Building Bridges: Connecting Animals & The Environment

By Jake Conroy

There has been an unusual disconnect between the environmental justice and animal rights communities that seems to have plagued our movements for some time.  That doesn’t mean animal rights activists haven’t been stopping bulldozers or that environmentalists aren’t putting themselves between the hunter and the hunted.  But when it comes down to general philosophies and organizations, they seem to part ways.  Whether it is differences in dietary choices or campaign focuses, the two camps seem to be split, with little resolve.  But Rainforest Action Network is hoping that will change. 

This last weekend marked the 33rd Animal Rights National Conference coordinated by the Farm Animal Rights Movement.  It’s traditionally been an opportunity for animal rights activists and organizations to come together and share ideas, tactics, and campaign strategies, with an emphasis on being open to all points of view. RAN was excited to participate in the event with an outreach table and Ashley Schaeffer Yildiz, our palm oil campaigner, discussing our ongoing work in Indonesia battling conflict palm oil.  It’s an issue that everyone should be concerned with.  The alarming rate that the Indonesian rainforests are being slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations is horrifying.  In their wake, indigenous communities are being displaced, forced labor is being utilized, and endangered animals like the Sumatran orangutan, rhino, tiger, and elephant are being pushed to the brink of extinction.  

However, some attendees were upset that animal agriculture wasn’t our number one campaign focus, which seems like a fair criticism.  After all, the United Nations states that the environmental impact from eating animals is greater than driving cars.  Not to mention how much water it takes to produce one pound of beef.  But few, if any, were aware of our history battling animal agriculture.  In fact, one of RAN’s first achievements was pressuring Burger King to cancel $35 million worth of Central American beef contracts because they were converting rainforests into cattle ranches.  Or knew about our purchasing policy which states that all RAN events, retreats and staff affairs must be vegetarian and/or vegan, as well as prioritizing sourcing from sustainable, organic, fair trade, local, union-made/worker-owned suppliers.  Many animal welfare organizations are unable to even boast such a policy. 

One thing, however, is undeniable.  Rainforest Action Network is a dynamic organization because we fight to protect forests across the planet. We work in solidarity with, learn from, and amplify the voices of impacted communities.  We strive to protect animals around the globe such as the Cerulean Warbler in the United States to the Sumatran Orangutan in Indonesia.  We challenge corporate power head on, and best of all, we win.  

Could our campaigns and strategies use some tweaks and criticisms?  Absolutely.  Will they shift and morph as we move forward?  Of course.   We should all be reexamining our paths, and be doing that together.  The beauty of collective liberation is that together, with all of our different movements and campaigns and strategies, we collectively push forward to a world that is just and safe for everyone and everything.  There’s no one right way to get there, but with strong tactics, smart strategies, and a diversity of campaigns, we will. And as we move forward, step by step, we hope that you take that journey with us.