Dark red isn’t dramatic enough to color weather maps in Australia’s current heat wave, and that should warn the rest of the world that changing climates will affect their everyday lives, the latest University of Montana President’s Lecture Series speaker said Monday.
In an afternoon session, author Anna Lappé observed how the Australian weather service last month issued a new shade for its heat index after setting record temperatures of 125 degrees.
“Deep red was not deep enough,” Lappé said. “So they added a dark magenta. They’ve also added a new fire risk level because ‘extreme’ wasn’t extreme enough. Now it’s ‘catastrophic.’ ”
In 2010, a drought in Russia resulted in about 50,000 heat-related deaths and cost the nation’s agricultural industry $1.5 billion in losses. But what struck Lappé as odd was the news media coverage, which rarely connected agricultural policy to climate change.
For example, Lappé cited the ranking of Indonesia as the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas-producing nation. The emissions aren’t coming from burning coal or auto pollution, but from deforestation and dependence on palm oil plantations. Palm oil has become a major component of biofuel in Europe and is one of the world’s cheapest supplies of vegetable oil for food.
With her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, Anna Lappé co-wrote the 30th anniversary revision of “Diet for a Small Planet.” She’s also written numerous books on her own, including “Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen” and “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.”
Her visit to Missoula focused on that last topic. In fact, food production accounts for nearly one-third of the globe’s production of greenhouse gases, Lappé said. Farmers often were portrayed as the victims of climate disruptions, but rarely as the culprits who replace diverse, native plant cover with monocultured industrial farms dependent on fertilizers from fossil fuels.
During the afternoon discussion, one person in the audience asked how Lappé’s ideas could be worked out in daily life. She replied that simple measures, such as buying organic and locally produced food and avoiding processed foods made a big difference in supporting farmers who practiced sustainable agriculture.
“But the biggest thing stopping change is the corporate influence on politics,” she said. “Campaign finance is a climate issue. I’ve talked to a lot of politicians who say they can’t talk about climate – they have to frame it as a ‘jobs issue.’ ”
Legislation such as the farm bill now getting reauthorized in Congress can have huge implications on good or bad climate policy, Lappé said. For instance, crop insurance policies that encourage monoculture farming and poor soil management are a mainstay of the bill. But they also subsidize an insurance industry while putting more of the nation’s cropland at risk from drought and heat waves.
“It’s up to us to give those politicians political cover to take bold stands,” Lappé said. “In his inaugural address, President Obama said, ‘We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.’ Obama is asking for cover to take action on this.”