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Global Warming And Low-Carbon Food For Thought

05/05/2017 11:46 BST | Updated 05/05/2017 11:46 BST
Lukas Schulze via Getty Images

As to be expected, everything in the news is currently dominated by the election. What jumps out at me though is that yet again environmental policy isn't a key player. It's not even sat on the bench. Best case scenario, it's in the locker room slicing oranges.

Why is this an issue? Well, it's only three years since the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of 'severe, widespread and irreversible impacts' if carbon emissions are not halted fast. So that's thousands of scientists from all around the world talking about our ruining our planet forever. FOR EVER. As the then UN secretary-general Ban-Ki-Moon said, 'Science has spoken,' and, 'time is not on our side'. Could any element of policy be more important?

But maybe it's wrong to blame the politicians. Like the fairies that need to be believed in to exist, Politicians need to be elected to have a career, and the environment is not a voter-friendly issue. Raising fuel prices, taxing plane travel, pouring money into renewables doesn't put crosses in boxes. So if we want change, if we want to save our planet for future generations and prevent a refugee crisis the like of which the world has never seen, we need to make this an issue ourselves.

So why are we burying our heads in the sand?

I think the answer lies partly in the fact that the threat seems so abstract and long-term. We've known about it for ages. For twenty years people have been answering five mark GCSE Biology questions on the consequences of global warming. We can reel off answers by rote - polar ice caps will melt, weather will become more extreme, low lying areas will be flooded ... But we don't feel it. Not in the Western world anyway. We become immune to it. Temperatures creep rather than race up and human brains are better at escaping imminent threats than longer-term problems. We've evolved to jump out of the way of rolling boulders and dodge a Neanderthal's club. Show us a graph with a gentle positive gradient and we're stumped.

We're also really bad at prioritising long-term consequences over short-term gain. Long term - destruction of the planet = bad. Short term - out of season blueberries for breakfast followed by a quick package holiday somewhere hot = sounds pretty good. However, if we're talking about the future of our planet and those two killer words: irreversible impacts - the stakes are so high it's not just that we're eating the psychologist's proverbial marshmallow, it's like we're peddling it to a diabetic.

So what can we do about it?

Well, firstly we need to make the idea of the environment a visceral issue. This is one of the reasons I wrote my Young Adult series of novels, The Territory, set in a flooded near-future Britain - to scare people. If we get a little bit more scared, maybe we'll actually start to act.

And if we do decide to act - what next?

Here are two small things that we can do to make a difference and demonstrate to the powers that be that the environment isn't an issue to be side-lined. They're the sort of things smug people do, but that doesn't mean they're not good!

Switch to a renewable energy provider. My family did this last year. It's very easy. It was more expensive, but not as much as you might think. If it's out of your budget, then fine, we've got to be realistic, but it's something to price out.

Low-Carbon Food: So many people now seem to be lactose-free, gluten-free or low-carb. But how about an idea a friend introduced me to recently: Low-Carbon? Something like a third of greenhouse emissions are food related. It might not make you any thinner, but thinking about the environmental impact of different food types can make a big difference.

My thinking was we could take it further - supermarkets could introduce a traffic lights colour scheme to help like they do with nutritional information? Seeing a carbon red light sticker might make you think twice before popping some cheap air-freighted strawberries into your basket. I know we're already promoting local and seasonal produce, but words and associations are so important. 'Buy local' makes you think of communities, tablecloths and church fetes; 'Low-Carbon' brings it back to global warming and makes it harder to ignore. It's not a trip down nostalgia lane, it's our children's future. We could even make Low-Carbon food a 'thing'. Something to be tweeted and hashtagged. We have dry January, sugar-free February, why not Low-Carbon June?

So what am I saying? We can't just wait for the politicians to act. We need to signal our own concern through our purchasing decisions and hopefully by next election, the environment will be centre stage.

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