Last week at Netroots Nation Jill Richardson, a food journalist who writes the awesome La Vida Locavore, asked Al Gore why he doesn’t finger out meat consumption as a major contributor to global warming (a few days ago I wrote about Ezra Klein‘s response to that exchange). Richardson got a bit of press from her question and followed up on it yesterday with a smart bit about why it’s important to include sustainable agriculture in the climate change equation:
I support Gore’s current efforts, promoting renewable forms of energy and greater energy efficiency, but if we have five years to save the polar icecaps (as he said shortly before I asked the question), we need to do what we can do now. Sustainable agriculture is something we can do now. Sustainable agriculture means you can have your meat and eat it too.
But every level-headed analyst must have her opposite, the ranter who turns fair and coherent arguments into emotional mush.
In her DailyKos diary, Michele Simon chastised Al Gore for admitting that he probably doesn’t include meat in his epic PowerPoints because, well, he eats it.
Earth to Al: What credibility can you expect to have in calling for others to take global warming seriously when you refuse to set a good example? Even best-selling author Michael Pollen (of NY Times fame), a staunch non-vegetarian (the guy hunted boar just for fun of it) promotes the idea of eating less meat both for environmental and health reasons. Are you really saying that your love of barbeque is more important than the potential destruction of the planet? Come on, Al, this is a no-brainer!
But Simon is totally missing the point. As MoveOn’s Ilyse Hogue, a true change agent, said during a Netroots Nation panel on global warming, the American public doesn’t drive cars because they love oil; they don’t leave the lights on because they get a kick out of burning coal. We’re not in love with the fuel but rather with the modernity it brings. That will never change, and that’s why asking people to stop driving cars and to hate oil will never work. Most of us simply want to drive our cars and use energy cheaply, in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment too much. So we need to come up with better ways to fuel those cars and those lightbulbs.
In the meantime we can do things like buy hybrids and switch to energy-efficient lightbulbs. But acting like a naggy mother and telling the American public — raised on the mythological romance of beef farming — to eat less meat won’t work. Better to change the way we make meat, or better yet, get rid of the subsidies that make it so cheap.