Visions and Directions for a Sustainable Future

Visions and Directions for a Sustainable Future

              By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Against this background of my own development and convictions, I offer the following subjects and issues for review and reflection. I am pessimistic, in the short term, about the fate of the Earth, of humankind, and of animal kind under our inhumane dominion. But in the long term, I am an optimist, because I see these difficult and tragic times as a critical point of transition in the evolution of life on this planet, the continuance of which will depend primarily upon our vision and direction, be it toward suicide or adoration: toward ecocide (and deicide) or toward respect and reverence for all Creation.

I do not believe that this contention is an overstatement, since we now have power over the creative process via genetic engineering biotechnology. We therefore have the ability to remake the world into our own image of perfection or utility. Be it an image of an Eden restored, or a bio-industrialized wasteland, only time will tell. And now is the time to choose, as Teilhard de Chardin observed over fifty years ago, between suicide or adoration. This is neither an optimistic or pessimistic perspective: It is a realistic one based on sound science, ethics and reflection on human history

I am involved in four related movements: animal protection, Nature conservation, alternative sustainable agriculture, and holistic health. These are movements that are motivated primarily by compassion and reverence for Creation, yet the industrial establishment that opposes them sees these social movements as placing the rights and interests of animals and Nature (or the environment) over the rights and interests of people. And public opposition is increasing through media-hyped misinformation, and by the public relations campaigns of those agencies and corporations that have a vested interest in maintaining a status quo in the service of mammon that is responsible for the holocaust of the animal kingdom, the death of Nature, and much human sickness and suffering.

More and more people, however, are now questioning the means and ends of industrialism and consumerism that cause much animal suffering, extinction, human injustice, and is so destructively exploiting the life and beauty of this planet. The significance of these contemporary social movements that millions of people now support is linked in time, as historians will some day note, with the global environmental crisis that we face today, as evidenced by the accelerating rate of extinction of planetary life forms, of indigenous peoples, and in the suffering of billions of animals that are exploited for questionable reasons of custom, consumption, scientific knowledge and medical progress. My own ethical sensibility arises from a spirituality that is fundamentally antithetical to the worldview and morality of the times that sanctions such forms of animal exploitation.

In some public and political circles, opposition to these movements is increasing. These people feel that eating less meat, finding alternatives to using animals to find cures for human diseases, and protecting an old forest for the spotted owl and timber wolf are threats to the economy, to progress, and to the rights and interests of the populace. This attitude, I believe, is ultimately suicidal, for if we harm the planet, we harm the person; and if we harm other sentient beings, we harm ourselves. But to be pro-animal rights and environmental protection, in the eyes of many, is to put animals and nature before people. Such is the ignorance and cupidity of the times.


It is evident that the main driver of the 2022 Mid-term elections in the U.S.was concern over the economy/inflation, rather than the environment/climate change, human rights, poverty and crime. “Economism”-making the economy the ethos of society in the service of Mammon- cannot continue to sacrifice the environment, biodiversity animal protection—and public health—for profit. It is the main driver of Climate Change. The Trump administration’s gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority and rollback of environmental and animal protection laws in support of various vested interests may some day be seen as crimes against Nature and humanity.

Ehan Masood writes “If the world continues on its current track, it will fall well short of achieving almost all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations set to protect the environment and end poverty and inequality by 2030. World leaders are converging on the idea that it’s time to stop using gross domestic product (GDP) as the world’s main measure of prosperity. Instead, we could complement it with a dashboard of indicators on the economy, health, ecosystems, climate and more. If this happens, it would be the biggest shift in how economies are measured since nations first started using GDP in 1953, almost 70 years ago. “Absurdly, GDP rises when there is overfishing, cutting of forests or burning of fossil fuels,” wrote UN secretary-general António Guterres in 2021. “We are destroying nature, but we count it as an increase in wealth.”( E. Masood, GDP is getting a makeover — what it means for economies, health and the planet. Nature, Nov. 8th 2022).

I voiced these concerns over 20 years ago in my book Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society, emphasizing that the GDP ( or GNP-Gross National Product) will be non-sustainable and that “we clearly need better indices of progress that incorporate bioethical principles and address such interconnected concerns as environmental quality, biodiversity, social well-being and the effectiveness of animal protection and human rights legislation.”

I was far from alone voicing such prescient warnings decades ago and was often dismissed for “crying wolf”, and even called a Communist bent on overthrowing American agriculture when I exposed the suffering of factory farmed animals. These ironies endures as I continue to oppose the sport hunting and trapping of wolves and other wildlife, and decry the mistreatment of most animals raised for human consumption, all of which fills me with shame and disgust.

The Climate Crisis and COVID-19 pandemic, of which more are predicted, seem to be catalyzing the U.N. to become a UEN—a United Environmental Nations for which I have long advocated, that recognizes the connections between One Earth, One Economy and One Health: One Earth of finite resources; One Economy of sustainability that is socially just; One Health of people, plants, ecosystems aquatic and terrestrial, and of animals wild and domesticated.

It is quite wrong to conclude that animal rights and deep ecology are anti-progress, anti-science, anti-business and anti-industry, and contrary to the best interests of society. But there is a curious twist to this. I recall a luncheon meeting with the CEO of one of the world’s fastest growing agribusiness corporations, and he said he felt that “The humane treatment of animals – farm animal welfare – isn’t a moral or ethical issue.” From his perspective, and for many executives in the business world, animal welfare, rights and environmental/ecological issues are primarily of economic concern. It is to be hoped that such a narrow vision of economic concern will be broadened by the concept of sustainability, i.e., steady-state economics rather than illimitable economic “growth” and “development.”

Implementing Sustainability: Values and Principles

That which sustains us in body and soul sustains the Earth and every living thing. Whatever we do to secure our own sustenance almost invariably causes harm to others. The ethical person endeavors to minimize that harm, and works with others to change those human activities that are harmful.

The less we want, the less we need and so the less we compete with others. Ethically unfettered capitalism and consumerism depend on an extractive rather than an organic, biodynamic economy. This self-terminating economy monopolizes and directs the resources, energies and processes of the Earth to serve commerce and industry. These were originally created and evolved to sustain every living thing. Such “ecological democracy” has been usurped by the ecological imperialism of the industrial age that the Earth cannot continue to sustain at present rates of extraction, destruction, consumption and pollution.

In the absence of any sustainability ethic there can be no effective international cooperation to effectively put an end to human poverty, overpopulation, pollution, conspicuous consumption and political corruption. These problems will only continue to intensify synergistically and exponentially. To see the Earth convulsively disintegrating before our very eyes is not difficult if we simply speed up the time frame for the rates of human population growth, consumptive industrialization, biodegradation, and loss of biodiversity over the past 200 years.

Too many people refuse to look and to acknowledge the tragedy of the human condition and ask what they can do to help. Others feel hopeless knowing that human poverty, hunger, violence and suffering have become more widespread with each new generation and are now reaching epidemic proportions. Denial and hopelessness are no better than continuing to enjoy a life of conspicuous consumption, or promoting the popular view that the panacea for these problems lies in economic development and industrialization.

Those in government who support this ideology (that in reality benefits transnational corporations at the expense of what little is left on the Earth that could be saved and restored – like sustainable communities, biodiversity, and environmental quality) must be immediately challenged and held accountable.

Likewise, religious and other political organizations that oppose such relevant issues as birth control, animal rights, and environmental protection, must be opposed with the same force as industries that have no regard for human rights, consumer safety, public health, animal welfare and environmental health. A global economic collapse to avert further transnational corporate hegemony and harm would be preferable to the pending global ecological collapse that most transnational corporations are facilitating. As of 2008, the major industrialized nations, facing a global economic meltdown, have imprudently marginalized environmental and human rights concerns from the agenda of economic recovery.

One of the worst plagues afflicting the world today is consumerism. It controls the minds and devours the souls of our children, harming their bodies and the environment in the process. The antidote to this plague is the adoption of the ethics and principles of sustainability, which essentially entails establishing those conditions and covenants whereby natural systems and social systems survive and thrive in a mutually enhancing symbiosis: And healing those systems upon which all life depends.

Time and life are running out for planet Earth. This has not yet become a wholly irreversible process in most human communities. But for the majority of the human species it very soon will be if we fail to collectively begin to cooperate for the good of the planet, for wildlife and natural ecosystems, for ourselves and for our descendants. If we do not, then we will be naturally constrained by the consequences of our own violence, greed, ignorance and indifference. We should then not wonder why half the world’s population is at or on the verge of war while the other half suffers and dies from malnutrition and disease.


There are millions of yet not fully counted forms of intelligent life around us and within us which we continue to harm in many ways; and harm ourselves in the process. Two examples: the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and invasive herbicide-resistant “superweeds”.

Our intellectual understanding and empathy leading to respect for all life is falling short and we are suffering the consequences as are other species, be they microorganisms, plants or other animals. Even our treatment of warm- blooded mammals like ourselves, such as pigs who have saved many human lives with their “donated” heart valves, is deplorable as any visit to a factory farm from China to Iowa would confirm.

The Pro-Life sentiment today takes many forms ranging from concerns for the unborn human to opposing the euthanasia of terminally ill and suffering people; of crippled, spent and suffering “sacred” cows in India who are put in shelters out of the public eye to die “naturally”, and of un-adopted cats in the U.S. who are released from shelters to fend for themselves outdoors. This means a slow death for many and their escalating killing-to-survive of remnant wildlife species in suburban and rural communities; and now a recognized public health issue because cats carry more diseases transmissible to humans than do rats.

Most prevailing Pro-Life beliefs should be examined because they are moral/ethical positions which can be polarizing and divisive; and need to be revised from a One Health perspective, which embodies the science and bioethics of environmental, animal, plant and public health for the common good and the good of the Commons.

Being primarily human-centered, the Pro-Life “protect human life at all costs” appeal continues to do more harm than good, profit incentives aside, as exemplified by the deliberate and indiscriminate killing of intelligent life forms around us and within us by various means. These include antibiotics, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides and predator extermination (with poison baits, traps and guns to eliminate large predators whose ecological role, like other species, is vital to ecological integrity and health): And incidental harming and killing with pollutants, including the latest,—plastics and electropollution. Against the background of global warming and climate change there is much for civil society to address and rectify.

Any Pro-Life movement that does not advocate, from a One Health perspective, global ecological stewardship, organic and humane food production and holistic health care education but submits to Big Ag and Big Pharm and sacrifices the environment for “economic growth” is illegitimate. Nutrient deficient, disease and pest-susceptible crops, (many being genetically engineered with biologically anomalous and potentially harmful qualities) grown on life-depleted soils and the human epidemic of obesity/metabolic syndrome with gut microbial dysbiosis and immunological disorders are all connected. The benefits of probiotics are an outcome of a broader, Pro-Life, One Health perspective.

We cannot continue to disrupt the delicate, co-evolved relationships between microorganisms, plants and animals that comprise and sustain the regenerative life-community on planet Earth with whom we must learn to share and, along with them, adapt to environmental changes or become extinct. All ecosystems are dynamic networks of stability, transformation and change. Protecting natural biodiversity should be a Pro-Life priority since natural biodiversity helps contain and prevent diseases, invasive species and the collapse of ecosystems aquatic and terrestrial which scientists are now documenting. The reported 69% decline in wildlife populations world-wide since 1970 is especially alarming.

In sum, to be Pro-Life exclusively for humans in the face of growing populations and rising poverty, or for some other species such as the domestic cat too numerous in many communities for willing home-owners to accommodate, and to oppose their euthanasia or group-colony housing/containment and release them outdoors, cause more harm than good. Reason, bioethics and compassion should prevail over morally and sentimentally limited Pro-Life beliefs, politics and advocacy.