A Run Down: UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21)

Community garden at the Intervale Center in Burlington, VT

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It is also one of the busiest. As the year comes to a close, projects are wrapping up, assignments are due, the cheer is spread, and the Advent season begins. In the midst of the season’s “busy”, there is an incredibly important gathering occurring in Paris. More than 750 global leaders of all disciplines and fields hailing from all over the world are gathering together for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). There are also hundreds of thousands around the world standing up in solidarity for our shared future – for our shared earth. The conference discussions have spotlighted several premiere issues in the fight against climate change, underscoring global agricultural production as a severe and pervasive issue that we can no longer push aside.

“The [USDA] has released a new report assessing the impacts of climate change on global food security and the U.S. food system. It takes a detailed look at how—between now and the end of this century—the changing climate will affect farming and food distribution around the world. These impacts will touch virtually everything we eat, from grains to fresh produce, fish, meat and dairy products.”
– In Paris, the USDA puts Food and Climate Change Center Stage (Civil Eats)
With agriculture of all levels – from local to global, affecting our waters, air, land, and other natural resource inputs, as well as the very fabric of societies and the way we interact – and by extension the very basic qualities of our life (a meal can be the difference between life and death), it’s crazy that we have come to the point that our means of sustenance is a very real and increasing danger to our means of wholesale existence.
Though much of the language (including my own) about this global issue is along militant and alarmist lines, given tat the more serious affects of climate change will be realized in the long term, climate change still presents a very serious cause for present worry.
The range of effect, from The New York Times:
Short Term
  • Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say that climate is likely to resemble that of today
  • We will experience a gradual warming (already happening)
  • Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will likely grow hotter and therefore drier
  • The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface (aka more intense on average than those in the past)
  • Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging
Long Term (if emissions continue unchecked) scientists fear climate effects will be so sever that they might:
  • Destabilize governments
  • Produce waves of refugees (already happening)
  • Precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history
  • Melt the polar ice caps, causing seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities

Though these effects could take hundreds or thousands of years to occur, experts cannot and have not ruled out abrupt changes, such as a collapse of agriculture, that would throw society into a global state of chaos much sooner than the long term predictions.
So, what does that mean for the state of our agricultural production? It means both it and we need to change our practices and behaviors, and we need to do so now.
Michael Pollan recently wrote on this matter in an article aptly titled It’s #TimetoChoose Climate-Friendly Food.
“If we are serious about changing the climate, we need to get serious about changing agriculture.”
Pollen implores, “Either we can continue to feed ourselves using millions of gallons of fossil fuels to make synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to support the unsustainable monocultures that undergird the present food system, or we can turn towards modern organic and regenerative agriculture. The good news is that, thanks to the innovations pioneered by our most creative farmers, we already know how to do the right thing.” He rightly points out that the way we are growing and eating is aggressively degrading our environment, and that we can either continue with the madness or change to regenerative sustainable practices that the new movement of farmers is developing and successfully practicing.
Thankfully, these matters are all on the table at COP21. With Europe leading the fight against climate change, it is diligently working to persuade the biggest emitters to get on board and make the UN Climate Change Conference a global success.
EU emissions reduction targets for COP 21, from European Commission:
  • Limit global warming to a global average increase of 2°C
  • Get a commitment to reduce Greenhouse gases by at least 60% by 2050 compared to 2010
  • Decarbonization of the world economy by the end of the century
In addition to the excitement, hopefulness, and alarming nature of climate change, there are many doubting whether these negotiations will be enough. In my opinion, they are not enough. They are a very large and very critical piece of the solution – because there is no one answer. It will take global leaders, industry executives, national policy heads, and action on state and local levels, down to the individual to make a change for the better. The beautiful thing about all this, is that it’s already happening – the change has begun. Now, we just have to keep going – allowing our shared earth its due justice through our due diligence.
Prayers for the world.

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