Border security and import laws in Australia are extremely strict. It’s not just for fear of drug or weapon smuggling—two categories that are very highly regulated in this giant island.
Rather, the greatest fear of all is that some sort of non-native plant or animal will make its way into the country. Australia takes agricultural imports very seriously, and for good reason.
Invasive species are responsible for the death of over 1,000 different species each year. Feral cats in Australia are one of the most harmful invasive species of all, killing an average of 1 million-plus birds daily not to mention reptiles and small mammals.
Obviously, this is a problem. But Australia’s “solution” of culling the local feral cat population is a deplorable response. This “animal genocide,” as actress and animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot calls it, has triggered the hatred towards and hunting of these creatures. While this problem is a large one and it’s unclear what the ideal solution should be, reckless hunting of cats is not it. It fosters a lack of respect or compassion for one species while favoring others. In fact, a few years ago an Australian newspaper suggested that we start eating them to reduce their population.
And now, this concept has yet again been brought to public attention in Australia—this time, thanks to Mona, a contemporary art museum in Tasmania. They are currently running an exhibition called Eat the Problem that may be slightly tongue in cheek but has real and dark implications. The initiative suggests eating invasive animals (humans included!) as well as using their skin, hair or feathers for fashion.
The exhibition is based on a book that is half art project and half environmental manifesto. While it’s obvious that the notion of consuming human flesh, poisonous cane toads, and other less-than-appetizing species is hyperbolic, I cannot ignore the general sentiment. Just like the cat-culling epidemic, this exhibition encourages violence against animals as some sort of misguided sustainability initiative.
The fact of the matter is that killing living creatures is a form of environmental destruction in and of itself, and it is not ethical to combat destruction with more of the same. This proposal also ignores that the problem has much deeper roots, such as the fact that colonizers of Australia contributed greatly to the endangerment of native flora and fauna when they cleared the land to farm non-native cattle. It’s not simply some wild cats that have led us to where we are today. It is years and years of human interference with Australia’s natural environment.
The state of climate change and environmental degradation in Australia and the rest of the world is complex, so it calls for complex solutions—not just “radical” notions of eating certain animals while pardoning the consumption of others. Anyone who hallmarks this as the panacea for climate change is ignoring the history of modern meat consumption and the damage that this has caused.
It saddens me but does not shock me to see such an inhumane call to action move to the forefront of the climate change discourse. That being said, the silver lining may be found if it encourages those opposed to the scheme to brainstorm more effective and compassionate solutions.
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