Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

A big box of crazy

Special delivery for the world's food supply



A big box of crazy." That's what CNN's Jake Tapper recently called U.S. President Donald Trump's claim that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by China.

It's a great phrase from The Tapper — perfect for all things Trumpian in the past seven months but most useful in the climate change context, especially the announcement that the U.S. was backing out of the Paris climate accord like a bad drunk backing out of the village parkade late on a Saturday night.

SMA-A-ASH! What was that!? KRA-A-ASH! Can't hear ya with all that metal crunchin'!

It was a mega, black-gift-wrapped box of crazy delivered to the world just in time for (take your pick) World Environment Day (June 5); Canada's Environment Week (June 4–11); World Oceans Day (June 8); and the big international UN conference on the state of our oceans.

You name it, they're all happening this week, now against the backdrop of the second biggest emitter of carbon emissions on the planet joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations outside the "2-degrees-or-less" club. The only reason Nicaragua is not part of the agreement, which was signed by 195 nations, is because they didn't think it was stringent enough. As for Syria, no explanation needed.

Since Trump presented his big box of crazy, zillions of eminent quoters from around the world have reacted. But I really like what Robert Richmond, director and research professor at the University of Hawaii had to say.

"Anything short of full engagement with and support for the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC by the United States would be ultimately damaging to our economy and the quality of life of all who inhabit the earth," he said in a press release from Future Earth, part of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

"The impacts of failed U.S. leadership on climate change would range from declines in agriculture and food security to losses in coastal protection and fisheries, and would place a terrible burden on our children and future generations who would pay a very high price..."

Urgings for Trump to stick with the Paris Agreement came from more than two dozen corporate giants I never in my life expected to see together in the same sentence, never mind speaking as one on such a critical environmental issue. They included Unilever, Virgin, Tesla, General Electric, Apple, Morgan Stanley and Royal Dutch Shell. But their voices went unheeded.

The post-announcement resignations of Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, and Robert Iger, chief executive of Disney, from the president's advisory council were also blithely ignored. Meanwhile, the very same week, a crack in the Antarctic ice sheet grew an additional 27 kilometres from the previous week.

To me, it's super interesting that two of the CEOs urging Trump to reverse course head up huge food companies — Cargill and Campbell's Soup.

Cargill, the largest privately held company in North America in terms of revenue, has been called "the quiet giant that rules the food industry." Founded in 1865 by William Cargill when he bought a grain storage building in Iowa, the Cargill-Macmillan family is now worth an estimated US$43 billion, according to The Washington Post. With earnings of US$1.64 billion last year, its products range from carpet backing to sugar-free sweeteners and farmed fish feed.

Previously, Cargill has been on the firing lines for a number of offenses, from selling contaminated seed grain in Iraq that caused hundreds of deaths to international recalls for contaminated meat. But never mind that for now. The point is Cargill is all about the food supply chain and they obviously recognize the connection between food security and our changing climate.

The company's Dave MacLennan was one of 30 CEOs who signed an open letter published in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in May exhorting Trump to stick with the Paris Agreement. According to the company's website, "Climate has been a central part of Cargill's sustainability efforts in recent years because the challenges of producing food for a growing population are heightened in the face of a changing climate."

Indeed. And when a big company decides to back change, the changes are big.

In the past year alone, by using renewable energy, Cargill removed 1.2 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from their supply chain (the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road). They also work with farmers to cope with climate change, including in their palm oil supply chain, where they're committed to deforestation-free farming and socially responsible methods.

As for Campbell's Soup — the other big food supply signatory to the WSJ letter — like so many other companies and jurisdictions, they're standing by their support for the Paris accord and promising to continue to address climate change. Campbell's top sustainability goal for 2020 is to reduce by half the company's environmental footprint, which they define as the amount of water used and greenhouse gasses emitted per metric ton of food produced. Now that's m-m-m-m, good!

The big box is crazy and scary, but it's heartening to see companies and governments in America double down on their efforts to deal with our changing climate. Plus the pullout can't happen until near the end of Trump's term of office, and who knows what might happen by then.

In the meantime, I give the last word to Al Gore. Hoping to reverse Trump's anticipated landing on the wrong side of history, the former vice-president met in December with Trump and daughter, Ivanka, who, to her credit, seems to get the climate threat. Obviously it didn't work.

"I thought that he would come to his senses on it, but he didn't," says Gore.

Maybe one day he will.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who calls out all crazy making.

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