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September 17, 2007

It’s OK, Al Gore: You Can Eat Meat and Still Be an Environmentalist


Poor Al Gore. The man can’t catch a break from anybody.


The latest broadside against him was launched by animal rights activists who want him to stop eating meat. They say consumption of meat is the chief cause of global warming. A representative from PETA took it a step further. You can’t be an environmentalist and eat meat, the guy said.


This probably sounds a bit strange coming from PETA, since PETA concerns itself with the rights of animals (a noble, yet only circuitously linked, line of thinking) and not the environment. In fact, the animal rights movement has much more in common with the human rights movement than it does with environmentalism.


But we live in strange times, and it’s not unusual to see a group that espouses one thing try to hijack a different issue for the sole purpose of promoting its agenda. This, in fact, has served the gun rights movement well the last 20 years, and today it is commonly argued that if the government bans guns designed primarily for combat that the next step is putting an end to deer season.


The question is whether PETA, in this case, has a point. Well, it’s a very strained one, which makes sense since the organization promotes sound ethics when it comes to treating animals (your first clue to this is the group’s name) and not environmental sustainability.


A report published by the United Nations last year said that livestock operations contribute more to global warming than do all of the world’s cars and all of the world’s industrial activity. It does this because livestock produce a great deal of methane, which happens to be a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than carbon dioxide, which itself is linked to automobiles and electrical generation.


It also so happens that more people are eating more meat these days. That means more cows, pigs and chickens, and raising a cow requires a great deal more land and water than does raising a field of wheat.


There was a small problem. Right around the same time that the U.N. report was released, another set of figures was released. They said that atmospheric concentrations of methane had leveled out, completing a trend over the last decade in which their increase had slowed. That means that even though more people were eating more methane-generating livestock, the amount of methane in the atmosphere had stopped increasing. There were a number of explanations for this, much of which is related to our ability to capture what was leaking out from landfills.


Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, continues to increase.


This doesn’t mean methane as a greenhouse gas shouldn’t be taken seriously. It should, as should environmental issues unrelated to global warming but linked to factory farms. They promote the spread of noxious odors and drug-resistant bacteria, and pollute streams and creeks.

But that’s not PETA’s game. They’re after the whole enchilada. Eat meat and you hate Mother Earth. Also, you make baby seals cry.


If you’re for treating animals properly, there’s probably something to this. I don’t know that you could call yourself an animal rights advocate and still eat meat (unless your notion of good ethics is killing animals through the age-old-and-right-honorable tradition of hunting).


But, when it comes to the environment, you can probably be an environmentalist and eat meat. And by probably, what is meant is certainly.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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