Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time


Why Aren’t Youth Climate Leaders Addressing Meat Consumption?

October 17, 2019 by Leave a Comment

The News

On September 21, youth climate leaders from around the world converged at the United Nations in New York to participate in the Youth Climate Summit. During the summit, TheirTurn asked them why the youth climate movement isn’t using its platform to encourage grass roots climate activists and the mainstream public to make lifestyle changes to reduce their own carbon emissions.

One day earlier, tens of thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom were students, took to the streets of downtown Manhattan to participate in a youth climate strike with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Neither their posters nor the information they distributed focused on what individuals can do to reduce their own carbon footprint. Frustrated by the fact that youth climate leaders are not proactively encouraging the public to take steps to reduce their own emissions, a contingent of several dozen adult activists joined the climate strike to promote plant-based diets.

Adult climate strikers promote plant-based diets as a strategy to reduce carbon and methane emissions

“Eating animals is the elephant in the room of the climate change movement,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney and activist who participated in the climate strike. “How can youth climate leaders expect world leaders to take action on the climate crisis if they aren’t encouraging their own constituents to stop engaging in environmentally destructive activity that can be easily avoided?

Ranchers are deforesting the Amazon in order to graze their cattle and grow cattle feed (photo: National Geographic)

During the interviews with TheirTurn, every youth climate leader mentioned meat reduction or elimination when asked what steps individuals can take.  None of them, however, indicated that they are proactively conveying this message to their constituents. They are instead pressuring global leaders to make systemic change.

“It’s not an either/or,” said journalist and climate advocate Jane Velez-Mitchell of JaneUnChained. “Youth climate leaders can demand accountability from our leaders and ask their constituents to reduce their own carbon footprint by making the switch to a plant-based diet.”

Waste lagoon at a cattle ranch (taken from above)

Unlike youth climate leaders, who understand the impact of animal agriculture on the climate and are reducing or eliminating their own consumption of animal products, grass roots participants in the youth climate strike were largely unaware. When asked what steps they can take to reduce their own carbon emissions, most recommended reducing single-use plastic and recycling.

Youth climate leaders speak about their advocacy at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit

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Are Youth Climate Activists Addressing Meat Consumption?

September 27, 2019 by Leave a Comment

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In an effort to determine whether or not climate strikers are aware of the impact of meat consumption on the planet, TheirTurn asked participants at the Youth Climate Strike what steps individuals can take in their day-to-day lives to reduce their carbon footprint:

Angered by the government’s failure to address the global climate crisis, an estimated 250,000 New Yorkers took to the streets of lower Manhattan on September 20th to demand climate action from elected officials. Absent from this and previous Youth Climate Strikes was messaging about what individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint. While youth climate leaders are demanding accountability from world leaders, they are not using their platform to encourage their constituents to take personal steps, such as switching to a plant-based diet, to mitigate their impact on the planet.

The failure of youth climate leaders and mainstream environmental groups to address the impact of animal agriculture on the planet and promote a plant-based diet has been a source of great frustration for the animal advocacy community.

“Going vegan is the most impactful step individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint, yet the youth climate strike movement, like the larger environmental movement, is turning a blind eye,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of NYCLASS, a NYC-based animal rights group that participated in the Climate Strike. “Until the environmental movement embraces and promotes plant-based diets, vegans need to come to these marches in large numbers to deliver the message directly to consumers that animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change.”

A contingent of vegan adults participated in the Youth Climate Strike in an effort to educate strikers about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.

In recent weeks, the burning of the Amazon rainforest to make more space for cattle grazing has started to create public discourse around the impact of animal agriculture on the planet. Before the fires, the leading environmental groups skirted the issue out of fear of alienating meat-eating donors. This conflict of interest was exposed in the award-winning 2014 documentary film Cowspiracy, which follows filmmaker Kip Andersen as “he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.”

On October 20th at 1:00 p.m., the Chelsea Film Festival in New York City is hosting the world premiere of another documentary that addresses the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.  The film, Countdown To Year Zero, is directed by journalist and animal rights icon Jane Velez-Mitchell.

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A Glaring Omission at the Student Climate Strike

March 18, 2019 by Leave a Comment

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During the 2019 Climate Strike in NYC, hundreds of students took to the streets to demand that world leaders reverse climate change, but the absence of posters and remarks about the impact of animal agriculture suggested that these students were largely unaware of one of leading causes. During the rally and the march, TheirTurn asked several student participants if they knew about the connection between eating animal products and climate change:

“The student activists aren’t addressing the leading cause of climate change, animal agriculture, and perhaps that is because the advocacy groups for the environment haven’t made it a priority,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of the animal advocacy group NYCLASS. “If climate activists aren’t taking the most obvious step to curb climate change, which is adopting a plant-based diet, then how can they expect the mainstream public to take action?”

Climate Strike in NYC, March 15th, 2019

During the rally before the march, Birnkrant asked Jay Inslee, the presidential candidate running on a climate change platform, if he would promote the consumption of less meat. Inslee would not make that commitment. “I’m willing to promote making sure everybody understands this connection,” he said.

Edita Birnkrant asks Jay Inslee, the 2020 presidential candidate running on a climate change platform, if he will encourage Americans to consume less meat.

While most of the Climate Strike attendees were NYC students “on strike” to demand climate action, many adults participated, some of whom were eager to help the students make the connection between animal agriculture and climate change. Among them was Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who spoke to TheirTurn the impact of animal agriculture on the oceans:

“We’re overfishing the oceans. Forty percent of all the fish caught in the ocean is fed to pigs, chicken and domestic salmon. If we put an end to industrialized fishing, that would go a long way in allowing the ocean to repair itself. If the ocean repairs itself, we can solve this [climate change] problem because the oceans is the regulator of climate – single greatest absorption of CO2. Seventy percent of the production of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton, and we’ve diminished phytoplankton populations by about 40% since 1950. All of these issues should be addressed, but they’re not getting the attention they deserve.”

The New York Chapter of the Climate Save Movement, which advocates for an end to animal agriculture, participated in the Climate Strike

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old climate change activist whose activism inspired the global Climate Strikes on March 15th, is vegan.  Ms. Birnkrant is hopeful that she will use her global platform to promote climate-friendly plant-based eating. 

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On the Menu at Al Gore’s Climate Change Concerts: Animals

May 20, 2015 by Leave a Comment

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The organizers of Al Gore’s upcoming Live Earth 2015 concert series say they have no control over what food is sold at the venues. But that response is doing nothing to appease Lila Copeland, a 13 year old activist who created a video letter to Mr. Gore and other organizers condemning the sale of meat at a global climate change event.
Live Earth organizers Al Gore, Pharrell Williams and Kevin Wall

Live Earth organizers Al Gore, Pharrell Williams and Kevin Wall

“My supporters and I are telling you, not asking you, to . . . take animals and animal byproducts off the event menu, and tell event goers to take animal products out of their diets. Anything less is a slap in the fact to our Mother Earth, who you are killing one hamburger and one hot dog at a time. . . . There are so many delicious, gourmet and healthy meat alternatives you can sell at these events. Instead you ruin your opportunity for change.”
The six continent concert series, which takes place on June 18th, is being staged to “shine a global spotlight” on climate change in advance of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

The musician Morrissey, who has banned the sale of animal products at NYC’s Madison Square Garden on the night of his concert in June, has also sent an open letter to Mr. Gore: “As you know, animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change . . . responsible for a staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions. . . If you choose to serve animal flesh at Live Earth, you’ll be making a mockery of the very concept of the event . . . Serving meat and dairy products at an event to combat climate change is like selling pistols at a gun-control rally.”
Morrissey sings "Meat is Murder"

Morrissey sings “Meat is Murder”

This is not the first time that environmental activists have compromised the integrity of a high profile climate awareness event. At the People’s Climate March in 2014, the largest climate gathering in history with an estimated 311,000 participants, invited food trucks that sold meat, fish and dairy products to the post-march rally. Can environmental groups like and activists like Al Gore expect world leaders to take drastic measures to reverse climate change if even they can’t take the most basic one at their own events?
Climate March participants line up to buy meat and dairy products from food vendors

Climate March participants line up to buy meat and dairy products from food vendors

Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher who now speaks out against animal agriculture, is often quoted as saying, “You cannot call yourself an environmentalist and eat meat.” If Mr. Lyman’s words of wisdom don’t jolt the former Vice President into eliminating the sale of animal products at his climate events, then perhaps those of 13 year old Lila Copeland will: “Sorry, but we have to get real here . . . It is scientifically impossible to put an end to climate change without stopping animal agriculture.”

Your Turn

According to PETA, which has created a petition demanding that Al Gore and other organizers offer only vegan food at Live Earth concerts, “Serving animal products at events that are supposed to educate people on how they can fight climate change is hypocritical and undermines the effectiveness of people’s efforts to save the planet.”

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Jane Goodall: “We’re Destroying the Planet”

April 21, 2015 by Leave a Comment

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On the topic of our planet’s future, Jane Goodall, the legendary chimpanzee researcher, does not mince words: “How is it possible that the most intellectual creature that has ever walked on planet earth is destroying its only home?” Dr. Goodall, who is 81, spends 300 days year traveling the world in an effort to save it. The biggest problem, she says, is climate change. And the biggest culprit? Animal agriculture.


In a lecture to hundreds of fans in NYC on April 15th, Dr. Goodall explained that agribusinesses are clearing rainforests in the Amazon to graze cattle and grow crops to feed them. Without rainforests – the “lungs of the earth” – the planet’s ability to convert carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, into oxygen is compromised.

Clearing Amazon rainforest for cattle grazing (photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Clearing Amazon rainforest for cattle grazing (photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Even more harmful than CO2, Goodall said, is the methane gas emitted in cow farts. As developing countries adopt Western diets heavy in animal protein, more methane and CO2 are released into the atmosphere, further warming the planet and jeopardizing our ability to inhabit it.

Jane Goodall uses a stuffed cow to point out that methane gas is emitted in cow farts.

Jane Goodall uses a stuffed cow to point out that methane gas is emitted in cow farts. (photo: WildCare)

During her talk, Dr. Goodall described some of the other destructive effects of animal agriculture, including land and water pollution, antibiotic resistance, depletion of fresh water resources and animal cruelty, which is was motivated her to go veg. In a recent interview with the Toronto Globe & Mail, she said, “I became a vegetarian because of the horrendous suffering on factory farms and in abattoirs.”

Jane Goodall paints a grim picture of the state of the planet, but she is hopeful that humans will work together to save ourselves from ourselves. And she offers some advice that each of us can put into action today:

  • Go vegetarian.
  • Consume less. The more we buy, she argues, the more natural resources we extract from the planet. How much stuff do we really need?
  • Improve the environment in our own communities. Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, which has chapters in 130 countries, is helping people plant trees, clean rivers and perform other community services in their own backyards.
Roots & Shoots has chapters in 130 countries

Roots & Shoots has chapters in 130 countries

At the end of her presentation, Dr. Goodall showed a video of a newly-released captive chimpanzee hugging her when she emerged from her crate and realized she was home in the jungle. Goodall uses this remarkable event to point out that, as intelligent as chimps are, their brains are far less powerful than those of humans. And she left the audience with a challenge — to harness the brainpower that we’ve used to damage the planet to save it.

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