The Nobel committee has made a powerful statement by awarding this year’s Peace Prize to former vice president Al Gore and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N.’s Environment Program, says, we now know “that what happens in the environment is not just about natural resources but has so many different dimensions.”
Scientists and economists warn that climate change will lead not only to droughts and rising sea levels, but also to disease outbreaks, economic mayhem and conflicts among people struggling to survive in an ever more hostile environment. Already we are starting to see the first climate wars in Africa, where farmers are facing off with herders and nomads because the changing climate has brought drought and a decline in fertile lands.
“We face a true planetary emergency,” says Mr. Gore. Which is why PETA has asked Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection to make their “7-Point Pledge” an “8-Point Pledge”—adding “Go vegetarian” to the top of the list.
Our addiction to hamburgers and buckets of chicken is destroying the planet. In a groundbreaking 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, the U.N. concluded that the meat industry generates almost 40 percent more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, SUVs, ships and planes in the world combined. The report also found that the meat industry is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
The best way to fix this problem isn’t by switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs or driving hybrid cars—although these steps certainly help. According to the Live Earth global warming handbook, “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.” Diehard carnivores probably don’t want to hear it, but vegetarians in Hummers do more for the planet than meat-eaters who cruise around in hybrids or recycle their soda cans.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Scientists at the University of Chicago determined that switching to a vegan diet is more effective in countering global warming than switching from a standard American car to a Prius. In fact, it’s 50 percent more effective.
While many environmental groups have been slow to acknowledge this, some are starting to make the connection. On its global warming Web page, Environmental Defense notes that if every American substituted vegetarian foods for chicken in just one meal per week, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads. Going completely meat-free for one full day per week, the group says, would be the same as taking 8 million cars off the roads.
So imagine what we could do if even some of us went meat-free for good.
With an Academy Award and now the Nobel Peace Prize under his belt, Mr. Gore has an international platform to fight global warming. That’s why it is so critical that he and others in the environmental community address the main culprit: meat. As the Nobel committee stated when announcing this year’s Peace Prize winners, “Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.”
Matt Prescott, a longtime environmentalist, is the assistant director of vegan campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.GoVeg.com.