When Hurricane Florence passed over the Carolinas last week, it left in its wake destruction and suffering, including nearly 4 million dead chickens, turkeys, and pigs on factory farms. Their deaths, mostly from drowning, were no doubt filled with pain and fear. Many of the animals were imprisoned in crates with no hope of escape. As the animals were dying on these farms, manure lagoons that serve as storage for hog feces were overflowing, releasing waste into the flooded land.
While global warming may not affect the frequency of hurricanes, evidence suggests that warmer ocean temperatures fuel the power of these storms. Rising sea levels also create more catastrophic flooding like what we saw in the coastal Carolinas over the past week.
The sad irony of the devastating destruction is that the farming practices that left millions of animals at the mercy of the floods and created a potential public health crisis are in part responsible for the ferocity of those floods.
Global Warming is a Justice Issue
Compared to growing plant foods for human consumption, production of meat, dairy and eggs requires more fossil fuels, resulting in release of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One group of researchers estimated that dietary greenhouse gas emissions in meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans.It also contributes to deforestation when food for farmed animals is grown on land that once bore trees. The loss of these trees, which take up carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the atmosphere, compounds the problem of global warming.
The consequences of global warming comprise a justice issue that touches animals and people in all parts of the world. Hog farms in North Carolina are most often located near low-income communities, who are most likely to suffer the consequences of having manure lagoons in their neighborhood. Impacts of climate change are also most severe in the poorest parts of the world where people have few resources to respond to natural disasters, food shortages, and drought that are consequences of global warming.
The same farms that contribute to climate change house thousands of animals, far too many for farmers to protect when disaster strikes. For chickens in particular, the numbers are so large that it’s not possible to consider the welfare of individual animals. When farms flood, farmers evacuate, leaving animals behind.
Shunning Animal Foods is the Way to Resist Global Warming — and to Resist Trump
None of these issues appear to be on the radar of Donald Trump. While houses and farms were sinking beneath the floods in the Carolinas, the Trump administration announced that it was relaxing a regulation that prevented the greenhouse gas methane from discharging into the atmosphere during oil and gas operations. It was a juxtaposition of news items that only reinforced the disdain that Trump holds for science and for climate change.
Diet is hardly the sole factor affecting global warming, but it provides a unique opportunity to resist, more or less all day long, against the policies of Donald Trump. We eat, most of us, three or more times per day which provides us with a powerful opportunity. It’s a way to pick up some of the slack left by an administration that denies the significance of climate change.
Even as we work and wait for leaders who are committed to action that protects the earth for future generations, we need our own policies built around personal choices that make a difference.
Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina are the authors of Protest Kitchen: Fight Injustice, Save the Planet, and Fuel Your Resistance One Meal at a Time.