Al Gore showed up at Netroots Nation today and hurled hunks of progressive red meat at the audience, and they ate it up. But the other kind of meat — the one that comes from animals, not politicians — came up in an audience member’s question. Livestock farming and meat production are one of the main sources of global warming, yet they’re never mentioned by Al Gore or other activists. Why?
Gore didn’t really answer the question other than to say that the questioner was right, it was a hole in his activism. Ezra Klein, who liveblogged Gore’s appearance, has a great summary and explanation.
Lots of folks with a prominent place in the national dialogue live in urban centers with strong public transit infrastructures, so they can imagine a world where we don’t need cars. Many more have a futurist bent, and they can imagine a world where the Prius looks absurdly inefficient, and so they can imagine a world where our cars run on hydrogen, or good intentions. But fairly few national players are vegetarians. And meat consumption isn’t an issue that really lends itself to technological fixes: You reduce the carbon footprint of food production — which is a larger than that of transportation — by reducing the role of beef in the global diet, not by feeding cows hydrogen-based grain. Worse, meat is tied up in all sorts of lifestyle liberalism issues, and leaders like Gore, who are extremely sensitive to the critique that this crusade is about imposing liberal cultural preferences rather than averting climatological disaster, work very hard to defuse those attacks.
I’m basically a vegetarian (I eat fish sometimes and very, very rarely eat locally raised organic beef), but most of my friends — some of whom playfully poke fun at the car I drive for its environmental impact — eat lots of meat. Yet all of the hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken sandwiches, and pulled pork they eat might actually affect the environment more than the car I (infrequently) drive.