The Low-Tech Fix That Dare Not Speak Its Name

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The Low-Tech Fix That Dare Not Speak Its Name

From Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund

Sorry to get all Scrooge on you so early in the holiday season, but I’d like to direct your attention to some sobering statistics for anyone who cares about animals, the environment, or the future of humans on Earth. According to the article, “As More Eat Meat, a Bid to Cut Emissions,” published on December 3 in the New York Times, consumption of “red meat,” i.e. cows and pigs, is expected to double globally between 2000 and 2050. The article doesn’t focus at all on what this means in terms of the net increase in suffering among sensitive, sentient creatures who share the planet with us (though I hesitate to suggest we truly “share” the Earth with the billions of animals who are living and dying as, in effect, our slaves). Frankly, figures like this are enough to lull me into the despair that all our work for animals is merely a Band-Aid on a massive, hemorrhaging wound of unspeakable suffering. I hope I’m not bringing you down.

Rather, the Times article focuses on another lighthearted aspect of this cataclysmic statistic: namely, the massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions that will accompany the growing global taste for blood. Because, according to a United Nations report, livestock generates 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—more than from cars, buses, and airplanes—the projected spike in meat consumption over the next few decades is a piece of the global warming juggernaut that can no longer be ignored.

Or can it? All evidence points to society’s desperate attempts to ignore this very fact, even as we’ve come to grips (most of us, anyway) with the stark reality of global warming. We can see it happening. Scientists might be sitting around smugly telling us “I told you so,” if they weren’t so busy trying to salvage their pricey research equipment from melting Arctic icecaps. Yet when I pick up my carbon footprint calculator at the local organic grocery store, there are lots of fields for how many compact fluorescent light bulbs I’ve upgraded to, but no blanks corresponding to my dietary choices. I was far from the only vegetarian to make the same admittedly self-righteous observation that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth made the same most inconvenient of omissions.

We just do NOT want to talk about the fact that the personal choice to eat animals, multiplied by several billion, is one of the single biggest factors contributing to impending environmental devastation. Do I sound hysterical? Because honestly, I feel a little hysterical here. Rather, the Times piece details, like a wish list for a sci-fi Santa, the variety of high-tech fixes that we’ve dreamed up and will dump countless millions of research dollars into to avoid prescribing people away from a meat-based diet. In one such futuristic fix for the problem of high-methane-emitting pig poop, “the refuse from thousands of pigs is combined with local waste materials (outdated carrot juice and crumbs from a cookie factory), and pumped into warmed tanks called digesters. There, resident bacteria release the natural gas within, which is burned to generate heat and electricity.” Yum. Alternatively, we might focus on “inventing feed that will make cows belch less methane.”

Who dares suggest the low-tech fix, here? Even environmental organizations have by and large shied away from the most obvious, most elegant of prescriptions to the problems caused by raising animals for food: people need to stop eating meat. Not some other, abstract people, who live in very-far-away, oh-so-polluting countries like China and India, but people like Al Gore, for example. People who read the New York Times. How about you?

I’m not suggesting people should stop eating animals because I said so, for god’s sake (I’m hysterical, remember?). But why not listen instead to Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “I’m not sure that the system we have for livestock can be sustainable,” the article quotes him as saying. It goes on: “A sober scientist, he suggests that ‘the most attractive’ near-term solution is for everyone simply to ‘reduce meat consumption,’ a change he says would have more effect than switching to a hybrid car.” Simple, right?

Let’s see what kind of mental gymnastics humankind will resort to next.

Watch a clip of Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, discussing the link between meat eating and climate change at ALDF’s “Future of Animal Law” conference at Harvard Law School in March 2007.

From Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

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