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The Web of Life Making the Connections

By Rae Sikora




The Web of Life

+ Our Heritage

Our Food

Our Clothes

Our Entertainment

Work Animals

Animal Experimentation

Animal Legislation
in Israel

in Israel

Reality Check




By now, most of us have heard the expression "Web of Life" many times. We may or may not think about our part in the weaving of this web when we hear about it. The most powerful tool we have on earth is our ability to make individual choices and to be living examples to everyone around us. What do we do with this powerful individual tool?


How do we deal with the overwhelming amount of global information we now all have access to and the despair that often accompanies this knowledge? When we hear about what is going on in the world, our first thoughts might be that there is nothing we can do. Either it is on the other side of the world or it is right in my community. Either I feel I can make a difference or I feel powerless. Seeing our place in the web of life is about seeing that there is no such thing as something on the other side of the world. It is always in our community. All parts of our global community are constantly affecting each other. Realizing this is the first step to feeling empowered as individuals.


There was a time when we thought of many issues as separate. We thought that there was an environmental movement, a human rights movement, an animal rights movement, a women's movement, a civil rights movement, and so on. We saw them as individual movements having no effect on each other. This limited view is changing. We are starting to make the connections.


At the core of this new view is an ever-expanding vision of who we impact with our choices as a species and as individuals. We are redefining who we think of as community and family. If I choose to recycle an aluminum can, it may seem like a very small choice. The reality is that in the U.S. alone, for example, people throw away, and do not recycle, enough aluminum cans in one year to build 6,000 DC 10 airplanes. Most airlines no longer have any recycling program. Billions of aluminum cans served to billions of travelers and none of it recycled.


What if I took that further and said that I will be responsible for any trash I create? This would mean that if I fly on an airplane, I make sure that I bring a refillable water bottle with me, or I would take that can off the plane and recycle it myself. We can take each choice further and further in terms of responsibility. Why is it that we think that each time we want a beverage, it should be packaged in a throw-away container? When did we stop thinking ahead about the fact that we would most likely get thirsty in our travels or while playing or at work?


What happens is that something slowly becomes part of our culture. It works its way in until we do not even notice it. We have become accustomed to the idea that any time we get thirsty we should be able to find a liquid in a package that we can buy to quench our thirst. Here is an example of how we get used to things over time. If I went up to someone 500 years ago and asked them to take a drink out of the local river or lake, they would not hesitate. If I told this same person that in 500 years, that body of water would be too poisonous to drink, they would think I was crazy. They would probably tell me that there is no way we would poison our own drinking water. Now, if I go up to someone today at that same body of water and ask them to take a drink, they would think I was crazy. That water is now too poisonous to drink. We do not feel alarmed when we think about the fact that we cannot drink from our rivers or lakes. We got used to the idea over time.


In many parts of the world, the quality of the air has created a situation where many people have asthma and have to use inhalers. A very large percentage of the population in cities and surrounding rural areas use these devices to keep their lungs open. We are no longer alarmed when we see many people using these inhalers because we grew used to this over time.


We are easily trained to get used to the scenarios that become cultural norms. We use language that helps us stay in this sort of cultural hypnotism. We are willing to call non-humans "it" or "thing." We would never say that for a human. Our language affects how we feel about the life around us. We report on the casualties in a war, but we rarely report the wildlife, companion animals, trees, or other life that is killed in war. These are also casualties. If we called many items what they really are, or if we reported the reality of situations in the news, or if we told the true cost of items we buy, our lives would look very different. Perhaps our choices as individuals would change as we made more informed choices. My little choice to recycle an aluminum can makes a difference.





Let's look at consumerism. If the price tag on an item said the true price of that item, would you still buy it? If you reached for shoes in a store and it said on the tag,

This item was produced:

  • By a laborer who is working long hours in substandard conditions and cannot feed her family

  • With the skin of a cow who suffered her entire life and was trucked to her final slaughter in a crowded truck, in extreme heat, with no water for seven days

  • By a leather producer who has polluted the river in a town where there are now an abnormal number of human birth defects and premature deaths from cancer

  • With dyes that were tested in the eyes and on the skin of rabbits

Would you still feel okay buying those shoes?


This sounds extreme. But the reality is that many pairs of shoes do have that price tag. It is just not the tag we see at the store. We think of the cost of something as only the amount of money it costs to buy it. Many people get a daily newspaper. They think of it as a cheap news source. It is actually quite an expensive news source, in terms of the environment. For example, one major American newspaper alone consumes 75,000 trees per weekend edition. We vote with our money. Every time we spend money on an item or on a form of entertainment, we are saying, "Do it again. Whatever it took to produce this, keep doing it." We are creating the demand for that product or activity.


What if someone chooses not to eat any animal products? In most cultures, this is seen as extreme. In most cultures, it is very difficult to find a meal served without animal products. There are many cultures that have accepted vegetarianism and very few who have accepted veganism (consuming no animal products). Most vegetarians even think that choosing a vegan diet is extreme. Most people think that being vegetarian or vegan is only about personal health.


Many people, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, know about the veal industry and agree that it is cruel and should not be supported. Here is another connection. The veal industry is dependent on the dairy industry. In order to produce milk, cows are kept pregnant. The so-called "byproduct" of this is many male calves for whom the dairy industry has no use. These male calves provide the veal industry with all the calves they need. And now for another connection. In dairy-producing regions, the increased size of dairy herds has caused pollution of ground water. In the U.S., for example, over 50% of the water wells are unsuitable for drinking because of extensive animal agriculture. This is not something you see on the price tag for dairy products.


Egg production is another industry that most vegetarians would not want to support if they knew the reality. So, how extreme is this choice to not consume animal products? What we often think of as extreme is actually just someone being consistent.


This is when it can all feel very overwhelming. How can we each be investigators into our every action? How can we know what has gone into the production of what we consume, in terms of the resources and labor and suffering? The reality is that we cannot all know everything about every action or every item. That would be beyond a full-time job. What we can do is stop ourselves when we are in the midst of an automatic action and ask ourselves a few questions. Sometimes what we do or buy automatically is seen in a different light when we take a moment to stop and examine it. Even without all the background information on every industry, your common sense might tell you whether or not you want to support something. Maybe hesitating and thinking about the choice to support a circus or buy cosmetics that are tested on other species will be enough to change your habitual response.


I recommend keeping these kinds of questions in mind whenever you are about to spend money on something or promote something in words or actions:

  • Is this item a want or a need?

  • Is purchasing this the best way to care for myself and the planet?

  • What is the true cost of this item or action to the environment, other species, my own health, and all people?

  • Is there something more worthwhile I could do with this money?

You will be amazed at how these questions change the way you think about your place in the world.


No one has figured out a way to live on the planet and harm nothing and no one. But we can all make a difference. We can all look at the many choices we make every day and choose the ones that may harm less. As individuals, we often have a choice in what we wear, eat, use for entertainment, do for a living. We each get to be powerful tools for creating a more compassionate world just by how we live our lives and the amazing example this provides for those around us. A world of possibility. A world where, by our very example, we are inviting people to choose compassion. A world where we can all come to the realization that we are indeed weavers of this miraculous web of life.



Rae with black bear cub she rescued from hunters

Rae Sikora is a respected spokesperson for animals, the environment, and human rights. She is the founder of Simply Enough, an organization that offers workshops internationally to help people see how implementing changes locally can bring about change globally, and she co-founded the Center for Compassionate Living and the International Institute for Humane Education. Ms. Sikora has led conferences in Israel for CHAI, and she is writing our new course material. She holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin.

Rae with black bear cub she rescued from hunters