[Grist Magazine - opinion]
Just 'cause I love poking the hornet's nest, I thought I'd weigh in on
this brouhaha about PETA, vegetarianism, and environmentalism. As I
see it, there are three core questions:
1. Should citizens of conscience become vegetarians?
To me, the answer to this question is pretty obviously yes. I don't
see how it can be seriously argued.
Depending on your inclinations, you can heed the health arguments, the
moral arguments, or the environmental arguments (regardless whether
you agree with the UN study that meat production is the No. 1
contributor to global warming, it is obviously a very large
contributor, never mind CAFOs' horrid effects on land, air, and
water). Taken together, these arguments strike me as dispositive. It
is not possible to participate in industrial animal farming with clean
2. Is it true that you cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist?
This is a deeply silly question. The term "environmentalist" is
socially contingent and highly contested. Environmentalism has no
metaphysical essence. "You aren't an environmentalist" is moral
judgment masquerading as an assertion of fact.
Every discussion I've ever witnessed about who is or isn't an
environmentalist, or what does or doesn't count as environmentalism --
and believe me, at this point I've seen plenty -- contains vastly more
heat than light. Feelings are hurt, umbrage is taken, but nothing is
ever learned, no consensus is ever reached. It's a peacock show
through which everyone parades their biases and preconceptions.
3. Is PETA's latest campaign counterproductive?
It's important when thinking about this question to disentangle your
own response to the campaign from the question of its overall
efficacy. I'll freely admit it bugs the crap out of me. Proclaiming
who is and isn't an environmentalist bugs me. Using Al Gore as a foil
bugs me. Using global warming opportunistically, as a convenient
wedge, bugs me. The whole thing is irksome.
However, the campaign isn't designed to secure my moral or aesthetic
approval, or yours. It's designed to spread awareness of something you
and I already know: that eating meat is environmentally destructive
and exacerbates global warming. A sober, fair-minded, carefully argued
campaign would not achieve that goal. It would sink without a ripple.
As annoying as it is, I count the campaign a success, because of the
hundreds of advocacy campaigns going on right now, this is the one we
noticed. That's what PETA set out to achieve, and they achieved it.