The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: Environment

When Our Global Food System Becomes Broken

As a scientific model it was intriguing, but the results were more troubling than anyone expected. Designed and developed by a team from the Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, the model assessed how the world’s food system would look if a business-as-usual approach was taken up until the year 2040. The findings, as presented by institute director Dr. Aled Jones, were almost apocalyptic in scope:

“The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots. In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption.”

The chief culprit in all this is climate change, and it should be noted that the model’s findings would apply only if policies don’t change and we bury our collective heads in the sand. Nevertheless the possibility of food collapse in less than three decades is sobering and should serve as a call to action. It should also be added that this is but the latest of a series of scientific warnings about the sustainability of our global food systems should the status quo prevail.

When asked what this might look like, social scientists point to the 2011 Arab Spring uprising – a series of revolts that initially began as riots to complain about the high prices of food across the region. There were local causes for the escalating prices to be sure, but climate research revealed that weather events in Russia, Ukraine, Australia, Argentina, the United States, and even Canada had instigated the rise in food prices that were ultimately finding their way into the Arab world. Those demonstrating in the streets for governments to lower food prices likely didn’t fully understand that their problem was global in scope.

There is a multitude of supporting evidence adding weight to Ruskin University’s discovery, including Lloyds of London, which concluded that the global food system is “under chronic pressure.” Concurring was the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which project that global agricultural production has to more than double by 2050 to have supply meet demand. Others say that the world will have to grow 70% more food within 30 years to meet demand. Is that even possible in a time of increasing climate change challenges? Ideally, yes, but practically, given the human penchant for putting things off, probably not.

As we enter an era of skyrocketing food prices, environmental catastrophes, famines, floods, and ruined harvests, how exactly we begin collectively organizing ourselves, as citizens and governments, to realign our policy priorities, food production, and consumer habit to fit with a more restrained future? Predicting food prices can be a precarious practice, but these are products requiring sun, rain, fertilizing, fallowing fields, hardier seeds, sustainable water collection and efficient harvesting – all of which depend on the cooperation and consistently of our natural environment to succeed. Now that the climate is in a state of flux, it is inevitable that food resources and their pricing will face decades of serious challenges.

In our next post we’ll consider some of the measures that must be taken by all parties if we are to not only create sustainable food supplies but a renewal of our natural world that sustains all that we do and consume.

Paris and Avoiding the Human Cost

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THOSE MEETING IN THE ONGOING SESSIONS at the climate change summit in Paris have a number of impending tragedies hanging over their heads. They talk in urgent terms about floods, drought, heat, cold, ocean currents, wind directions, and desertification, but the ultimate concern they face in the next few decades is really about people – millions and millions of them. Worst of all, global leaders still don’t know how to handle the coming onslaught.

We’d be foolish think this will be a future phenomenon. Already a few million such souls are migrating over the earth in search of sustainability and security. It’s just that their numbers are about to get a whole lot bigger … and troubling.

We talked about this before, but it bears repeating. The legal classification of refugees comprises those forced to flee to another country because of conflict or persecution. This is the traditional definition of “refugees” as we know it and they have a whole terminology built around them: quotas, at risk, attacked, insecurity. The United Nations also succeeded in getting the nations of the world to agree on a kind of legal architecture for these individuals and families that has operated for decades.

But climate change refugees aren’t protected by any such privileges. Since they had to leave their ancestral homes because the wells dried up, the rains stopped coming, their region flooded, or the migrating herds moved away, they fall through the gaps of the international legal framework. Worse, there is no clear legal consensus emerging yet as to their status. And perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that those gathering in Paris in recent days won’t even consider ways to grant protections, status, and rights to those on the move because of the incursions of environmental degradation.

Surely we can’t be surprised at the condition of such refugees. They have lived on the edge of extinction for years, hoping that weather patterns would change to more historic norms. But at last there is no water. Finally their rising sea levels have eradicated their homes and land. No nutrients remain in the soil for crops. The end has come for them in the current place and all that is left is to wander, sometimes for thousands of miles by foot, auto, boat, even just swimming.

While experts have mulled over the intricacies of such refugees for decades, protection and resources will be hard to come by unless they receive legal classification. Leaders thought they had covered all of that back in the 1950s, when the United Nations defined a refugee as one forced to flee because of persecution for a number of causes – religion, ethnicity, race, even owned land. It just didn’t occur to people over a half-century ago that terms like drought, famine, flooding, and storms should have been added to the list.

Central to all of this is that effects from climate change are destined to get a lot worse, even if solutions could be found in Paris this week. What will that mean? According to the International Organization of Migration, some 180 – 200 million climate change refugees will be roving the planet by 2050 – a mere three decades from now!

So, while world leaders ponder terms like parts per million, carbon, flooding increases, degrees centigrade, it is really the term “human” that carries the most pressing urgency for the near future. The problems for climate change refugees won’t be solved by the Paris talks because they aren’t even being included in the negotiations. So count on it: we’ll soon be hearing of tens of millions of desperate people in search of survival. Climate change isn’t all about scientific challenges. Its effects have a human fallout already playing out before our eyes. If we are to alter that future, Paris this week would have been a good place to start.

After the Voices Are Gone

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WE ARE SPENDING THIS WEEK UP in northern Ontario, volunteering at an autism camp for kids, once again learning of our own limitations and the remarkable young lives, with the support of family, that battle autism every day.

Yesterday we celebrated Canada Day ensconced in natural wonders – lakes, trees, fish, a riveting lightning storm, and beautiful sunsets. We spent the afternoon at a small town fair, celebrating the holiday. It’s the Canada we envision at its best.

But something’s not quite right. Water levels are off. Wildlife is growing confused as it adapts to new patterns. Climate change is not only altering the landscape but also challenging its inhabitants. We all sense it, yet as citizens we can’t just adapt; we must overcome, refining our lives to tackle the deeper problems of climate change – ourselves. We are content with saying it’s government’s responsibility. They take our tax money; why can’t they fix it?

Well, that’s precisely the point: they aren’t, at least federally. Neither would it be a simple fix even if the political structure took it seriously. Ultimately, the sense among the political elite is that it would be suicide to attempt anything serious because it would require legislation to teach how to consume and deal with our waste differently, and it would require a new taxation scheme of some kind to reflect our seriousness about the planet. We can appreciate Justin Trudeau’s recent announcements regarding tackling climate change. Other political parties talk about it as well. But the proof will be in whether they challenge us to sacrifice for a better world and whether they are prepared to live with the consequences of perhaps alienating a generation if voters remain trapped in a world of inaction.

But that’s politics; what about citizenship? People in the Netherlands could have used political inaction as an excuse, but they instead did something remarkable – they sued their own government. Yes, you heard that right. Scientific consensus by researchers in developed countries concluded that emissions would have to be cut by 40% by 2020 if the world was to contain its temperature increases. The Dutch government responded by announcing it would implement a 14% to 17% cut relative to 1990 levels. Then the unthinkable happened.

A group of 900 citizens brought a lawsuit against the Dutch state, saying it was time to get real, and that the government reductions still endangered the planet and violated their human rights in the process. They based their case on science, not merely political pressure. And they won, with the court concluding that the government would have to cut 25% of emissions. What had been a two-year effort by citizens ended up having the judge in the case conclude:

“The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty to care to protect and improve the living environment.”

As one lawyer said: “This is the first time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens.” As some surmise, this might be the beginning of a chain reaction, where citizens, taking heart from their counterparts in the Netherlands, come together for the sake of the future of their own children to take their respective governments to court.

Canada is one nation especially vulnerable to such a challenge. A consistent laggard at global environmental conventions, Canada is also a significant contributor regarding fossil fuels. One would expect the federal government to be more sensitive to all the criticism, but it isn’t, likely because it believes citizens will never come forward in enough numbers to create the context for change. In the Netherlands, however, it just took 900 concerned citizens to make that shift. As they discovered, while they might not have support in government, they discovered validation in the courts.

Perhaps a dedicated effort on our part, showing that harm is being done and that the feds aren’t reacting sufficiently could be a way of opening the door to a more enhanced democracy and a more empowered environmental community at the same time. Many Canadian groups are advocating for more action. Perhaps the time has come to back them in the courts and save our future in the process. Jonathan Campbell wrote, “When the north wind blew across the tar ponds, voices were carried away.” It’s time to summon them back.

Books

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Sometimes falling ill has its own rewards.  My medical complications a year ago meant that I mostly missed out on a relaxing summer and I was determined to make up for it this year.  I have been working hard to finish off a number of books I’ve been writing over the course of the last couple of years and I’m glad to say that they are all completed.  You’ll find a list of them below.  I’m occasionally asked where people can get copies of the books and the links below will help point in the right direction.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.23.21 PMFrom Canada to Brazil, California to China, Catherine O’Hara takes on an odyssey that will change how she views the world of politics. As Minister for the Environment for the Canadian government she has to learn to balance the responsibilities of power with the reality of sustainability and human rights. Essential to it all is David Kronberg – a mystical champion of the natural order who inevitably draws Catherine into a deeper world that will change her position at the centre of power.  You can get the hardback version here and the paperback version here.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.45.34 PMCitizens might well accept reform of government if they actually had a say in the process, or even some kind of direct access to politicians themselves. It’s not to be, sadly, and instead we have information without humanity, communication without meaning, and disenchantment without end. In such days where the customer is always right, this is hardly going to end well. Community engagement is on the only hope for the recovery of democracy.  You can get the paperback version here or download the iTunes podcasts here.

 

LULU cover_smallerTwo great continents intertwined on the world’s stage. And two larger than life characters determined in their separate ways to tell their stories. Chen Chang-Jin – the wildly successful Chinese billionaire working to utilize Africa’s vast natural resources in ways that would be benefit his homeland and raise his profile in the process. Achol Madut Yek – one of the poorest of the poor, trekking from south Sudan, through Darfur, and into Chad, in a journey that will captivate the eyes of the world and cause it to see the strength and potential of Africa and its people in a new light. Dualities is ultimately a story about humanity – its scope, its inequities, its potential – and how the welfare of its most vulnerable members is often more vital than commonly acknowledged.  You can order the hardback version here, the paperback here, or the ebook here.

Coming up – Just finished a new book titled Fired Into Life – thoughts on Jesus and the human personality.  I’m also enjoying being in the middle of some new writing on The Seven Deadly Sins – Gandhi’s list of special challenges facing citizens in our modern life:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principles

 

Even the Queen Gets It

As she looked out over the lands from her Sandringham estate, Queen Elizabeth II came to a conclusion. It was 1995 and she had witnessed enough changes over the past decade to convince her that something was altering the environment, likely climate change. Spring was arriving three weeks earlier than it did when she was first crowned a half-century earlier. No one ever doubted her commitment to the Dominion, especially during times of war and tension, but this represented an entirely new challenge and she felt the responsibility to do something about it.

In her weekly meeting with Tony Blair at the time (2004), the monarch raised the issue of global warming and her concern that the American position of George W. Bush at the time was holding back the developed world from taking action. To Blair’s surprise she offered to help raise awareness.

Unexpectedly, the Queen presided over the British-German conference on climate change – a foray into the political realm that represented a marked departure from past protocol.

This was during an era prior to the small minority of scientists who spoke out against climate change, coupled with strong right-wing political support. As Queen Elizabeth presided over the conference in Berlin, a large number of multi-national companies were present, driven by the outcomes of the European preceding summer heat wave that resulted in 31,000 deaths. All this was before Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth captured world attention. There was just the sense that things were falling out-of-order and that climate change just might possibly be humankind’s most serious danger.

It’s important to note that at this time Tony Blair was being hammered by the Conservatives for not doing enough on climate change challenges and this formed part of the Queen’s persuasion to get her prime minister to start taking deeper reforms.

Blair brought that agenda to the Gleneagles G8 summit that year and pressed for some kind of harmonized global response. But his friend George Bush pushed back, insuring that a unanimous verdict was out of reach. For the other nations, despite certain doubts, there was the immense sense of danger and the need to develop some kind of coordinated response. Blair’s senior science advisor, Sir David King, observed at the time, “While uncertainties remained in our understanding of climate science, we knew enough to act.”

Bush flew home with the sense of satisfaction that he hadn’t opted into the consensus. But only five weeks later – August 29, 2005 – hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and the American position looked suddenly weak. Yet the naysayers responded quickly and succeeded in placing doubts once again in American minds.

All this occurred in the last decade and nothing since has arisen to prove the Queen’s hunch wrong. Yet we appear more frozen in time.  Robert Gifford, a University of Victoria psychologist, says that we have built mental barriers against climate change – what he calls “dragons of inaction.”  We naturally block out complex problems that defy simple solutions. We also punish political voices that seek a mandate based on such complexities. In the end, we box ourselves in with simplistic reasonings and simplistic political solutions that don’t stand a grain of chance of being successful.

Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Canadian citizens believe in climate change and its deteriorating effects on our planet. Why, then, are they not pressing for action? Franklin Roosevelt used to say that, “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” If options are open to us, why don’t we travel those paths?

The truth is that many of us do, but on an individual basis. We attempt to make responsible sustainable choices that reveal that we remain aware that some kind of action is required in the face of environmental danger. But surely we understand that such meritorious acts are not sufficient. We require broader policy options and that means political choices and joint citizen action.

Nothing in this past decade has shown us that Queen was wrong. Many would argue that her hunch as been confirmed many times over by the natural calamities that have occurred on a regular basis. Voltaire use to say that, “While men argue, Nature acts.” This is becoming increasingly true in our own lifetime.

The real challenge before us isn’t whether climate change is man-made or not; most of us believe it is to greater and greater degrees. The issue before us is if we will bring climate change reality into our daily habits of consciousness. Will we permit it to make a difference in how we shop, where we travel, how we travel, and even who we vote for? If we can’t make that personal journey, then we shall never, as a people, make that public journey. A conscience is a wonderful thing to possess, but if it is alerting us to danger and the importance of public choice and we refuse to come together with others for society’s protection, then what good did it do us to possess a conscience in the first place. To quote Voltaire again: “Science without conscience is the soul’s perdition.”

The Queen gets it. Some 98% of scientists get it. We get it. There is no individual way out of this mess. We must act in concert to press for the public choices that are the only possible way to clean the future for our kids.

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