July 24, 2019
By Mike Schut, Farm Table’s Senior Program Director
My dear seventeen-year-old nephew Carter visited recently. One day he simply stated, “I think all of us should focus on addressing climate change all the time.”
Over the last nine months two particularly strongly worded scientific reports have been issued by two United Nations-backed international panels, comprised of scientists from across the globe. One focused on the impacts of climate change; the other on the loss of biodiversity and human impacts on nature’s free services (like pollination, decomposition, water purification, soil creation). Both also focused on threats to human well-being. I’ve been following these sorts of reports, more or less, for over twenty years. And they still struck me.
It’s easier to look away than face the implications of these reports. Easier to exist in a state of denial. But just briefly—stay with me—let’s look squarely at just a few of the reports’ findings.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The first report came out in October of 2018 and was published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This particular report, authored by 91 researchers and editors from 40 countries citing more than 6,000 scientific references, looked at the impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) warming versus 2.0°C warming. Four years ago, in Paris, the nations of the world agreed (The Paris Agreement) on the scientific consensus that halting warming at 2°C was imperative. (Trump has since reneged, vowing to pull the United States out of that agreement; should that actually come to pass, the US would be the only non-signatory country in the world.)
came out in October of 2018 and was published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This particular report, authored by 91 researchers and editors from 40 countries citing more than 6,000 scientific references, looked at the impacts of 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) warming versus 2.0°C warming. Four years ago, in Paris, the nations of the world agreed (The Paris Agreement) on the scientific consensus that halting warming at 2°C was imperative. (Trump has since reneged, vowing to pull the United States out of that agreement; should that actually come to pass, the US would be the only non-signatory country in the world.)
Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has raised global average temperature by 1°C (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Another half degree and 70 to 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs will likely die. Another full degree and 99 percent will die.
Even at a 1.5°C rise, “…flooding, drought, and extreme weather events will wreak havoc on communities around the globe. Many species will continue to be driven toward extinction and marine ecosystems could face irreversible loss.” In spite of that, it’s still worth fighting to keep warming to 1.5°C as doing so could “prevent hundreds of millions of people from being exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by mid-century,” according to the report. (It’s worth noting: although the world agreed that 2°C warming should be the upper limit, the emission goals nations committed to within the Paris Agreement would still result in 3°C warming.)
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
The second report came out in May 2019. Compiled by more than 500 experts from 50 countries and published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the study is “the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth” and “shows how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on earth.”
Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the IPBES, summarized the 8,000-page report this way: “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.”
These two reports contain some of the strongest, clearest language I have seen regarding humanity’s impact on the rest of the natural world, about our shared future. But, essentially, we’re not really talking about them. I guess it’s not hard to understand why. It’s overwhelming. It’s painful. It’s probable that to address them we would all have to change. It’s likely we would have to acknowledge that our idolatry of economic growth, and our demand for ever more and ever cheaper consumer goods (including food), have placed an unbearable strain on the natural world and on many poor human communities.
Nonetheless, and like Carter, I can’t think of anything more important to talk about, and act on, right now.
Farm Table’s Work – Building Local Food Culture
To some Farm Table is probably best known for serving delicious local food in our restaurant; to others we are likely known for some great cooking classes with favorite instructor Terry Kelzer; and to still others we are the exhibit space that features their children’s artwork, most recently based on visits to local organic farms.
What I think is not as readily apparent is that the things we are known for connect to these larger, most important issues of our day. They connect to what these scientists are saying, what these reports are urging us to consider.
Potentially the easiest way to understand these connections is to consider the accuracy of Wendell Berry’s pithy statement: “How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used.”
Think about that for a moment…how the world, how the Earth, is used.
Then go check your pantry.
Palm Oil and Broccoli
Hmm, I grabbed a “Protein Plus Power Bar” (handy for hikes). The ingredient list is too long to include here, and a good number aren’t that recognizable as food. But I do notice “palm oil.” Palm oil is found in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil plantations cover nearly 67 million acres of Earth’s surface, an area the size of New Zealand, and they are pushing endangered species, like orangutans, closer to extinction. To make way for these plantations, tropical rain forests are cut down, releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. (https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil#start).
Now, let me check my fridge.
I grabbed some broccoli from Blackbrook Farm, my neighbor a few farms to the east. Ingredient list: broccoli. Distance to my plate: much, much, much closer than Indonesia. Grown organically too, so I’m pretty confident that soil and water are not being damaged in the process.
So, let’s say you want to cut back on products that use palm oil. Which means you probably will need to use fewer processed foods. Which means you might need to brush up on your scratch cooking skills. Which means that a class with Terry or one of our other instructors could be just the ticket.
Which is to say that whether you are motivated by climate change and endangered species, or by the desire to rediscover the very human skill of cooking from scratch, you might end up at Farm Table. You might find out that our mission to build local culture not only meets some need of your own—to build community, to make healthy meals for your family—it also contributes in some small way to meeting the needs of the world.
At Farm Table we want people to see connections.
“How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used.” How the world is used determines to a considerable extent the kind of future available to our loved ones and their descendants; the kind of future available to other creatures and their descendants; the kind of future that Carter sees for himself; the kind of future that your Carters see for themselves.
This piece drew on the following three articles:
- David Wallace-Wells’ 2019 book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming provides an unflinching look at the latest scientific data and what it means for human life on earth.
- Bill McKibben’s 2019 book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? looks at climate change, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence.