Over the last few centuries – and especially in recent decades – humankind has made great progress in becoming more compassionate, valuing justice and freedom, and promoting and safeguarding the rights of all human beings. However, in our fervent pursuit of prosperity, many of us have failed to recognize a simple truth: we are one species among millions. Every choice we make – from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to the way we entertain ourselves – has an impact on the planet and the animals we share it with.
Around 1 million species are threatened with extinction because of human activity, and the climate change we have caused has brought ecosystems to the brink of collapse. Intensive factory farming causes enormous suffering to billions of animals every year and breeds killer pathogens such as flu viruses. Deforestation to grow feed for farmed animals is destroying the lungs of the Earth. And the toxic chemicals used to stop animal-derived materials from decomposing are poisoning our air and waterways.
Many experts believe that the coronavirus outbreak originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China, where humans had direct contact with live animals and dead animal flesh. Filthy, severely crowded farms and animal markets are the perfect petri dishes for pathogens to emerge. Exploiting animals makes them stressed and immunosuppressed, allowing diseases to spread rapidly and be transmitted to humans – as we’ve seen with outbreaks of swine flu, bird flu, SARS, MERS, and Ebola. To reduce the risk of killer diseases, we must stop farming and otherwise exploiting animals.
To keep animals alive in disease-ridden conditions that could otherwise kill them, animals on factory farms are routinely fed antibiotics. This leads to the development of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics that we rely on to fight infections. The discovery of penicillin in 1928 changed the course of medicine, yet, not even 100 years later, our insatiable demand for meat is threatening to send us back to a time when we could die from a splinter.
The World Health Organization states that consuming processed meat causes cancer. Each person who goes vegan reduces their own risk of suffering from heart disease, obesity, cancer, strokes, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and numerous other health concerns.
Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the world’s transportation systems combined. According to the United Nations, a global shift towards a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.
Every year, billions of animals are abused and slaughtered for their skin, fur, wool, or feathers. Foxes killed for fur are crammed into filthy wire-mesh cages, sheep are mutilated and beaten for wool, and cows are forced to walk hundreds of miles to be slaughtered in front of each other for leather in Bangladesh, the source of much of the world’s leather.
Not only is the production of animal-derived materials cruel, it’s also a huge cause of pollution, and leather is the most environmentally damaging material used for clothing. Fortunately, thanks to the availability of numerous innovative vegan materials that don’t harm animals or the planet, it’s easy to make compassionate fashion choices.
When the COVID-19 outbreak is over, we can’t simply “go back to normal”. To create a better world, we must expand our circle of compassion to all living, feeling beings – for their sake and our own. We don’t have to choose who’s more deserving of our attention or love. In addition to tackling poverty, fighting for social justice, and protecting vulnerable people in our communities, we must turn our backs on the industries that exploit, abuse, and kill billions of animals every year. And doing so is easier than you might think.