Veganism is the solution. (VeganMoFo, meet Blog Action Day!)

October 15th, 2009 7:27 pm by Kelly Garbato

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As you may have already heard, today is the third annual Blog Action Day. Started in 2007, the goal is to create awareness of a single issue through mass participation. Activists online – and in the real world – focus their attention on a social problem: by writing or blogging about the issue; by posting links to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites; by donating time and money; by discussing the topic amongst friends and family members; and so forth. This year’s topic is climate change; previous areas of concern were the environment and poverty.

While easyVegan is an animal rights blog, this is the third year I’ll be participating. The environment, climate change and yes, even poverty – all can be discussed vis-à-vis our relationship to animals. In fact – and this occurred to me while voting on next year’s topic – pretty much any subject you dream up can be tied back to animal rights, environmental justice and/or veganism. Issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, size, health, nutrition, labor, poverty, xenophobia, species, nature, the environment – you name it – all are interconnected. (So much so that it’s starting to feel arbitrary and capricious to file some posts under “intersections” at the expense of others; ditto: veganism. This entire blog is centered around veganism, yo!)

Some of these connections are more obvious than others; for example, like many of the animal advocates taking part in Blog Action Day, my focus will be on the significant contribution of animal agriculture to climate change. Other intersections are much more subtle; take, for example, PETA’s “Save the Whales” billboard. While clearly sizeist, PETA’s fat-shaming is classist and racist, too. Because PETA fails to address factors linked to class and race (which themselves are inextricably connected) that make it more difficult for disadvantaged populations to consume a healthy, cruelty-free diet, the campaign reinforces class and race privilege and shifts responsibility to the individual, in contrast to systemic factors that set certain people up for failure.

So it feels somewhat serendipitous that the third annual Blog Action Day – for climate change, to boot – falls smack dab in the middle of the third annual Vegan Month of Foods. I guess you could write this off as laziness, but the two blog carnivals (swarms? whatever!) seem a perfect match – so much so that they can share one post between the two of ’em! Action to combat climate change must include veganism – not as an afterthought, not as a quirky personal choice, not one day a week – but as a lifelong commitment by humans (at first living in privileged/developed nations, and perhaps some day globally) to stop viewing other animals as commodities, products to be bought, sold, used and discarded at our convenience.

For we all share the same fate: the water we poison with animal waste; the antibiotics we inject into sick and tortured factory farmed animals; the methane we unleash into the atmosphere; the forests we de-virginize; the so-called “pest” species we eradicate; the ecosystems we decimate – we are all one. We all share one planet, one environment. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, bask under the rays of the same sun. That which we do to one being, we do to all beings. Once we rationalize and accept our subjugation and exploitation of one class of “lesser” animals, it becomes that much easier to extend the oppression to other classes of animals – humans and nonhumans alike.

Veganism is a diet, yes, but it’s also so much more: a lifestyle, an ethical system, a new way of viewing the world and one’s place within it. A light bulb, if you will.

Before I get full-on radfem, let’s return to the topic at hand: climate change and veganism (or, because I’m all about the macro, the environment and veganism).

Here are five reasons (out of a multitude) why environmentalists should – must – eliminate animals and their secretions from their diets.

1. Animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane worldwide – and methane is a significant factor in rising global temperatures (perhaps even more so than than CO2).

By far the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture.

Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together. Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled. Whereas human sources of CO2 amount to just 3% of natural emissions, human sources produce one and a half times as much methane as all natural sources. In fact, the effect of our methane emissions may be compounded as methane-induced warming in turn stimulates microbial decay of organic matter in wetlands—the primary natural source of methane. […]

Methane is produced by a number of sources, including coal mining and landfills—but the number one source worldwide is animal agriculture. Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year. And this source is on the rise: global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and shows little sign of abating. About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock, and while a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous. An additional 15% of animal agricultural methane emissions are released from the massive “lagoons” used to store untreated farm animal waste, and already a target of environmentalists’ for their role as the number one source of water pollution in the U.S.

 
 
2. The production of animal-based foods requires more energy and resources than the production of plant-based foods.

E, the respected environmental magazine, noted in 2002 that more than one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States are used to raise animals for food. This makes sense, since 80 percent of all agricultural land in the U.S. is used by the meat and dairy industries (this includes, of course, the land used to raise crops to feed them).

Simply add up the energy-intensive stages: (1) grow massive amounts of corn, grain, and soybeans (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, and so on); (2) transport the grain and soybeans to manufacturers of feed on gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing 18-wheelers; (3) operate the feed mills (requiring massive energy expenditures); (4) transport the feed to the factory farms (again, in inefficient vehicles); (5) operate the factory farms; (6) truck the animals many miles to slaughter; (7) operate the slaughterhouse; (8) transport the meat to processing plants; (9) operate the meat-processing plants; (10) transport the meat to grocery stores; (11) keep the meat refrigerated or frozen in the stores, until it’s sold. Every single stage involves heavy pollution, massive amounts of greenhouse gases, and massive amounts of energy. […]

It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat, and even fish on fish farms must be fed 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of farmed fish flesh. All animals require many times more calories, in the form of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, than they can possibly return in the form of animal flesh for meat-eaters to consume.

The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth. […]

Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food.

It takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. A totally vegetarian diet requires only 300 gallons of water per day, while a meat-eating diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day. You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year.

While millions of people across the globe are faced with droughts and water shortages, much of the world’s water supply is quietly being diverted to animal agriculture.

and

Efficiency can also be measured in terms of the land required per calorie of food obtained. When Gerbens-Leenes et al. examined land use for all food eaten in the Netherlands, they found that beef required the most land per kilogram and vegetables required the least. The figures they obtained can be easily converted to land required for one person’s energy needs for a year by multiplying 3000 kcal (a day’s energy) by 365 days to obtain annual calorie needs (1,095,000 kcal) and dividing this by the calories per kilogram. The figures obtained are summarised in table 1 (here).

 
 
3. Animal agriculture requires that land must be cleared into order to provide space and food for farmed animals. This loss of forest land, in turn, contributes to climate change.

In all, the raising of livestock takes up more than two-thirds of agricultural land, and one third of the total land area. […]

We need forests. They store large amounts of carbon dioxide, release oxygen, moderate climates, prevent floods, protect soils, and harbour millions of varieties of plant and animal species. They are also home to thousands of indigenous people, whose livelihood and way of life are rapidly being destroyed.

The FAO estimates that the net loss of forests in the 1990s as a whole was 94 million hectares. This represents an area larger than Venezuela. If deforestation continues at the present rate, in just over 400 years all of the world’s 3,869 million hectares of forest will be gone. No one denies that this would have devastating consequences for life on earth. […]

World Resources Institute assessments suggest that 20-30% of the world’s forest areas have already been converted to agriculture. As agricultural lands become more and more degraded, most of the land for replacement and expansion comes from the world’s forests. Estimates suggest that the expansion of agricultural land accounts for more than 60 percent of worldwide deforestation. [2]

Much of this land is used to graze beef cattle. Two World Bank specialists in agriculture concluded that, “Livestock-induced ranching in rainforests has led to significant loss in plant and animal biodiversity especially in Central America 320,000-430,000 ha/year and S. America about 1.1 million ha/year.” [3] This process has become known as the ‘hamburgerisation’ of the forests.

 
 
4. In developing nations, cattle raised on cleared forestland are more likely to be exported for foreign consumption; native citizens, meanwhile, live in a cycle of ever-increasing poverty and environmental degradation.

According to the FAO, 90 per cent of deforestation is caused by unsustainable agricultural practices, while logging and plantation forestry play a greater role in forest degradation. However debatable these figures may be, unsustainable agriculture is undoubtedly one of the major direct causes of deforestation and forest degradation in many countries of the world. A simplistic approach to the problem would imply blaming the “ignorance” of the farmers involved in this process. The process is however more complex. […]

In other cases, forests are opened up for modern large-scale agriculture or cattle-raising aimed at the export market. For example, forests have been converted for cattle in Central America, for soy bean production in Brazil and for pulpwood in Indonesia. In the first case, the process originated in the explosive development of a fast food – hamburger – market in the US which required vast amounts of low-quality cheap meat which could be produced in nearby tropical countries. The result was widespread deforestation in Central America. Subsidized and highly intensive meat production in Europe requires an ever-increasing supply of grains to feed livestock. Soy bean is one of the major inputs for such production and enormous patches of forest have been opened up in Brazil – and in many other Southern countries – to ensure the economic sustainability of that sector through the supply of cheap grain. […]

It should be emphasized that it is seldom the production of food for the poor which causes deforestation, as the largest areas of forests converted to other uses are currently being dedicated to the production of cash crops and cattle. These products, which vary from coffee and beef to coca and soy bean, are in many cases almost exclusively produced for export markets in OECD countries. It is absurd to defend the production of these goods with arguments about food security, as some governments and international institutions (including the FAO) do, since Northern countries have excessively high levels of consumption.

 
 
5. Animal agriculture consumes a significant amount of the world’s resources, while people living in poverty go without.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that around 840 million people are undernourished. That’s roughly 14% of the human population. On average, around 25,000 people die every day from hunger-related causes. Each year 6 million children under the age of 5 die as a result of hunger and malnutrition – this is roughly equivalent to all the under-5s in France and Italy combined. With the world’s population expected to increase from 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, one of the most urgent questions we now face is how we, as a species, will feed ourselves in the 21st century.

Land availability is one of the main constraints on food production. The earth has only a limited area of viable agricultural land, so how this land is used is central to our ability to feed the world. At the moment, the problem is not lack of food – it is widely agreed that enough food is produced worldwide to feed a global population of 8-10 billion people – but lack of availability. Poverty, powerlessness, war, corruption and greed all conspire to prevent equal access to food, and there are no simple solutions to the problem. However, Western lifestyles – and diet in particular – can play a large part in depriving the world’s poor of much needed food.

In all, the raising of livestock takes up more than two-thirds of agricultural land, and one third of the total land area. This is apparently justifiable because by eating the foods that humans can’t digest and by processing these into meat, milk and eggs, farmed animals provide us with an extra, much-needed food source. Or so the livestock industry would like you to believe. In fact, livestock are increasingly being fed with grains and cereals that could have been directly consumed by humans or were grown on land that could have been used to grow food rather than feed. The developing world’s undernourished millions are now in direct competition with the developed world’s livestock – and they are losing.

In 1900 just over 10% of the total grain grown worldwide was fed to animals; by 1950 this figure had risen to over 20%; by the late 1990s it stood at around 45%. Over 60% of US grain is fed to livestock.

Okay, so those last two are primarily humanitarian reasons to go vegan – but 1) this only reinforces my point about the degree of connectivity in this web we call life and 2) I challenge any liberal environmentalist to look me in the eye and proclaim that they don’t give a fuck all about indigenous and impoverished people. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Meat’s not green. Neither are milk, cheese, eggs and the like.
 
 
That said, these are only secondary reasons to adopt a vegan diet. While I certainly won’t complain if environmentalists rush towards veganism en masse as a means of combating climate change, this is only because it will place a moratorium on the killing – hopefully long enough so that animal advocates can convince otherwise compassionate people of veganism’s ethical merits. That’s to say, it’s morally wrong to torture and kill another living, sentient being unless doing so is absolutely necessary to ensure one’s immediate survival (aka, the “trapped on a desert island” scenario). While environmental veganism will “save” (read: spare from existence) the 10 billion “food” animals slaughtered in the U.S. annually, it will do nothing to help animals tortured and killed in other industries: research, education, entertainment, conservation, clothing, sports, pets, etc., etc., etc.

In order to end our exploitation of other animals – and, ultimately, one another – we must recognize that animals do not belong to us; they are not property, but sentient beings. Like us, they have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters; they experience complex emotions, including love, joy, happiness and amusement – and fear, pain, confusion and terror; they can communication with one another – and us, too, even as we refuse to listen; they have a will to live, and live freely, at that. They are more “human” than “object.” A cow is not here for my amusement, any more than I am here for my husband’s.
 
 
This is food:


 
 
She is not:


 
 
This object cannot feel pain or suffer:


 
 
This being can – and does:


 
 
She is a someone:


 
 
This is a something:


 
 
Veganism is the solution to climate change. It is also the cure for our disconnect from the natural world – and our own humanity.

 
 
For more on the link between animal agriculture and climate change, read:

Bite Global Warming

An HSUS Report: The Impact of Animal Agriculture on Global Warming and Climate Change

LIVESTOCK’S LONG SHADOW: environmental issues and options

Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns

Cattle, not soy, drives Amazon deforestation: report

Meat: Making Global Warming Worse

Will Eating Less Meat Help Stop Climate Change? YES.
 
 
Or watch:

(Via Martin Rowe of Lantern Books.)
 
 
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www.flickr.com/photos/falto/3288643195/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/falto/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/sonicwalker/490266320/in/set-72157600011941822/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonicwalker/ / CC BY-NC 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/valjk/634696442/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/valjk/ / CC BY-NC 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/farmsanctuary1/2689360683/in/set-72157606296281440/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/farmsanctuary1/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/giveawayboy/2145248676/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/giveawayboy/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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8 Responses to “Veganism is the solution. (VeganMoFo, meet Blog Action Day!)”

  1. Maida Says:

    Love it! You should write a book.

  2. Shannon Says:

    Such a beautiful, well-researched article, Kelly! Thanks for giving me another rad link to share. :)

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    […] As I noted last year, pretty much any and every topic under the sun can be tied to veganism and animal advocacy in some way, shape or form. Last year ’twas simple; the consumption of animal flesh and secretions is a major contributor to climate change. So too does our exploitation of nonhuman animals impact water, in myriad ways: waste from animal agriculture operations pollute our waterways; the production of “meat,” eggs and dairy requires the use (waste) of more water than does eating lower down on the food chain; and, by contributing to climate change, animal ag. has a further negative impact on weather patterns, including precipitation. Etc., etc. […]

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