hile the alliance of
animal advocates and immigration restrictionists wanting to influence the
Sierra Club’s future has caused a furor, the role that animal advocates
could actually play is largely unexamined. The issues, however, are
serious: Do environmentalists view other animals as resources to be
protected? As objects of aesthetic interest? Or should environmentalists
take the position that animals, other than the human ones, have their own
The only real border for this planet’s inhabitants is the ozone which shields us all. According to a report commissioned for the Pentagon, the coming two decades could demonstrate that reality in the harshest of forms.  Substantial evidence indicates that significant global warming will occur during the 21st century, the report states, adding that once the temperature rises above some threshold, “adverse weather conditions could develop relatively abruptly, with persistent changes in the atmospheric circulation causing drops in some regions of 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit in a single decade.” Were such a scenario to occur, mass migration would result “as the desperate peoples seek better lives in regions such as the United States that have the resources to adaptation.” 
In this context, animal agriculture raises pertinent questions, for methane, an inevitable by-product of animal agriculture, has 21 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.  And while the Pentagon report’s co-author Doug Randall says that it “seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile” , it takes far more fossil-fuel energy to produce and transport meat than to deliver equivalent amounts of protein from plant sources.  Moreover, the burgeoning human population will soon be faced with a choice between feeding animals -- which means maintaining their growth before they are killed for food -- or feeding humanity. We cannot do both.  Our population problem is inextricably woven with the problems posed by animals we domesticate. Animals bred to be human food already outnumber human beings three-to-one, and their numbers are rapidly rising. 
Thus, promoting a shift away from animal agriculture would be aligned with, and necessary to meet, the Sierra Club’s stated goals. According to its mission statement, the Club aspires to “promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; [and] use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.”  Vegetarianism peacefully and lawfully spares forest land, and trees, in turn, are a key to preserving the earth’s atmosphere.  In contrast, numerous endangered species are imperiled due to ranching in the United States, and conversion of wilderness into grazing land is the most threatening physical impact of human existence on the planet’s other living beings.
But executive director Carl Pope believes that “[i]t’s important to have hunters and fishermen in the Sierra Club” because “[w]e are a big-tent organization.”  This, though rethinking the Club’s stance on agriculture and food policy could quite sensibly be viewed as both pragmatic and environmentally consistent. A new policy might well provide a safety valve that allows dissenters to believe that their concerns are being heard, and shift the focus to healthful introspection rather than allowing an atmosphere of xenophobia to fester. If the Sierra Club itself is institutionally incapable of doing so, its members should interrogate its ability to function ethically and effectively.  For no other single action would be more relevant to saving water, sparing habitat, and lightening our footprint on the planet than designing a plan to effectively interrogate the diet of our affluent culture, and the damage that it does to our forests and to the rest of the world. 
But because such questions implicate its own
members and potential members, they conflict with the short-term safety of
appealing to a large donor base. In a parallel matter, Jeffrey St. Clair has
observed that the Sierra Club refused to oppose the invasion and occupation
of Iraq although “[t]he day-to-day operations of the military complex itself
-- weapons production and testing -- amount to the most toxic industry on
the planet” and the nuclear industry threatens to extinguish all life on
earth.  Carl Pope threatened to oust people who
protested the Club’s neutrality. “For the board to compel our silence,” said
dissenting member Dan Kent, “plays right into Bush’s mad world, where a
nation of police, prisons, bombs, bunkers is better than lowering oneself to
diplomacy to save lives.” 
Like the war question, concerns about humanity’s swelling population, combined with its agricultural customs and its treatment of other living beings as a general matter, have been dismissed by some environmental groups without thorough examination. It’s time to accord these issues serious consideration; indeed, it shouldn’t take a crisis to compel such consideration.
Although environmentalists should be wary of the racially pernicious aspect of anti-immigrant sentiments, concern about the global population boom should not be dismissed through conflation with the views of the concern's least wise or least generous proponents. And respecting the interests of other animals with whom we share the planet, rather than objectifying and threatening them, furthers the goals of a holistic environmentalism; that point too should be considered without fear of being seen as sympathetic to tactics of intimidation which a small faction of animal advocates have adopted. In both matters, we are unlikely to see significant progress before we can change the basic human attitude to those outside of their immediate circle. That means seeing ourselves as more than just the people of a successful social class or ethnic group or nation. It also means seeing ourselves as part of the greater biocommunity.
Lee Hall teaches immigration as a member of the Adjunct Faculty of Law of Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and is Legal Director of Friends of Animals in Darien, Connecticut. Lee can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Lee Hall
Homeland Security (Part One): Doing Time for the Towers
 Colleagues “suggested to Muir that an association be formed to protect the newly created Yosemite National Park from the assaults of stockmen and others who would diminish its boundaries.” The Sierra Club, “John Muir: A Brief Biography.”
 Bart Semcer, “Sierra Club Reaction to False Accusations by the National Rifle Association, Sets the Record Straight on Gun and Hunting Policies” (28 Jan. 2005). Yet founding member John Muir had urged Theodore Roosevelt to give up the “childish habit” of hunting. Robert Kuhn McGregor, “Make Way” (book review of J. Baird Caldicott and Eric T. Freyfogle, eds., For the Health of the Land (1999), Illinois Periodicals Online Project.
 “Global Meat Consumption Has Far-Ranging Environmental Impacts,” World Watch Magazine, Jul.-Aug. 2004).
 “Inside Sierra Club: Our Top Priorities” lists clean water; ending commercial logging; stopping sprawl; forests and wildlands protection and restoration; clean energy; global population; stopping global warming; and responsible trade. The section on concludes by recommending “a national online directory of sustainably-raised meat.” Sierra Club, “Keep Animal Waste Out of Our Waters: Stop Factory Farm Pollution.”
 The U.S. Department of Commerce counts 56 million acres of land used to produce hay to maintain animals bred to be food; only 4 million acres produce vegetables for direct human consumption. “Global Meat Consumption Has Far-Ranging Environmental Impacts,” World Watch Magazine (Jul.-Aug. 2004).
 “The True Cost of Food” recommends reading material from a broad spectrum of approaches, including information from the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture’s “Sustainable Livestock” Committee.
 Sharon Bernstein, “Automakers Getting a Taste for Vegan Values,” Los Angeles Times (23 Aug. 2004) p. A1. Los Angeles Times
 Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, “The ‘Good’ Pirate: Interview with Capt. Paul Watson” (edited from a piece which first appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Bite Back magazine).
Ironically, the Sierra Club was a plaintiff in a suit filed in February
2004 to block the conclusion of the construction of two fences and roads
for the use of for Border Patrol agents at the Mexican border. Tony
Perry, “Groups Sue to Block Border Fences,” Los Angeles Times (11
Feb. 2004), p. B8. The suit claimed that the project would needlessly
destroy sensitive habitat in the region near the Tijuana Estuary, home
to animals such as the coastal sage scrub bird.
 Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall, “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for U.S. National Security” (Feb. 2004), Global Business Network.
 “National Program Annual Report: Agricultural Research Service Global Change National Program (204)” (FY 2001). Methane accounts for 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
 Mark Townsend and Paul Harris, “Now the Pentagon Tells Bush: Climate Change Will Destroy Us,” The Observer (22 Feb. 2004).
 George Monbiot, “Why Vegans Were Right All Along: Famine Can Only Be Avoided if the Rich Give up Meat, Fish and Dairy,” The Guardian (24 Dec. 2002).
 Forty percent of Central American rainforests have been cleared or burnt in the last four decades, mostly for cattle grazing. “Global Meat Consumption Has Far-Ranging Environmental Impacts,” note 3 above.
 Miguel Bustillo & Kenneth R. Weiss, “Election Becomes a Fight over Sierra Club’s Future,” Los Angeles Times (Jan. 18, 2004) p. A1.
 It might be unable. Describing “the type of organization we are,” Sierra Club president Larry Fahn has said: “Most people join to go on hikes. Only 5-6 percent are activists.” Ben Adler, “Sierra Club Votes for Its Future,” The Nation (posted online 13 Apr. 2004).
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that livestock waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of rivers; globally, humans are now taking half the available fresh water, leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. See “Global Meat Consumption Has Far-Ranging Environmental Impacts,” note 3 above. Notably, producing a steak requires thousands of gallons of water. Robbins, note 16 above, p. 238.
 Jeffrey St. Clair, “Torquemadas in Birkenstocks: The War Club,” CounterPunch (12 Dec. 2002).