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Plant Based Treaty: Grassroots activist takes climate fight across the US

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Malaina Watts, the Plant Based Treaty US liaison, is a powerhouse when it comes to initiating ground-breaking actions for community impact. With an impressive background as a seasoned vegan activist, she possesses the exact qualities required for a burgeoning awareness initiative, one that is steadily gaining traction but is still to establish a significant stronghold.

The Plant Based Treaty Campaign was launched at COP 26 in August 2021. Its key intent is to promote and facilitate a global shift towards plant-based food systems as a means to address various environmental, health, and social challenges associated with industrial animal agriculture.

This includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving natural resources such as land and water, improving public health outcomes by promoting healthier diets, and addressing ethical concerns related to animal welfare. By encouraging governments to commit to transitioning their food systems towards plant-based alternatives, the treaty aims to create a more sustainable and equitable global food system.

After learning about the Plant Based Treaty from a friend involved with Animal Save Movement (the animal activist organization), Malaina started doing different events for World Vegan Month in November of 2022. She quickly realized there was another way to open up a critical conversation.

“We did several different actions every weekend of that month including collecting endorsements at a VegFest, a food giveaway, public outreach and a Plant Based Treaty March for Change. I found that the conversations I was having through the Plant Based Treaty were very productive and very well received,” she said.

“I’m a vegan activist all day long, and I found that my conversations were different from using the word vegan to the word plant-based as well as their approach, which are more environmentally friendly initiatives and working on institutional change. It was a really great segway into getting people to open up about animal agriculture.”

A lobbying effort

Plant Based Treaty work is more about lobbying, and Malaina regularly travels around the country explaining its purpose and the benefits of adopting the various stances it takes.

“On a recent animal rights tour (in February), I got eight people together to go to the Alachua BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) meeting to present the Plant Based Treaty as a call to action and seek their endorsement to address the climate issues happening within their communities.

“We were approached by the Alachua County climate protection director outside of the meeting. He wants to work with us and possibly put the Plant Based Treaty on their agenda.”

Other initiatives were carried out in Colorado and Portland: “We’ve also built teams across the country that are going to their councilors, talking to their committees and asking for the Plant Based Treaty to be a call to action as well.”

One of the challenges in developing collective action on climate change is that people often feel powerless. They can see the issue as a national or international conversation only. Malaina disagrees.

“I think everyone, as an individual, has the capacity to help mitigate climate change and working with Plant Based Treaty shows you that you can. We have five programs including collecting Plant Based Treaty endorsements from individuals, business and organizations, Plant Based Treaty city program, menu change and public education, advocacy at global climate talks, as well as training and capacity building.

Many ways to help

“I believe everyone holds the potential to enact change, whether by adjusting their diet or taking active steps. The Plant Based Treaty offers diverse avenues for engagement, whatever your comfort level and skill, whether you prefer online advocacy or hitting the streets for direct action.”

“The team I work with holds monthly meetings, and we all work very closely together to support everybody with whatever projects they’re working on. There’s something for everybody, and everybody can do something to make a difference.”

Malaina is based in Sarasota, Florida. In the following sound segment, she covers the progress made with the Treaty to date and reviews some of the climate change statistics as they affect her area.

Florida is one of the US states most affected by climate change in terms of financial costs [1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9]. The report “Florida and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction” [7] was the first detailed analysis of the potential consequences for Florida’s economy, but the costs have continued to rise. Progressive warming and sea-level rise lead to health issues, such as respiratory problems and toxic algal blooms, resulting in substantial healthcare expenses [1][4]. Extreme weather events cost the state billions of dollars in property damage and lost economic output [1][3][6]. As a result, the increasing costs could negatively impact Florida’s competitiveness as a retirement destination and deter tourists [1][6]

Perhaps one of the most notable attributes of the Plant Based Treaty campaign at this point is that there isn’t a hardline focus to encourage people to go fully vegan or fully plant-based. The target is to develop initiatives, Malaina says.

“In my role, I have also been going to city council meetings. In the States, we get an opportunity to have about three minutes before our commissioners, and we can bring up any issues we would like to, so we’ve been making a call to action. We have a goal of attending 50 city council meetings, across the states, this year, to ask for endorsement.

“We’ve got people in Ohio doing it, people in North Carolina doing it, people in Miami doing it, so we’re building all around the globe. We are getting traction. We’re getting the commissioner’s offices to call, and they’re inviting us in to work on their climate action plans.

“It’s been really exciting to be invited to do these things. I recently spoke with representatives in Orlando, Florida, and they invited us in to work on their climate action plan. So, they are open and receptive to what we’re talking about and see the need for it.”

Malaina Watts is very much a grassroots worker and believes deeply in the power of grassroots action to change things at a much higher level. When pressed, she was reluctant to discuss US national politics but she did have this to say about Mr Trump.

Many of those involved with the Plant Based Treaty see college and university campuses as ideal nurturing grounds for action because they are places where students are finally living on their own, starting to make independent decisions about their future and have begun to develop ideas on who they will vote for.

For Malaina, the truly encouraging outcome so far has been the extent to which so many cities have opened their doors to the message.

“We aspire to witness more cities following in the footsteps of Mayor Eric Adams of New York City. Mayor Adams has spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives like Plant Powered Fridays, ensuring plant-based food is served at all events and implementing a default plant-based option in hospitals, resulting in an impressive 60% of patients choosing the plant-based alternative. While Mayor Adams hasn’t officially endorsed the treaty yet, he staunchly advocates for its principles. His remarkable achievements set an inspiring example.

“I work with doctors that say health care providers should be sued for malpractice for not suggesting plant-based food in hospitals. They argue that offering animal-based products to patients experiencing strokes, heart attacks, and other health issues perpetuates illness and undermines their health.

“I believe this request isn’t unreasonable. The 27 cities that are actively taking steps are making commendable strides for their communities. If every city followed suit and implemented at least a few of their initiatives, we would undoubtedly be on a better trajectory.”

Further information:

Check out: The Plant Based Treaty
Florida Climate Change: The cost of inaction
World Meteorological Foundation: The State of Global Climate 2023

Peter Barclay
Peter Barclay
Has a professional background in journalism, photography and design. He is a passionate Kiwi traveler and an ardent evangelist for protecting all the good things New Zealand is best known for. With his wife Catherine is also the co-owner of Wholefoodliving.

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