Extinction rebellion should start with what’s on your plate

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In Brazil and throughout South America, rainforest fires are burning, filling the skies with smoke, creating public health issues, destroying ecosystems and killing millions of animals. Seeking ‘prosperity’ and ‘economic growth’, and accusing ‘international leftist’ environmentalists of deliberately lighting the fires, the Brazilian Bolsonaro Government resists pressure to manage deforestation and land clearance. Fire has long been a feature of Amazonian destruction, driven partly by farming expansion, in turn by international demand for meat, but this year the rate of clearance and the number of fires has apparently increased. There are comparisons made about the response to the blaze that razed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which invoked billions of dollars of donations and expressions of sympathy, whereas the response to the Amazon on fire has been more muted, people complain.

The Amazon rainforest on fire certainly creates a dramatic spectre. The lungs of the planet! But the fires there are symbolic of a greater catastrophe and a wider driver of environmental damage the world over. Because after all, the forests of South America, are just what’s left of a global inheritance squandered after deforestation of much of the rest of the world. Most of the forest ‘lungs of the planet’ have already been burned, chain sawed and bulldozed. A recent Australian report found that the beef industry is linked to 94% of land clearing in catchments of Australia’s endangered Great Barrier Reef. In New Zealand two thirds of our original forest cover has been removed, much of it now intensively farmed for animal products – dairy, beef and sheep. Today’s Amazon fires are from extensions of farming, while intensive animal agriculture in the rest of the world, on land already cleared, contributes to 30-40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Added to this are nitrate loadings on fresh water bodies, public health impacts, and animal welfare abuses.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued a new report making the link between animal agriculture and climate change. Esteemed writers and scientists across the world are emphasising the point that we cannot sustain a growing population while managing climate change and biodiversity with current diets based on animal protein, especially feed for and products of cattle and sheep.

So surely here’s a role for the current mass movement for ecological action, Extinction Rebellion. However, Extinction Rebellion isn’t about “trying to change the world” according to posts on its New Zealand Facebook page this week. It is campaigning with triple demands that Governments must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency; they must act now to halt biodiversity losses and reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to net zero by 2025; and must create and be led by a Citizen’s Assembly on climate and ecological justice. But because of its contribution to climate change, deforestation, desertification, freshwater depletion and pollution, and biodiversity loss, industrial agriculture should be in the spotlight of Extinction Rebellion’s call to Government and civil action. Animal agriculture is the elephant in the room regarding the climate change and biodiversity crisis.

Indeed, Extinction Rebellion calls for systemic change – expecting the Governments to lead based on their declarations of climate emergency. But neo-liberal governments focus more on market-rule and individual agency and less on regulation, particularly of primary production sectors. Government says people themselves must do more. The result is symbolic gesture, shouting into the void – hollow support for declarations of climate and biodiversity emergencies while business as usual continues to pollute rivers and skies and poison the biosphere.

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Attempts to link individual consumption habits with wider ecological impacts through discussion on the implications of meat-based diets within the Extinction Rebellion movement, let alone within wider society, are fraught. ‘Extinction Rebellion isn’t about ‘animal welfare, animal rights, veganism or vegetarianism’ and ‘those debates are too polarising and would divide the movement”. ‘Veganism and vegetarianism are outside the scope of the climate and ecological emergency’ some say. But others say that Extinction Rebellion focuses on the end results of the current system, and the way we treat animals as commodities, is part of the toxic system that must be addressed.

Meanwhile other Extinction ‘rebels’ – assumedly devoted meat-eaters, say that vegan or vegetarian arguments are closed-minded, binary and quasi-religious, threatening Extinction Rebellion’s unity of movement. I’m reminded of a recent Facebook meme that suggested those who eat animals are normal, those who kill dogs are animal abusers, and those who do neither are extremists. When eating animals is so normalised that we are too scared to talk about consumption change to save the planet and its inhabitants, even while we’re talking about how to save the planet and its inhabitants, we will struggle to get very far at all.

Silence over the damage done by animal agriculture might be a tactic for unity within a movement, but it’s a problematic strategy. Enter ‘Animal Rebellion’, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, focusing on the impacts of animal farming on climate change, biodiversity loss and animal welfare and rights. Animal Rebellion activists seek to develop a mass volunteer movement using non-violent civil disobedience to end the animal agriculture and fishing industries, to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of climate breakdown and social collapse. They plan to mobilise 10,000 animal advocates in October for sit-ins and road-blocks including blockades of meat markets.

Obviously, many people love to eat meat. The same way they love to drive powerful cars and take long haul flights for holidays in the sun. But we can’t expect Governments to take meaningful action, for the status quo to change, for an end to extinction and climate crisis if we keep doing what we’ve always done. It’s the increase in eating resource intensive and extensive meat diets, in flying and driving on a whim, that’s created the crisis to begin with. The self-justified pursuit of self-interest (self-indulgence?), on grand scale is what’s got us into this mess in the first place. By reducing our meat eating, our flying, our driving, we can put our concerns for global impacts into local practice. By exercising individual restraint, we can have collective impacts. By reducing our ecological footprints with every meal and every trip, we can be, and signal to Governments and industry, the change we want to see in the world. By being prudent and conservative with our own consumption, we take tactical and strategic action, more meaningful than any declaration could ever be. We don’t need to proselytise about the end of the world or proclaim that Governments need to declare, as much as we all need to practice. That way, our personal health, the lives of animals, of future generations, and of the planet, will all be enhanced. We are what we eat, and the personal is political. And if we’re serious about rebelling against extinction, to be consistent, our actions should entail rebelling against the impacts of intensive and extensive animal agriculture, and should start on our plate.

19 COMMENTS

  1. “Extinction rebellion should start with what’s on your plate’,

    Yes it is good to have more sustainable food production but agricultural animals is only a small part of the problem the biggest issue are the laws that allow profits over environments and the increasing human population that wants and expects more and more stuff. So it’s not the animals fault that for profit bandits and government are buying down forests for food production, they are doing it for private profits not to help feed the world!

    These 100 Companies Are Responsible for Most of the World’s Carbon Emissions
    https://fortune.com/2017/07/10/climate-change-green-house-gases/

    (Note one of the worst polluters ,OMV applied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a marine discharge consent in the Great South Basin, offshore of the wildlife rich Otago coast, prompting a three-day hearing in Dunedin last month.)
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/115151202/threeday-hearing-into-oil-giant-discharge-cost-51000
    (weirdly the focus on the article was not the environmental impacts but the cost of the hearing, how fucking neoliberal is that for NZ news focus!)

    Tourism and flying is a way to add huge amounts of CO2 into the environment.

    How your flight emits as much CO2 as many people do in a year
    Even short-haul flights produce huge amounts of CO2, figures show
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/jul/19/carbon-calculator-how-taking-one-flight-emits-as-much-as-many-people-do-in-a-year

    Air quality on cruise ship deck ‘worse than world’s most polluted cities’, investigation finds
    ‘Each day a cruise ship emits as much particulate matter as a million cars’
    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/pollution-cruise-ships-po-oceana-higher-piccadilly-circus-channel-4-dispatches-a7821911.html

    Cutting construction emissions could equal taking 500,000 cars off the road – report
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/115097921/cutting-construction-emissions-could-equal-taking-500000-cars-off-the-road–report

    (In NZ, construction has become a profit driven Ponzi, and the quality of construction or resource consenting is not very important, and some buildings once built are unliveable due to defects and need to be bulldozed and start again, the Ponzi continues and the pollution reigns while the build bad buildings that many citizens even live in or afford).

    Christchurch building at 230 High St remains in limbo
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/115054412/christchurch-building-at-230-high-st-remains-in-limbo
    Tauranga council broke own rules in Bella Vista
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/property/104021655/tauranga-council-broke-own-rules-in-bella-vista
    All you need to know about Auckland’s Victopia apartment tower: shedding, leaks and defects
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12246827

    https://www.fastcompany.com/90385816/do-tiny-home-owners-actually-live-more-sustainably-now-we-know?fbclid=IwAR0YSE6eIoLXlhGzCmruzRLV1FLW2JnrUMrl6iNBzAX1lbPbVHsEHFp7k3Q

    One of the most important messages for the world is to reduce the human population, the message should be, have less children as a starting point…

    It’s not about cheery picking out one or two things, the world in crisis and everything should be looked at as ways of saving it, aka less population, more sustainable food production, more sustainable housing construction more sustainable living MUCH HIGER environmental and cooperation focus nationally and internationally not everything just about paper based economics.

    • Agreed saveNZ. Good summary of the mess Christine.
      Just watch the carnivores come of the wood work, wanting their pound of flesh at our expense.

  2. The conservation lobby in NZ are the worst kind of hypocrites.
    The vast majority of them live in cities and have their food harvested and transported to them, despite agriculture (both intensive and extensive now apparently) being bad, and fossil fuel use bad.

    We are told to go back to more subsistence living and eating locally, for rural people hunting can be a great form of protein harvest and contributor to conservation where introduced animal numbers are high, yet the green lobby is vehemently anti gun and anti hunter, Worse, they practice conservation by tipping thousands of tonnes of non selective toxin from jet fueled helicopters, poisoning the subsistence breadbasket of rural people killing and wasting valuable resource and arrogantly smearing those who don’t agree with them.

    We are told reforestation must be done, yet choosing pine trees gives only a short term carbon sink and then creates ongoing pest control issues with wilding pines, poisoned ground and waterways: their hatred of the exotic clearly not extending to trees.

    So forgive me for not also running around with my hair on fire too, i’ll continue hunting (if we are allowed bullets, it sounds like solid core bullets are out and the chch mayor wants to ban soft ones too -the ignorant stupidity of the left), and small farming, rearing our own meat and growing some Veges.
    And of course listening to the bike riding sandal wearing city folk sipping lattes and preaching.

    • I have to agree. The fact that the co leader of the Green Party has 6 children and the guy demonstation outside Parliament has 5 children say it all. The Pope talks about the enviroment but still condemnes birth control. Then just this week our esteemed leader is complaining about the high price of petrol and trying to garner extra votes by forcing the price down and hurting those evil petrol companies but would this not encourage more use of those carbon emitting cars. All smoking mirrors I m afraid.Where is the leadership

      • The Pope is head of a vast money making scam. The more Catholics the more money comes in. The rest is PR and fear of a mythical after life.

      • Im not part of any anti anything movement.
        Try refuting my argument instead of proving my point with your bigoted sneering contempt of others.

  3. “Obviously, many people love to eat meat. The same way they love to drive powerful cars and take long haul flights for holidays in the sun”.

    Do you include indigenous peoples such as the Inuit, who hunt for existence? Should they eat pray and love (when not modding their snowmobiles) and replace their energy-dense diet with an arugula salad caressed with truffle vinaigrette, flown in every day?

  4. XR is middle class Green Wash’n scam for billionaires. Nothing other than a “Marketing” ploy for Gween Wash’n Capitalism.

    • These attempts at smearing XR just show that we’ve got up the noses of the oil companies and their friends.

  5. We’re saved!
    Cows fed on, or seek out to eat at the beach, because they know, even in ruminant circles it’s impolite to fart, pink seaweed then they’re good to go and you can now invite them to dinner. In all permutations of the thought of it.
    Pink seaweed stops cows ( and no doubt sheep too ) from producing methane.
    https://boingboing.net/2019/08/20/gassy.html
    Now, all we have to do is find a way of stopping the 7 or so billion human arseholes from doing the same.
    And if you think humans don’t produce methane, a highly inflammable gas, try this the next time you know you have a ripper on the way.
    Sit down, bend forward, light a match or a cigarette lighter close to your exhaust pipe, let ‘er go and be amazed. Best done amongst polite company in a darkened room when everyone’s drunk while this plays.
    Bloodhound Gang.
    https://youtu.be/a8XsZwtmYik

  6. It’s weird that agriculture actually produced more methan than we currently use. You’d think some one would have figured out how to commodity that and put it back into the system as natural gas. Surely that would offset the costs of moving agriculture indoors.

      • No I am being totally serious. How would you achieve an air tight seal around each individual cows rectum? I think it would be far more efficient to just lock a heard in an air tight room and out air filters on to seperste the methan. We are already spending 5 barrels of oil get get 5 barrels back. It can’t be that ineffecient to capture methan.

  7. People don’t love to eat meat the same way they love to drive powerful cars! Driving a powerful car is superficial thrill. Eating meat is very natural for omnivores and difficult to remove from some people’s diets (as a vegan friend of mine found out recently). Making statements as absurd as that is just going to piss off meat eaters.

    Pointing the finger at meat eaters is going to lead to the same problems that Identity Politics is currently causing the political left. People have an emotional attachment to what they eat and self righteous, jumped up vegans* accusing them of being part of the problem is not going to end well.

    No one seems to consider the type of farming the meat comes from. Industrial Farming is pretty much evil and I don’t know anyone who supports it’s continuation. Feeding animals palm kernal is also pretty devastating. Conventional farming (without importing feed) is still destroying the fertility of the soil. Organic farming repairs the soil and sequesters some carbon – but is still part of the economic system with all it’s attendant problems. Permaculture repairs the soil and mimics natural ecosystems – which depend on animals to make them function. Best of all I suppose is hunting in a forest, which could not possibly be said to be part of the greenhouse problem.

    How come I never see anyone debating these issues?- do people even know about permaculture? – or that restoring natural ecology’s requires animals? Is the vegan vision one of a planet of soy crops that will still eventually destroy the landbase? and unless fermented cause quite a bit of ill health as well?

    Also, farmers produce food that people eat and without them quite a few people will probably die – yet I’ve seen people I usually respect saying that NZ should just stop producing so much food to get our greenhouse emissions down. This is ethically very dicey and is only happening because we measure greenhouse gases country by country.

    *Not all vegans are self righteous or jumped up but far too many are.

  8. It’s a surprise that Christine seems to have read posts on the free-speech Facebook group Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ and has interpreted them as XR policy statements. Of course everyone in XR knows that flying, driving ICE vehicles and eating meat and dairy are major contributors to climate change. Everyone I know in XR is either vegan or has drastically limited their use of meat and dairy. Because we are a mass movement, we don’t prescribe that everyone must be vegan.

    May I suggest that Christine refrains from attacking her best allies.

    • I think Christine has shown that her thinking is miles ahead of the Luddites, some of whom reside here..

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