Vegan and Vegetarian Environmentalism and Ethics


Vegan and Vegetarian Environmentalism and Ethics.

I genuinely admire and respect all of you in the Western vegetarian movement as caring, idealistic, principled, people for your determination and commitment to both address climate change and the inhumane treatment of animals. I note that your movement is supported by hundreds of celebrities – Al Gore, Richard Branson, and a Who’s Who of Hollywood list including Leonardo DiCaprio and too many others to name.

I do realize that vegans are more extreme in their views but include them in what I will call your vegetarian movement. Like all movements yours has the potential for good, or harm, to society, animals, our environment and economy. In this blog I will discuss some of the pros and cons of your movement as I see them. And I appeal to all of you to join this discussion and point out errors in either my logic or science because, like you, I have no motive other than seeking to create a better world with a livable climate and respect for all life. You are the most determined group of people I’ve encountered that is seeking the same ends, and you are young and your energy is boundless..

Reasons For Joining The Vegetarian Movement

People it seems become vegetarian:
1. For personal health or spiritual reasons.
2. To behave ethically by not killing animals for food and treating them humanely.
3. To not eat meat (particularly beef) because society believes cattle cause environmental damage and climate change.

In addition to good people like Leonardo DiCaprio helping fund films like Cowspiracy, others, like Bill Gates, are helping fund the development of artificial meat in the belief that real meat is too environmentally destructive to produce. I doubt anyone could fault such motives, and I certainly don’t. While I do respect anyone’s right to choose a diet based on spiritual belief, I would caution anyone choosing to be vegetarian for health reasons. Over millions of years we evolved as omnivores – not herbivores or carnivores – as you will note from our teeth and entire bodily makeup. I find it difficult to believe that most celebrities have become vegetarian for spiritual or health reasons and assume most have done so to provide leadership to, or solidarity with, millions of fans and supporters concerned about animal welfare and climate change. I applaud them all for providing that leadership, which is needed. Leaving aside the spiritual and health aspects, which are personal choices, let me address the ethical, humane and environmental aspects that I believe are the main drivers of Western vegetarianism and your attempts to make the public more aware of them.

Strengths – Doing Good for Animals and the Environment

Through social media your movement is doing the world a service in drawing public attention to the appalling inhumanity to animals, and damage to our environment, in mainstream government, corporate and university-led industrial animal production. This I covered in an earlier blog in which I stated:
“Literally millions of cattle, pigs and poultry are managed in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). These include pigs bred in small cages with barely room for mothers to move. The Union of Concerned Scientists has criticized such practices. Vegetarians expressing outrage are I believe correct – such practices are not only inhumane, but treating animals in such a manner is degrading to humans. Apart from being inhumane and degrading, CAFOs are also damaging to the environment, economy and human health. In any nation calling itself civilized, such management of animals should be illegal.”
As you see, in this respect I find myself in agreement with you as no doubt many others would be, given greater awareness.

While doing great good in drawing the public’s attention to such practices, therein also lies a tragedy in that you are opposing the management indirectly by opposing eating meat or using animal products, rather than opposing the management of agriculture directly. Management of agriculture that is not only inhumane to animals but producing twenty times as much dead eroding soil as food we need for every human each year – more damaging to our environment and future than any other industry of mankind.

Two things are blamed most for climate change – the use of fossil resources and livestock. Both are resources and commonsense tells us that resources do not cause problems. It is how we manage them that results in problems. Fossil resources, such as coal and oil, will be needed for the next few thousand years to produce many products. It is through management that we choose to call them fossil fuels and burn them rapidly for cheap energy and short-term profit. Likewise, livestock will be needed for thousands of years to feed and clothe people and to address both desertification on a global scale and its role in climate change. And it is our management that leads to animals being crowded into factory production so damaging and inhumane, and our management of livestock that leads to environmental degradation and desertification as I covered in earlier blogs.

Unfortunately CAFOs have it seems led the majority of Western urbanites and vegetarians to vilify eating particularly beef, while ignoring agricultural management endangering all life. The frequently quoted figures about cattle consumption of water and dung and urine pollution, etc. are based on industrial factory production – not from properly managed livestock. Properly managed livestock starts with managing the animals on the land in a manner that is good for the land and all life, where the animals are well cared for until ending their lives as humanely as possible, just as you and I would wish to be treated. So while you are right when attacking CAFOs specifically let me now discuss those aspects of your vegetarian movement unintentionally doing harm.

Weakness (unintended consequences) of vilifying livestock and the eating of meat.

As I discussed in earlier blogs, it is simply not possible to address desertification or climate change on a global scale without the presence of properly managed livestock. For the full discussion see this link and for the piece on what constitutes properly managed livestock see this link From my summary at this link let me here include the table below illustrating how vital it is to shift the public attitude from vilifying livestock to recognizing management as the issue to be addressed.

Given that only livestock properly managed can address desertification and thus all its many symptoms – increasing droughts, floods, poverty, social breakdown, biodiversity loss, mass emigration to cities, Europe, etc. violence and war as well as climate change – I believe that you caring vegetarians have a great responsibility to become better informed. If all of the celebrities and others in your movement do truly care (as I believe you all do) about ethical behaviour and our environment, then you will take the trouble to become better informed.

Restoring the land.

As long as some or most of you continue to support current management while opposing eating of meat, it is going to be difficult to make any progress with healing our environment over most of the US and world’s land area. There are vast areas where we need to regenerate the soil and all life – reversing desertification and agricultural soil destruction, wildlife habitat destruction and relieving the suffering and violence in the lives of millions of men, women and children – which costs an estimated $13.7 billion per year in the formal economy and three times that in the informal economy in just one country (Nigeria).

I love wildlife and believe most of you do too. These pictures my daughter took recently showing the land at the very best it can be at the end of the rainy season in Zimbabwe. On the left you can see the habitat destruction in the Zambezi National Park under the today’s management causing our problems. And on the right the land of the Africa Centre for Holistic Management on the same day, having had the same rains, same soils, same animals but using livestock as a tool to regenerate the land for the wildlife that is doomed without cover, feed and water so essential for survival. It is such habitat destruction that not only threatens wildlife far more than even poaching, but also all of humanity as we see with millions of environmental refugees and the dying western ranching culture in the U.S.

In the picture below I can only show you a U.S. example of land and wildlife managed conventionally by the U.S. National Park Service.

One day when we all begin to vilify present management this land also will be returned to productive grassland supporting wildlife and humans as it once did in the past. But this cannot happen as long as you continue to condemn livestock rather than our management and policies.

The ethical case for joining vegetarian movements

All civilized people detest cruelty to animals – as do farmers, ranchers and pastoralists and thus you are not unique in your concern. The fact that America, in leading industrial agriculture, provides such a poor example by putting corporate short-term profit ahead of animal and human welfare is something we have to deal with and soon. But opposing the eating meat because it involves killing animals, and investing millions of dollars to develop artificial meat, is not the best way.

Living simply in the African bush I witness nature daily – almost everything eating something else and seldom nice to watch. All animals die and they do so either by predators killing them, accidental death or disease. Even in the most dreadful situations such as when as a young man I had to watch some 50,000 head of wildlife die because of habitat destruction, predators, accidents and disease killed most. Only a few could I kill as humanely as possible to save them a worse death. Reality, even for the pets we love, is that animals die either humanely – or not so humanely by predation, disease or accident. Almost all of us prefer to end the lives of our dogs or cats humanely rather than watch them die of disease in old age. I do not know any rancher, farmer or pastoralist who does not love his or her animals. They love them more than you living in cities do, and they live closer to them. And they ensure a humane death to the best of their ability following a life of love and care. Many a rancher today is obliged to send animals to feeders and abattoirs they know are inhumane and destructive simply because global finance and management are driving environmental destruction and the dying of the once proud Western ranching culture. They need your help to condemn such management – not your condemnation of meat eating and animal products while supporting the production of environmentally destructive synthetic meat, leather and wool.

To be ethical you need to be ethical to all life – humans and animals. By opposing the use of properly managed livestock to heal the earth and address desertification ¬you are not being ethical to, or even showing empathy for, millions of humans suffering and dying because of desertification. I say this because, for example, the region right across North Africa and up into China and to Pakistan is the most problematic region in the world. Almost all of this is man-made desert steadily getting worse. About 95% of this vast region has such low rainfall the land can neither grow crops nor trees – it was once grassland and can only be grassland. And the millions of people who are suffering, dying, or becoming environmental refugees can only feed their families from animals that can utilize grass that humans cannot eat.

I know that you are acting entirely in the genuine and sincere belief that you are being ethical. Please I beg do think about your position more deeply. For people enjoying relatively great wealth, and choice of food from overflowing shops, to condemn the one thing that can regenerate the soil and grasslands, save wildlife and feed people while addressing climate change is neither ethical nor humane to people or animals. I believe, and know you to be, better humans than that and hope you will think about directing your great determination, energy and funding to first gain a better understanding and then truly join all civilized people saving all we love by condemning today’s management and supporting the need for all management and policy development to be holistic.

I am not well enough known to be able to get this appeal to go global as you celebrities are able to do with one tweet going to millions of people, but I leave it to your conscience, and to all of you in your movement to share, tweet and retweet and truly help humanity and all life. You have the influence, power and money to do good. So do good.

Allan Savory

Allan Savory

Allan is a lifelong ecologist and the creator and co-founder of Savory Institute. He originated Holistic management, a systems thinking approach to managing resources. His Holistic Management textbook, and Holistic Management Handbook have influenced thousands of ranchers and land stewards across the globe.
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