Challenging the argument that we’re not designed to address climate change

In the face of a slow and inadequate global response to anthropogenic climate change, scholars and journalists frequently claim that human psychology is not designed or evolved to solve the problem, and they highlight a range of “psychological barriers” to climate action. Here, we critically examine this claim and the evidence on which it is based. We identify four key problems with attributing climate inaction to “human nature” or evolved psychological barriers: (a) It minimizes variability within and between populations; (b) it oversimplifies psychological research and its implications for policy; (c) it frames responsibility for climate change in terms of the individual at the expense of the role of other aspects of culture, including institutional actors; and (d) it rationalizes inaction. For these reasons, the message from social scientists must be clear—humans’ current collective failure to tackle climate change on the scale required cannot be explained as a product of a universal and fixed human nature because it is a fundamentally cultural phenomenon, reflecting culturally evolved values, norms, institutions, and technologies that can and must change rapidly.

Atkinson, Q., J. Jacquet (2021) Challenging the idea that humans are not designed to solve climate change. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The meat industry is doing exactly what Big Oil does to fight climate action

My Op-Ed in the Washington Post.

Some climate scientists and activists fear that food issues might distract from efforts to curb fossil fuel use; certainly, meat and dairy companies would prefer to keep the spotlight on energy and transportation. But even if we stopped using fossil fuels entirely, the current emissions from the global food system would make the climate goals of the Paris agreement difficult, if not impossible, to reach. The U.S. pledge to the Paris agreement makes just one reference to “farm animals” and not a single reference to “meat.”

Animal welfare risks of global aquaculture

The unprecedented growth of aquaculture involves well-documented environmental and public-health costs, but less is understood about global animal welfare risks. Integrating data from multiple sources, we estimated the taxonomic diversity of farmed aquatic animals, the number of individuals killed annually, and the species-specific welfare knowledge (absence of which indicates extreme risk). In 2018, FAO reported 82.12 million metric tons of farmed aquatic animals from six phyla and at least 408 species—20 times the number of species of farmed terres- trial animals. The farmed aquatic animal tonnage represents 250 to 408 billion individuals, of which 59 to 129 billion are vertebrates (e.g., carps, salmonids). Specialized welfare information was available for 84 species, only 30% of individuals; the remaining 70% either had no welfare publications or were of an unknown species. With aquaculture growth outpacing welfare knowledge, immediate efforts are needed to safeguard the welfare of high-production, understudied species and to create policies that minimize welfare risks.

Citation: Franks, B., C. Ewell, J. Jacquet (2021) Animal welfare risks of global aquaculture. Science Advances 7:eabg0677.

Farmed salmon in Scotland face numerous welfare concerns, including outbreaks of flesh-eating sea lice. Photo credit: Corin Smith.

The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers

Our view of responsibility for climate change has expanded to include the actions of firms, particularly fossil fuel producers. Yet analysis of animal agriculture’s role in climate change— estimated as 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions—has mainly focused on the sector as a whole. Here we examine the world’s 35 largest meat and dairy companies for their commitments to mitigating climate change and find four companies that have made an explicit commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. In general, these commitments emphasized mitigating energy use, with minimal focus on emissions (e.g., methane) from animal and land use, which make the biggest warming contributions in the agricultural sector. We also compare the companies’ projected global emissions under a business-as-usual scenario to their head- quarter countries’ future emissions, assuming each country’s compliance with their commit- ments to the Paris Climate Agreement. Taking this view of responsibility and emissions accounting (which is not the conception of responsibility in the Paris Agreement), our results show that including industrial meat and dairy producers’ full global emissions in national accounting would impact national targets for greenhouse gas reductions. As examples, by our calculations, two companies—Fonterra in New Zealand, and Nestlé in Switzerland— would make up more than 100% of their headquarter country’s total emissions target in the coming decade. Finally, we evaluated using 20 yes-or-no questions and a variety of sources the transparency of emissions reporting, mitigation commitments, and influence on public opinion and politics of the 10 US meat and dairy companies. According to the evidence we collected, all 10 US companies have contributed to efforts to undermine climate-related policies. Each of these analyses approaches responsibility in new and different ways. Under the swiftly changing social conditions provoked by climate change, we can expect new imaginings of responsibility for GHG emissions, as well as increased attention to the role of corporate actors and their accountability for climate change impacts.

Read the full paper here: Lazarus, O., S. McDermid, J. Jacquet* (2021). The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers. Climatic Change 165: 30 (*corresponding author).

Who is the high seas fishing industry?

Seafood companies rarely disclose what or where they are fishing. To provide a first overview of the fishing industry in the high seas—the area beyond national jurisdiction—we linked fishing activity in the high seas to vessel owners and corporate actors. We identified 1,120 corporate actors for 2,482 vessels (∼2/3 of high seas fishing vessels and effort in 2018) and found that the top 100 corporate actors account for 36% of all high seas fishing effort. As attribution for anthropogenic activities expands beyond a national framework, we demonstrate the feasibility of methods to identify the high seas fishing industry. These results provide a unique lens through which to view accountability for the use and protection of marine biodiversity. Read the entire article.

The past and future for fish and fishing with Becca Franks

Fish aficionado Becca Franks and I have been collaborating for several years. In November, 2019, we gave a lecture in the Law, Ethics & Animals Program (LEAP) at Yale University titled Fish, Fisheries, and Ending Factory Fishing and Farming. With that lecture fresh in our mind, we did an interview in early 2020 with artist and filmmaker Christopher Roth for Germany’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. The premise was it is 2038 and all the world’s problems have been solved. Download (the first two pages) of our paper The state and status of fishes and aquatic invertebrates: A retrospective, also published in 2038. We are not only thinking about (and writing from) the future — we also recently published a piece with Troy Vettese on the history of the fish pain debate in Issues in Science and Technology.

The US Response to COVID-19 and Climate Change Endangers the Country and the World

Dale Jamieson and I co-wrote a commentary for One Earth on similarities between the U.S. positions on COVID-19 and climate change.

The US does not need to lead the world, but it does need to act as a good citizen. This requires at a minimum re-engaging with the Paris Agreement and supporting the WHO. Whereas there are 300 million Americans and 7 billion potential victims of a global pandemic and climate change, there is only one earth that we all must share.

An evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organization at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs


Independent onboard monitoring of fishing activities is important in an era of marine animal overexploitation and declining fish populations. Fisheries observers have traditionally filled this role to varying capacities. Their work is critical to fisheries managers because observers collect data on, for example, catch composition, discard and by-catch policy compliance, and transshipment activities – data that would otherwise be unreliable if collected from other sources. However, fisheries observers have been subject to human rights and safety violations, including intimidation and assault, and many observers have even disappeared from their vessel assignments. In some cases, remote electronic monitoring (REM) has been deployed to complement or substitute for human observers. This study is the first comparison of existing at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs for 17 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), the main institutions that currently exist to manage and conserve fish on the high seas or straddling high seas boundaries. Currently only three RFMOs mandate 100% observer coverage on fishing vessels, and no RFMOs mandate 100% at-sea monitoring coverage using REM. Moreover, no RFMOs mandate full transparency of either human observer or REM data. In addition, no RFMOs include regulations to sufficiently ensure the protection of fisheries observer rights and safety, and only four RFMOs mandate a specific process in the event that an observer disappears or dies. RFMOs are well positioned to mandate comprehensive, independent, and transparent monitoring coverage onboard fishing vessels by utilizing a complementary approach of human observers and REM. This would help ensure better management of fisheries as well as better protection of marine ecosystems and human rights at sea.

Citation: Ewell, C., J. Hocevar, E. Mitchell, S. Snowden, J. Jacquet (2020) An evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organization at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs. Marine Policy 115: 103842.

IGC3 side event

I spoke alongside Greenpeace’s Sandra Schöttner and Sofia Tsenikli, Women4Oceans Farah Yasmin Obaidullah, and activist (and actor) Javier Barden to delegates at the UN in favor of a strong Global Ocean Treaty that could help to protect at least 30% of the world’s seas by 2030. 

High seas fisheries play a negligible role in addressing global food security

Authors: Laurenne Schiller, Megan Bailey, Jennifer Jacquet, and Enric Sala

Recent international negotiations have highlighted the need to protect marine diversity on the high seas—the ocean area beyond national jurisdiction. However, restricting fishing access on the high seas raises many concerns, including how such restrictions would affect food security. We analyze high seas catches and trade data to determine the contribution of the high seas catch to global seafood production, the main species caught on the high seas, and the primary markets where these species are sold. By volume, the total catch from the high seas accounts for 4.2% of annual marine capture fisheries production and 2.4% of total seafood production, including freshwater fisheries and aquaculture. Thirty-nine fish and invertebrate species account for 99.5% of the high seas targeted catch, but only one species, Antarctic toothfish, is caught exclusively on the high seas. The remaining catch, which is caught both on the high seas and in national jurisdictions, is made up primarily of tunas, billfishes, small pelagic fishes, pelagic squids, toothfish, and krill. Most high seas species are destined for upscale food and supplement markets in developed, food-secure countries, such as Japan, the European Union, and the United States, suggesting that, in aggregate, high seas fisheries play a negligible role in ensuring global food security.

Read more here.

Watch over Antarctic waters

Commentary led by Cassandra Brooks, and also David Ainley, Peter Abrams, Paul Dayton, Robert Hofman, and Donald Siniff at Nature.

In a rapidly changing climate, fisheries in the Southern Ocean must be managed cautiously…

Read it here.

Defining denial and sentient seafood — a response to Sneddon et al.

Hooked Follow Up III:  Gone Monster Fishing
NGCUS  - Ep Code: 3867Sneddon et al. address the scientists who reject the empirical evidence on fish sentience, calling them “sceptics” and their work “denial”. This is the first article to frame the question of fish sentience in these terms, and it provides an obvious opening for social science and humanities research in the science of fish sentience. It is also worth asking what practical changes in the lives of fish might arise from the mounting evidence of their sentience. I suggest that the relationship between sentience and our sense of moral obligation is not as clear as we often assume. Read the full response here.
Continue reading “Defining denial and sentient seafood — a response to Sneddon et al.”

Asad Raza’s Weekend Guests: Jennifer Jacquet


As part of Root sequence. Mother tongue (2017), Asad Raza’s show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, he invited series of guests to occupy the installation with choreographic, musical, and intellectual events for weekend visitors to the museum. Comprising mentors, friends, and younger creative practitioners, the group is a plurivocal portrait of the artist’s community. Asad Raza and Jennifer Jacquet discuss octopus, fish, shame, climate change, and other things.

Continue reading “Asad Raza’s Weekend Guests: Jennifer Jacquet”

Very Bad Wizards talk shame

Psychologist David Pizarro and philosopher Tamler Sommers talk shame with Jennifer Jacquet, including the pros and cons and the difference between shame and guilt. Is shaming effective for generating social progress or getting tax cheats to pay up? Is twitter shaming on the rise or on its way out? And what does David do when he’s alone in the dark? Listen here.

Public shaming can make the world a better place

The discussion about 21st-century shaming usually turns to cases in which an otherwise well-behaved person posts a tweet or photograph that results in excessive punishment by an anonymous and bloodthirsty online crowd which ruins that person’s life for a while. Many people, myself included, object to this form of vigilantism. But other examples of shaming — singling out big banks for environmental destruction, exposing countries for refusing to end forced labour or calling out denialists who undermine action on climate change — challenge the mistreated tweeter as shaming’s stereotype. What shaming largely is, after all, is not necessarily what shaming might be. Read more at WIRED.CO.UK.

Is Shame Necessary in The Brooklyn Rail

“Guilt only needs to be addressed by the self, whereas shame can force change in others’ behavior. Shame can scale and its target need not be human. A company or an industry can be shamed, but they cannot feel guilty as these entities lack consciences. This important distinction is central to Jacquet’s thesis: abandon guilt and turn to shame as the tool for resolving collective action problems.” Read more in The Brooklyn Rail.