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Resurrecting Reason In The Debate Over Meat-Eating And Global Warming

May 30, 2008 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

My husband often says, "You can't be perfect yesterday, but you can be better tomorrow" when he is discussing the challenges we all face in improving our relationship with the planet. Whether you drive a hybrid, are vegetarian, consistently recycle, conserve electricity, use solar power, etc. today does not mean you can't make improvements tomorrow. Yet, even when we consciously choose to act in ways to improve the world by how we think, feel, and act each day, we will all be less than perfect. To think otherwise is to not think wisely.

Over the last year, I've seen PETA ridicule Vice President Al Gore because he is not a vegetarian. As a friend of Mr. Gore and a vegetarian myself, I have had discussions with him about the values of being vegan or vegetarian, for our own health, the environment, and humanity. He is always respectful of my preference although he has not adopted that lifestyle for himself. And the important point here is, we all need to make our own choices. Mr. Gore works hard to help people understand the climate crisis and the steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprints, and he does a lot of them (solar panels, hybrid cars, thermal heat, etc. etc.). Vegetarianism is not just one of the steps he takes, along with many Americans and people around the world. Does that make him a hypocrite? I think not. He is not professing that you stop eating meat and then eating it (that would be hypocritical). He says, do what you can to reduce your carbon footprint - you do not need to be perfect, just be conscious of what you do and how it impacts the planet, and do what you can to help. His work raises awareness of the issue, inspires people to change, and rightly won him a Nobel Prize for it.

What bothers me more than whether or not Mr. Gore eats meat are the tactics organizations, like PETA, use to raise awareness about their issues. I don't think 'the end justifies the means.' David Roberts on HuffPost wrote about 'extreme tactics' in the aftermath of PETA's campaign targeting Al Gore's non-vegetarian lifestyle. He said in justification of such a campaign, "A sober, fair-minded, carefully argued campaign would not achieve (the) goal. It would sink without a ripple." Unfortunately, as we see in the media, the more we insult, attack, or ridicule others to make a point, the less sensitive we as a society seem to be toward such attacks and therefore more accepting of an escalation of such behavior. If we ignore non-civil behavior in favor of civility, attending first and foremost to our own thoughts, feelings, and actions, we are likely to create a civil society.

I had dinner with a woman the other night who had lived as a teenager in Iran after the fall of the Shah, under the regime of Khomeini. We discussed Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and many of the similarities of her experiences with the main character in the book. As dessert came, she shared how the one part of her life during that time remains vivid in her mind. She described the extreme pleasure she would have in the smallest, most ordinary things to us (like an ice cream) because they were so rare at the time. In the reverse fashion, using intimidation, humiliation, or negative comments has merely the effect of making us dull to that sort of behavior and soon increased levels must arise to have a comparable effect.

Although I would love the world to practice a vegetarian lifestyle, I think civility and reason in fostering awareness is much more important than what you choose to eat.

I believe we would all likely choose to stop large-scale farming of fish, meat, and poultry if the evidence surrounding these practices were in our public consciousness through the use of reason and individual attention (i.e. extensive antibiotics, horrendous living conditions, and additives to create 'healthy looking' foods are detrimental to human health, a burden on the planet, and a force of animal cruelty). It may take longer than many of us desire, but I believe that the means by which we create awareness is as important as the awareness itself.

Threats, attacks, and name-calling tactics targeting each other or our world's social leaders, does a great disservice to humanity by failing to recognize that we - like the animals we hope to protect - deserve the same respect, kindness and support to make the world a better place. For meat-eaters among us, perhaps a reasonable action to take might be the simple act of reducing meat consumption 1 day a week ('Meatless Monday') in lieu of a lifetime of veganism. Respecting each other's choices and valuing change in whatever way those changes are made is key to their duration and in enriching our humanity in the process.