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CROSS-SPECIES RIGHTS: ‘The planet does not belong to the people’

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Trans-species justice should be our goal. Environmental protection or the climate crisis usually see humans as the focus, not animals; the discussion is far too anthropocentric. We need to think about cross-species justice, which recognizes that humans cannot simply cut down forests in the name of urbanization, build highways on the routes of elephant herds, or kill stray dogs that have lived in cities and villages for centuries. Advocating for animal rights is a means to achieve that goal.

HANS MONATH: Professor Amrita Narlikar (President of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies) advocates cross-species rights – not just to protect against pandemics… Hans Monath  (Tagesspiegel Magazine) in conversation with Amrita Narlikar…

HM: Ms Narlikar, why do you advocate for animal rights and interspecies justice as President of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies?

AN: As a researcher, I care about questions of power and justice, and I know that these concerns cannot be limited only to human-beings. And by the way, these are not just philosophical questions, but political and economic questions – so they fit centrally into my research agenda, which has always dealt with how the weak can be empowered in a world of the strong. Generally speaking, the idea that we need to care about biodiversity and sustainability has taken hold, and that’s a good thing. What I don’t like about the debate is: when we talk about sustainability, environmental protection or the climate crisis, we usually see humans as the focus, not animals; the discussion is far too anthropocentric…

HM: For what reason should humans care about the suffering of animals?

AN: The simplest reason is: if we don’t, diseases will be transmitted from animals to humans, and humans too will then fall ill. The second reason is: the idea that living beings have rights has become more and more widespread. I think that is right. The fact that women have the same rights as men or that coloured people have the same rights as white people was not a matter of course for a long time, but had to be fought for. Now we have to assert that animals have rights. Because they are also sentient beings.

HM: What is the difference between animal rights and trans-species justice?

AN: Trans-species justice is a goal – or should be a goal. For example, I would argue that it is not enough to talk about intergenerational justice (which usually refers to different generations of humans). Instead, we also need to think about cross-species justice, which recognises that humans cannot simply cut down forests in the name of urbanisation, build highways on the routes of elephant herds, or kill stray dogs that have lived in cities and villages for centuries. So Trans-species justice is a goal. Advocating for animal rights is a means to achieve that goal…

HM: What do animal rights consist of in terms of content?

AN: The right to life, the right to dignity, the right to love. I know that this is a distant goal from which we are far away. I am also not a hippie, but a realist.

HM: Specifically, do you think that a single ant has the same rights as an elephant?

AN: A Buddhist or a devout follower of Jainism, a religious minority in India, would say yes.

HM: And what is your opinion on this?

AN: I would say that we need to consider sentience – the ability to feel pain, love, loyalty and other emotions – and in this sense the elephant may feel more pain than the ant and therefore have more rights. But science is also evolving – with new insights into the sentience of different species. And so my answer might also change as we gain more knowledge.

But let’s go one step further. Should we allow the enslavement of animals if they feel no pain or humiliation? I am inclined to say: No, we should not allow the enslavement of any living being. Let the ant enjoy its freedom and let the elephant enjoy its freedom. We could go even further with this, but perhaps we are now moving too much into the realm of philosophy J

HM: Do animal rights also apply in the relationship between animals. Does the antelope have a right not to be eaten by the lion?

AN: Lions do not have the option to change their mind and only eat vegetarian food. The more we understand about nature, the clearer it becomes what far-reaching consequences human interventions have. We humans, unlike animals, have a choice, we can change our behaviour.

HM: Could not the right to the absence of humans in the habitat of certain animals also be part of animal rights?

AN: Humans are the only species responsible for the global decline of biodiversity by 70 per cent in 50 years. But I’m not making a case for voluntary self-extinction. I want “humanity” to behave differently towards animals than it does today. We can change our behaviour, which would improve our own lives and the lives of animals.

HM: If you take your arguments seriously, you would have to change humanity’s diet completely and close all the slaughterhouses in the world. Do you want the world to become vegetarian?

AN: Right, that would be the consequence. But I know that won’t happen from one day to the next. My goal is to have tougher laws worldwide that regulate the keeping of animals. When the EU concludes trade agreements, it writes social and ecological standards into these agreements. I propose that in the future the EU should also make animal rights standards a condition for goods or services from another region to gain access to the European market.

HM: In your opinion, do German politicians pay enough attention to animal rights?

AN: Not at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly so as the poor animals really have no voice and no vote. This is why it is very important in my eyes that whenever we can, we should stand in support for those who have no representation.

HM: Do you want to make animal rights a criterion of foreign policy as well?

AN: That is necessary. We value our relations with South Korea, for example, because the country is a democracy. But animal rights are much worse there than in Germany. There are international indexes for the protection of animal welfare, and South Korea ranks behind Germany and India. Moreover, dogs are also eaten in South Korea.

HM: Isn’t that just a question of tradition? Why should it be worse to slaughter a dog than, say, a cow?

AN: I don’t see any difference…

HM: But you just blamed South Korea for eating dogs there.

AN: To be clear: for me, all animals deserve the same protection. It is a question of acceptance. However, in Germany and elsewhere, dogs and cats live closely with humans in many households. Therefore, Germans will think twice about improving relations with, say, South Korea when they realise that dogs are eaten there.

HM: Why don’t you respect that there is a different cultural tradition there?

AN: Because I am against cultural relativism. If a culture has produced and justifies cruel practices, one has to say so clearly. What bothers me about the German debate on multilateralism is that there is a lot of talk about common values, but no red lines are drawn. I think it is right to talk about shared values, but I plead for also considering animal rights as a shared value and not cooperating more closely with countries that neglect them. SOURCE…

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