What’s the Project’s Goal?

Origins and Ideas IconMartin Rowe

The short answer to that question is, “I don’t know . . . yet.” Our goal with the Vegan America Project is not to answer all questions or to have a solution to every problem. It’s to generate policy papers, briefs, speculative essays, and perhaps ultimately a full-length book—or some combination of the same. We’d like to approach a university and/or institution to publish our writing and expand our material on an interactive website, assigning moderators to encourage further analysis, debate, research, and thought in and across academic disciplines—a natural correlative to Human–Animal Studies.

In this way, Vegan America can expand with the wisdom of the commons and inspire discussion among students, cultural creatives, businesses and NGOs, social change agents of all types, and policy makers to make possible a genuinely humane and sustainable American and global future: i.e., Vegan Brazil, Vegan China, and beyond. We should be encouraging innovative and creative thought around human identities and our relationship with non-human animals and the natural systems on which we all depend, and higher education can be at the leading edge of that thinking.

The second goal is to encourage artists and writers to use our material to generate possible scenarios so we as a society can imagine our way to the future. Our aim is for Vegan America to be taken up by creative types of all kinds, who could see Vegan America as a TV series, film, computer game, fiction, fan fiction, and bring them to the marketplace of goods and ideas. In other words, a vegan America would be the backdrop, the sitz im leben within which storylines, characters, scenarios, and the moral imagination would be engaged and inspired.

The Vegan America Project may seem daunting. It may well offer ideas that seem unachievable, unpalatable, and/or impractical. It may well conclude with questions that need answers, technologies and businesses that need to be developed, and political and social realignments that have yet to be achieved and seem unachievable. But that is precisely the point. We cannot change without conceiving a future; and we cannot implement that future without starting somewhere. Our planet is changing, and faster and more dramatically than we can currently imagine; our adaptive strategies will need to be larger than our current political, social, and technological resources can encompass.

Planet Earth Is Cooked—Why Bother?

Climate Change IconMartin Rowe

It’s worth addressing still one more question that might be made at this stage about the Vegan America Project: and that is what we might call the nihilistic argument. We’ve already addressed those who claim that global warming is either a conspiracy cooked up by the Powers that Be or that its risks are vastly overstated. As we argued, the skeptics might add (not necessarily inaccurately) that in the short or medium term the changes to Earth’s climate will benefit some areas even as other regions dry up or flood, leaving it a net neutral in spite of the accompanying misery that will likely descend upon tens of millions of vulnerable people or the decimation of numerous species of flora and fauna.

There are those, however, whose response to climate change might be “Bring it on!” They might comment that the human project on this planet has been one of destruction and that Earth will finally begin the much-needed “correction” to eliminate the predatory primate that has imbalanced Gaia. Earth produced (and destroyed) life for eons before the various hominins journeyed from Africa to carry out their massacres and it will do the same for eons after our sojourn here, before our sun in a couple of billion years expands and renders Earth uninhabitable.

By then, techno-utopians contend, “we” will be long gone to another solar system, or we’ll have developed space stations that will allow us to orbit our fractured planet until it’s reached a climatic equilibrium that enables some of us to return as recolonizers. Or we’ll be composites of human and machine, capable of self-generation and no longer dependent on the decayed ecosystems of our planet or our bodies. Our virtual reality will be filled with virtual animal and plant life, and be so sophisticated that it will no longer be possible to tell what is real and what is not. In fact, the distinctions will be literally immaterial.

These are terrifying, attractive, highly imaginative, and deeply privileged notions. On the way to their achievement, millions of ordinary people and billions of ordinary animals will die and the level of suffering will be immense. Political structures—and the accompanying security and peace that R&D require—may crumble, leaving us no longer able to function at all, let alone launch our spaceships or retreat to our geodesic domes. Records of prehistory on this planet have shown that Earth can survive without a human presence—although that might not be possible were our actions to instigate runaway climate change—and we are, in the end, merely one species among many. Yet those who fantasize about or conceptualize a global apocalypse—whether those who will be taken into heaven at the End of Days or whisked away in a spaceship—always seem to find a way for a chosen few to imaginatively live beyond it, and to belong to that elect bunch. Either way, it seems beyond callous simply to write off the billions of victims as merely accidental casualties of our casually fascistic, adolescent utopian–dystopian daydreams.

Such fantasies are privileged because they also assume that the only species that matters is our own (in whatever form it takes in the future), and that we can wander around the universe trashing planet after planet in our quest for whatever it is we believe our unique destiny as (former) Earthlings is to be. Have we not considered the possibility that it won’t be alien life on or from another planet that might force us to confront our lack of singularity, but the development over the next 200,000 years of another species right here on Earth that evolves a consciousness to trouble our moral senses? To return to my previous influences, that species might be one of our own making (like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica or the apes in the new version of the Planet of the Apes series)—or through some unanticipated evolutionary “turn.”

Do we really want to stop the possibility of such an evolution by wiping out all the other “higher” species on this planet? Wouldn’t it instead be a safer bet to recognize that, because of our vaunted moral awareness and the biophilia that Edward O. Wilson argues is innate in us, we need the other species around us, and that an impoverished natural world might leave our soul shriveled, our sense of purpose blunted, and even the possibilities of our own physical, spiritual, or technological evolution cut off?