“Veganism Is the Only Answer to Climate Change.”

I’ve been hearing some vegans say cutting transportation emissions won’t matter. That a plant-based diet is the answer to climate change. Here are my two main concerns:

  • These assertions run counter to a great deal of research, including research done by scientists who have spent many years examining agribusiness and climate and whose results provide strong cases for veganism. 
  • The assertions would position vegans as outliers. (I mean, more so than we already are.)

Will assertions like these put off some of the people already confronting emissions in the energy arena who might be amenable to join us in the climate work? If so, is there, nevertheless, some strong inherent reason for making these assertions?

To Start, What’s the Real Percentage of Greenhouse Gases Emitted By Animal Ag?

It’s hard to pin a number on the emissions factor of animal ag. Fossil fuels used for transportation and refigeration are highly intertwined with animal agribusiness. And much depends on how the land would be used (or not) if the animal farm weren’t there. But very roughly speaking, say the animal ag emission factor is somewhere in the area of 30 to 40%, as is accepted by a number of leading food and ag emissions researchers. Don’t those percentages look like a really huge problem? They are indeed.

I don’t think we have to prove animal ag accounts for some certain overwhelming percentage of emissions. There is a strong argument for divesting from animal ag with what’s in the peer-reviewed material today.

And it does not take the help of law and policy making and infrastructure replacement for us to divest. It’s just like the old question: What if there was a war and no one came? You just say no to the use of other animals: “I’m out, I’m a conscientious objector. Done.”

Here are some questions we might ask of ourselves as climate-aware vegans.

Why Do Vegans Focus on Food Exclusively When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

It’s practically intuitive for vegans to argue for ditching animal agribusiness or some facets of it. Cows (and, by extension, all ruminants) are on most people’s radar screens; but aquaculture is also harmful, and so are the pig and chicken businesses and their connected elements like feed and waste. 

We vegans might understandably be keen to know the effects of animal ag and its satellite industries. We might be keen to read, write, and talk about them. 

And in any case, fossil fuel use already gets a lot of attention, whereas “our issue” is pitifully neglected and typically left to us to point out.

Why Shouldn’t Vegans Keep on Focusing on Food Exclusively When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

I think the best vegan response to climate crisis is comprehensive. It’s aware of the interconnected impact of animal ag and fossil fuel energy. 

I also think we have to look out for our tendencies to stay within our comfort zones. On a personal note, to press outside of mine, I set a cap on my fuel use a few years back. The annual goal is to stay under 1,000 miles; but no penalty for public transit. It is uncomfortable, in the sense that I really need to be mindful. I guard my milage allowance. I avoid driving for a lot of reasons. (If I were treating this the way I treat diet, I’d say no use of petroleum is ever acceptable!) 

I don’t want to get caught in the trap of thinking a vegan approach exclusively involves dietary commitment. I’m used to my vegan commitment and I’m used to arguing for it, but I’m a more responsible advocate if I take into account everything we humans are doing to imperil our biosphere. 

What About the People on the Other Side of the Issue, Who Keep on Focusing on Cars, Carbon Taxes, and EV Incentives When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

I expect the people who are working on the fossil fuel side of the issue to also be comprehensive. Even though it means going out of their comfort zone.

I expect them to renounce animal agribusiness, not just cap their consumption at a certain level. In other words, I am not going to urge anyone to eat less meat when simply rejecting animal products is so simple to do (where we are, in this time) and when animal confinement is so unfair, and so utterly atrocious from a land and resource use standpoint.

One of the most noted decarbonizers, Elon Musk, dismisses veganism, saying the greenhouse gas problem is chiefly about “moving billions of tons of hydrocarbons from deep underground into the atmosphere and oceans.” I think I detect a comfort zone challenge. How can Musk not concede that animal ag is a massive greenhouse gas emitter?

Marco Springmann, the University of Oxford’s senior researcher on environmental sustainability and public health, states:

There are lots of different sectors that have an impact on emissions and the food system is surely one of the most important ones as it is globally responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Springmann adds that the overwhelming majority of those food-related emissions connect with flesh and dairy production, so without confronting animal agribusiness “it is hard to make progress.”

Both major forms of divestment matter, then, right? Divestment from hydrocarbon energy, and divestment from animal-derived protein. 

Elon Musk is more interested in electric vehicles than veganism. In contrast, vegans understandably put vegan climate answers first. But I am understanding from some vegans that fossil fuel use hardly matters at all, or to the extent that it does, we should avoid accounting for it in our climate conversations and presentations. That seems like Musk in reverse, and I’m uncomfortable with it.

As always, I’m open to persuasion. I’ll be looking into the arguments and connected information further, and likely reblogging this column when I’ve added substantial content.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

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Photo credit: Jan-Rune Smenes Reite, via Pexels.

Beefmongers

I couldn’t help making a biting comment about National Beef Burger Day, which this Friday supposedly is. 

How long will the USDA tout animal products that contribute heavily to climate crisis and mess up our health? 

How long can the extinction of the untamed, ancestral cows be ignored, as we “celebrate” the “iconic foods” we take from the purpose-bred ones? 

Published today, at CounterPunch: National Beef Burger Day Is a Shame.

“For Africa and Other Poor Countries…”

Bill Gates: “Now I’ve said I can actually see a path. But you’re right that saying to people, “You can’t have cows anymore”—talk about a politically unpopular approach to things.

James Temple (interviewer): Do you think plant-based and lab-grown meats could be the full solution to the protein problem globally, even in poor nations? Or do you think it’s going to be some fraction because of the things you’re talking about, the cultural love of a hamburger and the way livestock is so central to economies around the world?

Bill Gates: For Africa and other poor countries, we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions for them. Weirdly, the US livestock, because they’re so productive, the emissions per pound of beef are dramatically less than emissions per pound in Africa. And as part of the [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation’s work, we’re taking the benefit of the African livestock, which means they can survive in heat, and crossing in the monstrous productivity both on the meat side and the milk side of the elite US beef lines.

Full source: Interview dated 14 Feb. 2021 in the MIT Technology Review.

Yes, Gates said to the interviewer: “For Africa and other poor countries [sic], we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions…” 

But Bill Gates! There is a richness in the culinary arts of simpler cultures. 

There is so much for us to learn about the traditions of cooking with lentils, peas and beans—which need very little water and energy to produce, which can survive droughts, and are the most environmentally responsible proteins on Earth. Instead we find ways to fix other cultures’ problems (often introducing or reinforcing their dependence on the global corporate grain market).

Sometimes, when looking at these big “solution” plans, I wonder if we’d be better to consider the need to heal ourselves rather than the need to fix others. 

Dang, Gates has such a massive platform. Some technology (WordPress included) seems so helpful, but the above quotes show the other side of what the money and status can bring. I’ve never met Bill Gates, but this sounds like a person who values complexity, and things that make a splash in the stock market, and therefore misses some clear answers to life’s most important challenges.

Why pick the side of manipulating animals even further? 

Each of us can make a very big emissions difference—generally halving our overall emissions!—with a dietary commitment. And that difference isn’t about spending more money on changing infrastructure or re-engineering the genetics of cattle. Without genetically forcing more “monstrous productivity” on the animals.

Opting out of animal agribusiness is as simple and as cost-effective as a commitment can be. And it can happen more quickly than the big solutions. In fact, it’s always been accepted. People have always had a cultural love for fruits and vegetables, from potato pancakes to falafel to pasta marinara.

Let’s also be sure to notice what’s happening around us now, right where we are, in addition to what will happen in ten years or 12 or 20 or 30 years globally. Climate disruption is right now causing loss of bird communities in our area, shifting planting zones in our area, flooding homes in our area, and posing risks to the most vulnerable of us.

There are two forms of divestment that matter in addressing our climate disruption. 

One is divestment from fossil fuels. Many people already know this.

The other is dietary divestment. Many people still need to receive the information on food impact, but when they do, the shift can happen quite quickly.

A $40 billion foundation and a crowd of genomics experts cannot tell us how to start. 

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The banner image is a work of the U.S. federal government, found in the public domain.

The Year of the Aurochs

Groups of aurochs could trample us. Cows still can. This, I found out on a walk across a pasture with friends.

Suddenly, as though alerted by some silent signal, a group of cows stampeded in our direction. We panicked, but managed to slip through a fence. That day we glimpsed an ancient law of nature…

Read the full piece at CounterPunch.

Photo by Helena Lopes, via Unsplash.

Life Below Water

Humans like to achieve economic growth and the highest standard of living possible. And now we’ve pressed Earth’s biological systems beyond their safe limits. Aware of a dangerous conflict, the United Nations set forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a consultant (I contributed a chapter called “Nonhuman Rights and Human Sustainability”) for the Encyclopedia of UN Sustainability Goals, it occurred to me that all 17 Goals should be realigned to be compatible with, and informed by, the vegan ethic.

As you see here, the public conversation about Goal 14 – Life Below Water is mainly about how we should “support small fishers” and buy “sustainable seafood” to “conserve and sustainably use” the waters.

Life Below Water. This is the 14th focus of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

A vegan humanity would stop talking about so-called sustainable seafood and simply get out of the water. Maybe we’d still harvest algae, but we’d put a halt to most of the looting and pillaging of the rivers, lakes, and seas.

Where do we start on the political scale? BAN SUBSIDIES.

The global fish catch has rapidly expanded in recent decades, supported by technology, commercial demand, and government subsidies. The fleets of Spain, South Korea and Japan can take catches throughout the Atlantic and tropical waters because the industry is so heavily subsidized. The Chinese bottom-trawling fleets would lack any viable existence without massive subsidies.

Sea turtles are trapped by the hundreds of thousands per year in shrimp nets, gill nets, and by longline hooks.  Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop, via Unsplash.

Where do we start on a community advocacy level? Asking people to commit to STOP EATING SEA ANIMALS.

This straightforward message should replace so-called sustainable seafood campaigns that so many nonprofit and for-profit groups push. From sea turtles to penguins, many non-target animals would be spared if humans would just…

Stop thinking of sea animals as food.

We also need to address the farming of sea animals, which is becoming a massive industry.

U.S. residents eat 100 billion+ fish and shellfish yearly.

  • Opt out, and people can individually spare more than 225 fishes each year — so many, because fish farming uses large number of sea animals as feed. 
  • Opt out, and we can individually spare more than 150 shrimp and other shellfish each year.

Fish farming is

the fastest growing

sector of agribusiness for the past 40 years.

Let’s turn this around.

As always, your input is welcome. This post is intended to offer blog readers a window into the ongoing Patreon studio project Veganizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Vegans Coping With COVID-19

So, how is everybody this weekend?

My freezer is jammed with vegan Indian dinners that I got at Trader Joe’s before Friday the 13th, when a declared national state of emergency sunk in (and Tom Hanks got COVID-19: that was a big yikes! moment for the jetsetters of the Philly burbs). Suddenly, frozen items started selling out as fast as staffers could stock the freezers.

Starting yesterday our local vegan restaurant SuTao closed its doors for two weeks.

Vegan restaurants are generally small, independent businesses, and will be hit hard. Their staffers are unlikely to receive any of the federal government’s weirdly patchy emergency paid leave. (The bill, just passed, guarantees sick leave only to about 20% of workers. Staffers of big corporations including McDonald’s and Amazon are left out. Staffers of companies with fewer than 50 people will be left out because of exemptions. And the bill simply wasn’t drafted with independent businesses, tip-earning workers, high-turnover sectors, or artists and educators in mind.) Point is, most vegan-run businesses are taking a heavy hit. Kindly support them when they reopen.

I’ve had to stop work on planned public presentations as the college events aren’t happening. But I’m not the worst-off here. People who sell their goods where people meet – vegan festivals or physical stores – could go out of business.

So, on top of fear of the virus itself, vegan craftspeople, vendors, educators, writers, and creators have the agony of watching event after event get cancelled around the arrival of Spring and the month of Earth Day and we have to find the ability to connect with people through videos, Zoom interviews, or the written word. The people at Patreon, which now enables all my vegan advocacy to happen, have been wonderfully supportive and caring. I mean the people running it as well as my patrons. If you are a vegan educator, writer, or artist I recommend Patreon not only for its platform but also for its efforts in creating a sense of community.

What COVID-19 TELLS US ABOUT OUR COLLECTIVE FUTURE
Speaking of community, we human apes need to find ways to share our prosperity, or we’ll share our inability to survive. Real “resilience” in the face of changes in climate, and land and ocean health, must mean we become capable of widely empathetic responses. And real resilience must involve asking deep questions about why the climate, the land, and the waters are changing.

We can’t simply conquer the coronavirus threat. Consider our interconnected, sprawling population, and the way infections will evolve with the climate crisis. There will be more of this. What are we going to do about it?

Well, veganism will help, insofar as it means:

  • Living a low-carbon, resource-frugal life.
  • Stopping the farm run-off that compromises the oceans and kills off marine bio-communities.
  • Halting deforestation and human incursions into the space of the free-living beings (i.e., staying out of the way of “wildlife”).

I think we have to think of self-isolation in terms of letting up on our continual invasions of nature. Have we given some thought to this?

Stay well if you can, live simply if you’re not already forced to, and keep up your outreach.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

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Banner image: [Friday 13 March 2020 1700 local time] at Trader Joe’s grocery in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Restaurants are shut, and vegan Indian dinners are getting hard to find!

Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer

Mongolian dignitaries made an Eastertime pilgrimage to see the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago. And whoosh…By September, Donald Trump Jr. had a Mongolian permit to kill one of the world’s few remaining argali sheep.

Read on, in this weekend’s edition of CounterPunch.

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Image licensed by CC0 / Public Domain 

Come Up to Berkeley Heights on the Equinox!

On Saturday, Sept. 21, at 11 a.m. – noon, I’ll be at the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey Vegan Fest. Can you join me for the Climate-Focused Educational Panel in Lower Columbia Park, 411 Plainfield Avenue, behind Columbia Middle School (near intersection of Hamilton Avenue)?
And there’s lots more going on at this Berkeley Heights, NJ festival, which goes on for two and a half days. Check out the timetable.
Kim Diamond, who has been working for months on the event, says,
Everyone can make a positive, impactful difference on both the planet and their health by just being mindful…The Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission and Sustainable Berkeley Heights want to demonstrate how simple this can be.

Diamond, who chairs the Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest 2019 and serves as president of Sustainable Berkeley Heights, adds:
The goal of Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest 2019 is to educate the public through interactive events, so that people can learn more about how to incorporate small changes into their daily routine that benefit the environment as well as themselves.
Frankly, it is my hope that a good number of attendees make some  big changes in their lives. Yet arguably this starts with a blend of little adjustments.
Not making changes, given the consequences to our only home planet, will make our lives far harder.
Here’s a preview for each of the three days of events:
  • Friday, Sept. 20 – Yoga from 6- 8 p.m. at The Grove Park, 200 Connell Drive.
  • Saturday, Sept. 21 – Educational panels and children’s activities, starting at 10 a.m.
  • Sunday, Sept. 22 – Vegan Cook-Off (starters, main dishes, desserts), 1 – 3 p.m.
The town government hosts a Vegan Fest event website. Visit it for more details.

Photo: Mike Kenneally via Unsplash: “Fresh Salad”

Statement of Support for the Vegan Justice League

“We may not pay to kill animals, but our taxes still do. It’s time to end animal agribusiness subsidies. We need to lobby.”

— Vegan Justice League

The Vegan Justice League intends to effect change in the U.S. Farm Bill, which encourages farmers to produce meat and dairy. Taxpayer-funded subsidies, the League observes, let animal agribusinesses produce a surplus well above market demand.

Of course, a vegan would say all animal products are “surplus”; and, as a vegan, that’s what I say. That’s what the League thinks, too.

Why focus a campaign simply on the subsidies in animal agribusiness? Because the subsidies essentially force us to undo our work. Vegans are funding the damned farms. Or the farms that would be damned if only vegans had a level playing field. 

Plant- and nut-derived dairy replacements and flesh-food analogues, together with the vegan culinary scene, are the financial success story of the decade. U.S. residents want artisan cashew-based cheese. We’re replacing barbequed flesh with vegetable kebabs. Thanks to the vegan movement, the population now knows:

Dairy’s not necessary.

Meat’s no treat.

Still, animals are bred, managed, and killed in droves every second. The industry evades normal supply-and-demand dynamics by way of bailouts and subsidies under the guise of insurance extended to animal husbandry corporations.

The Vegan Justice League intends to deploy billboards and professional lobbyists, and to call politicians out for accepting funds from animal agribusiness—focusing on ag-heavy North Carolina, Texas, and Washington state.

Authentic Sustainability

Behind the much-vaunted term “sustainability” is a growing awareness that we’re depleting the Earth’s water and forestland. This is not just about us and what we’ll have left to use. Other animals in natural bio-communities must have viable habitats to survive and thrive. That vital space is lost to deforestation for feed and grazing, and it’s eroded exponentially on a heated Earth.

Animal agribusiness can make no authentic sustainability claims. It’s nothing more and nothing less than a worldwide traffic in introduced species—yet it gets a pass because we presumably need to consume animals. That presumption no longer stands. 

As for the argument that farmers need to make a living, that is an argument for redirecting their business to growing food—not feed. Staying stuck in an unsustainable model is not the way businesses and their people will thrive.

Shifting from animal flesh to a plant-powered humanity stops massive ecological harm, and offers a way to stop deforesting, and to make space for re-wilding proposals.

A recent study carried out at Oxford University reports on one of the most thorough examinations ever undertaken on the impact of agribusiness on the environment. It involved nearly 40,000 farms, and 119 countries. And it showed that by becoming vegan, we could shrink our individual carbon footprints by as much as 73%, and reduce land use by 75%, saving an area equivalent to the size of the U.S., the E.U. and China combined.

Understood in this context, veganism is not extreme. It is a rational commitment to stop greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss now.

Moreover, while leaders of struggling people hope for food aid for millions, animal agribusiness is a massive funnel of feed crops to billions of cows, chickens, and aquatic animals who are bred to be eaten. Consumption of flesh, fish, dairy and eggs takes a massive toll on the environment, the climate, and a finite Earth on which everyone in the world depends.

It is also a frivolous use of our talents to exert systematic dominance over other conscious beings.

Veganism appropriately responds to urgent human safety, social justice, and environmental ethics questions. Veganism understands that our most powerful stance is:

  • The permanent boycott of flesh and dairy products.
  • Conscientious objection to industries that displace, capture, breed, buy, sell, control and exploit beings who, as we do, have an experience of life.

We hold the ethical, environmental, and health-conscious high ground. Yet we are undermined every day by the misdirection of our own dollars.

We do have the power to change our relationship with the rest of our bio-community. Active objection to the investment of our tax money in animal agribusiness is one element of our power.


Banner credit: Architect of the Capitol. Images within text: Allie Smith and Alexander Mils, via Unsplash.

Berkeley Heights Vegan Fest

Outreach on the vegan response to all beings’ health and climate happens SATURDAY 21 SEPTEMBER – because the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey Environmental Commission is connecting the dots.

The group hosts this year’s Vegan Fest at Lower Columbia Park. The event starts at 10am. Bold Arts will offer creative dancing for kids, while educational sessions focus on health and the environment. I’ll be a climate panelist (11am-12pm).

Sustainable Berkeley Heights is also a host and organizer of the Vegan Fest, which happens in Lower Columbia Park, 411 Plainfield Avenue, New Jersey, behind Columbia Middle School.

Come back on Sunday 22 September for the vegan cook-off.