In the December 10th issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the magazine, discusses an observation by the British economist Arthur Pigou that “private investments often impose costs on other people.” As an example of this, Kolbert describes a drunk man stumbling out of a bar (a private investment) and an officer who then arrests him (the taxpayers’ burden). She goes on to consider a much greater private investment, and a much greater public expense: pollution and a carbon tax. “Such a tax would be imposed not just on gasoline,” Kolbert writes, “but on fossil fuels—from the coal used to generate electricity to the diesel used to run tractors—so it would affect the price of nearly everything, including food and manufactured goods.”
The New Yorker often publishes commentaries and articles that address global warming. Oddly, it nearly as often publishes stories glorifying animal agriculture and the consumption of meat. Just one week before Kolbert’s piece on Pigou and the rationale for carbon taxing, the magazine ran its annual Food Issue. These are the topics it covered:
Wolvesmouth, a young, underground restaurateur in Los Angeles who serves anything from rabbit to roasted pig’s head
Eating out in Oaxaca, Mexico, with ramblings on pork, beef, grasshoppers, duck adobo, dried maguey worms, and double-boiled deer penis
Trout, with the author stating, “I had never before felt vegetarian scruples, yet they were aroused by the butchering of a creature with such clear eyes, so recently alive and blissful in its element. I asked my prey for forgiveness.”
The story of a boy returning to the farm in Pakistan where he was raised, and, at the age of eight, received his first gun, which the author explains, “finally put me on the way to hunting game—deer in the nearby desert, duck on the ponds . . .”
The perfect Manhattan
Parisian bread, including discussions on salted butter, soft-boiled eggs, and melted cheese
A bachelor’s repertoire of cheeseburgers, fries, and Lean Cuisine glazed-chicken dinners
An Israeli chef who lives in London and prepares a medley of grains and vegetables, and just as many dead animals
Bear-skinning in Wyoming
Politically, The New Yorker is unabashedly liberal. Culturally, however, it is esoteric and elitist and it takes pride in civilizing modern man’s return to savagery, even while going out of its way to inspect any other possible cause of environmental devastation. This Al Gore-like enthusiasm for changing light bulbs and recycling newspapers, while categorically ignoring the disaster that led to one’s dinner, appears to be a growing trend—never mind the inconsistencies.
We need to rewrite the conversation. We need to highlight not what matters to us individually, be it animal suffering or the like, but what will get the greatest number of people to listen. Readers of The New Yorker already understand Pigou’s hypothesis and already comprehend Kolbert’s concern: they see the effects of global warming and the dollar signs connected to it. This means something to them, so they listen. Yet what do suffering animals mean to them?
Omnivorous friends of mine often create distinctions between things they consider “rational” and things they consider “emotional.” It is rational, they say, to end human suffering; it is emotional, however, to attempt the same for animals. It is rational to respond to starvation, war, disease, global warming, “the stuff that actually matters,” but it is emotional to even ponder the animals who live and die each day in equally tragic misery. Just recognizing the fact that humans inflict so much pain on so many creatures for so little reason is an emotional strain few wish to endure, so they dismiss it as “irrational” and carry on.
Yet we can draw their attention back, and we can do so without compromising our objectives. When we hear people talking, for example, about a lack of clean drinking water, vast starvation, the wars now waged over finite resources, we should mention that 50% of clean water and 80% of grains in the U.S. are given to animals destined to be slaughtered, and we should ask, casually, which might feed more people: the flesh of a single being or the total lifetime of water and food she consumes? And when we hear conjecture over the origins of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other preventable illnesses, we should recommend books like The China Study and films such as Forks Over Knives that articulate the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and we should ask, in earnest, which is the wiser: for our government to subsidize the industries that make us most sick—dairy, meat, and egg—or those that keep us well? And when others talk about pollution and global warming, realities that are now impossible to deny, we must mention, with grace, the 35,000 miles of rivers contaminated by the urine and feces of countless animals who are fattened simply to be killed; the millions of acres of annual deforestation, solely to plant more crops for more animals for more death; the exploding quantities of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide that the tens of billions of slaughter-bound animals emit into the atmosphere day after day, and we should ask, as innocently as possible, which might cause less destruction: consuming animals, or consuming plants?
None of this is to say we should abandon the element of animal suffering from our discussions, for it is real and it is abhorrent and there will always be someone who is moved by it. We will, however, reach more people when we focus on the issues that matter most to them, like hunger, and disease, and natural disasters. It we address them with Pigou’s ideas of public cost in mind we will, over time, see more responses like Kolbert’s, and come that much closer to achieving our goals.
The latest issue of UNDER THE INFLUENCE is almost entirely dedicated to sustainability in art and fashion. It has been said that the accelerating pace of fashion and it’s naturalization (and rationalization) under the guise of “seasons” is a recipe for disaster, and these themes are explored in several of the articles. From the feature on Socially Conscious Fashion Makers that sheds light on brads such as Edun, who now has the backing of LVMH, Veja, and Noir to the photo/interview feature on Marjorie Ellis Thompson’s art and science glacier archive, Project Pressure, to the startling reality revealed in No Go Kyoto; we are approaching a period where the Kyoto Protocol is expiring and there is nothing to take it’s place, which will bring on “a period where there is not international concord on arguably the greatest existential threat facing humanity.”
The email ping-pong between designers Konstantin Grcic and Ana Kraš leads us down an intriguing path, asking whether we really need new stuff, and what role industrial designers play in the context of our current cultural and environmental conditions.
The interviews with the pre-1970’s street art activist John Fekner and photographer Stuart Franklin explore the possibilities for the role of art as a mirror that shows our selves as part of nature and ourselves as the destroyers of nature.
One major theme that is left out (and that is systematically left out of, or marginalized as the hobby-concern of a few extremists, is the issue of non-human animals in the fashion industrial complex. Most certainly the elephant (or sheep and cow) in the room is that the production of leather and wool especially, have such staggering impacts on resource consumption and ecological devastation that it would seem obvious to address them critically – to seek out alternatives that are not the leading causes of GHGs and rainforest destruction and water pollution. Leather, however, is one of the sacred cows of the fashion industry. Along with fur, which did stain a few of the editorial pages in this issues, it is the premiere symbol of luxury. It is both insidious and obvious. I am always thrilled to see a fashion magazine take on crucial issues with such artistry, and shocked at the complete avoidance of addressing this opportunity that sits on one of the most powerful points of change-making leverage. In addition, the ethical implications of animals bred, trapped or hunted, siphoned into fashion objects, obscured and silenced in the fashion industrial complex, is a shameful evasion of our fatal attraction to our fellow earthlings.
Please check out UNDER THE INFLUENCE and celebrate them as one of the few intelligent, gorgeous, and compelling publications out there.
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• Imagine going to an international conference on human trafficking, and all the people working to make you comfortable at the conference are slaves. It’s counter-intuitive and it misses the whole point of the conference, right? Something equally antithetical is happening in Copenhagen. You would think that at a conference to address Global Warming, they’d at least address the single greatest cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite all the science pointing to animal agriculture being the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, inter-governmental talks do not even include on their agenda the discussion of the meat and livestock industries. That’s why Meat Free Cop16is asking delegates, representatives and world leaders to adopt a vegan diet during their time at the conference. Send a letter to delegates and representatives HERE.