By Ezra Klein
IFA member Ben Adler has an excellent article in this month’s American Prospect detailing the environmental movement’s curious silence on meat. For a bunch of folks willing to tell you that greenhouse gases will crisp the earth and kill countless human beings, they seem oddly afraid of advocating one of the simplest and most powerful meliorating steps:
Why are environmental groups and even politicians willing to tell Americans to drive smaller cars or take the bus to work but unwilling to tell them to eat less meat? If you live in a recently built suburb you must drive most places whether you wish to or not. Walking or public transit simply isn’t an option. But you could stop buying ground beef and start buying veggie burgers tomorrow, saving yourself some money and sparing yourself some cholesterol in the process. And yet no one, other than a small cadre of lonely fringe activists like Hartglass, devotes much energy to making the connection. Food experts and environmentalists generally worry that Americans might react with hostility similar to Boris Johnson’s if asked to put down their hamburgers.[…]
But while politicians may have reason to fear the meat lobby, environmental groups are supposed to push the political envelope. They began calling for caps on carbon emissions in the late 1990s, before it was politically palatable, and both major party candidates for president endorsed cap-and-trade in 2008. Many people see their car or truck as a part of their identity, but that hasn’t stopped the Sierra Club from ensuring that every American is aware of the environmental threat their vehicle poses. And yet, the major environmental groups have been unwilling to push the meat issue. “I don’t know of anyone in the environmental community that has taken a stance of ‘we support no meat consumption because of global warming,'” says Tim Greef, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters. Adds Nierenberg, “It’s the elephant in the room for environmentalists. They haven’t found a good way to address it.”
The Sierra Club’s list of 29 programs — which includes such relatively small-bore issues as trash-transfer stations (they threaten “quality of life and property values”) — does not include any on the impact of meat consumption. Their main list of things you can do to help prevent global warming mentions hanging your clothes out to dry instead of using a dryer but makes no mention of eating less meat. “The Sierra Club isn’t opposed to eating meat, so that’s sort of the long and short of it. [We are] not opposed to hunting, not opposed to ranching,” says Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, the nation’s oldest and largest grass-roots environmental organization.
Of course not. Then they’d seem like effete coastal elitists. But when the Sierra Club is afraid of being called effete coastal elitists, it’s not really clear where that leaves you. Someone needs to push the envelope on this stuff, and it may as well be the professional tree huggers. It’s their job to be called environmentalists. The PB&J Campaign is great, but they need some support.
Anyway, read Adler’s article.