There have been multiple HuffPo posts about PETA's efforts to convince former Vice President Al Gore to advocate a vegetarian diet, and we are grateful to environmental activist Susan Smalley for raising this issue again last week, since we strongly believe that the dialogue needs to continue. Are you listening, Al?
By way of background: I went vegan more than 20 years ago for environmental reasons, and while I resonate with much of what Susan says, I can't help but wonder how someone who clearly cares deeply about the environment can reconcile that caring with eating meat--and I don't think that Al Gore even bothers to try, which is unfortunate, to say the least.
The chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who shared the Nobel Prize with Mr. Gore, is vegetarian and said that the two most important ways to protect the environment are to drive less and adopt a vegetarian diet--drive less because its not possible for most people to give up driving altogether, but everyone can, as Susan and her husband have, adopt a vegetarian diet.
As Susan knows, United Nations scientists concluded that the meat industry is "one of the ... most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global," including "problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity." As for global warming, meat production causes 40 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Eating meat is by far an individual's number one contribution to global greenhouse gases.
Of course, as Susan rightly says, "[W]e all need to make our own choices." But personal choices can only be allowed to go so far. For example, most environmentalists would agree that people shouldn't have the personal choice to dump their motor oil in a river. And if our choices involve direct support for the number one human cause of global warming--and a refusal to even mention the meat industry when telling people what they can do to decrease their global-warming footprint--at what point is someone's oversight on such a crucial issue cause for publicly calling them out on it?
We wish that we didn't have to make this discussion public the way we have. We have a great deal of respect for Mr. Gore and everything he's done to better the world--and he's done a lot. We've repeatedly tried to contact Mr. Gore privately, but we never hear back from him or even anyone on his staff. The fact is that many environmentalists take their cues from Mr. Gore, and his refusal to adopt a vegetarian diet (or even discuss it as a way to curb global warming), gives many others the license they might be looking for to continue eating meat and ignoring the issue.
We agree that the means of achieving one's goals are important, and we certainly try to be civil. Of course, we are also playful. So when we show up at one of Mr. Gore's speeches with large posters featuring a caricature of Mr. Gore holding a chicken leg and reading, "Mr. Gore: Too Chicken to Go Vegetarian?" or send our Lettuce Ladies to pass out faux meat and information about eating meat and global warming outside his appearances, we're not lacking in civility; rather, we're attempting (in a way that is more Ken Kesey than Malcolm X) to reach Mr. Gore with some key information--an "inconvenient truth" for him, apparently.
Of course, meatless Mondays are better than meat-filled Mondays, and it's true that according to Environmental Defense, "If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains ... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads." But to me, as an environmentalist, this impact dictates that I eat chicken no days of the week, not six.
Obviously, as Susan rightly notes, no one is perfect, but isn't it reasonable to expect that the most famous advocate of taking global warming seriously--the man who very justly won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts--would address the cause of one-fifth of all global warming gases, which is about 40 percent more than all planes, cars, trucks, and other forms of transportation combined?
Only energy production causes more global warming, but much of that energy goes into the meat industry, which is why the Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook explains that "refusing meat" is "the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint" (emphasis in original).
Our understanding, which is backed up by Susan's post, is that Mr. Gore listens to people who care about this issue, but he does not engage at all. And he shouldn't be let off the hook so easily--just as anyone who engages in environmentally destructive behavior (regardless of who they are or what they've done) shouldn't be let off the hook.
If Mr. Gore were not the target in this instance, we believe that he'd be leading the charge. We wish he'd join us on this side of the barricades. We will welcome him when the truth becomes too inconvenient for even him to ignore.
Readers can find thousands of Earth-friendly vegetarian recipes, a transitional meal plan, cookbook recommendations, and more at VegCooking.com.