There are few less attractive aspects of government policy than agricultural policy. Years ago Franklin P. Jones drawled that “It's the opinion of some that crops could be grown on the moon; which raises the fear that it may not be long before we're paying somebody not to.” And for years governments have been paying people not to grow food, or ordering them not to, to raise the income of farmers, benefit consumers, harvest votes or some such. But now Britain’s RSA, which stands for “21st century enlightenment”, is arguing that cheap food causes climate change and we should all tighten our belts pre-emptively. Predictably, the report was welcomed by politicians of all parties including the Conservative Environment Secretary. Not that they changed their eating habits, of course. Just yours, fatso.
The idea that climate change is about to cause crop failure is an old one; as we noted in our video on the Canadian government’s 2001 Climate Action Plan, prairie grain yields should already be falling. What’s really happening instead is that crops are booming in most places, to the point that for instance world coffee prices are crashing, partly because of the beneficial effect of more atmospheric CO2, although there continue to be serious concerns about this year’s United States harvest of key foodstuffs because of a massively unreported cold wet spring. But one of the more suspicious aspects of global warming hysteria is a kind of neo-Puritan conviction that as we’re about to be punished for our sins, we should start mortifying the flesh before Gaia does it for us.
Thus we’re told that we should eat less meat and more beans, if not bugs, because we’ll be thinner, healthier and greener. (To be sure, the offer of a plate of bugs turns some people green quickly.) And there are reasonable concerns to be raised about some of the impacts of “factory farming” including on biodiversity. Though it is also worth noting that it was approximately when the government first told us to stop eating meat and eggs and such like and start eating more lovely carbs to stay thin and fit that obesity became a major problem.
It is also noteworthy that the report manages to make prosperity sound like a ghastly blunder. According to the Guardian, “Sue Pritchard, director of the RSA commission and an organic farmer in Wales…. said the UK had the third cheapest basket of food in the developed world, but also had the highest food poverty in Europe in terms of people being able to afford a healthy diet.” So food is too cheap. But also too expensive. Drat that capitalism.
Of course if we take the standard extreme advice to shut down all the fossil fuel plants, we’ll certainly solve the problem of food being cheap. Regrettably we won’t bring a healthy diet within reach of the people unable to put gas in their cars or tractors, though for what it’s worth dying of cold in winter will quickly make the food issue moot. (That such policies may also run into serious political trouble is, at least in some people’s minds, good reason to override democracy.)
Now for a fun quiz to end this item: How long does Britain have radically to overhaul its farming system? Oh, you peeked. A decade. Same as always when it comes to the environment (except, commendably, Prince Charles, whose watch has not stopped): Short enough to inspire urgency, long enough to avoid despair. The Commission says “The actions that we take in the next 10 years are critical: to recover and regenerate nature and to restore health and wellbeing to both people and planet”. And the Guardian, which says at the end of every such article that “As the crisis escalates… in our natural world, we refuse to turn away from the climate catastrophe and species extinction” (as if anyone thought they might stop droning on) agrees.