Speaking Truth to PETA: The Ridiculous Attack on Al Gore
Ever since Al Gore assumed the mantel of climate-change-crusader-in-chief, he's been dogged by a vocal group of critics (led by PETA) who accuse him of refusing to discuss what they see as the real issue: Our consumption of meat.A piece in Truthout yesterday repeated the charge:
Al Gore penned a lengthy New York Times op-ed entitled, "We Can't Wish Away Climate Change," on February 28, 2010. As expected, Gore was wordy, made no effort to discuss the planet's top polluter (US Department of Defense), and, most of all, the former vice president once again opted to ignore the No. 1 cause of climate change: the meat-based diet. In fact, I ran a search on the nearly 2,000 words, but none of the following terms were found: meat, cow, livestock, methane, farm, diet or vegan.This idea that Al Gore is a huge hypocrite for fighting climate change without issuing a call for universal vegetarianism has provided Glenn Beck with some great material for opportunistic sniping.
I'm siding with PETA on this one, once again asking Al Gore: If you really want to save the planet, Al, why don't you put down the cheeseburgers and pick up your veggie burger? Time for maybe soy milk and tofurkey.But going vegetarian is really not as big a help as PETA would have you believe. When Al Gore's critics cite the carbon cost of meat, they usually refer to a UN study that showed that "cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation."The key thing to note there is the emphasis on cattle. It's red meat (and especially beef) that accounts for the bulk of the high cost of an omnivorous diet. Nitrous oxide is a byproduct of ruminants' feed production and manure management. And when you put the cost of cattle into "CO2 equivalent" terms, as the U.N. report does, the impact of cattle is huge because nitrous oxide has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of carbon dioxide.But even the U.N. study's wow statement-that cattle causes more harm than cars-is suspect. A more recent NASA study looked at the overall combination of gasses emitted by transportation as compared to meat production, and found that cars have the largest net climate change effect.Cutting beef out of your diet does have a huge environmental benefit, and it's relatively easy to do. But it's hard to make the case that going completely vegetarian is much better. If you decide to keep eating chicken, but ease up on the air conditioning, that's probably a net benefit.Let's be clear: There are plenty of good and interesting arguments for going vegetarian. You can make the moral case that things with nervous systems, and the capacity for suffering, shouldn't be killed for food. But when groups like PETA try to use the environmental movement as a trojan horse for their moral problem with meat eating they end up obscuring our understanding of the facts and giving Glenn Beck fodder for his crazy show. That does a disservice to the public-and to considered vegetarianism.