Laudato Si’, Livestock and Lifestyle…

Dorn michael uncropped

Did you know that what you choose to eat is the most important decision you make every day affecting the planet? Perhaps like many Christians I rarely in the course of my daily routine ever reflected upon this question. And until March 7th of last year, I was a product of the predominant narrative that the consumption of fossil fuels was the root and largest cause of our global climate crisis. Well, that night the narrative for me unexpectedly changed since I had been looking up the schedule of a local environmental film festival and stumbled upon the title, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (available on Netflix or YouTube). Having grown up on a family farm in Minnesota, I never had the problem of associating where food comes from to the image of Walmart or Wegman’s since I had the privilege of raising our own meat among several other commodities. Moreover, I already knew that our wasteful and unsustainable food transport network equated to the average plate of food in the U.S. commuting 1,500 miles before it reached our stomachs. So besides knowing that ‘eating local’ was better for the planet, what else did I really need to know about climate change and food? The following comes to mind after watching the film...1,100 gals. of H2O, 45 lbs. of grain, 30 sq. ft. of forest, 20 lbs. of CO2 and one animal’s life. These are the amounts that are saved from our individual environmental footprint each and every day simply by eating an all plant-based diet. Another way to comprehend the impact is to understand that animal agriculture is responsible for as much as 51% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 13% from the total transportation sector.

It was facts like these in the film that led me to change my diet from that point on to ‘mostly vegan’ (which for me equates to only allowing for dairy or egg on celebrations or when I’m someone’s house guest.) The reader may find it hard to believe these numbers or perhaps may be wondering, “Why don’t I already know about this?” The film, which Leonardo DiCaprio is the executive producer (and who recently met with Pope Francis to discuss climate change) addresses both of these points by citing credible reports as well as interviewing several of the major environmental organizations about the lack of education to the general public.

Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (On Care For Our Common Home) identifies dialogue and education as two factors that will “help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us.” Furthermore he cites how “recent world summits on the environment have failed to live up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” Even though the Pope’s words were written before December’s COP 21 agreement in Paris,  it’s safe to say that nothing much has changed when it comes to legally binding agreements of a temperature increase of no more than 1.5 degree Celsius which will save the island nations from extinction. The two degree non-binding target is considered ‘utterly inadequate’ according to a lead author of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

As cited in Cowspiracy, if we continue business as usual with the overall animal agricultural industry we will see fishless oceans as soon as 2048! As people of God we can no longer wait for the leadership of governments or corporations to heed the constant cry of Mother Earth over the past several decades. As individuals and communities of faith we must ground the Pope’s message now by auditing our own daily footprints and thus be open to considering the changing of our daily habits no matter how embedded they are into our cultural fabric and narrative. In my case, as foreign as a plant-based diet sounds to a former livestock farmer from Minnesota, the values that inform this choice I’ve made are rooted right there at home. In the end, even if humanity fails to alter the current path of destruction with whatever choices we decide to make for the sake of our planet, by being educated in the here and now we’ll still be one step closer to seeking justice, peace and integrity of Creation within ourselves- one day and one choice at a time.

Mike Dorn is a postulant of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph.