Beat the heat with summer reads on food and climate

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Photo: Duarte JH/Flickr

It is a hot, muggy Ottawa day as I write this column.

It has just been announced that the Earth reached its hottest point to date in June. The heat wave in Europe is record setting.

My summer reading list is also hot this year with tomes on climate change and agriculture. Among the words are also a few good online resources to keep you sharp as the degrees mount.

The list is not too long, but packed with perspective.

Climate change seems to be on everyone's list lately -- as it should be. Remember when it was called the "greenhouse effect"? It is still all about carbon. And understanding how food and agriculture can be part of climate justice is fundamental.

Here are a few summer reads that you might want to check out.

Civilization Critical -- by Darrin Qualman

First up is a brand-new book, Civilization Critical, published in April by Darrin Qualman, a Saskatchewan farmer and one-time senior staffer with the National Farmers Union. This book comes highly recommended by Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress.

Here is what Wright has to say:

"Darrin Qualman's Civilization Critical is a thoughtful, thoroughly documented analysis of the runaway train we are all aboard. Anyone worried about the track ahead should read it. Those not worried should read it more than once."

Qualman chronicles the past, present and future of our civilization and industrialized habits. He takes a hard look at the choices we are making, the way we are living, and assesses where we are going wrong. It is also a hopeful book -- one that inspires readers to make better choices and to believe in their power to change things.

Qualman says:

"The book argues that a nineteenth- and twentieth-century transition to linear systems and away from the circular patterns of nature (and of all previous civilizations) is the foundational error -- the underlying problem, the root cause of climate change, resource depletion, oceans full of plastics, and a host of mega-problems now intensifying and merging, with potentially civilization-cracking results."

He emphasizes that we are not doomed: "Doom is a choice."

Let's leave it at that.

Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It -- by Anna Lappé

Yes! The book's title does indeed sound familiar. Frances Moore Lappé is the author's mother and her 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, sparked a revolution in our thinking about food, hunger and the environment. In Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappé has arrived with a discussion of food and climate change, and how the choices we make regarding "what is at the end of our fork" can make a huge difference. Choices about what we eat, how it is grown and produced, distributed and more, are all contributors to climate change. Though published in 2010, this book has lots of shelf life yet.

Lappé calls out "Big Ag" and food conglomerates for getting on the climate change band wagon by profiting from people's genuine concerns for the planet and promoting ineffective alternatives. She details how corporations take advantage of the climate "opportunity," discusses biofuels, pluses and minuses of harnessing methane as alternative energy in China and the U.S., and how local, small production can help reduce carbon. And there is lots more. This book is an excellent primer for anyone wanting to learn more or refresh their knowledge. It has great references and provides new resources.

By reading Diet for a Hot Planet you will learn a whole lot about what we can do to make our lives and the planet more sustainable in the face of climate change -- and you will also be privy to Lappé's seven principles for a climate-friendly diet. Good tips to guide anyone!

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming -- edited by Paul Hawken

Here, an international coalition of researchers, scientists, and professionals have come together to offer more than 100 economically viable ways that, if deployed collectively, can help us to reach drawdown -- "that point in time when greenhouse gases reach a peak in the atmosphere and begin to decline."

Many of the 100 measures are related to food and agriculture. The great thing about this book is that you can also easily access the website complementing the book's content. The website includes the 100 ideas presented in the book and many examples of viable projects. Both are called "Drawdown" and include science and facts on everything from biking to regenerative agriculture, tree intercropping, silvipasture … and 97 more options for trying to establish low-carbon resilience (i.e. taking steps to mitigate and adapt).

I have come also across two interesting books by Lorimer -- they are related to agriculture in that they talk about the role of Big Oil in stifling climate-change initiatives, as well as the types of policy changes that are required to get to zero carbon. Big Oil and Big Ag have much in common. Both of the following books were published in the fall of 2018.

The Big Stall: How big oil and think tanks are blocking action on climate change in Canada -- by Donald Gutstein

From rabble's book review:

"The world's biggest oil companies knew for years that climate change was real, but they did all they could to derail government action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Donald Gutstein's latest book, The Big Stall, is a deep dive into the strategies that Canadian oil companies and their friends have implemented to prevent political action to slow and reverse catastrophic climate change."

Getting to Zero: Canada Confronts Global Warming -- by Tony Clarke

Here is a summary:

"In this book, long-time social and environmental activist Tony Clarke provides the hard-to-find information and analysis about what Canada is and is not doing right now to get to zero. He documents the key initiatives that are moving Canada towards a lower-carbon future. But he also spells out how contradictory government decisions and policies are enabling a business-as-usual approach by the oil and gas industry. He identifies many positive initiatives organized by various civil society groups taking us on the path to zero emissions. For him, effective citizen engagement and action are key to the serious changes needed to get Canada to zero."

Lots of good grist for your summer reading! As we collectively face the climate crisis, don't despair, do what you can. Some of the actions required, as these books outline, are based on having the knowledge required to avoid the bandwagon and to challenge the status quo.

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: Duarte JH/Flickr

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