Why We Love Hamsters and Drown Rats

September 13, 2019

Everything is a contradiction these days, especially in a world so complex and quick moving. Where opinions and dogmas pass by each other like two subways going in opposite directions, where a thought is a tweet, is a text, is a law. And then there’s nature, our “get out of jail free” card, associated with a serenity unmatched by anything else. The word ‘sublime,’ first used in hundred year old texts by nature writers such as John Muir and earlier, Thoreau and Emerson, is still regarded as an adept description for the holy house of the trees, rivers and mountains. And yet, more contradiction there. We only choose some nature to regard as significant and worthy, and other pieces less so. Usually, it’s the animals who are left behind.

 

And no, I don’t mean all animals. There are entire mainstream campaigns to save the penguins, help the turtles, protect the tigers. I love these campaigns, I really do. The fact that some light is being shed on these endangered animals at all reveals a big step in our society. But maybe it's not enough. 

 

This past Tuesday, the EPA announced it will no longer perform previously required animal testing for certain chemicals. Instead, the organization will be investing up to $4.25 million in hopes of finding alternative testing techniques. If the plan goes smoothly, the EPA’s animal testing will be entirely phased out by the year 2035. What should have been fantastic news and a win for those who believe in treating animals humanely, has been met with severe backlash, not just by scientists and doctors, but by environmentalists as well. Their claims center on the idea that we need animal testing to study serious conditions, such as cancer and infertitlity. Dr. Jennifer Sass from the Natural Resources Defense Council gave a statement to the “New York Times,” “We want proper animal testing because we don’t want harmful chemicals to end up in our food, air and water.” And yet, another contradiction. 

 

 IMAGE COURTESY OF PET COMMENTS

 

Why do we sometimes see nature as something holy and grand and other times as a resource? Why are some animals worthy enough to be protected and others of mere use to us? Our view of environmentalism has taken on such a narrow filter, we don’t realize the hypocrisy of who and what we are trying to save. Drew has fallen victim to this mindset as well. For a campus that preaches environmentalism and sustainability, there is still animal testing that goes on within the science departments. Live rats are forced to perform swim tests, dropped into large bins of water, where they must either tread or drown. And more, rat babies are separated from their mothers in order to study stress and depression. Rats are often killed at Drew, so that students can examine their brains through dissection labs. Of course, Drew cannot be entirely blamed for this, not as long as there is a larger societal stigma at work. 

 

The prevailing idea that some animals are here for our use, and others are not, is the spearhead of speciesism. Speciesism is defined as discrimination against certain species, whether it be humans against animals as a whole, or humans against a particular species of animals. Activist and psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy discusses this concept through the lens of consuming meat. Her book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” analyzes the hypocrisy involved in our loving some animals and seeing others as commodities. 

 

The environmental movement needs to take into account that nature is everywhere, not just at Yellowstone or the Amazon Rainforest or the little park in your town. It is also the rats in the lab that deserve our respect and understanding. All nature is significant and worthy, and speciesism has as much room in this world as racism, sexism or any other oppressing injustice. So yes, let’s stop testing on certain animals who we believe matter less, when in fact, they matter just as much, if not more than the rest of us.

 

Rebecca is a junior Double Major in Environmental Studies and Sustainability and Studio Art.

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