As Australia burns, the media shows harrowing scenes of indigenous species like koalas and kangaroos, injured, burned and dying. We see so many human interest stories, individual koala mothers with infants clutching at their fur being rescued and cared for; we are invited to feel the personal tragedy of a single kangaroo joey tangled in the fence where he was incinerated. Whether mourned or rescued, they are viewed as individuals, and we are united in hope for their survival, watching with bated breath as we are shown desperate creatures under an orange sky, fleeing through the smoke with the inferno roaring at their heels. The estimated number of 500,000,000 (half a BILLION) deaths has remained static for well over a week and has no doubt been wildly exceeded by now* – possibly by several orders of magnitude – and will continue to climb.
I see occasional comments that wonder why no count is being publicised of those individuals who, as the defenceless victims of nonveganism, were always destined to be slaughtered; those innocent creatures whose lives and bodies were being ‘farmed’. Their plight is consistently downplayed and they are referred to sweepingly, only as ‘livestock‘. Live. Stock.
There are no human interest stories about them, no pitiful images of burned and desperate mothers seeking water from passers-by, no heroic bystanders pouring water on their burned fur and bleeding feet. No heartwarming tales of rescue and medical care.
We are not being shown videos of their desperate flight from the cracking, howling flames. Because they can’t flee. They are sitting targets. They are dying en masse. We see the occasional distance shot of cooked, bloated and unrecognisable bodies fallen in the paddocks where they were burned alive; the occasional image of sheep with their coats frizzled by flames. But even the ‘personal interest’ stories that I’ve seen, notably one where a heatbroken animal farmer was shooting cows individually in his fields, are focussed on his tragedy, his loss of livelihood. It was not a story about the tragedy of those unique individuals who were looking down the barrel of his gun, those sentient creatures who had faced hell and terror and were now injured and suffering unbearably.
There is no mention of the fact that the hell and terror of a slaughterhouse was the only route out of their situation in any case. The real tragedy from the perspective of their exploiter was that as damaged resources, they had no monetary value, and the fire-ravaged land may be unable to support the continuation of his profitable trade. Because before any individual can be exploited as a resource for our species, we must first disregard their every entitlement to consideration as living, feeling, autonomous beings. They become resources, livestock, property. They are then discussed in terms of property loss and damage.
The unfolding catastrophe is referred to a ‘humanitarian crisis’. This focus on the human exploiters and the disregarding of the torment of the individuals they exploit on behalf of nonvegan consumers, is a perfect illustration of the mindset with which we are all indoctrinated from childhood. Almost every single one of us will claim to care about members of other animal species to some extent or another. Few of us will openly claim that causing needless harm to the defenceless, the innocent, and the vulnerable is in any way acceptable. None of us would ever admit to being the sort of person that would do that.
And yet here we are, glancing impassively over anonymous corpse-littered farmland and feeling for those whose trade trapped them there, while pouring out concern and sympathy for the wild creatures with whose suffering we allow ourselves to empathise.
Here is our species, continuing to globally slaughter over 1.5 BILLION land based individuals per WEEK to indulge an unnecessary dietary preference, while watching the results of the planetary destruction this is causing, lay waste to a land that may never recover. Surely the irony can’t be lost on everyone?
*Update: as of 7 January 2020, the number of deaths has been estimated as 1,000,000,000 (one BILLION) and a University of Sydney spokesman is on record as saying that this is an extremely conservative estimate.