23 April 2019
Caroline P. Lucas
Member of Parliament
Co-Leaders of the Green Party of England and Wales
Dear Caroline P. Lucas, Jonathan Bartley, and Siân Berry:
I know that you appreciate the urgency of the situation. But I do not understand why the Green Party is not advocating a widespread transition to a vegan diet as necessary to avert climate catastrophe.
The scientific evidence is about as clear as it could possibly be. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than all transport exhaust.
These figures do not take account other environmental impacts of animal agriculture, such as the amount of water required to provide animal products relative to the amount required to produce plants. A study from Cornell University states that one kilogram of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than does 1 kilogram of grain protein. According to another, more recent study, one kilogram of beef requires 15,415 liters of water; sheep meat (lamb and mutton) 10,412 liters; pork 5,988 liters; and chicken 4,325 liters. A kilogram of apples requires 822 liters of water; bananas 790 liters; cabbage 237 liters; tomatoes 214 liters; potatoes 287 liters; and rice 2,497 liters. Between 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of water are needed to produce a gallon of milk.
Recent work at Oxford has made clear that a vegan diet is the single most significant thing we can do to avert climate catastrophe. One of those involved in that work, Dr. Joseph Poore, stated: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.” He added that going vegan “is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”
A recent study by Harvard University showed that UK would be able to sustain itself and combat climate change by returning land used for animal agriculture back to forest: “[c]onverting land currently used for grazing and growing animal feed crops back to forest could soak up 12 years’ carbon emissions.”
I understand that you might be inclined to say what many environmentalists say about this issue: “Of course, we must reduce our intake of meat.” You might then discuss the importance of “reducetarian” efforts.
But that can’t work.
First of all, it’s not just meat that is the environmental culprit. Dairy also has significant adverse environmental impacts. Second, we are not talking about “reducetarianism” as that term is normally used to support measures like “Meatless Monday” or “Vegan before Six.” Another Oxford research team found that massive reductions of meat consumption was necessary to avert climate catastrophe. We are talking about everyone eating 75% less beef, 90% less pork and half the number of eggs.
Now when you consider that many people aren’t going to reduce at all, much less reduce by those sorts of percentages, it becomes important that those of us who do care and want to avert climate catastrophe to eliminate completely these ecologically devastating products and try to persuade everyone we can to do likewise.
I may be missing something and, if that is the case, I apologize sincerely. But when I went to the Green Party website, I was unable to find your promoting veganism as any sort of necessity. In the sections on animal rights and food and agriculture, you talk about reducing the consumption of animal products, eliminating intensive farming in favor of more “sustainable” farming, and making “vegetarian and vegan” food more available. But there is no statement that I was able to find informing people that a widespread transition to veganism was, in effect, necessary to avert climate catastrophe and calling on people to transition to a vegan diet as a crucial part of a survival strategy.
Intensive farms are, indeed, an environmental nightmare for many reasons. But “sustainability” solves nothing. “Sustainable” grazing animals may consume less grain but they drink more water because they are more active; they still produce methane gas; and they require more grazing land. Locally produced animal products have a much greater environmental impact than plants that have been grown somewhere else. According to a study in Environmental Science and Technology, transportation accounts for only 11% of the carbon footprint of food with 83% attributable to production. So the idea that you’re doing more for the environment by eating animal products produced locally rather than imported vegetables is just wrong.
We really can’t get away from a simple fact: if we want to avert climate catastrophe, we are going to need a widespread transition — sooner rather than later — to a vegan diet.
Let me say that I think that there are other compelling reasons to go vegan that follow from Green Party policies. For example, social justice is an important part of your philosophy. The Cornell study found that livestock in the United States consume 7 times as much grain as is consumed by the entire U.S. human population and the grains fed to U.S. livestock could feed 840 million humans who had a plant-based diet. How can we justify consuming animals and animal products when we could feed many, many more people if we consumed the plants directly rather than feeding them to animals? How can we possibly justify animal agriculture as a practice when, in addition to the ecological destruction it causes, it involves such a horribly inefficient — and unjust — use of resources?
The Green Party opposes the the exploitation of animals for human pleasure, such as in zoos, circuses, or racing. I assume that is the case because you accept that it is wrong to impose unnecessary suffering and death on animals. But how is palate pleasure any different morally from any other pleasure? We do not need to eat animals for optimal health. Indeed, The U.K. National Health Service says that a sensible vegan diet can be “very healthy,” while mainstream health care professionals all over the world are increasingly taking the position that animal products are detrimental to human health. In any event, using animals for food is no more “necessary” than using them for sport or other “entertainment.”
But these involve other considerations. For right now, I am focusing on one and only one thing: the fact that we are facing a catastrophic situation and we have little time left to find a solution. We simply don’t have time to find, test, tinker with, and implement some “magic bullet” technological solution, such as a solar shield.
The idea that the government is going to empower “Citizens’ Assemblies” is as implausible as the idea that “Citizens’ Assemblies” will figure out a solution in time to avert catastrophe. Moreover, the fact that Extinction Rebellion is deliberately not promoting veganism based on the very confused idea that veganism involves the “personal” and they seek a “political” solution is compelling evidence that they just don’t get it. In any event, the idea that government is going to do anything significant in a fairly short period of time is fanciful at best.
The best hope we have is for entities like the Green Party to educate and to lead an effort to shift the paradigm. Nothing less is needed.
I am asking that the Green Party take the lead here and launch an educational campaign to explain to people that, if we want to avert a climate catastrophe, we have to eliminate animal products from our diet. This campaign should emphasize that this move is necessary to avoid climate catastrophe. Yes, people ought to do more; they ought to limit transport, recycle, etc. But they need to stop ignoring the elephant in the pantry as a primary matter.
I recognize that this will be unpopular with the public at first. But if the Green Party presents the facts and makes the case for necessity clearly, and emphasizes the already readily-available information to show people that a vegan diet can be varied, delicious, easy to prepare — and invariably cheaper than a diet that includes animal products — public opinion will change. Yes, the large corporations that profit from animal agriculture, as well as farming interests small and large, will object, and this may have a political downside. But isn’t survival worth the political cost?
The Green Party has a unique opportunity to lead in a situation where the cost of the absence of leadership will be disastrous. And if the Green Party takes the lead, the large environmental groups will follow. They will have no choice. The scientific information is clear: a widespread transition to veganism may not be sufficient to avert disaster, but it is certainly, in effect, necessary — and it is the very best shot we have.
We are at a crossroads. We need to decide now whether we are going to allow our continued anthropocentrism to result in an unfathomable disaster or whether we are going to stop the violence once and for all.
Thank you for your consideration of my views, which are my own. I would be pleased to help you in this effort in any way that I can.
Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University
Visiting Professor of Philosophy, University of Lincoln (UK)
Originally published on Medium