One day there was no internet at work, so there was nothing much for the people in our office to do. Somehow, the topic of vegetarianism came up, and I said to one of the Sergeants in our office that I understood the draw of vegetarianism.
“What is it?” He asked, skeptical.
“Its healthier, it has a lower carbon footprint, its cheaper,” I replied, but he cut me off.
“Lower carbon foot print?” he scoffed.
“Yeah,” I replied, preparing myself to explain to him why it was better for the environment than meat eating. But that wasn’t where his next line of questions were leading.
“So, do you have a problem with motorcycles?” he asked.
I was a little confused by the question. “No. Why would I?”
“Because motorcycles are the most polluting vehicles on the road,” he said, explaining that motorcycles do not have the same efficiency standards as cars, and adding some things about the motorcycle engine I did not understand. I was a little surprised, I had always assumed motorcycles had less emissions than cars, because their fuel efficiency is so much better than cars (I’m still going to have to look up his claim, because I want to know this fact for sure), but I still didn’t understand what that would have to do with the carbon footprint of a vegetarian lifestyle.
I questioned him further. He gave me a slew of ideas. That giving up meat made no difference if people are still doing things like riding motorcycles. That lots of things, like motorcycles, should be more important to people than their food (I corrected him on that one, the livestock industry puts more greenhouse gasses into our environment than motorcycles do, it puts more into the atmosphere than all vehicles do!). That one person wouldn’t make a difference just by changing their diet. What it all came down to was this; going vegetarian isn’t going to fix everything, it may not even be the biggest impact you can make, so why bother?
I tried comparing it to going on a diet. When you go on a diet, you evaluate the foods you eat and decide where you can and where you want to make changes. You may be able to give up drinking sodas with each meal, but you can’t give up your morning coffee. Maybe you’re willing to go exercise every morning in order to have a few hundred more calories to eat each day.
He said that was just jumping on the “green” bandwagon and doing as little as possible to be trendy.
So then I explained to him that people who give up meat because of environmental reasons usually do lots of other things to be environmentally friendly too. At that point, I think he was done with the conversation.
I wish I could have gotten across to him that people can’t be expected to do everything, and the environmental movement doesn’t expect that of people either. Everyone’s got different lifestyles and different needs as a result. It would be unreasonable to expect a person in an apartment in the heart of a city to be able to grow most of their own food. It is unreasonable to expect someone with an hour long commute and a kid to drop off at daycare, like me, to take the bus to work in a city with so-so public transportation. It is unreasonable to expect a single mother living off of minimum wage and WIC to buy everything organic. The environmentalist movement doesn’t expect it all from us. It gives us a series of suggestions, and hopes that we’ll do the things that work best for us, as many of them as we can.
Environmentalism understands that people are not black and white, and doesn’t expect that we should be able to do it all or do nothing at all. Perhaps what keeps people like the Sergeant in my office from considering the environmental movement is the impression he has that environmentalism requires everything from us. It does not.
Now of course I understand that as a culture, we’re going to have to make some drastic changes pretty quickly here, but we’re never going to get the people like the Sergeant in my office to make a big leap if they can’t even understand the little leaps. I’m all about showing people options. Eating meat, for this guy, is something he could never, ever give up. Okay, fine, what else can he do? Well, he could start by eating locally sourced meat. Meat that wasn’t shipped here from across the country. That would lower his carbon foot print quite a bit. He could switch to only organic, free range and grass fed meats. Not only would that lower the carbon footprint of his diet, but it would mean he’d be eating healthier, tastier meat as well. Maybe he can’t find local meat, and can’t afford organic meat, maybe then he should just try to eat less meat. Maybe to one meat free meal a day, or one meat free day a week. There are lots of options for lowering the carbon footprint of your meat consumption, and no one’s saying he has to be perfect all the time.
Even if he finds none of this fits his needs, that doesn’t mean he can’t do other things to lower his impact. Its not like if his diet isn’t perfect, he can’t use CFLs, or drive a fuel efficient vehicle.
People aren’t black and white, and the environmentalism movement isn’t all or nothing. The more people doing little things, the bigger the impact becomes.