It’s time for a top-down approach to sustainability.

Usually I’m all about bottom up approaches, engaging with those ‘on the ground’ as the route of change, not those in power ‘at the top’. That’s not what this type of ‘top-down’ approach refers to. It’s more of a glass-half-full approach, where we start where we’re at and work our way down from there.

When we think about the 50 to 100 billion land animals (not including the roughly one trillion aquatic animals) killed each year for our consumption, it is easy to feel hopeless. Particularly when we think about the horrific conditions 95+% of them are living in.


To state that anything less than immediate, radical social transformation is not enough makes anyone working to promote change a failure. I refer to this mindset as bottom-up, in that we begin at zero animals killed for food (or zero emissions, deforestation, etc.) and assume anything more is a failure. This is, unfortunately, a sure way to promote a culture of pessimism and failure.

A top-down approach does not assume that any improvement is a failure. It celebrates any and all progress and uses them as fuel to motivate future change. In this way, we are constantly building on our achievements and creating a positive change model.

For those of us in animal protection, this could be a friend going vegetarian, vegan or even just reducing their meat intake. It could be a new vegan restaurant, a new welfare policy or 1 million fewer animals being killed this year than the last. These are all achievements and, even when suffering is all around us, if we can only see the suffering and not the progress, we will slowly lose all hope. Starting at zero again and again is the best way to stall learning and change.

Radical, social change has never happened over night. As the old cliché goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And while climate change, animal suffering and environmental degradation are areas in need of immediate and urgent attention, that does not mean it will happen. It does mean that we need to be as strategic as possible in not only promoting change, but in sustaining our own optimism and hope for a better future. And we need to support each other along the way.

No matter how much you may want to be at the bottom, you’re going to have to walk. You can’t just jump off.


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