vegansaurus!

01/19/2012

Freakonomics wonders why all environmentalists aren’t vegan and I’m like, “for real!”  »

Here’s a nice link for you guys!: Agnostic Carnivores and Global Warming: Why Enviros Go After Coal and Not Cows, by James McWilliams.

I think it’s a must-read. Freakonomics summarizes and discusses a recent report (link to PDF, FYI) by the World Preservation Foundation in which they make the case for a vegan diet in the fight against climate change: “As the WPF report shows, veganism offers the single most effective path to reducing global climate change.”

Graph from WPF report

Now, unlike some people suggest, no one is saying you shouldn’t get your Energy Star appliance once it’s time to replace the washing machine—you still should—what it does mean however is that society needs to pay at least as much attention to diet as it does to fossil fuels when it comes to climate change. And maybe it does mean that, in such a dire situation, we should prioritize. 

It also seems substituting one meat for another isn’t going to do much good: “Eating a vegan diet, according to the study, is seven times more effective at reducing emissions than eating a local meat-based diet.” And while substituting chicken for beef may do a little, it pales in comparison to going vegan:

According to a 2010 study cited in the WPF report, such a substitution would achieve a “net reduction in environmental impact” of 5 to 13 percent. When it comes to lowering the costs of mitigating climate change, the study shows that a diet devoid of ruminants would reduce the costs of fighting climate change by 50 percent; a vegan diet would do so by over 80 percent. Overall, the point seems pretty strong: global veganism could do more than any other single action to reduce GHG emissions. 

This brings Freakonomics to their real question: in the face of information like this, why aren’t environmentalists taking a strong stance on veganism? One reason suggested is that veganism just doesn’t grab headlines, it’s ”an act poorly suited to sensational publicity.” What do you think? I think it grabs headlines, they are just usually, “OMG vegans are annoying!”

Another suggestion is that free-range meat pastures aren’t as ugly as giant pipelines. This part is great:

[Shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing] all sounds well and good. But if the statistics in the WPF report are to be trusted, the environmental impacts of this alternative would be minimal. So why the drum beat of support for rotational grazing? I would suggest that the underlying appeal in the pasture solution is something not so much calculated as irrational: pastured animals mimic, however imperfectly, symbiotic patterns that existed before humans arrived to muck things up. In this sense, rotational grazing supports one of the more appealing (if damaging) myths at the core of contemporary environmentalism: the notion that nature is more natural in the absence of human beings. Put differently, rotational grazing speaks powerfully to the aesthetics of environmentalism while confirming a bias against the built environment; a pipeline, not so much.

The last hurdle, the article suggests, is one of personal agency. Meat equals freedom! USA! USA! USA!

Finally, McWilliams gives environmentalists some advice: “trade up their carnivorous agnosticism for a fire-and brimstone dose of vegan fundamentalism.” Amen! Normally I just read linguistics stuff on Freakonomics but I think I will have to stop by there more often. Besides, agnostic carnivore is a great term! 

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