So You Think You’re an Environmentalist?
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of global climate change and environmental devastation. Fossil fuels are a major contributor, yes, but livestock are actually the chief malefactors in terms of greenhouse gas emissions – and a litany of destructive ancillary effects.
Environmental harms associated with the meat industry include deforestation (particularly in the Amazon basin), pesticide and fertilizer run-off, and shockingly prodigious water usage, all of which hasten and intensify atmospheric change. The provocative and compelling documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” currently streaming online, clearly outlines the mathematical impossibility of sustaining our current appetite for flesh. A comprehensive list of facts about animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change is archived at http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/.
The studies are clear, and so are some of the Internet listicles that enumerate “The Top 10 Things YOU Can Do To Fight Global Warming.” At the top of any list based on peer-reviewed science will be “Stop Eating Livestock.” Hybrid vehicles and fluorescent bulbs are swell and shorter showers are certainly better than worse, but you save the equivalent of 660 gallons – about a month’s worth of showers – by forgoing one 4-ounce hamburger.
When our mothers fed us red meat 6 days a week in the 1970’s, they could plausibly invoke the “we just didn’t know better” rationale. Now we do know better. Ignorance is no longer a legitimate defense.
Yet none of the major environmental advocacy organizations – Sierra Club, Rain Forest Action Network, 350.org, Oceana – fight to end the planet-killing practice of industrialized feedlots and abattoirs. They don’t even mention the issue on the Home page of their Websites, which are stuffed with anti-petroleum screeds. Saving the whales, a la Greenpeace, is a noble mission; saving the planet, we humbly submit, is even nobler. Unfortunately, these groups aren’t seeking nobility. Non-profit charities are businesses with tax advantages, and hectoring membership about their unsustainable diet wouldn’t be good for revenues. We understand the concepts of “political hot potato” and “not a great way to raise money from bacon lovers who self-identify as ‘environmentally concerned,’” but we also understand the concept of laziness. It’s why the existence of perfect strategy cards for blackjack and video poker never stops the majority of people from playing imperfectly. It’s why almost everyone you know still drives an automobile, or SUV or truck. Changing entrenched behavior is work, and the whole point of American life is to get someone else to do the hard stuff for you (while you pay yourself 1,000 times more than the workers).
Each of us can only save our 1/7billionth of the planet. We all do what we can. If what you’re doing is eating animals, let’s be clear: you can’t fairly call yourself an “environmentalist.” Or, for that matter, someone with “family values” or “wanting to leave the world a better place for my children.”
As the man said, the truth is sometimes inconvenient. But it’s still the truth, unpalatable though it may be to the lifelong carnivore.