Time to take a bite out of climate change
By Joshua Welch
Imagine that Al Gore traveled to Eugene to deliver one of his well-known climate change presentations. And while here, he decides to visit one of our local eateries and orders a thick juicy steak. (One thing he’s not known for is healthy eating.) After having some delicious strawberry cheesecake for desert, Al drives back to his hotel in a gas-guzzling Hummer! The local media would rightly crucify him for his blatant hypocritical and irresponsible transportation choice, but would probably not think twice about his culinary choices. Not for long.
A report released this month from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management, unequivocally states that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change a global shift towards a vegan diet is absolutely necessary. The report says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: People have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” That’s right, if you want to call yourself an environmentalist, you better not be eating meat, eggs, and dairy — or at least not very much.
This report confirms what many have known for some time. There are mountains of evidence demonstrating that animal agriculture has been decimating the environment at every level. This ugly industry is a primary driver of deforestation and the top polluter of waterways. A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that switching to a plant-based diet just once a week would do more for the environment than eating an entirely local diet every single day.
Upward of 99% of animal agriculture in the U.S. is made up of what many call “factory farms.” This is where hundreds of millions of living, thinking, feeling animals live short, miserable lives cramped in small spaces, crates, and cages, rarely seeing the light of day. The people who own and operate these deplorable and unnecessary businesses work very hard to hide from the public the intense suffering these sentient beings must endure.
While certain forms of animal agriculture such as small-scale organic free-range farming and backyard chickens are more sustainable and less cruel than modern animal agriculture, the reality is that if we want to protect and preserve this planet, we must consume much less meat, eggs and dairy.
Last year Baltimore City Schools launched the program “Meatless Mondays,” a program created by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. While they haven’t gotten off the cheese, Baltimore students aren’t eating meat at school on Mondays. Baltimore officials claimed they launched the program to address childhood obesity, but it will obviously also help address the climate crisis. What do you say, 4J?
We could and should do much more than just Meatless Mondays in our schools. Our state and local governments should work hard to create programs and incentives for Oregonians to support sustainable plant-based agriculture. We need bold leadership and we need it now.
Lastly, a significant reduction of animal product consumption would not just improve planetary health, but would also drastically improve our overall personal health. Shifting to a plant-based or mostly plant-based diet would reduce rates of cancer, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease, which would in turn significantly reduce our health care costs.
Joshua Welch is a licensed Oregon social studies teacher, former progressive talk-radio personality, political writer and self-described defender of the universe. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org