Session 5

Animals as Drivers of Climate Change

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Date: Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

In our fifth session, we’re aiming to gain a deeper understanding of animals as drivers of climate change: Which animals are seen as driving climate change – either by virtue of their “natural” and “normal” ways of living and being or because they are forced into a certain practice, e.g., by being bred, farmed, and slaughtered in mind-boggling numbers. A focal point of this session will be the link between agriculture and climate change. We’ll be looking at legal loopholes emerging from agricultural exceptionalism, spillover effects on climate change politics, and the creation of potential existential risks. We will also investigate the role of veganism in transforming these systems. Finally, we’d like to gather thoughts on envisioning a post animal agriculture future: Is there metaphorical and/or literal space for animals formerly used for agricultural purposes in a climate-sensitive environment?

A second focal point of this session will be on the role and status of animals in a changing climate. When and how are animals blamed for climate change? When are they framed as “innocent,” “helpless” victims? When are they framed as “invaders,” “perpetrators,” or “blameworthy drivers” of climate change? What we have in mind here, for example, is the attribution of blame in PETA’s recent advertisement against deforestation in the Amazon, where cows are pictured as “killer cows” destroying endangered birds, sea, and land mammals; or the attribution of blame to the many bats killed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent Corona crisis can be linked to or stimulate this debate, to the extent that we can discuss the differences and similarities between when and how animals are blamed for climate change vs. pandemics, and how pandemics and climate change in turn increase animal suffering. 

Moderator: Josh Milburn (University of Sheffield)

Speakers: Jeff Sebo (New York University), Natalie Khazaal (Georgia Tech), Marina Bolotnikova (Journalist)


Jeff Sebo

What kind of food system should we attempt to build, given everything that we now know about the relationship between animals, pandemics, and climate change? We know that we need to end industrial animal agriculture as part of our mitigation efforts. But many details are unclear. For example, what kind of role, if any, should plant-based meat, cell-based meat, or non-industrial meat play in future food systems? What kind of place, if any, can currently farmed animals have in a world without (or, at least, with less) animal farming? How can we ethically and effectively transition to a future, more just food system without harming animals, producers, consumers, or other stakeholders unnecessarily? Without attempting to answer all these questions here, I will suggest that they are complex and interconnected, and that we need to think about animals, health, the environment, and many other issues holistically in order to begin to answer them. 

Natalie Khazaal

I focus in my talk on how animal agriculture contributes to pandemics and climate change, and how alternatives can be part of mitigation. I explore the link between agriculture and climate change focusing on:

How certain agricultural practices position a number of animal species as drivers of pandemics and climate change through breeding, farming, and slaughter; how the mind-boggling numbers in which these animal species are abused and killed drive pandemics and climate change; What legal loopholes emerge from agricultural exceptionalism that shield these agricultural practices from criticism and change; how the global agricultural-political-military complex has evaded responsibility for Covid-19; What potential existential risks animal agricultural practices and their protection pose; How veganism can transform these systems.

Marina Bolotnikova

I will focus my comments on the idea of nonhuman animals as climate refugees. We know that climate change and habitat destruction already are and are going to continue to displace massive numbers of wild animals, and we also already have a working concept of climate refugees as applied to humans. At the same time, climate change is increasing the prevalence of so-called invasive species whose native habitats have become uninhabitable. Just as our changing climate is forcing challenges to global borders and refugee/migration protocols, it should also unsettle the framework of native vs. invasive species and prompt new ways of thinking about how we can accommodate displaced animals. To extend refugee status to animals, of course, we need to move beyond a media environment in which invasive species are viewed as a cause rather than a consequence of human-caused biosphere collapse. In response to Charlotte’s excellent question “Is there metaphorical and/or literal space for animals formerly used for agricultural purposes in a climate-sensitive environment?” I will also comment on how humans can honor, memorialize, or repent for what we’ve to farm animals in a post-animal ag world, and connect the proposal for wild animals as refugees with the idea of protected and/or refugee status for domesticated animals.



Anti-Pandemic Diet project

The Animals’ Manifesto: Preventing COVID-X (PDF document)

Pandemics: History and Prevention (Video)


Bolotnikova, Marina. “Animal Liberation Needs Animal Voices.” Tenderly, 5 Dec. 2019. Link 

Bolotnikova, Marina and Sebo, Jeff. “Stop Treating Animals as ‘Invaders’ for Simply Trying to Exist.” Sentient Media, 31 Jan. 2020. Link 

Chew, Matthew K. and Carroll, Scott P. “The Invasion Ideology: Biologists and conservationists are too eager to demonize non-native species.” The Scientist. Opinion. 7 Sept. 2011. Link 

Davis, Mark A., Chew, Matthew K., Hobbs, Richard J. et al. “Don’t judge species on their origins.” Nature 474: 153-154. Posted 8 June 2011. Link 

Derham, Tristan and Mathews, Freya. “Elephants as refugees.” People and Nature 2:103-110. 2020. Link

Garcés, Leah. “COVID-19 exposes animal agriculture’s vulnerability.” Agriculture and Human Values (2020): 1-2. Link

Goldfarb, Ben. “How Beavers became North America’s best firefighter.” National Geographic, 22 Sept. 2020. Link

Greger, Michael. How to Survive a Pandemic. Boxtree, 2020. Link

Harwatt, Helen. “Including animal to plant protein shifts in climate change mitigation policy: a proposed three-step strategy.” Climate Policy 19.5 (2019): 533-541. Link

Klein, Ezra. “Bryan Stevenson explains how it feels to grow up black amid Confederate monuments.” Vox, 24 May 2017. Link

Lakoff, George (2010) Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment, Environmental Communication, 4:1, 70-81, DOI: 10.1080/17524030903529749 Link

McIntosh, Bennett. “There’s (Still) No Gay Gene.” Harvard Magazine, 29 Aug. 2019. Link 

Milburn, Josh. 2020. Is lab-grown meat good news for animals? The ConversationLink

Morber, Jenny. “Should Plants and Animals That Relocate Because of Climate Change Be Considered Invasive?” Smithsonian Magazine, 3 Aug. 2020. Link

Reisinger, Andy, and Harry Clark. “How much do direct livestock emissions actually contribute to global warming?.” Global change biology 24.4 (2018): 1749-1761.

Ritchie, Hannah, David S. Reay, and Peter Higgins. “The impact of global dietary guidelines on climate change.” Global environmental change 49 (2018): 46-55. Link

Sebo, Jeff, “All We Owe to Animals,” Aeon. 15 Jan. 2020. Link.

Schlottmann, Christopher and Jeff Sebo, Food, Animals, and the Environment: An ethical approach. Routledge, 2018. Link.

Sirohi, Smita, Axel Michaelowa, and S. K. Sirohi. “Mitigation options for enteric methane emissions from dairy animals: an evaluation for potential CDM projects in India.” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 12.2 (2007): 259-274.

Stanescu, James and Kevin Cummings, editors. The Ethics and Rhetoric of Invasion Ecology. Lexington Books, 2016. 

Urban, Mark C. “Climate-tracking species are not invasive.” Nature Climate Change 10: 382-384. 30 Apr. 2020. Link

Wadiwel, Dinesh. The War Against Animals. Brill, 2015. 

Young, Robin and Hagan, Allison. “The Unusual Connection Between Beavers, Permafrost and Climate Change.” WBUR, 22 Sept. 2020. Link 

Thanks to Maria Martelli for the drawing (Twitter: @Mistheother)

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