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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