Gore, You Can Have Your Meat and Eat It Too: An Open Letter to Al Gore

At Netroots Nation, [July 19 in Austin, Texas] I asked you about the role of meat consumption in global warming. You responded very honestly that it was not something you had addressed much yet, partially perhaps because you eat meat. I say that for a "recovering politician," you are obviously cured. That kind of honesty is refreshing. But I sensed that you thought that a "low carbon diet" means no meat or little meat -- something you and most Americans are not prepared to accept. That is not true. A "low carbon diet" means sustainable meat.

Let me first share with you a few personal notes that I've long wanted to say to you, even if they are superfluous to this topic. I was a student at Washington University during your debate [in 2000]. I was in the audience that day. It was the most memorable day of my college experience and also the day my world turned upside down.

I left the debate knowing you had won, and the media said Bush won. What? I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. Yet the media denied it. It got worse. You won the election. The media denied it. The public denied it. And on it went for eight years now of denial and destruction to our constitution and our earth.

To me, you are more than just a former veep. You represent a combination of my president, my father (who you remind me of very much), and a leader who is more than either of those, someone on the level of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi. I burst into tears when you took the stage in Austin. I don't know why but I couldn't control it.

If you aren't perfect despite your passion for the environment, neither am I. I drive a Corolla bearing a bumper sticker that says "Polar bears for global cooling." I can't afford a Prius and I can't bike to work. I understand the irony that my instrument of global warming calls for its prevention. I can't throw stones and I don't wish to. I wish to work with you, if you are willing, towards a healthier planet.

The idea that animal products in particular (above all other foods) contribute to global warming is fairly established by studies such as one called "Diet, Energy, and Global Warming" published by University of Chicago researchers a few years ago. It is true. When considering only conventional, factory farmed meat, the less you eat of it the better. I became a vegetarian for that very reason. The silver lining is that the flaw isn't in animal products themselves but in how we produce them.

A friend of mine, Judith McGeary, produces sustainable lamb, chicken, turkey, and eggs on her small Texas farm. The sheep graze on pasture, harvesting their own food. Judith tries to source feed for the chickens and turkeys locally when possible.

Most of all, the farm represents an enormous carbon sink. Instead of collecting manure in polluting, smelly lagoons like a factory farm, Judith lets nature take its course. Dung beetles on her land take care of all of the manure and they improve the soil at the same time. Then she sells the meat to local customers who use little oil to transport the meat home. She uses a lot of energy for refrigeration but she offsets it with solar panels on her roof. Her new home, currently under construction, will be a green building.

Judith is a scientist and an environmentalist. She earned a degree in Biology from Stanford, a JD from UT-Austin, and she also studies graduate level eco-agriculture at UT-Austin. Thousands like her around the country are equally passionate about sustainable agriculture. They might not all have degrees from Stanford but they aren't starry eyed, idealistic hippies either.

The "eco" in "eco-agriculture" stands for "economical" as well as "ecologically-friendly." Sustainable farming is a fantastic business model, producing a valuable product that more and more consumers are embracing.

I hope you will continue working on all of your current efforts -- plug-in hybrids, solar panels, etc -- but if we have five years to save the polar icecaps as you say, we need to do what we can do now. Sustainable agriculture is something we can do now. Sustainable agriculture means you can have your meat and eat it too.

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