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Sailing Towards An Iceberg - Let's Not Settle For Food Rationing In Britain

06/02/2017 16:06

Lettuce rationing probably wasn't in most pundits' predictions for 2017. But this winter our supermarket shelves have been emptying of the green vegetables we take for granted.

An extreme weather cocktail of drought, flooding and freezing conditions has wiped out crops in Southern Spain, while Italy, Turkey and Greece are struggling with poor conditions. Lettuce is currently the main casualty, with spinach, aubergines and broccoli also under threat.

Everyone's having great fun tweeting about the #lettucecrisis and the earlier #courgettecrisis. Complaining about price rises, sharing photos of shortage signs, listing all the supermarkets they've trekked to, searching for a humble aubergine.

The UK has been forced to import lettuce from Egypt and the US West Coast, more than 5,300 miles from Britain. It's a monumental waste of energy and merely exacerbates the original problem - climate change.

Before becoming Deputy Leader of the Greens, I wrote a report for a company on the potential effects of climate change on lettuce stocks as a result of flooding in Spain some years back.

The issue of a vegetable shortage has been in the pipeline for years - and not enough BigFarma corporations are addressing the incoming threats to food security fast enough. In fact, the report I wrote alongside colleagues highlighted key climate change mitigation actions that would protect crops for decades to come.

But what the business actually wanted to know was whether its farms should be moved to Scotland or Scandinavia from Spain and Italy - rather than improving its supply chain to create a net benefit by improving ethical, environmental and economic outcomes to their work through policy, communication and supply chain changes.

The lettuce crisis isn't a one off, this is the stark reality we now face. Year on year, severe weather is impacting our way of life - from devastating floods to the annual record-breaking summer heats.

These changes in our climate will have a lasting impact on our food security, with many of our staple foods dependent on specific weather conditions. This is affecting what we see on the shelves by destroying entire fields of crops as well as reducing overall yields.

The official warnings have already been issued by organisations such as the IPCC and UNFCCC. The solutions aren't always simple - but they will be fundamental to future food security, and the protection of livelihoods here in the UK and around the world.

Our Government is not doing enough to address the causes of climate change. Maybe our leaders don't realise the effects won't just be felt overseas, but will increasingly affect the livelihoods and wellbeing of people in the UK.

What starts with limited food rationing by our supermarkets could lead to the rationing by our Government if the warning signs aren't heeded. And if big tariffs are slapped on food from Europe following Theresa May's hard Brexit, the situation will only get worse. No one will be laughing then.

We can support stronger supply chains with a few simple actions. To begin with, businesses and governments need to acknowledge that fighting climate change will reduce the risk to their own nations and business. Tax breaks can be put on locally-supplied, in-season vegetables to incentivise people to purchase foods that we're currently producing at a high volume. Most importantly, we need to stop the fossil fuel consumption that is driving these severe weather events, by funding publicly-owned green transport and kick-starting a local renewable energy revolution.

It might only be an inconvenience for now, but we don't have to accept that food rationing should become the norm. Otherwise we're sailing towards an iceberg.

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