PETA Says Meat Eating Is The Biggest Cause of Global Warming

Of course, meat eating isn’t the largest producer of greenhouse gases, (burning fossil fuels for electricity wins that crown) but it sure makes a good headline, doesn’t it?

Last month, according to an article in Salon by Liz Galst entitled, “Earth to PETA,” PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) members tried to bring attention to their assertion that global warming was caused primarily by meat eating in Washington DC by not only donning chicken costumes and passing out fliers with the ever so alienating message, “Think you can be a meat-eating environmentalist?” Think again!,” but also by draping a banner with their incorrect assertions across a gas-guzzling Humvee and driving it around downtown traffic.

This is an example of why I really dislike PETA as an organization, even if I agree with some of their goals. (If you count the reduction of animal suffering in the world as one of their goals.)

My first objection to their tactics in this instance is that, once again, PETA is engaging in obfuscation of facts, or in this case, outright lying, to present their viewpoint, which is that meat-eating is immoral and unethical. In this case, they are trying to guilt the environmentally conscious among us into not eating meat, not because it is immoral or unethical, but because it is supposedly the biggest cause of global warming.

I agree that confined animal feeding operations (henceforth to be known as CAFOs for short) degrade the environment horribly and not only contribute to some extent to global warming, but even worse, create groundwater contamination and adversely affect air quality, but I don’t feel the need to lie about it in order to get my point across. I also agree that the conditions under which animals are raised in CAFOs is inhumane and unhealthy, not only to the animals but to the people who work with them, and ultimately, to the people who eat those animals. That is why I take great care to avoid all products–meat, poultry, eggs and dairy–from CAFOs.

But again, I see no reason to embellish the facts about CAFOs by adding untruths to my statements in support of my argument that they promote unsustainable, unethical forms of animal husbandry. The truths about CAFOs are damning in and of themselves.

But back to PETA.

If eating animals is immoral or unethical, what is lying? Perfectly okay?

What kind of morality or system of ethics does lying promote?

And what the hell is up with driving a Hummer, one of the most fuel inefficient vehicles around, with PETA’s (incorrect) message that meat eating is the main cause of global warming around and around in DC traffic? Is this meant to be ironic? Is it meant to show that PETA vegans can drive whatever they want because they are not eating meat? Is it that PETA’s publicity stunt coordinators really are that clueless?

Or, is it just a plain old ugly show of the sort of hypocritical behavior that keeps me from openly supporting PETA even when I agree with them in principle? (Because, the truth is, I agree with them that animals should be treated with respect, dignity and decency. Of course, that means to them that they should never be eaten–to me, it means that if they are eaten, they should be treated well while they are alive, killed quickly and humanely, and then eaten.) Putting your lie about global warming on a Hummer and driving it through traffic tells me, and probably a lot of other people, that PETA doesn’t really give a damned about global warming. They just want people to stop eating meat, by whatever means necessary.

My feeling about this latest chapter of PETA’s ever-devolving attention-getting antics is this: if you are going to claim moral superiority in your positions, then you had best act in a moral fashion. That means that you shouldn’t lie. Most people think that lying is not a particularly moral or ethical way to communicate with the world. Lying to people does not enhance one’s standing in society, nor does it make people trust one. It is a thing.

Not only is lying a problem, but trying to make a point about global warming while driving around a vehicle that very much contributes to the problem of global warming is just plain stupid. People are going to laugh at you at best, or scoff and ignore you, or at worst, completely discount everything that you say now and in the future when it comes to environmental concerns. Doing stuff like that discredits PETA and their message. (Which, since, in this case, their message is completely bogus–maybe isn’t such a bad thing.)

Now that I have gotten all of that off of my chest, I want you to go read the Salon article–Galst makes some good points, though I think that quite a bit of her data is off.

The crux of her argument is that while PETA is incorrect in its exact statement, the sentiment is correct: eating CAFO meat is contributing to global warming and environmental decline. So, we should eat less of it. Galst’s article specifically states that chicken eating creates less of a carbon imprint than beef eating or pork eating, so if we are going to eat meat, we should eat chicken. If you look at her argument from a completely environmental standpoint, she is mostly correct, although I quibble with her when it comes to grazing animals on non-arable land. (That means that grazers and browsers, like cattle, bison, goats, sheep and hogs can efficiently turn rocky, scrubby grasslands, hills and marginal lands which are completely unsuitable for crop production into milk and meat that humans can consume by eating that which we cannot eat: grass.)

Of course, as the commentors on the article pointed out, both the author and PETA seem to have ignored the root cause of global warming which is not fossil fuels, industrialization or meat eating, but human overpopulation. We simply have too many people using too many resources in an unsustainable fashion for the earth to support us. That is a fact. We produce enough food to feed everyone now (of course, because of political reasons not everyone gets the food we produce for them–starvation, at this point is largely caused by human greed and corruption, not by lack of resources), but if population growth continues at present rates, we will no longer be able to support everyone in fifty or a hundred years.

Population is the reason we have so much fossil fuel dependent industry, transportation and agricultural systems–all of which contribute mightily to global warming.

What do I propose to stop this rampant population growth? Education of women, support of birth control and in extreme cases, governmental family size caps. (The latter I think should only be used in times of extreme need, as the current experiment in governmental population control in China has resulted in a lot of problems and civil rights abuses.) However, it has been shown throughout the world, that in countries where women are educated, and given economic opportunities, and access to birth control, not only does the standard of living for women and children in that country rise, the per capita birthrate drops.

So, what do I suggest that we do as individuals to help slow down global warming?

Number one, walk (or bike) more and drive less. Or, when you can, use public transportation. And if you drive, get as fuel-efficient a car as you can afford and keep it in good working order.

Two, eat las much ocal food that is sustainably produced as you can. Eat less meat, and more vegetables, and what meat you eat, try to get from non-CAFO sources. Vote with your shopping cart for sustainable agricultural practices as much as you possibly can, as often as you possibly can. Try not to eat fast food, if you can. Go vegan if you like, but if you do, don’t be so insufferable as to believe and spout to all the world that it is the only way a person can be a true environmentalist or the only diet that an ethical human can eat in order to save the planet. All you will do with that is make yourself and other vegans look like twits. And I know for a fact that most vegans are very nice, ethical people who do not deserve the twitty reputation that has been slapped upon them by PETA’s (and an obnoxious and vocal vegan minority’s) antics.

Three: try not to have a bazillion babies. Support adoption programs, including open adoption in the US. Support birth control use and education both here and abroad. Support the education of women here and abroad. Support workers rights so that folks can support the children they do have.

Four: try to grow some of your own food. Support community gardening programs. Support the harvest of rainwater, and community composting efforts to keep biomass out of the landfills where all it will do is contribute to CO2 emissions. Support green fuels, green electricity (solar and wind power, for example) and recycle. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, (they are really nice, not like those old flickery tubes they lit up our schools with back in the day–we use them here and I love them) and don’t use your air conditioners or heat pumps as much.

Oh, and don’t give money to PETA. They’ll probably spend it on a Hummer and some chicken suits.

15 Comments

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  1. Thanks for saying something that some people are too scared to. Its great to see debate, which seems to be a dying art.

    I’m a vegetarian myself, but I think careful farming can be a great part of our society and your approach to meat, not relying on it entirely, but using it sparingly in delicious healthy dishes with lots of veggies seems to be the sensible approach.

    I just wish these people could debate with the facts, instead of lying to get the issues into the public domain. Its a similar thing to the way they make up lies about the pharmaceutical industry.

    Comment by Jennywenny — October 22, 2007 #

  2. I’m a carnivore that’s all for animal rights, and also for eating a healthy amount of meat (not the disgustingly huge servings that some eat). But, every time evil PETA comes out with a new protest, I will eat meat that day to spite them.

    I’m still a newbie gardener, and am trying to get my suburban soil into shape, but I can grow the heck out of yard long green beans and squash. This spring I’m going to try corn, mixed in with those in a Three Sisters setting. I’m hoping to get winged beans too, since ALL parts of it are edible.

    Comment by Sherri — October 22, 2007 #

  3. I find PETA extremely distasteful for exactly the reasons you outline. I have to say though, that although I’m entirely in favor of ethical omnivorism, I would go a bit farther than you have and recommend in general avoiding CAFO meat (and ideally other CAFO animal products like milk and eggs) entirely, rather than only “try to get meat from non-CAFO sources”. For many people, and most of those who would be looking into this issue, it’s eminently possible not to eat meat unless it’s humanely raised, because vegetarian diets are healthful and tasty.

    That said, I’m hardly an extremist on the issue, and I don’t always live up to even my own prescriptions. :-) So goes the struggle to be a better citizen of the world! It’s the consciousness of what choice you’re making and what it means that I think is key.

    Is it really true that population is the main cause of global warming? Can we not all live sustainably at our current population level? This isn’t discussed much so I am genuinely curious. What is the interaction between population level and lifestyle sustainability level where we reach a workable situation?

    Comment by Alexis — October 22, 2007 #

  4. Even if the current global population level is sustainable… wait a few minutes and there will be another 300-400 people… wait another day and there will be 211,090 more people. What is sustainable right this minute won’t be tomorrow.

    Even if everyone significantly reduced their carbon footprint right now, how bad will global warming be when the population increases to 8 billion (predicted in 2024), to 9 billion (2042)?

    Comment by Fernb — October 22, 2007 #

  5. Maybe we could reduce greenhouse gasses by eating members of PETA instead? It would cut down on the methane production (you know, the BS) reduce our carbon footprint and make the world safer by reducing the number of fuel inefficient SUVs on the road.

    ter·ror·ism:
    n. The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

    Watch Penn & Teller’s Bulls*it about PETA and their tactics. Talk about a Terrorist Organization.

    Comment by Bryian — October 23, 2007 #

  6. Oh holy hell this is a GREAT post! I am going to return to it again and again. My favorite part is “try not to have a bazillion babies” -absolutely spot on. This is a well-balanced blog post taking on a serious issue – great job!

    Comment by Courtney — October 23, 2007 #

  7. Oh holy hell this is a GREAT post! I am going to return to it again and again. My favorite part is “try not to have a bazillion babies” -absolutely spot on. This is a well-balanced blog post taking on a serious issue – great job!

    Comment by Courtney — October 23, 2007 #

  8. Another great post. I think extremist groups like PETA do much more harm than good when trying to raise awareness about issues like climate change, humane treatment of food animals and the like. By taking the stance that if you so much as touch a piece of meat, you are evil and are going to destroy the planet, they are cutting off any reasonable debate, as well as any chance to convince people to make meaningful changes in their lives that have an impact as well as sustain their chosen lifestyle. The majority of people are not going to voluntarily stop eating meat — that is a fact. But if people know they can make good choices with the meat they buy and eat less of it but still treat themselves occasionally, they are more likely to reduce their meat consumption (good for the environment) and choose humanely raised sources (good for animals and small farmers). This is really the only way to effect change.

    I agree with your other points too, but I would say that the number-one factor in reducing population growth is educating women and expanding women’s rights. Study after study show that when women are educated, and feel empowered to support themselves and to make choices for their own lives, they invariably choose to limit the sizes of their families. (I work for a nonprofit specializing in reproductive health issues in the developing world.)

    Comment by Shannon — October 23, 2007 #

  9. “Oh, and don’t give money to PETA. They’ll probably spend it on a Hummer and some chicken suits.”

    Or a refrigerator in which to store animal carcasses. Because they put thousands of animals to sleep every year, then go out and protest about places that put animals to sleep. And they condemn medical testing on animals, while using insulin developed through medical testing on animals to keep certain staff members alive.

    I can get behind environmentalism and I can definitely get behind people thinking more carefully about what they eat, but I will always despise PETA because of its constant lies, terror tactics, and hypocrisy.

    Comment by Jim — October 23, 2007 #

  10. Great post. I wonder what PETA serves for lunch in their branch cafeterias? I’ll reiterate Bryian’s comment about the Penn & Teller show on PETA, great episode.

    Comment by Jacob — October 23, 2007 #

  11. Often the problem with getting food to people is infrastructure. In large portions of Africa, Asia and South America, there are dirt roads rather than gravel or paved ones. Dirt roads don’t work well for transporting people or food. Gravel ones are better, since they resist weather some. Paved ones resist weather the best, but are very expensive to build.

    The roads wouldn’t be a big problem if there were waterways connecting towns. In most of the world, there aren’t waterways though. That means transport is a hard problem. Pack animals work. Mountain bikes work. Walking works. Not much else does, and you can’t carry much food that way. You can get loads of seed stock in on a dirt road, but I wouldn’t bet on getting in enough food to feed a whole town.

    Worse, because there are no roads, there’s no way to set up water treatment or deliver useful tools like mosquito nets. Getting a traveling doctor to the town becomes a hard or impossible. Getting in enough vaccines? Not likely. And teachers need roads to travel on too…

    It’s a really nasty cycle. Since roads are so expensive to build, even a government with the best intentions might not build them. A government with evil intentions often does everything they can to oppose road building. PETA? Not a fan of roads.

    It’s easy to forget how powerful a road is. And if you’ve forgotten that roads *matter* in feeding people, it’s easy to make really bad decisions when trying to help a poorer country.

    Comment by Emily Cartier — October 23, 2007 #

  12. Eight percent of the planet’s population consuming 25 percent of the planet’s resources. Our consumption does far more to increase global warming than overpopulation. If we actually want to change anything we need to address the inherent structural inequities within our own society and as to how our government and businesses interact with impoverished nations.

    PETA is lame. I find that people who so often are really concerned about animal rights don’t give a damn about people and sometimes even the environment. I’ve known activists who don’t care that soy is some of the worst monoculture around. Or worse not care about the existence of sweatshops in the field. Again I don’t want animals abused, but to me humans are more important than animals. That said I’ve known some very engaged and intelligent animal rights activists (ones that disagree with my stance). Some who support PETA for the role it played in making them aware of the issues. And hell I support PETA’s fur is murder campaign. Fur for fashion is disgusting.

    Oh and to one of the previous comments, on terrorism…PETA isn’t breaking any law. Freedom of speech isn’t terrorism. Stop getting info from Penn and Teller.

    I loved your suggestions by the way. Despite the need for collective action; people really do need to look at their individual choices.

    Comment by mujeresliebres — October 28, 2007 #

  13. The Penn and Teller Episode is pure propaganda. They are just telling people what they want to believe. Among their many ridiculous assertions is that cruelty to animals in factory farms isn’t morally wrong but rather it is “aesthetically” unappealing (see this video for some aesthetically unappealing examples: http://meat.org) . If that were the only dumb thing they said it would be enough to cause me to suspect every thing they said. Unfortunately they were just getting started.

    Comment by comet — October 30, 2007 #

  14. 1 peta does only one thing that is good
    to clean a mess that should be done
    2 peta should be shut down for distorying and acts of terror

    is this a point of the end justify the means?

    Comment by stingray — December 15, 2007 #

  15. [...] Or, you can deny reality and be crazy. I’ve made my choice: [...]

    Pingback by Weekend Diversion: Mmmmmm… MEAT! | Starts With A Bang! — February 23, 2008 #

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