Posted by jfb on April 11th, 2009 | 0 comments
I’m not an animal rights advocate, but PETA always gives me a good opportunity to talk about activist strategies. They’ve had a couple of news hits this week. The one you’re more likely to have seen already is this:
“Dear Neil and Chris, You have many loyal fans of the Pet Shop Boys here at PETA. Will you please consider changing your name from the Pet Shop Boys to the Rescue Shelter Boys?” pleaded a letter to the group from Yvonne Taylor, PETA’s special projects manager.
“Most dogs and cats sold in pet shops are sourced from profit-hungry breeders who may have bred them in cramped, filthy conditions.
“For every bird who reaches a pet shop, three others have died during capture, confinement and transportation.
“Hamsters, mice and other rodents are often bred by the pet shops themselves, leading to inbreeding, genetic weaknesses, physical deformities and behavioral disorders.
“By agreeing to change your name to the Rescue Shelter Boys, you would help raise awareness about the cruelty involved in the pet trade and encourage your millions of fans to consider giving a home to an abandoned or unwanted animal from an animal shelter. So, what do you say?”
Of course the Pet Shop Boys aren’t going to change their name, and I doubt anyone at PETA expected they would. So what does PETA accomplish with this? Well, they got a story with legs. I’ve seen this reposted all over the web, from “weird news” sites to blogs and Facebook statuses. The treatment ranges from ha-ha-those-wackos to outright scorn. But millions of people have now read about it, and in doing so, they’ve been exposed to PETA’s message that pet shops are cruel to animals.
This will be a novel concept to many readers, including many animal lovers. The idea will need reinforcement of course, but it’s a pretty effective first shot. PETA isn’t aiming to shut down any particular company or store, but to change how people view the industry. And if that sounds like a vague or abstract goal, go check in with the fur industry. Ask them what effect changing views of fur, spearheaded by PETA, have had on their business.
PETA didn’t get as much ink this week for their No More Monkey Business campaign, but at least one response to it is telling. The last time I talked shit about Green Daily, I called them “touchy-feely at best.” Here they are demonstrating their fear of effective action. It’s fine to engage in conspicuous consumption of green trinkets, but dog forbid we should actually try to talk to anyone about issues that matter.
So … I sort of joined PETA and got the free activist kit for the campaign.
I know! That totally puts me over the eco-crazy edge. It’s one thing to be someone who “always carries a reusable shopping bag” (eco-friendly) and totally another to be someone who “talks to strangers about endangered animals” (eco-intense).
So who should we really be mocking here? PETA, which is willing (eager, even) to look the fool in order to get their story out? Or someone who thinks that organizing around an issue makes him a crazy?
Oh, and on the topic of those re-usable shopping bags, here’s a piece that’s been making the rounds this week:
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like plastic bags either. We use too many of them, just as we use too many of all the earth’s resources. They litter the countryside and cause problems for wildlife when they end up in the sea. But their total impact is microscopic by comparison to almost anything else we do. As environment writer George Marshall records in his excellent book Carbon Detox, our annual average consumption of bags produces 5kg of carbon dioxide a year. Total average emissions are 12,500kg.
Plastic bags aren’t even a very large component of domestic waste. Plastics in general – according to a study by South Gloucestershire district council – account for 18% of total household waste. Plastic bags account for 18% of the plastic, which means 3.2% of total waste. Clingfilm (23% of domestic plastic waste) produces a greater proportion than plastic bags.
I will say that Monbiot underplays the important point that plastic bags tend to enter the environment in more intrusive ways than lots of other things. Cling wrap tends to end up in the landfill, while bags end up stuck in fences and treetops, or blowing down the street like tumbleweed.
Still, bags are a tiny piece of the picture. If you convince someone to quit using them, it may be a good first step towards further awareness or further action. But not if it lets them feel like they’ve done their part while driving their canvas bags home in their giant oil-fueled vehicle.
PETA may put on some weird campaigns, they may seem out of touch or out of their minds at times, but given the choice between a) trading your dignity for long-term influence over the culture, or b) token solutions that let you show off green credentials for little actual gain, which are you going to choose?
I suppose the answer depends on whether you’re in it to win or just to feel good.