Although it is common knowledge that fossil fuels are the source of a number of environmental problems, a lesser known threat is that of animal agriculture, which is responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2009 report from the Worldwatch Institute. (Worldwatch Institute, “Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are… cows, pigs, and chickens,” 11.09)
The Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) mission statement reads, “[VARC] works to promote a cruelty-free diet.” Also known as factory farming or as industrial livestock production, animal agriculture refers to the modern practice of raising animals for human consumption, and has become largely synonymous with a cruel and unsustainable diet.
As part of its larger efforts to combat speciesism, on Thursday, Feb. 12, VARC hosted a screening of the anti-factory farming film “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” to help educate students about the lesser known, yet no less detrimental, effects that the animal agriculture industry has on the planet.
The film records the experience of environmentalist and documentary filmmaker Kip Anderson as he explores the practice of factory farming and its consequences. At the screening of the film, VARC representatives from the event fielded questions about intensive livestock production and other themes presented by Anderson.
One such question was about the role that speciesism plays in people’s avoidance of addressing problems associated with animal agriculture. VARC event coordinator Alessandra Seiter ’16 commented, “I think that it is really easy to look away from non-human animals in all contexts because I think that yes, there is this ingrained speciesism of human superiority over other animals.”
She continued, “I think that that also really ties into assumed human superiority over the entire earth. If we hold one notion of being superior to other beings, then we are inevitably going to perpetuate that in other forms of our life. The attitude behind speciesism is really responsible also for the destruction of our planet, and so I think that really we need to eradicate both if we want to sustain this planet.”
In the film, Anderson argues that animal agriculture is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, species extinction, habitat degradation and ocean dead zones. Many, however, have pointed out that focusing on only one issue is detrimental to achieving sustainability.
“I don’t think that we should take an either/or approach,” wrote DivestVC event coordinator Elise Ferguson ’17, in an emailed response. “Focusing on one or the other is a pitfall; our approach to such a massive issue needs to be broad-sweeping and comprehensive.”
Also addressed at the Cowspiracy screening was the question of how VARC plans to bring further consciousness to related issues at Vassar. “I think that the change really needs to come from below,” Seiter commented.
She went on to say, “I am hoping that we will be able to engage with other organizations on campus, beyond the Greens, though we would love to engage more with the Greens as well.”
This was in reference to the desire for greater synergy between Vassar environmental organizations. VARC has held joint-meetings with the Vassar Greens and Feminist Alliance in the past, and plans to collaborate with other on-campus organizations in the future to address issues in “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” from a multifaceted perspective.
Greater collaborative work has been a common goal for environmental activist groups on campus in recent years. In an emailed comment, VARC campaign coordinator Rockwell Schwartz ’15 said, “VARC is constantly discussing new ideas on how we can bring this issue to light.
She went on to write, “We intend to canvass the dorms in advance of the annual Earth Week Veg Pledge, during which hundreds of Vassar students pledge to spend a week without animal products in recognition of their impact on the planet.”
The film has, to many, called to mind other environmental issueson campus, most notably the College’s January deer cull. “It is well past time the Vassar community center a discussion on the realities of animal agribusiness for both the planet and the billions of animals it victimizes,” commented Schwartz.
The overarching theme from the screening of “Cowspiracy” is that a transition to a diet free from meat and dairy is a decision that benefits the environment. VARC emphasizes the importance of this choice, and it helps students interested in changing their lifestyle in a variety of ways.
“VARC provides a supportive community in which students can learn more about nonhuman animal issues, meet rescued formerly-farmed animals at local sanctuaries, and even be paired with an experienced vegan mentor to help in their transition toward more animal-friendly living,” said Schwartz.
In “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”, Anderson chronicles his decision to adopt a diet free from meat and dairy. He emphasizes that the benefits of such a decision is twofold in that it benefits both the planet and the person making the decision.
Seiter later commented, “In April we host a ‘Veg Pledge’ in collaboration with the Vassar Green’s annual Earth week.” Students are provided with ample opportunities to make the transition to a vegan lifestyle easier through VARC campaigns.
Although VARC’s and Kip Anderson’s goals remain distant, their efforts are winning the support of new followers every day, and are becoming ever more realistic.