Archive for September, 2014

scale-croppedSeveral years ago, while his peers popped No-Doz and sported fake IDs, college sophomore Mark Devries had other plans. The 20-year-old Devries spent his time and money traveling the country to conduct video interviews of philosophers, activists, and factory farmers. His efforts would ultimately become “Speciesism: The Movie,” a groundbreaking, feature-length documentary about the nature of species-based prejudice. The film was released in 2013 to glowing reviews in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media.

“Speciesism” refers to the categorical exclusion of nonhuman animals from the moral realm occupied by humans, and exclusion from the protections that realm offers. Through a number of eye-opening interviews, the film reveals that most humans hold speciesist views – and that these views typically lack a rational basis. We learn that because humans and nonhuman animals share many emotional and cognitive traits, the prejudice of speciesism is little different from racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination among humans.

I recently caught up with Devries, now in his mid-twenties, to ask him about this remarkable movie and the inspiring story of its production. He delayed the start of law school for a year to work on the film, and while he did finally graduate, now he’s too busy traveling and screening the movie to focus on the bar exam like most law grads. Making movies instead of practicing law? It’s a brilliant, alternative legal career that many lawyers – including me – would view with admiration and envy.

Dave Simon: What led you, as a 20-year-old college student, to start making this film?

Mark Devries:  I came across some PETA demonstrations, and I became curious as to what motivated them. I started looking into it, and once I discovered factory farming, I was shocked to learn that for the most part, farms don’t really exist anymore. Instead we have these highly-controlled, sci-fi dystopias. I thought it seemed like something that should be made into a documentary.  It was only once I started filming that I came upon the much larger and deeper issue of speciesism itself.

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DS:  You mention in the film that you didn’t know anything about movie-making when you started. How did you do it?

MD:  I bought a camera, and I taught myself how to use that and the recording equipment. Then I taught some college friends how to use the equipment.

DS: Amazing. So you had a crew of friends. What was the film-making process like?

MD: I had to film sporadically while in college at the beginning, using money I earned from part-time jobs. I did a lot of filming, trying to find things out, and I made many attempts to get things on film – sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. Often we just walked up to animal facilities and tried to get into discussions with the owners, and to get them to talk about what goes on inside. Some of things they told us were quite shocking, as seen in the film. Then, perhaps a year into filming, I learned about speciesism – and that quickly became the film’s new direction.


DS: It must have been incredibly challenging to do all this while in college. Did you ever consider dropping the project?

MD: I almost gave up many times.  As a college student, I didn’t have much money, and I was spending everything I had to take these regular excursions to investigate factory farms and conduct interviews.  I also used practically all of my free time on this, so it was exhausting.

DS: There’s an intense scene in the film in which your father describes living with chronic pain. You mention it was the first time he ever discussed his pain with you. What was it like for you to film this scene?

MD: I was honored that my father was willing to discuss it. While shooting the scene, I was thinking that his experience would make a real difference in opening peoples’ minds and hearts to what nonhuman animals experience. Audience members tell me that until watching this scene, they had never thought of nonhuman animals experiencing pain in the same ways humans do, so it have been a very effective part of the film.

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DS: You interview, or try to interview, a number of factory farmers in the movie. Did you learn anything important from these interviews (or attempted interviews)?

MD: More than anything else, I was floored by the cavalier attitude of the farmers who finally let us onto their property.  That seemed to perfectly illustrate the level of desensitization to suffering that exists in today’s meat industry.

DS: What effect do you think the movie has had so far in raising awareness of speciesism and its consequences?

MD: I am thrilled to say that it has completely exceeded my expectations.  I hear all the time from people who say that the film dramatically affected them, and I hear even more often from animal advocates who gave or showed the film to friends or colleagues and it persuaded them to go vegan when nothing else worked for years. One of the best uses of the film is for animal advocates to show it to others, host a screening of it, or post a link to it on their website. With so many people showing it at home or school, and giving DVDs to others, we’ve reached thousands upon thousands of viewers. For those who want to hand it out, we provide packs of multiple DVDs at reduced prices – we charge the lowest we can afford and still meet our operating expenses. [Note: see below for info on buying DVDs at a 50% discount.]

DS: How did making this movie change you?

MD: I wasn’t vegan when I started the movie. I became vegan about halfway through, after I had spent time talking with philosophers like Peter Singer and Tom Regan. They argue for fundamental changes in our view of nonhuman animals, on the grounds that not taking nonhuman animals seriously is a form of prejudice similar to racism and sexism. This moved me from thinking of the topic as an issue of sentiment – whether or not we have kind feelings towards other animals – to seeing it as a serious ethical issue on par with the other major ethical and political issues of our time.

Tagline Post THREESpeciesism: The Movie” is now showing in screenings around the country. To find or arrange a screening near you, buy DVDs for yourself or others, or learn more about the movie and the issues it covers, visit SpeciesismTheMovie.comSpecial bonus: use coupon code meatonomics for a 50% discount on any purchase.

Curious about the bizarre economic forces in the meat and dairy industries? Check out Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much, and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter.


By Robert Goodland[1]

Climatic change is fearsome.  The National Academy of Sciences published a study in 2013 explaining how 1,700 American cities – including New York, Boston, and Miami – will become locked into some amount of submersion from rising sea levels unless expensive new dykes and levees can hold back the rising waters.  In fact, the International Energy Agency has warned that major action by 2017 may be the last real chance to reverse climate change before it’s too late.

Rising sea levels

Elsewhere, the last chance for major action is said to be 2020.  Even with that more generous timeframe, it’s too late to reverse climate change by replacing fossil fuel infrastructure with renewable energy infrastructure.  That’s because doing so is estimated to require at least 20 years to implement at the necessary scale.  Indeed, large-scale implementation of renewable energy infrastructure was the general basis for the Kyoto Protocol when it was drafted in 1990.  But the Kyoto Protocol did not yield a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as intended; to the contrary, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen shockingly by 61% from 1990 to 2013.

Gestation_crates_5Now, there seems to be only one remaining pragmatic way to reverse climate change before it’s too late – and that’s by taking quick and large-scale actions in food, agriculture, and forestry.  When Jeff Anhang and I estimated in 2009 that at least 51% of human-induced greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock, we calculated that replacing 25% of today’s livestock products with better alternatives could almost fully achieve the objective of the Kyoto Protocol.

However, as greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric carbon have continued to rise, now almost 50% of today’s livestock products must be replaced with better alternatives by 2017 – or by 2020 at the latest – in order to achieve the objective of the Kyoto Protocol and avert catastrophic climate change.  No other pragmatic worldwide action to reverse climate change has been proposed by anyone.

One reason why worldwide action is needed is that climate change is one of a relatively small number of environmental issues that are transboundary.  This means that greenhouse emissions and atmospheric carbon don’t respect borders – so a molecule of carbon dioxide emitted in China can affect someone anywhere in the United States just as much as it will affect someone in Beijing.

CO2 Emissions By Country in Metric Tons as of 2010 (Source: US Dept of Energy)

The transboundary nature of climate change means that everyone in the United States could go vegan with virtually no climatic benefit if the consumption of livestock products continues to increase in China and elsewhere.  In other words, it’s as important to be concerned about what happens with food and climate change elsewhere as it is to be concerned about what happens with food and climate change in the United States.

In fact, the average global concentration of atmospheric carbon continues to increase after it recently rose above 400 parts per million, far above the safe level of 350 parts per million.  The only known way to draw down atmospheric carbon on a large scale in a relatively short timeframe is by growing more trees, which is uniquely possible through our recommendations.  That’s because replacing a substantial amount of today’s livestock products with better alternatives will free up a vast amount of land to permit large-scale reforestation and greenhouse gas sequestration – at the same time as it will massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions attributable to livestock production.

The dual benefits of reducing emissions and absorbing atmospheric carbon on a large scale at the same time are the key aspect of what makes our recommendations the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change before it’s too late.

0611_soy_foodsTo be clear about what we mean by “better alternatives” to livestock products:  We mean everything from grain-based meats to soy milk, nut butters, as well as whole grains and legumes.  This is because any food that comes directly from a plant rather than from livestock will generally be responsible for a much lower level of greenhouse gas emissions than are livestock products.

We recommend against framing what’s needed as less “meat” and less “milk,” in part because producers of vegan foods often use terms such as “grain-based meat” and “hemp milk.” Moreover, dictionaries define “meat” and “milk” as essential food products that include vegan versions.  So we suggest that it is not the soundest of strategies to cede the terms “milk” and “meat” to livestock producers, and to press people to sacrifice those items.  Indeed, the livestock industry perceives that consumers see milk as such an essential beverage that some livestock producers have filed lawsuits to prevent vegan food producers from using the term “milk.”

One of the reasons to focus attention on livestock and feed production is that such production is estimated to occupy 45% percent of all land on earth – that’s all land, both arable and non-arable, including ice caps and mountaintops.  Most of the land used for livestock and feed production was once forested, and can be forested again.  In fact, there is documented potential for agricultural change to bring atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial revolution levels within five years.


To provide as much scientific information on this as possible, we’ve developed a website where we’ve posted updated versions of our assessment and links to many prominent citations of our work (and our site has attracted a lot of attention since its high-profile launch, which was reported on by Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday campaign).

533px-Sheep,_Stodmarsh_6For decades, activists have urged that people reduce their consumption of livestock products in order to reduce environmental impacts in general, to be more compassionate to animals, and to improve human health – yet global consumption of animal-based foods has risen dramatically, instead of falling.

In contrast, emergencies normally motivate major action – and since major action to reverse climate change is said to be needed by 2017 or no later than 2020, activists may find it most compelling and effective to cite reversing climate change as the key goal for people to act upon.  Indeed, there is surely no more compelling motivation to act than the knowledge that replacing livestock products with better alternatives may be the only pragmatic way to stop catastrophic climate change from imperiling much of life on earth.

[1] The late, renowned ecologist Robert Goodland served as Lead Environmental Adviser at the World Bank Group, after being hired as its first full-time professional ecologist. Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Goodland co-authored (with Jeff Anhang) the ground-breaking study finding that livestock is responsible for at least 51% of human-induced greenhouse gases. This article is excerpted and edited from the last public presentation made by Dr. Goodland (in September 2013).