If you live in New York, you probably heard about (or attended) the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21st. The date was carefully selected as a prelude to a UN summit where leaders from all over the world met to discuss climate change. The goal of the march was to spread awareness about the causes and dire impacts of climate change, such as the millions of people who have already been affected by these global upheavals. We attended the march as an example of solidarity as well as to influence these leaders into supporting a global agreement to reduce climate change pollution.
More than 400,000 people turned up on this grandiose day, sporting themed T-shirts and signs bearing clever slogans. (One of my favorites: “Frack off, Gas-holes!”) A plethora of causes and organizations were represented at the march, from anti-fracking advocates to church groups to international ambassadors. The diversity of people present was awe-inspiring.
One of these represented groups was…. The vegan group, of course! Animal agriculture is hugely relevant to global warming, and many people are starting to make that connection. In fact, animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of global pollution, and going vegan is the number one way to reduce your personal carbon footprint.
Where does all this pollution come from, you ask? Many aspects of animal agriculture pollute and degrade the environment. Jonathan Safran Foer writes in his book Eating Animals that between transportation, methane, and production, omnivores are responsible for seven times the amount of greenhouse gases that vegans are. Fossil fuel energy is a crucial input for many farms, and their activities result in the release of carbon dioxide, emissions of nitrous oxide from inorganic fertilizer, and methane emission from cattle digestion and manure. That’s A LOT of output. And for those arguing for sustainably raised grass-fed beef: free-range cows actually produce double the amount of methane as factory-farmed cows. (When it comes to global warming, methane traps about 20 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide).
And these are just the environmental issues pertaining directly to climate change. Other environmental concerns include the volume of waste produced by farm animals (130 times that of humans), the negative impact on our water and food resources, trophic level inefficiencies, and more.
So what better place to promote veganism than at the biggest climate event in human history? There were many vegan and animal rights groups marching together, spreading awareness to a relatively receptive crowd.
As with any event of this magnitude, it was crowded and people left trash behind and not everybody was there for the right reasons. Unfortunately, some media personalities pointed out that a lot of litter was left behind by those attending the march without calling attention to the fact that this was the biggest march for climate change in human history. Any event with such a huge number of people is going to result in an abundance of trash. Since more people showed up for the climate march than were expected, perhaps organizers underestimated the amount of trash receptacles that would be needed. And is it entirely the fault of the attendees that they had disposable coffee cups and had to take a fossil-fuel powered train to get to the march? It seems to me that we can primarily blame the systems in place rather than the individuals, as we do with many other environmental issues. One wouldn’t blame a single person for the vast amount of damage caused by the palm oil industry, just because that person purchased a tub of Earth Balance. That would be unfair and unproductive. These problems should not be attributed solely to individuals, but rather to the systems and policies and structures we have in place.
But I digress. Ultimately, it was hugely moving and reassuring to see such a wide range of people mobilizing for this cause. I couldn’t help but get misty during the poignant moment of silence at 1:00 pm. To be in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, linking hands overhead and standing in absolute silence, whatever the reason, is bizarre and emotional and awe-inspiring. And I’m convinced that those world leaders at the UN this week can still hear the voices of 400,000 people ringing in their ears from the noise that was raised afterwards.
I want to close with a powerful quote about the environmental ramifications of consuming animals. Gernot Wagner wrote in his book But Will the Planet Notice?: “Don’t eat animals. Saving the planet is in a different league altogether. It’s not something that can be resolved by yourself, or in a personal conversation between you and your God. It’s between you and the seven billion people breathing the same air, drinking from the same interconnected water system, and looking to the same sun for light, energy and heat.”