Have you heard of a group of UK campaigners called Extinction Rebellion? They want to save you. All of us in fact. From the savage impacts of climate change.
Second only to this gargantuan task is getting your attention. Which is why Extinction Rebellion block access to government buildings, occupy the offices of environmental charities and in general make a non-violent nuisance of themselves. They’ve called this coming Saturday Rebellion Day and invited the nation to join them outside a tone-deaf UK Parliament.
But is this really an environmental story, given that siren calls to cut carbon emissions evaporate on impact? In response, there is creeping recognition that urgency be framed around calories, and not climate. In short, will we be able to feed our kids properly when annual bouts of extreme weather become the norm?
Let’s start with last summer: the joint hottest on record in the UK. As TV news filled with scenes of sunbathing families enjoying a cut-price version of the Med, the last thing Europe’s farmers were reaching for was their Speedos.
In July, the European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors stated growing conditions were the most serious experienced in the last forty years, and that this was the third year in a row that the sector has faced serious weather-related issues. More recently, Irish farmers warned that the humble spud could double in price since the hot weather reduced this year’s crop by a quarter.
Okay, that’s hardly going to strip your nearest Tesco back to its fittings. But as anyone who has tended to a garden or an allotment knows, even a brief spell of hot or cold weather at the wrong time can ruin seedlings and decimate plants and crops. It is precisely what’s happening globally as our weather gets more and more extreme.
It calls into serious question a 2015 Foreign Office report entitled Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system, where the authors put forward a ‘plausible scenario’ headed ‘multiple breadbasket failure’. It posits that failing monsoons in India, an early Spring thaw in the Black Sea, a Summer drought in North America and a heatwave in Europe, could play havoc with wheat, maize and rice yields. So much so that the export of cereals could grind to a halt as countries hoard and panic escalates.
Now, the authors frame such shocks as one-offs that rich countries like the UK can muddle through. Because that’s how it’s always played out in the past. But what are the risks of such shocks lasting three or four years as rising global temperatures increase the frequency of stable weather going AWOL or turning up at the wrong time?
Me thinks it’s time to haul UK environment minister Michael Gove on to the BBC’s Today Programme, just to double check that a country that imports half its food can ride out such a scenario. Without invading Spain for its greenhouses.
Of course, Mr Gove knows that the spectre of future food shortages is unlikely to propel hundreds of thousands of middle-England families to link arms around vital infrastructure and demand the establishment of a Global Socialist Government.
So does this mean we’re all ****ed? Perhaps. In which case, here’s some heresy for Medium subscribers to toy with. There is a very small group of people that ought to be fearful of a world going hungry. They have everything to lose if civilisation starts to implode like poorly built dwellings in an earthquake. Uniquely, it is in their gift to help reinforce those dwellings before the quake hits. Because unlike you and I, they really do have the resources and soft power to do something about it. And now.
Who are they? They are the richest of the rich. They are the one-percenters. And given what’s coming, they’d love to be gawping at us from the safety of Earth orbit like their fictional peers in the sci-fi movie Elysium. Yet in 2018 they can’t fly Concorde let alone hitch a ride to the International Space Station. Barred from the heavens, they’re going underground. In secretly-located luxury bunkers where they hope to dodge a real-life game of Resident Evil.
But as some one-percenters are starting to realise, they’ll still need to deploy private soldiers to defend their bunkers and food stores. Alas, self-repairing, robotic guards don’t come along soon enough. So what’s to stop their heavily armed human subordinates from rebelling and commandeering all their supplies? At a time of collapse, digital bank balances will be worthless. And you can’t snack on diamonds.
Even if a few one-percenters did manage to successfully hideaway, the day will come when the last tin of peaches is opened and consumed. Above their heads, the soil no longer supports crops as the climate subjects what’s left of humanity to ‘Hothouse Earth’.
Much better for the richest of the rich to prolong themselves and their loved ones by helping keep our children fed. Am not saying we forgive them for hoovering up half the planet’s wealth, buying our Premier League rivals and steering us to the cusp of extinction. Far from it.
But we are going to need them to start spending their billions to improve our resilience to the shocks ahead. And use their soft power with Prime Ministers, Presidents, royalty and media magnates, to ensure governments follow their lead on what Professor Jem Bendell has termed Deep Adaptation. It’s a shame one-percenters probably aren’t members of a highly-organised, dastardly cabal. It would make the job a damn sight easier.
Above all, who’d have thought the front line of rebellion would be tedious meetings with besuited gatekeepers to the world’s richest people. Can someone please ask Al Gore to update his slides? We’re going to need the best deck ever!