Monday, December 22, 2014

Vegans: The Planet Is a Living Thing, Too!

The Vegan Vine
The environmental movement reached a crescendo in September with the People’s Climate March. During this time the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, recently appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace, delivered an urgent plea to the Assembly and its members to scale back the effects of impending climate change. Unfortunately, at no point during his speech did he allude to the substantial impact industrialized animal agriculture has on climate change. I wasn’t surprised by this. After all, DiCaprio, like most professed environmentalists, is not vegan.

We often hear that one cannot be fully dedicated to the environmental cause while still consuming meat, dairy and eggs. This is absolutely true, but I would also argue that one can’t be fully dedicated to animals while also being a consumer-driven, resource-depleting, wasteful, non-recycling vegan. 

When environmentalists, like DiCaprio, ignore how their food preferences affect animals, they do a disservice to the environment. And when vegans ignore the damaging effects their product and energy consumption and disposal have on the environment, they indirectly hurt animals. 

During his UN speech DiCaprio made some good suggestions. His appeal to governments to pass sweeping carbon tax legislation and to eliminate government subsidies for coal, gas, and oil companies is vital. Nonetheless, he shouldn’t discount the importance and power we all have as consumers and citizens of the world. So, while I do agree with him that industries and governments need to take resolute, large-scale action, I disagree with his statement that “this disaster has grown beyond the choices that individuals make.” The reality is that the climate change problem requires both—earnest and extensive government action coupled with decisive, individual action. 

However challenging it may seem to some, everyone must stop making excuses and embrace a vegan diet. Furthermore, government must eliminate the $38 billion of taxpayer money used to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, which only make it easier for people to remain nonvegan and support destructive products. In addition to cutting subsidies to these harmful industries, the government also needs to tax them as they do tobacco. Similarly to cigarettes, animal product consumption is a deadly, detrimental, and unnecessary habit. 

In his book, Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon proposes a 50 percent federal excise tax on all domestic retail sales of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, which would result in the following:
  • 172,000 fewer annual human deaths from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • 26 billion fewer land and marine animals killed each year.
  • A 3.4 trillion-pound annual reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide equivalents.
  • 440 billion pounds less hazardous waste generated yearly.
  • 708,000 square miles of US land no longer devoted to raising livestock or feed crops.
  • $26 billion in annual saving to Medicare and Medicaid programs.
  • Annual decline of $184 billion in animal foods’ external costs imposed on Americans.
The dire situation of our planet requires that both individuals and governments find the collective will to slow down and potentially reverse climate change. To do this, we are obligated to focus on the biggest culprits: animal agriculture and fossil fuels. To disregard one or the other or both is fruitless. Likewise, a vegan must recognize the importance of being an environmentalist, and an environmentalist must see the necessity in being vegan. The two are inseparable. Those who take up the cause of one and not the other will be less effective in averting both environmental and animal exploitation.

According to oceanographers, some 40 percent of the ocean surface is now covered with plastic. In his article, "Choking the Oceans With Plastics", Charles J. Moore noted that plastics biodegrade exceptionally slowly, breaking into tiny fragments in a centuries-long process that entangles and slowly kills millions of sea creatures who mistake plastics for their natural food, ingesting toxicants that cause liver and stomach abnormalities in fish and birds, often choking them to death.

This is just one environmental crisis of many symptomatic of our reckless consumer- and technologically-driven society.

Being vegan doesn't conclude with what we eat. How many of us try to consume less plastic? How many vegans avoid plastic water bottles and recycle regularly? How many vegans seek to reduce their energy and water consumption? How many vegans only buy what they truly need and seek to live a more simple life? How many live in efficient spaces, take reusable bags with them to the grocery store, and cook at home, skipping wasteful takeout food containers? These any many other questions are presented to each of us every single day and how we answer them speaks to who and what we value.

Whether human or nonhuman, all animals require clean air, clean water, and uncontaminated soil. Vegans cannot claim to care about animals without also caring about the wild spaces and ecosystems that animals call home. If we seek to protect animals, it goes without saying that we should also seek to protect their habitats, too. It behooves all of us. After all, Earth is also a living thing—if and when it dies, we all die. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We need church leaders to join the bandwagon and speak out about the evil done to God's creatures. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Iowa, has a good flyer 'Eating is a moral act' which focuses on the workers (ie. immigrant laborers). Sadly the suffering of animals is not the issue.
God's Creatures Ministry