“To admit you were wrong is to declare you are wiser now than before,” goes the popular saying. And one climate change journalist did just that earlier this week — by renouncing his previous argument for veganism.

 I was wrong about veganism,” is the bold title of George Monbiot’s latest column for The Guardian, which retracts his 2002 statement that veganism is “the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue.”

What changed Monbiot's mind? He read "Meat: A Benign Extravagance", a new book by Simon Fairlie (currently only available in the U.K.; free excerpt available at Permaculture Magazine) — to discover that many of the pro-vegan arguments and statistics he’d believed were misleading.

For example, “the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1,” Monbiot writes. And livestock are responsible for just about 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — not 18 percent as often claimed. Meat production also isn’t as water-intensive as many vegans claim either. “Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 liters of water to produce every kilogram of beef,” Monbiot writes. “Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude.”

But don’t go buy a Big Mac meal at your nearest McDonald’s just yet! George’s belief that the current ways we feed livestock and produce meat are unsustainable and unhealthy still stands; Fairlie agrees on this fact, too. “But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model,” writes Monbiot in his column:

The meat-producing system Fairlie advocates differs sharply from the one now practiced in the rich world: low energy, low waste, just, diverse, small-scale. But if we were to adopt it, we could eat meat, milk and eggs (albeit much less) with a clean conscience. By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail. It’s time we got stuck in.
Monbiot’s column was illuminating for me, both intellectually and on a more personal level. So often, we can get so entrenched in our current view of the world that we’re unable to clearly see — sometimes even unwilling to examine — a different perspective. Monbiot’s willingness to reexamine his current beliefs by reading a book that, in Monbiot’s words, “starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport” — and his courage in publicly stating he was wrong — encourages me to try to be vigilantly open-minded when examining my own green beliefs.

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