A Tale of Two Nations: Climate Courage & Cowardice

The climate contrast this week could hardly be starker: China announced an ambitious goal--hailed by climate campaigners--of slashing meat consumption in half. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., a major company apologized for merely tweeting about meat reduction's positive eco-impacts.

After the pharmaceutical giant Bayer tweeted a Vox article that referenced the often cited statistic that eating meat-free "can cut your food carbon footprint in half," the Big Ag lobby raised its pitchforks in protest. Bayer promptly deleted the tweet and put its tail between its legs: "The livestock industry feeds our planet & we're glad to support it. It was never our intention to antagonize it--sorry!"

It's like watching a major company in the 1970s admit that smoking causes cancer, only to be bullied by the tobacco lobby into a retraction. Just because agribusiness doesn't want you to know something doesn't mean it isn't true.

And the climate cowardice isn't limited to America's private sector. While Bayer was busy bowing to the big meat lobby, just a few days prior, congressional Republicans were pushing a measure to combat what they perceive to be a threat to the U.S. military: Meatless Mondays. Does Congress really have nothing better to do than try to stop the military from promoting Meatless Monday, a concept that originated back in WWI as a patriotic act? Maybe they're unaware that many of our military recruits have been deemed "too fat to fight" and that there's an established link between meat and obesity.

Fortunately, not everyone is so deferential to Big Meat. Just this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger joined forces with James Cameron and Wild Aid to urge us all to eat less meat to cool the planet. "I'm slowly getting off meat and I feel fantastic," the former Republican governor and professional body builder touts. "Less meat, less heat, more life." Indeed, one of the easiest ways to reduce our carbon and cruelty footprint is by following the Three R's of eating: reducing or replacing consumption of animal products and refining our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

It may be an inconvenient truth that there's no solving climate change without a shift away from a meat-heavy diet, but a truth it remains. "Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption, but the world is doing very little," warns the United Kingdom's Royal Institute of International Affairs. That renowned think tank notes that animal agriculture is a greater contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined. It soberly concludes that "it is unlikely global temperature rises can be kept below two degrees Celsius without a shift in global meat and dairy consumption."

If the U.S. wants to avoid the worst effects of a global meltdown, it's time our leaders--both public and private--stand up to the Big Ag bullies and help guide us toward a saner, healthier and more sustainable diet: one that's more focused on plants and less on meat.

Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection for The Humane Society of the United States.