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Vegan is the ‘new green’ for Earth Day

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By Heather Moore

Earth Day, April 22, falls on a Meatless Monday this year, so people will have a double incentive to eat vegan meals. Vegan is the “new green.” You can do more for the planet by going vegan than you can by recycling, using cloth bags, taking short showers and walking to work. These actions are important and worthwhile, of course—but if you’re serious about saving the environment, you should opt for vegan foods instead of animal flesh.

Meat just has no place on an Earth Day menu. According to the United Nations (U.N.), meat and dairy products require more resources and generate more greenhouse gasses than do plant-based foods. Fortunately, a recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture report suggests that meat consumption is on a steady decline in the United States. Per capita meat consumption has fallen for four straight years, according to the most recent statistics. The 6 percent drop between 2006 and 2010—the largest decline since recordkeeping began in 1970—indicates that many Americans are fed up with meat.

Several U.S. cities, including Aspen, Colo.; Durham, N.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C., have even issued proclamations about eating less meat. And for good reason. Meat contributes to major health problems, including cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity, as well as serious environmental issues, including climate change, pollution and deforestation. Researchers from the University of California–Riverside claim that cooking just one charbroiled burger causes as much pollution as driving an 18-wheeler for 143 miles.

A new Gallup poll shows that 58 percent of Americans “personally worry” about climate change. Worrying, though, really won’t do much good—but going vegan will. According to Loma Linda University researchers, vegans have the smallest carbon footprint, generating 41 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than meat-eaters and 13 percent fewer than vegetarians.

A NationalGeographic.com report shows that vegans use less water, too. The average vegan indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water a day less than the average meat-eater. U.N. officials have urged everyone to go vegan to conserve resources and combat climate change. Some scientists even predict that people will have to go vegetarian by 2050 in order to counteract ever-burgeoning environmental problems.

Let’s not wait until the planet is parched and extreme weather is a daily occurrence before we change our eating habits. Let’s continue eating less meat—or preferably, none at all. Great-tasting vegan foods are widely available. The National Restaurant Association says that vegetarian entrées are a “top 10” hot trend, and many ballparks, including Safeco Field in Seattle and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, are offering new vegetarian and vegan options this year.

Bill Gates and Biz Stone, the cofounder of Twitter, are investing in innovative new vegan companies, including Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods, which makes Beyond Eggs. These and other companies are creating vegan meat, egg and dairy-product options that are animal- and eco-friendly, cheaper than the “real thing” and just as tasty.

Vegan foods are also cholesterol-free and generally low in saturated fat and calories, and each vegan saves more than 100 animals every year. Plus, if everyone goes vegan now—in commemoration of Earth Day—we’ll all be in good company.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

To truly help the environment, try cash for ‘cluckers’

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Car dealers are breathing a sigh of relief now that the popular “cash for clunkers” program has been extended by $2 billion. With the new funding, as many as a half-million more Americans will be able to junk their gas guzzlers and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

I’m not impressed. If we are serious about wanting to put the brakes on climate change, we should be offering “cash for cluckers.” Encouraging meat-eaters to trade in their chicken for chickpeas and their pork chops for “fib ribs” is the best way to help the environment. 

Under the original $1 billion set aside for the “cash for clunkers” program, officials expect that a quarter-million gas guzzlers will be taken off the roads. According to calculations done by the Associated Press, replacing those clunkers with more fuel-efficient cars will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by about 700,000 tons a year. Sounds pretty good, right?

It does until you consider that America spews out more carbon dioxide than that—728,000 tons on average—every single hour. Last year, the U.S. emitted nearly 6.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide—and that figure was lower than in previous years.

Now consider this: In its groundbreaking report Livestock’s Long Shadow, the United Nations concluded that the meat industry generates approximately 40 percent more greenhouse gasses than all the cars, trucks, SUVs, ships and planes in the world combined. The report summarizes the devastation caused by the meat industry by calling it “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 to junk clunkers but to kick the meat habit. Researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that switching to a vegan diet (which includes no meat, eggs or dairy foods) is about 50 percent more effective in countering climate change than trading in a standard American car for a Prius. And according to the Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, “refusing meat” is the “single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.”

Vegetarians could drive Hummers and still do less damage to the planet than meat-eaters who cruise around in hybrids or switch to energy-saving light bulbs.

Even eating less meat can help. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American ate just one meat-free meal per week, the emissions savings would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads. If we all went meat-free one day per week, the group says, it would be like eliminating 8 million cars.

It’s time for us to face facts: Raising animals for food is destroying the planet. Not only do today’s meat factories spew greenhouse gasses, they also gobble up precious resources, sicken nearby residents, contaminate the air, pollute the water and, of course, abuse animals. If we want to tread more lightly on the Earth, taking clunkers off the road is not enough. We need to take “cluckers”—and other animals—off our plates.

Chris Holbein is the project manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 20, 2009 at 4:18 pm