PETER SINGER’s book Animal Liberation was a “philosophical bombshell” when it came out in 1975, according to activist Ingrid Newkirk, who said it “made people – myself included – change what we eat, what we wear and how we perceive animals”.
Singer, now a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, provided a philosophical argument for overhauling humanity’s treatment of animals, condemning practices such as animal testing and meat eating on the grounds that animals have as much right to live free from pain and suffering as humans.
Although it helped inspire the modern animal-rights movement, Singer’s views on animal ethics were, for a long time, far from the mainstream. For decades, vegetarians and vegans were treated by many other people with equal parts bemusement and exasperation. Factory farms flourished.
Now, we have a deeper understanding of the intelligence of many animals, from pigs to octopuses, as well as evidence to show that veganism – which is more popular than ever – is good for our health and the environment. And yet global meat and fish consumption is still rising, plans are afoot for the world’s first octopus farm and escalating climate change is driving many animals to extinction. Against this backdrop, Singer has revised Animal Liberation for a 21st-century audience.
He tells New Scientist how his thinking on animal rights has changed, why beef should be taxed to help the people affected by climate change and what an ethical life looks like now.
Madeleine Cuff: For those who aren’t familiar with your arguments, where do you stand on humanity’s treatment of animals?
Peter Singer: I think the core arguments I made in 1975 have …