The Overlooked Sentience in Environmental Discourse

The environmental movement talks mainly about climate and the environment, using words such as “renewable,” “green,” and “sustainable.” However, there is an elephant in the room, metaphorically but also and literally: we don’t talk about the feeling beings within the environment, the consciousnesses within it–the animals.

These animals are being exterminated, and we are in the midst of eradicating wildlife off planet Earth. According to The Living Planet Index, since 1970, due to human activity, there is an average decline of 69% in the populations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The remnants, less than a third of the original numbers, are those many trillions of individuals living in nature. Each and every one of them feels and experiences subjectively. In the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, experts acknowledged that many, if not all of them, possess consciousness. These, although they are the majority in the world, in numbers, constitute a minority in power and influence.

They are the voiceless who are relegated to the sidelines of discourse surrounding ecological, climate, and environmental issues, despite the fact that they are the ones living within it–the main victims of the climate crisis and the destruction of their homes.

The environmental terminology is killing the individual animal. The language used by climate activists and environmentalists overrides the subjective experiences of wild animals, and those experiences are what truly matters. So, on top of their habitats being destructed, their stories are left untold. The physical elimination of the majority of individuals on this planet is accompanied by the cognitive elimination of them as separate entities deserving moral consideration.

Lost in Translation: Decoding the Environmental Language

How does our language erase the immense crime committed against wild animals from our collective consciousness — and does this extends far beyond just environmentalists? We talk about the environment and the trees to obscure the massive annihilation of sentient beings.

Pay attention to the trick. The words “environment” or “nature” lump together rivers, rocks, ants, air, mountains, monkeys, and so on. Defining animals within a framework that includes insentient organisms like plants blurs the enormity of this catastrophe, and the word “environment” predefines everything it encompasses as utilities and resources whose role is to serve humans.

My personal association with terms like ‘environmentally friendly’ often leans towards a decorating committee or a gardening project, certainly not towards a field implicated in some of the most severe moral atrocities ever acknowledged. The word “environmental,” as the defining word of the movement to save the inhabitants of this planet, should have been retired long ago.

Actually, the word “greenwash” is itself greenwashing, because the word “green” excludes the sentient beings at the expense of the insentient. But what is there to hide? The internalization of the fact that we have exterminated most wild animals on Earth–the Wild Animal Genocide. The word “Genocide” is comprised of the Greek word for race, or type, and the Latin word for killing.

Animal Genocide is the systematic murder of wildlife in such large numbers that they cannot be measured. How many did we kill? No one knows, but the number of fish that humans pull from the oceans every year is probably more than a trillion–that is, 1,000 billion sentient individuals. The environmental terminology creates a world-image that distracts us from the simple but horrifying truth: we are losing our very basic humanity as we exterminate the free beings who do not belong to the small human elite.

It is important for me to emphasize that I am not against the use of words such as “ecology” or “climate.” These are important terms that describe reality at the macro level, but they have no place for the individual.

They have no place for the monkey who died from starvation because the rainforest he lived in went up in flames, or for the small turtle that did not manage to escape the fire. His burnt shell, his refuge, became his grave.

They have no place for the butterfly, the snails, the parrot, and the bat whose sources of food, protection, and life have been erased.

Individuals Lost, Stories Erased

As a species, we do not tell the personal stories of the individuals affected because they are erased from the language and thus erased from our mind. Their omission from the world image that is created in our minds is no less successful than their eradication off the face of the Earth. In order to stop the mass genocide, we need to start talking about them clearly as individuals, and we need to start talking in terms of Animal Genocide, the destruction of biological nations by the human animal.

What we are doing is a crime against the world, a significant part of which is carried out by weapons of mass destruction, such as the trawlers (a kind of marine hunting boats) that are dragging nets across the sea and killing everything caught in them.

“In each and every letter there are worlds and souls and divinity,” said the Baal Shem Tov, the Jewish mystic who is regarded as the founder of Hasidic Judaism. And if there are worlds in letters, what can we say about words? I read and listen to the language that disregard the majority on this planet and cringe. They do not contain worlds and souls and divinity, but the denial of a simple truth: the human animal is systematically killing the free animals in the world. This is a sentence that should be said again and again and again until we realize its meaning and internalize it.

The author is the co-founder and executive director of Sentient, and an activist against animal genocide.