Earlier this week, President Levin sent an e-mail to the Yale community announcing the launch of the University’s new “Sustainability Plan.” This plan, created by the Yale Sustainability Task Force, covers topics ranging from water conservation to food and dining and sets ambitious targets for the coming years such as decreasing carbon emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels.
We applaud the Sustainability Task Force for outlining specific steps that the University can take to tackle some of the most pressing environmental challenges facing us. However, we feel that it has failed to adequately take into account the challenges posed by what the United Nations has declared to be “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems”: animal agriculture. We feel that making a concerted effort to reducing the consumption of animal products on campus would be one of the easiest, most meaningful and most cost-effective strategies that the University can pursue in order to achieve its sustainability goals and truly assume the role of a global “sustainability leader.”
Numerous studies in recent years have documented the enormous toll that industrial animal agriculture takes on our world. According to a 2006 Report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for the production of 18 percent of greenhouse gases — more than the entire transportation sector combined. The report details how animal agriculture is also a leading contributor to other serious environmental problems including deforestation, loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution and land degradation. According to an extensive two-year examination conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, factory farming, which produces over 95 percent of animal products in the United States, “poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves”. Given the alarming findings of these various studies, it is becoming abundantly clear that a dramatic change in our practices is necessary in the near future if we hope to reverse the dangerous and environmentally damaging trends that are currently underway.
Yale’s Sustainability Plan does address the issue of “food and dining,” but the measures the plan proposes are not at all attuned to these findings. Specifically, the Sustainability Task Force suggests that Yale should ensure that 40 percent of its food meets one of four “sustainability criteria:” local, eco-sensitive, humane and fair. While this measure is certainly a step in the right direction, it implies that Yale need not take any significant measures to address this underlying issue of utmost importance. Under the plan, the grand majority of animal products we consume on campus will continue to be supplied by sources that are admitted by the University to be inhumane and unsustainable. Nowhere in the Sustainability Plan does the Task Force consider the possibility of actually reducing the quantity of animal products we consume as a campus, though it is widely agreed that reducing meat consumption is crucial for tackling the numerous environmental problems that we face today. Eating less meat doesn’t require new technologies, detailed planning or additional spending — all it requires is a small-scale change in our habits, a miniscule price to pay when we consider the profound environmental impacts such a change will have.
Whether we want to admit it or not, all evidence suggests that we cannot continue to consume animal products at the rate we currently do and expect our planet to continue to sustain us. As an international leader in sustainability, it is time that Yale confronts the facts and creates policies that reflect this reality. A great place to start would be for Yale to join the worldwide movement of “Meatless Mondays.” Meatless Mondays is a campaign to reduce global meat consumption by 15 percent. Leading institutions such as Oxford and McGill have recently gone meatless on Mondays, and earlier this year the city of Washington, D.C., passed a resolution urging its residents to do the same. Additionally, millions of individuals around the world have gone online and taken the commitment to make Meatless Mondays a part of their weekly diet. Bringing Meatless Mondays to Yale would be a feasible, healthy, effective and cost-minimizing measure that will allow us to begin to reduce our dependence on the inhumane, environmentally destructive practices of modern animal agriculture.