environmentalism


The other night I watched a really interesting show on BBC. The Great British Waste Menu was designed to reveal two things, 1) just how much food gets thrown out everyday and 2) just how good the food is that usually gets thrown out. They did this by having four top flight english chefs compete to create dishes to for a banquet dinner for 60 VIP guests, most of whom were food critics, broadcasters and TV show presenters.

If you want to see the show you watch it on the BBC iPlayer, it’s 90 minutes and it’s pretty fascinating and depressing at the same time. If you can’t watch it because you live in the wrong region or can’t be bothered to watch the whole thing, check out this clip on youtube.

I had already read somewhere that about 20% of all food produced, sold and bought in the UK goes to waste and gets thrown out, but this show put some hard numbers and images to it to help understand what 20% actually looks like. 3,500 potatoes a minutes get thrown out in the UK…every minute! The show also tried to make the point that a significant amount of fruit and vegetables gets thrown out because it doesn’t match a very specific set of requirements in regards of size, color and texutre that the supermarkets set, in part because the ‘consumer’ only wants perfect looking food. A tomato must be a certain size, be perfectly round and the perfect color, for example a courgette (zuchinni in America) can be no longer than 30cm, so farmers are screwed if they actually have a better than usual growing season and their vegetables are too big!!! If it doesn’t match it is thrown out. None of these factors affect the taste, but it is deemed un-sellable and therefore un-eatable. The additional point of the show was to not throw out any food because it is not only still eatable, but can be used to make a very delicious dish.

An even greater point the show could have and should have made was that as ‘consumers’ we need to begin buying less food to begin with. A significant portion of the food that gets thrown away is food that sits for too long in the backs of our fridges and ‘expires’ before we remember that we even have it. If we bought less food, we would actually be able to eat all the food that we actually buy. In addition to throwing out less food, as families, we’d save quite a bit of money as well.

In addition, the show points out ‘best before’ dates, ‘sell by’ dates and ‘eat before’ dates actually have little to do with freshness, quality and taste. They are marketing techniques used by supermarkets to get us to buy more food, to increase their sales…so if something is a day or two passed the prescribed date, then give it a sniff and use it if still smells good.

The bottom line is we could stand to have a bit less of everything, decrease our footprint, decrease our usage, decrease our waste.

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The average American family will use more energy created by fossil fuel between the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and dinner time on January 2 than a Tanzanian family will use all year long. (New Economic Foundation, Real World Economic Outlook 2003, p. 61.)

I’m not ok with this…too often we assume that this is simply a right we have because of where we live, but this is an example of economic injustice. The solution isn’t just to increase the quality and standard of living in Tanzania (in this case) but to also decrease our energy consumption so that it is more consistent with the average usage of people in other first world countries (like the United Kingdom which uses less than half the energy per person as the United States does: 166BTUs per person vs. 350 BTUs per person annually).

A failure to do so is arrogant, prideful, selfish and deeply unstewardly.

To make the packaging that contains the cereal you and I both ate for breakfast this morning, requires 7X more energy than the whole box of cereal provides to the ‘eater’ (and given the amount of sugar in todays cereals, it’s even more depressing). I ate Fruitful Shredded Wheat this morning.

The irony is the primary purpose of the packaging for cereal has very little to do with ‘packaging’, it has everything to do with marketing. If freshness was the issue, the packaging would be alot simplier and require much less energy to produce.

Are we happy or comfortable with the kind of eating and culture that requires that kind of energy input to energy output ratio?

Does anyone think that kind of ratio is sustainable?

Doesn’t need much comment does it?

But it does beg the question of what constitutes ‘a better world’?

On the way home from a short holiday we stopped in Bristol for lunch. We went to some deli and weren’t exactly blown away, but it wasn’t horrible.

What made it really interesting was the bag they gave us to carry our lunch outside of the deli. See the picture below.

In case you can’t read it the bag says ‘Bins get hungry too, please feed them.’ Right next to a recycling logo.

Maybe I’m being really picky, but this bag presents very contrasting messages. England has a garbage, litter or rubbish problem. People just have little problem littering where ever they feel like. It’s very frustrating, really depressing and frankly shocking to see someone be so cavalier as to through junk mail on the side walk or finish their McDonalds and just throw the wrapper on the sidewalk/pavement. So I’m sure the message on the bag is telling people to throw their garbage/rubbish in the bin and not on the ground, sidewalk or pavement.

But how do you put that message right next to a recycling symbol on a bag that can clearly be reused and recycled? Is the recycling logo on this bag there just because it’s culturally acceptable to have a recycling logo on things that can be recycled so that it gives the business giving out the bags environmental cache?

This bag is a good reminder to me that I must work towards consistency in terms of my use and consumption. I must work harder to reduce the amount that I consume, to reuse what I do use and recycle everything that can’t be reused and to constantly ask myself it is something I need to begin with.

It’s also a good reminder to me to be consistent in the beliefs that I hold to be true and that I project. I can not believe something and act on it only when it’s convenient, which is the message of the bag that says ‘Recycle if you’re really committed, but otherwise just bin it.’

And in the meantime, I won’t be frequenting a resturant/deli that passively encourages people to throw away things that can be reused and recycled.

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here…in part because I’ve been pretty busy with reading for school and haven’t come across anything that has got me too fired up. Then I was watching the CNN world report that they show here in the UK and saw a story that just made me shake my head in dismay.

President Obama held a press release yesterday announcing the he is opening areas on most of the east coast of the United States, areas north of Alaska and possibly part of the coast of the coast of Florida for off-shore drilling and gas drilling. This move is mystifying on a host of levels.
1) The environmental impact. I won’t say much more on this, as people will either agree or disagree on this one…you either get it or you don’t…and sadly if you’re an evangelical Christian (like I am) in North America the odds are you don’t get it because a passion for God’s creation and environmental concern clash with your theology of blessing as you rock your Chevy Suburban on it’s 1.5 mile drive to the supermarket.
2) The article states up front this is a play to get bi-partisan support for other environmental legislation before the mid-term elections in November. Yet the reaction from Republicans is predictable, Obama didn’t go far enough. The only thing that will make most Republicans happy is unlimited access to Prudhoe Bay.
3) He campaigned against new off shore drilling!!!
4) And perhaps most significantly is, he wants to open access to drilling where there is little oil and that is recognized by most experts. If there was substantial oil and gas there wouldn’t they have been begging for access already? Peep the video from CNNfor confirmation on this one. It’s an interview with Boone Pickens, former British Petroleum big wig.

I know politics is a tough game President Obama, but no thanks. The price isn’t worth it on this one.

Lately I’ve been trying to spend a little more time reading stuff I know that I’ll disagree with or is on the more ‘radical’ side. The hope is to sharpen some of my thinking and help me be more reflective about what I actually think.

Two periodicals that meet this criteria are ‘New Scientist’ (some interesting ideas but tend to ridicule anything that is faith based) and ‘Adbusters’ (more great ideas, but pretty out there). I like reading New Scientist because they have some very progressive ideas of how to deal with ecological degradation creating global warming and I read Adbusters because I think in some ways they are emblamatic of the ‘in the world but not of it’ thinking that Paul emplored Christians to have.

Reading Adbusters the other day in the most recent issue ‘The Virtual adbustersWorld’ I read a quote that made me question my hope for a natural solution to the problem of global warming because of the truth in the statement. The author (not known to me) wrote ‘For all the talk about the environment these days, I don’t think human beings have ever been so distanced from nature. And much as I hate to say it, I don’t think this trend is going to reverse itself. It just seems inevitable that people will continue to live more and more through technology.’ How can we realistically expect people to be committed to finding a solution to the problem of global warming (whether you think it’s real or not) when our culture is relying on advancements that distance ourselves from the problem more and more?

newscientist
If that weren’t enough, in New Scientist magazine James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis and scientist, is quoted as saying, ‘Climate change is happening and will shape the future world. It is unlikely that we will slow the pace of change, mainly because we are too slow and unable to make effective responses in under 20 to 40 years. More than this, the Earth itself will soon be in the driving seat and aiming at a 5C hotter world. I think that our best course of action is to spend as much effort adapting to global heating as in attempts to slow or stop it from happening.’

HUH? Really? Sounds to me like some very forward thinkers believe we can’t get the job done? This isn’t good enough for me and it is theologically unacceptable. Based on Genesis 1 we have a responsibility and simply finding an easier solution to avoid the real problem isn’t an option. If technology is ultimately causing us/me to lose touch with the creation that God made and with each other, then I want less of it (yes, I see the irony in making that statement on a blog on the web).

Rather than taking the same rather pessimistic view of things that these two authors have taken, I prefer to be optimistic, hopeful and action oriented about the problem of global warming and isolation, lonliness due to an over-emphasis on technology.