Judged purely on its merits, capitalism and the free market could be wonderful things. With capitalism, in theory, anybody with a good idea and a bit of gumption can go out and make themselves a name. Logistics aside, it’s the popularity of an idea that is the deciding factor, making capitalism a true meritocracy.
Of course, sometimes the ideas that are being sold are really bad. And sometimes people and policy makers don’t seem to care, which is also bad. Often, vulnerable animals find themselves the commodities and the victims in cases like this. How else to explain why zoos still exist in this day and age, when we have extensive evidence of the psychological harm caused in rearing animals outside of their natural habitat? That’s not to say that legitimate work isn’t done by zoos to protect endangered critters – just that the good doesn’t justify the bad.
The bad is being done to animals all over, not just in zoos. Whether we’re hunting, farming, fishing, or breeding, we seem to have a lot of trouble striking a healthy balance between profit and ethics. Should people be able to profit from animals? Yes, but it needs to be done in a fair and ethical way.
Here are five examples of industries that don’t seem to understand that.
5. Seaworld Doesn’t Get Killer Whales
It’s popular to hate on Seaworld these days, but their recent reaction to ongoing backlash against their parks was so laughably out of touch that it bears going at it again.
Whales and dolphins are members of an order of mammals known as cetaceans. Many species of cetaceans have incredible levels of intelligence, with highly developed senses of family, self, pain, and pleasure. There have been dolphins observed in the wild that may have intentionally been getting high off of Puffer Fish poison because, fun.
Altogether, they’re a lot like us. Even members of the same species, if they come from different areas of the world, can communicate differently from each other, almost like they have some sort of rudimentary colloquial language, or even accents. Locking them up is akin to torture, with wide-ranging negative psychological and even physical effects.
Worse, places like Seaworld force these animals to learn tricks and perform for us. So when documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish exposed the barbarism employed in hunting and trapping these intelligent creatures – creatures so intelligent, by the way, that there is a movement in the scientific community to classify them as “non-human persons” – there was an understandable public outcry.
Seaworld has finally responded, and its solution is to make larger tanks for its killer whales. But what size of tank do wild killer whales have? The oceans. Plural. This abuse of whales will continue either until government forces Seaworld to shut down, or until people stop going. So probably never.
4. Palm Oil Companies Destroy The Rainforest
There’s been plenty of hollering about palm oil in recent years, with conservationists up in arms about how it gets made. It’s a product made from the fruit of the oil palm tree, and for harvesters, it’s something of a dream. It’s easy to wring a lot of oil from an oil palm fruit, so it takes fewer oil palm trees to achieve the same volume of oil you might collect from other vegetable oil sources.
Sounds pretty great, except that the industry conducts itself in a notoriously unsustainable way. Deforestation to expand palm oil farms has destroyed huge swathes of rainforest and made life impossible for many endangered species. Recently, Australian food companies were urged to find alternatives to palm oil, lest they continue and kill off species including, but not limited to “apes, elephants, rhinos, [and] tigers.” Some estimates put the extinction of orangutans just 12 years away, largely thanks to palm oil.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t many palm oil farms that conduct themselves sustainably. But there’s no denying that at least as many don’t, or else the rainforests would be much healthier. Some of the blame lies with the food companies that continue using palm oil, but the lion’s share goes to the farms themselves.
3. Shrimping Kills Tons Of Fish
According to the Marine Stewardship Council, “About 1 billion people largely in developing countries rely on fish as their primary animal protein source.” That’s one in seven eating (presumably) a decent amount of fish, and then the other six are adding to that tally whenever they get a hankering for salmon.
It’s little surprise that this is putting a good deal of strain on the ocean ecosystems – a billion is a big number – and it’s also little surprise that the best way to solve this problem is to greatly reduce the number of fish caught by humans. Not only will that allow the threatened species to replenish, but it will help keep the ecosystem, as a whole, healthy and in balance.
And then there’s bycatch. Bycatch is all the stuff you catch while you’re fishing that you didn’t actually intend to catch, and when you’re catching wild shrimp, you can catch a whole bunch. Shrimping is actually the worst for bycatch, and according to Endfoodwastenow.org, American shrimpers produce “between 3:1 (3 bycatch to 1 shrimp) and 15:1 (15 bycatch to 1 shrimp).”
There is hope. A couple of new devices have been invented that can reduce bycatch by up to 40 percent. Still, even if that takes off, we’re looking at oceans depleting much more rapidly than we can handle.
2. Puppy Mills Are Everywhere, And They’re Terrible
Walk into a pet store and you’ll probably see a few adorable puppies. Where do those come from? They might be from a loving breeder who gave them the best possible care and made sure they wanted for nothing prior to being sent off to the shop. Or they might be from puppy mills, which are a lot like what hell must be like, if puppies went to hell.
Imagine a place rife with disease, where dozens of puppies are crowded into confined areas and deprived of adequate food, veterinary care, and sanitation. Dosomething.org offers this up as a taste of what you can expect to see in a run-of-the-mill mill: “Puppies in mills are found with bleeding or swollen paws, feet falling through the wire cages, severe tooth decay, ear infections, dehydration, and lesions on their eyes, which often lead to blindness.”
Yes, these are the kinds of animals you might be adopting from pet stores. These mills are illegal in most places, but animal protection is often lax, allowing mills to slip through the cracks or face little to no penalty.
Worse, there are literally millions of dogs in America alone that enter a shelter each year. Consider also that mill pups are typically purebreds, which means they have higher incidences of in-breeding and, hence, genetic disease in their future. Do the world some good and adopt a mutt from the local shelter the next time you look for a pet.
1. Commercial Whaling
We’re double-dipping on whales in this article, but the truth is that there are enough shenanigans going on with whaling that it warrants a second mention. See, commercial whaling is illegal, and has been since 1986. This ban was put in place by the International Whaling Commission, which has the power to say whether or not you’re allowed to hunt whales – pretty simple stuff.
And yet Japan, Norway, and Iceland are all still engaging in commercial whaling, either flat out ignoring the IWC or saying that their catches are for “scientific purposes.”
Other countries out there have various indigenous groups that go out and hunt as part of their cultural background. Japan may just win the “Worst Whaling Country” award, though, since Japanese have been known to travel down to the Southern Ocean Sanctuary – an Antarctic region specifically labelled as off limits by the IWC – to kill whales.