Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

No more palming off

Massive change starts at home

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As I'm writing this, the sad news has just arrived that Maurice Strong has died at age 86. The timing is ironic for it's the same time world leaders are flying into Paris for COP21, the most important climate conference ever.

Both are topics I've tracked for 20-plus years. Mr. Strong because he's one of my all-time Canadian heroes. (He pretty much put the environment and sustainable development on the international agenda.) Climate change because you'd be plain foolish not to learn everything you can about it.

After selling the Whistler Question and booting it around the world for a couple of years, including to Indonesia, I did a short gig in the communications department of then-forest giant MacMillan Bloedel. The company had an equally giant budget for sending management types to all kinds of functions, so in June 1992 I tried to talk my boss into sending me to the UN's Rio Earth Summit on the environment and development. He didn't.

But ever since I've tracked the progress, or pathetic lack of it, on the climate file, always with an eye out for whatever Maurice Strong was up to. He organized that big, beautiful and sometimes messy Rio event that, for a lot of people, was the first time they'd even heard about "climate change".

Four years before Rio, in June 1988, James Hansen, then director of NASA's Institute for Space Studies and one of the few experts in the world on climate change, testified before a U.S. senate committee that human-caused climate change was happening and we needed to take action to prevent it. By that June, a very hot one in Washington D.C.; year-to-date 1988 was the hottest year on record. (Check out The New York Times' June 24, 1988 article by Philip Shabecoff.)

Now 2015 is the hottest year on record; 2016 is predicted to be even hotter, and there have been a lot more "hottest years" in between. We're closing in on 30 years of record heat.

What do "they" say? If you expect to change things by doing the same thing over and over, well, you're mad, or something like that. Despite its nugget of truth, the quote isn't real. It's as much of a myth as the supposed Gandhi quote, "Be the change you wish to see."

The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him... We need not wait to see what others do." Basically, Gandhi is telling us that things are always more complex and nuanced than they seem, but personal and social transformation go hand in hand.

What a good idea.

I think of another famous quote along the "personal action" lines, one by Cary Grant (and it is genuine): "I began by acting like the person I wanted to be and eventually I become that person."

Want a world with a safe, secure, healthy future? Then start acting like a person who cares about climate change and soon you will become one.

What's all this doing in a food column? Simple. I believe massive change can start right at home. And food, bless its central role in our lives no matter who we are, is an excellent place to start. Here's an example:

Leading up to the Paris talks, The Guardian, the top English language newspaper in the world, announced the kind of coverage they'll be doing. It includes articles by George Monbiot, one of the best enviro journalists in the world, like this one: "Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away?"

He wonders why we are obsessed with things like what the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing or, touché, why sausages are bad for your health (see my Oct. 29 food column), while "a great tract of Earth is on fire."

"Fire is raging across the 5,000 km length of Indonesia," Monbiot writes. "...It is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany." At the time, the air was so thick with smoke visibility was reduced to 30 metres and warships were ready to evacuate children. Forests and the peat earth itself burn up in Indonesia because of huge fires set to clear land for monoculture like pulpwood and palm oil.

There is great power in numbers, and in simplicity. If we all simply checked the labels on food products and stopped eating anything with palm oil in it, we'd all be on our way to a better climate future — and better health.

As for Mr. Strong, bless his determined heart, one of his last messages to us was what he hoped the COP21 talks in Paris would achieve.

"We need in Paris ... a strong climate agreement ...

"No issue is more important to the human future than that of climate change in which the political will to act cooperatively and decisively has dangerously diminished." 

I hope he's proved wrong on the very last bit.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who will miss Maurice Strong.

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