Is it Possible to be an Environmentalist Without Being Vegan?

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Local Activists Discuss the Environmental Impact of Animal Agriculture and the Fishing Industry, and why many Environmentalists Refuse to Promote Veganism

Earlier this week, some of Vancouver’s animal rights activists attended an event hosted by UBC Sustainability Ambassadors entitled “Hope in the Climate Crisis: Transitioning Our World” featuring a speech by renowned environmentalist and scientist, David Suzuki.  A panel discussion and Q & A followed, featuring the following UBC professors:

Jiaying Zhao, whose research aims to use psychological principles to design behavioral solutions to address sustainability challenges. Specifically, she examines how resource scarcity impacts human cognition and behaviour and what interventions are effective at alleviating cognitive burdens in the poor; how to reduce water and energy consumption, encourage recycling and composting behaviour, promote responsible car-sharing behaviour, and engage the public on biodiversity conservation; and what cognitive biases people have regarding climate change.

William Reese, a human ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning in Vancouver, Canada, where his research and teaching focused on the biophysical prerequisites for sustainability in an era of accelerating ecological change.  Within this envelope developed a special interest in ecologically-relevant metrics of sustainability and their interpretation in terms of complexity theory and behavioural ecology.

Janette Bulkan, whose teaching and research involves reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), Indigenous and forest-dependent peoples, community forestry, illegal logging, forest certification.

Daniel Pauly,  instructs at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries & Department of Zoology whose research interests include aquatic ecosystems, ichthyology, fisheries management, and he is also a principal investigator and senior staff member for The Sea Around Us.

The purpose of the activists’ presence that evening was to ensure that the discussion involved recognition of animal agriculture and the fisheries’ destructive impact on the environment and to remind attendees that although many of us feel powerless when our government won’t prioritize environmental sustainability, we as individuals have the power to create positive change simply by transforming our dietary habits and advocating for others to do the same. Post-discussion Q & A sessions are excellent opportunities for advocacy, especially at events which are hosted or attended by groups who share the same goals, but who may not be getting the full picture in regards to how to achieve them.

Why is there so much resistance to veganism within the environmental groups?  It is well-known by animal rights activists that David Suzuki is not vegan, despite being considered a leader in sustainability, a self-professed environmental activist and science broadcaster for most of his adult life. Many people feel that leaders have a responsibility to set an example, so when David used his Japanese culture as a reason to eat fish, some audience members were left feeling concerned that others may find similar justifications to avoid analysis of their own harmful habits. The David Suzuki Foundation web page recommends eating meat-free meals, vegetarian (not vegan) restaurants are recommended, and eating insects is promoted as an alternative protein source (no mention that protein is found in plant foods). I was disappointed to see that veganism wasn’t promoted as the main goal.

On today’s show, activists Emily, Michael, Roy Sasano (former Sea Shepherd Conservation Society volunteer) speak with Professor Daniel Pauly on his comments about environmental strategy during the panel discussion. We also speak to Patricia Kendall (a new vegan and new activist) about her firm statement to David Suzuki that she was “disappointed” in the evening’s talk because he failed to mention animal agriculture’s impact on the climate crisis, and expressed her feeling that we need leaders to set an example by adopting a plant-based lifestyle, rather than using culture as an excuse not to change harmful habits.

We also engage in a round-table discussion about plastic in our ocean, the harmful effect of promoting “sustainable seafood” with programs such as the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise labelling. Emily points out that if people are consuming fish for the health benefits of DHA, omega-3 fatty acids, and EPA, the fish obtain those nutrients from algae, so it’s a better option to buy the algae from a health food store, and cut out the harmful effects of eating fish potentially high in cholesterol and laden with mercury, PCBs, pharmaceuticals, and anything else that contaminates their flesh from our polluted oceans.

(left to right) New vegan and activist Patricia Kendall; Vegan activist Roy Sasano, Operation Milagro with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society; Vegan activist Michael K. [photo by Carson Au]

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