29 May 2016

When Climate Change Denial is Almost Laughable -- Were It Not So Lamentable

I'm a huge fan of permaculture. (It's an integrated design system for permanent (agri)culture that's modelled on nature's patterns. Its founder, Bill Mollison, says: "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.") 

I love permaculture and its principles and strategies so much that when the climate change emergency has me down in the dumps, it's the thought of permaculturing the world that puts a smile on my fence and gets me out of bed in the morning. 

So you can imagine my consternation bordering on distress when a very well known and highly respected permaculture author, teacher and practitioner wrote a blog post called Is Food the Last Thing to Worry About? and didn't once mention the climate crisis. 

"Our food system is woefully dependent on petroleum," he starts with, pointing to writers such as Richard Heinberg and Michael Pollan. Yes, and since we have to get to zero carbon emissions as rapidly as possible in order to have any chance of stabilizing global temperature increase and ocean acidification, we therefore need a huge fossil-fuel-free revolution in the way we grow food. 

"Soaring food costs have brought on riots in some countries, and in unstable nations, famine continues to be a regular visitor." Yes, and many of those problems are being caused in large part or at least exacerbated by global warming and the newly unpredictable climate. Remember Russia's summer of 2010

That country lost 30% of its grain crops due to heat waves and wildfires. The Arab Spring began in 2011. Think there was no connection? Well, Russia had to stop its grain exports that year. Imagine what that did to food prices in the Middle East! (And that's not even mentioning or mourning the 56,000 people who lost their lives due to the smog and heat.)

This author goes on to talk about "post-Peak Oil" (rather than climate disruption), and how people are worrying needlessly about food. "In the developed world, especially the breadbasket nations such as the US, Canada, and other food-exporting countries, the food network may be one of the last systems to fail during energy descent." 

Hey buddy, can you say "disappearing Arctic summer sea ice"? (That sea ice is the air conditioner for our Northern Hemisphere growing season.) Do you even know that central continental regions (those "breadbaskets" -- already in decline) warm faster than the global average? And what's going to happen if our breadbaskets become responsible for feeding the whole world (for as long as they can) because we haven't mitigated the climate crisis?
"I think there are many reasons not to be focusing primarily on food as the system most likely to fail. This isn’t to say that industrial, oil-based agriculture is invulnerable, let alone sustainable. And we may see temporary shortages of specific foods. But there are many reasons why our fears of a food collapse [...] may be distracting us from focusing on more immediate and likely risks."
Risk equals probability times magnitude. That's the equation for risk. So even if "food collapse" were unlikely (it's not ... it's already happening to varying degrees all over the world -- look at California and its drought, for Earth's sake!), when it happens, its magnitude is going to be life-or-death. That immediately makes it a risk that we need to pay attention to. 

"Distracting?" Here's something distracting: "I suspect we focus on food in part because providing it appears much more possible than, say, keeping the financial, health care, or automotive industries running." Cuz sure, keeping those automotive industries running is just so much more important than ensuring food security around the world. Not! See what happens when we don't think in systems? When we don't look at all the variables? We get ridiculous. 

And no, providing food is not going to be "much more possible" once we factor in droughts, floods, other extreme weather events, destructive wildfires, and heat waves that kill off crops and make it impossible for labourers to work on farms. 

Why would someone who is a permaculture hero -- and an otherwise highly intelligent person -- be so short-sighted on climate change? Denial comes in all shapes and sizes, it would appear.


  1. Seems like there is more 'denying' going on than you care to admit. Climate has always changed cyclically - the Pacific Decadal Cycle only being one example - and those unaware of long term trends are sure to be totally mystified at the surpises nature has in store for those who will not pay attention. http://www.atmos.washington.edu/academics/classes/2010Q3/111/Lecture_Slides/111_08_heat_BW.pdf Nor are extreme weather events a recent innovation. http://www.ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=6A4A3AC5-1
    So if you think there is a climate change emergency just be aware that compared to placid periods, normal changes can be quite striking. Average is just that - and variation is to be expected.

  2. Thanks for dropping by, opit, and for the links. Yes, yes, exactly. (Funny, my hubby and I were just talking about this a couple of days ago.) Here's the thing, though. We've "evolved" into an agricultural species during the relative placidity of the last 10,000 years. Agriculture depends on a stable climate, so it's the revved up variability (created by us humans adding so much extra heat energy into the atmosphere -- and the oceans! -- over such a short period of time) that's creating the emergency. What's going to happen to food and water security, first locally or regionally and then globally, is pretty frightening, compared to the "normal" we're used to.


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?