OPINION

Your choices can change the world in 2022

Beef cattle tightly packed into holding pens at a rural sale yard in New Zealand. Picture: Shutterstock
Beef cattle tightly packed into holding pens at a rural sale yard in New Zealand. Picture: Shutterstock

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Don't worry, I won't cite all the lyrics to this John Lennon classic. But when it comes to reflecting on the year that was, and the one that's to come, this ballad about personal responsibility has never been more apt.

In many ways, this year has felt wildly out of our control. Lockdowns forced us into isolation, masks obscured us into anonymity, severe weather events threatened our homes, and political leaders at summits spoke empty words - or worse, ones that didn't reflect many of our views.

You'd be forgiven for retreating to your bed and asking the neighbours to wake you when 2023 rolls around. But apathy is not the answer. We must look at the ways in which we do have power, and determine to do all we can to use it for good.

Take COVID, for example. Some people bemoan this virus as a scourge thrust upon us by a foreign nation's choices, but how does that help us to subvert the next - very real - pandemic threat? Zoonotic diseases and even coronaviruses are nothing new. Swine flu killed half a million people, and it was traced back to a factory farm in the US. There are at least eight varieties of bird flu - all of which can kill humans - circulating around the world's factory farms. In October, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified several mutations among H5N6 cases, and labelled the virus a "serious threat" to human health.

An Israeli Agriculture Ministry worker carries carcasses of dead turkeys due to a bird flu outbreak in 2006. Picture: Shutterstock

An Israeli Agriculture Ministry worker carries carcasses of dead turkeys due to a bird flu outbreak in 2006. Picture: Shutterstock

That real (and deadly) risk is not only from a live animal market in a far-off place - it's from the factory farm that raised the 12-week-old turkey you put on your festive table.

Your personal impact on climate change, too, is largely affected by who you eat and wear. Methane and farm waste is polluting and heating the planet. Deforestation for grazing land is displacing native animals and decimating carbon sinks. Oceans are being stripped of life by massive, carbon-emitting trawlers.

And of course, there are the real, heartbreaking consequences our everyday choices have on sensitive individuals - animals who, just like the pets many of us share our homes with, feel love, pain and fear.

Right now, worldwide, some 25 billion animals are enduring miserable lives - forced to breed amid their own excrement, never touching the grass or seeing the sky. They're as aware of their experiences as we are, yet they're bred with cruelty and slaughtered without care. This doesn't even take into account the billions of sea animals killed annually for our pleasure, in numbers so vast they're measured in tonnes.

You - not just the government - and your shopping list hold the key to their freedom.

To quote Gandhi: "We must be the change that we wish to see in the world." It's a powerful quote; and a remarkably simple concept.

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If you wish to lower the chances that another animal-borne virus will rob us of our social life, travel, our health, and our very existence, stop paying people to rear animals on filthy, crowded farms.

If you wish to play a meaningful role in curbing climate change, worry as much about what you put on your plate as you what you put on your placard.

You can help bring about a ban on live exports by ditching leather, and help halt the destruction of the Amazon rainforest by boycotting beef. Because their homes are razed for grazing land, you can even help save koalas by leaving wool out of your wardrobe.

For every single seemingly small change you make, there is a consequential ripple effect - and ripples make waves.

So, as we head into 2022, bruised and bewildered by the inauspicious start to this decade, I urge you to recognise that your choices are chances to change the world - and you can choose to bow out of the exploitation of other species.

The war on animals is over - if you want it.

  • Emily Rice is senior communications manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Australia.
This story Your choices can change the world in 2022 first appeared on The Canberra Times.