Interesting weather this winter, wasn’t it? Last December brought tornadoes to the south and a blizzard to west Texas. Locally, we set some near-records for daily high temperatures in late December and again in January and February.
Coming on the heels of the Paris Climate Change conference – which resulted in an agreement for nearly every nation in the world to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide through energy efficiency, reforestation, transition to renewable energy sources, and many other means – my first instinct was to attribute the extreme weather to climate change.
Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong.
Do you know where your food comes from? When eating at a restaurant, picking up a quick fast food snack, or sitting down to eat at home, do you know where each of the ingredients in your meal is grown?
In many cases, the answer would be a surprise. Apple juice from China. Lettuce from California. Grapes from Chile. Lamb from Australia.
Transportation of food across such vast distances – by boat, plane, truck and train – has economic as well as environmental costs. Simply put, it costs more to transport a product to Woodstock from China than it does to bring it in from Iowa. With gas prices around $4 a gallon in the US (and much more elsewhere in the world), transportation costs will continue to be a significant share of the cost of food.
On the environmental side of the equation, all those vehicles use fuel that emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to warming the planet, which in turn leads to changes in the climate. Climate change is causing some areas to receive more rain, and others to receive less, and water availability is a critical element of growing food.
Long distance transportation of food also has a social cost, as it disconnects people even more from the sources of their food. When people start to see farmland as “scenery” and not as the source of food, there is a greater risk that the full value of that “open land” will not be recognized or valued by society. Ask the average person where his food comes from, and he is likely to say “from the grocery store.”
For those who visit the local farmers’ market, the answer might be “well, my beef comes from a farm in Greenwood, and my vegetables come from a farm near Harvard.”
People have been embracing the benefits of buying local food for several years now. So much so, that there is a word to describe them: locavore, n. meaning one who eats foods locally grown whenever possible. Locally grown food products are fresher than food that has been shipped in from far away. I also find local produce to taste better than store bought items. And buying directly from a local farmer is good for the local economy.
Restaurants are now promoting the use of locally raised meats and produce on menus. 1776 and Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake both describe the source of many ingredients right on their menus. Expressly Leslie’s in Woodstock obtains as many of the ingredients for its vegetarian meals from vendors at the Woodstock Farmers’ Market.
Buying more of one’s food locally at a farmers’ market, farm stand or through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation builds community, strengthens the local economy, and is better for the environment. It is just that simple.
Here are a few resources to help you find local food:
- The website www.localharvest.org provides an abundance of information to help the consumer find farmers’ markets, CSA operations, specific products and even restaurants that use local farm products in any area of the country.
- A group is working to create a McHenry County Food Cooperative which would be member-owned and operated. The food would be organic and sourced locally, and the money spent at a food co-op would stay in the community to boost the local economy. The group has a website: www.mchenrycountyfoodcoop.com and also a Facebook page. Volunteers are needed to help implement the project.
- Join me for “Speaking of Nature” on Harvard Community Radio, August 15th from 6-7pm for a discussion of local food issues. I’ll be talking live with Rich Brook, pictured above, Andy Andreski from 1776 restaurant and Scott Brix who is involved in the Coop effort. www.HarvardCommunityRadio.com
Did anyone else notice that the President mentioned climate change during his victory speech early Wednesday morning? Specifically, he said: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
That sounds like three priorities: reduction of the National debt, equal rights for all Americans, and doing something about climate change.
For months, I have been frustrated by the absence of a National dialogue about climate change. The topic did not come up during the Presidential debates – not even a passing reference. This, despite the fact that our own Defense Department has stated that global climate change will have national security implications for the US, as rising sea waters inundate US military bases as well as low-lying nations and as changing weather patterns cause water shortages in some countries and flooding in others.
“We will pay for [climate change] one way or another,” Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine and the former head of US Central Command, wrote in a report he prepared as a member of a military advisory board. His report goes on to say that America can pay dollars today to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, or it will pay later through loss of life as the US faces more military conflicts through the political instability that climate change will cause.
So what? How does that affect us here in McHenry County? Why should we care?
Well, aside from concern about the impact to habitats and species, consider that McHenry County will have young people whose lives will be at risk in future military conflicts as nations fight over water and possibly land for their citizens. And, there is every reason to believe that the United States will continue its long tradition of welcoming refuges from throughout the world, and those people will need to have places to live. Population pressures in the US in the future will impact McHenry County, especially with our location within the Chicago metropolitan area.
I hope the next four years brings rational discussion in the US aimed at taking meaningful action to address climate change and to reduce the risks of future global instability that will result if nothing is done. Let’s not push this problem off onto a future generation.
Okay, someone has to say it, and it might as well be me. The average temperature on the planet is rising. It has been for some time. Sea levels are rising. Weather patterns are less predictable. Violent storm events are becoming the norm.
In the United States for the month of June, there were over 2,000 record-setting high temperature events. A drought covers much of the country. Sure, the US has had droughts before, and heat waves, and out-of-control wildfires, but never of this magnitude, never so widespread and never so relentlessly. Statistically, the odds of a year like this happening by chance are on the order of one billion to one.
For most people, this is not news, but one would not know that from listening to the mainstream media and politicians in this country. The refusal to take action – or to even acknowledge that warming is happening in some quarters – will cost millions of people their lives, livelihoods and/or homes.
There is a deep irony afoot in the world today. The people who have the least impact on the planet will be most affected by global warming. These people are also the poorest and most vulnerable. And that makes me sad.
Low-lying, Pacific island nations will disappear as oceans rise. Parts of Bangladesh have already disappeared under rising water levels. Countries like Bolivia that depend on melt water from mountain glaciers will lose their water supplies as the glaciers disappear.
Many of the poorest nations on the planet have populations where a majority is descended from indigenous cultures. In the Indigenous view, Mother Earth is neither an inert object nor the source of resources but a home with which humans are related. How very sad and ironic it is that these countries will be most affected by the changes – and are least able to do anything to mitigate the effects.
Bolivia, where 66% of the population is descended from indigenous people, is feeling the effects of a warming planet as the glaciers in the Andes melt. The glaciers are the primary source of water in the country. The seasonal glacial melt waters feed streams and rivers, providing fresh, clean water for Bolivians. During the winters, snowfall rebuilds the glaciers.
But what happens as the glaciers shrink, as they are? And what will happen when the glaciers disappear altogether?
Glaciers release water slowly, and the water tends to be cool and clean. Rain water tends to be more “flashy” with more forceful, shorter duration flows that have a greater erosive impact on the land. Rain events are also more unpredictable than water from snow melt.
Bolivia and other poor nations have spoken up at United Nations’ Climate Change meetings, in the hopes of persuading wealthy nations to take significant steps to minimize the human contributions to warming. Poor nations have asked the wealthy nations to compensate them financially for the impacts of rising waters, melting glaciers, desertification and increased rainfall. They have begged for assistance with mass relocation efforts as low-lying areas are inundated. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
In 2010, representatives from many of these nations gathered in Bolivia for a Summit which resulted in a resolution asking the United Nations to recognize the rights of Mother Nature as being equivalent to those of humans.
Then, in early 2011, the nation of Bolivia adopted a set of laws that gives nature rights equal to those of man. The law established 11 new rights for nature, including: the right to life and to exist, the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration, the right to pure water and clean air, the right not to be polluted, and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
The laws are derived from an Andean spiritual worldview, in which all organisms, humans included, are of equal importance to earth’s well-being. Seems to me those early people – people who some consider primitive or unsophisticated – were pretty smart.
Believing that the vast biodiversity in nature has a right to exist without being polluted, genetically altered or destroyed sounds quite sensible to me.
In December 2010, I wrote an article about the coming of winter - "Slow down and take a cue from nature"
In it, I discussed the fact that in this part of the world, nature takes a break in the winter, and so should we.
Now that we have reached February 2012 with barely a week's worth of winter days thus far (not that I'm complaining, just observing), I find myself wondering what impact an unusually warm "winter" might have on nature & humans.
From what I've read, one warm winter may not have much impact, but several in a row will. And while those impacts may not be evident for many years, given that this warming during winter is a well established trend, the impacts are very real, and may be irreversible.