Toward climate-friendly farms: EU protesters demand action

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Youth for Climate - March for a better future in Brussels January 17, 2019. Photo: European Greens/Flickr

In the last few weeks, tens of thousands in Europe have demonstrated for urgent climate action.

More than 80,000 people joined environmental organizations to march in Brussels -- and another 80,000 in towns and villages across France. The protests are being undertaken in the lead-up to the European Council meetings which will take place in Brussels on March 21 and 22. Some of those protesting are farmers, others are seasoned activists, others are high school students.

These protests are highlighting growing concern, tension and demands for new agricultural policies, among others. Coalitions are being formed as movements come together from various sectors to protest lack of commitment on the part of governments.

Protesters are noting that it is time to realize that the agro-industrial model of agriculture is not good for our communities, for rural towns and villages, for our soil, for health or, most particularly, for our climate.

Our model of agriculture needs to be informed by much more than just a revamped Canadian Food Guide.

Take this quote from a recent article about protests on January 19 in Germany over agricultural policy and climate change:

"Agriculture ministers from around the world and Germany's farming minister Julia Klöckner were handed a protest note Saturday by demonstrators declaring in their slogan of having a 'belly full' of industrialized farming.

Protesters called out by some 100 organizations asserted that alleviation of climate change and species depletion required a reorganization of EU farming policy, including subsidies, currently amounting to €60 billion ($68 billion) annually, including €6.3 billion allocated in Germany.

That flowed mainly to larger companies focused on boosting yields, they said, but instead the funds should be distributed better to avert further farmyard closures and rural village die-offs.

Organizers said 35,000 protesters had converged on Berlin via three routes, some using tractors, from the state of Brandenburg which surrounds Germany's capital."

This story on issues related to organic farming and sustainable agriculture in Germany helps to explain the urgency. Farmers concerned about climate change are calling on a return to smaller farms and a stop to subsidies that encourage and benefit larger farms.

The EU climate protests highlight concerns similar to those of small farmers and their supporters in Canada.

I have written in this column about these same types of concerns among small farmers and producers in Canada, as well as by the eaters who support sustainable agriculture. These are ongoing issues that have been part of the Canadian landscape since the 1960s, yet there seems to be little political will to undertake the changes required.

Seeking real solutions

It is tough for me to oppose proposals that promise to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate climate change and in the process, stem the tide of rising waters, drought-laden lands, and unforeseen storms.

I am worried about climate change. And I want us to do the right thing about it. I don't think that the burden should only be borne by individuals. Corporations need to dedicate funds and time and pony up real solutions -- not just those that will ensure ongoing profits. But it is also governments that have to implement policies and regulate their application.

For example -- where is my affordable electric car? I have been looking for it for 20 years. It is still coming, apparently, but by the time it gets here, I think we may all be walking.

People need to be encouraged to do the right thing -- and governments play a huge role in determining that. Climate change deniers such as the current Ontario premier or the Saskatchewan premier and their governments, among others, will have much to answer for in the future if they do not start acting on this issue.

So will agricultural ministers at all government levels.

Last October, there was an enhanced sense of urgency as a number of academics, including researchers with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concluded that the world has only 12 years left to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. If temperatures rise above that, scientists predict a dire climate crisis with more floods, devastating heat and worsening poverty across the globe.

The climate change impacts in Canada are significant. Temperatures have been increasing at roughly double the average global rate, with average temperatures already increased by 1.7 C since 1948. Warming has been observed across most of Canada, with stronger trends in the north and west, and in winter and spring. In the Arctic, average temperature has increased at a rate of nearly three times the global average. Predictions are that Canada's temperature will continue to warm at a faster rate than the world as a whole.

Finding hope

But in all of this there is a strong light of hope and it is the young people who are spurring on the protests around the planet.

One of these people is 15-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg. During the last few months her voice has been the catalyst for many other young people to challenge politicians and policy makers, and the adults in their lives.

These young people do not have all the answers -- but they do provide hope and they do want action.

Read this statement made by Greta in Davos.

Then listen to how she became concerned about climate change and how her activism changed the lives of her parents.

You will realize -- as I did -- that it really isn't about an electric car at all. It is about living differently. That means how we farm, how we eat, how we move and travel, what we purchase, if we fly, and so much more. It is also about how we band together to support policies that will make for meaningful change.

And sometimes it means going to court to take a stand against governments bent on inaction.

More on this the next column.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: European Greens/Flickr

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