I have been having an ongoing conversation on the blog with “Philosophical Vegan” about an old piece I wrote and the philosophical underpinnings of eating meat or being a vegetarian or vegan. The conversation is still unfinished, but it is pretty apparent that it is hard to ethically argue for eating meat in any convincing way, and just about every rationalisation has, to me, appeared to be a post hoc rationalisation that probably comes out of cognitive dissonance and a love of eating meat. I know this because, being self-aware, I am cognisant of those impulses in my own thinking, and have to work hard to overcome those biases with more robust rationality.
I watched, whilst painting the other day, a really fascinating documentary called Cowspiracy that should be required watching for everyone. What is interesting in its approach is its berating of environmental groups as much as anyone for effectively covering up or ignoring the massive environmental disaster that is animal agriculture (whether on land or at sea, and no matter what country in the world). I was amazed to find out the murky world of lobbying that the animal agriculture industry carries out, including (it appears) on the environmental industry itself!
EcoWatch describe the film as follows:
In 90 minutes, co-producers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn argue that our institutional and individual attention to selected environmental issues will not make a collective difference unless we also confront the realities of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture’s environmental effects are so pervasive that apparent progress elsewhere cannot counter its destructive and growing impact.
The film suggests why protection for expanded areas of the ocean will not protect oceans or ocean animals. Growing food organically, even on a commercial scale, will not protect the land. Keeping lumber operations out of the Amazon will not save the rainforest.
Making homes more water efficient and taking short showers will not make more water available. Driving electric cars will not solve the carbon emissions problem. Installing LED lights and converting to renewable energy will not stop global warming.
Here is some of the data gathered by the producers and woven into this powerful film.
Animal agriculture uses 55 percent of the water in the U.S. American homes use five percent. One thousand gallons of water are needed to produce 1 gallon of milk. Two thousand five hundred gallons of water are needed to make one pound of beef. Growing water shortages make animal agriculture unsustainable.
Livestock uses 30 percent of the Earth’s total land mass, including nearly 50 percent of the U.S. mainland. The growing demand for animal farmland is responsible for 80 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction. (Palm oil production is second). With 160-million acres cleared or degraded annually for the animal industry, 40 percent of the rainforest will be destroyed in 20 years, affecting species survival and carbon sequestration.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. All forms of land, air and ocean transportation total 13 percent. Transportation industry air pollution is overshadowed by animal agriculture air pollution.
Seventy billion animals are raised annually worldwide. Everyday 144 million animals are killed for food. U.S. farm animals produce 7 million pounds of excrement every minute. Our lakes, oceans and psyches cannot sustain animal agriculture.
Too many environmental groups are dodging this issue, but the cattle industry is steaming. One cattle association blogger reminds its members that it also takes a lot of water to make a T-shirt or produce a car.
Seventy-five percent of Americans consider themselves environmentalists. Only 5 percent of Americans are vegetarian or vegan, however their percentage has quintupled in five years.
The average American consumes 209 pounds of meat each year. Everyday, a person that eats a plant-based diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq. ft. of forested land, the equivalent of 20 lbs. of CO2 and one animal’s life.
This issue is an environmental advocate’s dream come true. It requires no political action money, no corporate boardroom decisions, no re-negotiated food policy, no tax incentives. When we eat meat, dairy and eggs, we feed this growing catastrophe. Change will happen as quickly as we convince each other to change what we eat. While producing his film, Kip Andersen became a vegan.
Critics might suggest, and have a case for, the notion that 51% of greenhouse gases are emitted by the animal agriculture industry (deforestation, methane expulsion etc.) is an over-inflated figure. But even if this is inflated, the point is still incredibly salient.
So, I urge readers to watch this and to challenge their behaviours. Challenging one’s own deep-seated behaviours is what skeptics should do. We should not just apply this to other people’s beliefs and behaviours, but more importantly, to our own. I am a meat eater, but am trying to be flexitarian (not eating meat a few times a week). This film shows that, if I want to be a morally better individual, I need to do a lot better than that, and overcome my desires to change my eating habits. It’s hard, but being good has never been the easy option.
Here is the URL as I am having trouble embedding it (in case you can’t see it below):
(The audio isn’t in sync so will try to find a better one.)