Farming and the Climate Crisis

 

A recent Environment & Eco suggestion (shared in a recent newsletter) seems to have set off some wider conversations in various quarters and rightly so. These weekly suggestions are taken from a list published by the diocesan environment team. Last week’s said this: “Producing 1kg of beef produces the equivalent CO2 to you driving a 300mile round trip while leaving all your lights on at home. Could we eat food produced more locally to reduce these emissions while also supporting local farmers?” (I actually amended it to focus on local food). Being a farming area, these issues are highly important and very emotive. When suggestions are made that animal products are harmful to the environment, there is a justifiable outcry about farmers’ livelihoods. I certainly have no intention of suggesting anyone’s livelihood be damaged. 

About 10 years ago milk prices became headline news, in particular the low rate of pay for dairy farmers, Some even made a loss on their milk. Besides the outrageous injustice of it, I wanted to do something as some of my relations are dairy farmers. So I decided to pay a bit more for milk through a choice of brand so that the farmer would receive a better wage.

But how do we deal with the climate crisis? If it is real (which it seems to be) and if we must all play our part (we can hardly ask other nations to reduce their footprint if we won’t), what can we do? The COemissions are something we need to think about. In recent weeks we have been praying for Tonga after the volcanic eruption. They and other Pacific islands face a more long term threat, their homes disappearing beneath a rising sea, a process driven by climate change. 

James Rebanks, a Cumbrian farmer and writer, in a recent book, English Pastoral, suggests that farming should have room for diverse practices. The world needs feeding, and so intensive farms will be necessary. Not all land can support crops either; the uplands of the UK are well suited for rearing stock. But intensive farming cannot hold sway everywhere. He also took a trip to the intensive wheat farms of the USA, and was struck by their barrenness; just mile upon mile of monoculture grown in dry soil and no wildlife. 

What is the solution? Farmers face a tough job already, even before having to think about ecological consequences. They need our support, prayers and friendship. But I believe the rest of us have a part to play too. When it comes to shopping habits perhaps the farmer needs to be paid a little more, while we eat a little less meat. The solution to farmer’s wages can hardly be to consume more and more meat. It seems to me that the supermarkets and big businesses have used that dynamic to push for lower and lower costs leading to unsustainable highly intensive farms. We can make the choice and buy brands which cost more to us, but pay the farmer better for a smaller ecological impact. 

How does God fit into all this? On the one hand he is a God of joy and celebration (look at all the feasts and sacrifices of the Old Testament) and the suggestion of tightening our belts may not be very appealing. On the other hand, we must love our neighbour as ourselves. These days our neighbour is not just the person next door; it is the farmer producing our food, the workers in retail, the island nation on the other side of the world and many more besides. There may not be a perfect solution. But I believe that through prayer and trust, there is a way. Long may the conversation continue! 

Revd Nick Trenholme