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Thursday
May042017

Eat Vegetables and other Plants to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint

Eating plants instead of animals is a powerful way to slow climate change that's open to everyone.  We don't need to wait for the government or big business to change. We don't need to buy a Prius or even a light bulb to start healing the Earth. More people are asking how to stop climate change, but going vegetarian or vegan even part of the time is rarely mentioned at events like the 2017 Climate March. Ironically, advocating for animals would help many organizations succeed in their core missions.

Only You Can Eat Plants Not Animals sign at climate march 2017

Impact of Raising Animals for Food

Animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of the greenhouse gases produced every year. Only transportation has more impact. Avoiding beef and dairy products is particularly important because cows produce so much methane. (A dairy cow produces 500 liters or 132 gallons a day!) The United Nations report Livestock's Long Shadow says:

When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

It's likely that you will experience the climate effects of your food choices within your lifetime as more or less extreme weather, including hurricanes, floods, blizzards, and droughts.

Diet Impact Rarely Taught even at Climate and Social Justice Events

Eating more plants and fewer animals is rarely mentioned by environmental and faith groups. I suspect many people don't even know it matters. After all, only 12% of Americans know that 97% or more of scientists agree that humans are responsible for rapid climate change. How many fewer know about the easy and immediate action we can take, given that eating more plants is so rarely mentioned. It can even be hard to find a plant-based meal at many environmental and faith-based events. Ironically, advocating for animals would help many organizations succeed in their core missions. That's because eating more plants also helps people save money, get and stay healthy, and reduce suffering for animals and humans (warning: images). It even fights environmental racism. I'm grateful that the Earth Holder Sangha, the Christian Vegetarian Association, and other groups are raising awareness of this issue.

Food Choices and Animal Welfare Missing from 2017 Climate March

Sue Reid and Linda Watson at Climate March 2017 in Washington DC

Before the People's Climate Mobilization rally in Washington DC on Saturday, I attended a lovely mindfulness gathering of several Buddhist organizations. The only mention of animals there was by one speaker said he "couldn't give up" his sushi lunches. Yet Order of Interbeing founder and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh asks the lay community to eat only plants at least 15 days a month:

As a spiritual family and a human family, we can all help avert climate change with the practice of mindful eating. Going vegetarian may be the most effective way to stop climate change.... Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing.

The Dalai Lama is a vegetarian at home, condemns factory farming, and says:

Being vegetarian is better for us and better for animals.

Because most Buddhists take vows to not harm sentient beings (including cows, pigs, chickens, and fishes), I'd hoped that someone would speak for the animals and for our Earth at this gathering.

No More War? How about No More Meat?

At the main rally, the crowd chanted "no more war" after an impassioned speech about the climate impact of the US military. That's a grand idea, to be sure, but one that is unlikely to happen soon. The only mention of animals was made by a musician who said we must remember we are connected to all life.

Image if someone has spoken for the animals at the Climate March and we had chanted "no more meat" in response? Imagine that the 200,000 people at that march and the crowds at sister marches had then decided to at least reduce their consumption of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. The shift would have made a real difference. Multiply that effect as the marchers educated and inspired their families, friends, and colleagues to join them in actually slowing climate change.

Were you aware of the impact that eating animals has on the climate? Does the topic come up at the events you attend? Do the meals served reflect the goals of the gathering? Please share your comments below.

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