Climate change is personal. Looking back at news headlines from 2013, whether reading about Hurricane Sandy or communities displaced by rising oceans, we see that the lives of individuals in front-line communities are affected by our daily decisions. What is the take away? Our actions have consequences.
It’s important to hold institutions accountable for environmentally harmful behavior, in the way that the Divestment and Tap That campaigns seek to do here at Vassar. However, more and more climate scientists are realizing that if we want to help curb climate change, we can’t wait for institutions or Congress. Climate change is personal not only in its effects, but its responsibility. We can take action ourselves, starting with something as simple as our New Year’s resolution.
Contrary to what we are led to believe by current environmentalism dialogue, the most significant contributor to climate change is not how long we shower, what car we drive, or even if we drive at all: It’s what we put on our dinner plates.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly one-fifth of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. They cite raising animals for food as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global” (Food and Agriculture Organization, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” 11.29.2006).
So, if you’re looking for a meaningful and attainable New Year’s resolution, you should eat less meat. If you’re already doing that, consider doing the same with eggs and dairy.
Considering that it takes about ten pounds of corn, soy, or grain to produce one pound of meat, it’s no surprise that worldwide, more land is used to raise and feed farmed animals than for any other purpose. Add to that the amount of water it takes to grow ten pounds of grain. Imagine sitting down to a meal with ten plates of food in front of you, then throwing away the first nine plates and eating only the tenth plate. We would never do this. However, when we eat animal products, this is essentially the choice we’re making. Think of how many people could be fed with this wasted food.
Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading expert body on the issue, says: “In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity. … Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there…” (The Guardian, UN says eat less meat to curb global warming, 09.06.2008).
Choosing meat-free meals is a vote for a sustainable future as well as a vote against one of the most abusive institutions that still exists: factory farms. No longer being raised on small “Old MacDonald’s” family farms, today’s farmed animals are confined in tiny cages, mutilated without painkillers, denied proper veterinary care and brutally slaughtered. Their short lives are [filled] with misery and deprivation.
And their lives aren’t just short in comparison to a human’s life. At a mere fraction of their natural lifespan, chickens are sent for slaughter at just 42 days old. Their lives are so unnatural that at the time of their death, many chickens have grown so large that their legs can barely support their own body weight.
Nothing about life in factory farms is natural. Millions of animals each year don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse: They die after suffering from rough handling or living in cramped conditions with thousands of other animals where disease runs rampant.
Having spent time with farmed animals, I’ve learned that the only difference between animals we call “pets” and those considered “food” is our treatment of them. Farmed animals are intelligent and sensitive individuals who can suffer from pain and experience joy and happiness, just like the cats and dogs many of us know and love.
If meat producers confined, mutilated, or slaughtered a single cat or dog the way they treat billions of farmed animals, they could be arrested and jailed on grounds of animal cruelty.
It’s clear that Vassar students are already reducing their meat consumption, even if it’s only one day a week. The popular Meatless Monday campaign on campus reports that an impressive 25% of the student body participates, in addition to the many vegetarians and vegans already on campus. If you haven’t already, consider taking the pledge and discover the many delicious vegan options at the ACDC and the Retreat.
Since the US eats more meat per capita than almost every other nation on Earth, it’s time to do something about it. By eating less meat and enjoying more plant-based meals we are helping to contribute to a more sustainable future. Every time we sit down to eat we can choose compassion over cruelty by putting our values into practice. This is one attainable New Year’s resolution that will make a difference for the planet, and countless animals. What better time to start?
—Alan Darer ’14 is a biochemistry major. He is Treasurer of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC).