Some thoughts about building alliances with the environmental movement

by Animal Charity Evaluators4 min read17th Sep 20201 comment


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Considering how interventions[1] in animal advocacy complement or detract from the goals of other movements can be useful for building alliances, advancing social causes, and reaching new audiences. There are multiple interventions that animal advocates can pursue in order to not only effect change for animals but also build alliances with other social movements, e.g., coalitions and multi-issue campaigns. Furthermore, there are less proactive but considerable ways to build alliances, such as being mindful of other social movements and cause areas when designing and implementing interventions—by selecting interventions that do not hinder the goals of other movements, we can avoid conflict and show solidarity with other social causes.

Every social movement engages in interventions that have the potential to affect other social movements in unique ways. Considering an initiative's effect on other social movements should be a consistent practice within all movements, but in this post we'll focus on animal advocacy and environmentalism specifically. In particular, we will examine two general types of interventions: (i) promoting reforms to agricultural systems and (ii) advocating for human dietary changes. It would also be valuable to examine interventions targeting wild animals, not only because such interventions often directly involve both movements, but also because the welfare of wild animals has the potential to be a top-priority cause area for animal advocates. However, due to significant uncertainties associated with wild animal welfare and the expected impact of interventions to promote it,[2] we will focus exclusively on farmed animal advocacy in this piece.

Promoting reforms to animal agriculture systems

The animal advocacy and environmental movements both seek to reform the animal agriculture system. As the objectives of these movements are different, the desired reforms differ as well.

Many animal advocates promote reforms to animal agriculture systems in order to improve the welfare of individual animals—for this reason, they focus on ending extreme forms of confinement such as battery cages,[3] veal crates,[4] and sow gestation crates,[5] and transforming other practices that are especially cruel. Through these reforms, animal advocates hope to improve the treatment of farmed animals and thereby reduce the amount of suffering they endure.

Environmentalists also promote reforms to animal production systems, but these reforms are aimed at improving the environmental impacts of these systems rather than improving the welfare of animals. In particular, they are focused on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions[6] and mitigating other types of pollution, as well as minimizing resource degradation.^[[Steinfeld et al. (2006)] Other general environmental goals include increasing the efficiency and sustainability of agricultural systems.[7]

One movement's reforms to animal agriculture systems can have neutral, negative, or positive effects on the other movement's ability to advance their goals. For example, animal welfare reforms such as banning pig castration without anesthetics, banning slaughter without proper stunning,[8] and stopping male chick culling[9] are not expected to impact the goals of the environmental movement. Similarly, some reforms pursued by environmentalists—such as using biogas plants to manage waste—are not expected to have a direct effect on animal welfare goals. Thus, interventions that advance these types of reforms have a neutral effect on building alliances between the two movements; the reforms neither harm nor advance the other movement's goals.

Examples of reforms that are beneficial to one movement but harmful to the other can be found in the traditional debate between extensive and intensive agriculture systems:[10] In the context of animal agriculture, extensive systems include large pastures for ruminant meat production, while intensive systems include industrial units for egg, dairy, and meat production.") Reforms aimed at reducing the space available per animal might offer environmental benefits, whereas reforms aimed at increasing the space available per animal might improve the overall welfare of animals.

Some reforms to animal agriculture systems can advance environmental and animal welfare goals simultaneously, which also facilitates building alliances between the movements. For example, in their paper "Sentience, Animal Welfare and Sustainable Livestock Production," D. M. Broom argues that for an animal production system to be truly sustainable, it must take into account moral considerations, and animal welfare is one of those considerations.[11] Using this definition of sustainability, he states that, for example, silvopastoral systems[12] can be sustainable, as they not only increase biodiversity but also increase the welfare of farmed animals.[13]

It's possible for silvopastoral systems or other environment-friendly systems to have higher animal welfare standards than traditional animal production systems. However, without prioritizing animal welfare, silvopastoral systems may still involve conventional animal agriculture practices recognized by animal advocates as quite cruel, such as the use of gestation crates for sows, debeaking of hens, forceful impregnation of cows, and inhumane methods of transportation and slaughter.

Advocating for human dietary changes

Some animal advocates and environmentalists have prioritized influencing human dietary changes in order to reduce negative outcomes for animals and the environment. As with welfare reforms, one movement's dietary change interventions can have either neutral, positive, or negative effects on the other movement's goals. Examples of interventions that may have no effect on the other movement's goals include reducing the consumption of almonds due to their high water footprint and reducing the consumption of products manufactured by systems lacking basic animal welfare standards.

Conversely, one movement encouraging people to reduce their consumption of certain animal products can have harmful effects on the other movement's goals. For example, due to the large scale and neglectedness of farmed chicken and fish suffering, some animal advocates focus on these animals—as opposed to larger animals, such as ruminants—when promoting a reduction in animal product consumption. But environmentalists have emphasized the contribution of ruminant animals to GHG emissions when discussing the ways in which the animal agriculture industry is a main driver of pollution and climate change.

Since promoting a decrease in consumption of certain animals may lead to a corresponding increase in consumption of other animals, this type of intervention may lead to conflict between the two movements. Emphasizing the considerable suffering inflicted by the chicken and fish industries could prompt consumers to eat more ruminants such as cows, while emphasizing the adverse environmental impacts of cow farming could prompt consumers to eat more chickens and fishes. Thus, to the extent one values building alliances, an approach impacting animal farming and consumption as a whole—rather than targeting specific groups of animals—is preferable.


Interventions aimed at advancing the goals of a particular social movement can affect other social movements in different ways: They can have either neutral, positive, or negative effects. In terms of their alliance-building potential, actions with positive effects should be prioritized, while actions with negative effects should be discouraged. When it comes to interventions aimed at transforming animal agriculture systems and influencing dietary changes, promoting silvopastoral systems and plant-based diets might help build alliances between the farmed animal advocacy and environmental movements. Considering the effects of our actions on other social movements when developing interventions is good practice for avoiding conflicts, increasing our audience, and strengthening movements other than our own.


For a list of all of the works cited in this report, see the reference list.

  1. Animal Charity Evaluators defines an intervention in animal advocacy as any activity that aims to influence an outcome for animals. ↩︎

  2. For more information regarding the welfare of wild animals, see the section titled "Reducing Wild Animal Suffering," Animal Charity Evaluators (2020). ↩︎

  3. For an example of advocacy aimed at eliminating battery cages, see the Open Wing Alliance. ↩︎

  4. For more information on veal crates, see Mckenna (2001). ↩︎

  5. For more information on gestation crates, see HSUS (2013). ↩︎

  6. Gerber et al. (2013) ↩︎

  7. Climate Nexus (n.d.) ↩︎

  8. For more information on the risks of improper stunning, see RSPCA (n.d.). ↩︎

  9. For more information on male chick culling, see Matthews (2016). ↩︎

  10. Extensive agricultural systems are systems that use small amounts of labor and capital in relation to farmed land area whereas intensive systems use large amounts of labor and capital relative to land area (Extensive Agriculture, n.d.). In the context of animal agriculture, extensive systems include large pastures for ruminant meat production, while intensive systems include industrial units for egg, dairy, and meat production. ↩︎

  11. Broom (2016) ↩︎

  12. A silvopastoral system is a system of raising animals in which trees, forage, and animal grazing are integrated in a mutually beneficial way. Silvopasture (n.d.) ↩︎

  13. Broom et al. (2013) ↩︎