Humans and Animals: Global Problems and Humane Solutions

A new and important book focuses on coexistence between humans and nonhumans.

Posted Feb 07, 2017

Animals are not just beings "out there"—they are embedded in our existence at every scale and in every environment.

We are living in an epoch called the Anthropocene, or "the age of humanity." Truth be told, the current times really can be characterized as "the rage of inhumanity." Globally, myriad species are suffering at the hands of humans, often in egregious, violent ways. For more than a year I've been looking forward to the publication of Humans and Animals: A Geography of Coexistence, a wide-ranging collection of original essays edited by Julie Urbanik and Connie Johnston (for more information please click here). Now, that I've got a copy in hand, my anticipating that this book is a real game-changer has become a reality, for it well could be. My copy happened to arrive just as I posted some extremely bad news for other animals (please see "Censored: Animal Welfare and Animal Abuse Data Taken Offline"). 

The book's description reads:

An engaging and at times sobering look at the coexistence of humans and animals in the 21st century and how their sometimes disparate needs affect environments, politics, economies, and culture worldwide.

There is an urgent need to understand human-animal interactions and relations as we become increasingly aware of our devastating impact on the natural resources needed for the survival of all animal species. This timely reference explores such topics as climate change and biodiversity, the impact of animal domestication and industrial farming on local and global ecosystems, and the impact of human consumption of wild species for food, entertainment, medicine, and social status. This volume also explores the role of pets in our lives, advocacy movements on behalf of animals, and the role of animals in art and media culture.  

Julie Urbanik and Connie L. Johnston introduce the concept of animal geography, present different aspects of human-animal relationships worldwide, and highlight the importance of examining these interconnections. Alphabetical entries illustrate key relationships, concepts, practices, and animal species. The book concludes with a comprehensive appendix of select excerpts from key primary source documents relating to animals and a glossary.

With permission
Source: With permission

An interview with Julie Urbanik and Connie Johnston about Humans and Animals

I was hoping that Drs. Urbanik and Johnston would be willing to answer a few questions, and they were. Here is how they responded to a few questions I sent their way:

Why did you undertake the major task of editing Humans and Animals?

As scholars and researchers, we found there was a real gap in the materials available to a general audience regarding the vast topic of human-animal relations. Material tended towards either an activist or academic approach, and therefore it was easy for people to be "turned off" for many reasons. However, we know how curious people are about animals and we felt that we could produce a one-volume work that allowed readers the opportunity to explore, in one place, all the myriad relations we have with animals in short, easily-digestible summaries.   

How should people interpret the subtitle A Geography of Coexistence?

By the geography of coexistence we are, first, asking readers to consider the sheer depth of our daily immersion with the animal world. Animals are not just beings "out there"—they are embedded in our existence at every scale and in every environment and we humans would not be who we are without all the nonhuman species in and around us. For example, we all host microbes inside our bodies; many of us share our homes with "pets" and "pests"; many people consume animals as food and clothing; some pursue them with guns or cameras. Nonhumans are loved, feared, and even worshipped—and that is only scratching the surface! We also want readers to consider the ways in which our coexistence is defined more by compassion or by exploitation and conflict.

How did you select major and minor topics?

This was a very difficult process and we realized that we could fill many volumes!  We were limited to 150 entries and our goal with the final list was not to say this is the only list, but that these are, in our opinion, the main topics for a general audience to immerse themselves in to get the "lay of the land" of human-animal relations. We began by taking major categories and breaking those apart into sub-categories. For example, the major category of food animals we split into livestock, hunted animals, and fishing. From there we worked our way out to methods, histories, certain species, important legislation, and issues around ethics, religion, and politics. 

What do you hope to accomplish?

What we hope to accomplish from this book is to engage a wide swath of the general public and students in considering human-animal relations from a place of curiosity and reflection. We worked incredibly hard with our amazing contributors to prepare entries that provide the reader with a full summary of each topic—including important definitions, history, and controversies—as well as offering further resources for going deeper.

Who is your audience?

Our main audience is the general reader from high school age on and new scholars. Our emphasis on accessibility in terms of language means that no one will walk away scratching their head or feeling frustrated. Additionally, this book is excellent for any higher education student/institution or animal-related organization to have as a reference.

Can this marvelous book be used as a textbook, and for whom?

Although not designed in a textbook format, we can certainly see situations—such as an introductory human-animal studies class that seeks to examine the broad array of relations—in which the book could be used as a course text.

We are living in an epoch called the Anthropocene, or "the age of humanity." I prefer to call it "the rage of inhumanity." Are you hopeful there will be significant shifts in our attitudes toward nonhumans?

It is often quite difficult to feel that things will change; however, just in our lifetimes we have seen increasing awareness of the lives of nonhumans, and such a rise in compassion for animals in all areas of life and from all types of people. The fact that we now even have human-animal studies departments and programs, dedicated animal lawyers, and advanced forms of visual technologies that allow us to experience animal lives ever more deeply is a real positive. We certainly hope that our encyclopedia will contribute to the rising awareness of our intertwined lives and, from there, increased understanding and compassion.

What are your current projects?

We have co-founded The Coordinates Society (, a mission-driven non-profit dedicated to fostering curiosity, connection, and compassion through geography. Geography offers an approach to the world that encourages exploring connections both between people and between people and the nonhuman world around them. We publish an online magazine and are launching in 2017 our Mindful Geography initiative, which combines the practices of secular mindfulness (self-awareness, attention to the moment, and a non-judgmental outlook) with the curiosity-driven tools of geography (mapping, storytelling, place-making, and exploration) to provide opportunities for better understanding of ourselves and connections to the world around us.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

We would just say that when it comes to learning about human-animal relationships in all their variety, which includes both positives and negatives, we understand that it can oftentimes be quite difficult to handle emotions that arise when confronted with the negatives; however, we urge readers not to shy away from thoughtfully examining these relationships—both their own and those of others. We believe the more that we humans, in our respective societies, can examine our attitudes about and interactions with nonhumans, and communicate with each other, then the better able we will be to create and participate in a humane world.  

In addition, we would like to personally thank you for your contribution to our volume. You have been an inspiration to both of us and it was such a pleasure to work with you.

Human-animal studies, minding animals, and humane education

Thank you Julie and Connie. It was a pleasure to work with you. And, more to the point, I was thrilled to see the book up close and personal. Transdisciplinary programs and classes in the general areas of human-animal studies and anthrozoology (the study of human-animal relationships) and conservation psychology are growing worldwide, and there are many more since my four volume Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships: A Global Exploration of Our Connections with Animals appeared a decade ago. In addition, Minding Animals International conferences have also focused on these areas and many more in all of their international and transdisciplinary conferences. The next Minding Animals meeting will be held in Mexico City in January 2018

All in all, Humans and Animals: A Geography of Coexistence is an outstanding book that I hope will find a home in all libraries and book shelves around the world. I can only echo what Drs. Urbanik and Johnston wrote above, namely, "Animals are not just beings 'out there'—they are embedded in our existence at every scale and in every environment."

I also agree with them when they write, "We believe the more that we humans, in our respective societies, can examine our attitudes about and interactions with nonhumans, and communicate with each other, then the better able we will be to create and participate in a humane world." This is a most needed inspirational, hopeful, and forward-looking message for youngsters who will inherit the world we leave for them. We must give current and future generations hope, for without a belief that things can get better, they likely won't. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in April 2017 and Canine Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Lives For Dogs and Us will be published in early 2018.