Note from author:

This article first appeared on the Medium website in response to the article #NotAllVegans by Cam Fenton.

Article “Another letdown from 350.org”

I am a vegan climate activist who does not make statements along the lines of those mentioned in the article #NotAllVegans. In any event, I believe the main point of those who do is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

I argue that we must deal with fossil fuels and animal agriculture, and that there’s not much value in arguing over percentages.

A critical factor is the need to massively reforest. There is no way to achieve the required extent of reforestation without a general transition away from animal agriculture.

I expand on the issue in my article “Livestock and climate: Do percentages matter?”.

Mind you, if we measure the global warming potential of the various greenhouse gases on the basis of a 20-year time horizon, animal agriculture’s share would be well above 20 per cent.

The IPCC says that such an approach is valid. It is particularly so in the context of the small window of time available to turn the climate change juggernaut around. A reduction in livestock-related methane emissions would provide relatively rapid benefits.

If we also allow for short-lived greenhouse gases, such as tropospheric ozone, livestock’s share will increase further.

Seafood consumption is also causing huge amounts of carbon to be released from vegetated coastal habitats and other oceanic ecosystems, while also reducing the oceans’ carbon sequestration capacity. (“Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”)

Animal agribusiness is a key contributor to the “dig, burn and dump economy”, largely because of its grossly and inherently inefficient nature.

The writer assumes that vegans who call for action on animal agriculture are only “telling people not to eat meat”, rather than calling for an end to “cattle barons” clearing “massive tracts of land”. I assume most of them want both, and believe that a reduction in demand by consumers will contribute to a reduction in supply and related land clearing.

He mentions the need for “system change”. A carbon tax that included agriculture would be a great start. When its environmental cost is factored into the end price, a product such as beef would be considered a luxury, with a substantial reduction in demand and supply. A similar approach must apply to other products.

All proceeds from a carbon tax could be returned to the community through personal income tax reductions and adjustments to welfare payments (as advocated by Dr James Hansen). Its sole purpose would then be to create pricing signals that influenced purchasing decisions.

If environmental groups and governments were willing to inform the community of animal agriculture’s impacts, it would also help enormously. Efficient markets require informed participants. Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently reported findings from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, indicating that people are willing to change their diets once they become aware of the problem. However, many have no idea of the livestock sector’s adverse environmental impacts.

An end to soy production in the Amazon, most of which is feeding the 60 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs slaughtered each year, is also essential. (“Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”)

The writer’s comments on “Big Oil” are nothing new. Please see my article “Relax, have a cigarette and forget about climate change” from August, 2012, referring to “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

He says “it’s a strategic choice to fight the biggest and most powerful opponent to real climate action on the planet.”

I argue that we face a climate emergency, requiring urgent action on all fronts.

Those who can go vegan should do so. Their contribution would provide enormous benefits. Meaningful action is possible in many developing nations, including some in Africa.

The northern and southern Guinea Savanna regions have been adversely affected by livestock grazing. Large areas could be returned to forest and other wooded vegetation if given the opportunity. With 360 million head of cattle in Africa, that’s currently extremely difficult.

As an example of an alternative approach to livestock production, Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop of the World Preservation Foundation has referred to the Kenya Hunger Halt program, administered by the World Food Program. Under the program, people have been taught to grow alternatives such as root crops. The Maasai, traditional herders, have been converting to the program, growing nutritious crops and thriving.

The writer concludes by saying that vegans who carry “go vegan to save the planet” signs are making all vegans look bad.

As stated earlier, I believe their main point is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

The PBL Netherlands Environment Assessment Authority has estimated such an approach would reduce climate change mitigation costs by 80 per cent.

The author of #NotAllVegans is a Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with 350.org (although he notes that his opinions are his own). Here are some thoughts on the organisation’s founder, Bill McKibben, relating to the animal agriculture issue: “Do the math: There are too many cows!

McKibben might be proud of his employee’s writing efforts. However, they have fallen well short of the mark, just like his own.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


Animal Liberation Victoria from The People’s Climate March – Melbourne, 27th November, 2015