Sustainability: PETA vs. Al Gore

Animal rights groups are pissed. While environmental missionaries a la Al Gore have guilted the masses into trading in their Hummers for Hybrids and plastic bags for crunchy burlap sacs, they've left one critical piece out of their argument: ditching Kobe beef in favor of tofu.

According to an interesting piece that ran in yesterday's New York Times, animal rights groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) argue that being a meat-eating environmentalist—such as Al—is an oxymoron. (For more on meat-eating environmenalists, read Fast Company's September cover story on Adam Werbach). As writer Claudia H. Deutsch points out, the groups have compelling ammo to back it up: last November the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a startling report revealing that the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.

Instead of trying to convert consumers at large, animal rights groups are channeling their energy to influence the influencers: sway the environmental movement, who has the spotlight right now. The Humane Society is running ads in enviro magazines juxtaposing a car key next to a fork: "Which one of these contributes more to global warming? It's not the one that starts a car." Taking a more abrasive tone, PETA has created an army of trucks fitted with a cartoon-style Al Gore chomping on a drumstick, donning the tagline: "Too Chicken to Go Vegetarian? Meat is the No 1 Cause of Global Warming." PETA's manager of vegan campaigns, Matt A. Prescott, said that his group has written to over 700 environmental organizations with pleas to promote vegetarianism—to not much avail.

As a carnivore (albeit, a light one), I find this new case for vegetarianism surprising and convincing. But sadly, the friction once again surfacing between these two groups represents a broader challenge activist movements have been self-imposing for years. In recently reporting the story on Werbach (an environmentalist who got fed up with the methods of what he felt was an ineffective movement), I learned that activists from labor, environmental, human rights, women's rights, animal rights groups, etc, have a long-entrenched history of being siloed and not playing well together. Instead of focusing on all their common interests—fighting for a fair, healthy, sustainable world—they claw each other's eyes out with their differences. In the end, what have they achieved? Not only silencing each other's voices, but perpetuating that "activist brand" of being hostile, arrogant folks that are better at throwing rocks than creating effective, forward-moving dialogue.

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  • Jack joe joe

    Al Gore and PETA(which should mean people who eat tasty animals) are deuch bags. Animals are not people, and they were put on this world to be eaten. Are they smart enough to figure out .000001 of the discoveries we have. NO. And Al Gore needs to know that global warming doesn't exist, the world moves in cycles. The world eventually would have done this to its self. 1 volcano eruption is equal to 100 years of car pollution.

  • Jack Timmons

    You can spin the problem/solution per your personal agenda. Anti-capitalists go after the big businesses. Vegetarians go after the meat eaters. My personal opinion is that the main variable to tweak is population. We could all eat meat 3 times a day and drive Model T's if there were a lot fewer of us. Population estimates used to be catastrophic but now they are less so due to some decreasing groups (Europe, America, Russia, etc.). Get the other groups on board and problem goes away?

  • Realistic Enviro

    Too bad PETA wants to call itself an enviro group now and is attacking Al Gore (WHO IS ALSO TRYING TO REDUCE GLOBAL WARMING). The conservatives/right wing are laughing all the way to the bank and the polls. Is there any reason why PETA and other groups can't promote their stance on global warming w/o attacking another person/group that is also trying to reduce global warming? Don't they see the value in what Gore is doing? OK, they think they are better. Fine, but don't attack other enviros and slow the movement down. Isn't it the goal to reduce global warming. Is it a fact that reducing one's carbon footprint via the strategy Gore promotes? Yes. By being a veggie reduce green house gasses, yes. SO WHY THE ATTACKS!! Unfortunately, PETA's current strategy is misguided.

  • veggielover

    Roger Fulton at August 31, 2007 12:53 PM said: "I'll believe Al Gore the day his Tenn mansion ceasees to use 20 times the national average in energy."

    Mr. Fulton:

    the Gores bought an 80 year old vintage home. It turns out their per cubic foot energy use is about average for their region which is hot and muggy in the summer and cold in the winter. In addition, they purchase green energy blocks to support green energy infrastructure in TN valley. And, their entire Carbon footprint is carbon-offset on top of that. They've solarized their roof, and are working on installing a geothermal system. Clearly, they did quite a bit given their old home. Tearing an old house down to build a new home would itself create a ton of CO2 and other pollution, hence it isn't clear that the net effect would be better than what they're currently doing. For these reasons, what Gores have done with their home was and is a total non-story. In fact, the real story is this: The Gores bought an old home and turned it green

    Next, to the PETA people: Do you realize that attacking Gore the way you are is counter-productive? Why is it that Al Gore is every Tom, Dick and Harry's whipping boy? I am sympathetic to yous cause. Although I eat a mixture of veg/nonveg, I may at some point in the future turn vegetarian. But, by piling on Gore, who already has enough venom being spewed at by rightwing nutcases, and the whole global warming denialist industry, you are neither helping the global warming cause, nor will you help you own cause.

    Try to make your case and persuade people across the board. If Gore were to turn vegetarian, that isn't automatically going to turn others vegetarian. In other words, make your campaign complementary to Gore's and not adversarial to it. Your organization is completely losing credibility with me as a result of these attacks on Gore, even though I am sympathetic to the cause itself. Please stop this ridiculous approach which will prove to be ultimately self-destructive and hurt both the cause at stake. Thanks to everyone.

  • Roger Fulton

    I'll believe Al Gore the day his Tenn mansion ceasees to use 20 times the national average in energy.

  • Jason Terry

    If the livestock business accounts for that much greenhouse gas emmissions, then how much do 6 billion people add to the equation???

    I, for one, am glad to see some sensibility in the environmental movement with Werbach's realization that you can either fight a never-ending loosing battle with everyone including the big guys, or you can help the big guys get their act together and use their collective "muscle" to influence millions.

    People will buy whatever Wal-Mart and the other retailers are selling whether they need it or not. So if Wal-Mart is wanting to move towards a more green position, by all means help them. It is so incredbily short-sighted and small-minded to take the approach of "ok... now that you guys want to move a little towards our way of thinking... the hell with you... it's 100% or nothing!" Has the "movement" forgotten the most important aspect... Incrementalism!!!

  • Dusty Starbucks

    I think Al drives a car, right? Can he really be serious if he is flying, driving or boating? What about those shoes - made of hemp? (Ithink not!) Until one of you can show up that walks everywhere he goes in hemp sandals, doesn't eat meat, doesn't shower, never uses electricity and never buys anything made in a factory, none of you are environmentalists.

    I love you guys, (Bunch of hypocrites)!

  • TwinsFanatic

    OOPS! I got an error message when I tried to submit, so I thought it wasn't working. And I don't see a way for me to delete my own comments. Very sorry.

  • TwinsFanatic

    The animal protection groups all work very well together, I believe, and the story made that clear--from the smallest to the largest, this is an issue they're taking seriously.

    If the environmental groups are going to ignore what the U.N. calls the number one cause of global warming, then what good are they really?

    And Al Gore--he says he cares so much about global warming (and he does seem genuine), so how can he ignore the science from the U.N., the Univ. of Chicago, and every other report that's been done? PETA has been writing to him for years, so it's not new information to him.

    The U.N. report also says that eating meat is among the top three causes of every environmental problem, from the smallest to the largest, as detailed at

    It's tough for the animal groups to work with the environmental groups (and Al Gore) when the environmental groups (and Al) are so afraid of offending their members (not sure what Al’s afraid of) by pointing out what's true, that you can't be a meat-eating environmentalist.

    Greenpeace and the Earth Island Institute are noble exceptions; they do talk about the fact that eating meat supports the full range of environmental problems, they don't serve meat at their functions, etc.

    Al and his pals could do a ton of good by encouraging people to adopt a vegetarian diet; until he does, it’s hard to take him seriously.

  • HA Reynolds

    Will Rogers' quip still holds true, >50 years later:

    "I'm not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."