At this week’s CNN Townhall, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, one of the presumed front-runners, reflected on being the youngest candidate in the race. He remarked how by the time he’s President Trump’s age, the year will be 2054. He said this to highlight how his generation will have to prepare for and contend with major global challenges like climate change – which he calls a national security threat – but Trump’s generation will not. In fact, Buttigieg has previously reflected on what he called “intergenerational justice,” and how long-term versus short-term thinking in decision making is just one of the major issues that divides the Republican and Democratic approaches.
Yet in the wake of these remarks, I came across a recent Instagram post from Buttigieg, uncritically sharing a video of hundreds of pounds of kielbasa being cooked for the celebration of Dyngus Day, a Polish holiday. The comments from vegans were numerous and swift.
It is impossible to believe that a man as brilliant as Buttigieg, a Harvard and Oxford graduate, a Rhodes Scholar who speaks seven languages, would never have come across a report, book, or article detailing how animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, there have been countless studies done on this issue, going all the way back to Livestock’s Long Shadow, the landmark United Nations report published in 2006. Just last year, researchers at Buttigieg’s own University of Oxford released a study. It not only detailed how animal agriculture exacerbates climate change, it suggested going vegan is the best thing we could all do to reduce our environmental impact on the planet.
A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just in terms of greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water.Joseph Poore, University of Oxford researcher
So why are we not hearing this from Pete Buttigieg or any of the top Democratic candidates? And even worse, why is Mayor Pete promoting meat on his Instagram?
To be fair, Senator Cory Booker is vegan and Representative Tulsi Gabbard is vegetarian. Both are running for President, however neither look to be likely top contenders. But shouldn’t anyone looking to lead the nation on climate change also be setting an example? If Al Gore is vegan for the environment, why not Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Mayor Pete? And if all these people are so quick to rightfully point out the problems with coal and other fossil fuels, why not point out the equally damaging problems with burgers?
There is no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist.James Cameron
When Barack Obama became President in 2008, he was widely criticized for smoking. When he kicked the habit in 2011, it was international news. Cigarette smoking is widely viewed today as socially unacceptable; its detrimental health effects to the smoker and those exposed to second-hand smoke have been well documented. Therefore, smoking was not seen as something the U.S. President should model; no one would’ve dreamed of publishing a photo of Obama taking a drag in the Oval.
What then of animal products, which — like smoking — have been linked to cancer and, even worse, to the climate catastrophe facing our planet? If it was socially unacceptable for Barack Obama to smoke, why should it be for Buttigieg and others to promote meat?
I realize how culturally ingrained meat eating is in our society, and I understand the significance of tradition. But this is no ordinary time. As I write this, millions of species are going extinct, the icecaps are melting, and the Earth continues to warm. Just this past week we learned that the second-largest penguin colony in Antarctica has collapsed and that a heatwave in Australia cooked 23,000 spectacled flying foxes (a third of the population) to their deaths.
Climate change is not something that’ll happen when Pete Buttigieg is Trump’s age, it’s happening right now. And while I realize that not everyone in America is going to go vegan overnight, shouldn’t the people claiming to be the leaders in this fight actually lead? Shouldn’t they be role models?
Pete Buttigieg knows better, and needs to do better. And so does everyone else.