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Animal Liberation v. Environmentalism Essay

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Updated: Apr 6th, 2022

Introduction: Animal Liberationists and Environmentalists

Animal liberationists are groups of people who oppose the use of animals in medical, biological or chemical research work. Animal liberationists fall under the animal liberation movement which is a global animal rights movement that operates under three major components; legal development, direct action and philosophical debate.

The animal rights movement seeks an end to the status of animals as property as well as end the legal distinction that exists between human and non human living beings. Animal liberationists believe that all non human animals deserve protection from harmful activities that are meant to benefit human beings (Cahn and Markie 825).

Animal liberationists share the believe that the basic interests of non-human animals should be observed and protected and that the legal world should confer these animals legal rights to protect them from any harm or injustice. Animal liberationists differ from utilitarian liberationists who believe that animals do not possess any moral rights.

Utilitarian liberationists argue that moral decisions are based on the happiness of the majority number since animals have the ability to withstand suffering and this suffering is usually taken into account in moral decisions. Animal liberationists believe that animals lack the ability to withstand any form of suffering and they therefore advocate that animals should be accorded similar rights to human beings (Cahn and Markie 589).

Environmentalists on the other hand believe in environmental conservation and the reduction of environmental pollution to improve the state of the environment. Environmentalism is deemed to have a social movement that advocates for the conservation of the environment through lobbying, activism and education. Environmentalists speak out about the various environmental issues around the world and what people can do to protect the natural resources and ecosystems in the environment.

Environmentalists also advocate for the introduction of public policies that will reduce the amount of green house emissions and pollution that takes place in the environment. Environmentalists and environmental organizations in general seek to make the world a greener and safer place to live (Gottlieb 389).

Theoretical Perspectives of Animal Liberationists and Environmentalists

According to various researchers such as J. Baird Callicott, animal liberationists and environmentalists share distinct and inconsistent theoretical perspectives. Callicott was of the opinion that animals did not deserve any form of rights and he termed animal liberationists to be incoherent when they spoke of animal’s natural behavior.

Callicott noted that it was impossible to liberate domesticated animals and that the animal liberationists were betraying the value commitments of the social human movement. With regards to environmentalists, Callicott noted that they were more holistic and real than the animal liberationists since they allocated moral values to the natural ecosystems and resources of the environment (Jamieson 197).

Callicott provides an example of some bacteria which might be of greater value to the natural environment and economy than domesticated animals such as dogs, cats or rabbits. This meant that such bacteria or natural resources deserved more value commitment and recognition than the domesticated or non human animals. This meant that Callicott supported the views and beliefs of environmentalists instead of those of animal liberationists.

The theoretical perspective of the land ethic proposes that inanimate entities such as mountains, forests, oceans and lakes are assigned a greater value than the animate objects which include wild and domesticated animals. Callicott further argues that animal liberationists fail to meet the criterion of measuring whether animal ethics meet the environmental land ethics. This is because animal liberationists have more in common with anthropocentric ethics than they do with environmental land ethics (Jamieson 198).

The idea that environmentalism and animal liberation have distinct concepts and qualities is a fact that has come as a surprise to many who view these two concepts to be similar in purpose and meaning. This is mostly because these two concepts share the same enemies such as air and water polluters who negatively affect the survival and existence of animals in their natural habitats or loggers and lumberjacks who destroy the natural ecosystems of birds and wild animals that reside in forests.

Also the historic background of the environmental movement shows that most environmentalists advocated for the end of animal suffering by showing concern to how animals are treated in their domesticated or wild environments (Carter 42).

The modern environmentalists and animal liberationists that are in existence today have their foundation from the post World War II era where social movements opposed the use of nuclear weapons to eliminate the war threats and a culture that viewed human beings and other animals to be commodities that could easily be replaced.

These social movements came to form the modern environmental and animal liberation movements that are in existence today. Environmentalists today are more than likely to be concerned with the rights and health of animals than they would be with the health of old forests and other natural resources (Carter 42).

While many people are members of both the environmental and animal liberation movements, there are several differences that exist between the two concepts. For example animal liberationists are viewed to have a lot more in common with conventional morality than with environmentalism and environmentalist ethical standards.

Jamieson (198) in his thesis focuses on the differences that exist amongst these two groups and also how they are able to share a consistent theoretical perspective. These differences emerged during the counter-culture period of the 1960s that promoted the use of drugs and the opposition of the government as a moral obligation.

The differences that emerged between the environmentalists and animal liberationists were the elimination of wild animals that were deemed to be dangerous to the environment so that fewer of these animals would suffer and die and the conversion of wilderness areas into places where animals could be domesticated and taken care.

Callicott in his 1980 article further noted that differences existed between animal liberationists and environmentalists and this article was used in influencing the environmental community during the 80s. Mark Sagoff, who agreed with Callicott’s views, noted that animal liberationists if given the power would incorporate anti-environmentalist policies that would eliminate the need of destroying animals that were harmful to environmental conservation efforts (Jamieson 200).

The distinction between the two concepts became more distinct in the early 1980s where environmentalists had to embrace newer values that involved the view of natural ecosystems and resources as having a more significant value than land or conventional moral ethics. Environmentalists differed from animal liberationists in that they viewed value commitment to be independent from conscious beings and other aspects of nature that were inherently valuable.

Once this distinction was made, most animal liberationists sought to separate themselves from environmentalists because they opposed the notion that human and non human animals deserved to be sacrificed to achieve a greater biotic good. It therefore became difficult to assert the rights of human beings in such lines of thinking which led to a greater division between the animal liberalists and the environmentalists (Jamieson 201).

Despite his rhetorical 1980 essay, Callicott sought to bridge the divide that existed between these two groups in his 1989 article where he stated that animal liberalists and environmentalists could be united under a common theoretical perspective. He noted that animal liberationists could protect vegetarian animals from their carnivorous predators and that environmentalists had the ability to protect carnivorous animals from environmental degradation and destruction of their natural habitats and ecosystems.

Jamieson (203) noted that plausible and conventional ethics should address the various concerns that existed about animals and the natural environment. He noted that the issues that affected animals also affected the environment and that these two concepts could not continue to operate separately without having a direct impact on the other.

Moral theory of Animal Liberationists and Environmentalists

Jamieson (203) notes that animal liberationists and environmentalists can be able to share the same theoretical perspectives and moralistic theories. This is because human beings in general have placed a lot of emphasis on the protection of the environment and the animal habitat.

Since animal liberalists value the natural animal habitat to have a significant value, they can also embrace the environmental values that environmentalists prescribe to. Animal liberation is viewed to be an environmental ethical issue which means that it can be used to create awareness and empower environmentalists and environmental movements. Jamieson (210) argues that there is a great deal of evidence that exists in the theoretical convergence between animal liberationists and environmentalists.

Both groups have political leverage and wealth to change the masses views on their causes and beliefs. Environmental and animal issues play an important role in the choices that people make everyday. What people wear or eat every day is usually determined by the current environmental and animal issues. If an individual refrains from eating meat, they are part of a social movement rather than a vegetarian Jamieson (211).

Jamieson (204) proposes that several theoretical perspectives can be used for these two concepts which are primary and derivative values as well as intrinsic and non intrinsic values. Primary and derivative values argue that animals are able to withstand suffering and their lives can move from better or worse based on their primary environments and natural habitats. Jamieson notes that non sentient entities do not have a perspective on whether their lives can go from better or worse.

The value of their lives will therefore depend on how the adapt to sentient beings. Intrinsic and non-intrinsic values state that an animal’s life can go from better to worse where such properties are intrinsic to the animal. According to Jamieson (205), whether a creature lives or dies will depend on how they relate with the environment. This means that animals and the natural environment can be valued to be intrinsic and non intrinsic at different times and within different context Jamieson (206).


This essay has focused on whether animal liberationists and environmentalists can be able to share a consistent theoretical perspective. The essay has revealed that these two groups have differences despite sharing the same goals and dealing with similar issues.

The essay has shown that animal liberation movements and environmental groups have a common purpose which is to ensure the safety of animals and the protection of the environment. Despite sharing several differences and distinctions, these two concepts share the same theoretical perspectives as they serve to protect animals and the natural environments in which these animals live in.

In general, animal liberalists protect animals by trying to conserve their natural ecosystems while environmentalists protect natural ecosystems and animal habitats by conserving the environment in which these animals live in. This means that these two concepts can be able to share a similar theoretical perspective.

Works Cited

Cahn, Steven and Peter Markie. Ethics: history, theory and contemporary issues, 4th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Carter, Neil. The politics of the environment: ideas, activism, policy, 4th Edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Gottlieb, Robert. Forcing the spring: the transformation of the American environmental movement. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005. Print.

Jamieson, Dale. Morality’s progress: essays on humans, other animals and the rest of nature. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2006. Print.

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