19 September 2021

Compassion is Starting to Taste Quite Different

My husband said something shocking to me recently — something that made me hang my head. "What's wrong?" he asked. "It's just sad that we even have to contemplate that," I replied. "Well, it's even sadder for the rest of Nature if we don't" was his response.

So what shocking thing did my husband say?

What is left of the land and oceans must be left to restore itself. As I see it now, the only solution is that as much food as possible must be manufactured from chemicals and cell culture to set the land and oceans free.

A couple of days earlier, he'd passed on the link to a February 2021 research paper entitled Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss: Three Levers for Food System Transformation in Support of Nature. While those three levers are all solutions I've thought of often, it was good to see them in (someone else's) print from a prestigious outfit, Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which is a world-leading policy institute based in London, UK. Here are the three levers they are suggesting for "creating a more biodiversity-supporting food system" (pp. 22-29):

Lever 1. Dietary change to reduce overall demand for food - We produce more food than we need per capita; one third of the food we produce is lost or wasted; the environmental footprint [foodprint?] of animal-sourced foods is generally larger than for plant-sourced foods; trends towards consumption of high-impact foods are increasing. In other words, we need to make a shift from beef to beans (and anyone who's had a yummy black bean burger knows that this isn't an imposition or a sacrifice). 

Lever 2. Setting aside land specifically for the conservation and proliferation of habitats and wildlife that support biodiversity - We have to return vast tracts of pastureland and farmland to native forest cover (or tall prairie grasslands, where appropriate), as this will provide the greatest potential for carbon sequestration, especially in developed nations that "account for 70 per cent of the carbon that would be sequestered by restoring land currently occupied by animal agriculture" (p. 25). 

Protecting or restoring undisturbed habitats and whole ecosystems of significant size is vital for species recovery, especially of large animals at risk of extinction. [I mean, c'mon, do we truly believe that our species — despite the impacts on every other species — has the right to every square inch / centimeter of this planet? Are we truly that arrogant? What a fatal hubris!]

Lever 3. Adapting the way that land is farmed - We must "adopt more biodiversity-supporting modes of food production." There are two avenues for this: i) Retain wildlife habitat "pockets" within agricultural lands; ii) change farming methods. 

The report suggests three "key avenues" for changing how we grow our food:

  • Reducing the volume of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, mulch, water, etc.) and using inputs more efficiently (something called precision agriculture) through the "4 Rs" principle: the right source, in the right amount, in the right place, at the right time.
  • Substituting more sustainable alternative inputs, such as crop rotation to ensure soil fertility instead of using chemical / synthetic fertilizers. Another example is using no-till methods to limit disturbance of natural processes in the soil. Still another example is supporting natural pollination and pest control rather than using pesticides.
  • Switching to modes of production that use land quite differently, through agroforestry, agro-ecological and organic approaches, and permaculture principles. These practices eschew monocultures (huge tracts of land on which only one crop is sown), recognizing that biodiversity is the farmer's friend. This is sometimes called Nature-friendly farming.

Now here's the catch:

Someone commented over dinner last night that we're still not doing much "forward thinking." (The Natural Step calls it backcasting — picturing what we want or where we need to get to, and then working backwards to figure out what we must do to achieve these goals.)

Indeed, the increasingly intersecting climate emergency and biodiversity crisis (can you say Sixth Mass Extinction?) represent what I call a crisis of imagination. Despite the millions of people who read science fiction and no doubt equal numbers who enjoy fantasy and sci-fi movies, apparently we can't imagine our way out of an economy that is destroying all the life-sustaining properties of our biosphere.

So here's my contribution for this week. We need a "significant reduction in overall demand for food"? Then let's stop manufacturing Cheetos®. They're a non-vegetarian (there's animal-derived rennet in the so-called cheese) "crunchy corn puff snack" that people just. don't. need. Imagine how much farmland could be saved and shared with the rest of Nature if we got off our addictive junk food habits! This boycott idea fits the three levers described above: 

Dietary change to reduce overall demand for food (this idea would help mitigate the obesity crisis, too)

Using less land for farming so it can be re-naturalized (no more junk food crops = less land needed for farming)

Changing how we farm the land (no more corn monocultures)

Here's to a diet that includes fresh corn on the cob rather than "crunchy corn puff snacks"!


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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?