03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Where Is the Real Al Gore and What Have You Done With Him?

As a left coast liberal, it pains me to say this, but someone has to: Al Gore's persistent refusal to engage in a real discussion about the impact of meat production on climate change is starting to severely hurt his credibility as a spokesman for meaningful solutions.

To me, it's almost as if the man who so bravely first fought to focus the world's attention on the urgent crisis of global warming has been kidnapped and replaced with a meeker version who no longer dares, or cares, to speak truth to power.

Case in point: Mr. Gore's recent interview with BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman ahead of the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference. In the interview, Mr. Gore acknowledged that concerns over the impact of meat production are "legitimate." But in almost the same breath, the former vice president then declared that he has no plans to become a vegetarian, a diet he characterized as a mere "personal choice."

Let's pause there. Meat production isn't only a "legitimate" contributor to global warming, it is the leading contributor. Meat is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transportation in the world combined, in fact 40% more. This is not a statistic from PETA, or the world's vegetarian food producers, it is from the top scientific authorities on the subject.

So what does it mean when the leading figure promoting awareness and searching for solutions to the climate crisis refuses to even acknowledge the chief cause of the problem?

Isn't such a stance rather akin to a leading lung cancer researcher lighting up at a solutions summit, calling smoking just a "personal choice." Is a choice merely personal, when it contributes to the rapid decline of the entire planet, not to mention cruelty to billions of animals suffering in factory farms?

Ironically, going vegetarian or vegan to combat climate change is often characterized as an "elitist" and difficult solution unrealistic for most people.

Really? Replacing one item -- meat -- on your lunch or dinner plate with a veggie alternative from abundant faux meats to beans to mushrooms to tofu is hard and unrealistic? Certainly not for people in the cities of the Western world, where such alternatives exist everywhere and where consumer choices have the widest emissions impact.

But let's for a moment consider the steps Mr. Gore highlights in his BBC interview as steps to take to combat global warming, "walking the walk" as he calls it: Mr. Gore mentions drilling geothermal wells at his house, replacing all his windows, and covering his roof with solar panels. All commendable, serious actions, but in what universe, are they realistic for non-millionaires? Let's also consider that while taking such steps does indeed reduce your carbon footprint, it does so by a mere fraction of what a simple change in your diet could do -- with no added cost.

All that's needed is the will to change. Just a bit.

It's long grated on my nerves that the leaders of our green movement seem to promote driving hybrid cars and replacing light bulbs as the most important steps Americans can take to help curb global warming.

Let me offer two inconvenient truths: 1) Most people in America cannot afford a hybrid car. 2) Changing your light bulbs has virtually no impact on climate change when factored among the real steps you could be taking.

Does this mean that if you cannot do everything, you should do nothing? That if you cannot give up meat entirely, you shouldn't even reduce the amount you eat? Of course not. We should all do all that we can.

But our leaders should challenge us to do our most, not our least.

That's where I miss the old Al Gore. I hope he returns. As a vegetarian.