Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's All Connected

I am very excited to be going to Vancouver in a week to give a day-long workshop on humane parenting. I am being hosted by the Marpole Oakridge Family Place, and I am very grateful and flattered that they are having me.

I spent the better part of this weekend going over my agenda for the workshop and updating some of my statistics and activities. One thing I think is important to emphasize to humane parents is how things are connected. You can't be an environmentalist without caring about human rights, or a social justice activist without caring about the environment, or work for animal welfare without concerning yourself with cultural issues...or I guess you can, but you won't be very effective at fixing the problems.

One example I like to use comes from the book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales. Bales tells the story of people in Brazil who are recruited by "gatos" and led to believe they will be given high-paying, prestigious jobs working in the rain forest, but once they find themselves out in the middle of nowhere with no means of escape, they are forced to work cutting down trees and turning them into charcoal for no pay at all. A little research on this issue reveals the ways in which the issues of human rights, environmentalism, animal welfare, consumerism, and culture inform and affect each other in this context.

Brazil, a country with few natural resources aside from its trees, was facing a financial crunch several decades ago. The government decided to sell publicly owned land to private land owners in order to generate much needed revenue. However, the new owners of this land were obviously not content to just own it - they expected it to make them some money. So they began to cut down "their" trees in order to make way for crops or livestock, and the trees were - and continue to be - turned into charcoal. In order for this to be maximally profitable, the land owners need to reduce their costs, especially labor costs, so they enlist slaves to perform the work.

When we learn about the destruction of the rain forest in elementary school classrooms, the issue is viewed in a vacuum. Loss of oxygen, loss of carbon dioxide sequestration, loss of biodiversity...admittedly, all important. However, in light of the poverty and greed which is driving the destruction, these issues are small. The needs of today will always take precedence over the maybes of tomorrow. The lives of the beef cattle raised on the cleared land to be turned into American fast food hamburgers is barely even mentioned. But all these things go together, and we can't solve one of the problems without solving them all.

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