The opening night of the Rethinking Animals Summit 2019 took place this past Friday on the 13th.

The evening kicked off with a relaxing atmosphere; there was a mellow hum of conversation, the drinks were flowing, and the canapes were wholesome and vegan. Speakers for the weekend, being experts in the field of sustainability, gathered together at the SVA Theatre to discuss conservation and sustainable development.

Thinking Animals United is an advocacy organization committed to the care, protection, and conservation of all wildlife. Bonnie Wyper, president and co-founder of the company, spoke about the history of the organization and the inspiring work that is being carried out by partners, such as Compassion in World Farming, which campaigns against factory farming and live exports, and International Fund for Animal Welfare, which works to rescue animals and save environments. She also spoke regarding the importance of the private sector in pushing sustainability-based initiatives forward.

I had the pleasure of speaking with various representatives from several prominent sustainable development organizations who were in attendance on Friday evening, including Brian Von Herzen of the Climate Foundation.

“The Climate Foundation is focused on regenerating ecosystems in marine environments in terms of kelp forests, tropical seaweed and tropical seaweed farms. We’re looking at creating habitats for wild fish and regenerating the whole food pyramid. We’ve been working in Tasmania all the way to the Philippines. We just finished a crowd-funder with the Intrepid Foundation to restore the kelp forest in Tasmania, Australia.”

Stephanie Feldstein, the director of the Population & Sustainability Centre for Biological Diversity, spoke to me on the importance of population control and transitioning to plant-based diets.

“We focus on the human impact on wildlife and to really connect reproductive rights and the conservation movement; this is the key to addressing population growth as well as the key to dealing with our rampant overconsumption, particularly in terms of energy and food”.

Recognize that everything that we do has an impact on animals in some way. We need to start living more conscientiously and make better choices wherever we can.

According to Ms. Feldstein, “We need to drastically cut down on the amount of meat and dairy that we are consuming as a society. The more we can socialize and normalize the idea of plant-based foods as the main course, the more we can help drive policy. Right now, policy supports animal agriculture, which is having devastating impacts on the environment.”

Furthermore, she states, “When it comes to food, as consumers, we can have a significant impact on the market. With energy, for example, when you turn on the lights, you can’t choose whether the power at that moment is coming from solar panels or fossil fuels. That is a much more distant infrastructure, but, with food, every time you sit down to eat, you get to choose what you are eating. This is apparent with massive companies; some of the biggest meat producers in the world like Tyson Foods are starting to invest in their own plant-based products because they are seeing that there is money there and that is what the market wants.”

Of course, it is understandable that not everyone has the capability and the availability to buy these pricier organic foods. What Ms. Feldstein suggests is to whatever is possible at any given time. Ultimately, consumer choices and their capacity to dictate market trends will provide the framework for creating a more sustainable food system.

I also spoke with Dr. Todd Kuiken, an environmental scientist working in the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University.

According to Dr. Kuiken, as part of his research, “We’ve been looking at new tools of genetics, things like gene drives, synthetic biology and whether or not they can be tools for conservation either to help species survive. We’re talking about changing the genetic structure of a species to deal with climate change.”

There was a general emphasis on the importance of consumer choices and market-based solutions. Overall, it was an informative event, illuminating the exciting progress  in the field of sustainable development, while also remaining conscious of the amount of important work that still needs to be done as society moves towards a more sustainable way of living.

The Rethinking Animals Summit will run through the weekend and will feature talks from many experts in the field working towards conservation, sustainability and biodiversity. Honeysuckle Magazine will be there, covering all the details to bring you insights and expert opinions on sustainability.