Hummers vs. Hummus
Posted August 29, 2007
Don't be alarmed on your way to work if the Hummer in the next lane is being driven by a chicken. Two animal rights groups have launched high-visibility campaigns arguing that eating meat causes more global warming pollution than your friendly neighborhood SUV.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will put a person in a pullet outfit behind the wheel of one of the famous guzzlers and send it on the road to the White House, among other places, for a global warming conference later next month. The Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other groups are also making the case in a series of ads.
In addition, PETA is threatening to take the caravan to the doorsteps of major environmental groups that don't get with the program (thought what precisely they want green groups to do isn't clear).
It is a very clever campaign that is going to get a lot of ink. The story was the most e-mailed story on the New York Times website today. But it might be a little too clever for its own good.
The question shouldn't be hybrids versus hummus. They're both important parts of the puzzle. But setting up a false choice may very well undermine progress on both fronts.
There's no question that our dietary choices have major environmental implications — from overfishing tuna to overgrazing the West to the rivers of chemicals that keep much of modern agriculture afloat. Runoff from appalling factory animal farms is an ongoing ecological disaster in communities all around the country.
And don't forget the heat-trapping carbon dioxide released clearing forest for pasture, or the supercharged greenhouse chemical methyl bromide, which is used to wipe out naturally occurring microbes in the soil so that we can grow eerily huge strawberries and tomatoes.
The problem with putting gas on par with geese is that it creates even more confusion about global warming at precisely the time when so many business and political leaders are turning the corner in response to growing public pressure.
And just as they're running out of excuses, the campaigns give polluters, cynics and ideologues a brand new pretext to keep right on guzzling gas and pumping out emissions. You can hear it now: "It's not my fault; blame old Wilbur here."
No doubt the campaign will succeed in moving a few green-spirits the next step into the vegetarian column. And that's a fine thing. Meanwhile, millions of others will take away a message that insulating their home or buying a cleaner, more efficient vehicle is a waste of time so long as Ronald McDonald, Colonel Sanders or Mister Greenjeans are still in business.
It matters because for many perfectly decent people, good environmental stewardship is still a lot like eating right or getting enough exercise. We all know it's the right thing to do. But it doesn't take much of an excuse before the right thing goes right out the window in favor of that second helping.
If there are two gaping holes in the roof, it would be pretty foolish to waste time during the rainstorm arguing about which leak is more important. Fix them both, and do it together. Instead of moving forward based on ostensibly common objectives, these inflamatory new media campaigns force potential allies into shortsighted polemic. That is an unfortunate choice.
We should all be on the same side of the global warming challenge, not taking the wind out of each other's sails.
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