Center for Biological Diversity Connects Diet and Animal Extinction

» March 21st, 2014

Mainstream environmental groups in the United States have almost categorically refused to promote veganism. This refusal is not only maddening, but it’s ironic, given that the environmental benefits of reducing animal consumption are well known and uncontested. My own attempts to engage with mainstream environmentalists on the issue have left me totally befuddled at the myopia that underscores this omission. But what else is new.

Years ago I approached 350.org and asked them if they’d consider officially promoting veganism as a viable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I was told that it wasn’t something they were really all that into. What I suspect they really weren’t all that into was losing donors who cared about the environment but didn’t want to be told they had to give up eating animals to help achieve the organization’s goal of reducing carbon output to 350 ppm. Not realistic, they suggested, which is a rather odd stance to take for an organization that wants humans to restructure their fundamental relationship with the natural world.

Enviros that do address the meat issue will often resolve it through an appeal to the “land ethic,” arguing that humans can eat meat so long as they acquire it in a way that maintains as much as possible the earth’s natural balance and harmony. If there are too many hogs, kill em and eat em. Too many jellyfish in the sea, ditto. This ethic certainly has its appeal, but not only do I find it unrealistic–we suck at getting it right–and not only does it ignore the rights of animals not to be shot or netted, but the ultimate logic of the ethic demands that we begin by hunting humans. So, well . .  yeah.

All this is a long way of saying that it’s nice to see at least one environmental group–The Center for Biological Diversity–address the meat issue with forthright advice. “Eat less meat, save more wildlife,” it explains. “Pledge to take extinction off your plate,” it adds. Their effort is part of “an earth friendly diet campaign.” It’s a step in the right direction, one worth watching and encouraging. Learn more here.

 

 

13 Responses to Center for Biological Diversity Connects Diet and Animal Extinction

  1. afroditi says:

    Sea Shepherd promotes veganism. The recently launched a kickstarter campaign to publish a cookbook of the recipes they make on their ships.
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/897079804/think-eat-act-a-sea-shepherds-vegan-cookbook

  2. I am glad to hear about Center for Bio Diversity. . . and by the way, another organization that promotes veganism is Sea Shepherd. All meals served on their ships for crew are vegan. Paul Watson is a vegan and writes about the importance of it in several articles and in his books. :)

  3. Mary Finelli says:

    Far worse is when supposed-to-be animal protection organizations refuse to promote veganism – and even promote animal consumption.

    The Sierra Club has addressed meat consumption in the past. For example:
    http://sierraclub.typepad.com/greenlife/2008/11/daily-tips-go-vegetarian-for-thanksgiving.html

    and:
    http://sierraclub.typepad.com/greenlife/2009/01/green-your-new-years-resolution-eat-less-meat.html

    and it’s allowed others to address it:
    http://sierraclub.typepad.com/sierradaily/2013/02/is-vegetarianism-worth-it-part-2.html

    It looks like more recently they may be regressing, though:
    http://sierraclub.typepad.com/greenlife/2012/11/sustainable-meat-6-questions-to-ask-a-farmer.html

  4. Sailesh Rao says:

    Unfortunately, “eat less meat” is a signal to eat plenty of cheese. Dairy consumption is environmentally just as harmful as, if not worse than, meat consumption.

    In India, where people don’t eat a lot of meat, but consume plenty of dairy, there are 320 million heads of cattle that are literally eating up the forests putting a severe downward pressure on sambhar deer and tiger populations. Many cows live out to 20+ years in India leading to this bovine population explosion, whereas they are ruthlessly chopped up into hamburgers and steaks in the US between 1-5 years.

    But CBD’s first step is a start. Other mainstream environmental organizations, not to mention the vast majority of the climate scientists in the world, have yet to screw up the courage to tell the truth on this issue, with the notable exception of Sea Shepherd. By being so timid, they undermine their own “hair on fire” environmental action pronouncements.

  5. Isabella says:

    A documentary addressing this issue will be released this year:

    http://cowspiracy.com/

    Please support this project in any way you can.

  6. Sharon says:

    It’s disheartening to see environmental groups ignoring the livestock issue. It truly appears they care more about raking in dough than in actually working towards their cause. The environmental devastation caused by raising animals for food is a cold, hard fact. To ignore it is negligence and dishonest.

  7. P Fish says:

    I wanted to point a typo for correction but you list no e-mail address, just something about twitter. So it will have to be public.

    “East less meat,”

  8. Rhys Southan says:

    “If there are too many hogs, kill em and eat em. Too many jellyfish in the sea, ditto. This ethic certainly has its appeal, but not only do I find it unrealistic–we suck at getting it right–and not only does it ignore the rights of animals not to be shot or netted, but the ultimate logic of the ethic demands that we begin by hunting humans. So, well . . yeah.”

    I think this is a problem for anyone making a strong environmentalist argument, and not just meat eaters. Your point here shows where an “Earth-first” type argument clashes with a rights-based argument — for veganism but also for human rights. If our number one priority is the natural environment and reversing climate change and the like, then yes, we should aim to get rid of destructive animals, including humans. This is why most people making an environmentalist argument are not actually saying that the natural environment is truly their number one priority.

    This explains why some environmentalists don’t go vegan: they never claimed they were doing what was the absolute best for the environment, because that would probably demand human extinction. Vegans too often ignore this nuance when they treat veganism as the optimal environmental solution. It obviously isn’t. For one thing, it would be better for the environment to slaughter all methane-belching farm animals now, whereas the ethical argument for veganism would have us release them or put them on sanctuaries. It would also be better for the environment to hunt methane releasing wildlife such as camels and deer, but the ethical argument for veganism would stop us from doing that too.

  9. Benny Malone says:

    The reason many environmental groups do not espouse veganism is perhaps because of fear of alienating their donors who may be happy to donate money but not change their personal consumption of animal products. When I see a vegan label on a product it sometimes has information on the environmental impact being less in terms of water use, carbon footprint etc. http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-carbon-footprint-diet http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/travel/is-the-livestock-industry-destroying-the-planet-11308007/ Perhaps if more people see the vegan label as also meaning it has less environmental impact they may see it more positively.http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full http://www.eve.ucdavis.edu/catoft/eve101/Protected/PDF/lit/Baroni_etal_2007.pdf As for the argument that human extinction would mean a better life for animals on this planet perhaps, it would also eliminate human suffering. Most of us have to start from where we are and progressively eliminate participation in forms of cruelty, confinement, exploitation and suffering to animals that we do not agree with. Veganism is defined as a way of living, not of dying. To say veganism should not be implemented because it is not perfect is the Nirvana fallacy. A retort might be that veganism doesn’t go far enough or that vegans also shouldn’t therefore criticise people who consume less animal products but do not eliminate them entirely. So on a spectrum veganism is somewhere in the middle. But given that veganism is something that people can implement whilst maintaining their other interests in life (including living) I think the criticism is unfair. As for people giving up some animal products but not all I would say they are moving in the right direction along that spectrum but the counter argument that veganism itself isn’t enough so any consumption is permitted moves in the opposite direction. Also vegans are working towards improvement and working within a paradigm that already exists as all rights and reform movements have had to. In this manner we are like the people building Neurath’s boat – “We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.” Veganism isn’t perfect and still exists within civilisation (unless you seriously espouse human extinction or the end of civilisation). These arguments that it doesn’t solve every problem and some would still remain could be used against any efforts by environmentalists or human rights workers also. But within civilisation I think the difference is significant in ecological efficiency and environmental impact to make veganism a great option for people to lessen their impact. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_efficiency#cite_ref-2 – Ecological Efficiency – from Wikipedia ”In comparing the cultivation of animals versus plants, there is a clear difference in magnitude of energy efficiency. Edible kilocalories produced from kilocalories of energy required for cultivation are: 18.1% for chicken, 6.7% for grass-fed beef, 5.7% for farmed salmon, and 0.9% for shrimp. In contrast, potatoes yield 123%, corn produce 250%, and soy results in 415% of input calories converted to calories able to be utilized by humans. This disparity in efficiency reflects the reduction in production from moving up trophic levels. Thus, it is more energetically efficient to form a diet from lower trophic levels.” If we are against some forms of egregious cruelty to animals in animal agriculture there is no reason not to avoid other causes of suffering to animals that are unnecessary as far as the principle of using alternatives would not cause more suffering and exploitation (confinement etc) to animals. Just because all problems are not solved by veganism I don’t see how I could support those industries such as fur, dairy, pig farming etc I’m unsure of what criteria or alternative principle is being employed if not veganism to eliminate support for cruelty to animals as far as is avoidable.

    • Ingrid says:

      Thank you, Benny, for bringing up the Nirvana fallacy. So many arguments used to justify animal and environmental exploitation are built on textbook, logical fallacies — the elements of which can be easily refuted once the fallacy is identified.

      And yes, as you write, “I’m unsure of what criteria or alternative principle is being employed if not veganism to eliminate support for cruelty to animals as far as is avoidable.” One great response to the [far too] common tu quoque arguments.

      • Benny Malone says:

        Thanks Ingrid. I find that a lot of anti-vegan arguments take the form of obfuscating issues in grey areas or where there is an intersection of the necessary/unnecessary, avoidable/unavoidable, sentient/non-sentient etc. This is then used to argue that it is permitted to confine and kill animals that we know are sentient and suffer for unnecessary reasons as there are alternatives (that happen to be better for the environment too). Arguments also take the form of attempting to say veganism and non-veganism are morally equivalent as if it is a 50/50 choice and therefore it is just a personal choice like any consumer activity. This is a limited view of veganism as veganism seeks to extend moral consideration – actions, products and alternatives are a result and enable this desire.

  10. Ellen K says:

    On the whole I’m discouraged too, but here are two more glimmers of hope: The Nature Conservancy’s head is vegan, and they recommend avoiding meat AND dairy (though one does have to dig a bit for the info)
    http://www.nature.org/greenliving/gogreen/everydayenvironmentalist/eat-more-plants.xml

    And NRDC is also making progress, the author of “This Green Life” also mentions dairy and even eggs
    http://www.nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/0711.asp

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