What can I do about the Climate Emergency? Part 9

I’m writing a series of articles for Exeter Cathedral’s monthly News, on the changes we can make in our own lives, and how we can encourage governments and business to make necessary structural changes. We have til the end of 2020 to ‘save the planet’. So that’s just 3 months now.

All articles in the series »

It’s over a year since the Holy Ground service on Climate that prompted this series of articles. It seems a lifetime ago. The audience accepted the overwhelming evidence that there is a climate emergency – there still is – which is why I have been quite direct with ideas. We need structural change, and that structural change will mean changes to our own lives, so I’ve been broadly suggesting that we start living like that now.

This will be published on 4 October, the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, and also therefore the last day in the annual Season of Creation. Care for creation is not just for September. After all, we’re part of it. So how can we work together to cherish it, and at the same time save our life-support system?

9. Food for thought

This month, I am looking at the emotive issue of food, which is hugely important to climate, as well as soil, water and biodiversity. One-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, half from farming livestock. According to the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, it will be possible to feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries, but only by transforming eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste.

First the easiest. It’s scandalous that UK households waste 4.5m tonnes of food each year, ie 10bn edible meals worth £700 to an average family. So then, buy only what you need, discover the joy of inventing with left-overs, and make stock, soup and compost.

Eating habits are the emotive bit. Different people have different needs, but in general a largely plant-based diet with far less meat and dairy delivers environmental, health, financial and animal welfare benefits. It’s related to food production; our ‘food print’ is dominated by production, not food miles, and meat and dairy are the main culprits.

There’s still a huge difference between meat and dairy from animals raised intensively and fed with soya from deforested Amazonia, and from animals raised down the road using best ethical and environmental practice. (Palm oil is a disaster too, but note that soya for human consumption in the UK is a small proportion and much is grown in Europe.) So a good rule of thumb is mostly plant-based, supplemented with the occasional ‘happy’ local meat, dairy and fish, eat out at places you trust, and avoid intensive and processed food. Then, if you want to research deeper, there’s plenty of material online.

And finally, the joy of growing your own and foraging! I’m far from green-fingered, but this year my back garden has seen apples, raspberries, rhubarb, globe artichoke, courgette, squash, tomatoes, onions, purple sprouting, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, sugar snap peas, runner, borlotti and french beans, potatoes, carrots, leeks, beetroot, fennel, chard, herbs. Then even in suburbia I can find cherry, elderflower/berry, Darwin’s barberry, plums, apples, blackberries, hazelnuts, rowan, quince, sloes, and probably lots more I haven’t tried yet. The world’s your oyster mushroom!

* The paragraphs “Eating habits…” and “There’s still a huge…” were redacted for publication in the News.

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