Fuck zoos

When I was young, I loved the zoo and don’t recall ever being sad about the animals. I can even remember the name of the white tiger at my city’s zoo. Those warm memories don’t change how I view zoos today. I’d like to think if someone would’ve gotten me to think about it as a child, I would’ve had more ambivalence. A simple “hey isn’t this place kind of like a prison for animals?” or “how would you like to be locked up for the rest of your life?” might have sufficed. But maybe not.

Humans want to see nonhumans animals whenever they want to. Zoos and aquaria (collectively referred to as zoos from this point forward) provide this. This is the primary reason people visit them. All other rationales are subordinate. No one says, “I’m going to take my kids to this specific zoo because of the good conservation work they do,” or because “the animals are happy and wish to see us” (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some people think this). Some may believe in the educational benefits for themselves and their kids. But overall, if they’re being honest, they just want to see the animals.

This is not a reason that zoos wish for people to have, as it leaves them open to the criticism that their industry is more appropriately categorized as entertainment. They crave moral legitimacy in a way that is reminiscent of corporate greenwashing and are every bit as grotesque as any stereotypically evil corporation in their virtue signaling (although I admit this is very debatable). This is necessary, because since the 1980’s, entities that utilize aspects of nature for material benefit need to show their consumers that they are other than what they truly are. They’ve realized a certain segment of consumers need to feel good about their purchases. These warm and fuzzy feelings are economically valuable enough to offset the money spent. However, this can lead to difficult decisions:

Adding to the tension over what the mission of the zoo of the future should be is that zoo directors are often torn between their desire to promote animal welfare and their desire to increase profits.

Often, these difficult decisions are a manner of life and death. On occasions when stories bubble to the surface, zoos need to be ever mindful of public perception. Ethical dents in the armor need smoothing out, lest they become weak points vulnerable to attack by animal rights extremists. There are broad differences between locales in their approaches to public relations. Americans, for example, are more squeamish about killing animals than their European counterparts. In response to the euthanization of a giraffe in a Danish zoo, American zoo proponents were distraught, but not over the actual being that lost its life. From the New Yorker:

As Terry Maple [former director of Zoo Atlanta] put it, “If it hadn’t affected the rest of us, I’m sure we would have thought, That’s a pretty eccentric decision. But when you begin to see how it moves the people who support you—when they’re in tears, and they just can’t believe this—it starts to undermine the credibility of zoos, which have to be justified, have to be supported by the public.”

[…]

Asked several times if culling occurs in American zoos, Rob Vernon, a spokesman for AZA [Association of Zoos & Aquariums], told me, variously, “No,” “Yes,” and “That’s a good question.” He made the candid observation that his own discomfort reflected the industry’s discomfort.

American zoos do cull, and AZA rules allow it. Maple told me, “I would have never done it, most of my colleagues in the United States would have never done it.” He immediately added, “But when you get below the example of a charismatic mega-vertebrate”—a storybook species—“and go to animals that are a little less special, there are cases of killing.” He recalled Zoo Atlanta euthanizing dozens of newborn pythons with his blessing. Maple has written, critically, of “taxonomic élitism” in zoos, but, in an apparent attempt to diminish the act of snake-killing, he described the pythons to me as slithery and mean. [emphasis added]

The Danish Zoo’s primary sin was letting their embarrassing story gain widespread notoriety, something that appeared to mystify them: per the Wikipedia article linked to above, “the amount of international interest had come as a surprise to the zoo.” American zoos prefer culling to happen out of sight and unaccounted for by the public – I wasn’t able to find anything related to killing those slithery and mean pythons in the Atlanta zoo. Further on in the New Yorker article is discussion of research by David Powell, a mammologist at the St. Louis Zoo, that sheds a bit of light:

He asked thirty-three zoos about their culling practices (promising not to name them). In a co-written paper, he reported that forty-five per cent of the zoos had said they were euthanizing healthy animals; in this cohort, seventy-nine per cent were culling mammals.

[P]owell said he was confident that these percentages would hold up in a larger sample. He added that AZA’s statement about Marius [the giraffe] was “unfortunate.” Powell’s paper didn’t include specific examples of species that had been culled by the surveyed zoos. But he had the data on his computer. He opened the file and read from the screen: “Python . . . deer . . . invertebrates . . . ‘Ungulates as needed’ . . . ‘Fish or amphibians only’ . . . Guinea pigs . . . ‘Hoofed animals’ . . . rodents . . . wallabies . . . ‘domestic mammals’ . . . and a tiger.” [emphasis added]

***

Humans have been taking wild animals and confining them (outside of the context of animal husbandry) since the dawn of civilization. The practice arose in the walled cities of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. Since, they have recurred in many locations, where trade networks allowed for the importation of exotic animals from faraway lands. The purpose for this varies across location and time – from mere gazing, to fighting each other or humans, to performing tricks. For the most part, though, kings, heads of state, and the affluent have been the primary offenders, enthusiastically flaunting their wealth and power with menageries.

These collections of animals have been subject to continual evolution, an unfinished process that has given form to the zoos we recognize today, where everyone has access to the animals. They range from the large, AZA accredited zoos in major cities, to roadside zoos and wildlife parks/safaris. It’s only in the last century that zoo owners and employees began to make attempts to enhance the lives of their charges.1 This shouldn’t be seen as completely altruistic – an animal performing “normal” activities provides a better experience for viewers than pacing, staring into space, or displaying unusual or disturbing behaviors.

There is a plethora on research into stressed animals in zoos, but most of it occurs within the paradigm of animal welfare, where welfare takes confinement as an unquestioned given – the goal is to enhance/enrich the lives of those unlucky enough to be in captivity. The research is necessary, because it turns out confined animals exhibit many abnormal behaviors which have been defined under a number of terms, including zoochosis, stereotypy, and abnormal repetitive behavior.

In short, confinement is absolutely a major stress in many of the animals. It should be obvious that the surefire way to reduce these problems would be to eliminate their common denominator. But, you might say, many, if not most of these animals are no longer able to live in the wild. And certainly, there are valid concerns about reintroducing them to threatened, altered, or destroyed habitats.

However, there are solutions. The capture of wild animals could cease. Existing animals could go to animal sanctuaries. Or, better, zoos would convert into animal sanctuaries, which are nonprofit organizations and solely focused on the well-being of the animals:

An animal sanctuary is a facility where animals are brought to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. Unlike animal shelters, sanctuaries do not seek to place animals with individuals or groups, instead maintaining each animal until his or her natural death. […] The mission of sanctuaries is generally to be safe havens, where the animals receive the best care that the sanctuaries can provide. Animals are not bought, sold, or traded, nor are they used for animal testing. The resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as natural as possible in a protective environment.

What distinguishes a sanctuary from other institutions is the philosophy that the residents come first. In a sanctuary, every action is scrutinized for any trace of human benefit at the expense of non-human residents.

[…]

A sanctuary is not open to the public in the sense of a zoo; that is, the public is not allowed unescorted access to any part of the facility. A sanctuary tries not to allow any activity that would place the animals in an unduly stressful situation.2

(Any “sanctuary” that does not conform to these basic ideals should not be regarded as one, even if it’s in their title or promotional materials)

It might not take all that long for the end of zoos as we know them, were they to fundamentally alter their operations. In Derrick Jensen’s book Thought to Exist in the Wild,3 he quotes the historians Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier:

Theoretically…zoos could be closed just by calling a halt to their supply of animals for four to six years; at the end of that time, only a few veterans would remain…In actual fact, the extreme mortality of wild animals in zoos has always been the driving force behind the massive scale of importations.

It’s hard to tell what’s more depressing: capture from the wild or never knowing a wild existence. Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier’s book was published in 1998 and is the only source I could find that includes research on the prevalence of wild animal capture.4 One would think that zoos would loudly tout their non-reliance on captured animals if that were truly the case. But, not surprisingly, this is information that is shrouded in secrecy and not made available for general public consumption.

Zoos will not go quietly into the night. They have every incentive to ensure their continued existence and will use any means and justifications to safeguard their social standing. Stifling unfavorable stories from filtering into public consciousness is essential, as is providing appropriate spin when they are unable to stop a leak from occurring. This is combined with their primary marketing weapons: education and conservation.

***

Research into zoos educating the public and instilling warm and fuzzy feelings towards animals, nature, and the importance of conservation is disparate and there is no consensus for its validity. Broadly, some research say the effects are real with learning and conservation-consciousness being gained. Some say no, not really. Zoos are adamant this is the case. This is summed up by Lori Gruen, Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University and author of The Ethics of Captivity:

[T]here has been no proof that keeping animals in zoos has actually increased the conservation interests of the people who visit zoos. There was a 2007 report, conducted by the AZA, that alleged there was an impact, but the methodology of the report was widely criticized.

More recently, Marc Bekoff, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, highlighted a study from 2014 that was neither peer-reviewed nor published in any journal, but was lauded in various media outlets as proof of the positive effects of going to the zoo:

The “proof” provided by this study is a mixed bag. Many people have jumped on the bandwagon claiming something like, “See, we were right and zoo critics were wrong, zoos do educate people.” However, the increase “in respondents demonstrating some positive evidence of biodiversity understanding” as noted in the report (my emphasis on the word “some”) was only slightly more than 5 percent of a large sample [from 69.1% pre-visit to 75.1% post-visit], and in no way does it show that what people learn about biodiversity really means anything at all about how they then contribute to future conservation efforts.5

That there might be educational benefits to zoos is extremely underwhelming as a compelling rationale for their existence. Moreover, it’s abstract to the point of absurdity, as if “awareness of conservation” in children can in any way be meaningfully correlated to real world effects, as Bekoff noted. What exactly would the road map look like that connects zoos, the children and adults they educate, and actual effective conservation that is the result of that education?

Granting zoos the undeserved reputation of being the sole catalyst for the desire to learn, the acquisition of information, and for cultivating warm and fuzzy feelings toward nonhuman life is completely baseless, and the above referenced studies that espouse these views don’t seem to take other influences into account. Children are bombarded with adorably cute animals in the form of entertainment since birth. As they grow older, they learn about animals in school. Information can be found in all manner of books, television and the internet.

While one can learn about and be in awe of animals in zoos, some (I would argue most) will consciously or unconsciously learn the idea that humans have the unquestioned right to dominate the biosphere as we best see fit. They may even gain a false sense of security about the state of things based on their awareness of the supposedly great conservation work done by zoos. I think these are huge problems and should be taken into account and contrasted with the supposed education provided by these entities.

To my knowledge, these crucial aspects of zoos are not discussed with children in any kind of research (also unasked is how the children feel about the fact that the animals they see are forced to be where they are for their enjoyment). None of this is surprising. Questioning human domination isn’t something I’d expect to see addressed in a meaningful way within the context of zoos, an institution that is as stark an example as one can find – think of the absurdity of animals from the African savannah forced to live in frigid Canadian zoos.

If one accepts the notion that, at minimum, zoos foster respect for nature, they have utterly failed in transforming that respect into meaningful, positive real-world affects. This is an inescapable conclusion, of which there is little need to belabor. Most of the developed world has citizens who’ve been to zoos, going back at least a century – citizens that have played a disproportionate role in the continuing destruction of the biosphere, both actively and passively. Why would a new generation of children exposed to zoos be any different than previous generations? And if they do change things for the better (however that can be defined), the influence that zoos have will be difficult to quantify. Though, no doubt, they will wish to be given credit.

***

Here I will pause in my excoriation of zoos and highlight their conservation efforts. This seems like it should be an unmitigated good, but it is not without its own issues. The fact that humans have rendered so much of the globe uninhabitable for so many animals absolutely warrants attempts to help solve the problems we’ve created. That some zoos appear to do good work in the conservation sphere is commendable, and I don’t want to completely minimize their efforts.

For example, captive breeding of the endangered California condor at the San Diego Zoo has helped stave off extinction, at least so far anyways.6 However, there are other entities that do similar work, and don’t need a prison brimming with other animals to do so. As another example, numerous non-profits work toward saving whooping cranes (though I should note zoos do provide money and medical services towards these efforts). These are good things.

On the whole, though, I don’t think it’s fair to say that non-zoo conservation efforts would cease without zoo involvement and support. Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to disentangle the percentage of work zoos do in the conservation sphere versus non-zoo affiliated organizations, making it impossible to know how much they contribute. However, I can’t dispute that they definitely add to the totality.

Whether or not their additions are effective is a question without an answer. It should not be taken as a given that any entity claiming to do conservation is doing a good job, whether its connected to a zoo or not. An overarching theme to consider is what constitutes effective conservation work, and how to quantify this:

For far too long, conservation scientists and practitioners have depended on intuition and anecdote to guide the design of conservation investments. If we want to ensure that our limited resources make a difference, we must accept that testing hypotheses about what policies protect biological diversity requires the same scientific rigor and state-of-the-art methods that we invest in testing ecological hypotheses. Our understanding of the ecological aspects of ecosystem conservation rests, in part, on well-designed empirical studies. In contrast, our understanding of the way in which policies can prevent species loss and ecosystem degradation rests primarily on case-study narratives from field initiatives that are not designed to answer the question “Does the intervention work better than no intervention at all?”

When it comes to evaluating the success of its interventions, the field of ecosystem protection and biodiversity conservation lags behind most other policy fields (e.g., poverty reduction, criminal rehabilitation, disease control)

[…]

In the field of program evaluation, one lesson is paramount: you cannot overcome poor quality with greater quantity. We cannot learn from thousands of projects if none of these projects is designed in a way that permits an evaluation of its effectiveness. The results from a handful of well-designed individual tests can provide much more useful guidance than thousands of well-intentioned but poorly designed projects. In a field that takes the design and implementation of its initiatives seriously, we should expect to see greater value placed on evaluating the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Leaving the tenuous state of measuring conservation effectiveness aside, is zoo-funded conservation possible without the considerable weight of a zoo’s ability to marshal personnel, money and resources towards conservation projects within the context of their lucrative economic infrastructure? Probably not. Is it necessary to confine animals to generate revenue that can be used for conservation? Probably. Without widespread public patronage the money would simply not be there. Without animals to see, income would significantly decline, and there would be less funds for conservation.

In 2015, the total revenue for US zoos was $2.6 billion. It is unknown what percentage of this actually goes toward conservation. A National Geographic article from 2003 quotes a former zoo director saying that “less than 3 percent of the budgets of these 212 accredited zoos go toward conservation efforts.” The AZA estimates $216 million spent per year on conservation by accredited zoos. If that figure and the $2.6 billion in revenue from 2015 is accurate, that comes to around 8%. Of course, this is an extremely crude attempt to arrive at an answer, but there aren’t any specific data for this that I’m aware of. Regardless, it’s telling that the AZA lists neither revenue nor percentage spent on conservation. If they felt either were compelling evidence for the altruistic nature of zoos they would surely mention it.

A good consequentialist might say that if zoo support for conservation leads to more land for wild animals, and an increased chance of survival for endangered species, it is a good thing. I would counter that they are not considering the negative aspects of zoos I’ve highlighted. Moreover, we are unable to say for sure how good zoos actually are at conservation.

I also can’t help but note that conservation and education are secondary justifications for the continued confinement of wild animals that are grafted onto the primary reason: people want to see animals whenever they want. In the unlikely event that conservation efforts succeed beyond our wildest dreams, zoos probably won’t close – they are not looking towards a future that does not contain them. If that’s true, and I see no reason why it’s not, these institutions are anything but benevolent and are ultimately using conservation to serve their own interests, to the detriment of the countless animals they imprison. I’d also add that there is something truly revolting about certain unlucky animals being forced to pay the ultimate price, all in the service of solving problems they played literally zero part in creating.

***

I don’t think any animal should be forced to be in a position where it can’t avoid you, just so you can gawk at it, learn things about it that can be found in any number of different places, or bask in the unwarranted belief that its imprisonment is necessary to help wild animals. I operate under the assumption that a specific organism wishes to do things that are the result of the accumulation of millennia of evolutionary adaptations specific to their species – and being able to do so in the general environment where that species is found. Hindering this via captivity for human desires (not needs) is selfish, fucked up, and perpetuates the relatively unquestioned and indefensible cultural narrative of humanity as benevolent rulers of the earth (we can thank Western religions for this, but Western science and philosophy are also culpable). This narrative is increasingly in need of moral justifications for obvious reasons. Not too long ago, such attempts were unnecessary, and the righteousness of our domination was implicitly understood by the general populace: abiotic phenomena and nonhuman animals are ours to do with what we please.

You want to see a lion? Tough shit, I’d say if it were up to me. Of course, wild lions can be seen if you live near their natural habitats. If you don’t, you can travel there, though this is, of course, something only available to the wealthy. I acknowledge this isn’t very fair. But seeing a bored lion in a tiny, grotesque facsimile of their homeland shouldn’t get to be the consolation prize.

Lion at the Rosamund Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY (their address is 1 Conservation Place, which is depressingly hilarious), via The Dodo

That anyone could see penguins in a makeshift “habitat” aimlessly wandering around, read or have a small amount of information presented, and take more from that than the video embedded below (from Planet Earth II, via Time), which captures both the beauty and brutality of nature, is cultural insanity.

Penguins at the Detroit Zoo, via Travel + Leisure

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I have little doubt that if the world were a better place for nonhuman animals, zoos would still exist. I can see the justification now: there are so many giraffes, wolves, seals, etc. that it doesn’t matter if we confine a few (that it would matter to those specific animals is and always has been irrelevant). Human greed can always find way.

Many fervently believe that children need to see certain animals in person in order to develop a sense of empathy for their plight in the Anthropocene. And there may be some validity to that. But there are actual wild animals in our midst, even in cities, which largely go unnoticed, that is, if they’re not regarded as pests. Sure, they’re not as exotic and awe-inspiring as charismatic megafauna from other continents, but they are our neighbors, and intrinsically as worthy of respect and curiosity. I would argue it’s much more interesting to watch sparrows doing sparrow things, than a bored animal in a pathetic representation of its habitat staring off into space or playing infantile games designed by humans to mitigate boredom. Unfortunately, I do realize this is a hard sell to most.

I wonder if it would be sufficient to explain to children, in simple language, the reasons why one might be against zoos and why animal confinement is problematic. For example, my wife, an animal-lover though not as virulently anti-zoo as I, told me about a discussion in the 5th grade class she teaches centered on the book The One and Only Ivan (which I had never heard of, and is about the true story of caged animals living at a mall). Basically, the kids were not okay with this. However, they weren’t able to, nor were asked to think about, how their feelings on the book contrasted with their general affinity for zoos and why caging Ivan in a mall is wrong, while caging animals in zoos is not. It’s likely that parents wouldn’t have been too keen on this and, overall, I’m not sure the general public will be receptive to this line of thinking anytime soon.

I hope one day zoos go the way of SeaWorld and the circus. More so than the latter, they are an ingrained part of society, for better or worse. The preceding has made clear that I see it as more for the worse, but I realize this point of view is in the minority. Zoos are cheap, convenient, profitable, and popular. Anti-zoo zealots such as myself are likely seen as PETA-adjacent lunatics, caring more about nonhuman animals than actual humans. Then again, this is probably what people thought about with regards to SeaWorld before Blackfish. If a paradigm shift ever were to occur, people will likely wonder how and why it took so long.


1. I’m sure many zookeepers, handlers and technicians care about the animals. Some probably think they have special relationships with them. And I really don’t give a shit. They are part of the problem. I am reluctant to compare human prisoners to nonhuman prisoners, but at least prison guards have reason to think the inmates are guilty of something that necessitated their imprisonment. There are zero reasons for zoo workers to think this.

2. It should be noted that the AZA has been openly hostile to sanctuaries in the past, making this suggestion something of a pipe dream:

To dissuade accredited zoos from endorsing sanctuaries — as the Detroit and Milwaukee zoos had done — the [AZA] adopted harsh punishments designed to hurt zoos’ bottom lines.

This summer, the AZA used that power when Toronto City Council members voted to shut down the zoo’s elephant exhibit and retire three African elephants to the California sanctuary. Council members decided that captivity was harmful.

The zoo association revoked Toronto’s accreditation, preventing the exchange of animals with other accredited zoos.

But the association does allow zoos to give their unwanted elephants to circuses, where breeding can occur.

That the AZA had a more favorable view towards circuses than sanctuaries is very revealing. However, this article was from 2012. Last year, one sanctuary was accredited as a “Related Facility” Another sanctuary was accredited in 2011. Though this is publicized on their website, they aren’t currently on the AZA’s list. With animal-centered circuses dying, perhaps zoos are more amenable to coordinating with their ideological enemies – it’s probably becoming a more attractive option than running the risk of animal cull stories reaching the public.

3. Jensen’s book contains gut-wrenching stories of wild animal capture/imprisonment through the past century in the hunters’ own words, as well as tragic accounts of bought, sold, loaned and discarded animals. Very common themes include destroyed familial relationships, exposure to trauma, and sickening cruelty. Here’s one particularly gruesome example:

William Hampton, the owner of another AAZPA-accredited [now known as the AZA] zoo, came up with an even more ingenious money-making scheme. For several years he bought and traded U.S. zoo animals, until a member of a local humane society discovered a fenced compound with crates bearing the names of major zoos from across the country. Peter Batten describes what happened next: “Further investigation revealed a trailer filled with the putrefying remains of dismembered animals and led to the discovery that Hampton and his associates had systematically slaughtered surplus zoo animals, skinned them, and sold heads and pelts as wall trophies. Living evidence was provided by American alligators, found with jaws taped and starving to assure unblemished hides for eventual sale.”

This example, and other grotesque anecdotes described by Jensen largely occurred before 1990 (but not all). This may give enough wiggle room for zoo proponents to claim that things are surely better. But then again, there doesn’t seem to be evidence to the contrary aside from zoo propaganda. Make no mistake, there are horror stories behind the sanitized spaces open to the public. It takes investigative work to uncover them, and it doesn’t always lead to media attention. Unfortunately, bringing these stories to light is getting even more difficult in the US:

Two weeks into the Trump Administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide have been removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been posting them publicly for decades. These are the inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S.—including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

These records have revealed many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, incidents that, if the reports had not been publicly posted, would likely have remained hidden. This action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country.

4. Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier also demolish the idea that animals in zoos live longer than their wild counterparts. This is worth a brief mention, but no more – even if the reverse were true, a long life obviously doesn’t correlate to living a good life.

5. If you click on the link to the study, note the visitor survey they utilize. It includes a section in which respondents are to write what “comes to mind when you think of biodiversity” before and after visits, and if they can “think of an action that you could take to help save animal species.” None of the raw data appears to be available and it would be interesting to see some of the answers. For example, there is a pie chart labeled “Categorisation of self‑reported post‑visit actions or behaviours to help protect biodiversity,” that contains 11 slices. The second largest portion is “other related comment;” the largest slice is “Recycling and Waste Management” (which surely could’ve been learned elsewhere). I wonder what these “other related comments” were, especially since they evidently weren’t able to easily categorize them.

I have other critiques, but this post is already long enough as it is. Nonetheless, it seems that, given the statistics referenced above, there is already a not insignificant amount of “positive evidence of biodiversity understanding” present before the visit to the zoo. That being said, the presentation is a very slick and impressive looking piece of propaganda.

6. Far less than half of the animals in zoos are from endangered species. However, the AZA has a Species Survival Plan (SSP) program which many zoos participate in. The program “aims to manage the breeding of specific endangered species in order to help maintain healthy and self-sustaining populations that are both genetically diverse and demographically stable” (the article, from Scientific American, is weirdly undated and no author is listed leading me to think it’s hidden sponsored content). The goal of many, but not all, SSP’s is “is the reintroduction of captive-raised endangered species into their native wild habitats.” There doesn’t appear to be any objective research into the efficacy of these programs, but I’m a bit less cynical about them – attempting to save endangered species is good. But countless variables need to be taken into account for every particular situation in determining what does and doesn’t work. There are criticisms, and it shouldn’t be taken as an article of faith that these programs are effective.

Note that animal sanctuaries theoretically would be able to perform these activities, but with an added component of breeding, and all that that entails. However, money would certainly be an issue if the public weren’t guaranteed to actually see the animals were they to visit.

It shouldn’t matter if we can ever truly know if lobsters feel pain

Switzerland recently banned the boiling of live lobsters. However, the debate still rages: do they actually feel pain? We broadly think that animals closely related to us can. This extends to mammals, and to a lesser extent birds. But the issue is murkier with the rest of the animal kingdom. It begs the question of when and in what species did pain evolve? Or, if it evolved multiple times, is there more than one lineage that contain animals which experience something like pain?

I think that there is something it is like to be a lobster. Perhaps I am taking it as an article of faith. Although I would counter that by saying that denial cannot be a more accurate hypothesis than mine. Neither hypothesis can ever be empirically known. As Thomas Nagel (who I would imagine isn’t too revered around these parts) writes in What Is It Like To Be A Bat:

Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic. In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.

If anyone is inclined to deny that we can believe in the existence of facts like this whose exact nature we cannot possibly conceive, he should reflect that in contemplating the bats we are in much the same position that intelligent bats or Martians would occupy if they tried to form a conception of what it was like to be us. The structure of their own minds might make it impossible for them to succeed, but we know they would be wrong to conclude that there is not anything precise that it is like to be us: that only certain general types of mental state could be ascribed to us (perhaps perception and appetite would be concepts common to us both; perhaps not). We know they would be wrong to draw such a skeptical conclusion because we know what it is like to be us.

Bats are one thing – they, like we, are mammals. For contemporary organisms in the arthropod phylum, we are even further away from having a common ancestor, probably by around 500-600 million years. For lobsters in particular, if there is something it is like to be one, there are even less means of conceptualizing what those experiences are like than there are for bats. One idea was put forth by Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka. They theorize that primordial inner states were akin to being suffused in white noise:

The unavoidable consequence of all the sensations that result from the incessant and persistent neural stimulation of the animal’s external and internal sensors is a global by-product of neural activity we call “overall sensation.” We suggest, by way of metaphor, that it is a kind of “white-noise sensation”—a weak, completely functionless, and meaningless side-effect of an interconnected sensory-motor system, which is dynamically processing electrical and chemical signals triggered by sensors, communicated to effectors, sent back to sensors again, and so on.

They stress that this “white noise” is initially functionless, but could be the “raw material for the first types of experiencing.” This is, of course, imperfect, as white noise contains both visual and auditory components, neither of which were available to early life in the time period they discuss. But one can theorize what attempted predations and other injuries produced in these nascent inner states – perhaps it is akin to a jolt of electricity that disturbs the relatively static background. Current species of lobsters have evolved from these ancient experiencers for as long as we have temporally. Neural networks are continually refined and integrated, and perhaps they experience something more than the “white noise” of their ancestors.

Just as I think there is something it is like to be a lobster, I also believe they experience their own form of pain. An either/or conception of nonhuman pain is possibly inaccurate, but I’m going to take it as a given: either they do or don’t experience pain. As I wrote in an earlier blog, every living organism – sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious – is an entity comprised of molecules that resist entropy. The resistance of entropy doesn’t entail that pain is felt by every biological entity, especially if we attempt to fit the concept of pain into parameters defined by human experience. While we may hypothesize correlates given that we are evolutionarily related to every organism, it’s truly something we can never “know.” Indeed, one can never “know” the person sitting next to them experiences pain – the only pain internally experienced is one’s own.

Most animals experience nociception, a recognition of tissue damage, that sometimes includes reflexive actions. This is not the same thing as pain, but they are related. Pain can be described as nociception combined with an inner state, such that the experiencer feels stress that is particular to that organism’s genetic and neurological design. One could also go further and attempt to connect nociception and pain to suffering, but I’m content to stop at pain.

Again, granted my belief that there is something it is like to be a lobster, is there a noetic distinction between its internal state when it’s hanging out in its natural habitat, as opposed to being subjected to nociception, like being placed in boiling water? If one accepts that lobsters have some kind of inner life, I don’t see how the answer can be anything but yes, since different environmental stimuli leads to different behaviors that can readily be observed. I don’t think it’s too wild to say one state is probably “better” for the lobster than the other and, moreover, that they have an internal preference that is influenced by pain.

The amount of research that’s been performed to answer the question of pain, and whether or not different animals experience it is kind of mystifying to me (Descartes is an eminently worthy scapegoat). While human observations can lead to evidence-based conjecture, we can never truly know. It seems like a waste of time, and pretty cruel when experimentation involves harming animals. However, research that provides evidence for pain may lead to a large-scale shift in attitude. For example, Victoria Braithwaite’s research on fish entails cruelty, which is something I don’t really care for, but could lead to less overall suffering by changing cultural attitudes. Maybe. I’m a bit skeptical. On a personal note, when I purchased Braithwaite’s book, Do Fish Feel Pain?, the person who checked me out had a good laugh at the mere idea. So there’s probably a ways to go.

Some people couldn’t care less whether nonhuman animals feel pain, but some may. For the latter group, I don’t get why one wouldn’t err on the side of caution and do what they can to mitigate causing potential pain to another organism they’re utilizing (as distinct from causing pain as a byproduct of a conflict with another organism). If it is true they do not feel pain, then the efforts to lessen pain don’t matter. But since we’ll never know, and there’s a nonzero chance that they DO experience pain that is specific to each species, maybe we should try to stop being assholes. For lobsters and other aquatic organisms whose populations are continuing to be decimated by overfishing and climate change, the least we can do is give them relatively painless deaths in the service of feeding our insatiability.

Crows!

Here is an awesome short about crows wrecking shit:

Here are some internet things about crows:

Crows Understand Analogies

Stop Picking On Crows: Study Reveals the Birds Aren’t Evil Predators

Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?

6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Thinkl

Solitary Crow On Fence Post Portending Doom, Analysts Warn

Here are some books about crows:

Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, By John Marzluff

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, by Bernd Heinrich (mostly about ravens, but there’s some crow talk)

Crows are great and I welcome any cool crow stories. Crow negativity will not be tolerated.

ETA: A few years back I was walking from the house to the garage when  something hit me on the head. It was a chunk of bread. The weird thing was, it felt like it came straight down – the house was on my immediate left (it seemed unlikely someone from that direction threw it on a high enough arc that had an endpoint at my position), and I couldn’t see anyone in my field of view to the right of me. Sure enough, I look up and there’s a crow looking down at me from a wire. Well played, I thought.

Muhammad gave cats their “m”

One of these days I will see “Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul,” and cease to exist because I will melt into a pile of goo. Watching the trailer, I thought about cats and Islam. Turns out, it’s kind of a thing:

According to legend, Abu Hurairah’s cat saved Muhammad from a snake. In gratitude, Muhammad stroked the cat’s back and forehead, thus blessing all cats with the righting reflex. The stripes some cats have on their foreheads are believed to mark the touch of Muhammad’s fingers.

The “stripes” refer to the nearly ubiquitous “m” that many cats have on their foreheads. That story fucking rules. Other articles on the first page of a Google search for “cats and Islam” include: “The Sunnah and Blessings in Healing effects of Cats,” and “Deen islam -Secrets and Blessings of cats.”

Since Islam is the sworn enemy of the apocalypse yearning madmen currently running America, I thought it prudent to examine their chosen religion’s relationship to cats. If one googles “Christianity and Cats” not only is there not a Wikipedia page, but literally the first listing is titled “Ten reasons it’s okay for Christians to hate cats.” The other website titles are similarly shitty (another: “Are Cats For True Christians?”). Fucking weak. But then, what should I have expected from a religion whose incarnated deity forced a bunch of pigs to commit mass suicide?

In the interest of providing all sides to the story, I thought I’d see what good ol’ science has to say in terms of the “m.” Perhaps my googling skills are lagging, but I couldn’t find anything pertaining directly to it. As far as cat coat patterns:

The conclusion, then, is that the patterns of cat coats reflect, in large degree, selection for camouflage in their natural habitats. This camouflage almost certainly evolved to hide them from prey, and, in smaller cats, predators as well.

But no word on the “m.” The deafening silence forces me to conclude that, indeed, Muhammad gave cats their “m.”

 

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Carrie, Hester, and their “m’s”

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Patches doesn’t have an “m” but it wouldn’t be fair to not have a picture of her. Note that science also doesn’t have an explanation for mer-cats

 

Putting a tunnel through a tree is stupid

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/pioneer-cabin-tree-sequoia.html

Pioneer Cabin tree, a tree that was tunneled through in the name of tourism, recently fell. I found out on social media, and people really seemed to be bummed out about it. I had never heard of it, and didn’t even know tunneled trees were a thing. My first thought, when looking at a picture, was one of revulsion. My second thought was people are the fucking worst.

But is it really so bad, ethically-speaking? In Practical Ethics, Peter Singer argues that we don’t owe any special consideration to the interests of plants because they lack the capacity for sentience/consciousness, however one defines these terms. A human or nonhuman animal with adequate mental capacities has preferences, but the desire for tolerable conditions and the ability to do something about it is not thought to be present in plants:

Once we stop to reflect on the fact that plants are not conscious and cannot engage in any intentional behavior…it is clear that all this language is metaphorical; one might just as well say that a river is pursuing its own good and striving to reach the sea. [1]

Thus, the Pioneer Cabin tree was incapable of having an opinion as to whether or not its mutilation was good and, in terms of ethical consideration is little different than a stalactite.

That just strikes me as intuitively wrong. However, I’m mindful that one’s intuition, without good evidence to support it, is meaningless. Ideally I believe humans should give consideration to the interests of all life, and not just the section that comprises the animal kingdom [2]. Every living organism – sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious – is an entity comprised of molecules that resist entropy. An entity that continually incorporates, changes and discharges molecules, all in an ultimately futile attempt to rage against the dying of the light. A stalactite has no such internal chemistry that resists the inevitable, with no mechanisms to alter its surrounding physical conditions and maintain homeostasis. It’s that struggle that is sufficient for me to grant that all living entities have an interest in existing, whether an organism is sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious.

That certainlydoesn’t mean it’s never wrong to take a life, be it animal, plant, fungi, or bacteria. Generally speaking, it’s acceptable to eat plants and animals, regardless of their desires to continue existing. I also have no problem with, in a vacuum, purposefully or mistakenly killing plants and animals for agricultural purposes [3] or if they pose a health threat to oneself. Taking antibiotics to kill harmful bacteria is fine. A deer tick in my navel drinking my blood for 3 days that I inexplicably and foolishly didn’t notice? Fuck you, I’ll kill you. [4] Basically, one should have a good reason for killing or harming another living being.

Humans, ever willing to take on the mantle of God, frequently make decisions that mean life or death to countless organisms. This is from the smallest of scales – killing a spider in your bedroom – to the level of whole ecosystems. It would be nice if such alterations were divorced from anthropocentric desires that do not deal with our health or survival. Obviously, if the tree was left alone and people were unable to drive or walk through it, our health or survival would have been unaffected. So hollowing out a tree for tourism purposes is bad, as the National Park Service admits.

Even if it wasn’t the reason the tree fell, I don’t see how hollowing out a tree can be seen to, at best, have no detrimental effects to the tree itself. Perhaps, though, the experience people had with this tree caused a shift in general viewpoint in terms of the necessity of conservation. If so, I would argue that this is based on a grotesque display of human domination, and wonder how one could quantify any positive real-world consequences (as opposed to mere changes in one’s perspective).

All of this leads to the question of human assigned value: there is no intrinsic difference between a thousand year sequoia, and a ten day old garlic mustard plant. We assign value to the sequoia due to the sense of majesty we feel when we’re in its presence; knowledge of the significant role it plays in its ecological relationships; or, if you suck, the amount of money you can make off its wood. Garlic mustard, on the other hand, is non-native to North America, makes our lawns look like shit, and outcompetes native vegetation. These are human assigned values that are extrinsic to individual organisms – we love well manicured landscapes devoid of unsightly weeds and prefer more visually appealing native flora.

And yet, I feel no sense of grief as I pull individual garlic mustard plants out my yard. This means I’m a dick for doing so, because intrinsically a garlic mustard plant is no better or worse than any other plant in the vicinity. I make a value judgment, and my reasoning does not take into consideration the plant continuing to have the ability to do plant things (regardless of whether or not it can be said to have preferences). Basically, I’m a hypocrite if I prefer a yard that myself and other humans arbitrarily regard as “nice,” because that’s a pretty shitty reason to end a life. Oh well. But fuck putting tunnels in trees.


[1] Practical Ethics, p. 249. The Oxford Dictionary website defines intentional as “Done on purpose.” Left unstated is whether or not doing something on purpose requires a conscious component, though it’s probably implied. David Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, states that while he doesn’t grant plants the ability to think, they “exhibit elements of anoetic consciousness [“the rudimentary state of affective, homeostatic, and sensory-perceptual mental experiences”].” This, coupled with the pretty amazing things plants can do is, to me, enough to differentiate them from a river flowing to its mouth.

[2] Not viruses, which aren’t technically alive. Viruses can fuck right off

[3] Outside of this vacuum, factory farming is cruel and abhorrent.

[4] The thought of getting Lyme Disease again is terrifying.

 

Make humanity great again

I’ve long been uncomfortable with the high level of arrogance inherent in Western Civilization. Through the ages, humans have been inexorably downgraded in terms of cosmic importance, but it’s done little to stem our collective hubris. Every religion that’s ever existed provides no empirical reasons to believe in any of their metaphysical tenets, many of which place humans above the rest of Creation. Divorced from a providential sense of importance we are only special from a global perspective due to our canny abilities to take massive quantities of raw materials and turn them into massive amounts of manufactured eventual garbage, as well as the creation of technology that is capable of destroying tremendous amounts of human and nonhuman life.

This is admittedly a bleak and pessimistic overview. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that some of the “manufactured eventual garbage” has enabled us to, among other things, transport our bodies at fast speeds to faraway places; systematically investigate and understand the cosmos at the largest and smallest scales; share, store and transmit vast amounts of information; diagnose and treat diseases; and travel beyond our planetary confines. Not to mention other fun and awesome things like literature, music, the arts, and skateboards. More seriously, some of us have developed empathy and compassion for unrelated humans, and perhaps more notably nonhuman animals, which I think is one of our more admirable traits. [1] Unfortunately, empathy and compassion are often reactions to monstrosities perpetrated by other humans. On the whole, any and all positive characteristics need to be considered in light of our 8-12,000 year onslaught against each other and the rest of the biosphere.

We are destroying ecosystems and extirpating entire species and only recently beginning to grasp the true extent. [2] The only other biological comparison on par with our illustrious death march is Proterozoic oceanic cyanobacteria, which produced enough oxygen to wipe out much of earth’s anaerobic biota eons ago. The obvious difference is we are aware, though, I’m not sure that’s an entirely accurate way to phrase it. One can’t be certain to what extent the individual humans (not to mention humans in charge of other humans) participating in direct and indirect ecosystem disruptions are aware of the harm they are doing spatiotemporally. Did a Canadian fisherman trawling in the North Atlantic in the 1950’s necessarily know they were destroying the local cod population? Did a mining company CEO in the 1990’s know on some level the devastation that mountaintop removals cause, the cessation of which would hurt their company’s bottom line? Did they just not care?

Certainly there is a large difference between a working class fisherman in an industrialized nation and a CEO of a transnational mining company. The former does such work as part of their livelihood and likely noticed diminishing returns but still continued fishing, with the hope that the cod would return. The latter is, in my mind, more grotesque with regards to power and responsibility. They largely don’t give a shit, their transparently disingenuous corporate website environmental propaganda sections notwithstanding. The point is, in an age where information is widely available some of these individuals must know or have been made aware of the idea that their actions in some capacity have negative impacts. Those negative impacts aside, it’s patently obvious that extractive industries will eventually run out of things to extract in a discrete area, which necessitates the movement to a new area, be it fish or coal. On a finite planet with finite resources, eventually we’ll run out nonrenewable resources and are largely reliant on the ecological resilience of harvested wild animal and plant communities (not to mention the vagaries of agricultural systems and its associated environmental factors). [3]

Overall, those who derive the most profit off of organic life and abiotic phenomena care about the aforementioned in terms of how to best utilize it for their own narrow-minded ends. [4] We are a culture that richly rewards this type of behavior. If the Bramble cay melomys in Australasia goes extinct due to ecosystem mismanagement so fucking what? If there’s no monetary or utilitarian value for humanity, or something we don’t find to be cute or iconic, the vast majority of people won’t give it a passing thought in the unlikely event they are even made aware of it. This is summed up well by Paul Kingsnorth:

Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens [Latin: ‘wise man’], though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so.

“It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ In a very short time — just over a decade — this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total — at the price of its soul.”

Anthropogenic climate change has finally been accepted on a large-scale, resulting in paltry global attempts at mitigating its effects. However, despite this newfound acceptance we have yet to collectively take meaningful actions to lessen our consumptive lifestyles. Fossil fuel extractions continue apace with no end in sight. The prospect of the imminent accessibility of the Arctic’s seabed has wealthy, powerful humans falling all over themselves for the privilege of plundering, environmental concerns be damned. There doesn’t appear to be much standing between them and their greed.

I often wonder how such blatantly harmful actions can be curtailed. As long as there’s money to be made, nonexistent or hard to enforce laws, and a dearth of options for a percentage of the world’s population to survive in a global economy, it’s hard to see things improving [5]. This is not to entirely disparage incremental progress, but in terms of environmental destruction and ongoing human caused extinctions, it’s fair to ponder the futility of conventional environmentalist tactics in the face of continuing and irreversible damage. [6]

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t express a sense of admiration of those fighting the good fight against the ongoing assault against nature, even if their methods haven’t had a lot of success historically. However, the power disparities appear insurmountable. No one, for the most part, is getting rich off of doing the dirty work of fighting the dominant culture, and many are content to blog, retweet and argue online as part of their armchair activism (like me!). It’s easy and requires little time, little effort and little danger to oneself. I am certainly not exempt from this criticism. On the other hand, there is a mass of humanity that couldn’t care less – they can be seen in shopping malls, on TV, in sports arenas, and soon, at rallies for the U.S.’s president-elect.

*****

Many nature/environmental/conservation writers spend the bulk of their writing describing the enormous problems we face and shoehorn a few reasons for hope into the conclusion. It’s hard not to perceive this as blatant wishful thinking, often in the form of “if we do x, y and z, with those variables being improbable pipe dreams, then maybe things won’t be so fucked up.” [7] The only solution my dumb brain can comprehend is a totalitarian world government that violently controls the world’s resources and severely punishes any opposition in the name of sustainability. In other words, we need to be stopped at gunpoint. Such a government would be highly repressive, and regardless of ideology breed a class of elites dominating the rest of society. This would obviously be a nightmare scenario. But as utterly ineffective as the UN is at preventing atrocities and the manifold failures of US hegemony, it’s hard to see the New World Order prophesied by conspiracy theorists coming to pass anytime soon. Perhaps, though, localized authoritarian regimes will materialize, as the depletion of nonrenewable resources continues. Or, I could be very wrong about all of this. I’m wrong a lot.

I think the hope that most have is for Science to generate magical solutions to wean us off fossil fuels while allowing the maintenance or slight decrease of our hyper-consumptive lifestyles (and just maybe, in the spirit of egalitarianism, allowing for the developing world to attain the Western standard of living). It would also be nice to develop technology to better recycle discarded metals and minerals. These solutions should be clean, cheap, safe, renewable and widely available to all. If Science isn’t able to do that, and if humans aren’t willing to stop destroying the environment, it’s hard for me to be optimistic about what the future brings.

Only by overcoming the severe and near innumerable issues we face environmentally, not to mention our vast array social problems, would conceivably make humanity great in my eyes. That is the essence of this overlong essay: we aren’t great, and we never really were [8]. I’d also add that during or after we tackle the aforementioned problems, we should maximize the possibility we can predict and survive cataclysmic events relatively unscathed. [9] Designing the means for enduring a gamma ray blast, impact event, or supervolcano eruption would be pretty damn impressive. We’d finally earn the translation from the Latin of our species name that we so humbly bestowed on ourselves. It’s too bad that, if any of it ever comes to pass, I’ll probably be long dead and unable to let my fellow humans know my very important opinions on the matter.

Like the environmental writers referenced above, I too will attempt to end on a positive note. It’s an appropriate encapsulation of how I mentally confront the enormity of what we face. From Derrick Jensen, who is admittedly a douche:

I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.” [10]


[1] It’s worth noting that we do not have a monopoly on empathetic and altruistic behavior. For example, humpback whales have been observed rescuing seals from killer whales, thought the degree of intentionality is uncertain. For more: Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce.

[2] Not that anyone is unaware of this sentiment, but the most illuminating book I’ve read on this from a historical perspective is A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations by Clive Ponting.

[3] The following article on our dwindling resources is behind a paywall at Scientific American but here is a link to that issue as a pdf, pg. 56-63: http://elibrary.bsu.az/jurnallar/Scientific%20American_201009.pdf.

[4] I’m referring more to large corporations, and not the global poor and working class, as the latter groups harm the environment in order to obtain the bare necessities of life. A stark account of how this struggle is manifested can be seen in a recent article in Roads and Kingdoms that describes contemporary fishing villages in South Asia.

[5] And note I wrote the bulk of this BEFORE Trump won the election.

[6] It feels shitty writing things like that. Just to pick one example, there are good, courageous people fighting against DAPL. I really hope they win, but I’m skeptical. Oil and gas companies rarely lose. And even under the Obama administration, the state is decidedly on their side, as it always has been. At best, the pipeline will be moved from Native lands, but it’s still, in all likelihood, getting built.

[7] A brief example from the excellent Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina:

So to embrace a sea ethic we need not idealize or distort the ocean’s creatures. Indeed, up to now our view of the sea’s living inhabitants can hardly be more distorted. Instead, we have the opportunity to see them fully for the first time, as wild animals in their habitats, confronted with needs and dangers, equipped by evolution with the capacity and drive to manage and adapt and survive.

“Such a perspective frees the mind and opens door: to a lifetime of boundless inquiry, to a wealth of enriching insights and reflections, to the chance to be more fully human, to manage and adapt and survive.”

This was after 400 or so pages of some pretty depressing shit. It’s a nice sentiment but frustratingly abstract, though concrete solutions and techniques were dotted throughout the text. That book was written in 1998. Here’s a quote Safina gave to National Geographic this past summer:

Over my lifetime I’ve seen big changes; far fewer fish and terribly deteriorated coral reefs worldwide. More mercury in seafood.”

I should point out that the article does highlight success stories, but the referenced quote speaks volumes, as does another recent article of his with the optimistic title of “As salmon dwindle, whales die.” His comments would obviously be far different if his research and activism resulted in evidence that things have gotten better in the two decades since the publication of the book.

[8] Unless one counts our pre-civilized hunter-gatherer ancestors, whose existence encompassed around 90-99% of our time as a species, and didn’t trash the planet.

[9] It’s possible we’ve already done it once

[10] Endgame, Volume 1:The Problem of Civilization

Check out this nice fox!

I am the type of person that watches animal videos and immediately melts into a pile of goo. I wasn’t sure if that sort of thing was frowned upon in this corner of the interwebs. But yesterday Caine posted a great video about an elephant with a prosthetic leg, and it has emboldened me.

In these shitty times, I propose that nice animal videos are good.

Via The Dodo:

 

I could probably post something like this every day, but I won’t! Once a week perhaps?