PETA vs. Gore

Pub date April 23, 2008
SectionGreen CitySectionNews & Opinion


GREEN CITY Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth invigorated the global warming debate, and the environmental movement owes him a great deal of appreciation. After all, they don’t just give away the Nobel Peace Prize like samples of teriyaki chicken at Costco.

Yet some activists point to a gaping hole in Gore’s strategy to prevent climate change through lifestyle change: where’s the meat? For more than a year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has hassled Gore to set an example by not eating animal flesh, and more important, to use his group, the Alliance for Climate Protection, to explain that vegetarianism is an important tactic in the fight against global warming.

PETA has the facts to back up its case. In 2006, the United Nations released a 400-page report concluding that global greenhouse gas emissions — which include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen dioxide, among others — from livestock production surpass emissions from all cars and trucks combined. That same year, the University of Chicago released a study saying that converting to an entirely plant-based diet lessens one’s own ecological footprint about 40 percent more than switching from an average American car to a Toyota Prius.

Of course, changing to a hybrid doesn’t prevent anyone from getting to where they want to go — which, for most people, includes the butcher shop.

Last March, PETA began its campaign with a polite invitation asking Gore to try meatless fried chicken. When it received no response, the campaign turned to tougher tactics. The animal advocacy group created a billboard depicting a chubby caricature of Gore munching on a drumstick, alongside the words "Too chicken to go vegetarian? Meat is the No. 1 cause of global warming." PETA has been buying space for the ad near the sites of Gore’s speaking engagements, and periodically sends letters asking him to address the issue.

Perhaps the issue strikes too close to home. Gore spent much of his childhood on his father’s cattle ranch in Carthage, Tenn. At his father’s memorial service in 1998, Gore remembered the ranch as a positive influence as a young boy. He explained how he learned to "clear three acres of heavily wooded forest with a double-bladed axe" and "deliver a newborn calf when its mother was having trouble."

Yet PETA notes that the clearing of forests has left 30 percent of the earth’s dry surface dedicated to livestock production, and that cattle farts and manure alone are responsible for more greenhouse emissions than cars.

According to the Alliance for Climate Protection, it’s not Gore’s responsibility to address the issue: "There are a lot of top 10 lists about personal behavior, about people monitoring their own involvement," said group spokesperson Brian Hardwick. "We recognize that there are many causes to climate change and causes of global warming. But we don’t think it’s our job to hone in on every detail."

Meat appears to be a glaring omission on the group’s Web site, which includes lengthy lists of ways people can help prevent global warming, including everything from keeping car tires full to changing incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescents. But the group doesn’t suggest anything drastic. They don’t ask people to stop driving; rather, they ask people to drive less by carpooling or walking. Neither do they ask people to stop using central heating at home; instead they ask people to remember to not run the heating when they’re gone.

Hardwick says this moderate approach is about building a movement, and indeed, they now claim 1.1 million supporters. "Our movement is designed to be inviting to people of all walks of life," he said. "Our emphasis in our campaign is that we want people to join together and demand solutions from our leaders."

PETA, which typically takes a vegan-or-nothing approach, has recognized the Alliance for Climate Protection’s strategy and isn’t asking the group to adopt an anti-meat stance. According to spokesperson Nicole Matthews, PETA would be content with a recommendation to eat less meat.

"If people reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, of course it would help reduce that household’s emissions — and certainly [help] the aggregate change as well," Hardwick admits. But, he was quick to add, "Eating less meat is good; changing laws is better."