Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
V Stands for Verity, Virtue, Valor, Validity and Veganism
Veganism is real conservation in action.
It validates a conservationist as virtuous and courageous in facing and exposing the most inconvenient truth of all.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is one of the very few, if not the only marine conservation organizations in the world that actively promotes and practices veganism.
Why? Because we see the connections between animal husbandry and pollution in the ocean, diminishment of life in the seas, the destruction of the rainforests and climate change.
Veganism is real conservation in action. It goes beyond talking about climate change and diminishment of biodiversity and actually does something to address the problems.
Sea Shepherd ships have been vegan vessels since 2002 and before that vegan options were always provided. The ships were vegetarian vessels beginning in 1979.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not a vegan or vegetarian organization however, nor are we an Animal Rights or an Animal Welfare organization. We are a marine wildlife and habitat conservation movement.
So why are all the meals on Sea Shepherd ships vegan?
The answer is because vegetarianism and especially veganism are powerful alternatives to eight billion human beings and their domestic animals eating the oceans alive.
The diversity in our ocean is being diminished more and more every day and when diversity collapses, interdependence between species collapses and the result is a dead ocean.
And a dead ocean means death to all creatures big and small because if the ocean dies, we all die. The ocean is the heart of the planet and it sustains all life both on land and in the sea.
We are ruthlessly overfishing the seas and much of it is being done illegally. Virtually every commercial fishing operation in the world is in a state of collapse. We are polluting the ocean with plastic, petro-chemicals, agricultural run-off and sewage. We are inflicting acidification, noise pollution and destroying coastal habitats for development.
Sea Shepherd’s position is that all commercial fisheries must be shut down so fish can have a chance to recover. The only relatively “sustainable” fisheries are artisanal fishing by fishermen working from very small boats out of tiny ports in India, Africa, etc.
We need to remove the corporations, the big trawlers, seiners, and long-liners, the heavy gear, the big nets, the long lines and the factory ships if our oceans are going to be saved.
So what has this got to do with anyone eating a hamburger, bacon and eggs or chicken? These creatures don’t live in the sea.
Yet they live off of the sea. Like us, they are land dwellers collectively eating the sea alive and they are doing it against their will to benefit the most destructive creature to ever venture into the ocean – the homo sapiens.
A third of all the marine life the fishing industry takes is called forage fish and it is extracted from the sea specifically to feed pigs, chickens, mink, foxes, domestic salmon, and house cats. In fact chickens are eating more fish than albatross, pigs are eating more fish than sharks and housecats are eating more fish than all the seals in the sea.
There are 1.5 billion cows on the planet, 1.2 billion sheep, more than a billion pigs, a half a billion dogs and 2 billion domestic and feral housecats.
Ten percent of the forage fish goes to feed cats. Fifty-five percent goes to pigs, the rest to chickens, mink, foxes, and domestic farm raised salmon.
There are 2 billion cats and a half a billion dogs in the world and less than fifty million seals in the sea. There are 18.6 billion chickens in the world far outnumbering all of the seabirds.
When you eat chicken you may be eating fish. When you eat bacon you may be eating fish. When you drink milk or eat eggs you maybe consuming marine wildlife.
Fishermen whine about seals eating all the fish. Just today there were 38 sea lions in the Columbia River and more than 500 anglers on the shore with their fishing rods but the government was gunning for the sea lions because they “eat fish.”
And on top of that we have the fact that animal husbandry produces more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry. When you consider it takes 600 barrels of water to produce one hamburger, the waste is simply unacceptable.
So Sea Shepherd decided many years ago that promoting veganism was in fact practicing good conservation ethics.
From 2003 to 2006 I was a national director of the Sierra Club in the United States. All of my attempts to address the environmental impact of animal husbandry were not only dismissed, they were laughed at. The Sierra Club absolutely refused to address human population growth and the escalating consumption of factory-farmed animal products as a significant factor contributing to climate change and habitat destruction.
For the same reason that Greenpeace, Conservation International and numerous other large environmental groups willfully ignore the great inconvenient truth that it is the eating of animals that produces more greenhouse gas than the entire transportation industry. Even Al Gore conveniently neglected to mention that very important fact in his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Why did he not mention it and why do the big groups refuse to even discuss the relationship between eating meat and climate change?
It is because they do not want to upset the public that gives them donations. Their big fear is that they will alienate their donor base.
And they are probably right. Sea Shepherd has lost support from people who eat meat because they have gotten angry about our message. But the difference between Sea Shepherd and these big groups in denial is that we want to save our oceans and our planet no matter how inconvenient people may think that is.
Change comes about because of action, not because of words. I resigned from the Sierra Club Board because the nation’s oldest environmental organization whose founder John Muir was a vegetarian and an anti-hunter is now pro-hunting and pro-animal husbandry. When I left I called them the Siesta Club Hunting and Conversation Society.
The planet will not be saved just by taking shorter showers, recycling your trash or driving in an electric car. It takes one hell of a lot of short showers to equal the six hundred barrels of water required to make that one hamburger.
In fact a vegan driving down the highway in a Hummer is contributing less to creating greenhouse gases than a meat-eater riding a bicycle.
The meat industry consumes more water than any other industry on the planet. It uses more land. It produces more waste. It produces the most greenhouse gases, especially methane.
There is a new documentary being released called “Cowspiracy” that investigates the contradictions by large environmental organizations that refuse to discuss or take seriously the connection between the meat industry and rising levels of global warming gases.
The filmmakers are addressing a forbidden subject and focusing on the big elephant in the room that mainstream conservation groups willfully refuse to see. In the film, Greenpeace will not even agree to meet with the filmmakers to discuss the project. The filmmakers went to the Greenpeace office after Greenpeace refused to answer their emails only to be told that Greenpeace had no interest in discussing anything that connects meat eating with climate change.
On one hand Greenpeace is calling out and criticizing climate change deniers and yet they elect to remain in denial of the most significant contributing factor to global climate change.
The McDonald’s customer eating his Big Mac and wearing his Greenpeace shirt is more important to Greenpeace’s vested interests than solving the problem they are campaigning against.
Pig feces are polluting vast tracts of groundwater but none of these large environmental groups point to eating bacon as the source of the problem.
I was raised in a fishing village and raised on a diet of lobsters, fish, shellfish and seaweed. I have seen the steady diminishment of marine life since my childhood and what I have seen is frightening. Last year, I spent months investigating the dying Great Barrier Reef off Australia. I spent months picking up plastic trash on Tongan and Samoan Islands. My concern is that the ocean is now on the threshold of collapse.
I take what I have seen seriously, just as I take changing weather patterns and the destruction of the rainforests seriously. So when I see a major cause for this destruction and for climate change, I believe that cause should be addressed, not ignored or denied.
Being vegan however does not absolve someone completely. It is a major contribution towards a solution but we cannot ignore the fact that rising human populations means more industrialized agriculture and fertilizers, pesticides, plastics and herbicides from both plant-based and animal-based industries creating dead zones in our oceans. Nor can we ignore the billions of birds that die each year from our beloved cats. And we all use and irresponsibly discard single-use plastics every day. We drive cars and fly in planes.
The bottom line is if you have a birth certificate, you are guilty of contributing to the destruction of the planet. That is simply a fact and it is indeed our one original sin, being born into a consumer-driven world.
Yet through imagination, discipline and science we can mitigate our impact upon nature and in my opinion the easiest and most direct way to achieve this is through the simple decision to no longer consume animals raised and butchered in these huge global abattoirs in such vast numbers.
The ultimate conservationist eats locally produced, organic, vegan food.
Does it cost more? Perhaps, but what you put into your body is the single most important investment of your life. It is not a place to turn into a super fund site. Crematoriums pump tons of mercury vapor and other chemicals into the atmosphere on a daily basis.
Is it difficult? Of course it is. Bringing about real change is always difficult but unless we can shoulder these difficult choices, the future especially for those as yet unborn will be impossibly difficult.
What we over-consume and abuse today is simply the theft of resources from the lives of our children and their children who will inherit a plundered Earth because their forebearers had absolutely no concept of just how destructive their lifestyle was.