This past November (2001) I made a trip to Fuzhou University in China, where I had been asked to speak on Animal Law. As it was primarily an environmental conference, I sought to interrelate animal and environmental issues. But, I also knew that my Chinese audience would not have the vocabulary or be as knowledgeable as a US audience on animal issues. As I was preparing for the speech I had great difficulty in finding a descriptive word to describe the group of individuals who care about the pain and suffering of individual animals.
In the US we hobble along with number of terms: animal activists, animal rights supporters, animal welfarist, vegans, and humane society supporters. Our language has been one of seeking to describe particular views about animals rather than describing the commonality shared by all of these groups of people. There is also great diversity of views among those that have concerns about the natural world around us. But, from the beginning the umbrella word that has been used to describe them is "environmentalist".
Likewise, I needed one word to describe all the diverse individuals who have concerns about individual animals. My only option was to invent a word, so I chose, as a parallel, "animalist". For my Chinese audience I defined both terms: an environmentalist is an individual who seeks to minimize the human derogation of the biological environment and maximize biological diversity, particularly at the species level. An animalist is an individual who seeks to minimize the human harm to individual animals and maximize the human respect for them. I noted that both groups of people operate on the premise of respect for life, but have a different focus for the concern. What I did not share with the audience at Fuzhou was that in the U.S. there is seldom a dialog between the two groups, seldom is there a seeking of the common ground, and seldom is there an openness to learn from the other. I’ll just keep that between ourselves.
I hope that you will find my new word useful. I think that we of the animal rights movement should use "animalist" in the public debate, as a big tent term or concept. We should seek out the commonality in views between us. We should seek to create the same positive, broad support in the public presently found for environmentalism. Political change for the animals will occur only with the broadest possible public support, not by making members of the general public chose sides on a 100 different issues that activist divide upon. Everyone should be an "animalist" - everyone should have concern for our fellow inhabitants of the planet, even environmentalist.