MSNBC on Monday demonstrated how extreme the left can be on climate change, making comparisons to fighting World War II and the possible need of going vegan at some point in order to save the planet. Host Ali Velshi talked to Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.
Discussing the need to reduce the amount of meat we eat, the MSNBC host wondered, “There are things that feel like sacrifices but if you look at the alternatives, if we don’t change certain behaviors, the world will flood, burn and be destroyed. So when you talk about sacrifices to the way we eat, are you talking about individual choices or governmental level institutional changes to how we eat?”
Foer declared, “It will have to be both.” So, a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich buy back program? He added that we shouldn’t think of this as a sacrifice: “I might take issue with the use of the word sacrifice…. Acting on one’s values can feel really good, can feel inspired.”
Of course, this is also like fighting the Nazis in World War II. Foer explained:
The two then had a discussion about what “success looks like.” Foer tried to sound reasonable, but hinted that people might have to become vegans at some point:
A transcript of the segment is below. Click “expand” to read more:
ALI VELSHI: All right, all this week NBC News and MSNBC are taking a special look at climate change as a part of our series Climate in Crisis. If you watch the show, you know it’s not just this week thing. We talk about this all the time. An international group of scientists recently issued this stark warning: “We cannot avoid the worst impact of climate change without making serious changes to how we raise grow food, raise livestock and manage forests.” The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that agriculture, forestry and other use of land account for an estimated 23 percent of total human-generated greenhouse emissions, which are the primary source of global warming. A significant amount of the agricultural emissions come from livestock raised to feed our heavily meat-based diet. The animals produce methane though belching and other actions while they digest food. Now, according to the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 37% of human-caused methane emissions. We often talk about carbon, but methane is the thing that blows the hole in the ozone layer.
65 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emissions, much of which comes from farm where nitrogen is added to the soil by way of manure, fertilizer and other material. Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of deforestation. The UN says that 80 percent of the global deforestation is done to clear land for crops and live stock and grazing, removing the trees that could help absorb the carbon we spew into the atmosphere. That’s exactly what you’ve been seeing in the Brazilian Amazon. A lot of those fires are thought to have been caused by clearing land for grazing. Globally, humans use nearly 60 percent of all the land capable of growing crops to grow food for livestock. The recent UN climate report goes on to say that while sharply reducing the number of livestock could cut carbon emissions by billions of tons, doing so would require huge changes to the way we eat. In his new book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, Jonathan Safran Foer argues that saving the planet will require a huge sacrifice and starts with what we eat and don’t eat. Jonathan joins me now. Thank you for being with us.
JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER: I like your use of “other actions” for belching.
VELSHI; Belching and other actions. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Katy Tur’s show, but she doesn’t use euphemisms. Let’s talk about this. We have to think about climate change and how we fight it in terms of net cost to us, right? There are things that feel like sacrifices but if you look at the alternatives, if we don’t change certain behaviors, the world will flood, burn and be destroyed. So when you talk about sacrifices to the way we eat, are you talking about individual choices or governmental level institutional changes to how we eat?
FOER: It will have to be both. But it’s hard to imagine any governmental regulation that is going to change the meat industry. But I might take issue with the use of the word sacrifice to begin with for two reasons. Acting on one’s values can feel really good, can feel inspired.
VELSHI: I’m with you. I agree we probably shouldn’t use the word sacrifice in this context because if you don’t act on your values, you don’t feel good and the consequence to be the wrecking of the Earth.
FOER: Absolutely. And there’s a good model for this. In World War II, the home front efforts that regular Americans made, regardless of their political leanings or socioeconomic backgrounds, driving at 35 miles per hour. We had a 94 percent income tax. Highest rate income tax. We had rations on food and it really was and a really wonderful fireside chat that I could never imagine our president giving. But FDR gave at the time. He said, “Look, not all of us have the privilege of fighting on the other side of the ocean against the enemy. Not all of us have the privilege of producing munitions. But we can all participate on the home front. And when we look back at the changes we have made after we have saved our free way of live, sacrifice is not the word we’re going to use.” And I think it’s the same thing here when we look back or our kids —
VELSHI: It’s a contribution.
FOER: We’re going to say it was a privilege to participate in saving the planet.
VELSHI: So, if one decides we’re going to change where we eat, where does that start? Do I make a decision about the way I eat? Do we become vegans? In fact, we have a bit of a list we can show people of — This is according to the Center for Sustainable Systems. We’re looking at the carbon footprint of various foods and a serving of beef has a carbon footprint of 6.61 pounds. If you go down the list, cheese is lower than that. Pork is lower than cheese, poultry is lower than pork, eggs, milk, rice, legumes, carrots and potatoes. So, if I eat rice, legumes, carrots and potatoes, I’m having a fairly significant impact on the carbon footprint.
FOER: And a bad day.
VELSHI: Right. So, how do you make these choices? What does success lock like?
FOER: I think success doesn’t look like — What it doesn’t look like is martyrdom. And what it doesn’t look like is a binary — If I care about the planet, I have to become a vegan tomorrow. It’s not true. It’s not in keeping with the science. What the science is, one of the most comprehensive analysis of the relationship between food and global warming, which was published at the end of last year said that while certain people living in malnourished parts of the planet could afford to eat a little more meat and dairy, people like us, people who live in American cities, cities in the United Kingdom and Europe have to reduce our meat impact by 90 percent.
FOER: And our dairy by 60 percent. And that sounds like a drag. But a marathon sounds like a drag if you have to — at the beginning of a run, I don’t know if you ever run, but it’s useful to, think, “I’m going to get through the next little bit.”