"Share the Planet. Support Life. Take Care. Play Fair."
A new book offers key lessons for valuing humans, nonhumans, and their homes.
Posted December 15, 2020
There's a good deal of interest in studies of human-animal interactions (anthrozoology) and where humans fit into the great scheme of things. Conservation psychologists also weigh in on the ways in which we interact with the rest of nature.
It's no secret that numerous humans feel quite comfortable dominating nonhuman animals (animals) and destroying their homes while favoring a strong human-centered—narrowly anthropocentric view—perspective on what we're allowed to do to other animals "in the name of humans." In fact, the era in which we're living, the Anthropocene, often called "The Age of Humanity," really is "The Rage of Inhumanity" because we are directly responsible not only for decimating numerous ecosystems but also for harming and killing countless nonhumans who get in our self-centered selfish way. Denying what we do and its global effects doesn't solve any of the problems at hand.
We sorely need to change our destructive habits and in her new book called The Human Animal Earthling Identity: Shared Values Unifying Human Rights, Animal Rights, and Environmental Movements, Georgia State University's Carrie P. Freeman offers valuable lessons for a much-needed paradigm shift in which social justice is offered to all beings regardless of species. She shows that taking care of nonhumans also helps us in many different ways.1,2 Much of what Carrie offers is consistent with a call for a "rewilding manifesto" along with the agendas of Green Criminology, One Health, and compassionate conservation, all of which share common goals.3
The Human Animal Earthling's slogan is "Share the planet. Support Life. Take Care. Play Fair." All in all, the world would be a much better place for all of its residents if we show humility, empathy, and work for the common good.4 What a wonderful mantra for welcoming in 2021. I'm thrilled that Carrie could take the time to answer a few questions about her data-packed landmark book that includes a detailed study of sixteen international social movements. Here's what she had to say.
Why did you write The Human Animal Earthling Identity?
Considering the global scale of the crises we face in social and economic inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, mass imprisonment, and depletion of natural resources, it seems that social movement organizations—as moral entrepreneurs—need to join forces to combat powerful common opponents, including exploitative industries, governments that are either too weak or too powerful, and economic systems that are counterproductive to general well-being. But how can activist organizations do that if they don’t recognize their shared interests? So I set out to examine overlapping issues between human rights, animal protection, and environmental causes, and identify shared values that could unite them as allies. These core values, framed inclusively, then form the ethical basis for designing social movement campaign appeals that foster a “human animal earthling” identity in each of us. I think changing society starts with changing ourselves, and if we can cultivate an identity where we see other human cultures, other animal species, and nature as our “in-groups,” we’ll be better poised to act collectively to advocate for policies that respect and protect all living beings. I call this expanded sense of self the “human animal earthling identity.”
How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?
As an activist who is also concerned about environmental and social justice issues, I’ve always sympathized with injustice toward living beings. And as a communication scholar and ethicist, I find it frustrating when social movement campaigns trivialize or ignore concerns for individual nonhuman animals (even by the billions) as a low priority in comparison to individual humans, endangered species, or ecosystems. So I wanted to showcase how animal rights ethics—care for the interests of individual sentient beings, wild or domesticated—is a natural bridge connecting the individual rights of humans and the group rights of ecosystems and whole species. If our rights as human animals matter, then so should the rights of fellow animal species, as we navigate the challenging path to restore, rewild, and protect our shared habitats. It’s hard to restore our connection to the natural world if we can’t even admit we are part of the animal kingdom, so as human animal earthlings, we must embrace our own humanimality.
Who is your intended audience?
This book will be of interest to anyone who advocates for progressive social causes and wants to find ways to be more inclusive and serve as allies to other causes—joining forces against exploitation and injustice. Because it has over 250 sources, mostly scholarly, The Human Animal Earthling Identity can also be used as a university or high school text in courses covering environmental studies, social change, communication, or ethics.
What are some of the topics that are woven into your book and what are some of your major messages?
I compiled a list of values befitting a “human animal earthing” identity by identifying overlapping ideals between social movements and incorporating activist and scholarly recommendations; I organized them into four values categories: 1) support for life 2) fairness 3) responsibility, and 4) unity with other living beings. But how we express these values (and on whose behalf) is important:
"Some of the human animal earthling values overtly apply to caring about multiple species and the natural world (e.g., biocentrism, nature, sustainable and wise use of natural resources, stable climate), but many others are general concepts that humans tend to apply mainly to fellow humans (e.g., health, caretaking, lifesaving, justice, community, family, freedom) and think of anthropocentrically. Therefore, it is important to clarify that the human animal earthling applies these values more widely and biocentrically, and does not solely care about the lives, unity, and fair and responsible treatment of humans in their group (especially not just humans who look like them) but expands their ‘in-group’ to include all other human cultures, other animal cultures, and the natural world.” (p. 208)
Readers will be moved to learn about all the problems and solutions highlighted in my study of sixteen international social movements (including Amnesty International, Minority Rights Group, WWF, PETA, Sea Shepherd, the Nature Conservancy, and Greenpeace) and my interviews with leading activists in these groups about their shared concerns and ideas to build alliances. By considering their common interests and openly addressing core tensions between human and nonhuman causes (e.g. What about eating animals? How to handle "invasive" species or human-wildlife conflicts?), I suggest project areas for coalition campaigns, such as: the climate crisis, captivity/imprisonment and exploitation, extinction and deforestation, economic inequality, discrimination, violent masculinity, land grabbing, pollution, destructive farming and fishing, and threats to democracy.
How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?
I’m inspired by intersectional books such as Kemmerer’s Animals & the Environment; Kim’s Dangerous Crossings, Pellow’s Total Liberation, Nibert’s Animal Oppression & Human Violence, Tuttle’s Circles of Compassion, and the Ko sisters’ Aphro-ism, as well as books on shaping values and identity, like Crompton & Kasser’s Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity, interspecies ethics, like Bekoff and Pierce’s Wild Justice, and books on coalition building like Klein’s climate change best-seller This Changes Everything. My interdisciplinary book seeks to combine all of these elements—social movements and identity, intersectional activism, and alliance building—within a critical animal studies framework, applied toward a strategic communication goal.
What are some of your current projects?
I’m working with graduate students on several studies: 1) examining wildlife conservation campaigns and the extent to which they critically acknowledge the role animal agribusiness and fishing plays in the extinction crisis; and 2) strategizing how vegan meats and milks can avoid being portrayed as “fake” in comparison to “real” animal products, by highlighting how these plant-based alternatives market themselves not as a replica but actually a better version of the animal-based foods.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?
If you see any appeals to support good causes and you recognize that someone obvious is left out and overlooked, please share your constructive ideas with that organization for how (and why) they can widen their sphere of moral concern to include the allied interests of other living beings. Take to heart Dr. King’s principle, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
1) Carrie P. Freeman, is an Associate Professor of Communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She is a critical/cultural studies media researcher who has published in more than 20 scholarly books and journals on strategic communication for activists, media ethics, environmental communication, and critical animal studies. She wrote The Human Animal Earthling Identity: Shared Values Unifying Human Rights, Animal Rights, and Environmental Movements, the vegan advocacy book Framing Farming: Communication Strategies for Animal Rights, co-edited the anthology Critical Animal & Media Studies: Communication for Nonhuman Animal Advocacy, and co-authored media style guidelines for respectful coverage of animals. Dr. Freeman has been active in the animal rights and vegan movement since the mid 1990s, serving as a volunteer director for local grassroots groups in Florida, Georgia, and Oregon, including now being faculty advisor for the GSU student animal rights group PEACE Club. For the last decade, she co-hosts a biweekly environmental radio program (In Tune to Nature) and is part of the team hosting the animal rights program, Second Opinion Radio, both on Atlanta’s indie station Radio Free Georgia.
2) Part of the book's description reads: Expanding our sense of self to save the world in which we live." With The Human Animal Earthling Identity, communication professor Carrie P. Freeman asks us to reconsider the devastating division we have created between the human and animal conditions, leading to mass exploitation, injustice, and extinction. As a remedy, Freeman believes all social movements should collectively foster a cultural shift in human identity away from an egoistic anthropocentrism (human-centered outlook) and toward a universal altruism (species-centered ethic), so people may begin to see themselves more broadly as "human animal earthlings."
To formulate the basis for this identity shift, Freeman examines overlapping values (supporting life, fairness, responsibility, and unity) that are common in global rights declarations and in the current campaign messages of sixteen international social movement organizations that work on human/civil rights, nonhuman animal protection, and/or environmental issues, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, CARE, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the World Wildlife Fund, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Rainforest Action Network, and Greenpeace. She also interviews the leaders of these advocacy groups and other activists to gain their insights on how human and nonhuman protection causes can become allies by engaging common opponents and activating shared values and goals on issues such as the climate crisis, forced labor and captivity, extinction, pollution, inequality, destructive farming and fishing, and threats to democracy.
3) Numerous references about these three areas can be found here.
4) A few months ago I heard Doris Kearns Goodwin mention these three areas but I can't remember when or where. Nonetheless, her suggestions offer sage advice for a wounded and troubled world.
Bekoff, Marc. Why People Should Care About Animal and Human Suffering.
_____. A Rewilding Manifesto: Compassion, Biophilia, and Hope. (Reconnecting with other animals and nature will make people more peaceful.)
_____. Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence. New World Library, 2014.
Stephen, Craig (editor). Animals, Health, and Society: Health Promotion, Harm Reduction, and Health Equity in a One Health World. CRC Press, 2021.