Earth Day Special: Meat is not Green -- John Robbins | Elizabeth Limbach | 04/17/10

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Editor's Note: Over 20 years ago John Robbins wrote a groundbreaking book that made the connection between diet and environmental devastation. That book was called Diet for a New America -- a book that grows more relevant with each passing year.  Robbins moved millions to change their diets (including the founders of this site), he began a wide-reaching non-profit organization called EarthSave, and has gone on to be one of the most effective and articulate advocates for a healthy world.  In this fascinating and wide-reaching interview, Robbins talks about where the environmental movement has come since he wrote his first bestseller -- and how it is that many celebrants of Earth Day this year will, once again, be serving food which is now widely accepted to be the greatest cause of environmental destruction.

Reducing meat consumption may just help solve the world's environmental problems

"Eighty percent of Americans, in polls, say they are environmentalists ... And yet, most of us have remained unaware of the one thing that we could be doing on an individual basis that would be most helpful in slowing the deterioration and shifting us toward a more ecologically sustainable way of life." - Excerpt from "The Food Revolution" by John Robbins

To mark the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990, bestselling author John Robbins made his rounds on the talk show circuit, appearing on major shows of the day like Donahue and Geraldo. Robbins made waves by urging Americans to change dietary direction in his 1987 book "Diet For a New America," which remains a big seller today. He would go on to become one of the world's leading experts on the relationship between diet and the environment.

"It was especially hard back then for people to recognize the link between what was on their forks and their eating habits and the environment," says Robbins, a Santa Cruz County resident, adding that he has happily watched that bridge be gapped over the years.

But with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day just around the corner on April 22, he says there is one dire environmental problem that remains unaddressed: Eating meat.

goodtimes.jpg"We are going to have a lot of Earth Day celebrations, surely that was the case for the 20th anniversary," he says. "And at a lot of the celebrations, there will be meat served--and I find that hard to understand."

Forty years after an estimated 20 million people celebrated the first Earth Day, the budding environmental concern that sprouted the tradition has become full-fledged fervor. Deforestation is rampant, key resources are tapped or limited, and global warming is, it can seem, all we hear about. Also in that time, environmentalism has become synonymous with "being green," a new millennium whirlwind trend that, we're told, means changing to energy-saving light bulbs, using reusable grocery bags, and driving hybrid cars. But when it comes to the world's most pressing ecological problems--climate change, land degradation, air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity--it is now a documented fact that a plant-based diet is the most effective way to help curb all of them.

"It's phenomenal to me that groups come out with articles and lists like '20 Things You Can Do To Change the Environment,' and will list things like drive a fuel-efficient car and change your light bulbs, but they won't say 'eat less meat,'" says Robbins. "In not saying 'eat more plants and fewer animals,' they are omitting the single most significant, most powerful, most meaningful action you can take."

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4 Comments | Leave a comment


A recent study was very critical of the United Nation's study, "Livestock's Long Shadow", which concluded that 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. The reason is that the UN study counted all the factors involved in animal ag., but compared that to only the fuel used in the transport sector. It should have included the gases emitted in the mining of the ore, manufacture of the steel, and other vehicle components, manufacture of the vehicles, roads, bridges, etc. I agree.


Ok, let's suppose that animal agriculture accounts for a bit less than 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. That then leaves this industry as a close second only to transportation, which really doesn’t make it much less guilty.

On top of which, it doesn't take away from the fact that animal agriculture is also responsible for an entire litany of other massive if not equally-pressing environmental problems that don’t get the airtime that global warming does including rainforest destruction, water depletion, waterway pollution, “dead” zones, rangeland degradation, biodiversity loss and species extinctions, etc, etc. And don’t forget the massively destructive seafood industry – it is predicted that seafood may be gone by 2048! And all this on top of the human health problems that include drinking water contamination, antibiotic resistance, bird flu, swine flu, mad cow, heart disease, cancers, and so on. And that doesn't even touch on the moral implications of abusing and violently slaughtering 100's of BILLIONS of animals a year not out of any necessity (for the vast majority) but merely because people have a taste and desire for it.

So let’s look at the bigger picture, because climate change is just one of a whole host of major ecological ills facing the earth, most of which can be traced directly back to animal agriculture as a primary contributor. So stop making excuses for continuing to eat meat, because it’s killing the planet.


Jack and Schrmin were both correct in their observations.
I wonder why such a pointless article was posted in the first place! Absolutly NO new information on this issue was presented.


shurbur8: Thanks for your comment, as it jogged me to correct what I wrote. The U.N. study is probably still valid, in concluding that animal agriculture accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide. However, when that report concluded that it exceeds the GHG emissions of the entire transport sector, it is probably wrong. The scientist from a California Univ. pointed out that when they calculated the GHG emissions of the transport sector, they counted only the fuel burned in the vehicles. They did not count all the fuel burned in all aspects of the transport sector.

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