Q&A with Richard Twine, Author of The Climate Crisis and Other Animals

Dr Richard Twine is Reader in Sociology and Co-Director of the Centre for Human-Animal Relations (CfHAS), Edge Hill University, UK.


Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Climate Crisis and Other Animals, which explores the gendered, racialised, classist and speciesist impacts of climate change. In your opinion, how important is an intersectional approach to addressing the climate crisis?


Richard: Thank you. It’s unavoidable and for me it’s the only game in town. Any account that doesn’t understand the emergence of the climate crisis as the interplay between class relations, gender relations, racialised relations, geopolitics, and human-animal (and more-than-human) relations is misunderstanding the social histories of the climate crisis. As I argue in the book, the imaginary of ‘climate justice’ goes some way toward trying to acknowledge this, but it tends to uncritically position itself anthropocentrically, which lends a sort of tragedy to it. To not explicitly entertain a role for the animal-industrial complex in the conjoined climate and biodiversity crises within one of our main oppositional frames is both a perpetuation of anthropocentric thought and practice, and a missed opportunity. Alongside an orientation to the creative questioning of social norms, and situating one’s biography within a denser field of social and historical practice and its varied approaches to social change, an intersectional approach is one of the main ways in which a social science (and the arts and humanities) perspective on the climate crisis is a necessity. It also tells us that positionality matters and how that is already shaping the way that the climate crisis is being differently experienced. Ultimately it opens the door to exploring how the climate crisis is a complex emergence of multiple and overlapping relations of power.


In the book, you note that emissions may continue rising in poorer regions of the world as a result of combating poverty. What responsibility do wealthier, high-emitting countries have to reduce their own emissions to offset this rise?


Richard: Well, I would like to see the practices which cause high emissions come down everywhere. However, there is something of a consensus amongst climate policy makers that those nations that have historically emitted the most (something like 62% of historical emissions come from Europe and the USA) have a responsibility to push transitions first. After all, such countries (my own included) have built their contemporary power via these emissions. Furthermore, in the case of animal source food (ASF) consumption countries in the ‘Global North’ tended to rapidly increase consumption in the second half of the twentieth century, creating unsustainable new norms which were counter to ecological public health and extended the failures of the factory farm. In the book I agree that rich countries should be doing far more now to incentivise both vegan transition and plant-centred diets. At the same time, I refuse both the dominant Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and meat industry discourse that posits ASFs as the answer to food insecurity in poorer countries and the idea that such countries should follow the path of, for example, diet meatification.


Can you briefly explain the role that human exceptionalism plays in the animal-industrial complex?


Richard: Briefly? No. Human exceptionalism, the idea that only human beings are morally considerable is an extremist belief that very few hold to. Nevertheless, the majority remain committed either explicitly or implicitly to the view that animals farmed and killed for human consumption do not matter beyond rather disingenuous welfare frameworks. In the book I agree with Matthew Calarco that human exceptionalism is just one aspect of a broader ideology of anthropocentrism (which also includes the projection of animality onto many human beings). So the book really has a focus on how this broader set of ideas and practices shapes the animal-industrial complex. Furthermore, the book contains a significant development of my theorisation of the animal-industrial complex, employing practice theory as a theoretical framework. But to directly answer your question, human exceptionalism and a dominant inconsistent speciesist take on nonhuman animals act as conceptual justifications for a myriad set of oppressive practices across societal domains that aim to turn the lives and bodies of other species into projects for capital accumulation. At the same time, the habitual performance of these practices serves to stabilise and reiterate as normal and natural the instrumentalist orientation of the animal-industrial complex towards other animals.


The book cautions readers against adopting false optimism as a way of avoiding nihilistic inertia. Could you expand on this a little?


Richard: On the one hand I am being serious but also having a little fun (with the title of my conclusion). I am aware that in writing this book I have made a contribution to the ‘genre’ of climate crisis books. Furthermore, one cannot help but note that a publication industry around the climate crisis is a small way in which capitalism is commodifying the crisis for its own short term benefit. I am not saying that people shouldn’t be writing books about the climate crisis! But what I can do is perhaps poke fun at the ‘genre’ a little, which tends to aim for the optimistic conclusion so as not to drag the reader down into fatalistic depression. In contrast I would say that if you are taking an honest and scientific look at the climate crisis things are genuinely in a very bad state and it would be deceitful to say otherwise. This is also because we are still very much living in an era of intransigence where governments and corporations are digging in to delay change.

However, if my reader is perceptive, they will also glimpse moments of hope in various parts of the book. But they might have to question some of their prejudices and privileges to find that hope. Hope, and indeed joy, is found in the ability of people to change and reinvent their lives (if you had told my 15-year-old self that my now 50-year-old self would have never driven a car, or would have been meat free for 32 years and vegan for 19 years and counting, he would have been surprised). And it’s in the range of pre-figurative practices that I discuss in chapter eight, which show people trying to live differently and more responsibly. Hope is also found in the shared experience of climate and other activism and in the diligent work of climate and other scientists. And finally, as I say in the conclusion, within potential alliances that are yet to be, but arguably should be, and need to be.


For readers who wish to make everyday choices (e.g. food, transport, shopping) that are better for the planet, what might you recommend?


Richard: Talk with people who have already made positive changes. It’s not a lonely path, as many others, likely from similar social circumstances to you, have already changed. Do not assume that change equals sacrifice; rather it can mean both growth and pleasure. Try to reconnect and visualise the relationships between your choices and their impacts. Adopt anti-consumerism and discover alternative hedonism (mentioned in the book). But there’s a far bigger question here about pressing for real leadership from those with the ability to change the whole choice context. This is where real failures are taking place, arguably more than in the individual choices that people are failing to make.


What other resources would you suggest for people who want to learn more about the climate crisis and its impact on other animals?


Richard: I want to give a shout-out to the unsung heroes that are the ecologists and conservation biologists whose work I cover in chapter three. This may be a surprising thing for a sociologist to say, but please read some ecology and conservation biology. These people have been documenting the impacts of climate change on biomes and species for many years now and they deserve to be heard. Also, at the end of my introduction I recommend some recent philosophical work on the subject.

Finally, step outside the box; appreciate that to understand this topic you need to understand how it intersects with other relations of power. A consistent example is gender. There is plenty to read about how dominant social constructions of masculinity normalise dispassion toward others and other animals (e.g., check out Kadri Aavik’s new book). Instead of allowing that construct to continue to shape our self-understandings of what it means to be human, we need to decentre and remake the human in such a way that attends to, with care, our multispecies interdependencies. Ultimately anthropocentrism is maladaptive for human beings, and it turns out that the struggle for our kin is the struggle for ourselves. 


The Climate Crisis and Other Animals is available now. Order your copy here.