Monthly Archives: May 2014
I’m Optimistic About My Pessimism
by Ken Swensen
A few months ago, my wife and I were sharing a meal with a handful of animal activists and someone posed the inevitable question – is there any hope? Which of course meant, “is there any hope of getting the 70 billion land animals raised for food out of their prisons, saving the oceans and their inhabitants, and slowing humankind’s race towards environmental suicide?”
Somewhat cheerfully one of the assembled vegans said, “There could be a nuclear disaster.”
“Or a terrible epidemic,” another chimed in.
“Or a huge natural catastrophe,” added a third.
I laughed and said, “And this passes for optimism in the animal rights world?”
Let’s face it – the more we learn about the big picture, the tougher it gets to see the way out. Worldwide, we need to quickly reduce carbon emissions, but they rise inexorably. We must sharply reduce meat consumption, but we are constructing enormous factory farms throughout the developing world. Ocean acidification? Worsening. Deforestation? Proceeding. Desertification? Increasing. Overpopulation? Mind-boggling.
And then there’s China. With more than four times our population, China is rushing towards American levels of consumption and environmental impact. I’ve experienced the smog and the traffic jams in that part of the world, seen the rampant urban growth and the increasing commoditization of animals – and it haunts my dreams.
Then last year, I had the very good fortune to meet a woman named Pei-Feng Su at an animal rights conference. Pei (pronounced pay) devotes her life to fighting the wave of negative trends in China. After a decade working for other animal advocacy groups, she founded ACTAsia for Animals in 2006 and has relentlessly pursued a vision of a sustainable and compassionate China. Listening to her presentation, I knew I was going to volunteer to help ACTAsia.
Here is an organization addressing root causes in the country that will likely have the greatest influence on the fate of the earth. ACTAsia is teaching thousands of schoolchildren that animals have emotions, feel pain, and deserve our respect. Pei and her small, yet very effective team are raising awareness about the brutalities of the fur trade. They work with grassroots animal activists across China teaching them to be more effective and professional. They offer plant-based food choices to those who are ready to hear. They accomplish big things with little money in a country that is making decisions that will ultimately affect all living creatures.
Now my antidotes for those images of tortured dogs and foxes in rusted cages are these beautiful Chinese animal activists and the first-ever Cruelty-Free Fashion Show in Beijing.
The scary statistics about new coal plants in China are now accompanied by photos of these newly certified Chinese humane educators.
Instead of the downright depressing images of enormous new factory farms, I substitute the first Animal Protection Summer Camp.
And I see Pei Su with this Xiamen Middle School principal (on left) committing all of his students to a full year course of humane education. (The head of the Xiamen Animal Protection Association joins them.)
Realistically, I know that my efforts, and even ACTAsia’s efforts, are most likely a drop in the proverbial bucket. Might ACTAsia educate an animal activist who becomes the future premier of China? Will environmental activism start to move like wildfire through the provinces? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it feels right to put my efforts in the very places that fuel my fears. It feels good to attack the core of my pessimism.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for a pessimistic worldview. It’s simply the one I’ve got. I’ve tried to change it, but when it comes to climate change, the state of the oceans, the extinction of species, and the endless ways we torment animals, I can’t seem to will my mind to a happy vision of the future.
Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd says:
Warriors must always focus on the action rather than the result. We do what we do because we cannot imagine not doing it. I never think about winning or losing… What matters is that all of your energy be directed towards achieving your goals… What matters is what you do today.
I’m no warrior, but I do keep fighting – to improve myself and share what I’ve learned with others. Lately I’ve been feeling oddly optimistic about my pessimism. It seems to be a motivating force. And I’m especially optimistic about the importance and validity of the work we are all doing together, regardless of what the future may bring.
Ken Swensen will be at the ACTAsia table at the Animal Rights National Conference in Los Angeles, July 10 to 13, sponsored by FARM. Pei Su will be speaking at the conference.