“There is no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist.”
Now that I have your attention, let me first of all say that this quote is not mine. I have heard it frequently, however, and given its controversial nature I thought it might be an idea to explore its possible veracity or lack thereof.
At first glance, however, this does not seem like an entirely unreasonable assertation. Given the common knowledge of modern farming practices, logic alone would tell us that much more energy must surely go into the breeding, transportation, and slaughtering of animals to provide the world with food than it would to provide nutrition from vegetation sources.
According to the American Public Health Association and the United States National Academy of Sciences, “pollution from massive animal factories jeopardizes public health in rural communities across the nation. Bearing no resemblance to the traditional family farm, these facilities pack thousands of animals into small spaces, produce as much waste as a small city, and spew toxic gases and other pollutants into the air. Livestock production is the single largest contributor of ammonia gas release in the United States, and giant animal factories also emit hydrogen sulfide and fine dust particles—both of which are linked to respiratory illness—in dangerous quantities.”
A study by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, assistant professors of geophysics at the University of Chicago, compares the CO2 production resulting from various human diets. They find that a person switching from the typical American diet to a vegan diet would, on average, reduce CO2 production significantly more than switching from a Toyota Camry to a hybrid, Toyota Prius. Relatedly, the production and consumption of meat and other animal products is associated with the clearing of rainforests, resource depletion, air and water pollution, land and economic inefficiency, species extinction, and other serious environmental harms, as well as various health issues such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and others.
Petroleum and other fossil fuels are thought to be one of the resources freed up by a vegetarian diet. According to Environmental Health Perspectives: “Fossil fuel energy is also a major input to industrial agriculture. The food production system accounts for 17% of all fossil fuel use in the United States, and the average U.S. farm uses 3 kcal of fossil energy in producing 1 kcal of food energy. Meat production uses even more energy. In the typical feedlot system—where a little more than one-half of the cattle’s feed is grain—the fossil energy input is about 35 kcal/kcal of beef protein produced.
These are just some statistics which assert the tremendous toll that animal farming takes upon our planet today. Vegetarians are all too often associated with Animal Rights extremists who use violence and hatred to promote their causes, often marginilising the rest of the vegetarian population (whom I can only assume constitute the majority here) who are expressing a desire to see more ethical treatments for animals and, in the process, ensuring a safer planet through the nonviolent expression of meat-abstinence. I’ve been hearing many discussions lately about how it is more ethical to purchase local produce over even Fair Trade goods as they take a lesser toll on the environment; yet, somehow, vegetarianism as a very practical example of environmental ethics is often overlooked.
Yet again, at the risk of sounding increasingly frustrated, it is the Christian community who prove to be a stumbling block in issues such as this by claiming divine right to eat meat. I feel that I am within my own rights to be somewhat irritated at such assertations, having held to them myself until very recently. Christians have confused “permission” with “commandment.” The Bible does permit and indeed encourage meat consumption, and Jesus Himself ate meat. No Christian vegetarian with any small amount of integrity would deny these facts, but when it comes to practical modern living, I feel this is an area where we must go deeper into the Bible for our ethical standards rather than looking on the surface. We are called, as God’s people, to be good stewards of the earth, and I no longer feel that good stewardship constitutes the reckless slaughtering of animals for food which we don’t even require to meet our basic nutritional standards, much less so when this reckless slaughter comes at a severe cost to the environment and to the global agricultural yield.
If whole rainforests are being cleared in our modern age to provide farms with animal feed, and if we are severely depleting grain crops to sustain mass farming, then it stands to reason that the developed world must take notice and amend their lifestyles accordingly.
So is there such a thing as a “meat eating environmentalist?” Perhaps so, and undeniably there are people who consume meat who are greatly concerned for the environment. However, this is one lifestyle choice that must be amended or at the very least greatly considered if we are endeavouring to lead ethical lives. In wanting to stay true to my efforts to be an understanding and tolerant person, I would not by any means go out of my way to try and make someone feel inferior to me (or indeed anyone else) by making different choices or holding different views; on the other hand, I do feel this must be addressed. An individual who chooses to remain omnivorous in our present age may not be committing an immoral action, but I would say it is certainly an unwise one.
If a person can survive and be perfectly healthy in our current age while living on a meat-free diet, then vegetarianism no longer becomes a personal choice – it becomes a matter of human responsibility, for himself and for those inhabiting his planet.