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Spring 2007 - Act•ionLine

by Priscilla Feral | Spring 2007

In My View

Climate meltdown might be averted, many scientists agree, if this crisis is grappled with immediately. We have the technology to prevent a disastrous climate change, but the U.S. government lacks the political will to revolutionize the energy system, or to admit that grazing animals contribute to serious environmental problems by emitting greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Instead of waiting for government to direct us, each of us can commit to a plant-based diet today. Those who have done so already can be outspoken in our communities and through the press about why our diets are so important to our planet. In short, a vegan diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions more rapidly than replacing technologies that burn fossil fuels.

Andrea Gordon’s article "If You Recycle, Why Are You Eating Meat?"presses environmentalists to quit animal products: "There is a direct relationship between eating meat and the environment. Quite simply, you can't be a meat-eating environmentalist. Sorry, folks."

Gordon adds: "The agricultural, beef and dairy industries have a staggering amount of money at stake to ensure consumers buy their products. These industries resist changing the products they market, just as the automobile industry has resisted mass-producing hybrid cars until recently."

A few quick facts:

  • The business of grazing animals contributes about 18 percent of all greenhouse gases that drive global warming -- more than transportation, according to a November 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • Eight-seven percent of agricultural land in the U.S. is devoted to raising animals for human consumption, according to The Worldwatch Institute. Grazing animals consume more food than they yield, and compete with humans and free-living animals for water.
  • Grazing animals emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas also associated with landfills, coal mines, and oil and gas operations.
  • The conversion of wildlands to pastures and tillable land for crops to feed animals destroys rainforests and other ecologically important terrain needed by free-living animals who make up the planet’s natural biocommunity.

In an 18 February 2007 New York Times Magazine interview, Dr. Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, accused the Bush administration of trying to block research and prevent the release of information on global climate change. Because "there is no federal agency whose primary mission is the climate," Dr. Shindell explains, NASA leads in climate research. Dr. Shindell has renamed global warming "climate meltdown." In a September 2006 interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, Dr. Shindell remarked that as more people see the dramatic images of ice melting in Greenland in Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," and as people realize the threat of "more heat waves, more drought, rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes," it becomes a public duty to pressure elected officials to take steps to deal with the problem.

Although nearly half of the world's waterbird species are declining due to climate change and economic development, politicians receive more frequent visits from meat and oil industry lobbyists than from advocates for birds and other animals. And although there's global consensus that the ice needed to sustain polar bears has declined, other far-reaching environmental impacts are less known. Breeding grounds for harp seals are melting. Climate meltdown may decimate grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, trumpeter swans and other animals in and around Yellowstone National Park, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other wildlands already affected by climate change.

Climate meltdown needs to be fought on the governmental, corporate and personal levels. Some human activities that contribute substantially to climate meltdown are oil consumption, electricity use, road and air travel, international shipping, logging, smoking and animal agribusiness. Along with putting an emphasis on human birth control, we need to make the public aware that the world can only afford cars, power plants and computers if they operate without pumping seven billion tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere – as they do today.

Several bills are pending in Congress to address greenhouse-gas emissions, but Dr. Shindell sees these measures as only first steps. "In the long term," Shindell says, "we have to reduce emissions much more than any of these bills envision. At the state level, California is a great example of what the rest of the country should be doing." The state’s stringent efficiency requirements ensure that its per capita energy use has stayed level for decades.

April 14, 2007 is a National Day of Climate Action to mobilize tens of thousands of U.S. residents to gather across the country at iconic sites, demanding: "Step It Up Congress! Cut carbon 80% by 2050" -- a goal endorsed by another NASA climate scientist, James Hansen.

Grassroots Step It Up organizer Bill McKibben invites us to "hike, bike, climb, walk, swim, kayak, canoe, or simply sit or stand with banners of their call to action. See to join the effort in your community.

In the meantime, wherever you are in the world, eat your organic fruits and vegetables, compost and reduce household waste, conserve energy, cultivate a garden or plant an oxygen-giving tree. And we’ll continue to supply the most up-to-date information on how you can back climate-related activism, environmentally-aware animal-rights initiatives, and key trends such as vegan organic farming. Together, we can make a difference.

Priscilla Feral

Act•ionLine Spring 2007

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