I don’t want to alienate people, but the numbers … Earth Day 2014


You don’t even have to find a compassionate place in your heart. Really. You don’t have to look at those gruesome pictures or watch the horrendous but important videos produced by brave folks from PETA, Last Chance for Animals, and other organizations.  You do not even need to get close to cow, pig, goat or any other farm animal rescued from the abuse that is more the rule than the exception, or to realize right away that each is a unique individual – thinking, caring, feeling.  But you do have to pay attention to what you are doing.

I know most people will dismiss it, but this stuff is pretty clear. If you want to think of yourself an environmentalist, if you want in good conscience and with any sense of integrity to say that you “care about the wellbeing of the earth,” or about “saving the planet,” or “reducing your carbon footprint,” or supporting “ecological sanity,” or “living more lightly on the land,” or any one of the many ways we so often hear and talk about sustainability … well then you have to stop eating meat, fish, and dairy products, and stop doing things that require raising and harvesting livestock or fish for food.  It really IS just that simple.

Now remember, this need not be about the suffering, although there surely is plenty. Think about it : between 1 and 3 trillion animals a year world wide.  (Yes, that’s  with a “T.” And yes of course this includes fish.  They are animals, and they clearly have pain receptors… and if you would pay careful attention, preferences.)  No… none of that.  It was Earth Day. We need only focus on our goal of living sustainably. And those numbers are pretty clear, even as they are inexact.

In a 2009 World Watch Institute report, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang published their conclusions that rather than being responsible for 18% (What … only 18%?!) of all of the climate changing greenhouse gasses (GHGs) attributable to human activity – a number larger than all of the transportation sectors combined (13%) and surely enough to make any self respecting environmentalist think hard before diving headlong into his or her next burger – in fact that number was wildly underestimated in the 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The real number, they estimated, was (conservatively) calculated to be closer to 51%.  Translation: Animal agriculture is responsible for over one half of the human generated causes of greenhouse warming climate change. (And that was in 2009. Things have increased every year since. And we haven’t even mentioned the water, the soil, the ….)

As you might expect, their report was vigorously challenged; after all, we are talking about multi-billion dollar industries. Those with a great deal to lose always defend themselves.  We need only to look back two or three decades for the work of the ‘scientists’ who were ‘not yet convinced’ by the then overwhelming evidence of links between tobacco and disease. Goodland and Anhang – two highly respected analysts for the World Bank – responded methodically, carefully, and often. And certainly there is no need to repeat the entire dialogue here. [I would invite anyone interested to start with a careful look at Robert Oppenlander’s 2013 book, Food Choice and Sustainability. ]

Plant-based eating. It really sounds a bit extreme, right.  I guess it is.  But then we just celebrated the 44th Earth Day, and, although there certainly has been progress in some areas, the earth is still woefully behind its race with the human species.  Yeah, I know, that sounds crazy.  We are also, after all, from this earth.  And of course it really isn’t much of a contest between the earth and human beings.  The earth will win. Long after we have ruined any chance for abundant life to continue on the planet; long after we have depleted arable land on which to grow food; long after we have polluted lakes, rivers and streams and drained massive aquifers; long after the glaciers have melted and the air has become so toxically loaded that life as we know it has little chance. Long after all of that, the earth itself will continue on its way.  Long after we have gone.  Perhaps for billions of years more. Oh, but what a saddened and diminished place it will be.

No this is not an effort to dismiss Meatless Mondays, Eating Local, plug-in vehicles, ride sharing, or any number of quite well-intentioned efforts to add drops to the oceans of effort it will take to stop what currently seems the inevitable rise of earth’s temperature by those devastating 2 or 3 degrees Celsius.  But in this case, the numbers speak loudly and clearly. We cannot, overnight, undo the complex web of GHG-producing transportation we have constructed. Indeed there are plenty of wonderful folks working hard on this front.  But we can, overnight, all stop raising, harvesting, producing and eating animals for food.  And that is what is required at the personal, national, and international levels. The results would be immediate, the effects inevitable, the rapid slowing and then (do we dare hope) reversal of the devastating effects of a warming earth – effects the likes of which we have just begun to feel.

Earth Day 2014. Demand an end to raising, harvesting and eating animals for food. Make it that year.