Updated April 22, 2019. Traffic lights in Brussels are doing more than just controlling the flow of cars in the EU capital city.
Similar to the popular “eating animals” stickers that have been appearing on U.S. stop signs for decades, at least two dozen lights in the city have been retooled — the red stop lights now flash “stop meat” and the green go lights urge drivers and pedestrians to “go vegan.”
The updated lights appear to be the work of activists. In a Facebook post, animal rights activist and vegan street artist Misteruncertain took credit for the lights.
“Nice to see my efforts spreading far and wide. So many people spend their time living halfhearted and disinterested in others. It takes courage to be altruistic in a society that is self-centered and to be compassionate in a world that is egotistical,” he wrote.
“One act can transform the very core of someone else’s life. When benevolence is real, boundaries are nonexistent, limits fade, life is more abundant, and the gap between present reality and dreams, close. Animals are innocent beings and deserve to be protected and respected, not massacred for human greed. Veganism is the answer and justice for all life!”
It’s unclear whether Misteruncertain retooled the lights personally or credits his influence for motivating other activists. The city has become one of Europe’s epicenters for climate activism in recent weeks. Students across Europe have begun skipping school on Fridays.
Activists In Action
The movement was spurred on by then 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg. “In August last year, she refused to go to school every day until the Swedish elections, asking politicians to take action against climate change,” the Independent noted earlier this year. “Since then, she’s protested outside the Riksdag parliament house every Friday, sparking the #FridaysForFuture movement, and now she is joined by hundreds of other students every week.”
Thunberg — now 16-years-old — has quickly become a household name for her environmentalist actions. She has even received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize from three Norweigan MPs, including socialist Freddie Andre Ovstegard.
“We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees,” Ovstegard told Agence France Presse. “Greta Thunberg has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”
The young activist recently gave a speech at the Goldene Kamera award ceremony in Germany. She said, “we live in a strange world, where children must sacrifice their education in order to protest against the destruction of their future.”
Brussels’ Teens Take a Stand
Brussels has seen tens of thousands gathering in the streets. The protests, which began gathering pace in February, are linked to the resignation of one of Brussels’ environment ministers who took the protests as a personal call to leave office.
The marches started after the country passed on carbon-reducing steps in December. “Some of the most dramatic protests have come in Belgium,” BuzzFeed News reports.
The protests were spurred on by another teen, 17-year-old Anuna De Wever. Inspired by Thunberg, De Wever and a friend — both not yet old enough to vote — shared a video online that went viral encouraging people to join them in the march. Thousands showed up.
British teens are also up in arms. “Our generation will no longer accept catastrophic changes that are negatively affecting our future,” 17-year-old activist Lottie Tellyn penned in an op-ed for the Independent. “Years of limited action against climate change, years of covered-up information on the climate crisis, and now we are finally saying enough is enough.”
“Our anger is not inarticulate and misdirected,” she continued. “It’s organised, coordinated, and passionate, and we’re using it to ask for change. We deserve better from the people we’re supposed to place our trust in.”
“We can’t even vote yet, but we will be faced with the consequences of politicians’ inaction for decades,” she added.
Meat and Climate Change
Diet has been inextricably linked to climate change. Livestock production is the single biggest greenhouse gas emitter – more than the transportation sectors. Some estimates put livestock production at a stunning 51 percent of all emissions.
“Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change. In western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses,” the Guardian noted about a study published in the journal Nature last October.
“Food production already causes great damage to the environment, via greenhouse gases from livestock, deforestation and water shortages from farming, and vast ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution,” the Guardian reports.
“But without action, its impact will get far worse as the world population rises by 2.3 billion people by 2050 and global income triples, enabling more people to eat meat-rich western diets.”
The biggest ever food production analysis, conducted last summer, revealed that the single biggest thing a person can do to reduce their impact on the environment is to go vegan.
Professor Joseph Poore, who led the study at Oxford University, said, “agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems.”
“Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this,” he added. “Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
The United Nations Urges Consumers to Ditch Meat
The United Nations has called for a global reduction in animal product consumption, naming it the world’s “most urgent problem.”
“Our use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe,” the United Nations’ Environment Programme said in a statement last year.
“The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined,” the organization continued. “There is no pathway to achieve the Paris climate objectives without a massive decrease in the scale of animal agriculture.”
Vegan meat companies, like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, are working to end the world’s dependence on meat by providing a realistic alternative, made with plants. The two US-based brands were awarded by the UN for their commitment to the cause, each recieving the title of “Champion of the Earth.”
According to Impossible Foods’ CEO Pat Brown, the world’s food production system just needs to innovate, leaving behind its old fashioned ways.
“Food is the most important technology on our planet. It’s literally required for life,” he said at Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show. “It’s also been failing to innovate for about 10,000 years. That’s when humans started killing animals and cooking them as a cheap source of protein.”
Belgium and Meat-Free Living
As a country, Belgium does encourage meat-free lifestyles.
In 2017, it updated its national nutritional guidelines, placing meat in the same category as junk food. At the top of its food pyramid, it placed tofu, vegetables, nuts, fruits, and other plant-based foods.
Processed meat — like bacon and sausages — were placed right at the bottom, implying that citizens should not be eating these foods regularly. As well as being detrimental to the environment, processed and red meat consumption is linked with poor health. Some studies have suggested that high meat intake can cause types of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
In Ghent, which is around a one hour drive from Brussels, meat-free Thursdays are actively encouraged. For a full 24 hours on Donderdag Veggiedag — Thursday Veggie Day in Dutch — 50 percent of Ghent’s population goes meat-free, and it’s all for the environment.
In an official memo, the City said, “If all 243,000 inhabitants of Ghent participate in Thursday Veggie DAy, they reach the same effect as when 19,000 cars are taken off the road.”
Ghent’s initiative has had a knock-on effect across Belgium. Nena Baeyens from the Ethical Vegetarian Alternative — the organization that has spearheaded Donderdag Veggiedag — told SBS Australia, “research shows that 43 percent of Belgians now eat less meat thanks to Thursday Veggies.”
“Around 40 percent also eat vegetarian on other days of the week,” she added. “[Twenty-eight] percent of people became a vegetarian by starting with Thursday Veggies. Rather than forcing people to eat meat-free, we want to inspire them in a positive way.”