Lester Brown is one of the few environmental writers that can throw endless amounts of data at a reader and drive home an overarching narrative. In his book Full Planet Empty Plates, the overarching narrative is about how anthropogenic climate change is amplifying the preexisting pressures on our globe’s food supply systems. Those pressures include:
- Growing populations- more mouths to feed
- Falling water tables
- Monopolization and industrialization of agriculture
- Human diet and consumption at the top of food pyramids
- Soil erosion and runoff of chemical additives
- Energy dependence- food and fuel competition
- Land use conflict
- Uneven allocation of food calories from a globalized market
Put the impacts of climate variability on top of an already unstable system and we are looking at the conditions for systems failure. Brown states towards the end of the book, “In short, avoiding a breakdown in the food system requires the mobilization of our entire society.”
The reality is that the mobilization of an entire society does include you and it does include me. So the questions remains: how do we as individuals consume in accordance with ecological and system limits? How do we adjust our consumption habits and social structures to abate climate change?
Brown does suggest some sound strategies designed to drawdown the drivers of climate change; perhaps the biggest one is reflecting upon the true cost of oil and gas in our energy systems.
Should we put a price on emissions?
Yes… However, the U.S. is not ready to adopt a national strategy that prices carbon. The invested lobby interest from oil, natural gas and coal lobbies is outstanding in comparison to their environmental counterparts on the same issues.
In 2013 the lobby interest from oil and gas totaled $144,868,531. There were 765 oil/gas lobbyists employed that year, meaning that for every U.S. Senator there were more than seven lobbyists petitioning them on the issue of oil and gas. (opensecrets.org)
It is clear from these numbers that an environmental victory in the energy field cannot be accomplished through spending power. Our only discourse is to leverage better arguments.
The movement starts at home:
In the context of food, buzzwords like “natural”, “free range”, “local”, “organic”, and “fresh” get tossed around regularly in any Whole Foods market or hipster coffee shop. What these words ultimately show is a desire for one thing…authenticity.
Authenticity in other words can mean transparency. People want to know where their food comes from. They want to know conditions under which it was cultivated. They want to have artisan eating experiences, consuming a memorable and authentic meal created by a good chef, brewer or barista.
Food transparency also comes with other benefits. Local foods have smaller CO2 footprints. Food grown organically doesn’t carry the same chemical load as food produced through massive, industrialized agriculture. The downstream impacts of consuming locally are smaller and the money spent on local goods stays in the local economy.
Looking for an argument that will resonate with your family, friends and coworkers? Then make an argument for authenticity.
Reflecting authenticity in the larger system:
While changing our own habits is a good start it is not a big action to fix a broken system. The next logical step is to affect the habits of our political representation.
It’s the sad state of American politics that the one thing politicians consistently respond to is the risk of losing their seat and not getting elected… But this is the reality that we live in, and it is what we have to work with as citizens. If we want to see climate change taken seriously paint a clear picture for Congress that their jobs are on the line.
If transparency lets you eat better, why wouldn’t it help you think better? Become educated on where the money comes from in politics and figure out who our so-called representatives are really loyal to. A good place to start is http://www.opensecrets.org/
Show up and give an educated vote. Check out the league of conservation voters for your state to find politicians who share your values. http://www.lcv.org/
Get involved in politics and work with groups like the Citizens Climate Lobby http://citizensclimatelobby.org/ who are working to create the political will for a livable world and enact a U.S. Carbon Tax.
Know you’re not paying true cost. When you buy a pound of ground beef for $2.50 or fill your car at $3.50 per gallon you are not paying the complete cost of those goods. Someone else along the supply chain drew the short straw and is stuck with some extra cost in the form of health problems, agricultural pollution or desecration of our shared common space. Change your consumption to reflect your values; along the way you will find a more authentic and transparent experiences.