Monday, December 24, 2012

Finally A Useful Christmas Advertisement

Here is the Ad Busters' Christmas Campaign which we thought so insightful that we printed it in it's entirety (something we rarely do on this site): 

Attention Shoppers!

As our planet gets warmer, as animals go extinct, as the humans get sicker, as our economies bail and our politicians grow ever more twisted, we still find ourselves lurching to suck from the breast of the capitalismo machine. This is our solace, our sedative – consumerism is the opiate of the masses.

We're in a state of “pathological consumption,” George Monbiot explains, “a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.”

For those of us who do notice it, who decry it, abstain, and try to eschew capitalism ... Christmas is the one time where we suddenly absolve ourselves of this stance, as we feel compelled, by a strange and powerful force within, to join in the momentous, orgiastic ritual of America's consumerist cult.

As we max out our credit cards, we hope we will become America's economic heroes – saving the nation from the fiscal cliff. But instead, we plummet further into a complicated recession, and as our spirits sink once again, the economists coo into our ears that there is a way out – consume more, they say! This is the paradox of our addiction – filling the void only to fall deeper into it.

The call to consume less – where it is heard – is denounced as pedantic, naive, authoritarian, even insane.

Decide for yourself where the insanity lies. Four out of five Americans are on Adderall, Ritalin or Prozac. One in three are obese. People in the Congo are massacred to facilitate our latest smart phone upgrades. America, Europe, Canada, Australia, we are all living 5 planet lifestyles. If you still need a reason to stop consuming – consider that manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of the global carbon dioxide emissions. And if we heat up just 4 degrees more, we will witness a total and irreversible collapse of human civilization. We're killing ourselves – and even as the denial about global warming is slowly breaking over us, we still choose – sheeplike – to join the throngs in the malls. Without significant rituals, we clamour to participate in the only ones we have, like the Christmas shopping binge, driven by our desire for meaning – of which our culture is devoid.
It's not the "fiscal cliff" you should worry about ... it's the culture, stupid! We are hanging by a nail onto our collective sanity – a cultural cliff hanger.

Buy Nothing Christmas gets to the heart of this matter. Reclaiming the ritual of this magical season – consciously and deliberately – is a radical, emancipatory choice. As Christmas approaches, can you find the strength to break the addiction, to wake up from the nightmare ... will you be brave enough to plant the seed of a new way of being? Make your life a demonstration, a defiance, a piece of art, a heroic journey. Start this Christmas – dare to gather your friends and family together and vow to do it differently this year.

And from now until the New Year let's have a steady stream of revellers marching around New York's Times Square – the iconic centre of global advertising – holding up #BUYNOTHINGXMAS signs for the whole world to see.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Right Book at the Right Time

As the year 2012 comes to an end, we should pause to consider all that we experienced during this portentous year.

2012, as you may have heard, has turned out to be the warmest year on record. 2012 was also the year in which we saw a dramatic increase in the number of forest fires around the country, record droughts and resulting crop failures on a massive scale, and a frankenstorm named Sandy that many climate experts believe got much of its destructive power from increased water temperatures in the Atlantic.

With the effects of climate change being so manifestly evident, one would have expected the progressive candidate running for President this year to mention the topic during a debate or a campaign event. And yet Obama, like most members of his party, was totally mute on the subject. For their parts, Romney and his Republican cronies in congress continued their “drill, baby, drill” mantra and acted as though climate change was some kind of liberal conspiracy dreamed up to destroy the economic might of the United States.

Worse still, the American public—once committed to the goal of reducing carbon emissions—has been experiencing ecoparalysis for the past decade. Despite all the horrific events that we’ve seen this past year, Americans—unlike their European counterparts—seem befuddled about what to think about climate change or how to respond to the issue. The problem is that the issue of climate change is so huge, so complex, and so scary that it doesn’t lend itself to the kinds of simple, inexpensive solutions that Americans seem to love.

Even college-educated students seem confused about what climate change actually means. When we have a huge snowstorm one winter or a cold July, at least one student will inevitably suggest that such facts disprove the theory that the plant is warming. Apparently we are failing to adequately educate students and members of the general population about the difference between weather and climate, and this plays right into the hands of global-warming deniers, who have a vested interest in stoking ecoparalysis for their own political and economic gain.

But education on this issue is absolutely essential if we are going to address the issue of climate change in any kind of meaningful way and ask the public to make the kinds of sacrifices that are needed to reduce carbon emissions. That’s why I was delighted to see that Climate Central, an independent research organization, has come out with what I consider to be an absolutely essential primer on climate change. It’s aptly called Global Weirdness—aptly because climate change, global warming, or whatever you’d like to call what we’re experiencing is more about erratic weather patterns than about an overall warming trend that will treat all areas of the world the same way (No, the United States is not going to become a tropical paradise as a result of climate change, so get over your wishful thinking!).

Global Weirdness is divided into four no-nonsense sections:
  • What the Science Says 
  • What’s Actually Happening 
  • What’s Likely to Happen in the Future 
  • Can We Avoid the Risks of Climate Change? 
The text is very concise—only 214 pages—and each chapter is only a few pages long. Best of all, the book is written in a way that even the average person can understand. Although I’ve been studying the issue of climate change for some time now, I actually learned a few new things myself from reading the book and I also gained new ideas about how to present the issue of climate change intelligently to my students.

Global Weirdness, in short, is definitely worth the hour-and-a-half it will take you to get through it and should be required reading for every student in the country.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Small is Beautiful: The Trend Toward Smaller Living Spaces

I’m always amazed when I pass a home in the area where I live that looks like its owners are vying with the Beverly Hillbillies for garish opulence.   It’s not just the bad taste that many of these overblown suburban monstrosities typically evidence—although I must confess that most do disgust my sense of aesthetic propriety—but it’s the waste of resources needed to build and sustain such housing that really troubles me.

The McMansion trend around the country was one that boomed during the period in which oil and gas were cheap and mortgages were being offered to anyone who could sign on the dotted lines.  The eighties and nineties saw the peak of the McMansion trend with developments springing up overnight in what was formerly farmland and older homes being razed to make way for newer, more ostentatious structures. 

Just to give you some idea of how big our homes have gotten over the past fifty years, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in 1950 the average house size was 930 square feet; in 2007 it was 2,521 square feet.  The average home, therefore, almost tripled in size during a period which saw average family size shrink.  More toilets for fewer people seemed to be the mentality up until recently.   

But, thankfully, the trend towards “bigger is better” appears to be changing now that Americans are finally becoming aware that the costs of heating, cooling, and maintaining huge homes in a period of economic uncertainty and rising oil prices is not all it’s cracked up to be.  In fact, there seems to be an anti-McMansion trend out there on the part of prospective homeowners.   The real estate website recently reported that more than half of Americans say that 1,400 to 2,000 square feet would be their ideal home size—still larger than the typical home of the 1950s but nothing like the garish monuments to conspicuous consumption that were becoming the suburban norm in the 1990s.    Current trends seem to be bearing out this downsizing paradigm:  In 2010, the average home size dropped to 2,377 square feet and it is predicted to fall to around 2,140 square feet by 2015.

The high cost of heating and cooling homes is certainly driving this trend.  But we should not underestimate the desire of younger Americans in particular to live much more sustainable lives than their parents.  Indeed, smaller homes are not the only things that are currently in vogue:  new homes are also being built using recycled materials, making use of passive solar designs, and often come equipped now with water conservation devices and Energy Star appliances.  It’s not that home builders are suddenly becoming more ecological; it’s that they realize that green home design has become attractive to prospective home buyers.

There are other advantages to owning a smaller home, besides the ecological benefits.  Smaller homes are typically more affordable than larger ones, which means that you can pay off your mortgage much quicker.  A smaller house also means less to clean and maintain, which gives homeowners time and more money to do other things.  Finally, because space is limited in a smaller home, homeowners are less inclined to give in to consumeristic spending urges, because there just isn’t the space to store unnecessary stuff.  Again, this means more money in the homeowners’ pockets and less stuff that will eventually end up in a landfill. 

As someone who believes that any living space over 1,500 square feet is a colossal waste of space and precious resources, I’m delighted that Americans are finally coming to their senses.  Now if we can just get rid of those damn SUVs!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Meat” Without the Meat

There are an endless number of posts on this site extolling the virtues of the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. All of us at Ecoblog are in agreement that it would be morally optimal if human beings could avoid eating animals entirely. The debates that we have been having amongst ourselves are simply matters of strategy about the best way to convince people to move in the direction of a plant-based diet. 

The problem is that we Americans eat about one-half pound of meat daily and we really like our hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, and fried chicken. Vegetarians, unfortunately, make up only 3% of the American population. Convincing the majority of Americans to forgo the pleasures of turkey on Thanksgiving (as Demo asked us to in an earlier post), or roasted leg of lamb on Easter, seems a tall order indeed. It’s for this reason that I proposed the idea of an 80% plant-based diet as a reasonable goal to which all of us could aspire.

My moral flexibility on this issue should not lead one to assume, however, that I think that it is ever morally justified to eat animals for food when there are viable alternatives available. And, for those who would like to do the morally optimal thing by refraining from consuming animals entirely, I’m happy to say that alternatives are available in abundance.

For about 10 years now, I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen with meat substitutes, made mostly from soy products. What I’ve discovered is that in many cases these items can fool most people into thinking that they are eating meat items. Now, I’m an Italian and a food lover. I’m as picky as they come about the quality and taste of the food that I eat. But I can honestly say that it took little or no effort at all to make the switch to healthier and more sustainable plant-based alternatives to animal products. And it’s easier than ever to find such items these days in most conventional supermarkets.

I should point out that serious vegetarians would tell you that meat substitutes are simply transitional food items, and once people get into the habit of eating whole foods, these “psuedo” products can be eliminated from their diet. But I’m not completely convinced that this is necessary. We human beings like our comfort and convenience foods, and if it helps people to live out a more sustainable lifestyle by eating food that reminds them of what mainstream eaters are consuming, I say go for it.

You’ll be healthier, animals will suffer less, and the plant will thank you for your efforts! What’s not to like?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good Riddance to Very Bad Rubbish

When I heard that the Hostess cake company was going out of business, I simply couldn’t believe it was true.  As a child of the 1970s, I had grown up consuming all manner of Hostess products:  Ding Dongs, Sno Balls, Ho Hos, Donettes, and Suzy Q’s—to name but a few.  I must confess that in my youth I also ate more than my fair share of that fuffy white bread in which anything wholesome or healthy had been stripped away in our incessant American quest to turn a nutritious food item into something that even starving rats would refrain from eating if they had any other options. 

And then there’s the Twinkie—a product so unnatural that it has been claimed that it can last on the shelf for years.   Already I image that hoarders are buying up as many of these tasty treats as they can find in an attempt to forestall that inevitable moment when the Twinkie will be no more.

What a shame that will be, too.  When there are no more Twinkies, where are we Americans going to find any product that so artfully combines everything that is bad for you in one conveniently wrapped product?  Where are we going to acquire our daily doses of partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, and high fructose corn syrup? How can we possibly find another treat so completely empty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein (all the things that keep us frail human beings alive)? And at such a reasonable price, too!

The Twinkie, like other Hostess products, belongs to that strange period from the 1940s-1970s when Americans became so caught up with the magic of processed foods that they lost sight that food should be nutritious as well as tasty.  Generations were raised to think that all real food must come wrapped in plastic with a corporate logo stamped on it. 

If you weren’t part of that mass-production generation, you can’t possibly know how lucky you are to be living now.  Over the past decade, many Americans have turned their backs—and closed their wallets—to the kinds of garbage that companies like Hostess have been trying to pass off as food.  We’ve seen the amazing growth of the organic, local, and whole foods moments in the United States and have also witnessed the success of food chains like Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Fairways, which specialize in providing food that our great-grandparents would recognize as such.

There might be some among us who mourn the passing of a company like Hostess.  But I am perfectly content to see this company and everything it has represented disappear.  Before it does, however, I’m determined to partake of one last Twinkie for old time’s sake.  The Twinkie, after all, is like that annoying friend who constantly got you into trouble when you were young, but was always a blast to hang around with.  Then your friend was sent off to the boy’s reformatory and you never saw him again.  You were certainly much better off without him, but you continue to wonder what sort of character defects you must have possessed to find him so appealing in the first place.

Farewell, Twinkie.  The world will be a much better place without you around.  But we did have some fine times together back in the old days, didn’t we! 

Rest in peace.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and millions of Americans prepare to dine on millions of turkeys, I sat down to write a blog post about the inherent cruelty involved in this annual turkey massacre. I'm always seeking opportunities to engage people about veganism, and I fully intended to put together a list of reasons why you should choose compassion and kindness this Thanksgiving and leave the turkey and other animal products off the menu. I thought, as Communications Director at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, I can easily compile a list of environmental reasons to forego the turkey this Thanksgiving. As an abolitionist vegan, however, I have a hard time making the case for veganism on strictly environmental grounds. Not that a compelling argument can’t be made from an environmental standpoint. Fact is, whether you are concerned by biodiversity loss, deforestation, fresh water scarcity and pollution, or that animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gas emissions than driving, environmental concerns absolutely compel some people to go vegan.

However, going vegan for environmental reasons alone is a basic misunderstanding of what veganism is at its core. The basis of veganism, I submit, is recognizing the inherent value of animals as individual beings unto themselves. For this reason, I want to recognize and understand that the environmental implications of raising animals for food are severe, alarming, and taking a growing environmental toll, but put them within the larger framework of exploitation.

I make this argument because I believe that our actions should be bolstered by theory. For example, someone who is vegan only for health reasons has no real reason to be 100% vegan all the time. One could eat small amounts of meat, dairy, eggs or fish and still be healthy. The only philosophical position that results in full-fledged veganism is one that recognizes animals as sentient beings. There’s absolutely no convincing reason not to be fully vegan if you accept the notion of animals having a right not to be treated as property.

Consider the following: 46 million turkeys will be slaughtered and eaten this Thanksgiving, with another 22 million birds killed and eaten for Christmas, and 19 million more at Easter. More than 219 million are killed annually. Before they are ruthlessly slaughtered in the name of tradition and palate pleasure they are kept in the most horrible conditions, the majority in tiny battery cages, (very often deprived of sunlight and exercise) where they are cramped together so tightly that they can't move or get away from each other. As you might imagine, there are numerous fights among normally peaceful birds and they suffer from immense injuries. To keep turkeys from injuring one another, their toes and beaks are cut off with hot blades and no anesthetic, and when their throats are ultimately slit many are still conscious. To prevent diseases, most turkeys are fed antibiotics to promote artificial growth and to control Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and other diseases transmittable to humans. According to the Poultry Science Association, however, 72 to 100% of birds have Campylobacter despite all the drugs. Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of human food-borne infections in the United States. 
We know that it is an incontrovertible fact that turkeys value their lives, feel pain, suffer, and are just as sentient as the family cat or dog. Yet, I know no one who would treat their dog or cat the way turkeys are treated from birth to their horrifying road to death. 

Even if the practices described above are reformed, however, the treatment of animals in and of itself, does not address the underlying elements in which animal exploitation is considered acceptable. The exploitation and death of billions of animals exists because human consumers persist in creating demand for such things. To an industry that views sentient creatures as economic commodities – it is inevitable that such exploitation and violence will be viewed as acceptable. In a system where animals are considered property, even their most significant interests can (and are) overshadowed by the comparably trivial human interest of profit. Because the system in place is fundamentally unfair, you can't "balance" the interests of a piece of property against the interests of a property owner. 

And with 46 million turkeys slated to be killed for Thanksgiving tables alone the environmental toll is undeniable. All animal production is detrimental to the environment. The practice pollutes the air, water, and land. Further, it is unjustifiably wasteful of valuable and dwindling resources. About 75% of all water-quality issues in United States waterways are the result of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture accounts for a huge amount of our greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production generates more C02 emissions (accounting for 52% of total emissions) than the entire global transportation sector. Much of the grain produced in the US is used to feed livestock, with more than 70% of grains being used for this purpose.

You can be a good environmentalist and a good vegan simultaneously. If you're not vegan, you should go vegan and take a strong animal rights position. It's the right thing to do and no other food choice has a farther-reaching and more profoundly positive impact on the environment and all life on earth. If you are vegan but not an environmentalist, you should consider that both animals and humans need a sustainable environment in which to live. Abolishing the property status of animals will eliminate animal agriculture as the driving force behind every major category of environmental degradation. If you're interested in learning more about the abolitionist approach to animal rights, head on over to

Sunday, November 4, 2012

When Will We Ever Learn?

It's becoming increasingly evident to anyone who is not a shill for big oil (or a Republican candidate for President of the United States) that (1) climate change is real, (2) it's a human-caused phenomenon, and (3) we are going to pay a heavy price as a country for our sins against the planet. 

Hurricane Sandy has shown us very clearly what kinds of weather events we are likely to experience in the future and how little prepared we are to deal with them.  The cost for New York hzs been the loss of human life, billions of dollars in property damage, and a city thrown into turmoil. 

I could go on forever railing about how we had this coming---that it's Gaia's revenge against our species for our arrogance and stupidity---but it wouldn't change the fact that Americans probably haven't learned the right kinds of lessons from this experience. 

If you're at interested in what the "right lessons" to take away from Sandy are, I would highly recommend reading the following excellent article by Nicholas Kristoff:

It's probably too late to stem the tide of climate change.  Many climatologist believe we've reached a tipping point already and there's not much we can do about that.  But we might be able to staunch some of the most severe effects of climate change, if we act now and if we act with collective resolve.

My fear is that we've become so soften by our materialism that we couldn't act now, even if we wanted to.  And that's a real tragedy---not so much for the planet, but for one extremely selfish species that inhabits it. 

Welcome to the new normal.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The 80% Vegan: A EcoBlog Debate

Mike's Original Post

I’ve been having a debate recently with some of my more purist vegan friends about whether a 100% vegan diet is the only way to go when it comes to sustainable living.  To clarify matters for those who are confused by the terminology used by those who adopt plant-based diets, by a vegan diet I mean one that is free of any food items that come from animals.  In practice, this means that a true vegan would avoid eating the flesh of animals (beef, pork, lamb, and yes, fish and chicken as well) and would avoid eating products that come from animals (milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, chocolate, etc). 

First, here’s where I agree with my purist vegan friends: 
  1. A vegan diet most certainly is optimal for the health of individuals.  The China Study—the largest epidemiological study in the world—clearly shows that the closer one moves to a purely plant based  diet, the less one is afflicted by the diseases of affluence suffered by so many Americans (e.g., obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease).
  2. A vegan diet is optimal for the well-being of animals, including egg-producing chickens and dairy cows, which experience as much suffering as animals used for meat.
  3. Finally, studies have conclusively shown that our planet itself would benefit if there were fewer animals producing methane (and thereby contributing to global warming) and polluting our waterways with their waste run-off.
So, there are some definite reasons why one would want to go 100% vegan.  You’d look better and be much healthier, animals would suffer less, and the planet would certainly benefit if larger numbers of people adopted a totally plant-based diet.
But here’s where I part company somewhat from my noble vegan friends.   I believe that this lifestyle is far too difficult for the average American to adopt.  A vegetarian diet is difficult enough, but just try going out with your friends for dinner on a Friday night and see how many vegan options there are at the local Applebee’s or Friday’s in the New York area (the answer is virtually none).
So what I propose is a less purist solution, but perhaps a more practical one that would have many of the same benefits as a purely vegan diet.  I call it “The 80% Vegan”.   Assuming one eats 21 meals a week, in practice this would mean that 17 of these meals would be vegan.  The other four would ideally be vegetarian, but might also include modest amounts of meat products as well. 
Those four meals where people could eat whatever they want in reasonable amounts may not seem like much.  But this would allow enough flexibility in one’s diet to avoid annoying your friends when they want to go out for a night on the town and there are no vegan options available.  It would also mean that you wouldn’t have to offend your dear Aunt Sally when she makes her famous leg of lamb on Easter Sunday.
Those four “anything goes” meals would also mean not having to worry if you are getting enough protein, vitamin D, iron, and vitamin B-12 in your diet.  The first three are rarely a concern with those who adopt a vegan diet, but the B-12 issue is significant for some vegans. 

Finally, the 80% vegan diet that I am proposing would come closer than either the strict vegan diet or the standard American diet to the kinds of eating habits of our ancestors and people in traditional communities around the world.  Most healthy, traditional diets—think of the famed Mediterranean and Okinawa diets, for example—are mostly plant-based, but include very modest amounts of meat or fish on special occasions. 

The question that I would like to raise is whether this sort of more flexible, less dogmatic veganish diet would (1) be more likely to be adopted by the average American, (2) be more likely to be followed consistently, and (3) produce some of the same sorts of benefits as its more rigid counterpart.

Response from Elyssa Hopkins
Resolution Kitchen

To answer your questions.. yes, yes and yes.

First, it is unlikely that the average American will be presented with vegan options at every single meal. Unless you're preparing every meal, every day for yourself, you're going to encounter animal ingredients. Eating vegan at restaurants is usually possible (salad is always an option!), but when was the last time you went to dinner at someone's house and they served vegan dishes? I suppose you could only eat a side of veggies or something of the like prepared by your host, but is it worst offending them? That's one way to make sure you follow a strict vegan diet, since you won't be invited anywhere after that.

Secondly, it's definitely more likely to be followed consistently. Advocating absolutely no animal ingredients ever is not likely to be appealing to most people. I think it's more realistic to promote what you're suggesting, a lifestyle including healthier choices for yourself, animals and the environment, and it's up to individuals to set realistic goals for themselves. For example, in my house I make almost all vegan dishes. Occasionally I'll use cheese in something (there's just no good substitutes for delicious cheese!), and I'll even make a chicken dish once or twice a month to appease the hubby. While my friends and family know how I eat at home and do try to cook accordingly, when I eat at their homes I would never refuse something on the basis that there is an animal ingredient in it. And when I meet a friend Tiger Lily Cafe in Port Jeff tomorrow you can bet I'll be ordering the Provencal, an old favorite, which has brie. Stressing over menus and declining invitations is not how I want to live all the time. This brings me to your third question. Any sort of reduction in animal products will result in a positive change. While the "80% vegan" will not have results as drastic as the "100% vegan", they're still making a positive difference and setting a good example. I understand that there are people out there who think any sort of animal exploitation is abhorrent, so they live their daily lives without animal products regardless of the situation, but most people aren't as drastic. What I'm getting at here is that everyone should do the best they can to be responsible citizens of this Earth, and should implement healthy lifestyle choices, but at a rate that they determine feasible.

Response of Demosthenes Maratos
Molloy College Sustainability Institute

First, allow me a clarification or terms. Veganism is not simply a diet, but a lifestyle and there really is no such thing as an “80% vegan”. You’re either vegan or you aren’t. There is no in between. People who eat animal products regularly and intentionally are not vegan, period. If anything, an “80% vegan” is really just an omnivore who happens to eat more vegetables than animals. A true vegan, as correctly defined in the original post, is someone who eschews all animal flesh and animal byproducts. It might be confusing for readers to believe that someone calling themselves vegan would, even on occasion, eat animals. I also believe it’s far too easy to revert back to unsustainable and unhealthy eating habits if, even on occasion, one continues to consume animals and their byproducts. But I digress.

Those of us who are seriously concerned about the environment should go vegan and take a strong animal rights position. No other food choice has a farther-reaching and more profoundly positive impact on the environment and all life on earth than choosing to become vegan.

Here’s why:

1) Being vegan is easy. In fact, it’s never been easier. To contend otherwise seems really more about maintaining convenience and tradition rather than a defensible ethical position. There are vegan alternatives in virtually every grocery store in North America. Websites, discussion forums, books, magazines, videos and more are all available to help make the transition. I became vegan in 1989, and while it was not particularly difficult back then, it is absurd to characterize it as difficult today. To consider veganism difficult or even a sacrifice is to believe that we have the right to use and abuse animals any way we choose. Being vegan is not about giving up; it’s about not taking. It’s not about giving up meat, dairy and eggs; it’s about not taking someone else’s life and liberty. Sure, you are more limited in your restaurant choices, particularly if you don’t live in or near a large city, but in the New York Metro area? And if this inconvenience were significant enough to keep one from being 100% vegan, then I would question just how serious about the issue they were in the first place.

As far as being annoying to friends when dining out, people tend to default to what’s convenient and familiar, but you learn quickly that it doesn’t mean people are going to be put out because you suggest the vegan friendly Asian restaurant instead of Applebee’s. Remember, your friends like you for you, not what you eat. If your friends only like you for the way you eat chicken wings, you need new friends. You don’t have to change your personality or treat people differently because you’re vegan, so don’t.

And I have to be honest, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been thanked by omnivorous friends for introducing them to vegan restaurants, and I’ve had exactly zero complaints from unsatisfied friends following a vegan meal.

Sure, you’re bound to get some antagonism for your choice not to take part in animal exploitation, but that’s nothing for which you need to apologize. After all, these subjects make people very uncomfortable. It forces them to look inside themselves and ask, "Is consuming and otherwise using animals really ethical and just?" For a lot of those folks the antagonism is often a display of just how uncomfortable your lifestyle makes them when thinking about their own. I know that regardless of the hurdles I’ve overcome being vegan, the decision was a sincere desire to shift the paradigm that views animals as things, even if I did offend some omnivores along the way.

I don’t apologize for being vegan. I know what I’m doing is right for me, right for the planet, and right for animals.

And if you’ll allow me, don’t let anyone tell you that vegans sacrifice delicious food. See here for example. A vegan diet can include fruits, vegetables, beans and grains from all over the world. If one is interested in vegan meats, cheeses, ice creams and other sweets, there are more and more of these types of products hitting the market every day. See here.  It might take some time and effort to learn about vegan products, but any change in routine requires an adjustment period.

2) Becoming vegan doesn’t necessitate changing anything that we already believe. It’s a simple matter of aligning your actions with your ethics. Here’s an example: Most Americans agree on the following ethical considerations: Protecting the environment, protecting animals from abuse, and doing what we can to alleviate global hunger. In fact, 90% of Americans recycle because they believe the environment is an ethical value, 97% of Americans, according to Gallup polls, believe that as an ethical matter there ought to be laws protecting animals from abuse, and I would bet that everyone reading this believes that where we can, we should try and alleviate the scourge of global poverty. Veganism is about living all three of these already widely held ethical beliefs. So you see, no one has to change anything they currently believe to become vegan. Again, we only need to do align our actions with our ethics. Our food choices matter; taking the life of a sentient creature, harming the environment, and contributing to global hunger cannot be trumped by our desire for convenience, tradition, or the mistaken belief that we must consume animals to be healthy.

Some people become vegan gradually, while others do it all at once. If you can't become vegan overnight, you might find that you can eliminate one animal product at a time, or go vegan for one meal a day, or one day a week, and then expand until you are completely vegan.

Connecting with other vegans or vegan groups can be very helpful for information, support, camaraderie, recipe sharing or local restaurant recommendations. The American Vegan Society is a nationwide organization, and members receive a quarterly newsletter. Many organizations have vegan events, and there are also many informal Yahoo groups and Meetup groups for vegans.

3) The environmental benefits of a vegan lifestyle are significant and fully realized if the dietary aspect is followed consistently. Consider a 2009 climate change study from the Netherlands’s Environmental Assessment Agency titled, ‘Climate Benefits of Changing Diet’ that reported the following: “A diet without ruminant animals, which produce the most methane, would reduce the cost of climate change by 50 percent. However, switching to a diet of no animal products, including no eggs or milk, would reduce the mitigating costs of climate change by more than 80%”. Those are by no means comparable benefits resulting from the two diets. And a 2010 study out of Dalhousie University in Canada warned, “the projected doubling of meat and dairy consumption by 2050 would imperil the planet, due to increased emissions related to animal agriculture”. They also compared substituting chicken for beef, finding that the net reduction in environmental impact would be only 5-13%. However, a diet of 100% protein from animal sources ranked on a scale from 1 to 100 as 100, compared to only 1 from a vegan diet where 100% of protein came from plant sources. Again, in no way can those numbers be construed as comparable benefits resulting from the two diets. And if authoritative studies are not enough or perhaps you’re a fan of celebrity news, Oscar winning director, James Cameron, who switched to a vegan diet for ethical reasons has recently admonished meat-eating environmentalists to switch to a vegan diet if they are serious about saving the planet. He did so in a 28 second video clip on the Facebook page of the documentary ‘Earthlings’.

And he also recently told the Calgary Herald, “It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere”.

By doing nothing more than simply living as a vegan – which means to eliminate one’s support for all exploitation of sentient beings – we have the power to greatly lessen our ecological footprint, take our health into our own hands, play a part in eliminating world hunger, and experience the peace of mind that comes from making a powerful personal contribution toward peace on earth.

4) Lastly, I submit that the basis of veganism is recognizing the inherent value of animals as individual beings unto themselves. And for that reason, one cannot be a part-time vegan or even an 80% vegan. From the moment Donald Watson first coined the term ‘vegan’ in 1944, veganism has been about the rights of animals to be given equal consideration. To this day, veganism continues to be the only cogent answer that gets at the heart of animal exploitation. Furthermore, if we consider animals to be part of the moral community, it’s misleading and not ethically consistent to present not eating the flesh of animals at 80% of meals, but not 100% of meals. Think of it this way: Sure, you’re not having a hamburger today, but that’s little consolation to the chicken you’re eating on another day or the goat confined and impregnated to make your feta cheese on yet another day.

I must also add that I believe an environmental thrust alone is an insufficient basis for a long-term vegan position, or for a movement seeking to gain animals important rights. To put it another way, going vegan for solely environmental reasons is quite like opposing the Holocaust because the trains to Auschwitz had a big carbon footprint. I know that is a provocative thing to say, but before getting up in arms, think about the central point I’m making. In both cases, yes the person is opposed to the holocaust. But all of us would argue that the person making an objection on environmental grounds is really failing to see the larger point. That is that genocide is profoundly disgusting and wrong because it violates the inherent rights that we think all human beings should have.

Being vegan is your everyday statement that things are not right as they are, that you are one more person who is standing up to be counted in opposition to the exploitation of animals. It is a refusal of a system that produces enormous profits at the expense of animals who are just as sentient as the family dog or cat. Veganism is and has always been about animal rights.

That does not mean we need to be silent about the environmental benefits of veganism, but when we do address such benefits, we should point out that, while great, they are very much incidental to the grave moral wrong of exploiting and unnecessarily breeding and killing the innocent. I would be vegan even if it were bad for the environment, but it's good to know that I can be a good environmentalist and a good vegan simultaneously. Focusing on the environmental or health benefits of veganism undermines the whole moral point of veganism.

If you’re not vegan – go vegan. It’s really easy. If you are vegan – stay vegan. It’s better for the planet, better for your health and most importantly it’s the ethically right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moral Wrongs, Ecological Evils

As a teacher of ethics for over 20 years now, I’ve always been interested in what sorts of actions students view as morally wrong.  I typically start the semester off with an exercise like the following to get them to think about the scope of ethics and their own moral perspectives:

Which of the following individuals would you describe as behaving in a morally wrong way?  Be prepared to explain what it is about the acts of these individuals that you believe makes them wrong:
I then provide a list of about 20 fairly common activities that most people engage in regularly, beginning with ones that seem obviously wrong to most students:

  • A 17 year old high school junior who frequently gossips and reveals information told to her in confidence.
  • A 21 year old guy who believes that women are simply objects to be used for his pleasure.
  • A 25 year old woman who accidentally gets pregnant after casual sex and opts to have an abortion because she feels that having a baby will prevent her from advancing in her career as a corporate lawyer.
There usually is a great deal of consensus on these kinds of examples.  Most students feel that the individuals in question are wrong because they are causing intentional, direct harm to other human beings.  Occasionally a rare student might argue that the woman in third case is acting morally, because the fetus is not a person and therefore has no moral status.

At this point, some bright student might raise the objection that, even if the fetus can’t be morally harmed, the woman is wrong for the harm that she is causing herself by having casual sex.  This leads to another set of questions like the following:
  • A 27 year old man who has no ambition in life, who still lives in his parents’ house, and who is content to hang out and smoke pot every day rather than trying to be a “productive”  member of the community.
  • A 40 year old man who regularly eats chicken and hamburgers.
As in the case of the woman having casual sex, a student on occasion might argue that these two individuals are wrong if their behavior can be shown to be causing harm to themselves.  The majority of students, however, have argued over the years that the scope of ethics pertains only to harms caused to other human beings, and not to ourselves.   The two men in the above cases therefore, while perhaps imprudent, are not necessarily behaving immorally. 

But in 20 years of teaching ethics, no student has ever stopped to ask if the act of eating chicken and hamburgers in the second case might be wrong, even if the fellow eating them has such an amazing constitution that he can consume all the saturated fat and cholesterol he wants without any adverse impact on his health.  Is there something wrong, in other words with eating animals when other food choices are available?  When raised in class, this question, quite frankly, bewilders almost every student (except the rare vegan or vegetarian who might be in the class).  How can it be wrong to eat animals when animals have no moral status, they wonder?
Just to push the issue, we then go on to the real killers—those cases that usually demonstrate just how little the typical college students thinks about questions of ecological ethics:
  • An affluent 60 year old woman who owns several expensive fur coats and wears them regularly during winter.
  • A teenager who carves the name of his girlfriend in the trunk of a tree so deep in a forest that no one will ever notice it.
What on earth do these sorts of acts have to do with ethics, the students almost always wonder?  Who’s being harmed?  Who’s being wronged?

We know that it is wrong to cause direct intentional harm to other human beings.  If the woman in the first case had stolen her neighbors pet chinchillas to make her coat or the tree in the second case was in a neighbor’s yard, then students would probably argue that these two individuals are wrong because they caused harm to fellow human beings by violating their property rights.  But chinchillas and trees themselves have no rights and have no moral status, so we can do whatever we want with them and it is totally outside the scope of conventional morality.  At least that’s the way that most students look at these kinds of issues.
When I suggest that eating animals or using them for clothing is wrong because animals are sentient beings who have a right not to be subjected to unnecessary cruelty—and what can be more cruel than our American factory and fur farms—the students stare at me as though I were speaking in another language.  It not only confuses them to think that animals might have as much of a moral status as their fellow human beings, but it offends them deeply.  It means that they might be wrong for wearing their favorite leather boots, or going to McDonalds for lunch, or using cosmetics that have been tested on animals.  And that’s simply too much for them. 

And  when we get to the last case of the tree carver,  the bewilderment becomes universal.  Even if one or two students might warm to the idea that inflicting unnecessary pain on an animal is wrong, there is no way in hell that any of them are going to buy the idea that a tree, a mountain, a river, or an estuary has any rights or any moral status.   That is simply too damned extreme. 

And this I believe is the crux of the ecological crisis we are currently facing. 
Americans get the idea that if a company like GE pollutes a river, it should be forced to clean that river up, if it can be demonstrated that the pollution causes harm to human beings.  But climate change, for example, is a much more nebulous position.   The extreme temperatures, droughts, and wildfires that have been experienced all around our country are certainly harmful to human beings, but right-wing pundits have thrown doubt over whether these are indeed the result of climate change.  And, while climate change itself has the potential to cause severe harm to future generations, we don’t know exactly how much harm it will cause or to whom. 

We clear-cut entire forests for timber; we blow off the tops of mountains to get at the coal beneath them; we cram millions of pigs, chickens, and cows into vast factory farms where their waste products pollute rivers and streams, we allow fracking on public lands to extract gas and the chemicals that are used contaminate ground water.  These are ecological evils on a vast scale because they threaten the integrity of entire ecosystems. 

But we need to get to the point where we understand that every time we buy a piece of furniture made of wood that hasn’t been sustainably harvested, every time we cram a piece of chicken into our mouths when other plant-based food sources are available, every time we leave a light on in a room that’s no longer in use, we ourselves are guilty of participating in ecological evils.  Not just wrongful acts that have the potential to cause harm to individuals and groups, mind you, but evils which have the potential to devastate ecosystems, the wildlife that inhabit them, and the quality of life of future generations.

Is this way of thinking about ethics going to make you feel good about yourself?  Probably not.  But unless we start to include animals, trees, rivers, and mountains into our moral discourse we have the extreme likelihood of leaving behind a planet that is ill-suited for reasonable habitation by any species.   And if that’s not an appropriate topic of discussion for any ethics class, I surely don’t know what is.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

No Need to Wait for the Hens: They’re Already Roosting

U.S. Drought Conditions as of August 7, 2012

We’ve been hearing from environmentalists and climatologists that we have to do something now about carbon emissions, if we want to prevent the worst effects of global warming from occurring.   Recent events around the United States, however, indicate that we are already seeing some of the extreme predictions about climate change come true: 

·        This summer has been one of the hottest on record and is part of a larger warming trend happening all around the country.  It has been reported that the Northern Hemisphere has just recorded its 327th consecutive month in which temperatures exceeded 20th century averages. 
·        This year we had the fourth warmest winter on record, with record shattering temperatures in March and June 2012.
·        The drought that we have been experiencing this summer is also one of the worst on record.   In fact, droughts that were once a rarity are becoming much more frequent and severe, and probably will become the norm in the United States in the future. 
·         This year's  crop yields are down by 13 percent and river flow has been reduced by up to 50% in some places as a result of drought conditions.  The consequences of this  will almost certainly be higher prices for food and stress placed upon our water resources.
·          Wildfires have occurred in Colorado and other Western states and are also predicted to become more common in the future.
If this isn’t a wake-up call to all of us that we need to take concrete steps  now to move from a fossil fuel economy to a more renewable one, limit our consumption, and generally change the way we live and do business in the United States, then, as a species, we are probably beyond redemption.
I also hope that those individuals, who, through ignorance or slave-like devotion to conservative ideology, continue to perpetuate the lie that climate change is an illusion, will experience an intellectual and moral awakening after what we’ve experienced this summer all around the country. 
These are the facts:  (1) Climate change is happening, (2) our selfish human habits are responsible for it, and (3) the results, if we don’t act collectively, will be dire for us and for future generations.   End of story.
The time for debate and obstruction is over.  The time for action is NOW. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Bastards Will Never Give Up!

You won't believe it, but the following is a postcard sent out by the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, fracking lobbyists, to push for gas drilling in the State of New York. 

And they'll probably get their nasty little way too, because New Yorkers are not as outraged about this issue as they should be.  We've already seen in Wisconsin what happens when those of us on the left aren't mobilized against the insidious campaigns of the right-wing in this country.  And it's happening all over again in New York with this issue.  Believe me, corporate gas money will make it virtually impossible for Cuomo to resist opening up the state to fracking.

And it's our state's naturally resources that will be all fracked up if we allow this to happen.

Be sure to sign the Working Families Party's petition to Governor Cuomo today!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One thing we can all do, and ought to do, but don’t do…and here’s why.

The planet we live on is in danger of being completely swallowed up by our love affair with plastic.  Our landfills are overflowing with the stuff, our wildlife is choking to death on it, and our seas contain islands the size of Texas, swirling vortexes of—you guessed it—plastic. 

Plastic was developed with the best of intentions.  It was a product that could be used over and over again and thus save our forests from being decimated and our natural resources from being wasted to create consumer products.  At first, plastic was almost an environmentalist’s dream: you could create products out of it in virtually any shape and size, for almost any purpose, and it was all magically synthetic.  And no animals had to be killed and no trees had to be felled to make these plastic wonder products.
But what no one ever envisioned was that we would one day create plastic products that would be used only once and then discarded at whim.  I’m talking, of course, about the plastic shopping bag that we all use to pack our supermarket food and the retail items we buy at the shopping mall.  It’s estimated that between 500 billion and 1 trillion of these plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.  Most of us tend to bring these bags home, empty out their contents, and then throw them in the garbage pail without a further thought.  

From our garbage, these bags are then transported to the local landfill.  Approximately 20-25% of a typical landfill weight is made up of plastics (not just garbage bags, of course) and, since most landfills lack adequate moisture and air circulation to encourage decomposition, the plastic we put into landfills remains there almost indefinitely. 

Millions of these bags actually won’t even make it as far as the landfill.    They flutter in the wind, get flushed into river and streams, and pollute our local communities.  Once in the environment, it still takes the average plastic bag  several months to hundreds of years to break down, and when they do, the effects are, if anything, even more problematic than if they remained in landfills.   Toxic chemicals from these plastic bags seep into our soil, lakes, rivers, and oceans.  Tiny bits of plastic the size of plankton are consumed by sea animals, and these chemicals enter their bloodstreams.  And when we consume these animals, they enter our own as well, contributing to cancer and other nasty human ailments.

If you think that paper shopping bags are the solution, they’re not.  Paper shopping bags require more energy to create, produce even more solid waste, and generate even more atmospheric emissions than plastic bags do.

But there is a very easy solution to the shopping bag dilemma:  carry reusable shopping bags with you when you go shopping.  They’re cheap, come in assorted styles, and are extremely compact. 

So why don’t more people bring reusable bags with them when they go shopping?  It seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?  And yet, if anything, Americans in particular are using more plastic bags than ever before.  So what’s the source of the disconnect between social good and human behavior?

As a matter of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am a person who very often uses plastic bags when I go shopping.  It’s not that I don’t have any reusable bags: I have a bunch that I got for free last year in the trunk of my car.  It’s just that I often forget to take them out of the trunk when I go shopping.  So they sit there while I contribute to the environmental havoc reaped by our nasty plastic habits. 

From my own experience, then, I think that habit gets in the way of changing human behaviors.  We’re all in the habit of jumping out of our cars without anything but our keys and wallets when we go to the supermarket and shopping malls.  What we’ve got to do—what I’ve got to do—is create a new habit of exiting the car, locking it, opening the trunk, taking out the reusable bags, filling them with the items I purchase, emptying the bags of these items when I get home, and then putting the bags back in the trunk of the car for their next use.  If this sounds overly complex, it really isn’t in practice. We just have to create a new habit to replace the old one that is destroying our planet.  It’s quite simple, actually.

The best part is that, as more of us begin to develop the habit of using reusable shopping bags, they’ll become more common and other people will feel more comfortable using them.   We may not completely eradicate the plastic shopping bag in this way, but we can dramatically reduce the number of them that are produced each year. 

And that, my friends, would be a very good thing for this wounded planet of ours!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ethics of Meat Eating

There was an interesting competition in last week’s New York Times Magazine in which readers were asked to respond to the question, “Is Meat Eating Ethical?”  It’s a question that doesn’t get asked often enough on this blog, where most of the contributors are either vegans or vegan sympathizers.   Although I’m nowhere near as ethical in my eating habits as some of my colleagues, as a result of teaching environmental ethics over the past 15 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the use of animals for food is ethically unjustified.   

Still, I was greatly impressed by the thoughtfulness that went into some of the reader’s responses to the question posed in the Times.  These were not crass libertarians who were arguing that we can do whatever the hell we want with animals because they have no moral status.   The finalists were mostly serious environmentalists who made some interesting arguments  supporting the idea that in certain specific circumstances (if the meat is grown in a laboratory, if plant-based options are not viable, if the animals are raised humanly and killed painlessly) eating animals would be morally acceptable. 
None of the arguments of the finalists in the end, however, persuaded me to change my views on this issue.  I’m convinced that we human beings can live healthy lives without chowing down on hamburgers or chicken wings.  In fact, all the evidence that I’ve come across over the years seems to indicate that, as a species, we’d actually be considerably healthier if we gave up eating animals and animal products entirely.   When one considers the pain and suffering that animals raised for food experience, even when those animals are raised in otherwise humane environments, I don’t think that meat-eating can ever be considered anything other than a moral evil. 

But I certainly am more than willing to enter into a dialogue with those who sincerely feel otherwise.   And who knows: there may be someone out there who will come up with a justification for eating animals that will make me change my own moral position.  The arguments, however, are going to have to be a heck of a lot more persuasive than those I read in the Times last week.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Most Despicable Human Beings on the Planet

I hate people who thrive on causing pain and suffering to others.  That's why I hate rapists, pedophile priests, and child abusers.  But these folks are practically saint-like compared to another group that has it in, not just for specific individuals, but for entire generations of human beings not even born yet. 

The individuals I'm referring to are those who, out of purely ideological motivations or because they are whores for corporate interests, continue to spread the idea that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by rabid environmental wackos who hate our beautiful American way of life.  What these folks typically do is find some fringe, right-leaning "scientist" who has "hard data" that proves either that global warming is not really happening at all or that it is not caused by human activity.

Of course, there's virtually unanimous agreement among serious scientists that global warming is real, that it is caused mainly by the spewing of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and that the consequences, if we don't get a handle on this problem, are dire for our species and for the planet as a whole. 


End of story. 

There is no real debate about global warming.  There's only the truth that we are screwing up the planet because of our selfish, short-sighted, materialistic human activities and there's the reality that, if we want future generations to inherit a planet that is not completely inhospitable to human life, we'd better act now, before it's too late.   This means living far more sustainably, consuming much less, and radically reducing our global CO2 emissions.

But global-warming deniers will do all they can to prevent us from changing our lifestyles in any way that will cut into fat corporate profits.  The more we consume and the more we use fossil fuels to heat our homes and drive our cars, the more profits there are for multinational corporations like Exxon and General Motors.  And the way our economy is set up, just about the only thing that really matters is nice, bloated profits.  The well-being of future generations is a luxury that a corporation can't afford to consider.

The global warming deniers, however, may finally have gone too far.  Recently, the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank funded by - you guessed it - corporations interested in spreading doubts about the reality of global warming, created an ad campaign comparing those "who still believe in global warming" to some of the world's most notorious murderers, like Theodore J. Kaczynski (aka The Unibomber) and Charles Manson.  According to the Institute, "what these murderers and and madmen have done differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the 'mainstream media' and liberal politicians say about global warming."

After receiving a torrent of criticism from liberals as well as conservatives, the Heartland Institute suspended its nasty campaign.  You can be quite sure, however, that this won't be the end of their attempts to spread misinformation and raise doubts about the legitimacy of global warming.  It's the same strategy that the tobacco industry used to try to cause confusion about the health risks of cigarette smoking.

But just as this misinformation spread by the tobacco industry created a backlash against cigarette smoking, so too will global warming deniers, like those at the Heartland Institute, eventually go too far with their malicious lies.   All right-wing ideologues, after all, share a similar contempt for the intelligence of the average person.  That will ultimately prove to be their down-fall.  The more extreme they get in spreading their propaganda, the more attention they draw to the issue of climate change, and the more they ultimately help those of us on the left to get the truth out.

In the meanwhile, feel free to let the Heartland Institute know exactly how you feel about their campaign of lies!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why Being Vegetarian is Not Enough

More and more people are becoming vegetarian as a result of their belief that animals shouldn’t be mistreated on factory farms, or that they simply should not be killed and consumed for food. However, many individuals who avoid meat out of concern for the interests of animals, continue to consume and use other animal products. Many vegetarians, in fact, upon eliminating flesh from their diet, actually increase their consumption of eggs and dairy, two products that are the result of tremendous animal abuse. 

It is a common belief among vegetarians that drinking milk and eating eggs does not kill animals, but nothing could be further from the truth. Commercially raised cows and egg-laying chickens, whether factory-farmed, or "free-range" are slaughtered when their production rates decline and they are no longer a valuable "commodity".

Vegetarians who eat eggs contribute to the death of 200 million male chicks each year. Since there is no such thing as a "layer rooster," these animals serve no purpose in the egg industry and are killed moments after hatching. Each year, millions of male chicks are gassed, crushed, ground up, or thrown into garbage bins to die of dehydration or asphyxiation. Most layer hens are kept five to a tiny battery cage, where they must stand and sleep on a wire floor 24 hours a day. Living under these horrendous conditions, a hen needs about 30 hours just to lay one egg. Even though a chicken can live five years, most hens are killed before their second birthday, because their egg production declines with age.

With cows, the story is similar. Just as hens lay fewer eggs as they age, dairy cows produce less milk, as they get older. Even though a cow can live twenty years, most dairy cows are sent to the slaughterhouse at age five. Additionally, the veal industry could never exist in its present form without the existence of the dairy industry. Each dairy cow produces about five calves during her lifetime, only one of which on average will become a dairy calf and replace her mother in the milking herd. The rest, (mostly male calves, since they can not become dairy cows) are taken from their mothers, sold for $5.00 each, and to be turned into veal. Imagine having each of your newborn baby stolen, only to have them chained inside a tiny crate for a few months before being slaughtered and eaten, all so that another species could consume milk and cheese from your lactation.

The flood of cheap calves created by the dairy industry allows the veal industry to survive in its current form. It may seem counterintuitive that milk, which is associated with birth and life, is also so connected to slaughter and death. The animal agriculture industry, however, is not in the business of feeding and housing animals who are not profitable. Many vegetarians are not aware of these facts. Once you become aware of the truth, it's hard to justify consuming animal by-products even if you do not eat the animals themselves.

Unfortunately, eating milk and eggs, and using animal by-products all comes down to the same thing: cruelty, exploitation, and death for animals. A compassionate person, who does not eat meat because of an ethical concern for animals, can not avoid the reality of their other choices or the consequences they have on the lives of animals. By refusing to purchase or use these products, we send a strong economic message that profiting at the expense of our health, our environment, and the lives of animals will not be tolerated.

If you're vegetarian because you care about nonhuman animals, you must stop eating, wearing, or using them and products made from them. If animals matter morally, we can not justify treating them as resources. Becoming vegan must be the moral baseline for taking those interests seriously. It's the only way to align your values for justice and fairness.

Vegetarians: Don't hide from the truth. Becoming vegan is the next step in your personal liberation, and it is a source of joy to spend your life living up to its ideal. 

By the way, pictured up top are male chicks falling into a grinder. Representing no monetary value to the egg industry, they only lived for a few moments, but they were not trash. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Beyond Environmental Veganism

Earth day is Sunday, and we’re hearing all the annual awareness campaigns. Take shorter showers, drive a hybrid, change a light bulb, recycle… blah, blah, blah. What’s noticeably missing is perhaps the single most important thing one can do for the environment. Go vegan and stay vegan.

As Communications Director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, I sat down with every intention of writing a blog post extolling the virtues of environmental veganism. As an ethical vegan, however, I have a hard time making the case for veganism on strictly environmental grounds. Not that a compelling argument can’t be made from an environmental standpoint, or for purely health reasons for that matter. The environmental benefits of being vegan are tremendous. Even the most casual research about intensive animal agriculture will turn up a number of persuasive reasons to go vegan because of the environment. And that’s a good thing.

That got me thinking, however. Going vegan solely for environmental reasons is a basic misunderstanding of what veganism is at its core. I understand that with environmentalism enjoying the spotlight these days, and the green movement having it’s own cable channel and a whole array of ‘green’ products to consume, I might be quickly criticized to suggest that anything done for environmental reasons alone is not a legitimate enough reason. Fact is, I’m glad for the growing number of environmental vegans out there. If concern for the environment gets people thinking about and moving towards veganism, that is great. In the end however, those of us who are vegan because we respect the inherent sentience of animals must take an active role in moving environmental vegans beyond merely environmentalism and to see veganism for what it really is about: the rights of non-human animals.

From the moment Donald Watson first coined the term ‘vegan’ in 1944, veganism has been about the rights of animals to be given equal consideration. To this day, veganism continues to be the only cogent answer that gets at the heart of animal exploitation. Being vegan is your everyday statement that things are not right as they are, that you are one more person who is standing up to be counted in opposition to the exploitation of animals. It is a refusal of a system that produces enormous profits at the expense of animals who are just as sentient as the family dog or cat. Veganism is and has always been about animal rights.

I don’t want to be misunderstood so let me say this once again: I’m glad to have people go vegan for environmental reasons. My point is however; an environmental thrust alone is an insufficient basis for a long-term vegan position, or for a long-term movement seeking to gain animals important rights. To put it another way, going vegan for solely environmental reasons is quite like opposing the Holocaust because the trains to Auschwitz had a big carbon footprint. I know that is a provocative thing to say, but before getting up in arms, think about the central point I’m making. In both cases, yes the person is opposed to the holocaust. But all of us would argue that the person making an objection on environmental grounds is really failing to see the larger point. That is that genocide is profoundly disgusting and wrong because it violates the inherent rights that we think all human beings should have.

For ethical vegans, the point of veganism is recognizing the inherent value of animals as individual beings unto themselves. If ethical veganism is going to have any impact, it needs to be a movement that’s at its core is concerned about realizing rights for animals. Though the environmental implications of the exploitation of animals, and humans for that matter, are severe, disturbing and taking a growing toll on our ecosystems, we must however put these concerns within the larger framework of exploitation. One in which the environmental side effects of exploitation are recognized and understood, but not in which they are the central focus of concern.

That does not mean we need not be silent about the environmental benefits of veganism, but when we do address such benefits, we should point out that, while great, they are very much incidental to the grave moral wrong of exploiting and unnecessarily breeding and killing the innocent. I would be vegan even if it were bad for the environment, but it's good to know that I can be a good environmentalist and a good vegan simultaneously. 

Those of us who are seriously concerned about the environment should go vegan and take a strong animal rights position. No other food choice has a farther-reaching and more profoundly positive impact on the environment and all life on earth than choosing to become vegan. If you’re not vegan – go vegan. It’s really easy. If you are vegan – stay vegan. It’s better for the planet, better for your health and most importantly it’s the ethically right thing to do.

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