Calling all Vegan Climate Scientists?

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Calling all Vegan Climate Scientists?

By James McWilliams
December 2012

For me, watching climate scientists eat ham and cheese with crackers was like watching civil rights activists participating in a lynching or LGBT activists engaging in gay bashing. Is it any wonder that the general public is not paying much attention to their urgent messages on climate change?

This piece came to me from Sailish Rao, whom many of you know from Eating Plants, where his work frequently appears. I’m grateful to have it and think you will find it to be a telling commentary in many ways.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little. - Edmund Burke

The off-site social for the Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Berkeley, CA, was standing room only. I was excited at the chance of connecting with many climate scientists who contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and in particular, I wanted to find Vegan scientists to invite to the Veganic Summit that we’re planning next year.

There were none.

Thinking that perhaps such Vegan scientists did not attend the Fall AGU meeting, I wrote to a number of my contacts within the IPCC, but with the same end result:

None. Zero. Zilch.

In fact, Dr. Jim Hansen, the eminent IPCC climate scientist who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), is reputed to be such an avid meat eater that it is considered unlikely that he will ever become vegetarian, much less vegan.

It is clear that Veganism and the IPCC don’t go well together. The current head of the IPCC, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, was shouted down a few years ago when he suggested that the world should reduce meat consumption to address climate change and since then, the topic seems to have become taboo in IPCC circles. Witness the recent NY Times Op Ed contribution of another IPCC climate scientist, Dr. Ramanathan, on Short Lived Climate Forcers, wherein he highlights the methane emissions of rice production, but doesn’t write a word about the number one source of methane, the Livestock sector. Indeed, based on IPCC AR4 guidelines, the Livestock sector is responsible for at least 51% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, as Goodland and Anhang have calculated, but the climate scientists who devised these estimation guidelines were blissfully ignoring these results at the AGU social. As typical scientists, they were deeply immersed in their own silos, but they were unconscious of the impact of their daily actions and the poor examples that they were setting.

I can understand climate scientists flying in airplanes to conferences or driving cars to work, because they don’t have the time to walk or bike the distance. But I cannot understand climate scientists deliberately choosing to put meat and other animal foods in their mouths when there are perfectly good, low-impact, plant-based alternatives widely available in every corner of the globe. In fact, even in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, there are nuts, grains, vegetables and fruits available in supermarkets and there’s a Loving Hut franchise open serving organic, vegan food.

For me, watching climate scientists eat ham and cheese with crackers was like watching civil rights activists participating in a lynching or LGBT activists engaging in gay bashing. Is it any wonder that the general public is not paying much attention to their urgent messages on climate change?

Perhaps, Dr. Hansen really does have a lot of explaining to do to his grandchildren.