5.7 Taking Off Our Blinders

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It’s a human condition to be blind to our foibles. It is very difficult for us to correct for that blindness when the dominant culture encourages and subsidizes those foibles.

Imagine a society where drugs are legal. Drug dealers are everywhere. They bombard people with ads. They target children. They wear clown costumes to entice children to sample their wares. They build play places in their drug dens to lure the children. They tell them that the drugs are good for them. They claim the drugs are the only source of nutrients for their bodies. The government supports the drug dealers with taxpayer-funded subsidies. It even runs ads for them for free.

Then addiction to that drug would be common in such a society. Scientists in that society would endorse that drug when they are themselves consuming it thrice a day, every day, even if that drug is responsible for 80% of the health care costs in that society. Just as the "doctors smoking Camels" endorsed cigarette smoking in the 1950s!  

But the facts are undeniable. Animal agriculture, which is the primary avenue for institutionalized human violence towards non human beings, is also the primary reason for the environmental degradation on our planet. The feedback signals from Nature are getting louder and louder, telling us that it is time to change. We're getting sicker and sicker as we consume animal foods. We can't stand the animal cruelty that we're routinely seeing on the Internet. Yes, we try to avoid watching these videos, but we know they are there because some of our friends are talking about them and have shared them in our social networks. Super storms and mega droughts and year-round wildfires are buffeting us as the Earth indicates that we've gone too far with the environmental degradations. But just as the Second Hand Smoking campaign finally corralled the tobacco industry and brought it to heel, the notion of “Second Hand Eating” that the documentary, Cowspiracy:The Sustainability Secret, is popularizing, has the potential to finally corral the Animal Agriculture industry and render it impotent[58].

When I first came to the US as a graduate student in 1981, I was a smoker, an addict to a terrible habit that I had picked up a couple of years earlier. I was astounded that I could smoke on buses, trains, planes, supermarkets, restrooms and indeed, almost anywhere in the US. When I got married in 1984, I was even smoking in the apartment that I shared with Jaine. The US was the "land of the free" and freedom was about doing whatever you want, wherever you want.

But of course, our personal freedom must not impinge on someone else's freedom to enjoy "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That's how the "Second Hand Smoking" campaign began. Activists pointed out that smokers were forcing people around them to breathe in carcinogens, thereby causing the bystanders to get ill and even cancer. Jaine contracted a persistent cough and her doctor told her that my smoking was causing the problem. Therefore, I began stepping outside our apartment to smoke cigarettes. When we moved to New Jersey, I even had to step outside in the snow during winter in order to smoke.

Then we imposed heavy taxes on cigarettes. We cranked up the health and life insurance premiums for smokers and ratcheted up the pressure to quit. We built special places where we could smoke. It was usually a dark, stinky room, tucked away in a corner. Or we built outdoor spots far away from foot traffic. Finally, Brazil went ahead and banned smoking in all outdoor places throughout the entire country!

The Tobacco industry is now on the run. It is trying to entice people in the global South to take up smoking. It uses ads with cartoon characters to entice children to take up smoking. But despite 51 years of relentless anti-smoking campaigning, the world tobacco consumption has yet to hit its peak after the campaign began in 1965.

It is hard to give up smoking. In my own case, it was my mother's demise which finally caused me to give it up, but in the process, I learnt a lesson that I'll never forget, that procrastination never pays. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it succinctly[59],

"The time is always ripe to do the right thing."

But if we thought that "Second Hand Smoking" impinged on our right to lead a healthy life, wait till we all become truly aware of what "Second Hand Eating" is doing. The population of human beings alone is unsustainable on the planet since the biomass of our single species (500MT) exceeds the biomass of ALL wild megafauna from 10,000 years ago by a factor of 2.5! Someone eating a hamburger is causing the equivalent of an extra 2500MT of megafauna biomass, or 5 times our human biomass, to be grown on planet Earth. Each hamburger also requires 660 gallons of fresh water to produce[60]. As such, that hamburger consumer truly has the power of life or death over all Life, including the consumer himself.

Not only is our culture that condones the consumption of animal foods inexorably killing the consumer, it's inexorably suffocating all Life on Earth. While I had to leave my apartment and smoke cigarettes outside in order to avoid Second Hand Smoking affects, there is no special place to go on our planet to avoid Second Hand Eating effects. We, human beings, are social creatures and we certainly don't want to be seen as hurting our community, our friends, our neighbors, let alone our children, our grandchildren and the whole planet, in addition to our own selves. Therefore, despite the silence of climate scientists and environmentalists and the active discouragement of governments as they desperately try to preserve the current socioeconomic system, people are now transitioning away from animal-based foods in droves, the system notwithstanding!

When our choice affects the well being of billions of others around the world, it’s no longer a personal choice, but a moral choice. When it comes to such a moral choice, Love is a much stronger force for social change than Fear.


Sailesh Rao

Dr. Sailesh Rao is an Electrical Engineer, systems specialist, Climate Healer, author of "Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies" and "Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis", and Executive Producer of "The Human Experiment", "Cowspiracy," "What The Health” and “A Prayer for Compassion.