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George Monbiot: ‘Paper straws are not enough, only system change can halt climate crisis’

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Animal agriculture is up there with the fossil fuel industry as the driver of mass destruction. For the great majority of us, we’ve just got to stop eating animals, because that is the primary environmental driver of destruction.

DEMOCRACY NOW: A massive heat wave has scorched much of Europe this week, with the U.K. shattering its record for highest temperature ever recorded Tuesday. We’re joined by author and environmental activist George Monbiot, whose latest column for The Guardian is headlined “This heatwave has eviscerated the idea that small changes can tackle extreme weather.” Monbiot criticizes what he calls “micro-consumerist bollocks” — an approach that presents “micro-solutions” to the “macro-problem” of climate change. “The only thing that delivers quickly and effectively is system change,” says Monbiot, who also breaks down how new technology can eliminate the West’s reliance on animal agriculture, which is one of the leading causes of the climate crisis. He also discusses the role of industrial animal agriculture in the climate crisis, which is often overshadowed by a focus on fossil fuels…

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So it’s really staggering, this heat wave. I want to ask about how people are responding, what steps are being taken to avert this climate crisis…

GEORGE MONBIOT: So this is like the biggest of all existential crises which humanity has ever faced, and we’re seeing now. In response, we want you not to use so many plastic bags, and to replace your cotton buds which have got plastic shafts with ones with paper shafts, and stop using plastic straws.

I mean, it sounds ridiculous when I say it like this, but this is genuinely what a large portion of the environmental movement has been doing, and calling for the most micro possible solutions to the most macro possible problem…

But, unfortunately, this micro-consumerist bollocks is the dominant narrative within the media, but also within a lot of environment organizations. And when you approach those organizations and say, “Look, this isn’t going to cut it. You know, these small incremental changes you’re calling for” — even sort of slightly bigger ones than the ones I’ve mentioned — “you know, they’re in no way commensurate with the scale of the crisis we face.” And they say, “Well, we can’t get too far ahead of the membership. And we don’t want to frighten people, and we don’t want to provoke a fight with the government. And, you know, we’ve got to reach people where they are.” And frankly, their theory of change is just wrong. Incremental change can never develop the transformation which is required in situations like this — in fact, probably in any situation. It just does not deliver. The only thing that delivers quickly and effectively is system change…

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, George, I’d like to ask you about your recent book, Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet, the link between the climate crisis and hunger. We were just speaking to Vanessa Nakate, the Ugandan climate justice activist, who was telling us about what the effects of the drought have been in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. So, if you could talk about the argument you make in the book, and in particular why you think animal agriculture is particularly ruinous?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. Well, first of all, many thanks to Vanessa for all her brilliant activism. She is so inspiring and such a wonderful person. And thank you for having her on your program.

So, you know, it’s become clear to me that, looking at it from the global perspective, as a whole, it is now as important to stop animal agriculture as it is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. And, you know, I’m not saying that people in Somalia should stop keeping animals. That’s clearly their only lifeline. But for the great majority of us, and for people in the United States, for people in the U.K., where I am, you know, we’ve just got to stop eating animals, because that is the primary environmental driver of destruction. So, agriculture, as a whole, is the major cause of habitat loss, the major cause of wildlife loss, the major cause of extinction, the major cause of land use, the major cause of freshwater use, of soil degradation, one of the major causes of climate breakdown, of water pollution, of air pollution. And, you know, it’s — and by far away the biggest chunk of that is from animal agriculture. It’s up there with the fossil fuel industry as the driver of mass destruction.

Plant-based diets are much more benign, but you can go a lot further than that. And now we have these new technologies, including precision fermentation, which is basically producing your protein-rich foods, not from the flesh and the secretions of animals, but from single-celled organisms, from microbes. And you brew them. It’s just a sophisticated form of brewing, really. Now, there are many, many good things about this, because it greatly reduces the environmental impact of producing your protein-rich foods. But, importantly, it can be done anywhere. You don’t need to have fertile land. You don’t need to have water. You don’t need to have the other elements to be able to produce food from farming. So it can be done in the Horn of Africa. It can be done across the Sahel. It can be done in the Middle East and across North Africa, producing protein-rich and fat-rich foods. You have basically a microbial flour, which can then be turned into virtually anything. SOURCE…

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