Warning: if you don’t like swearing, too fucking bad because I’m too angry and terrified and frustrated to censor myself today and if you’re not as angry and terrified and frustrated as I am you should probably read what I have to say.
I – like apparently just about every other person with internet access or a television – have just finished watching the final season of Game of Thrones. Plenty of people have written about the problems with the season: questionable plotting (or, at least, incoherent pacing) and a cringe-worthy finale that seemed more like the last-ever episode of an entirely different show – one regularly described by words like ‘feel-good’ and ‘wholesome’ rather than ‘brutal’ and ‘disturbing’. But I’m not a TV critic. I’m an environmentalist (though of course I’m sure there are plenty of people who are both). And the last season of GoT was a weird rollercoaster of thoughts and feelings if you had started to see the show as at least partially an allegory for the climate crisis.
This article contains copious spoilers, so if you continue to read you only have yourself to blame for ruining several key plot points for yourself.
There are a number of initiatives around New Zealand and the world which are working to grow urban agriculture, as well as the food system, urban environment, and social resilience that can accompany it (see last week’s article). The examples below are just a tiny sampling of the urban agriculture projects that exist around the country.
- The Sustainability Trust in Wellington has recently launched their ‘Food is Free’ programme, which offers basic gardening courses, as well as assistance with finding spaces for community garden plots for people who don’t have access to their own back yard for growing in, and providing resources to help set them up. The first of these gardens was launched on April 1 in the suburb of Newtown, on the site of an old petrol station.
Resilience is a hot topic right now: consultation on New Zealand’s new National Disaster Resilience Strategy recently closed, and the Paris Agreement’s focus on adaptation includes the goal of strengthening climate resilience. It seems like everyone’s talking about resilience, particularly in relation to climate change and the worsening effects it is already having on our societies. The food system, meaning the eco-social system that produces, distributes, sells, consumes food and disposes of food waste, is both particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and thus also a promising place to focus efforts for increasing resilience.
There’s a lot of disagreement about what resilience means, but for the purposes of this article it is defined as the ability of a system to maintain its basic structure and function in the face of adverse events, such as extreme weather related to climate change, political instability, or community breakdown. “A resilient food system provides a reliable source of nutritious, safe, accessible food despite disturbances.” The resilience of a system can be enhanced by a number of factors, including its diversity, the interconnectedness of its diverse elements, and how much capital it has (including environmental, social and physical capital).
This past weekend I went to a conference organised by the Sustainable Food Trust on sustainable food and agriculture and the direction of UK food and farming over the coming years as Brexit is negotiated and eventually becomes reality. Although I’m not from the UK or currently living there, much of the conference was more broadly relevant to the creation of sustainable food systems globally. I met so many incredible people (like the wonderful Abby Rose, one of the founders of the Farmerama podcast, which I’ve listened to for years back home) and learned so much – I’m still buzzing over a week later!
There were six sessions, on topics ranging from how to actually measure that elusive concept of ‘sustainability’ (with a presentation from Dieter Helm on natural capital); to sustainable food businesses creating new models for local food systems (like Farmdrop, which is similar to My Food Bag, for my Kiwi readers); to soil; to the importance of local abattoirs to small farmers and local food systems and how policy can support, rather than hinder these businesses.
There is a mountain behind the house where I used to live where I would go when I wanted to feel peace. Walking among the towering pines, soft needles underfoot, I myself felt rooted – my lungs would open and I could breathe easier. Now, I live in a big city built of apartment buildings stacked in rows like Lego blocks. I feel as though I haven’t seen a tree in weeks. I heard birds singing the other day and felt a thrill of joy – before I realised they were perched in a cage on someone’s balcony. I feel suffocated by the concrete and brick, as though their heavy presence is a weight bearing down on my shoulders. I miss the nature I took for granted in my old home. The longing has made me think about the connection between people and nature; about how important it is not only for our own wellbeing but also for the wellbeing of the world around us.
I use the term ‘connection’ loosely, to refer not only to physical interactions with the natural environment, but also the feeling of being connected with and a part of nature. I use it to refer to an intimate knowledge of the natural world in which we live and an appreciation of it as something important.
What is ‘biodiversity’ and why does it matter?
Biodiversity, according to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is the “variability among living organisms… and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. Basically, the more variety there is in any given ecosystem – whether on the scale of your backyard to the entire European landmass – the more biodiverse it is. The concept of variety applies not only to species, but to different kinds of the same species (for example, see this list of types of pumpkin) and to entire ecosystems (e.g. marine, jungle, wetland, temperate rainforest).
Biodiversity matters in a huge number of ways, including in terms of environmental health. Biodiversity improves ecosystem resilience by allowing them to adapt more easily and to recover from external stresses such as climate change. For example, in 2006 a researcher named David Bellwood (cited in Mission 2015: Biodiversity) fenced off an area of the Great Barrier Reef to prevent fish and other marine animals from interacting with the coral. The point was to determine what the effect of overfishing to the point of extinction (or, presumably, some other process with the same effect) would be on the reef. In the absence of other marine life the reef quickly became overgrown with algae, and the study indicated that it would eventually have died. When the fences were removed the bat fish – a fish normally considered by scientists to be insignificant in the reef environment – played a key role in allowing the fenced area to undergo a rapid recovery.
Ten chicken nuggets for $3. A kilogram of bacon for $6.99. A box of biscuits for less than a broccoli and 2.5 litres of Coca Cola for less than a bunch of carrots. Why would anyone in their right minds pay for fresh, unprocessed food, let alone the more expensive organic alternative when there is such an abundance of cheap calories filling the shelves of our supermarkets and the menus of our fast food outlets?
I have always understood that there are a large number of people who believe that climate change as a result of human behaviour does not exist. Whether they truly believe this or whether they have convinced themselves to because to accept the truth is too uncomfortable, I don’t know. But what I didn’t really realise is that there are also people who believe and accept the reality of what we humans are doing to the environment, and aren’t motivated to do anything about it. Sometimes people are aware that climate change will likely cause global catastrophes on an unprecedented scale in ways that we can’t even really foresee yet, but don’t see what they personally can do about it. Or they know that Trump’s election will in all probability be disastrous climate-wise, but the difference between us is that this knowledge drives me to do everything in my power to change, whereas they don’t see the need. What’s happening is sad, yes, and definitely disappointing; it would certainly be preferable if it weren’t happening, but the knowledge that the functions of civilisation are wreaking this kind of havoc doesn’t strike home.
Now, more than ever before, we must remember the irreplaceable value of wilderness and nature. The road ahead will be difficult, and sometimes it will seem hopeless; sometimes we will want to fall to our knees and tear our hair and give up, and sometimes we will feel like our actions and our words are meaningless and that nothing we do can make a difference, but we must always remember that as long as we keep fighting we have not lost. You are not alone. For as long as you stand up, I will stand up with you. You are not alone.