I'm tempted to move to Britain, and not just because I saw an early screening of Michael Moore's amazing new movie, Sicko (go see it; tell all your friends). What got me is that an official with the UK's Environment Agency has acknowledged that humans can significantly help stop global warming by adopting a vegetarian diet.
Of course, the science could not be more clear. When U.N. scientists looked at all the evidence, they declared in a 408-page report titled Livestock's Long Shadow that raising animals for food is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all vehicles in the world combined. And scientists at the University of Chicago showed that a typical American meat-eater is responsible for nearly 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide a year than a vegan.
But for someone in government to admit this is something special, since even Al Gore refuses to talk about it (which makes me think that perhaps he is planning to run). What happened is that someone posted a comment on the Environment Agency's Web site asking, "Adopting a vegan diet reduces one person's impact on the environment even more than giving up their car or forgoing several plane trips a year! Why aren't you promoting this message as part of your [World Environment Day] campaign?"
In response, an Environment Agency official wrote that the "potential benefit of a vegan diet in terms of climate impact could be very significant" and offered assurances that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working on a set of "key environmental behaviour changes" to mitigate climate change—including promoting vegetarianism.
Indeed, study after study has shown that animal agriculture contributes to global warming and environmental destruction, yet instead of urging people to go vegetarian, most U.S. politicians and environmental spokespeople just continue to hype hybrid cars, recycling, and fluorescent light bulbs as solutions to our spiraling environmental problems.
This is just not good enough. Vegetarians in Hummers do more for the planet than do meat-eaters who cruise around in hybrids or collect recyclable soda cans. Now that George Bush has finally acknowledged that global warming is a reality, perhaps he could follow his vegetarian niece, Lauren Bush—and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton—in adopting a vegetarian diet. I'm not going to hold my breath until this happens, but it would be gratifying for representatives of the U.S. government to acknowledge the absolute fact that what people eat is more important than what they drive.
Carbon dioxide emissions aren't our only environmental concern, of course. There's deforestation, water and air pollution, world hunger, and more. According to Greenpeace, chickens raised for KFC and other companies that "produce" chicken flesh are fed crops that are grown in the Amazon rain forest. And according to the U.N. report, raising animals for food is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."
To whit, more than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals; farmed animals are fed more than 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains grown in the U.S.; and almost half of the water and 80 percent of the agricultural land in the U.S. are used to raise animals for food.
There is also the unappetizing synopsis by Scripps Howard of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on animal waste and the environment: "[I]t's untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick."
If that's not enough to make you feel a little queasy, consider this: Consuming animal products isn't just making the environment sick—it's making us sick, too. Meat, eggs, and dairy foods are high in cholesterol, saturated fat, calories, and concentrated protein. Animal products are known to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, obesity, and other debilitating diseases.
And don't forget that more than 10 billion animals are killed each year in the U.S. alone to feed our meat addictions. We're talking about an awful lot of suffering.
And for what? Chicken nuggets, hamburgers, hot dogs, cheese pizza, scrambled eggs, and other foods that have healthy, humane, and environmentally friendly counterparts. I can't imagine why anyone would cause such suffering and devastation when there is a better option: a vegetarian diet. Why not give it a try?
If you need some tips, please check out www.VegCooking.com for recipes, meal plans, cookbook recommendations, and more. It's not too late to reverse the changes in our climate, but all of us need to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases, and we need to take them soon. Your next meal would be a good time to start. Bruce Friedrich is vice president in charge of international grassroots campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has been a progressive and animal activist for more than 20 years.