Show a little bit love for the Pangolin…and everything else

Some months ago, in the basement of the natural history museum I found myself puzzling over a tray of specimens. The task was to study the animal ‘skin’ to classify and name said animal. Fur of deer – fine; the shed skin of snake – ok; a magnificent (shed) skin of a lizard including the leg. But I was stuck on the last. A single scale, tear drop in shape like a guitarist plectrum. What kind of reptile did this belong to? The educator told me to look at my hands for clues – the grooves on my nails were similar to the groves on the scale. A mammal then. But what mammal has scales? A flip through a reference book and there it was – the Pangolin, the only mammal in the world with scales.

This came to mind yesterday when the news broke of a record seizure of Pangolin meat and scales in Malaysia.  These secretive nocturnal creatures also have the misfortune of being one of the world’s most trafficked creatures. But it is not just the poaching that put them among the world’s most endangered animals – it is the wider less obvious cause and effect of habitat loss. Conservationists have eye rolled about the tendency to focus on a single species without the consideration of the wider global context to their demise. And while we reflect on the potential demise of a species in Asia and Africa there are many other species, native to the UK, that are also under threat from human activity.

But perhaps – much like the Pangolin scale – it is neither obviously one thing nor another. There is room for devotion to a particular species as there is room to be motivated by solving the problems of habitat destruction; the ever decreasing global insect population and the alarming decline of a “virtually irreplaceable, non-renewable resource”[i] – the soil – upon which nature and our food systems depend. To try to act effectively means first trying to see the links between it all.  And perhaps like Valentine’s Day it’s about that one off declaration of love – a donation to save the Pangolin – and it’s also the opportunity to reflect on how we may demonstrate care on a day by day basis by how we live and what we eat.

[i] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12571-015-0437-x

Climate change. Keep calm and carry on?

Climate change. Keep calm and carry on? 1

What does Carry On Up The Khyber, the budget speech and climate change have in common?  Quite a lot it seems…

In the final scene of ‘Carry On Up The Khyber’ the colonial British Governor and guests continue their silver service dinner whilst their ornate dining room collapses under attack from an Afghan uprising. Bombs fly, the orchestra plays on and as the ceiling falls on their heads the governor’s wife cries “I think I’m a little plastered!”. There is something quintessentially (and stereotypically) English about this scene: the pomposity, the slap stick and the biting satire about our unstoppable ability to carry on as though everything is perfectly normal while the dysfunctional world (that we have created) crashes in our heads. For the uninitiated see here.

This scene sprang to mind when watching the budget speech this week: the jokes, the jeers and the bawdy cheers when the chancellor announced a freeze on wine duty. All this but absolutely no mention of climate change. As Brother Belcher exclaims in ‘Carry On Up The Khyber’ when the Governor asks for wine as cannon balls sail over their heads “Wine?! They’re all raving mad!”

This budget speech was theatre of the absurd in technicolour.  A mere fortnight since the International Panel Climate Change report – an international scientific consensus that urged our governments to act now to avoid global disaster –  and not only was climate change ignored but Phillip Hammond announced a 30 billion road building package.  Perhaps this is further evidence of a disturbing level of collective disassociation.

So what to do? Well we can choose to participate in this mass disassociation from the truth or we can write to our MPs and ask them

  1. What they think about the fact there was no mention of climate change in the Chancellor’s budget speech?
  2. What are they (and their party) going to do about it?

And as for Philip Hammond: well there’s a time for cups of tea and keep calm and carry on and there’s a time for wake up and smell the coffee. Surely it’s time for the latter?

Feel powerless to respond to climate change? Start by putting one foot in front of the other at the Good Food March

Feel powerless to respond to climate change? Start by putting one foot in front of the other at the Good Food March 2The Intergovermental Panel for Climate Change report published on Monday made for sobering reading: a scientific consensus warning that we have just 12 years to prevent a global rise in temperatures of 2oC that could result catastrophic heat waves, flooding, starvation and poverty for millions as well as the destruction of wildlife and habitats including all coral reefs. To stop this requires (globally) trillions of dollars, immediate and urgent policy changes and unprecedented political will. With the US administration pulling out of the Paris climate accord, fracking underway in UK and Germany, and indications that Brazil is about to elect a presidential candidate that promises to open up the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness – the signs aren’t good.

Personal responses to climate change

Down on the ground it is hard not be personally overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the problem – one of a number of factors that psychologists describe as a barrier to action. As the American Psychological Association described many people are “ unaware of the problem [of climate change], unsure of the facts or what to do, do not trust experts or believe their conclusions, think the problem is elsewhere, are fixed in their ways, believe that others should act, or believe that their actions will make no difference or are unimportant compared to those of others.”

Campaigners have long known that a sense of powerlessness is the nemisis of action and so this week, in response the IPCC report, organisations such as Friends of the Earth have been careful to describe five positive steps that individuals can take to help mitigate climate change. These include 1. switching your energy provider, 2. eating less/no meat 3. ditching the car  4.flying less  5.getting political/talking about climate change.

Important of food and farming to preventing global rise in temperatures

In terms of food, the way we eat, shop and farm globally and nationally has an enormous impact on the climate whether that is the carbon emissions generated by food flown thousands of miles around the world, food grown in hothouses or the new analysis that shows that globally, meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories whilst using 83% of farmland and producing 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. We need to switch to more plant based diets as well as committing to local, seasonal eating. Most importantly of all we need to support and protect those UK farmers using environmentally friendly growing practices (and find more people to farm fruit and veg).

Igniting political will to change food and farming policy in the UK

The IPCC report also comes at a time where the UK finds itself at a political juncture: Brexit has forced a reconsideration of how the UK government will fund farming. It’s critical that the UK government commits to an agricultural bill that promotes mostly plant based diets and supports and sustains more UK farmers to grow climate friendly food (for more on the agricultural bill check out the excellent work being done by Sustain)

This Sunday 14th October, thousands are set to convene in parliament square, London, for the ‘Good Food March’ – calling for an Agricultural Bill that guarantees good food and farming for the UK and for the global environment.  So if you are one of the many feeling overwhelmed by climate change and unsure where to start: try joining the march. You will not be alone.