The Climate Crisis and Other Animals

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Research Advisory Committee Chair, Dr Richard Twine, discusses his new book: The Climate Crisis and Other Animals 

In writing my new book The Climate Crisis and Other Animals (2024, Sydney University Press) I felt that a climate book that centred non-human animals was long overdue. I had lost count of the amount of times other books on climate change glossed over impacts on other animals or reduced the crisis down wholly to fossil fuels. Essentially, many have fallen into the trap of failing to critically interrogate either their own anthropocentrism (a dualistic and hierarchical account of human-animal relations) or that of their culture, the ideology that I argue is at the heart of the crisis.

The simple way into my book is to view it as a corrective to this because it has the following three aims: to understand the place of human-animal relations in the emergence of the climate (and overlapping biodiversity) crisis, to outline the impacts climate change is having across a broad range of species and ecosystems, and to understand how transformative change to human-animal relations is a vital part of addressing the climate crisis.

Of course, it’s an academic book but I took the responsibility of writing accessibly on the climate crisis seriously. My thinking on the climate crisis and animal exploitation are shaped by a decades-long engagement with intersectional approaches which recognise how various interlinked relations of power have been crucial to informing oppressive practices. Tunnel vision animal rights advocates who are resistant to understanding, for example, the way in which gendered norms, colonialism and capitalism intersect with anthropocentrism to normalise animal exploitation will gain much from my book. I am part of the community of critical animal studies (and ecofeminism that preceded it) which has, by definition, favoured this intersectional approach because it’s a more accurate way of understanding power, society, and history.

Chapter one, the most theoretical, is largely preoccupied with outlining social science critiques of the idea of the Anthropocene. This proclamation for our current era is found to falsely view all of humanity as equally responsible for the climate crisis and to ignore and depoliticise the historical reasons for its emergence.  Alternatively, I work with the idea of the Capitalocene (a concept most associated with the environmental historian Jason Moore) which posits an understanding of capitalism inclusive of gender, colonial and to an extent speciesism, as chiefly responsible for the emergence of the climate/biodiversity crisis.

Essentially, I am using work from critical animal studies to make the Capitalocene a more robust concept by sharpening its critical teeth on the issue of anthropocentrism. When we recount the way in which the gradual development of mass animal agriculture has taken place within capitalism – its scale and enormous transformation of land, species, and ecologies – it becomes clear that the animal-industrial complex has been not only a major constituent of capitalism but a major player in the aforementioned crises.

Chapter two improves the Capitalocene idea further by deepening our understanding of the way in which climate change and human-animal relations intersect with social class, gender, and ‘race’ and by positing capitalism, following the Australian scholar Dinesh Wadiwel, as a war on both animals and animality. The work of the first two chapters allows for a clarification over what the climate crisis is a crisis of. It is common to hear of it being depicted as a crisis of capitalism with its unsustainable consumerism, economic growth, and neoliberal aversion to regulation. This book specifies this further to argue that the climate crisis is also a crisis of masculinity, of neo-colonial geopolitical inequality, and especially a crisis in the ideology of anthropocentrism, of the very idea of human supremacy.

Chapter three is a vital chapter for the book because it outlines and attempts to give voice to the many non-human animal species that are already either being killed or are otherwise struggling with the impacts of climate change. Framed by the idea of a sixth mass extinction I create an overview, a useful outline, of specific ways in which climate change is affecting ecologies and the physiologies of different species. Much of the chapter is also concerned to give voice to the work of many diligent conservation biologists who have been researching this topic in recent decades.

Chapter four is split into two parts. The first part is concerned with how the link between animal agriculture and climate change has been omitted by parts of academia where we should expect to see it (for example, philosophers writing about climate ethics or in the sociology of climate change), omitted by large parts of the media, omitted in the idea of sustainability and by NGOs. The second part of the chapter goes from omissions to emissions and performs a deep analysis of the controversy surrounding what percentage of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to animal agriculture. I am ultimately critical of the role of the United Nations FAO in this regard.

The rest of chapter four is also important for creating various datasets intended to be useful to readers and NGOs: a table highlighting 50 key academic journal articles (published between 2003-2022) that recommend reductions to animal consumption for climate mitigation and other co-benefits such as human health; a further similar table but from reports from the likes of United Nations agencies, NGOs and government advisory bodies; and a table of 21 studies (between 2009-2023) demonstrating that a vegan diet can be the lowest emissions diet.

Part II (chapters 5-8) of the book is concerned with investigating how meat/dairy-dominant cultures can be transformed. Chapter five starts with the issue of childhood and is called ‘A Child’s Right to Contest Meat Culture’. This provides an overview of how cultures perpetuate practices of animal exploitation and the importance of the politicisation of children for both contesting normalised human-animal relations and furthering climate politics. Curricula need climate education which needs critical animal pedagogy if we are to contest the status quo.

Chapters six and seven focus on transition. Chapter six provides an overview of different theories of transition before concentrating for the most part on one theory called practice theory, which I have used in earlier work to understand the process of vegan transition. I favour this theory because it strives to avoid the dichotomy often found in transition theories between the ‘individual’ and ‘society’, instead focusing on what practices are, why they enrol people, and how they can be changed in order to transform the social fabric.

Moving from chapter six into chapter seven I offer useful practice theory inspired strategies for transforming societies and ultimately dismantling the animal-industrial complex. Indeed, in the process, I use practice theory to improve the theorisation of the animal-industrial complex.

Throughout the second half of the book, I also work with three different imaginaries of societal transition: plant-based capitalism, vegan transition, and intersectional vegan transition. In the final chapter I offer a critical consideration of plant-based capitalism and vegan transition. I argue in favour of an intersectional vegan imaginary in coalition with a post-capitalist future. I make the case that animal rights needs to attend to broader food system change which joins a vision of decommodified human-animal relations to a decommodified food system, and I outline some ways in which such a future is already being prefigured by contemporary practices.

My concluding chapter reflects on issues of hope, optimism, and pessimism in writing about human-animal relations in times of crisis. For example, whilst I do not shy away from how complex this problem is, I make the case that we make our own hope through coalition, and it is incumbent on non-vegans who otherwise identify themselves as progressive to avail themselves to the critique of cultural anthropocentrism, an ideology urgently in need of transcendence. 

Given that the climate crisis is such a significant issue for animal rights, the question of animal ethics cannot be separated from that of ‘the environment’. This means, for example, that animal advocates who self-identify as ‘vegan for the animals’ inescapably also must be vegan environmentalists. Moreover, the broader sphere of climate justice, climate politics and climate science needs to engage with the question of animal ethics, because the dominant economic system is getting dangerously close to unravelling the conditions for earthly survival, and that is a shared vulnerability across all species. It turns out that in several senses the struggle for our kin is the struggle for ourselves.

I hope this brief summary gives a flavour of the book and piques your interest. It’s available from all the usual places. Feel free to get in touch.

Dr Richard Twine

Reader in Sociology.

Co-Director of the Centre for Human-Animal Studies (CfHAS), Edge Hill University.

Chair of the Research Advisory Committee of The Vegan Society.


he views expressed by our Research News contributors are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.

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