UNITED NATIONS, 9 May 2007 (BWNS ) -- As the scientific consensus on global warming grows, it's time to look more closely at how to share the economic, social, and humanitarian burdens that climate change will likely bring.
That was the main message of a panel discussion on "The Ethical Dimension of Climate Change," organized by the Baha'i International Community and held here on 30 April 2007 during this year's UN Commission on Sustainable Development.
"If sea levels rise at the rates they are predicting, we may see hundreds of millions of refugees," said Arthur Lyon Dahl, president of the International Environment Forum, a Baha'i-inspired organization.
"Where will they go? Who will take them in? What does it mean about immigration regulations?" asked Dr. Dahl, noting that these were only some of the moral and ethical questions that are being posed by the looming effects of climate change.
Sponsored by the nations of Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, with assistance from the UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS ), the event became one of the most talked-about side events at the Commission this year, said Tahirih Naylor, a representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
"The timing of the event on the opening day of the Commission really helped to bring attention to the ethical issues surrounding climate change, helping to frame discussions at the Commission, at least among nongovernmental organizations and major groups," said Ms. Naylor.
The panelists included Enele Sopoaga, former Permanent Representative of Tuvalu to the UN; Om Pradhan of the UN-OHRLLS; Don Brown, project coordinator of the Collaborate Program on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change; Tony Barnston of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University; Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Fellowship Program Director of GreenFaith; and Dr. Dahl, who is a Baha'i and also the coordinator of the UN Environment Programme environmental diplomacy program at the University of Geneva.
Dr. Brown, who is at the Rock Ethics Institute at Pennsylvania State University, said the moral and ethical issues that accompany rising sea levels or widespread crop failures will be matters of life and death for many people.
"How much warming should we tolerate?" he asked. "What is the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases that the world should identify as a target? There is no more obvious moral and ethical issue than this issue. It will literally determine who lives and who dies, whether Tuvalu survives, whether the Marshall Islands survive."
Such issues, Dr. Brown said, will force multilateral institutions like the United Nations to rethink international law and norms.
Ambassador Sopoaga said the issues for nations like Tuvalu are particularly stark.
"The future will be catastrophic for all communities, for all countries, but particularly for those who have already been identified as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change," he said, noting that some forecasts suggest that small island states will disappear entirely under the rising ocean.
"It is a moral obligation, beyond political obligation or economic obligation, to help countries like Tuvalu and small island developing states, and of course the least developed countries," he said. "We have to do something urgently."
Mr. Pradhan of the UN-OHRLLS said that the latest predictions indicate that small island nations would be "simply wiped out."
"This is the time to remind the international community that ethics and morality do play a very important role in any human activity, especially when we have a situation where climate change is affecting such a large number, especially the poor and vulnerable," he said.
All the panelists agreed the release of recent studies by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UK's Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change have established a high level of confidence that climate change is real and that the consequences will be great.
"Some of the people against acceptance of global climate change demand something like at least 98 percent certainty," said Mr. Barnston. "We have somewhere around 90 percent or the low 90s. To me that's pretty high. It's not 75 percent like it was a decade ago."
All of the panelists also agreed that preventing the most drastic consequences of climate change would require that many people change their behavior - such as by driving fuel-efficient cars, shifting to renewable energy, and the like.
The question now, Mr. Barnston said, is how to motivate humans to change their behavior.
"When we discover something inconvenient to our lifestyle, it takes years to adjust to it, years to accept it, to believe it, and then to do something about it," he said, giving as examples the discovery that smoking is harmful or sunburns are not healthy. "We have to shorten the time lag before all levels of society accept that climate change is a danger just like cigarette smoking is a danger."
Dr. Dahl and Rabbi Troster both said that religious belief could be an important factor in providing the motivation for ethical behavior.
"How do we create a willingness to make the sacrifices that are going to be necessary," asked Dr. Dahl. "How do we build a sense of global solidarity when we are all facing the same common challenges?
"Religion is that dimension of society that has traditionally been responsible for morality and ethics," he answered. "We have to look at moderation. And all religions have taught about being content with very little."
Rabbi Troster said religious communities believe that the attitude in which humanity views itself in relation to creation is fundamental in changing behavior.
"This is central to the concept of moral action," he said. "If we change our attitudes, we will change our behavior."
The meat industry is one of the most destructive ecological industries on the planet. The raising and slaughtering of pigs, cows, sheep, turkeys and chickens not only utilizes vast areas of land and vast quantities of water, but it is a greater contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than the automobile industry.
The seafood industry is literally plundering the ocean of life and some fifty percent of fish caught from the oceans is fed to cows, pigs, sheep, chickens etc in the form of fish meal. It also takes about fifty fish caught from the sea to raise one farm raised salmon.
We have turned the domestic cow into the largest marine predator on the planet. The hundreds of millions of cows grazing the land and farting methane consume more tonnage of fish than all the world’s sharks, dolphins and seals combined. Domestic housecats consume more fish, especially tuna, than all the world’s seals.
So why is it that all the world’s large environmental and conservation groups are not campaigning against the meat industry? Why did Al Gore’s film Inconvenient Truth not mention the inconvenient truth that the slaughter industry creates more greenhouse gases than the automobile industry?
The Greenpeace ships serve meat and fish to their crews everyday. The World Wildlife Fund does not say a word about the threat that meat eating poses for the survival of wildlife, the habitat destroyed, the wild competitors for land eliminated, or the predators destroyed to save their precious livestock. . When I was a Sierra Club director for three years, everyone looked amused when I brought up the issue of vegetarianism. At each of our Board meeting dinners, the Directors were served meat and only after much prodding and complaining did the couple of vegetarian directors manage to get a vegetarian option. At our meeting in Montana we were served Buffalo and antelope, lobsters in Boston , crabs in Charleston , steak in Albuquerque etc. But what else can we expect from a “conservation” group that endorses trophy hunting.
As far as I know and I may be wrong, but my organization, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is the only conservation organization in the world that endorses and practises vegetarianism. My ships do not serve meat or fish ever, nor do we serve dairy products. We’ve had a strictly vegan menu for years and no one has died of scurvy or malnutrition.
The price we pay for this is to be accused by other conservation organizations of being “animal rights.” Like it’s a bad word. They say it with the same disdain that Americans used to utter the word communist in the Fifties.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not an animal rights organization. We are exclusively involved in interventions against illegal activities that threaten and exploit marine wildlife and habitat. We are involved in ocean wildlife conservation activities.
Yet because we operate our ships as vegan vessels, other groups, and now the media dismiss us as an animal rights organization.
Now first of all I don’t see being accused of as an animal rights organization to be an insult. PETA was co-founded by one of my crew-members and many of my volunteers come from the animal rights movement. But it is not accurate to refer to Sea Shepherd as animal rights when our organization pushes a strict conservation enforcement policy.
And secondly we do not promote veganism on our ships because of animal rights. We promote veganism as a means of practising what we preach which is ocean conservation.
There is not enough fish in the world’s oceans to feed 6.6 billion human beings and another 10 billion domestic animals. That is why all the world’s commercial fisheries are collapsing. That is why whales, seals, dolphins and seabirds are starving. The sand eel for example, the primary source of food for the comical and beautiful puffin is being wiped out by Danish fishermen solely to provide fish meal to Danish factory farmed chickens.
This is a solid conservation connection between eating meat and the destruction of life in our oceans.
In a world fast losing resources of fresh water, it is sheer lunacy to have hundreds of millions of cows consuming over 1,000 gallons of water for every pound of beef produced.
And the pig farms in North Carolina produce so much waste that it has contaminated the entire ground water reserves of the entire state. North Carolinians drink pig shit with their water but its okay they say, they just neutralize it with chemicals like chlorine.
Most people don’t want to see where their meat comes from. They also don’t want to know what the impact of their meat has on the ecology. They would rather just deny the whole thing and pretend that meat is something that comes in packages from the store.
But because there is this underlying guilt always present, it manifests itself as anger and ridicule towards people who live the most environmentally positive life styles on the planet – the vegans and the vegetarians.
This is demonstrated through constant marginalization especially in the media. Any organization, like Sea Shepherd for example, that points out the ecological contradictions of eating meat is immediately dismissed as some wacko animal rights organization.
I did not set the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society up as an animal rights organization and we have never promoted animal rights in the organization. What we have promoted and what we do is oceanic wildlife and habitat conservation work.
And the truth is that you can’t practise solid and constructive conservation work without promoting veganism and/or vegetarianism as something that promotes the conservation of resources.
A few years ago I attended a dinner meeting of the American Oceans Campaign hosted by Ted Danson. He opened the dinner by saying that the choice he had to make was between fish and chicken for the dinner, and what was the point of saving fish if you can’t eat them?
Guest speaker, Oceanographer Sylvia Earle put Ted in his place by saying she did not think that he was being very funny. She said that she considered fish to be her friends and she did not believe in eating her friends. So neither Sylvia nor I ate dinner that night.
I met Sylvia again at another meeting, this time of Conservation International held at some ritzy resort in the Dominican Republic . Harrison Ford was there and the buzz was what could be done to save the oceans. I was invited as an advisor. I sat on a barstool in an open beachfront dining plaza as the “conservationists” approached tables literally bending from the weight of fish and exotic seafood including caviar. I looked at Sylvia Earle and she just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
The problem is that people like Carl Pope , the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, or the heads of Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and many other big groups just refuse to accept that their eating habits may be just as much a part of the problem as all those things they are trying to oppose.
I remember one Greenpeacer defending his meat eating by saying that he was a carnivore and that “ predators” have their place and he was proud to be one.
Now the word predator in relationship to human beings has a rather scary connotation having nothing to do with eating habits, but for any human being to describe themselves as a carnivore is just plain ridiculous.
Humans are not and have never been carnivores. A lion is a carnivore as is a wolf, as is a tiger, or a shark. Carnivores eat live animals. They stalk them, they run them down, they pounce, they kill, and they eat, blood dripping, meat at body temperature. Nature, brutal red in tooth and claw.
I’ve never met a human that can do that. Yes we found ways to run down animals and kill them. In fact we’ve come to be rather efficient at the killing part. But we can’t eat the prey until we cut it up and cook it and that usually involves some time between kill and eating. It could be an hour or it could be years.
You see our meat eating habits are more closely related to the vulture, the jackal or other carrion eaters. This means that we can’t be described as carnivores. We are better described as necrovores or eaters of rotting flesh.
Consider that some of the beef that people eat has been dead for months and in some cases for years. Dead and hanging in freezers, full of uritic acid and bacteria. It’s a corpse in a state of decomposition. Not much that can be said to be noble about eating a cadaver.
But a little dose of denial allows us to bite into that Big Mac or cut into that prime rib.
But that one 16 ounce cut of prime rib is equal to a thousand gallons of fresh water, a few acres of grass, a few fish, a quarter acre of corn etc. What’s the point of taking a shorter shower to conserve water as Greenpeace is preaching if you can sit down and consume a 1000 gallons of water at a single meal?
And that single cut of meat would have cost as much in vegetable resources equivalent to what could be fed to an entire African village for a week.
The problem is that we choose to see our contradictions when it is convenient for us to see them and when it is not we simply go into a state of suspended disbelief and we eat that steak anyway because, hey we like the taste of rotting flesh in the evening.
Have you ever thought why it is that with a person, it’s an abortion but when it comes to a chicken, it’s an omelette?
Does anyone really know what’s in a hot dog? We do know that the government health department allows for an acceptable percentage of bug parts, rodent droppings and other assorted filth to go into the mix.
And now tuna fish comes with a health warming saying it should not be eaten by pregnant women or small children because of high levels of mercury. Does that mean mercury is good for adults and non-pregnant women? What are they telling us here?
Eating meat and fish is not only bad for the environment it’s also unhealthy. Yet even when it comes to our own health we slip into denial mode and order the whopper.
The bottom line is that to be a conservationist and an environmentalist, you must practise and promote vegetarianism or better yet veganism.
It is the lifestyle that leaves the shallowest ecological footprint, uses fewer resources and produces less greenhouse gas emissions, it’s healthier and it means you’re not a hypocrite.
In fact a vegan driving a hummer would be contributing less greenhouse gas carbon emissions than a meat eater riding a bicycle.
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