Monday, June 23, 2014
Fires, heatwaves, floods, droughts, mudslides and "super storms" are now commonplace and getting worse. Just last year, for the first time in history, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million (ppm), above the 350 ppm cap set by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. More recently, we learned that Antarctic sea ice is melting so rapidly that scientists say "we have passed the point of no return."
It is hard not to be discouraged by these doomsday reports, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying or doing everything in our power to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. How we respond now may mean the difference between facing imminent disaster sooner rather than later.
There's no shortage of environmental pundits and talking heads touting government policies, like increasing gas mileages for cars and reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. But, while these plans are helpful, they fall short in turning back the clock on GHGs, and they fail to address the biggest threat to our planet—the elephant in the room—our addiction to animal foods.
According to the World Watch Institute, animal agriculture accounts for 51 percent of annual worldwide GHGs, more than any other sector including transportation, commercial/residential properties, and gas/electric industries.
Many scientists and academics already recognize the enormous toll animal agriculture exacts on our globe with regard to resources and pollution. Compared to plant protein, raising animal protein requires 100 times more water, 11 times more fossil fuels, and 5 times more land. It is also widely understood that growing crops to feed animals to then feed people—instead of feeding crops directly to people—is completely wasteful, inefficient and unsustainable for a population of 7 billion people that is expected to rise to 9 billion in less than 40 years, an increase of almost 30 percent.
As a result, many have proposed replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives. For his part, philanthropist Bill Gates has been investing in companies like Hampton Creek foods, makers of Beyond Eggs and Just Mayo; vegan versions of eggs and mayonnaise that are cheaper, healthier, and neither requires the exploitation of animals, nor huge swaths of land and copious amounts of water to produce. And yet, while Mr. Gates praises the benefits of a plant-based diet, he himself is not vegan, which brings me back to the elephant in the room.
Appallingly, would-be environmental groups and their proverbial rock stars (Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Al Gore) refuse to acknowledge the environmental destruction attributed to the animal food juggernaut. For his VegNews piece, "Eco-Friend or Foe?", Nick Cooney researched high profile environmental organizations and found that not one single group advocates a vegan diet and worse; some even go out of their way to encourage the consumption of meat. A new documentary, Cowspiracy, goes even further illustrating the blatant unwillingness of these purported environmental groups to confront animal agriculture, the leading cause of global warming, water depletion, deforestation, species extinction and ocean "dead zones".
What's more, most of the leaders of these alleged environmental nonprofits, who have a platform and a duty to honestly and reliably educate the public, are not vegan themselves, so they neither expect their staff nor their organization's position to be pro-vegan. I should know. I worked for an environmental nonprofit that promoted green buildings in Philadelphia, and I was the only vegan. Attempts to educate my coworkers on veganism were not always well-received, and my suggestion that animal products not be served at fundraising events was dismissed.
How many supposed Earth Day events or environmental fundraisers incongruously serve animal products like hamburgers, hot dogs and ice-cream? Regrettably, most, if not all of them. Sadly, organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, and the one I worked for don't want to point the finger at the meat and dairy industries and those who support them—including their own dues paying members and sponsors—so as not to alienate their donors.
We can expect more apocalyptic announcements from scientists unless we're willing to admit the truth, however inconvenient, and act on it. We can radically change our behaviors and our food choices or we can endure the radical change of our climate. The two are irrevocably tied together. Any group or individual that ignores this fact or tries to tell you otherwise is just blowing more hot air into our already choked atmosphere.
Vegan Starter Kit