In October 1976, Peter Roberts, co-founder with his wife Anna of Compassion In World Farming, engaged me, as their second full-time employee, to be their campaigns organiser. I was a young man with no relevant experience other than working one summer as a student in a chicken slaughterhouse that led me to become a vegan. I had no idea then that the opportunity that Peter gave me would be my first step to living a life that brought together my personal commitment to animal rights with a professional career with some of the world’s leading animal advocacy organisations. I am forever grateful to Peter and Anna for the invaluable opportunity they gave me.
However much I may grumble about living as a vegan in a meat-eating world, there is no other way I would have wanted to spend my life. Although my life in animal rights has not always felt like a gift. The burden, as I know many of you also know, of living and breathing animal rights is painful. The animals’ suffering is never far from my thoughts. Their misery never far from my feelings. There is also the self-inflicted harm we cause to each other as animal advocates. Unlike the message we extoll to others of compassion knowing no boundaries, fraternity is often in short supply in our dealings with our colleagues. We are but frail, pathetic, selfish human animals.
The last 40 years has taught me to ignore those whose criticism is meant to make me say things I did not believe and make me feel guilty for actions I have or have not done. I could think and act differently. But my beliefs and my actions are based upon my experiences. They are grounded in my understanding of the four key values of animal rights: compassion, truth, nonviolence, and justice. I ignore those whose condemnation of me and the colleagues I respect as attacks that stink with the odour of the opposite of my key values: indifference, lies, violence, and injustice.
More importantly, whatever suffering we endure is nothing to the misery we inflict upon other animals.
Reflecting upon four decades of animal rights advocacy primarily in the UK and USA but also increasingly in other countries, I recognise significant accomplishments have been achieved that deserve recognition and celebration. But I have never felt more pessimistic than I do now about our future. While I take comfort in my favourite homily that living, day-to-day, as a vegan is a journey and not a destination, I also believe that where we are going is not heaven on earth but hell in a hand basket.
I do not mean to suggest any religious apocalypse. But the more I understand our global impact, including the unrelenting exploitation of billions of animals, the more I believe our environment is severely, if not fatally, harmed. The only way the damage we cause to the Earth will be remedied is when the biosphere revolts and redresses itself. This is, of course, what evolution does. Once change starts, it is difficult to stop. The sense I have now that I did not have four decades ago is that the speed with which we are adversely impacting the planet is increasing rapidly. We approach the point when the Earth is beyond repair without fundamental readjustment. My generation may not see the worst of the climatic revolts to come but the next surely will.
Nonetheless, we must continue to live and work knowing that every day matters and our actions have consequences often beyond our understanding and knowledge. I know I do not have another 40 years of campaigning ahead of me. But I am committed to continue with my life and my work for as long as I can.
For example, my engagement continues with Compassion In World Farming. Since 2009 I have been a consultant with their Chief Executive Philip Lymbery. Also, my work as a consultant continues in the USA with Alley Cat Allies and its founder and president Becky Robinson. My consultancy provides me with the opportunity to continue to volunteer as executive director with Minding Animals International and to write books and make presentations. Presently, my consultancy is particularly busy. This has meant that my writing, including a follow up to my first book Growl, is delayed as is other projects and commitments, including my new website that is in development and a trial series of podcasts. I am also decreasing my presence in social media to focus on my consultancy and writing, and for other reasons to be explored in due course.
It would be very remiss in this reflection not to recall the many cats and dogs who shared my life and my partner’s. They gave us much joy. They live forever in our hearts.
I have also met some wonderful, compassionate people over the years. Many of whom I consider to be my true friends and respected colleagues. Thank you for all that you do for the animals.
We share a vision of the world in which compassion, truth, nonviolence, and justice are as much the four points on a moral compass as north, south, east, and west are on a regular compass.
May your moral compass show you way for the years to come.