Extinction Rebellion: Shame

Gary L. Francione
May 5 · 6 min read

Over the past few weeks, I have written several essays about how the Green Party and various environmental groups, including Extinction Rebellion, are continuing to ignore that we about twelve years left and we need to be promoting a widespread transition to a vegan diet in order to avert climate catastrophe.

I have discussed how the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than all transport exhaust. And the U.N. estimate is lower than most others. The Worldwatch Institute claims that animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gasses.

I have discussed recent work at Oxford that has made clear that a vegan diet is the single most significant thing we can do to avert climate catastrophe. Other recent work at Oxford found that a massive reduction of meat consumption is necessary to avert climate catastrophe. We are talking about everyone eating 75% less beef, 90% less pork and half the number of eggs. Because many people won’t reduce to that level, the obligation falls on those who do care about the issue to eliminate animal foods entirely.

I have discussed a recent study by Harvard University showing that the U.K. would be able to sustain itself and combat climate change by returning land used for animal agriculture back to forest: “[c]onverting land currently used for grazing and growing animal feed crops back to forest could soak up 12 years’ carbon emissions.”

All of this points in one very clear direction: although a widespread shift toward a vegan diet may not be sufficient to avert climate catastrophe, it is certainly necessary as a practical matter given the time in which we need to act. A transition toward a vegan diet is the only thing that we can do that does not require technological innovation, which is very uncertain, or government action which, by attempting to compromise in the way that will best serve corporate interests, usually makes matters worse.

I have been disappointed that people who claim to be environmentalists ignore the issue of veganism as a general matter. It seems, however, that Extinction Rebellion not only does not promote a widespread transition to a vegan diet, but is hostile to those who point out the fact that animal agriculture is an ecological disaster.

On May 2, XR posted this on its Facebook page:

In the article posted, chocolate production and mining are identified as causes of deforestation. Deforestation can be driven by various things depending on the area. But there can be no doubt that animal agriculture is, as a general matter, the leading cause of deforestation in terms of loss of land mass.

So on May 4, the role of animal agriculture was pointed out to “DW Croft,” who posted a comment expressing surprise over the role of chocolate to which he received a straightforward, accurate, and respectfully stated reply by “Jet Volare”:

And Extinction Rebellion agreed with the indisputably accurate statement of Jet Volare, right?


XR reprimanded Jet Volare:

“Shame”? In what way did Jet Volare “shame” or attempt to “shame” DW Croft?

That is a rhetorical question. Jet Volare very clearly did nothing of the sort.

XR takes positions on all sorts of things: fossil fuels, air travel, fracking, etc. If Jet Volare engaged in shaming, then so does XR — pretty much all of the time, starting with the opening post, where, if presenting facts constitutes “shaming,” they “shamed” people who like chocolate.

Jet Volare responded:

I shared this all with longtime macrobiotic teacher and ecologist, and vegan, Bill Tara, author of Eating As If All Life Matters and Natural Body Natural Mind. I quote his reply to me in part:

The cognitive dissonance is ringing loud and clear. The corporate givers that fund the big environmental NGO’s are very nervous about any shifts in the buying habits of “consumers” (formerly known as people). Neo-Liberal groups want to keep everyone in the marketplace as defined by them. A shift in food habits would not only produce huge positive environmental results but would also start an enormous shift in the world food web (the biggest single financial sector). The sponsoring funds that support all the big environmental NGO’s do not want the system to change and they don’t want people to really act on their own buying habits — they want controllable solutions like carbon trading, high tech energy solutions and fake meat.

Tara’s comments are spot on.

It seems that these days, expressing a position, however civilly and however well documented, can be met with the silly claim that the person promoting the position is “shaming” anyone who disagrees but has nothing of substance to say in response.

And that is exactly what happened here. XR has nothing to say to the claim that we need to be promoting a widespread transition to a vegan diet as a central part of our strategy to avert climate catastrophe. So they claim that those who present the fact that animal agriculture is an ecological disaster are “sham[ing]” those who disagree but have no substantive grounds for their disagreement — except, perhaps, that promoting a vegan diet may have a negative impact on fundraising and support from the NGO/corporate community.

It’s a shame. And it’s shameful.

Postscript added May 6, 2019: I watched a video of an XR founder, Roger Hallam. Hallam stated that XR was a group that “really wanted to get stuff done” but that there are those who sacrifice “political effectiveness” for a “pure approach” and “don’t want to get things done.” They just want perfection. They will “grind…down” the supposedly politically effective efforts of groups like XR. He identified “extreme vegans,” “the hard left,” and “extreme intersectionalists” as in the problematic category. He claimed that “extreme vegans” take the position that “you can’t have a movement until everyone is vegan in the movement.”

First of all, Abolitionists do not maintain that we cannot have a movement until everyone is vegan. Abolitionists maintain that the animal movement ought to take the position that if animals matter morally, we cannot justify exploiting them, however “humanely” we claim to do so. If animals matter morally, we have a moral obligation to be vegan. The movement is a movement to promote that idea in creative, nonviolent ways.

Second, Hallam’s position is no different from the large animal charities, which claim that we need to promote “happy” exploitation or “reducetarianism” (or whatever) to be “effective” rather than be “purists” who promote veganism. That is nonsense. It not only does not work as a matter of moral theory; it does not work as a matter of practicality. A movement that promotes “happy” exploitation is never going to get beyond that.

It is clear that XR is all about greenwashing with respect to climate change. I am not surprised that Hallam promotes humane washing where animals are concerned.

The bottom line XR is hostile to veganism on different grounds, none of which is valid. If you take veganism seriously for moral reasons or ecological reasons (or, hopefully, both), you should be aware that XR doesn’t.

Gary L. Francione

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Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University & Honorary Professor (Philosophy) at the University of East Anglia