RANT: Climate change, Copenhagen, and why vegans should give a shit »
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard something about the climate conference in Copenhagen this week. The media declared it a failure before the conference even started, but leaders from all over the world are, at the time of this writing, still meeting to figure out how to stop the world from drowning/boiling to death. They may have even reached a meaningful but still incomplete deal to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C, thanks to some down-to-the-wire discussions between President Obama and China, India and Brazil. (Obama was reported as having “bursted into” the closed door meeting of developing nations in “a dramatic moment,” which sounds like he literally kicked the door down and pushed over the conference table, but what really happened was probably not quite so cinematic.) And while even the incomplete deal won’t result in a legally binding treaty, nations will have plenty to get started on, so they can wrap up negotiations for next year’s sequel in Mexico City. It is, believe it or not, significant progress.
The goal of the conference was to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol with a new agreement that would cut greenhouse emissions by 80 percent before 2050. And for all the drama over how to meet that 80 percent cut, many climate activists are warning that even 80 percent may not even be enough. Yikes.
But it’s like this: imagine getting your entire family around a dinner table and starting a political debate about guns or welfare, or arguing about whether or not people should eat animals. No one will agree, tempers will flare, and at least one of you will storm out of the room or clam up for the rest of the night. Now take that and imagine the same thing except with 194 different nations, each with their own priorities and political systems, all trying to protect their own interests while debating how to fundamentally change their economies from top to bottom. You get every divide imaginable: left vs right, oil producing vs oil consuming, Europe vs America vs China vs. the ghost of George W. Bush, and the stickiest of all, rich countries vs. poor countries. Poor countries see climate change as something that rich countries are doing to them, while rich countries are skeptical of shoveling aid money to poor countries to adapt. And if you’re from a low-lying island nation like Tuvalu, it’s you vs everyone else, because your country will literally submerge if sea levels keep rising. That no one has stormed out of the room (well okay, some nations really did storm out—but they came back) is remarkable.
What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
But what does any of this have to do with veganism or animal rights? Plenty. Climate change isn’t just for the Prius-Ecorazzi set. There’s plenty for animal lovers to care about. Habitat loss and extinctions just for starters. Or changes to how we use farmland, whether or not we stop clear cutting forests, whether or not nations continue to produce more and more meat, and problems like oil spills that kill birds right here in the San Francisco Bay.
The bottom line, if you care about animals, then you care about all animals, not just kittens and puppies and cows and chickens. (Though we still love them too.) The right of wild animals to just keep on living is also an animal right, and that’s why climate is so freakin’ important. Sold yet?
Okay, then how about this. Fighting global warming and fighting factory farms are the same fight. A 2006 study pegs livestock at 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. 18 is a lot of percent! It’s roughly the same amount as all of transportation. If people stopped eating meat overnight, that would be the same as taking every car off the road and every airplane out of the sky. While we’re not going to get the entire world to stop eating meat by 2050, if we’re going to hit that 80 percent, we’ll need cuts everywhere, including factory farms. And it just so happens that cramming animals together in smaller and smaller spaces so they can get killed in larger volume and more profitably is exactly what’s causing rising methane emissions from livestock. That’s a huge opportunity for the vegan/AR world to join forces with the climate movement.
PETA: bringing a knife to a chess match?
PETA has, to some extent, capitalized on this, by pointing out that cutting meat would be as good for the environment as cutting all of transportation. But, in typical PETA style, they’re missing the big picture while making enemies in the process. Cutting meat by itself isn’t anywhere near enough. And, unfortunately, it sends the message that driving your Hummer is all cool as long as you stop eating meat. Nothing could be further from the truth. A vegan world would be only 18 percent of the way there. If we’re going to save animals (and human animals) from the effects of climate change, we’re going to need much more than a pack of noble vegans resting on their laurels. And don’t expect that message from PETA. They’ve been busy making common cause with environment-hater Glenn Beck to mock Al Gore.
Al Gore, to his credit, is getting the message about meat, but all this does is point out the limits of “personal responsibility.” Global warming is a global problem, not a personal moral failing. Right-wingers love to fixate on this by harping on individual hypocrisy, because it pulls the conversation away from the need for collective action—collective action, like what’s wrapping up in Copenhagen, is what frightens right wingers and climate deniers the most. You say “collective” and they hear “OMG SOCIALISM”—is it any wonder why they’re trying to change the subject to Al Gore’s dinner?
Real climate action is about upgrading how civilization works, not about how awesome and moral you are in the broken civilization we have now. So what about all that stuff like changing out your light bulbs and biking to work? Yeah that stuff is great, and you should do it. Trade in your car for a bike, or a MUNI pass, or a seat in a carpool, save some cash with more efficient lighting, take shorter showers, etc. You probably know what you’re doing already, and you don’t need yet another green nag telling you what you already know. If it’s practical to make those changes and you can afford it, then what are you waiting for, do it now. But the biggest green bang for your buck is the messy and unsexy work of collective action, like hounding your representatives in Congress, changing how businesses run or starting better ones, and just good old fashioned public persuasion.
Saving the forests for the trees
The biggest victory this week is an agreement to, essentially, save all forests on earth. The agreement is based around REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which stops deforestation by paying countries to leave their forests standing. If it sounds like just throwing money at the problem, it is. But if the agreement sticks, it’ll create a massive mega-fund to stop deforestation. Some of it will be paid into by polluters that can’t or won’t reduce greenhouse emissions, by allowing them to purchase credits. This has two effects: it saves forests, which capture CO2 and keep warming in check, and it saves the habitats of animals who live in the forests. Yes, even Bambi and Thumper.
Let that sink in for a moment. We just reached an agreement to save all the forests on earth. The hard part will be getting that agreement to stick, and it’s going to need ongoing support, especially from people in rich countries (that’s us) who might start feeling squidgy about throwing money at poor countries to basically do nothing. But the reality is that trees have a cash value, and poor countries are not going to give that up, not unless we pay them to leave their forests alone. Legalized bribery? Neoliberal market economics gone wrong? Whatever you want to call it, saying “pretty please” isn’t going to save forests, but tens of billions of dollars just might.
Another side effect? Less clear cut rainforest = less land for grazing + less land for growing feedstock for cattle. Not bad for a week’s work.
The enemy of Sarah Palin is my friend
Still not convinced climate is an AR issue? Just ask the polar bears, or the 1 million or more species at risk of extinction due to climate change. And if we can get rid of oil through a climate change agreement, we can avoid endless repeats of the Cosco Busan spill that killed tens of thousands of birds. Or ask the birds that die with plastics in their stomachs what they think of petroleum products. I mean, assuming you speak bird. Or polar bear. Or ghost-bird.
Here’s the thing. Our best chance to fight for animal issues like deforestation and factory farms is to stop looking at these issues in silos, and to also fight for them in the broader context of climate. Policies like cap-and-trade or carbon taxes seem dry and boring, but going after factory farms by going after greenhouse gas emissions will be one of the most powerful tools we have. And if we solve all the other stuff, like heating, lighting, manufacturing, driving, and flying, we can save animal habitats and avoid mass extinctions. Mentos!
Seriously guys, the world is fucked and it’s going to take more than sniping about Al Gore’s steak dinner to unfuck it. So expect a lot of media chatter about whether or not Copenhagen went far enough, or whether the conference was a sham, or who flew their staff in a private plane to the conference, or whatever. Progress is progress, and for the first time, America and China are finally on board. This is the time to step it up.
Photo credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times.
East Bay vegan drinks, Keep’s sample sale, foie gras vs. puppies, ‘anus-grade pork,’ SF vegan bakesale and more in this week’s link-o-rama! »
Tonight, Friday Dec. 4 at 7 in Palo Alto: A screening of Food, Inc. at World Centric, 2121 Staunton Ct. Following the film is a speaker, Stanford student and eco-documentary filmmaker Matt Harnack, who will also show his own 20-minute film, Fossil Fuel Free Film. This event is free, though donations are requested to cover the cost of film and speakers. Seating capacity is about 70 people; arrive early to ensure that you will get a seat. Please feel free to bring food/drinks to share and a cushion as there are a few metal chairs.
Tomorrow, Saturday Dec. 5: the SF Vegan Bakesale, take three! Get over to Ike’s (3506 16th St. at Sanchez Street) between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a lot of cash, there’ll be tons and tons of baked goods, AND bunnies! BUNNIES.
Hey LA vegans: Keep is having a sample sale this weekend! From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday Dec. 4 and 5 at Keep headquarters, 418a Bamboo Lane in Los Angeles. Up to 60 percent off select styles, I AM SO JEALOUS, Keep makes amazing shoes.
A ramen truck in Hayes Valley? Opening this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., on the corner of Laguna and Hayes Streets? That appears to offer a vegan option (unconfirmed at press time)? Get out of my dreams and into my mouth. That joke is not funny, but I remain entirely serious.
Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Fort Mason Center, Building C: an Animal People Party, consisting of a white elephant sale and vegan potluck, to benefit Animal Switchboard! Not a lot of details here, except that it runs from 1 to 4 p.m. in room 260. Probably contacting Animal Switchboard would be the best way to get further information.
Miss Vegan Drinks? Of course you do! Thank goodness for the East Bay, who’ve been doing their thing on Tuesdays and want to see you at their next meeting! Mix and mingle on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kona Club, at 4401 Piedmont Ave. at Pleasant Valley Avenue in Oakland! Details here.
Win a pound of Allison’s Gourmet vegan fudge! Enter before midnight on Tuesday, Dec. 8, on VegWeb (run by Vegansaurus’ Laura!)
According to Salon, the Humane Society of the United States has to make a choice: either it works to shut down foie gras farms, or it protects puppies from abuse. Can’t do both!
So tell us, Mr. Henry, “why can’t people live in harmony with animals without resorting to the barbarism of slaughter?” Answer: it takes too long to cook vegetables. No, really.
Adorable video: mad bunny attacks keys!
OMG RAGE: Fast food makes you fat so everyone should eat like Alice Waters, DUH! Lord save us from these simplistic dichotomies. The world is not black and white!
In Indiana and Minnesota, 24 slaughterhouse workers were sickened with “a variety of neurological and physical illnesses” from inhaling a mist of pig brains. Very, seriously sickened. Bacon is so awesome!!
Animal Place has new bunnies, a chance to win a Daisy Wares gift basket, tips on photographing pigs, and an ode to Arturo the chicken. Half the proceeds from the Worldwide Vegan Bakesale, San Francisco chapter went to Animal Place; they’re the greatest!
Not the greatest, at all: Brookestone’s Frog-o-Sphere’s. PETA2 is all over it.
King of the Greens Al Gore FINALLY acknowledges the impact factory farming has on the environment.
MORE RAGE: this program proposed by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture called “Meat the Need,” which would give people extra food stamps specifically for purchasing meat and dairy products. Why? Because people are buying less meat and dairy. So obviously THERE IS A HUGE PROBLEM!! And the most logical solution is to FORCE POOR PEOPLE TO BUY MORE ANIMAL PRODUCTS!!!
And speaking of angry fucking vegans, PETA and the Animal Defense League are now “domestic special interest terrorists,” according to the USDA. No, really. Really for really for real.
Hey have you checked out the discussion going on in Laura’s post about Mission Street Food’s dead-pig-ful Food Not Bombs benefit?
SF Food Wars gets a little feature in the New York Times! And friends-of-Vegansaurus Fat Bottom Bakery’s award-winning! vegan mac-n-cheese gets a mention in the very second sentence. World domination is coming, I can taste it.
So Charles Phan “is in talks with San Francisco city officials about turning empty lots into street-food hubs similar to the popular Singapore hawker centers,” is he? Um YES PLEASE, I will never leave. Because I will have eaten all the vegan food available and become TOO FAT TO MOVE.
Vegan Diplomat: Comeback Kids »
By now you’ve made the decision, come out of the crisper, and are living a full, vegified existence. Whoo! The payback for telling the world your hot little garbanzo-bean secret? It’s like posting something on the internet—every one gets a crack at commenting.
Now, I’m a vegan from the non-Facebook Farmville. You better believe I’ve heard the best of the Guide to Meaty Proclamations. The one that actually makes me chuckle? “SALAD IS WHAT FOOD EATS.” Because ew, and yes—and re-eats, and re-eats, and re-eats, and re-eats. (Four times, four stomachs, though I will have to run that through Dad’s Department of Ruminants fact-checking.)
Last weekend an amazing quote contradicting that notion made the internet rounds. It was Michael Pollan saying, “A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a meat-eater in a Prius.”
That’s a hell of a T. Boone Pickens—the ultimate comeback to “just eat a pork chop,” and sure to make a meat-eater test drive that math. Then one did. And decided that by comparing a “heavy meat-eating diet” to a vegan one, the carpool doesn’t add up. But the virality of the original statement vs. the contradiction proves one thing: snappy ain’t just for peas.
Every time a cold cut is thrown, there’s an opportunity to convert. But it’s what you say, as much as how you say it. Are you ready with your killer (METAPHORICALLY) vegan comebacks to these classics?
“When you eat meat, it leaves you satiated,” (courtesy of some of Bravo’s Toppest Chefs.)
Actually, a combination of fiber from vegetables, fats—that also are readily available from vegetable sources like avocados and nuts—plus protein (hello tofu and beans) makes you feel amazingly full. Here, let me make you my famous vegan burrito—if you want seconds, it’s on me.
“But Meat is All-American! ‘Dogs! Burgs’! Doooood steaks! WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA?”
I love America, it allows me to make the best choices I can to live a life that will provide liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all living creatures. I think there was something about being “created equal” and “inalienable rights?” That seemed like such a good idea, I just extrapolated it to all living creatures. Got a light for my sparkler?
“PETA is a bunch of nutjobs. Do you throw paint on people in your spare time?”
You like sports, right? But even being a baseball fan, you pick a team to root for. Well, PETA is just one team in Sport Vegan, and just because we eat tofu, it doesn’t make us all Yankee fans. PETA plays in a pretty Yankee, high-profile way, but there are tons of other teams to root for too, like the Humane Society of the United States or Farm Sanctuary. And whether or not you agree with PETA’s style, they do have some great resources like, “I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan.” (Hey, did you know Glenn Beck respects PETA?)
“Giving kids a chance to see that meat isn’t all that is indoctrination.”
This last one is courtesy of the aforementioned Glenn Beck who, well… likes consistency, personal choice, PETA, and making Al Gore eat things, namely, his words. In a response to the UK climate chief’s assertion that meat is wrecking the planet, he got some attention by saying that giving kids a Meatless Monday was indoctrination. It played pretty badly . But, and this goes back to words mattering, if you read his whole original statement, he’s not necessarily against giving up meat [for others]—he’s against giving up choice.
Oof. Well, we might not have that “choice” for much longer, and it’s not great thinking…but it’s a little harder to argue with? Ask Al Gore.
Have you been hit with a particularly un-Tofutti Cutie meat attack? What do you hear most often? What’s your favorite ultimate comeback?
This is an article in a recurring series, The Vegan Diplomat; The Art and Politics of Being Vegan in any Situation Society Throws on Your Plate, brought to us by the lovely Zoë Stagg. Zoë writes about politics, pop culture, and social media. She went cold-tofurkey—total omnivore to vegan on April 26, 2006 and never looked back. Despite her rural upbringing and the fact that her dad may have wanted her to enter the Dairy Princess pageant in high school, she firmly believes in the conservative nature of veganism. Her last non-vegan meal was a Turkey Lean Pocket. Ew.