NINE years – about 3,000 days – is all we have to make serious corrections to our ways of living before we pass a point of no return and bring ruin to this great, beautiful, once-in-a-universe we call planet earth.
This should be alarming to everyone.
We’re not changing our habits fast enough.
Like so many people around the world, I personally feel like we’re either getting too much direction or not enough. I’ve come to realize that saving a few plastic bags here and there doesn’t do diddly shit when our government is dumping billions into tar pipelines.
I feel like one of those putzes in Don’t Look Up and wonder what can I possibly do on my own that will have an impact on global temperatures that have been more than 100 years in the making?
Well, we can. I CAN.
The First Step …
I started my simple journey by listening to the Race Against Climate Change podcast created and hosted by Canada’s National Observer.
Episode ONE punches you right in the gut. Pun intended.
They focus on food and how our global food network contributes to roughly 40% of ALL greenhouse gases.
Their host and guest list was a grand-slam of informed, passionate people:
- Robyn Bunn, Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture
- Fawn Jackson, climate lead for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
- Karen Ross, director of Farmers for Climate Solutions.
- Lenore Newman, Director of the Food and Agriculture Institute and Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley
- Isha Datar, Executive Director of New Harvest
They have the data that shows farming is responsible for almost 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from:
- Raising livestock – which belch and fart methane which represent 80 TIMES the heat trapping power of CO2
- Pesticides & herbicides – nitrous-oxide treatments that are 300 TIMES more potent than CO2
The first requires more veggies in our diet. The latter (in addition to more veggies) is a return to ‘traditional’ farming that relies on a classic approach to crop rotation, or regenerative farming.
The podcast also started with an appropriate discussion about migrant workers and how poorly we treat them.
When the subjects were combined, the hosts spoke with Lenore Newman, director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley. She clearly elaborates on how it all works:
… look at the crops where this really works well– leafy greens, small fruits. We’re at a point technologically thanks to better LED lighting, real advances in plant breeding as well, where we could grow all the lettuce for the Lower Mainland (of BC) on about 100 acres. It would look like a giant box sitting on a poor quality piece of farmland … you don’t need pesticides, you don’t need herbicides. And you’re growing fast, efficiently, it uses very little water, it’s stunning.
There’s also a neat labor piece that I like in that it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to be a field worker where you’re doing dangerous, low paid seasonal work. And in increasingly bad conditions. As it gets hotter, you’re exposed to pesticides, herbicides. In a plant factory or vertical growing facility, it’s a year round job. A lot of it is automated and it’s much safer, and you’re not exposed to a bunch of dangerous chemicals. I think it’s such a win. It’s probably the tech that we’re going to see just unfolding. And we are! And we’re seeing governments like Ontario and Alberta, really doubling down on this tech.
Changing The Story …
As I pick up writing / blogging again, I’m determined to loop everything back to how we tell stories and the impact this has on how we treat our planet.
Right now, our story is based on the classic ‘Hero’s Journey’.
That’s another part of our rugged individualism and hero culture, the idea that all problems are personal and they’re all soluble by personal responsibility—or medication that helps you accept what you cannot change, when it can be changed but not by you personally. It’s a framework that eliminates the possibility of deeper, broader change or of holding accountable the powerful who create and benefit from the status quo and its myriad forms of harm. The narrative of individual responsibility and change protects stasis, whether it’s adapting to inequality or poverty or pollution.
Our ‘story’ is about conquest: we set out on a path, seek to conquer those things we don’t understand and then return with some magical concoction that will save us all and help our community grow.
This model has failed us and doesn’t account for repair and resurrection of our planet as we hack, chop, burn and destroy everything that it offers.
Instead, we need what are called human murmurations, gatherings that remind the power-that-be that we won’t tolerate actions that set us back:
What are human murmurations, I wondered? They are, speaking of choruses, in Horton Hears a Who, the tiny Whos of Whoville, who find that if every last one of them raises their voice, they become loud enough to save their home. They are a million and a half young people across the globe on March 15 protesting climate change, coalitions led by Native people holding back fossil fuel pipelines across Canada, the lawyers and others who converged on airports all over the US on January 29, 2017, to protest the Muslim ban.
But wth that, we need the story to change to one that is more inclusive, less dependent on the hero to bring us all out of the pit and better tools to channel our energies into the greater good. This isn’t the Hero’s Journey. It’s humans being as they live and survive and protect this planet.
The Next, Next Step …
We are in a state of constant panic and confusion about climate change, and yet we continue to stall on initiatives.
We are in a frenzy, and yet we don’t do anything.
Why is that?
Action just doesn’t seem possible without a coalescing of attitudes from all groups that influence individuals on a daily basis:
- All levels of government – international, federal/national, provincial, municipal
- ALL businesses that you interact with on a daily basis
- You and I
The idea of wrestling with Leviathan-like issues with climate change and the problems it causes is ridiculous for any one person to think ‘hey … I’ve got this’.
We’re not equipped with the money, the intellectual power, the energy or time to make it happen on a solo basis.
How do we connect the dots?
It HAS to be a concerted effort.
We have to do an immediate about-face on the industries we’re subsidizing. Right now, we spend billions per year on carbon-producing sectors compared to a tiny fraction of that on renewables.
Wired Magazine just showcased a solar farm where the owners have also intentionally planted crops like kale, tomatoes, garlic, beets and more around the base of these collectors. Many argue that Canada isn’t suitable for solar, but that’s not true and the technology is quickly passing carbon-producing energy sectors as the way to heat greenhouses and other facilities in Canada (much like the one mentioned above). Tesla Solar recently boasted about how effective their panels are in foggy, dark and cloudy conditions.
What we’re coming to is a desparate need for all levels of government, non-profits and businesses to get together QUICKLY to implement programs that support some or any of the following:
- Zero-emitting retrofits for homes & buildings
- Installation of 12-month greenhouse food growing facilities
- Creation of a network of charging
- Education of young folks looking for careers with installation, maintenance and development of zero-emitting tech and renewables
- Using alternatives to carbon-based road materials so that we stop using tar for our roads
- Massive bike and zero-emission transportation plans
Probably the greatest challenge for me is to find a way to encourage all decision makers to stop planning on building and buying and start focusing on working with what we have and making as much as possible zero-emitting products and services.
A Practical First Step …
But I find myself back at the beginning again, holding my hands up in the ‘what do I do’ shrug position that so many of us have.
Do I buy an electric car? They’re too expensive.
Should I install a solar roof on my house? Well, I’m lucky to have one, but I need commitment from our government(s) to make this happen so a retrofit makes sense.
Can I grow my own food? Yes. That’s where I’ll start.
Last year, we planted 20 tomato plants. We didn’t buy ANY tomatoes at all in 2020 and 2021 and THAT’S an exciting small step.
The lesson here is that we need to accelerate the discussion about what we’re doing to reduce our collective footprints with carbon production and emissions.
Maybe resolutions or scorecards might help? Can we ‘gamify’ the whole experience and give people new ‘ranks’ when they score with the environment? Anything seems worth a shot these days.
What are your suggestions for how to save our planet?
My Next Action …
I’m going to start digging a little into the ‘boxed greens’ initiative mentioned above. It’ll take a lot of stickhandling to get the right players even in a list of potential calls or meetings (especially given that we’re still running up numbers with Covid), but the basics are this:
- Find an abandoned space
- Get a retrofit incentive for updating the space
- Work with partners that will help with distribution or access to a market
- Promote it and try to get the right people running the operation
- Speak to the net impact that it has in terms of zero-emissions, carbon reduction and other efficiencies
- Develop a plan that will make the mission easily reproduced
CSAs: Another Possibility …
CSAs – Community Shared Agriculture – are typically smaller family-owned farms that go to the public for funding. This model tends to be ‘hyper-local’, ie. it entails locations, growing and distribution on a very local basis.
Farmers set up their operations and identify what they’re going to grow. Usually, it’s a mix of different vegetables that are grown throughout a regular season. Most CSAs focus on organic, sustainable and regenerative practices. This means they practice what is being preached in the stories and podcasts mentioned above.
Some products (eg. apples or other fruit) may be sourced from third-party locations that follow the same growing guidelines.
The farmers give consumers options for weekly ‘baskets’ or selections that are usually pre-determined based on the harvest of each month during the growing season. A subscription to this kind of program normally costs between $300 to $500, but may vary by region and range of products offered.
The footprint of CSAs is significantly less than that of commercial farms because pesticides, herbicides and other climate-change issues are minimized AND deliveries to multiple consumers are much more effective than every consumer trudging to the store one person at a time.
CSAs ARE the future, but most Canadian consumers know very little about them. Here’s what I propose:
- ACTION: We will join a CSA this year and support a local farmer
- The Canadian government needs to promote the idea of local farming and CSAs
- Tax deductions should be made available to people that ‘invest’ in a CSA. It would be the ONLY food source that would qualify for this kind of deduction
- CSA owners would get incentives above and beyond the standard farm-related incentives. In particular, those investing in greenhouses and other permanent growing structures, along with green energy sources would get special grants or access to low-interest rate loans
- Clarification with different certifications, especially ORGANIC and SUSTAINABLE. Many flight-by-night operations play with these terms in ways that confuse consumers. Ideally, we would approach food and beverage growing / production similar to how Europe treats with ‘Appellations’ that signify higher levels of quality and adherence to growing/processing requirements.
Wired Magazine, Growing Crops Under Solar Panels
Farmers for Climate Solutions, https://farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/
Pathways to Sustainable Food Solutions, https://www.ecopoliticspodcast.ca/episode-16-pathways-to-sustainable-food-systems-3/