10 Pieces of Literature That Will Change Your Perspective on Animals
By Nedelle Torrisi
The following stories, poems and essays speak to the beauty of animals and our complicated relationship with them.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A scientist creates what he hopes will be a human being, but the creature turns out differently than expected, and he runs from his creation in horror. The “monster” is shunned by society for being different, so he learns how to use language in an effort to be accepted. There is a lot to rediscover in this classic novel, as Shelley details one man’s disastrous abuse of power and calls into question society’s hierarchical values by blurring the lines that divide animals, machines and humans.
2. “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace
This essay was originally published in Gourmet magazine around the time of the Maine Lobster Festival. Wallace encourages the reader to empathize with lobsters, who have sensory neurons like those of humans. He challenges the reader, asking us to consider the ethics of boiling a creature alive for human enjoyment. This landmark animal rights essay is a must-read for animal lovers.
3. “Death of a Pig” by E.B. White
White wrote this essay “in penitence and in grief” after having stayed awake with an ailing pig for days straight—a pig he had initially acquired to raise for slaughter but instead became very close to. This experience was said to have deeply affected him and was the inspiration behind Charlotte’s Web. He writes that “the task of trying to deliver him from his misery became a strong obsession. His suffering soon became the embodiment of all earthly wretchedness.”
4. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
This sweet and humorous collection of poems is a favorite gift for cat lovers and inspired the musical Cats. Eliot writes about cats with the respect and reverence that they deserve:
With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that—
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: o cat!
5. Emily Dickinson’s poetry
They are full of animal imagery and metaphors: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul” and “The Gnat’s supremacy is large as Thine.” There are many beautiful insights to glean from her reflections on nature and all its creatures. Any collection of hers will include poems about animals—even a recently published book of her letters references her famously sweet and large dog, Carlos, and has wonderful passages such as this: “I know the butterfly, and the lizard, and the orchis. Are not those your countrymen?”
6. The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin
Merwin is a former U.S. poet laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner. He often writes about the fragility of the environment and threats to other species. The middle section of this collection of poems is a series of eloquent elegies to past companion animals. Sirius is, after all, known as “the dog star.” Get out your Kleenex, folks. Another collection, titled The Rain in the Trees, also contains poems about animals and their habitats.
7. “The Lowest Animal” by Mark Twain
This sarcastic essay is a series of comparisons between animals and humans, concluding that humans are “the lowest animal.” Although it is perceptive and provocative, it will leave you feeling pretty awful about the human species if you aren’t an awesome and compassionate person!
8. “Stickeen” by John Muir
In this short memoir, Muir recounts a trip to an Alaskan glacier that he took with his companion animal, Stickeen. Muir believed in equal rights for all species and wrote about animals with keen insight: “I have known many dogs, and many a story I could tell of their wisdom and devotion; but to none do I owe so much as to Stickeen. … Our storm-battle for life brought him to light, and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.”
9. “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf
This essay is just a little longer than two pages, but it packs quite a punch. Woolf witnesses a moth flutter around her room and eventually die on a windowsill, and she empathizes with it every step of the way. She describes the moth as being made of so little matter that it is made almost entirely of life. It is a beautiful but sad (I warned you!) meditation on every living creature’s desire to live.
10. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
In this novella, a man slowly morphs into a bug, and the reader sees the world through his eyes, as his perspective shifts between species. His family’s reaction to his metamorphosis is terrible, and they ultimately reject him. In empathizing with the suffering main character, Gregor Samsa, who loves his family unconditionally until his death, readers feel the heights of compassion and will hopefully carry this feeling into their own lives and their regard for the lives of animals.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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