Are Cows Worse Than Cars?

By Ezra Klein

Destroyer of WORLDS.

Cowthulu: Destroyer of WORLDS.

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.


3 responses to “Are Cows Worse Than Cars?

  1. So true, but this post reminds me that there seems to be a shortage of “out” vegetarians in this otherwise very impressive Association of bloggers. Have I missed something? Or are you possibly in the market for an occasional contributor?

  2. I’m a professional environmentalist. A few things:

    1. Just because the author hasn’t heard of the great organizations working on this issue doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Many groups have campaigns on making the food system environmentally -friendlier.

    2. Animal rights groups have made it difficult to be publicly anti-meat without seeming like an (a) idiot or (b) terrorist.

    3. Ultraright groups are constantly trying to claim that mainstream enviro groups want to do things like ban hunting.

    4. There’s a dearth of philanthropic funding interest in food issues, especially the meat/GW linkage.

    5. Dude, the Agribusiness Lobby? Have you heard of it?

    6. There’s a lot of work like this going on with c3 non-profits, especially pro-veg groups.

    7. GW as an issue is only now getting “traction,” so strategically enviros are reluctant to get rid of the traction by attacking meat specifically.

    Shall I go on?

  3. Where to begin. Kill all cows. But wait cows are not the only animal that creates greenhouse gases. Kill all the pigs.But wild buffalo create green house gases. Kill all the buffalo. But wait humans fart causing green house gases too. Kill all the humans.

    OK, I’m being a smart ass. But killing off species in order to prevent global warming is not on the Sierra Clubs list of things to do. They are trying to prevent species from dieing off.

    I do not know if the Sierra club has a policy of reduced meat eating to prevent global warming but many groups do mention that.

    Ben asks ” And how many people do you know who hang-dry their clothes to keep the polar ice cap afloat?” I do that as do two of my friends. No one is perfect. Meat is a natural part of the human diet. Can we live without it? Yes. Do I want to? No.

    You have to pick your battles. This is not one the Sierra Club wishes to fight. They were a very marginalized group for a long time. Their philosophy worked for their members. And now they have a seat at the table so to speak.

    It will take a long time for the anti-meat faction to get there. Start know, In 30 or 40 years you will be where the Sierra Club is now. Or maybe we are already too late.

    It is going to be an interesting couple of decades.

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