Wednesday, October 07, 2015

For Presentation

"Eating Animals and the Environment" - DOC link here and text of paper below the fold 

Eating Animals and the Environment

Dan Hooley and Nathan Nobis (

For Hale and Light, eds., The Routledge Companion to Environmental Ethics

  Draft: 9/21/15

Table of Contents

I.                   Introduction 

Globally, approximately 50 to 60 billion land animals are raised and killed each year for human consumption. Farmed animals exist, of course, because human beings want to eat them. These animals’ lives and existence, however, contribute to significant environmental damage. They must be fed and watered, and crops must be raised and transported to do this. This all requires massive amounts of water, land, fertilizer, and energy. These animals also produce huge quantities of manure and flatulence. This all contributes significantly to air and water pollution and is a major contributor to global climate change. 
Human habits of eating animals, therefore, results in much environmental damage. Much of this could be avoided by our simply eating plants, instead of animals who eat plants. Plants obviously produce no manure or gas, and plant-based diets use far less water, land, fertilizer and energy to produce compared to diets with animal products. And far fewer plants are needed to feed human beings directly. To give just one example, it takes 16 pounds of grains, and thousands of gallons of water, to produce just 1 pound of hamburger, whereas those 16 pounds of grains could be consumed directly.[1]
While many human activities negatively affect the environment, many are very difficult to reduce or eliminate completely, and reducing the environmental impact of others can be quite costly. Not eating meat and other animal products, however, is relatively easy for most people, after an initial adjustment period. When it comes to efforts we can take to lessen our environmental impact, abstaining from meat and other animal products is ‘low-hanging fruit.’ It’s an action that dramatically helps the environment that, for most people, would not negatively affect their well-being: indeed, it may even enhance it. 
Here we consider how concern for the environment relates to our own eating habits, in particular, the consumption of animals and animal products. Based on broad concerns for the environment, we argue that there are strong moral reasons to radically reduce our consumption of animal-based foods, and that this reduction is a moral obligation. We concede that this conclusion is vague - it doesn't specify precisely how much meat consumption is allowable - but environmental concerns do clearly encourage and support raising far fewer animals and eating less meat and animal products.[2] We will argue that these concerns alone, however, cannot ground a moral obligation for individuals to be strict vegetarians or vegans.
Nevertheless, when concerns for the environment are combined with concerns for animals themselves, a powerful moral argument for veganism can be made. We develop such an argument. Finally, we conclude with some brief thoughts about how non-human animals might fit into, and relate, to our concern for "the environment." 
As a caveat, we acknowledge that, in some parts of the world, plants are very difficult to cultivate and so animals - typically, wild and free-roaming animals - are the only available food source for humans. Eating animals may be environmentally better in these circumstances, given the resources needed to cultivate very difficult land, or the environmental costs associated with importing all of one's food. These contexts, however, are rare and generally not the contexts for most readers of this collection, who likely get all or mostly all of their foods from supermarkets, restaurants, and other retailers. Our environmental argument applies to this agriculture context which is relevant for most readers.

II.                Environmental Damage from Animal Agriculture 

Animal agriculture, as it is practiced today, is an environmental disaster.  Perhaps the most significant and pressing environmental damage caused by animal agriculture concerns global climate change. While the estimates of the precise contribution of animal agriculture to climate change vary, it is clear that animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the warming of our planet. A 2006 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimated that 18% of greenhouse gases were attributable to animal agriculture, more than all of transportation combined.[3] Goodland and Anhang however, have argued that this report seriously underestimates the contribution of animal agriculture to global climate change.[4] They estimate animal agriculture accounts for 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year or 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  
Whatever the exact contribution, it is beyond dispute that animal agriculture is a major contributor to global climate change. Animal agriculture does this in a variety of ways. Much of this contribution comes from clearing land and forests to graze animals, feeding animals (which requires significantly more food, and energy intensive inputs to produce this food, than if humans grew and ate plants directly), the life processes of farmed animals (including the waste they produce and flatulence), as well as all the energy needed to process and transport the ‘end products’. 
But animal agriculture also harms the environment in many other ways. Raising animals for food requires significantly more inputs (land, fertilizer, energy, and water) than would be required to only grow plants for human consumption. As a result, animal agriculture puts much more strain on finite resources, like land and water, than alternative methods of food production.  Finally, because animals are produced in confinement in such large numbers, disposing of animal waste has become a significant environmental problem. Farmed animals produce more than three times the amount of manure produced by humans, and the excess manure, and inappropriate land application of such large quantities of animal waste brings antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals into our waterways, lakes, groundwater, soils, and airways.[5]   

III.             Eating and the Environment 

Reasons to Reduce

The overwhelming environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture has implications for how we, as individuals, should approach eating. 
Our starting point is the premise that individuals have some moral obligations to mitigate their impact on the environment, including global climate change. There are different ways one can work towards fulfilling this general obligation, some of which are easier than others. And choices about eating often are easier choices than others. Unlike buying a Prius or outfitting our home with solar panels, the choice to eat a plant-based diet needn’t be expensive and, in most cases, is unlikely to cost someone more than eating a diet heavy in animal products. Further, unlike other ways of reducing one’s impact on the environment (such as riding public transit or using a bicycle to commute to work), eating a vegan diet is something nearly all of us can do, and we can do it in addition to whatever else we are doing to reduce our environmental impact. Nearly everyone living in developed countries has access to plant-based foods that they can purchase and consume. This is not true of many other ways we can reduce our impact on climate change and the environment. 
Choosing to consume a plant-based diet can also have a significant effect on reducing our own negative impact on the environment. In 2006, researchers at the University of Chicago found that someone who ditches a standard American diet, heavy in animal products, for a vegetarian diet, reduces their emissions as much as a person who trades in a standard car for a Toyota Prius.[6] In 2008, Germany’s Foodwatch Institute estimated that switching from a conventionally grown standard diet to a conventionally grown vegan diet reduces one’s emissions by 87%.[7] And a recent study by researchers in the UK found similar results: in the UK, the carbon footprint of the average vegan was approximately 60% less than that of the average ‘heavy meat eater’.[8]
Taken together, these factors explain why we all have very strong moral reasons to alter our diet, and at least radically reduce the amount of meat and animal products we consume. This is something almost everyone can do, and usually relatively easily and inexpensively. While some effort is certainly required to switch to a plant-based diet, after this switch has been made, eating a mostly-vegan diet can be done without a great deal of effort.  

Environmentalism and Veganism

Clearly there are moral reasons based on the environment to reduce the production and consumption of farmed animals. Some argue, however, that environmental concern justifies a moral obligation to not raise or consume any farmed animals or their products (like dairy and eggs) and, thus, that environmentalism necessitates veganism.[9] We disagree: environmental concerns, including our personal contributions to climate change, cannot, in themselves, ground a moral obligation to eat a strict vegan diet. Here’s why.
First, an adequate concern for the environment is consistent with some meat eating, if such concern is consistent with other avoidable activities that contribute to some environmental degradation, like driving cars or flying in airplanes when, honestly, we really don’t need to: nearly all sports and recreational activities that involve energy consumption fall into this category. Raising some limited amount of animals for food needn’t be worse, environmentally, than some other environmentally-unfriendly activities, so if the latter are morally acceptable on environmental grounds then so is eating some meat. Those who argue that environmental concern requires veganism seem to think that environmentalism always requires doing everything we easily can to eliminate negative impact on the environment: we think, however, that this demand is too much. Serious environmental concern is compatible with causing some negative environmental impact and this allows for some limited animal agriculture and non-vegan eating.
Second, environmental arguments for veganism often overlook the climate impact that different foods have. While it is true that, taken as a whole, meat and animal products contribute significantly more to climate change then plants, the production of certain types of animals contributes much more than others, and in some circumstances, some plant foods appear to contribute more to climate change than some animal products. For example, ruminant animals (like lambs and cows) contribute significantly more emissions, per 1,000 calories produced, than other types of animals used for food.[10] More surprisingly, some plants, like tomatoes and broccoli may contribute more emissions, per 1,000 calories, than animal products like pork, chicken, milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs.[11] The emissions produced to sustain a plant-based diet are still significantly less than a diet that involves large portions of animal products like pork, chicken, milk, and eggs. But there certainly are some important exceptions. For example, a diet involving local, sustainably caught wild fish, in some circumstances, may contribute no more to climate change than a fully plant-based diet. So, while environmental concerns, by themselves, provide reasons to move away from animal products, these concerns don’t always rule out all animal products. 

An Objection: ‘Imperfect’ Environmental Duties?

Taking into consideration these objections, we believe environmental considerations do not require that one adopt a strict vegan or vegetarian diet. Nevertheless, these concerns obligate most people to significantly reduce their consumption of meat and other animal products: continuing to eat meat and animal products at present rates and quantities is wrong.
An objector may ask how we can legitimately single out any one particular activity as one thing everyone is obligated to do to reduce their contributions to climate change. Even if we grant that there is a general obligation to reduce our negative environmental impact, someone might deny that we are obligated to do any particular action to reduce their impact on the environment. This position would suggest that our duties to the environment are, as Kant put it, “imperfect duties,” roughly, general obligations that can be satisfied in a variety of ways. After all, there are many ways we can mitigate our negative impact on the environment. With respect to global climate change, people can often use public transit or a bicycle instead of a car, they can reduce their energy consumption in their homes, they can purchase more energy efficient appliances, and so on. So even if we are willing to grant an individual obligation to reduce our negative, environmental impact, it is not clear why any particular way of reducing our environmental impact is obligatory. Some might say: as long as we are doing enough for the environment, we are fine. It doesn't matter how we choose to lessen our environmental impact.
To illustrate, imagine someone who considers her consumption of meat and animal products to be something that is central to her life and that gives her life great value and meaning. She is, however, an environmentalist, and when confronted by the facts about the way animal agriculture contributes so much to climate change, she is dismayed. Rather than deciding to forego or even reduce her consumption of these products, our meat-loving environmentalist decides she will redouble her efforts to reduce her effect on the environment in other ways, to make up for her meat-eating ways: she will reduce or avoid altogether traveling on jets, she decides against having a child, spends her summers planting trees, and commits only to using her bike and public transit for most of her transportation. Her objection is that she has done enough for the environment, so she need not reduce her meat intake.
While this is an important objection, we believe it can be met. As we have already noted, choosing to abstain from meat and other animal products is one of the most effective ways individuals can reduce their contribution to climate change. It is also something nearly all of us can do in addition to whatever other efforts we undertake to lesson our climate impact. All of us have to eat. Adopting a mostly plant-based diet does take some effort, but once this effort is made, it can be relatively easy to sustain. Ignoring our diet, then, jettisons one of the most significant ways we contribute to climate change, and one that is relatively easy (and far from cost-prohibitive) to address.
The meat loving environmentalist could, with only some initial effort, do more to lesson his impact on the climate by choosing to eat significantly less meat. The fact that she doesn’t want to reduce her meat consumption, and is already doing a great deal to lesson her impact, doesn’t change this fact. Her reluctance seems analogous to an unwillingness to recycle, when she could easily do so, because she already “does so much for the environment.” But doing a lot does not eliminate the need to make (relatively) easy changes that can substantially reduce one's impact on the environment. Doing what’s difficult doesn’t preclude the need to do what’s easy.
As a result, we don't think this objection succeeds. Significantly reducing one's consumption of meat and other animal products is an effective, relatively easy, and affordable way nearly everyone in developed countries can reduce their environmental impact. This obligation is not averted by the mere fact that others may choose to reduce their environmental impact in other, additional ways. However, as we will see shortly, the environmental impact of one's dietary choices is not the only morally relevant concern that confront how we ought to eat.

IV.             Eating Animals 

Evaluating the ethics of eating requires not only that we look at our diet's environmental impact, but also the ways our eating affects other animals. Raising and killing animals for food is wrong because of the ways these practices seriously harm other animals. If a practice causes serious harms to an individual or individuals, then it requires a moral justification, or else the practice is morally wrong. Serious harms require good reasons to justify them. We believe that attempts to justify the serious harms inflicted on animals raised for food do not succeed. Thus, the practice of raising and killing animals for food is wrong. 
            This argument depends on a simple, uncontroversial moral principle, that it’s wrong to cause serious harms unless there is a good reason to do so.[12] In addition to moral principles, our argument also depends on the facts about how animals are treated and some moral thinking about harms to animals, which we now briefly review.

Farmed Animal Facts

The vast majority of land animals humans in North America and, increasingly, in much of the rest of the world, eat come from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), commonly known as factory farms. The ways animals are harmed in these operations has been extensively documented.[13]  
Many of the ways animals raised in factory farms are harmed stem from their extreme confinement. Egg laying hens are confined in battery cages - wired cages, stacked on top of each other - where the birds lack the space to engage in natural behaviors, including basic things like walking on solid ground or spreading their wings. Sows (female pigs used for breeding) are confined for most of their lives in gestation crates, where they lack the space to even turn around. Like these animals, the vast majority of other farmed animals raised in the U.S. live in close confinement and this results in variety of harms, including: physical injuries, pain and suffering, disease, immobilization, boredom, psychological distress, and often death.  
Animals on factory farms also experience painful body mutilations. The beaks of egg-laying hens are sliced or burnt off, pigs are castrated and have their tails cut off, and cows are branded, castrated, and dehorned. These mutilations cause animals severe pain - sometimes even chronic pain - and are all done without anesthetic.  
These ways animals are harmed in factory farms are all standard industrial practices, not aberrations. In addition to these harms, animals raised for food are sometimes abused and injured by workers in other ways.  
Animals raised on factory farmed are also harmed in ways other than the pain and psychological harm that is inflicted upon them. These animals are harmed by being deprived of many of the goods crucial to their well-being. By failing to provide the space and resources needed for good lives, we seriously harm them: they are denied what they need for basic, natural and social behaviors, and to live lives that are good for them. 

“Factory Farming” versus So-Called “Humane” Farming

 The vast majority of animals raised for food in North America live out their short lives on factory farms. Nevertheless, many individuals feel that if farmed animals are given a genuinely good life, and then painlessly killed, there is nothing wrong with raising and killing them for food. If smaller farms could avoid harming animals in the ways we’ve noted above - not simply by not inflicting harms upon them, but also by providing them with the goods necessary for a flourishing life - then what is there to object to? 
The first thing to note is that very few actual farms live up to this ideal. While some farms do give the animals they raise more space and better living conditions, the animals are often still seriously harmed. Many smaller farms still inflict painful body mutilations, such as castration, dehorning, and branding, on the animals. With this, many of these animals still face harms that come from transport to slaughter (such as abuse in handling, severe dehydration and hunger, and suffering from crowding as well as overheating or extreme cold). The biggest issue, however, is that animals raised for food are still harmed by an untimely death. 
Even if animals enjoyed a good and flourishing life on an idyllic farm, we believe killing that animal for its meat seriously harms that animal, and thus requires a justification. Crucially, that death can seriously harm other animals is not simply a matter of whether or not the animal suffers or experiences pain in the process of being killed. Often, however, animals slaughtered for food in North America do experience a painful death. While U.S. law mandates that cows and pigs be made unconscious before being killed, the rapid pace at which these animals are slaughtered means that many have their throat slit while still fully conscious.[14] This law, however, excludes birds, fish, and rabbits. Chickens and turkeys, for example, make up the vast majority of animals slaughtered in the U.S. (nearly 9 billion every year), and have their throats slit by a mechanical blade while fully conscious.[15]

The Harm of Death

But even if these animals did not experience pain, killing them still seriously harms them. A painless death is not harmless. For the vast majority of animals humans kill for food, their lives are ended after but a small fraction of their natural lifespan. Chickens raised for meat, to give just one example, are killed at about 6 weeks, while they can typically live between 8 to 12 years! Cutting their lives short seriously harms animals because the good lives they could have experienced are taken away from them.  
Nearly all of us recognize this when it comes to our companion animals (and ourselves!). If your cat, for example, needed a medical procedure that would cause her some short-term pain and discomfort, but that was required to extend her life and allow her to live several enjoyable years, the right thing to do is opt for the medical procedure. It would be wrong to painlessly kill your cat to avoid her experiencing any pain and the reason for this is quite simple: your cat has a very strong interest in continuing to live. Yet we can only maintain this if we affirm that an untimely death is not in the interest of other animals![16] 
Death is a serious harm to other animals: it robs them of everything, their existence and the possibility of a valuable future. As a result, even when animals have lived good lives and are killed painlessly, ending their lives prematurely seriously harms them, and thus requires a moral justification. 

These Harms Aren't Justified

Animals raised for food - in both factory farms and less intensive farms - are seriously harmed. This should not be in doubt. These practices can only be justified, then, if these harms can be morally justified. However, there are no sufficient moral justifications that would justify these harms.
Two of the most common motivations for consuming meat and animal products - health and the pleasure one gets from eating these products - fail to justify the serious harms these practices inflict on farmed animals. Many individuals consume animal products because they believe they are important to a healthy diet. However, it is now clear that humans can survive and flourish on a vegan, plant-based diet.[17] Humans do not need to eat meat or other animal products to survive, or even to live healthy lives. In fact, increasingly the evidence seems to suggest that the opposite is the case.
With this, the pleasure humans get from eating meat and other animal products does not justify the serious harms we inflict on other animals. Many of us recognize this basic truth when it comes to practices unrelated to eating that inflict serious harms on other animals. We don't think that dog-fighting or cock-fighting are justified, even if it is the case that many humans get a great deal of pleasure from watching dogs or chickens fight. Why is this? Part of the answer, it seems, is that humans can engage in all-sorts of leisure and recreational activities. We don't "need" to watch dogs or chickens fight to live an enjoyable or flourishing life. And choosing to do so means sacrificing an animals most basic interests - in not suffering, and in continued existence - for pleasure. If we recognize this, however, it is hard to see how the same points do not also apply to animals humans raise and kill for food. It is true that many humans get pleasure from eating animal products, but it is unclear why, morally, this ought to matter. Humans can get pleasure in other ways, by eating plant-based foods, without causing serious harms to other animals. As a result, an appeal to the pleasure humans get from eating meat and other animal products fails to justify the serious harms we inflict on these animals.
If these harms cannot be justified, then, we believe, humans have an obligation not to purchase or consume meat and other animal products.[18] Purchasing and consuming these products contributes to and financially supports these practices, which cause serious harm to other animals. Once we recognize that these serious harms are not justified, we should withdraw our support from them.

Objections to Veganism

There are many critical responses to moral arguments for veganism, including from people who explicitly express concern for the environment, as well as others. Here we briefly reply to a few common objections:

“Raising animals for food, and eating them, is natural, so it’s not wrong. It is part of the natural order'”

Reply: There’s nothing at all ‘natural’ about modern, mechanized industrial animal farming and slaughter. And just because some action is ‘natural’, whatever that might mean (the claim that something is ‘natural’ can have many different meanings, as discussions about sexual ethics shows), this doesn’t make it morally permissible. Acting violently or selfishly can be quite ‘natural’, but is often wrong. Further, to claim that something is part of the natural order, in this context, only tells us that human beings have historically chosen to hunt, raise, and kill other animals. The mere fact that we have traditionally done something does not show that it is morally justified.

“Animals eat other animals (and that’s not wrong). We are animals. So it’s not wrong for us to eat animals.”

Replies: Chickens, pigs and cows don’t eat other animals. And unlike carnivorous animals, like lions, we don’t have to eat meat. Further, unlike most animals, we can think about the consequences of our actions and choose to cause less harm when we can. Finally, just because animals do something doesn’t make it OK for us to do it: e.g., some animals eat their babies, but it’d be wrong for us to. Animals’ behavior is often not a good model for our own. 

“We are omnivores, so it is not wrong to eat meat.”

Replies: The claim that humans are omnivores can be interpreted as the claim that we can eat meat, or that we should eat meat. The first claim isn't controversial. Biologically, humans are capable of eating and digesting meat. However, the mere fact that humans can do this does not mean we are morally justified in doing this. To defend this view requires reasons that would support raising and killing animals for food. The second interpretation assumes that it is okay to eat meat, without explaining why.

 “Animals have no rights, so it’s not wrong to eat them.”

Replies: Our argument makes no appeal to ‘animal rights.’ And it could be wrong to harm animals even if they don’t have moral rights: not all moral theories or moral explanations appeal to rights.

“Animals are inferior to humans. Animals aren’t rational; they aren’t very smart; they don’t contribute to the betterment of society, and so on, and so they are OK to eat or kill to improve the environment.”

Replies: Any appeal to human superiority that points to a specific capacity must deal with the fact that many human beings (and all of us at various points in our lives!) often lack the specific capacity in question, or possess it to various degrees. We all recognize that it's wrong to kill or eat human beings even if these humans aren't as smart or rational or whatever. If human beings who lack these advanced intellectual abilities, and even the potential for them, shouldn’t be killed and eaten, then it is hard to see why it should be okay to do the same to other animals, with similar capacities, who just happen to be members of a different species.

“All farming methods cause animal deaths, and all cause environmental harm. Therefore, it’s not wrong to eat meat.

Reply: Driving cars causes deaths, but we should still try to drive more safely and minimize deaths and injuries. Similar points apply to agriculture. People have tried to calculate how many animals are killed by different agricultural methods (these calculations are difficult and controversial) and have argued that, at least, current patterns of animal agriculture certainly don’t minimize animal deaths or harms to the environment.[19] While some animals are killed in the fields when producing grains and other vegetables, the evidence at this point suggests that significantly fewer animals would be killed if humans only ate plants. Humans should find ways to produce plants while further minimizing the numbers of animals killed in the field. However, presently eating a vegan diet is the best way to minimize animal suffering and death.

“My not eating meat won’t help animals, and it won’t help the environment either, since I am just one individual in a big world. Therefore, what I do doesn’t make a difference and so it is morally okay for me to do what I want, including eating meat.”

Reply: Unfortunately, few of us can change the entire world by our own efforts: what we do, as individuals, doesn’t seem to make as much of a differences as we’d like to see happen. This is especially true about the environment: one individual recycling, one individual using less energy, one individual taking the train instead of driving, and so on doesn’t by itself fix the problems these actions are meant to address. But these actions, along with not eating meat, do make some difference (that world is different when we do them), and it often encourages others to make those differences also. And, unlike many other actions, we must eat, so we might as well eat in ways that are more likely to make a positive difference, and surely eating meat can’t be that.

These are just a few common objections to arguments for veganism. Many more are discussed elsewhere.[20] Recall, however, that we argued above that environmental concerns do not, in themselves, require veganism, but that serious moral concern for animals themselves does. Thankfully, approaching the vegan ideal has major environmental benefits as well.

V.                Conclusion: Animals and the Environment 

We have argued that environmental concerns ground an individual's obligation to significantly reduce the amount of meat and animal products they purchase and consume. These concerns, however, cannot ground an obligation to eat a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Nevertheless, we believe most of us ought to eat a vegan diet. It is just that the grounding of this obligation stems from the ways raising and killing animals for food harms the animals themselves, not from broader environmental concerns. 
Dividing our argument in this way, we hope, provides a clearer sense of the basis of our moral obligations. However, it would be a mistake to read our argument and conclude from it that concerns about harms to animals and their well-being are entirely separate from “environmental concerns.” While common, we think this way of understanding “the environment” and how animals relate to it is problematic and needs revision. 
Unfortunately, all too often concerns for the welfare and well-being of nonhuman animals are seen as distinct from, and sometimes competing with, concern for “the environment.” Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in discussions about two oxen, Bill and Lou, at Green Mountain College in Vermont.[21] Bill and Lou were oxen who worked for 10 years plowing fields for Green Mountain College on the school’s farm. After Lou sustained an injury and was unable to work, the college decided to slaughter the animals, in the name of sustainability. This produced significant backlash and led to national attention. Despite the fact that animal sanctuaries offered to take care of Bill and Lou, Lou was killed by Green Mountain College (although not served in the cafeteria) and it appears that Bill was killed not that long after. 
From the perspective of Green Mountain College, killing Lou and Bill was in the interest of environmental sustainability. The animals were viewed as resources: no longer able to work (since Bill refused to work without Lou), their bodies represented 2,000 pounds of meat that would otherwise “go to waste.” Killing and using these animals, they thought, promoted the goal of benefiting the environment. 
Killing Bill and Lou was morally indefensible for reasons we have already seeing. But beyond this, the understanding of how animals, like Bill and Lou, relate to “the environment” that this action represent is rather odd and incredibly anthropocentric. Very few of us think, for example, that it would be a good idea to try and wipe out all of humanity to benefit the environment. Yet this is despite the fact that humans are, by far, the most environmentally destructive species on earth! We don’t think humans are resources who exist to benefit the environment. Rather, we recognize that humans are inhabitants of the environment, and that our concern for the well-being of human beings explains, in part, our concern for broader environmental concerns. 
Yet, when we recognize this, we ought to recognize that other animals, too, are inhabitants of the environment, sentient beings for whom the health of our shared environment matters. The environment is not for humans alone. And concern for the well-being of other, non-human animals - and a recognition that we should work to avoid harming other animals whenever possible - should not be seen as competing with, or running against, concern for the environment. Animals, like us, are part of the environment that we care about, not resources that exist to benefit it. 
In light of this, our moral argument for veganism - which appeals to obligations humans have not to harm other animals and to avoid supporting practices that seriously harm animals - shouldn’t be seen as competing with, or as alien to, environmental concerns. Instead, concern for the well-being of other animals offers a way for us to imagine a much broader, and we believe more inspiring, conception of “the environment.” For animals are residents of this earth just as much as other human beings. Our concern for the state of our shared environment, then, ought to include a concern for how this affects the lives and well-being of other animals, with whom we share this planet. 

[1] See, e.g., the Water Footprint Network’s “Water footprint of crop and animal products: a comparison” at

[2] Individuals in developed countries eat significantly more meat, per person, than individuals in developing countries. In countries like Canada, Denmark, and the United States, per capita meat consumption is over 200 pounds per year, whereas in Indonesia residents consume approximately 20 pounds per year, and in India, about 11 pounds per year.
[3] Henning Steinfeld et al., Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental
Issues and Options, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006
. At
[4]Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are...cows, pigs, and chickens?” in World Watch Magazine, November/December, Volume 22, number 6. At
[5] Pew Commission, and Pew Commission. "Putting meat on the table: Industrial farm animal production in America." Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2008), p. 9.
[6] Eshel, Gidon, and Pamela A. Martin. "Diet, energy, and global warming." Earth interactions 10.9 (2006): 1-17. At
[7] World Preservation Foundation Report, “Reducing Shorter-Lived Climate Forcers Through Dietary Change”
[8] Scarborough, Peter, et al. "Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK." Climatic change 125.2 (2014): 179-192. At This study defined the “heavy meat’ category as anyone who eats 3.5 ounces or more of meat per day. However, this is a relatively low bar. The average Brit eats about twice as much meat as this, so the difference in carbon footprints between the average vegan and the average meat eater in the UK are likely much greater.
[9] See Colb, Sherry, Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger? And Other Questions People Ask Vegans. Lantern Books: Brooklyn, NY. (Introduction).
[10] Haspel, Tamar, “Vegetarian or omnivore: The environmental implications of diet,’ Washington Post, March 10, 2014. At
[11] Haspel, Tamar, “Vegetarian or omnivore: The environmental implications of diet,’ Washington Post, March 10, 2014. At
[12] Other influential arguments for veganism have been made from more complex premises: e.g., Peter Singer’s argument, from Animal Liberation and other works, based on the premise that animals’ interests (in avoiding pain, suffering and death, and other harms) should be given equal consideration to comparable humans’ interests; Tom Regan’s argument (from The Case for Animal Rights and more recent works) based on the premise that animals who are “subjects of lives,” that is, conscious, sentient, experiential beings, have basic moral rights to respectful treatment just as conscious, sentient, experiential human beings do and these rights preclude harmful treatment and use; Mark Rowlands’ John Rawls-inspired argument, from Animals Like Us and other works, that, if we were behind a “veil of ignorance” and so didn’t know whether we were human or animal, and had to choose whether animals are raised and killed to satisfy the non-vital human interest in eating animals, we would choose that animals not be eaten, as this is the rational, impartial decision; and many more arguments, based on nearly any plausible moral-theoretical perspective.
[13] For a succinct overview of the ways farmed animals are harmed, see Mercy for Animal’s video, “From Farm to Fridge.” At
[14] See Pachirat, Timothy. Every twelve seconds: Industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight. Yale University Press, 2011.
[15] Humane Society of the United States, ‘The Welfare of Birds at Slaughter,’ 2009:
[16] See Harman, “The Moral Significance of Animal Pain and Animal Death” in Beauchamp, Tom L., and Raymond Gillespie Frey. The Oxford handbook of animal ethics. Oxford University Press, 2011.
[17] See, among other sources, Craig, Winston J., and Ann Reed Mangels. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109.7 (2009): 1266-1282. At  A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that meat and other animal products are detrimental to an individual’s health and longevity.  
[18] For a more detailed defense of this claim, see Hooley and Nobis (2015).
[19] See Lamey (2007), "Food Fight! Davis versus Regan on the Ethics of Eating Beef" for a discussion of some of these issues.
[20] See, e.g., our “An Argument for Veganism,” in

[21] A Casualty Amid Battle to Save College Oxen, November 13, 2012, on page A12 of the New York edition.

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