The latest revelation for the vegan movement came recently with the discovery by The Vegan Society that many energy suppliers, including British Gas and Good Energy, use animal waste as a means of producing some of their electricity.
Naturally there has been a backlash by many vegans throughout the UK – the country accepted to be just behind Australia in pioneering veganism throughout the world. As is always the case with vegan issues, the backlash itself has generated a derisive retort from non-vegans, who have branded those complaining as hypocritical and narrow-minded.
To be fair to the vegan critics, the use of animal waste to produce electricity is renewable. It is therefore far better for the environment than many other, more traditional and therefore ‘vegan’ methods currently around. With the animal agriculture industry existing as the biggest factor in climate change development – contributing to around 51% – the climate crisis finds itself firmly at the centre of the vegan debate. Critics therefore argue that it’s counter-intuitive to condemn attempts to produce energy in an eco-friendly way that will help reduce this damage.
However, the fact of the issue is that this is an insignificant solution that doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.
After all, how can it? It’s ethically and economically supporting the industry that has the single biggest impact on climate change. Using animal waste, and therefore supporting the industry, is like repeatedly slashing your own arms with a knife, and then occasionally stopping to apply a plaster to the wound. Applying the plaster in itself is a healing act. But if you do nothing to stop the huge, causative problem – if you not only allow the source of the issue to continue unfettered, but actively support it – any small attempt to remedy it becomes a futile act. It becomes an act that serves more to ease the conscience of the individual, than actually produce any helpful progress for the planet.
As I type this, I can hear the frustration from individuals who will read this as self-righteous jargon. But it’s far from it. Despite frequent misinterpretation, veganism is based on logic – not inflammatory self-posturing – and it always has been.
The whole debate around use of this type of electricity must therefore be approached in the same logical manner.
We use electricity every single day of our lives. For most of us, every hour. Currently, we can’t possibly know where that electricity is from and how it’s produced.
But vegans make no pretence at being perfect. So instead, the way forward is not to retreat to some caveman-like existence, shunning anything electrical for fear of being involved in animal exploitation. It is about pushing for greater transparency in the energy industry. It’s about pushing for greater responsibility, and pushing for greater awareness amongst all individuals. Awareness that actually, this pervasive exploitation we accept to be both normal and necessary, is in fact anything but.
And that’s what makes that initial step to go vegan difficult. After all, with all the increasingly amazing options available in 2019, it’s really not difficult from a dietary point of view to make the change. But it is difficult to challenge societal norms and tradition. After all, it forces you to accept that what you have been doing your whole life, is wrong. That what your friends, family and government have taught to be acceptable, is actually far from it. Of course the older you are, the longer you have been doing these things and the harder it is to accept this change. That’s why all progressive movements that challenge wrongdoing in society stem fundamentally from the youth, and are resisted by older generations. Yet it still amazes me how individuals who take pride in the liberal attitudes of their youth, can’t see this same pattern reoccurring a generation later.
And of course, this is a pattern that reoccurs again and again. We needn’t look very far back in history to see that legality, culture and tradition have not always been a good benchmark for morality. After all, the slave trade and apartheid were legal things that society accepted for decades. Lack of gender equality and the punishment and chemical castration of homosexuals were both normal and legal. This pattern of continually developing morality is evident not only in these powerful social changes, but also in the less obvious changes to peoples’ everyday lives: such as smoking in public places and entertainment like The Black And White Minstrel Show. Of course we now realise these things to be unacceptable – but at the time this was normality. It was ingrained in the routine and culture of everyday life for ordinary people. Each time that positive change was enacted, it took a few liberal and progressive individuals to challenge this norm, helping people to see how the current situation was not an acceptable situation to live with.
Interestingly, the whole debate around this issue of electricity generation via animal waste, is so reflective of individuals’ inabilities to grasp the true range and intensity of the damage caused by the animal agriculture industry. It displays brilliantly as well, the unwillingness of people to accept the source of the problem. Just like a doctor that only treats the symptoms rather than the cause of an illness, this isn’t a sustainable or healthy long-term solution.
And time and time again, it’s the same attitudes in all corners of the animal agriculture industry. People are all for banning the use of plastic straws to help save fish, but won’t contemplate stopping eating fish to save the fish. Now, in 2019, the global fishing fleet is over 2.5 times what the Earth’s oceans can sustainably support, making it no real surprise that we are expected to have completely fishless oceans by 2048.
I saw a Facebook post recently that encouraged a similar campaign. It was telling people to cut through the rings in beer packaging in order to prevent suffocating turtles. Again, an act that in itself is good. But it doesn’t change the fact that 250,000 turtles are killed per year as a waste product of the US fishing industry. And that’s in American waters alone. Unsurprising considering it’s estimated globally that for every 1 pound of target fish caught, 5 pounds of sea life is caught and left to rot as by-product. Until these same people appreciate, and take action against the real root of the issue, such public Facebook campaigns are shallow, and merely a drop in the ocean of progress that must be made to prevent the complete loss of these animals from our seas.
So, it’s not just about the nearly 3 billion animals slaughtered every day, or the £1.2 billion burden placed annually on our NHS by a non-vegan diet. These issues aren’t restricted, like previous progressive movements, to impacts that are individual and societal.
It’s about the global impacts as well.
It’s the fact that 80% of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and between 45-51% of climate change, is attributed to the animal agriculture industry. It’s the fact that every second, an acre of rainforest is destroyed, and 91% of this destruction is attributed to our consumption of animal products. It’s the fact that 150-200 species go extinct every day, and again it’s the animal agriculture industry that is the leading factor, with little real competition.
Incredibly, this industry is consistently the largest causative factor in essentially every crisis and threat we face, not only as individuals or separate communities, but as a species and as a planet.
Surely therefore, it’s time to stop misdiagnosing our problems, and stop hiding our issues with plasters and excuses.
When sensible logic and pragmatism become the present, so will veganism. And global pain, on the scale we currently see, will become a thing of the past – not something that dictates and limits our future.