September 28, 2007

Rant: Relative Ease

Posted in environment, rant, vegan, veganism at 2:55 pm by nevavegan

I’m perplexed by the level of hostility I’ve seen in some recent blog comments regarding the connection between eating animals and global warming. It would seem that not only are a lot of self-proclaimed environmentalists unwilling to give up meat, but they’re hostile to the very mention of the idea and want to encourage others to keep putting animal products on the table.

Why should this confuse me? Because it’s so, so illogical. I’m going to try to break down why I find this illogical bit by bit here.

First, it’s not just me, it’s not just PeTA who are saying animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to global warming, it’s the United Nations. Do they have a vegan agenda? Are they out to destroy your fun? No, they’ve never promoted vegetarianism before, they are merely interested in protecting the most vulnerable people on the planet from the ravages of global warming. They did the research, and that’s what they found.

Secondly, some environmentalists have objected to my use of this study by saying it really only talks about beef and pork production and doesn’t study the effects of factory farming of chickens or other birds. Surely, since the study doesn’t say that chickens contribute to global warming, then we can still eat chickens and eggs. Tell you what, come with me back to Harrisonburg, VA where I went to school and tour some intensive farming operations for chickens and eggs, and tell me what you think that does for the environment. Then let’s go to an outdoor stream near a large poultry operation and you can drink that water. I’ll bring a cup. And if you don’t want to drink that water, I have to ask why you’d expect anyone, including wildlife, to drink it.

Global warming is one major harm to the environment, but there are other harms as well including water pollution, overuse of antibiotics and hormones, and so on and so on.

So, ok, the environmentalist counters, factory farms are definitely bad for the environment, but you can’t convince me that it’s bad for the environment if I keep some chickens free-range in my yard and eat their eggs and occasionally slaughter them and eat them. Not only do environmentalists think this is not bad for the environment, but they point out that someone raising a few chickens surely has less environmental impact if they drive little, don’t have kids, and use energy saving devices, than the impact of a vegan who drives a lot, has kids, and throws away a lot of trash. Ok, chicken-obsessed environmentalist, I promise that I won’t argue with you about environmental reasons for veganism if you move to a tiny, energy efficient shack, stop driving, promise not to have kids, and raise a dozen chickens in your yard, Then I’ll only talk to you about the ethics of veganism. But keep in mind that no environmentalist who has ever used this line of debate with me has lived like that. Most eat meat of some kind every day anyway–raising a dozen chickens in your yard might mean eating meat once a month. Most live in urban areas and drive. And besides, the few well-treated, free-ranging, bug-eating chickens in the yard is not a viable solution for our huge population, most of whom live in densely populated urban areas.

Next the environmentalists want to talk to me about how they feel there are other areas we need to improve first before we can worry about what we eat. What about cars, they want to know, do you drive a hybrid?

I don’t drive a hybrid. I’d love to, but a hybrid car is expensive and I don’t make a lot of money. I did move as close as I could to my work to limit my commute though.

But here’s the thing—a hybrid is a very good idea. Like I said, it’s on my dream list, some day, when I save up the money. But veganism is relatively simple. I can do that, right now, today, with really no special equipment, minimal supplies. Sure fresh vegetables can be expensive, but everyone is supposed to already be eating them. Beans, lentils, rice, flour, and so on are all inexpensive. Anyone can start being vegan today. Buying a hybrid car means money and maybe even a significant wait time. Installing solar panels is hard, you’d probably need to hire someone and maybe it’s not even possible to do this where you live. Trying to get the Chinese to control factory emissions, that’s a long-term goal. Changing over to a vegan diet sounded hard before I did it, but really it was pretty easy and painless.

Also, the UN ranked animal agriculture ahead of cars in environmental harm. So if you have something that’s relatively easy to change, and is one of the most harmful things you do, why postpone making that change while concentrating on harder to solve problems that do less harm.



  1. mary martin said,

    It’s a bummer, but the reality certainly does seem to be that people who want to continue to eat meat are going to use any shred of justification they can find to allow them to keep at it.

    I don’t think that was a rant at all. I thought it was reasonable and clear and informative.

  2. Ericao said,

    Amen, on this whole post. It’s so incredibly frustrating. Thanks for being a clear and calm voice.

  3. TOM DISOUZA said,

    Now a day global warming controversy is very hype. NASA sciencetists completely work on global warming research. According the sciencetists after 30 year earth is completely effected by global warming.

  4. Drasch23 said,

    I have nothing to say but you rule and I love the “put up or shut up” vibe in this post.

  5. Canaduck said,

    You are so right. I hate meat-eating environmentalists. “What I eat is a personal choice,” they say, while continuing to mock those who make a similarly “personal choice” to drive Hummers or leave the water running while they brush their teeth.

  6. Gary said,

    Excellent post, and I also admire your clear-headedness. A couple other thoughts:

    I think there’s some sort of psychology going on when those who are usually preaching social change for the greater good (environmentalists, in this case) find themselves on the other – i.e., wrong – side of the issue when confronted by a vegan who has taken relatively easy and consequential steps that the omni environmentalist has not done. I wonder if the omni-enviro finds this jolting and unnerving and takes it worse than someone who is less vested in being a progressive advocate. Maybe they feel hypocritical and maybe they realize deep down that they’re making excuses and engaging in rationalizing and thus doing the same things they rant about when others do them.

    I also think there is some subtle but pervasisve appeal to solutions that take a long time, or that don’t require immediate non-trivial changes to one’s lifestyle. One can enthusiastically embrace these types of solutions and feel virtuous without having to do much, or by doing things that are kind of cool, like installing solar panels or buying a hybrid. There is a sort of pressure with the vegan solution in that for most people there is no excuse not to embark on it immediately. There is, for the most part, no affordability barrier and no dependence on others – one can become vegan on one’s own, at any time.

  7. Sean said,


    What do you recommend people do to stop or slow global warming?

    The 3 biggest causes:

    (1) Population
    (2) Consumption (other than diet)
    (3) Meat eating

    Meat eating destroys the environment in more ways than gas emissions. Rain forest destruction, land and water use, excrement pollution, etc.

    Given that veganism is also the compassionate choice for the animals, whether it’s #1 or #3 or #10 on the list of things you can do to save the planet, why don’t you give it a try rather than making excuses?

    BTW in addition to being vegan, we don’t breed, we’re modernizing the insulation, doors, and windows on our modest house, we have planted extra trees in the yard, we live close to our jobs, and we really don’t buy a lot of new things.

  8. Neva Vegan said,

    The reality is that your position doesn’t do much at all in terms of tangible positive impact (since it will always be a marginal position that few people will ever adopt)

    The point of this post was that it actually is not difficult to be vegan, nor does it have to be a marginal position.

    I live a relatively normal life and I’m vegan and don’t really feel deprived at all. Once I got into the habit of being vegan I eat better, more locally, and I really don’t have to invest much more time or energy into it than most. I do cook a lot, but largely because I enjoy making really good food. Anyone that knows me knows I am far from “marginal.” In fact sometimes people are surprised that I’m vegan as it challenges their stereotypes.

    One point of this entire blog is that if I can be vegan, given my background, culture, and upbringing, then anyone can do it. I might be one of the least likely vegans out there, but still it works fine for me.

    Perhaps people will choose not to do it, but I’m here as a voice to let them know it’s possible to be vegan, it’s fulfilling, it’s good for the planet and the animals, and it’s good for them.

    I really do think it’s totally within anyone’s reach.

    As far as what is or isn’t anyone’s business, I was not asking anyone specifically what they ate for breakfast this morning, I was speaking generally of veganism. I drive very little. I won’t give out the make and model of my car because I give out enough personal info here and I would feel my security might be compromised by providing the specifics of my car or where I drive it.

    I am however aware of my mileage and what kind of car I have and my fuel consumption in my house. As Sean said, we are constantly seeking to improve those areas. Those things take time and money. Being vegan is easy and anyone can do it.

    In any case, I think that if you continue to post as anonymous after my repeated requests that you use any kind of name and volunteer no information about what you do or don’t do, then yes it is a little invasive to quiz me about my home and car, particularly when, as I say, such details might compromise my personal security.

  9. Sean said,

    For anyone interested in some highlights of the UN findings, but without the time of stalker boy to (mis)read 400 pages (while still refusing to go vegan), here is a summary published by the UN.

    Neva was slightly off in her reference but correct in her overall assessment of livestock agriculture:

    “It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2.”

    Yes, 65% of a gas that is 296 times worse than CO2.

    Go vegan.

  10. Sean said,

    “According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.”

    The summary says 18% of all CO2 equivalent, you say 2.5%.

    As for nitrous oxide being particularly bad, multiplying 296 by 1/10th of 1% (your numbers) still gets you a sizable number — a 29.6% equivalent.

    And in just looking at manure, you miss much of the problem, as noted in the summary.

    Your arguments are absurd, one has to read through 400 pages to cite something contained in a summary? I’m not looking to be an expert, I am looking to make an informed decision based on what the UN scientists have said about their findings.

    Any way, I’m not going to engage in further discourse with you, you post at 7:53, 8:09, and 8:13, you really are a stalker. You are not welcome here, go find someone else to stalk.

  11. Sean said,

    (Not for anonymous)

  12. Sean said,

    Let me try that again with a shorter cite. You can go to the report from the above page.

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