This is a climate emergency
My spirits have been lifted by Greta Thunberg, the school climate strikers, Extinction Rebellion, and David Attenborough’s continued leadership on climate change.
Finally, there is tangible momentum and energy on one of the most important issues of our time.
This is an emergency and the way we eat and farm lies right at the heart of it.
Our food system is beyond crazy
But this is not the only crisis the world faces. The sixth major extinction is upon us.
Insect populations worldwide are falling at 2.5% a year due to pesticide use and intensive farming that leaves no space for nature. We are polluting our ecosystems with nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, and with plastic waste.
Antibiotic resistance, partly due to overuse in animals, threatens to lead to 10 million deaths a year globally by 2050, more than from cancer today.
Poor nutrition is already causing preventable human health conditions that threaten to cripple the NHS -with 10% of its budget being spent on type 2 diabetes alone, a cost that has doubled in a decade.
Meanwhile, farming is at the top of the league tables for mental health problems, at-work accidents and suicide rates. Many farmers earn far less than the minimum wage and work in conditions that most of the population would reject. The same applies to many of those who work in food factories, who may struggle to afford the food they are making. Our food system is beyond crazy.
It starts with the soil
But the future doesn’t have to be apocalyptic. I see huge energy and optimism in the pioneering food and farming entrepreneurs, many but not all organic, who prove what is possible. They show how we can sequester carbon in soils and trees, that we can survive without the chemicals that destroy wildlife and our health, how we can give our animals a good life without using endless antibiotics, and - crucially - that we can feed people well.
There is a new generation coming through, who are both learning from some amazing organic pioneers, and forging their own path. They are already experiencing the impacts of climate change and know that the answer lies largely in the soil. These innovators are experimenting with agro-forestry, with reduced tillage methods, with non-chemical approaches to protecting their crops and livestock. They are making fabulous food, and selling it more directly to consumers, providing public access and understanding, encouraging us all to form a closer relationship with nature. They know that we need to find solutions that tackle all the issues this embattled world faces, a holistic approach which is right at the heart of the organic movement.
Soil Association is doing all we can to support them
We’re making good food the norm in schools and public settings like hospitals and care homes showing that dietary change at scale is possible. Over half of England’s primary schoolchildren eat a fresh, healthy, sustainable lunch through our Food for Life programme.
Innovative Farmers, part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, gives grants to farmers who are testing resilient new methods of producing food, such as non-chemical alternatives to glyphosate and neonicotinoid pesticides. Our organic standards, revised and relaunched this week, set the sustainability bar appropriately high, and give confidence to purchasers that they are backing ethical businesses.
Radical change from us all is needed to tackle climate change
While not everyone agrees with the tactics of the recent climate change protests, their message is spot on, and well overdue. This is a wake up call, not just to governments, but to all of us. Inspired by this grass roots activism, we should be more confident that all of us can, in our own ways, make change happen. We must be bolder, braver and faster.
Policy makers need a public mandate to act, and we must provide it. But our job is also to provide radical and practical solutions, so that the right actions are taken.
This involves getting off the treadmill of ever-increasing consumption; we cannot keep growing GDP through the purchase of more products, when the environmental cost is so high.
‘Less but better’ is a sound approach from food to fashion
While it’s important that our politicians step up the plate, we will only succeed if we all take responsibility for championing new climate and nature-friendly ways of living and working from the ground up.
How we all respond, as citizens, as farmers or food producers, foresters or teachers, doctors or dinner ladies, will determine whether we offer solutions or distractions that divert from action. We hold in our hands so many of the solutions to prevent the worst ravages of climate change, and the knowledge to adapt to it also. Now is the time to implement these across the UK, and across the globe.
We need your help today
Become a member of the Soil Association charity and join us to save the earth from the ground up. Together we can reduce the impact that food and farming is having on our climate.