Pope Francis on Animal Liberation

Morrison, Jane Gray, Tobias, Michael Charles | July 28, 2015 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

A Parrot Trapped Outdoors in Wintery Warsaw, Poland | © M. C. Tobias

First, and foremost, on the issue of directly or indirectly harming (read: killing) other individuals of other species, inherent to the entire message by the Pope, who says we must stop collaborating in the death of others: what would that mean to the Earth, starting from today? This is the single injunction we should like to examine, for it is at the core of the entire third Encyclical of Franciscus.

The “Life” and Death of Pigs | Photo Courtesy of SAFE, New Zealand
The “Life” and Death of Pigs | Photo Courtesy of SAFE, New Zealand

Rather than elucidating and hammering with sheer numbers, we have chosen to symbolize the vast extent of killing by enumeration of some (43, out of 125) of the most critical indicators, or “Pain Points” as we have long identified the cruel intersections of human behavior and the global environment, a cartography of those aggregates wherein the most pain and needless cruelty and destruction are inflicted by our kind on all the biomes and organisms that live therein. [4]

Some Critical Pain Points 

Annual human consumption of animals, including: all bovines, ovine’s, porcines, Gallus, and others

Live animal shipments, carcasses, miscellaneous body parts

Number of slaughterhouses

Total number of animals per slaughterhouse

Total number of animal industries

Animal related-industry tax subsidies

Gross domestic losses from tax subsidies to total animal-related industries

Income derived from total number of animal industries

Religious exemptions by law in respect to total number of animals involved in their own deaths

Total number of animals exploited for biomedical research

Number of animals tested and re-tested before their deaths

Number of animals killed without pain alleviation

Total number of animals that qualify as road-kill and air-kill

Total number of animals killed by the military

Total number of animals killed by environmental agencies/divisions

Total number of animals killed in consumer product testing

Total number of animals killed by human-induced fires

Total number of animals killed in the name of biosecurity

Total number of animals that qualify as by-kill

Total number of animals eaten alive by humans

Total number of animals killed – in general – by human development

Total number of threatened species (by any national or international criteria)

Total number of zoos

Pollution indices as pertaining to total domestic animal populations and downstream and/or edge effects on habitat, including air quality, soil quality, ground water, aquifers, riparian systems, lakes, wetlands, coastal areas, forests and shrubland; seven critical biological zones that include alpine, temperate, cool temperate, warm temperate, dry subtropical, humid subtropical, and wet subtropical; and all of the critical forest types, including mixed broadleaf podocarp, conifer, fir, upland and lowland hardwoods, etc.

Destruction or usurpation of wild habitat by animal related industries

Total economic losses from total number of farm animals as measured by biodiversity loss and impact on other free nature’s services

Human epidemiology as pertains to morbidity and mortality linked to animal captivity and products

Pet industries

Illegal pet industries

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species violations

Animal control statistics (e.g., killing of “predators” on public and private lands)

Total number of hunted animals

Subsidized hunting regimes

Total value of hunting to the economy versus non-hunting tariffs –e.g., duck stamp revenues, local economic benefits from sale of rifles, guns, bullets, etc –versus  total revenue generated from bird watching, photographic safaris, and other non-lethal recreational activities

Total number of murdered animals divided by total number of hunters (worldwide)

Total number of convictions for those illegally possessing or trading wildlife

Citations for pet store owner violations

Total number of animal abuse cases

Fresh water and marine vertebrate consumption data

Total number of dead-zones

Total number of no-kill marine zones

Fresh water and marine invertebrate consumption data

Total number of fishing violations

In sum, the Authors have posited an easily captured set of global criteria for estimating the extent of human violence meted out to others; a general tabulation that does not even account for intra-species violence, but, by illimitable means introduces the breakdown of our violence towards other persons in the biological arena known loosely as Earth. [5]

For each of these data sets exists a mindful mitigation that, with even the slightest legal, ethical, educational, economic and geopolitical willpower might yet undermine the pernicious trends our species has long favored for its own ends.

Climate change is but a telling sub-set, or reminder, of the cumulative, mindless violence we have triggered in the name of species solipsism. If one includes bacteria and viruses, the planet unquestionably contains possibly in excess of one hundred million species. Each species, in turn, on average, comprises millions of individuals, in some cases billions (e.g., the sub-Saharan red-billed quelea, Quelea quelea, or the marine cyanobacteria genus Prochlorococcus, about 3-times-ten-to-the 27th individuals). [6]

The fact we have surveyed fewer than 1.75 million species, to date, yet can already identify the unambiguous reality of a human-induced Anthropocene now sweeping the planet should overwhelmingly qualify Pope Francis’s “Encyclical” as a benchmark in the modern history of environmentalism, nothing less than a massive summons for animal liberation. It also coincides in a most timely manner with the Global Genome Project, intent upon saving representatives of the “500 plant families and more than 13,000 genera” on Earth.  [7]

Every human being capable of reading, or hearing the lyrical, hard-hitting, emphatic animal and plant rights treatise, generated this May 24th from the Vatican has no excuse any longer for inaction in the defense of nature. This is, indeed, a call of Mayday.


  1. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
  2. http://www.st-josephstatue.com/st_joseph_articles_details/saint_francis.htm
  3. http://www.acton.org/public-policy/environmental-stewardship/theology-e/orthodox-churches-statement-environment
  4. God’s Country: The New Zealand Factor, pp. 367-373, freely downloadable from:
  5. http://www.dancingstarbooksfilms.org/gods-country-the-new-zealand-factor/
  6. ibid.
  7. http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Prochlorococcus, said to contribute possibly as much as “30-80% of primary production” in those regions of the world’s (oligotrophic) oceans that are characterized, otherwise, as low in nutrition. Hence, this minute organism has an enormous impact on the atmospheric chemistry of the planet.
  8. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33438201; Dancing Star Foundation has been advocating for the GGP to add the rich terrestrial flora of Antarctica to its initiative.

The authors, Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison retain all rights to the above content. Find out more about the Dancing Star Foundation through its MAHB Node. © Michael Charles Tobias, Jane Gray Morrison, 2015

MAHB-UTS Blogs are a joint venture between the University of Technology Sydney and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

MAHB Blog: https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/pope-francis-on-animal-liberation/

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  • Geoffrey,
    We totally agree with all you’ve said, and it is echoed throughout our essay. “How bad does it have to get before we reach a tipping point?” you ask. You know, of course, that this is the essence of ecological relativity, where E (ecological health of the planet) = MC (manhkind’s -humankind’s – consumption) squared; a simplified version of the Ehrlich/Holdren IPAT equation of the mid-1970s.
    By E=MCsquared, of course, “ecological health” is also a relative index of biochemical performance: evapotranspiration, balanced pH, fertility, natural selection over a non-stressed time frame (read: the course of evolution with balance, and flux). Taken together, we can measure tipping points in accordance with the interstices between the known six mass extinction events in biological history. Hence, the Anthropocene now occurring makes it clear that we have hit a tipping point in our lifetimes.

    Whether human beings -and all other individuals of species and populations – can survive the human species, is THE question.

    The Pope is someone with a critical mass of influence to help mitigate this all-out extinction event we are witness to, by embracing family planning with the urgency of the other life-saving measures he pays tribute to in his 3rd Encyclical. It would help trigger other comparable “encyclicals” from all the other critical mass points that influence that drive the human species and its insatiable engines of consumption and consequent destruction.

    Thanks for your important comment.
    Michael Charles Tobias
    Jane Gray Morrison

  • Geoffrey Holland

    This Pope is really pushing the envelope, but not far enough. The United Nations now projects a human population at 9.7 billion by 2050. Humans are already putting way too much pressure on the biosphere’s ability to provide. Adding another 2.5 billion, each one requiring food, water, shelter, and personal security, in the next 35 years is just insane. The population of wild animals has dropped more than 50% just since 1970. Our oceans fisheries are being exhausted. It goes on and on.
    Are we too far down the slippery slope already? Sure, we have a lot of exciting technologies emerging that could make a difference, but population growth remains unchecked.
    The Pope has made a powerful statement about the human obligation to respect and protect the natural world, but the key driver behind the shredding of the biosphere is human population growth. On that issue, Catholic church doctrine is a big part of the problem. The Pope’s Encyclical is a step in the right direction, but his church must get real about reproductive choice. Encouraging people to ‘go forth and multiply’ is absolutely the wrong message.
    I always thought the worst consequences of our human hubris would come after I am dead and gone, but the unraveling seems to be happening a lot faster than I ever imagined. How bad does it have to get before we reach a tipping point?

  • Kris

    I’m very happy to see this article – thanks to the authors for this exploration and to Mahb for publishing. My “new age” channels brought the Encyclical to my attention – those circles are justifiably excited about its progressive slant and are focusing on the message of “oneness” and environmental stewardship. I read the Encyclical with great interest – especially the points about compassion for animals. As an ex-Catholic and mostly vegan-vegetarian, I haven’t yet had the courage to bring it up with my Catholic friends, the brunt of whom are committed meat and dairy eaters. This Pope continues to surprise and impress me and many of my closest friends. I look forward to more inspirational leadership from him.

    • Kris, thanks for commenting. We’re seeing a sea change amongst persons of all “denominations” worldwide who are embracing a common sense, No Kill ethic.

  • jane

    This is a heartfelt plea for us ‘ to do something’ before it is too late.
    However, I really do not think that this encyclical can achieve the importance that the authors attribute to it while the Vatican continues to maintain its frankly nonsensical and illogical stance on birth control and abortion.
    To be fair,the authors discuss this very thing and make the link-essential- between pro-choice and conservation.
    This could be adopted as a slogan to galvanise public opinion via various social networking sites perhaps: think of the Centre For Biological Diversity’s excellent condom campaign.
    I suggest that this be taken up and spread as a direct challenge to the Vatican and the various Greenies who are still in denial about the importance of human population pressure.
    The animal rights movement also needs to gain more acceptance within the mainstream of human concerns,rather than being dismissed as mattering only to ‘tree huggers’.
    For many years I have supported a humane research charity: The Dr Hadwen Trust, but sadly their pioneering work is still not well known.

    • Jane,
      We appreciate your referencing the Dr. Hadwen Trust (http://www.drhadwentrust.org/)
      which we are very happy to note is a strictly non-animal related medical research organization in the UK that also is deeply involved in vegan diets, as we understand it.

      As for your acknowledgment of the “link-essential- between pro-choice and conservation” – we obviously and absolutely concur (and have for our entire professional lives). This is why we’ve propagated the hope that a 4th Encyclical break-through is in the works. One focused on family planning at long last. An Encyclical that unabashedly and with hard-hitting, unambiguous data focuses upon the critical importance of pro-choice, with all of the access to the ingredients of choice that will help make an essential difference for the lives of hundreds-of-millions of women and their children. Without belaboring the vast technical, long understood literature on the subject, it would, at the very least, include subsidized over-the-counter cafeteria-style options for contraception; education for young women; FOOD for everyone, school breakfasts and lunches (not just lunches – but late afternoon nutritious meals would also help); partner counseling; the uplifting of the enormous burden and shadows implicit in well over 40 countries worldwide where oppression of women is altogether counter to what the Pope is trying to accomplish when he speaks about harmonizing with nature, etc. etc.

      The Pope is clearly sincere and abundantly heart-felt in his views on Nature at this point. Now, we would urge him to address what it is really going to take (read: the great work, as one example, of the UNFPA) about voiding all those underpinnings of the human condition that are providing fuel for the bonfire of maladies meted out by humans to most other species and habitat as our numbers continue out-of-control from 7.34 heading towards 9.5, even 10, possibly 11 billion.