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The One Thing More Useful Than Marching for Climate Change

By Victoria Gagliardo-Silver   

I attended the Climate March in New York City two weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it often. People came out in droves to call for a more environmentally conscious world, and that should be celebrated. It should be exciting to see a mass mobilization for such an important issue. That’s why I am sad to say that I found myself severely disappointed.

I expected to be inspired to see so many people, particularly teenagers, turning out to protect the environment. I wanted to be moved by entire generations of people carrying signs and chanting. Instead, I was faced with the realization that most of the protestors were active contributors to climate change, telling themselves they were taking real action by marching and using metal straws. Almost all of the marchers had paper or cardboard signs drawn on with permanent marker. Some used carried single use water bottles. Many carried leather purses. But the real disappointment? Most of the protesters eat meat, eggs, and dairy.

What people––many of whom want to protect the environment––do not realize is that animal agriculture is one of the largest drains on the earth’s natural resources. It is both the second leading cause of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases and the first of deforestation, it wastes grain and water, it is killing for pleasure.

I can not stress this point enough: If you eat meat that you did not hunt, you are creating a market for the Amazon to be burned and the earth destroyed. If you eat fish, you are the reason for the majority of ocean pollution. Our farming and harvesting practices are not sustainable, and if you support these industries, you are an active contributor to climate change. Studies quite literally say that foregoing meat and dairy is one of the most effective means to reduce your carbon footprint.

Advertisements show a happy cow, a pasture for chickens, cage-free eggs. Images of healthy animals on green pasture and barns. But that is not the reality of animal agriculture. The reality is death, disease, and high environmental impact, and if you’d like to see the proof, you can watch the documentary film, “Earthlings.”

My issue, as a vegan, is not with individual consumers. I, like many of you, grew up with meat being a regular and delicious part of my diet. I did not give up animal products because I did not enjoy them, I gave them up to separate myself from a system that devalues the lives of animals and the life of the planet because “meat tastes good.” Individual practices are not the sole problem in the animal agriculture industry, but we can destroy the industry only through impacting its sales. Even Tyson, America’s largest meat producer, has responded to the decline in sales of meat by producing a line of plant based proteins.

My issue with the climate movement is that in focusing on small individual responsibilities like paper straws and meatless Mondays, we fail to address bigger, systemic issues like animal agriculture, food deserts, and how billionaires can but are electing to not end hunger in America. There’s a reason that Greta Thunberg both uses a reusable water bottle and eats a vegan diet, and it’s because veganism and environmental action go hand in hand.


Victoria Gagliardo-Silver is a New York based writer. You can find her on Twitter at @viccsilver.

© 2011 Lilith Magazine