“Green” School? Not at lunch…

Illustration by Harry Campbell

Feeling pretty green and sustainable these days?

Your school probably recycles in those big blue containers. If your lucky, the bathrooms have motion detector lights and your windows are multi-paned. Or, you might teach at a private school or at a public school in an affluent suburb where your place of employment is a LEED Certified building (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) with all the bells and whistles: passive solar, LED lights, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, a grass-covered roof, etc. Maybe you even have an array of solar panels, a set of raised beds outside your window, or source your food from the organic farm down the street. I am not being insincere when I say that I hope you have all of this, and then some.

These efforts and “trinkets” makes us feel so good. I know it made me feel almost giddy during my 25 years traveling in and out, about, and around educational buildings. In fact, one of my favorite “warm feeling” moments at one school was each Friday when the gaggle of elementary school students would come to my middle school classroom and empty the recycling bins into a cart they were wrestling up and down the hallway. Seeing kids scurrying around raised beds harvesting broccoli that was to be placed at the salad bar that day was also lovely to see.

What if I was to say that all of this was noble, but somewhat useless in the big picture of the global climate crisis? What if all the time, energy, and effort put into such endeavors was, well, just what I said: a way to feel like we are doing the right thing. Or, perhaps it is a way to allow us to feel better about the wasteful and planet-destroying lifestyle we Americans live?

Certainly, recycling and energy efficiency efforts should not be abandoned, especially as teaching tools for schools. But, schools, like the rest of society need to face the real facts about climate change and the global environmental crisis. As Dr. Richard Oppenlander says we are “comfortably unaware.”

Simple Truth #1: The largest contributing factor to ALL areas of global depletion is the raising and eating of 70 billion animals each year.

Consider these statistics:

  • Livestock and their byproducts account for roughly 51% of greenhouse gas emissions (transportation is only 13%).
  • Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals.
  • Agriculture is responsible for 80–90% of US water consumption.
  • 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef and 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction (up to137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.
  • Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock

This is not “sustainable” by any stretch of the imagination. Not even close.

Yet, every day at school, as we stroll past the recycling bins, we march right up to the hot bar spilling over with hamburgers, chicken fingers, hot dogs, cheese pizza, and sloppy joes. Though we recycle the paper plates the pepperoni pizza came on with almost Puritanical conviction, the contents of the plate go completely unconsidered.

Oh yeah…Don’t forget to that an epidemic number of our kids are obese (1 in 3 in the US) and are developing Type 2 diabetes at record rates (20% increase), conditions that have all been linked to consumption of saturated-fat laden animal products.

Simple Truth #2: If you eat a plant-based diet, EACH DAY you will save:

  • 1100 gallons of water
  • 45 lbs. of grains
  • 30 square feet of rainforest
  • 10 lbs. of CO2
  • 1 animal

Or, this may help with perspective and scale: ONE ACRE of land can produce 250 lbs. of beef versus 50,000 lbs. of tomatoes or potatoes or 30,000 lbs. of carrots. Simply put, a person who follows a vegan diet produces 50% less CO2, and uses 1/10th the petroleum, 1/13th the water, and 1/18th the land that a meat eater uses.

Comfortably unaware.

Not to overstate the obvious, but the future of planet depends on our immediate action. It is predicted that the transition to alternative energy sources will take 20 years and $43 trillion. Converting to a plant-based diet is something a school can do tomorrow and at minimal cost.

It’s time to face the truth and make moves toward true sustainability for the health of our children and the life of our planet.