Get a Taste of Farmed Animal Lives with Farm Sanctuary’s Virtual Experience

fsvirtualexperienceWhat’s it like for animals raised in factory farms, and how does that compare to their natural lives? Farm Sanctuary, a farmed animal education and advocacy organization, recently launched Virtual Experience, which is designed to teach the public about factory farming conditions. People can also learn about some of the rescued animals that live out their lives in peace on one of FS’s two sanctuaries.

Visitors to the virtual experience take on the role of a photographer who is taking pictures of animals in factory farms and at the sanctuary. Clicking on various images on the screen reveals quotes, factoids, images and video, providing information.

The factory farming section of the exhibit includes graphic photos and video, so it’s not for all ages. However, the Sanctuary part of the exhibit will help connect anyone with rescued animals.

Check it out and share it with others.


Worldchanging World-Saving Actions Must Include Humane Education and MOGO Living

Last week’s Earth Day celebration passed with the usual green this and eco that. But this year also brought more attention to how both Earth Day and the concept of green have started to lose a bit of their shine, with their cooption by multinational corporations and other companies trying to cash in on our desire to do good. There’s also the growing revelation that taking those itty bitty steps for the planet, while better than nothing, isn’t nearly enough to save us – or the earth – from ourselves.

As Worldchanging says,

“We’ll only head off disaster by taking steps — together — that are massive, societal and thorough. Most of what needs to be done involves political engagement, systems redesign, and cultural change. It can’t be done in an afternoon and then forgotten about.”

Worldchanging has created a list of 10 “big, difficult, world-changing concepts” essential for helping create the just, compassionate, sustainable world we want (and need). Here’s their list:

1.    Eliminate nuclear weapons.
2.    Stabilize the bottom billion.
3.    Create a globally transparent society.
4.    Be prepared, globally.
5.    Empower women.
6.    Enable a future forward diet.
7.    Document all life.
8.    Negotiate an effective climate treaty.
9.    Build bright green cities.
10.    Build no new highways.

If you check out the full post, you can see their explanations about the problems that each of these concepts solves and why it’s important.

All of the above are admiral, desirable elements of a humane world. But, one essential concept that’s missing from the top of their list is:

1.    Integrate comprehensive humane education and MOGO living into all areas of our lives.

If we’re taught from a young age to live with integrity, compassion and wisdom; if we’re given the tools and knowledge to put our deepest values into action; if we learn to pay attention to the impact of our choices and to do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet; if we’re encouraged to think critically and creatively and to find solutions that work for all; if we’re inspired to look at the world through a lens of interconnectedness; if we’re empowered to make positive personal choices and to transform systems, we can create a truly humane world.

We’re going to have a challenging time accomplishing all that other stuff on their list if we don’t collectively have the passion, the skills and the integrity to create that world, and those are things that have to be nurtured and taught.

~ Marsha

What’s Your Water Footprint?

Sometimes it can be challenging to really get a good sense of how much water we use, especially when we don’t think about all the water it takes to grow our food, create the products we use, and so on. Good Magazine has a great chart that maps out your potential water use and impact throughout the day, from what you eat to how much you use to shower, and do laundry and dishes. The chart also offers a few suggested water savers and notes the amount of water savings.

This is a great tool to use for sparking discussions with loved ones and colleagues about  water use and/or the hidden impacts of our choices.

There’s also a great little online water footprint calculator from H20 Conserve that helps you estimate your water footprint and gives suggestions for reducing your water use. A friend told me about this tool, and she says that her college students are “fascinated with it.”

~ Marsha

(Thanks, Cool People Care, for the heads up about the chart.)

Wanna Create a Better World? Then Get Your Facts Straight: 7 Tips for Sharing Accurate Information

factsAlex Steffen from Worldchanging wrote a great post recently about comparisons used for sustainability issues to help — usually the public — more easily grasp the consequences and impacts of various actions. As he says:

“We all see sustainability comparisons regularly: ‘…if Americans stopped buying red, round clown noses, they’d save as much energy as it takes to make all the pogo sticks used worldwide.’ These are fun. Sometimes these are clever. Unfortunately, these are also almost always completely useless….”

Steffen goes on to say that the numbers and statistics used can be awfully fuzzy and/or arbitrary, that different comparisons measure the same sorts of things in different ways, and that comparisons can be confusing.

As he says in his post:

“…in too many cases, advocates choose to measure different things in different ways in order to get to a number that supports their preferred climate action, or just see putting these sorts of statistics into the world in purely utilitarian terms: if it gets people to act, why quibble about the details?”

Steffen says that the details are definitely worth quibbling about, and I agree.

One of our most essential duties as an activist for whatever cause(s) or issue(s) is to ensure to the best of our abilities that the information we’re sharing is accurate. Once our credibility is lost, it’s lost. Here are just a few tips to consider about providing accurate information:

1. Use reliable sources and double check them. Don’t just take one organization’s word for it; check several sources. If you’re seeing facts and statistics on an advocacy website, do they cite those sources? Are those sources credible, or are they links to more advocacy sites and information? What’s the original source of that information?

2. Whenever possible use primary sources. Can you visit a factory farm yourself? Review that latest study on global warming yourself and not just skim the press release sent out by an advocacy group? Talk to a person who’s an expert on the issue in question? Find the original source for the statistic being used? Go to the source when you can.

3. Use industry and government sources when possible and appropriate. No, they’re not more likely to be accurate or credible (in fact, often the opposite), but, like it or not, the public often gives more credence to industry and government sources as being “objective” and tends to think advocacy groups are more “biased.” (Which, of course, we are.) One of the things I love about Vegan Outreach‘s literature is that they often manage to use farmed animal industry statistics and quotes to show just how horrible industrial agriculture is.

4. Never exaggerate or mislead. It can be tempting, as Steffen mentions in his post, since it’s for a good cause, but honesty and accuracy must prevail.  And, again, if you get caught telling a little white lie, your credibility is gone, and a potential future advocate is lost.

5. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” There are so many challenges in the world, that even if you focus on one issue, there’s too much to know. Certainly it’s important to be as knowledgeable as you can, so be sure to continue to educate yourself; but, it’s okay to tell someone that you don’t know the answer to their question or assertion. People will often appreciate your honesty, and if you can point them to some credible resources that CAN answer their question, even better.

6. Tell them “Don’t take my word for it.” Invite them to explore the issue(s) themselves and do their own investigating. They’re more likely to believe what they read, see or hear with their own senses, rather than getting it second (or third) hand. We WANT to encourage critical thinking and questioning, including of what we ourselves are saying.

7. Admit when you’re wrong. Information is dynamic, and with new knowledge, facts and statistics can change. New studies may reveal new data. Or, you may have found the same statistic from three reliable sources and then subsequently discovered that all of them were mistaken. Don’t hesitate to admit if you’ve been inadvertently sharing an inaccurate piece of information or if someone you’re talking to turns out to know more about the issue than you do. Mistakes happen. Honesty and sincerity are more important than clinging to erroneous data, even if it seems to “weaken” your stance.

And, of course, it’s important to remember that not everyone responds to logic and data. Many changes of heart (and habits) aren’t made from the information on charts and graphs, but come from an awareness of the impact of our choices on others and a realization that we don’t want to cause others harm.

~ Marsha

Lucky Puppies, Monkeys, Mice and Others: Two Examples of Pro-Vivisection Propaganda Targeting Children

My boss, Zoe Weil, recently wrote two blog posts about examples of pro-vivisection propaganda targeted to kids. One example is new, the other old; both are abhorrent. The new example is her post about the The Lucky Puppy Coloring Workbook, which features two kids who learn about the wonders and importance of animal research when they take their sick dog (Lucky) to the vet. The vet explains how well the animals who are experimented on are treated. It’s a party for everyone involved! And, of course, at the end of the tale, one kid wants to be a vet, and the other a research scientist. (You can see another post about the Lucky Puppy from the Animal Rights Blog.)

Zoe’s other post focuses on an older piece of propaganda called “Let’s Visit a Research Lab.” This piece is an illustrated poster that shows what it’s like inside a “real” animal research facility. Zoe notes:

So what do little children learn from this free educational poster provided to their schools with our tax dollars? They learn:

  • That laboratories name their animal friends who enjoy their happy lab life, when in fact animals are numbered, called “subjects,” and are killed at the end of the experiments.
  • That “testing” is game playing, rather than being force fed drugs, cosmetics, household products and other chemicals.
  • That monkeys are spaciously housed together and provided with lots of toys and enrichment, when most are in small, isolated indoor cages, with little or nothing to play with.
  • That the only reason to “treat” an animal is because she or he has been hurt by other animals, rather than burned, shocked, cut open, or drugged by those who conduct research on them.

Obviously, I’m not a supporter of animal experimentation. But, unfortunately, the issue isn’t simple or clear-cut. What is clear, however, is that it’s important to be aware of propaganda like this and to make sure that such deceit and misinformation are kept out of the classroom (unless they’re being used for critical thinking activities to analyze propaganda). It’s also a great reminder that it’s essential that information promoting and supporting a humane world be completely truthful, accurate, credible, and designed to spark people to think for themselves…not to be brainwashed.

~ Marsha

10 Tips for Helping Create a Humane School Experience

Backpacks, bells and bus schedules are taking center stage as millions of kids, parents and teachers jump into a new school year. If you’re a parent, it’s a great time to integrate humane choices into your child’s school experience and to inspire others. If you’re a teacher, the fresh start of a new year provides an excellent opportunity to implement new habits, lessons and explorations into your classroom and school.

Here are 10 tips for helping create a more humane school experience:

  1. Invest in eco-friendly, healthy, humane products. There are numerous online stores for purchasing recycled or eco-friendly paper, pens and pencils, backpacks, crayons, etc. If you don’t know where to start looking for such items, there are a slew of blogs and news outlets that have recently covered green products and supplies. Try a web search for “eco-friendly school supplies” or “green back to school,” being sure to also think about the impact of those school supply choices on people and animals. (Many “big box” stores are also starting to carry more eco-friendly supplies.) Back-to-school clothes don’t have to mean supporting sweatshops; thrift stores, clothing swaps and sweatshop-free products all offer alternative choices. You can also think beyond the classroom to the entire school and talk to teachers, administrators, the custodians and cafeteria workers about choosing humane and sustainable products. From paper towels to cleaners to napkins to staplers, there are plenty of opportunities to make positive choices.
  2. Develop relationships. No one wants to feel like they’re being told what to do or to feel defensive or judged. Get to know your child’s teachers/parents and other members of the school/family so that you can learn to know them as people, develop compassionate communication skills with them and to serve as a role model for healthy, humane practices. Find others concerned about the same issues and start working together and helping support each other.
  3. Introduce eco-friendly and humane practices into the classroom. If you’re the teacher, you have the power to adopt such practices yourself. If you’re a parent, talk with your child’s teacher and develop a positive relationship so that you can feel confident in offering positive suggestions. The opportunities are limitless, from starting recycling programs to sharing supplies to reducing waste to minimizing paper use to promoting healthier and more sustainable snacks to reducing various “prints” (carbon footprints, foodprints, waterprints, etc.).
  4. Integrate humane education activities into the curriculum. The Institute for Humane Education has several ideas to get you started and to help spark your own creativity. You can also use/recommend books like The Power and Promise of Humane Education by Zoe Weil and Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey (for elementary kids). If you’re a parent, recommend humane education activities to the teacher and offer to lead a lesson on a humane topic that supports the curriculum and is interesting to the kids.
  5. Suggest relevant resources. There are a plethora of books, websites, magazines and other resources available that focus on humane education and social change issues. Find ones that are pertinent to what your teacher/other teachers are doing and recommend them. If you leave any “agenda” behind, teachers and parents often appreciate learning about new and useful resources.
  6. Look for special opportunities to introduce humane concepts and issues; observances are one opportunity. Columbus Day coming up? Share resources about the experiences of indigenous people related to the “discovery of America.” (Rethinking Schools has a great book with teaching ideas, stories, poems and other resources called Rethinking Columbus.)  Halloween? Host a costume swap and offer fair trade chocolate treats (along with a discussion of the connection between child slavery and chocolate). Bake sale? Bring tasty organic, local, fair trade, vegan treats. Class party? Provide/suggest sustainable supplies, activities and resources. Is the school planning a donkey basketball game or to hatch chicks? Bring awareness about these issues and suggest alternatives. There are plenty of opportunities for facilitating humane connections.
  7. Help implement healthy, sustainable, compassionate lunches in school.  Schools all over the country are working on revamping school food programs. Check out resources such as waste-free lunches, healthy school lunch programs, organic gardening programs, farm to school programs and others for guidance and inspiration. If you’re sending your child to school with lunch, be sure to send healthy food and waste-free containers and diningware.
  8. Offer your expertise. If you’re a teacher, work with other teachers, parents and administrators to bring awareness to humane issues and suggest ways to implement positive actions. If you’re a parent, offer to volunteer in your child’s classroom, to give presentations (or arrange presentations) about social justice topics, or manifest your expertise in some other way.
  9. Suggest humane fundraising ideas. Instead of magazines, wrapping paper, junk food, or slave chocolate, choose creative projects that provide a good service or product while also benefiting people, animals and the planet.
  10. Help develop school-wide projects that benefit the community. How about organizing walk to school days? Cultivating school gardens and natural areas? Community tree planting? Initiating service learning based around humane issues? Conducting energy or water use audits? We frequently read in the news about the terrific projects schools are implementing to help create a better world.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or concerned citizen, there are nearly unlimited ways to help your community’s schools make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. Start with small steps, and soon you’ll be working up to powerful changes.

~ Marsha

(Note: This post was previously published in IHE’s September 2008 Humane Edge E-News.)