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 www.abolitionistapproach.com.