Thursday 22 November 2012

The global food and climate crisis comes home to Brent

                                                   A global issue                 Photo: Shahrar Ali
There was a good turn-out for the community briefing on climate change and its impact last night thanks to the hard work of organisers Lia Colacicco of Brent Friends of the Earth and Ken Montague of the Brent Campaign Against Climate Change.

Introducing the meeting I spoke about the recent death of Jeff Bartley who as a Brent council officer championing the environmental cause had worked with many in the audience. I said that the best tribute we could pay him would be positive actions arising from our discussion. The meeting was partly a factual briefing but also  the beginning of a discussion to formulate a community response to the crisis.

As I was chairing I was unable to take copious notes but a detailed record of the meeting will be available at a later date.  However I can tell you that the illustrated review by Phil Thornhill (National coordinator of the Campaign Against Climate Change), of the latest scientific evidence of the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, by area and by volume, brought home vividly the urgency of the situation and the upcoming climate catastrophe that it represents.

Phil  explained that the effect of the melting ice was to change the temperature gradient in the northern oceans which in turn was reducing the power of the jet stream. Severe droughts in Russia in 2011 and the USA this year, and recurring floods in Pakistan, were due to the jet stream becoming more sluggish and erratic.

He warned that Arctic sea ice will have completely disappeared in the summer months by 2016, which was the clearest evidence of rapid man-made climate change. The result would be an increasing number of severe weather events, affecting the price and quality of food around the world.

We are rightly so involved in the immediate crisis regarding the economy and the attacks on the welfare state that it is sometimes difficult to also keep a focus on this danger facing humanity.  However the climate crisis will  impact on the global economy as well as the local one, cause international conflict over food and water resources, create great movements of populations and in the process raise issues of social justice. Anger over rising food prices contributed to the social unrest behind the Arab Spring and failing harvests will increase the pressure on the world food market.

Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Food Sovereignty Programme Co-coordinator of Friends of the Earth International spoke about food supplies in the context of climate change.

She started with the startling fact that 1 billion of the world population is hungry while another 1 billion is obese.  It was estimated that 3 - 5 million people a year were dying as a result, and since 2008 two hundred million people had been pushed into hunger. She said it was not so much a question of there being a lack of food but the way it is produced and how it is distributed being the problem. 70% of the grain produced is used to feed animals.

Each spike in food prices puts millions more people into hunger.  She said that the evidence so far is that in temperate countries the impact of global warming may not be very extreme but in tropical countries it may cut crop yields by 30-50%. 

Agriculture, including emissions and deforestation accounts for  30-50% of global warming. Kirtana pointed to large scale industrial agriculture and its link with oil - in essence it converts oil into food and the rising  price of food closely matches that of oil. US farms use 5 times more energy to produce a kilo of grain than farmers in Africa. Kirtana gave the example of the food /emissions chain where grain grown in South America is shipped to Europe, fed to animals, which then excrete methane into the atmosphere.

What was needed was 'agricology' where ecological principles are applied to growing food. Rebuilding the soil and organic methods can 'lock' carbon into the soil. Potentially 70% of climate change mitigation, including a reduction in intensive industrial cattle rearing, livestock diversity and reduced meat diet could be achieved through agricultural change. Kirtana pointed out the absurdity of the fact that we exported almost exactly the same quantities of chicken breasts and milk as we import.

Local food growing and more food growing spaces in cities could contribute to a more sustainable agricological agriculture even here in Brent.

Kirtana concluded by saying that these measures were possible and in a way injected a degree of optimism into the discussion. She was at pains to say that she was not advocating vegetarianism or denying people emerging from poverty the right to desire meat, but that an all round reduction in meeting would both help mitigate climate change and also help those in the west  have healthier lives. Research by Oxford University's Health Promotion group of FoE found that eating meat no more than three times a week would save 45,000 lives a year.

In the ensuing discussion Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt spoke about some of the measures that Brent Council had taken and the council's eagerness to do more  at a local level (a local Brent currency like the Brixton Pound was mentioned) and asked for ideas to be sent to the council.. Ken Montague talked about how the year on year rise in food prices since 2007  had created a health crisis for the poor who were no longer able to eat healthily.

Brian Orr of Brent Green Party and the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, drew attention to the seriousness of the global climate crisis and accused politicians of an 'abysmal' failure to rise to the challenge and suggested, with the example for the recent US presidential election,  that they were frightened to reveal to the public the true extent of the threat.

Viv Stein told the audience about the work of Transition Willesden in encouraging local shops,local  food growing including demonstration allotments at Kilburn Station, and harvesting of otherwise unwanted fruit. Lia Colacicco spoke about her work with residents encouraging environmental action not through Facebook or Twitter but by face to face contact and joint work  with friends and neighbours in the local area. Tariq Dar from the Pakistan Community Centre said that they were involved in a joint project with the London Sustainability Exchange. Tim Danby of Marley Walks Residents Association spoke about the positive fact that this meeting was attended by the most diverse audience of any that had been to a climate change in Brent.

The meeting concluded with calls to support the National Demonstration Against Climate Change 'Get fractious' marchon December 1st  LINK which would include the erection of a fracking rig  Downing Street to demonstrate how dependency on oil was bringing about increasingly dangerous and damaging oil extraction methods which would continue to build up the emissions contributing to made-made climate change.

The threads that emerged: work with residents, work with schools, transition, food growing, council action and lobbies of politicians at a national level have the potential to be woven into quite a strong strategy. The December 1st  march, the Schools' Climate Conference and Competition due to take place in  March  2013 and Parliamentary lobby in June seem well placed milestones for the next few months. Another meeting will be held in January 2013 to move things forward.

I think Jeff would have been pleased.

1 comment:

DON'T dis US said...

What ia s "marchon"? Is it like a goujon only made out of feet?
yrs P.R.Smartarse