Jeff Sebo to discuss human - nonhuman animal connection in author talk at Ruth Keeler Memorial Library


Author Jeff Sebo will participate in an author talk via the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library on Thursday, March 10. (Image courtesy of Jeff Sebo)

What is the link between pandemics and climate change?

According to Jeff Sebo, Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Affiliated Professor of Bioethics, Medical Ethics, Philosophy, and Law, and Director of the Animal Studies M.A. Program at New York University, it’s animals.

Sebo is the author of “Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves: Why Animals Matter for Pandemics, Climate Change, and other Catastrophes,” a book that argues that human use of nonhuman animals significantly contributes to pandemics, climate change and other global threats. The book, which has been praised by environmental and government leaders including Jane Goodall and Cory Booker, explains the interconnectedness between humans, animals and the wider environment and makes the case for including animals in global health and environmental policy.

On Thursday night, Sebo will host a wide-ranging discussion about why animals matter for global health, the environment and legal and political systems in an author talk co-hosted by the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library, Pound Ridge, Lewisboro, and Bedford Free Libraries.

Jeff Sebo says that our treatment of animals contributes to pandemics, climate change and other global threats. (Image courtesy of Jeff Sebo)

Sebo argues that the primary risk factors for pandemics and climate change are factory farming, deforestation and the wildlife trade. In his book, Sebo details what societies, corporations and governments can do to reduce those actions in order to make positive change.

Since starting work on the book in 2017, several global events took place that could have led Sebo to throw up his hands in despair: bushfires in Australia; forest fires in the Amazon; the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite those catastrophes, Sebo says he was heartened to see some things change for the better during the past several years, and faster than he would have expected.

“China banned the wildlife trade. Many countries banned fur farming. The Humane League and the Good Food Institute are doing a great job applying pressure to organizations,” Sebo explained. “The downside is we haven’t talked about these issues nearly enough, and we haven’t made nearly enough change.”

Sebo says that for every year we experience a setback, such as with extreme weather events or war, more animals die than the number of humans who have ever lived. “That is, more than 100 billion farmed animals, 1-3 trillion wild animals and another 1 trillion insects. That number could grow to as many as 50 trillion by the end of this decade,” Sebo said.

While Sebo acknowledges that there are small actions individuals can take to help lessen our collective harm to animals–eating more plant-based foods, for example–he stresses that change really needs to happen at the policy level. “I really want to direct more attention to what collectives and governments can do because they create the structures in which individuals make decisions,” Sebo said. “We can support all kinds of policies that would be better for humans and animals, such as regulating the meat industry so that it treats its workers and the environment better, supporting efforts to install bird-friendly glass in buildings, establishing wildlife corridors on transportation systems…all of these are the types of things we can be supporting if we want to be helping animals generally.”

There are glimmers of hope at all levels of government, according to Sebo. New York City, for example, with its first vegan mayor, is working to create local policy change to reduce meat consumption. At the federal level, Sebo said that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is advocating for and drafting bills for food system reform, including a moratorium on the construction of factory farms. And internationally, the United Nations recently affirmed a new animal welfare resolution.

“Even if these changes are symbolic or just at the proposal stage, it still shows what direction these things are going in,” Sebo said. “It might take a while to reduce animal suffering at scale, but these things take time and these are steps in the right direction. I do feel good about that.”

Jeff Sebo's author talk will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 10 via Zoom. Click here to register.

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