Book Review– Humane Economy

I read The Humane Economy– Animal Protection 2.0– How innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals by Wayne Pacelle this weekend.

Its a fascinating read. He covers a range of different interesting scientific breakthroughs and technology’s that are effecting animals. There’s a lot of information and detail.

I had never read before that 95% of drugs tested on animals still cause bad reactions (including death) in first human trials. It’s a rather horrifying statistic when you think about the millions of animals that have been experimented on over the past two hundred years in the name of protecting humans. It’s even sadder when he talks about better methods of determining safety and efficacy for drugs and products by using human cells in labs. The technology is better faster and cheaper than animal experimentation.

He also talks about how growing meat in labs is actually happening right now in several places. Apparently it tastes kind of like meat but they need to do more work before it will taste good enough to eat like the real thing.

The chapter about humane controls of animal populations such as wolves, elephants, horses, deer, and birds was news to me. There have been some great advances in non invasive birth control methods that I had not known about.

He perpetuates several of the modern memes of society today which is understandable. After all they are incredibly prevalent. Still its hard to look at some of the ‘facts’ that he presents about cows causing overgrazing and invasive or exotic species causing loss of native wildlife and plants. Those commonly held beliefs are not factually based.

The truth is that if you go back to the beginning of every problem that we blame on ‘invasive’ animals or plants we ourselves caused the conditions to allow that animal or plant to thrive. We also probably introduced it and when we call it invasive we are simply unhappy with the results. The thought that overgrazing causes desertification is just an extension of this. We misunderstood how the grazing animal interacts with its environment. What our new understandings have shown us is that the grazing animal is an integral part of building a grassland. Unfortunately human interventions, such as removing large predators and confining grazing animals interrupt the relationship these animals have with the grassland which can and will cause desertification. There are many books about this amazing grazing relationship out there, mostly written by farmers for farmers about how to get the most out of your grassland. I’ve enjoyed reading about Joel Salatin who’s grandfather read the works of a French farmer/ scientist who had developed what he called the “theory of one bite” and expanded upon the mans work and who’s pastures (think grassland) are amazing because of this understanding.

I wish that was my only caveat with the book. The new innovative science in the book is really interesting and I wish the author had stuck to writing about that. Unfortunately he didn’t. Because beyond having some factual problems the author tries to show how the technologies that he talks about are benefiting animals and unfortunately I think he really fails. In almost every case that he shows, the situation he describes is horrendous. The animals are horribly abused by humans, either their populations are desperately short or they are culled in horrific ways or they are just mistreated in general. In all instances humans are essentially doing bad things. He goes on to talk about how the technologies are being deployed or could be deployed and often these technologies do make things marginally better for animals. (Although sometimes the technologies themselves created some new ethical dilemmas.) The problem that I had was that although the technology helped they often didn’t address the main issue.   For example the issue of overpopulation of animals in wilderness reserves. The new birth control technologies are great at keeping horse populations low enough to avoid having horses break out and become a nuisance for humans and to start ruining the lands around them, eventually dying back from disease and starvation. Or if human become involved massive culling of the herd.  The only thing is this is not the real problem, the problem is there are no apex predators that keep the horse herds in check and even if there were the horses don’t have enough range land. Humans keep encroaching.  The basic problem is human made and the solution of birth control  technology is more ethical than the former human solution of culling but it doesn’t actually solve the problem at all it just delays it.

Even as the described reforms that came about and species that are now protected by law I found myself seeing that same underlying basic problem remaining in each of the situations he describes. Humans still think they are the center of the universe. As a species we refuse to allow anything to stand in the way of our wants and needs.

Although the author tried to be positive and present the real improvements in our world that he is seeing and working towards, and I applaud his efforts, I found myself feeling very sad. This is not a hopeful book. While I’m glad that there are some improvements in the treatment of animals and that technologies are being developed that help them, I think it’s inappropriate to call it a ‘humane economy’ unless humane actually means ‘humans first’. I don’t see that our economy or our attitudes as a species have really ‘transformed’ the lives of animals. I did not see changes in the basic unfairness of our systems or a shift away from ignoring the fact that our domination of animals and our planet is essential to our modern way of life. It seems to me that the world continues to roll on, business as usual.

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