I have found that the most effective way to promote veganism is to exploit the selfishness of others by putting them face to face with the environmental destruction they are supporting. By showing them that they are actively jeopardising their way of life, many people are visibly shaken by the news. (If you need some more information as to how veganism is essential from an environmentalist perspective check out my video)

  • Opposing the industrialisation of living beings:

For me the importance soon shifted from a simple opposition to meat onto the depreciation of living beings into coldly calculated units of somatic value. The treatment of non-human animals as stock is deeply disturbing and a worrying reflection of the human attitude towards life in general. If the lives of other species are so undervalued, there is no wonder that humans continue to harm and kill each other. I’m not suggesting that if the world went vegan there would be no more wars (the human race is far too stupid to achieve world peace, come on Homo sapiens prove me wrong!), but it would be naive to think that it wouldn’t make people appreciate the lives of others. Not to mention the fact that the physical industrialisation of the animal product industry is completely unnatural even from an agricultural perspective.

  • Taking charge as consumers:

The power to change the global market rests with the consumers, but many people don’t realise just how much influence they can have by promoting or avoiding certain products or companies. Vegans boycott one of the, if not the, most destructive industries on the planet and have had a surprisingly large impact which shows that we do indeed hold the power; if we don’t buy their products, they will stop selling them.

  • The link between personal health and national budgets:

As scientific research increasingly suggests; animal products can cause a multitude of health issues. So by letting people know that living healthily as a vegan is not only achievable but actually preferable, we can actually push for positive change on a medical level. It’s no secret that health organisations around the world are under serious strain, but I believe that veganism could help relieve some of that strain. This inhabits an interesting area on the political landscape, as there could be friction between the interests of public health and the profits of pharmaceutical companies (but I’m not here to talk about medical conspiracies!).

  • The importance of emotional intelligence:

This may seem a little more abstract than the previous points, but I think it is important nonetheless. It’s no surprise to hear that the future is progressive, and one of the desirable characteristics we need to pursue this future is strong emotional intelligence. This becomes increasingly important when we consider the intersectionality between veganism and other progressive ideologies such as feminism, LGBTQ rights and disability rights movements.

So What Does This Mean?

The vegan movement needs to use these points to its advantage to establish itself firmly on the international stage as a strong and growing force. By promoting the areas that appeal most to the general populace on a political and social level, we can reinforce the positive and desirable representation of veganism.

The issue at the moment is that the vegan movement is suffering an identity crisis caused by deep internal conflicts, which quite frankly are not helping at all. One side is fighting for animals and the environment and the other for self improvement and bodily enhancements, the latter of which is unfortunately the more widely represented as the face of the vegan movement. Now I’m not saying that self improvements and diets etc. are a bad thing, they do get people’s attention, but they shouldn’t be the driving force of the movement because they lack depth. Diets and workout plans may be eye catching  but they rarely lead to long term commitments and change, so using them to represent the vegan movement is hardly a smart move. The vegan movement needs to secure its identity by rearranging priorities to put forward its core values of ethical living and environmental sustainability.

The next step would be to make sure veganism is being promoted in the most effective way, this means applying more pressure through bottom up approaches as well producing vegans with training to push for top down changes through the likes of scientific studies and political activism. By tackling both the general populace and institutions simultaneously we can ensure the effective promotion of veganism as a popular and endorsed ideology.

These are just a few ideas that I have had on the subject and there is plenty of room to expand these thoughts, so if you have any ideas please feel free to share them below and tell me what you think of the idea of political veganism.

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Delivering Environmental Sustainability: ‘Top Down’ vs ‘Bottom Up’

This is a question that bugged me the other day, I couldn’t decide which approach was more effective so I did a little research and jotted down a couple of notes, have a read and let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

A ‘bottom up’ approach to delivering environmental sustainability relies on the general populace making changes in their lifestyles and demanding that the government make changes too. Rayner (2010, p.617) explains that the basic proposition of a ‘bottom up’ approach is that “climate change policies should be designed and implemented at the lowest feasible level of organization”. This ‘bottom up’ approach is the opposite to the ‘top down’ approach that sees governments/powers implicating changes that affect societies as a whole; things such as laws, initiatives and incentives.

The first thing to address is the problem with a system that relies solely on ‘top down’ approaches to achieving environmental sustainability. Smith (2008, p.363) argues that even though ‘top down’ approaches have the advantages of expert insight as well as financial and technical resources, it will always be unsuccessful without the participation of local knowledge. Bäckstrand (2003, p.31) supports this by saying that the current system is flawed because of a lack of collaboration; experts should be considerate of local knowledge and more effort should be made to establish dialogue between experts and citizens.

It has been argued that the Kyoto treaty was a failure in terms of delivering environmental sustainability due to lack of understanding of the intricacies of the problems it faced, which reveals the weaknesses of a ‘top down’ approach. Prins and Rayner (2007, p.975) criticise the treaty, saying that instead of aiming for precise targets for emissions reductions, governments should instead promote a ‘bottom up’ approach that benefits from social learning. This would also allow governments to drive towards a goal of ‘fundamental technological change’, whilst focusing on how governments, firms and households actually do to reduce emissions. So it seems that even though people may think that governments will have the power to bring change, in fact the most important way to do this is by working up from the bottom.

An important aspect of the ‘bottom up’ approach is self-evaluation and analysis of one’s current lifestyle, which has been made far easier thanks to EFA, which was pioneered by Professor William Rees in British Columbia, Canada. It is described as the greatest tool for measuring an individual’s ecological footprint by measuring: food and renewable material consumption, transport use, energy use, built land and waste production (WWF, 2002a, cited in Sutcliffe et al, 2008). After using the WWF footprint calculator, it was revealed that I use only 40% of my share of emissions, and I was given tips on how I can even further reduce my impact. This encourages people to make changes on an individual level, by changing small aspects of daily lifestyle to reduce carbon emissions; it’s the small things that will add up to make big differences.

In conclusion, since ‘top down’ approaches seem to be more flawed and harder to control than one may think, the best approach for delivering environmental sustainability would be to work from the bottom. This would require work to encourage governments, industries and households to analyse and evaluate their ‘footprints’, and make every effort to reduce their own impact on the planet. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website to receive updates for new content, you can also follow the Fox Eyed Man on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr for further discussions about environmentalism.

References:

Bäckstrand, K. (2003). Civic Science for Sustainability: Reframing the Role of Experts, Policy-Makers and Citizens in Environmental Governance. Global Environmental Politics 3(4), pp.24-41.
Prins, G. & Rayner, S. (2007). Time to Ditch Kyoto. Nature 499(7165), pp.973-975.
Rayner, S. (2010). How to eat an elephant: a bottom-up approach to climate policy. Climate Policy 10(6), pp.615-621.
Smith, J.L. (2008). A critical appreciation of the “bottom-up” approach to sustainable water management: embracing complexity rather than desirability. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability 13(4), pp.353-366.
Sutcliffe, M. et al. (2008). Can Eco-Footprinting Analysis Be Used Successfully to Encourage More Sustainable Behaviour at the Household Level? Sustainable Development 16, pp.1-16.
WWF Website. (2002a). Ecological Footprinting: a Guide for Local Authorities.

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Natural Capital: Should Nature Have a Price Tag?

Natural capital is the term used to describe the earth’s stocks of natural assets, such as air, water, soil etc. These assets provide us with the services that are called ‘ecosystem services’, and are the very things that make life possible (for all animals, human and non-human). The issue, however, is whether we should be applying an economic value to nature in the first place.

There are countless discussions and debates weighing up the pros and cons of applying economic value to natural services and goods. These debates have been sparked by concerns over the attitudes towards nature that this approach involves, many saying that it detracts from the intrinsic value of nature being nature, whilst others argue that it is the best approach in the battle to provide an environmentally and economically sustainable future.

Natural Capital - Water

Resources such as water would be valued economically

This is an important issue because the earth’s current natural processes and services are being over exploited to support unsustainable economic growth that is driven by global markets, but generates a fragile wealth only in favour of a relative minority in terms of world population.

As such it is our responsibility to ensure the survival of the environment, and it is our responsibility to decide the best possible strategy for delivering sustainability. But before we start forming opinions (I’m still finding it difficult to pick a side to support 100%), let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each side:

Natural Capital: Adding Economic Value to Nature – The Pros

Tony Juniper, a journalist for the Guardian, brought forward the argument that although we should appreciate the ‘intrinsic values’ of nature for its own sake, that approach will not be enough to change the ways of people who value money more than the environment that essentially ‘gets in the way’ (2012).

This is supported by Paul Hawken (pp.3-4), who argues that valuing nature recognises the important interdependency between the use and production of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital. Dong et al. (2014, p.768) also argue that a proper evaluation of natural capital and ecosystem services, such as grasslands, may help to promote new environmental protection policies.

In other words, by adding a price tag to nature we can encourage people, businesses and governments to be much more careful about the way we use it.

Natural Capital: Adding Economic Value to Nature – The Cons

Although this seems to make financial sense, we cannot deny the fact that ‘adding a price tag’ to nature is a huge ethical concern. The very idea that the rivers, mountains, fields and wildlife should be assigned a specific value based on their place in an ecosystem service is questionable.

The biggest problem with this though is how an agreeable value would be established for certain aspects of natural capital; a value that can be used as a basis of a ‘policy for the Commons’ (Ulgiati et al.2011, p.778). How can a group of people decide the importance of certain ecological processes in relation to others?

The British government paid researchers to produce a total annual price for England’s ecosystems and received a response that stated the project was ‘theoretically challenging to complete’ with some researchers even stating that the idea wasn’t sound.

Natural Capital - Difficulty

How can something as complex as nature be valued?

Natural Capital: Valuing Nature for Itself – The Pros

George Monbiot, also a Guardian journalist, puts forward the idea that nature should be valued for what it is rather than the ‘services’ it can provide to humans. By continuing to emphasize the fact that humans do not own the earth, we can advance to an age of sustainability where we recognise our place as part of the natural world, not as its handlers.

He argues (2012) that no matter how many regulations are put in place to stop exploitation, the money to be made by protecting natural capital will rarely match the money to be made by destroying it. He makes the point that the importance of nature will diminish, and uses the example that if it is in the best interest of a quarry company to destroy a meadow, it can “buy absolution by paying someone to create another somewhere else”.

So in essence, avoiding the valuation of natural capital would prevent us from losing sight of the actual object of our protection: the environment, not the money it could make.

Natural Capital: Valuing Nature for Itself – The Cons

When it comes to making changes, it is an unfortunate fact that most people are quite reluctant to comply. This becomes apparent when we consider the fact that environmental movements have been highlighting world issues for decades, but even though there has been progress, it is by no means astounding.

How much can environmentalists realistically achieve?

How much can environmentalists realistically achieve?

There is also a distinct possibility that by opposing the attachment of economic value to natural capital, environmentalists could inadvertently be supporting those who believe that nature has little or no economic or moral value. Without a world market to apply regulations and agreements on value, some resources may continue to be over exploited.

Making a Decision

As you can see there are valid arguments from both sides, making this an extremely tricky issue to navigate. The pressure applied by the declining condition of today’s environment does nothing to aid the situation either, and with every passing day we take to decide our course of action more forests are torn down, seas polluted and resources taken for granted.

Some argue that the economic valuation of nature is a necessary evil that must be recognised in order to take swift action on environmental issues. By supporting the valuation of natural capital we can ensure a sustainable future, and it is once we reach that goal that we can once again value nature for being nature itself.

I hope that by reading this article you now have a clearer understanding of the dilemma, and have the information you need to make your decision. Will you support the economic valuation of nature, or should we keep fighting and avoid the price tags? I would love to hear your ideas, so please leave a comment and let me know where you stand.

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[Featured Image – Nature / City Wallpaper | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – https://www.flickr.com/photos/thoth-god/3680653891Author: Thoth God of Knowledge https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
[References :
Dong, X.B. , et al. (2014). Environmental and economic consequences of the overexploitation of natural capital and ecosystem services in Xilinguole League, China. Energy Policy 67, pp.767-780.
Hawken, P. , Lovins, A. , Lovins, L.H. (1999). Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Juniper, T. (2012). We must put a price on nature if we are going to save it. Guardian, 10 August, [Online] Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/aug/10/nature-economic-value-campaign (Accessed: 28 February 2015).
Monbiot, G. (2012). Putting a price on the rivers and rain diminishes us all. Guardian, 6 August, [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/06/price-rivers-rain-greatest-privatisation (Accessed: 28 February 2015).
Ulgiati, S. , Zucaro, A. , Franzese, P.P. (2011). Shared wealth or nobody’s land? The Worth of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services. Ecological economics 70, pp.778-787.]

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