With frustrating regularity, I come across articles published in popular outlets such as The Guardian and New York Post and elsewhere about how vegetarianism and/or veganism won’t save the planet. Given that it’s such a popular topic, one would expect to find hordes of vegans and vegetarians making the claim that their diet and lifestyle, if adopted by the world, would stop climate change in its tracks.
But no such horde exists.
Vegans and vegetarians are presumed to be naive bleeding-hearts who operate on feelings and not facts. We’re painted as delusional hippies convinced that a world free of meat and animal products will herald some kind of tofutopia.
With such stereotypes in play, who needs to find out if we actually believe what they would like us to believe?
It seems clear that such articles are not for vegans and vegetarians, despite often being written as such. Instead, they’re attractive to omnivores who care about climate change — just not enough to change their lifestyle. Such articles alleviate the guilty conscience of a non-vegan environmentalist.
This line of thinking becomes self-evidently absurd when we try to apply it to other situations. Imagine telling anti-racist activists that because racism in some form will likely persist indefinitely, reducing racism is a lost cause. Just because veganism won’t fix the climate crisis by itself doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
As the Harvard Professor Steven Pinker once said, We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naïve to work toward a better one.
Yet it’s clear that a vegan world, unlikely as it may be, would significantly reduce our impact on the environment. It’s not a solution to the climate crisis in and of itself, but it’s a potent ingredient in a concoction of interventions that can buy us time. And given that we have yet to find a way to avert the impending cataclysm, we need all the time we can get.
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