Saturday, November 17, 2018

Why Eggs and Ham Are Not Green--and Why a Plant-Based Diet is the Best Thing We Can Do fior the Planet

What does it mean to be green? At it simplest, being green surely means to support policies—and, at a personal level, to adopt habits of behavior—that are good for the planet.

Increasingly, researchers are concluding that the biggest single thing human animals can do for the planet is, at a personal level, to stop eating other animals—and, at a government level, to stop providing billions in subsidies to those sectors of the food industry that turn non-human animals (and their milk and eggs) into human food. Results of the most broadly-based study to date were published earlier this year in Science; the study, led by Joseph Poore of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, has the unappetizing title of “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.” Its conclusion? “Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s GHG emissions by 49%....” For a developed nation, “dietary change has the potential for a far greater effect on food’s different emissions,” reducing them by as much as 73%. Poore used more direct language when interviewed by The Guardian: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth—not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

It’s no secret that the byproducts of large-scale agribusiness include large-scale pollution of the traditional sort. In recent years researchers have begun to appreciate as well the extent to which large-scale agriculture contributes to climate change. That’s not only—or even mainly—the result of methane emissions from the obvious sources (emissions from the rear ends of cows and pigs, emissions from slaughterhouse effluent, etc.). It’s also the result of deforestation; to the extent that we choose to eat animal products, far more forest needs to be turned into farmland than would be the case if we adopted a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Animal agriculture is fundamentally inefficient: rather than grow crops to feed humans directly, we devote massive amounts of land and of energy to growing crops to feed animals that will later be killed and fed to humans. “Meat, aquaculture, eggs, and dairy use 83% of the world’s farmland and contribute 56-58% of food’s different emissions, despite providing only 37% of our protein and 18% of our calories,” the Oxford study reports.

But aren’t eating local, and eating meat or cheese from organically certified farms just as good for the environment as going vegan? No, is the short answer. To be sure, obtaining our nourishment from organic meat or dairy is better than obtaining it from factory-farmed meat or dairy—but the Oxford study confirms that it’s far worse than obtaining our nourishment from beans, greens, nuts, and fruit; in the long run, even organic animal agriculture is simply not sustainable. Poore provided a personal perspective in his interview with The Guardian: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project.” Given all the evidence, you’d think that every Green Party would have made eliminating subsidies to animal agriculture a central plank of its platform. You’d expect too a suite of measures designed to encourage us all to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet—or, at the very least, to greatly reduce our consumption of non-human animals.

If you thought that, you’d be dead wrong. Again and again when it comes to agriculture and food policies, Green Party platforms such as those of Green Party US, the Green Party of Canada (and Green Parties in Canadian provinces), and the UK Green Party tout their support of organic farming and of eating local—and say nothing about discouraging the consumption by humans of animal products. Even Germany’s powerful Green Party—which calls for an end to the “industrial livestock farming within the next 20 years”—does not put forward any set of policies designed to reduce the consumption by humans of non-humans.

Greens, in other words, are not truly green—and conventional mainstream parties that claim to be “green” are no better. Arguably, the only parties with platforms that qualify as truly green are parties such as the tiny Animal Protection Party in Canada, and the Party for the Animals in the Netherlands. That name may sound laughable to some, but the Party for the Animals has several seats in the Dutch Parliament, and it’s largely as a result of their pressure that the Dutch government has become one of the few in the world to make the reduction of meat consumption a goal.

None of this should be taken to suggest that it’s wrong to tax carbon emissions and encourage renewable sources of power generation. But for parties to say they are green and not propose any measures to reduce the human consumption of non-human animals is to ignore—excuse the metaphor—the elephant in the room.

This is one area in which the media are largely ahead of the politicians. Even The Economist—which has had a long track record of either ignoring or ridiculing veganism—recently ran a three-page piece with this heading: “People in rich countries are eating more vegan food. The further they go, the better.” If all the politicians who call themselves “green” could pay a little attention, it might be just in time to save the planet.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder why you specify "non-human animals". Is cannibalism OK?

    Seriously, companies such as Beyond Meat and A&W Restaurants are starting to make an impact. It's time for Green Parties to move a plant based diet to the mainstream from the fringes.


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