Go Vegan & Electric? Unlikely – I’m an Environmentalist
The greater environmental costs of producing EVs means there is a long catch-up time in their use until those production costs outweigh the environmental costs of manufacturing vehicles with ICEs. Batteries are expensive and difficult to produce and there are considerable environmental downsides in mining the lithium and cobalt they require. And then there are further difficulties of how to recycle degraded EV batteries. All things considered, keeping my fourteen year old gas guzzler running is almost certainly a greener option than it would be to purchase a new EV.
The issues with veganism are similar. Much of global farming, as exemplified by the American feedlot system, has significant animal welfare issues and is environmentally disastrous. Yet the maxim that the antidote to abuse is not disuse but proper use holds true. Crops require fertilizer. This fertiliser comes either from animal waste or the petrochemical industry. The vegan choice of artificial fertilizer thus relies on the petrochemical industry – hardly an environmentally sound option. In a properly organised farming system animals supply manure that fertilizes crops (and improves soil health while artificial fertilizers impoverish it), and also supply us with milk, which we turn into cheese, the whey from which feeds pigs, who produce more manure, and give us bacon. A properly organised farming system minimises food miles (which veganism tends to maximise), improves soil fertility, and is respectful of the animals that are part of it. Vegans tend to be concerned about ethics, but in my part of the world – as is true in many parts of the UK – probably the most ethical food source is venison: local (minimum food miles), organic, free range, and adding economic value back into local communities – as well as being delicious and highly nutritious.
As we watch the unfolding horror in Ukraine these contentious environmental issues become increasingly focussed. The impact on energy and food supplies and prices could have a devastating effect in communities across the globe and we will not be immune to their impact in the UK. As with the covid pandemic we are seeing that the global supply chains we unthinkingly rely on are more fragile than we might hope. What we need is shorter supply chains and more local resilience: it is hard to see how EVs and veganism will help with these.
We see something similar in the experience of the church. During the pandemic many people were choosing to tune into online church where there could be no meaningful community or discipleship. The mega-church on the other side of the planet might have been able to produce a very impressive online service, but they couldn’t supply the things that body and soul really require. It is only in a gathered local church that we can be genuinely pastored, held accountable, known, loved, hugged, celebrate the sacraments. Online church is the spiritual equivalent of EVs and veganism – seeming to offer a ‘clean’ solution but in reality creating more problems than it solves.
It is the ‘deep’ communities of the church that have power to sustain us. We are seeing something of this in Ukraine. Andrew Roberts has observed how,
There is a large underground network of private, non-governmental groups – largely based on Christian groups with long-established family connections – that is transporting huge amounts of food and other non-lethal supplies into Ukraine. They are not taken by lorries that can be targeted from the air, but by van, and they are driven by extremely brave Ukrainians and Hungarians – often women – who take them as far eastwards as they can go. I thought of myself as a somewhat cynical old hack, but I was profoundly moved by their courage. Organisations like the Order of Malta, Order of St John and One Mission Society do truly wonderful work here, but it will be these more shadowy groups that will matter most should the Russians ever reach Ukraine’s western border. Unlike other NGOs run by volunteers, these groups are near-impossible to infiltrate because the relationships between the members tend to go back decades, generating a trust and loyalty that the new organisations coming here, such as the UNHCR and Red Cross, would be hard put to replicate.
Dig deep. Choose community. Shorten the supply chains. Look beyond the easy answers. Our lives could depend on it.