Interview: Julian Cribb on the role of food in the climate crisis

Food or War is a new book that looks at the role food plays in meeting our needs on this hot and overcrowded planet.

Environment Journal spoke to the book’s author Julian Cribb about why war and food have always been linked, the opportunities for an agriculture ‘revolution’ and why he believes women, not men, will save the planet.

This is your fourth book on the threats facing humanity over the coming years. What made you choose food as the topic for this book?

Food is the one issue that unites the whole of humanity. We all have to eat, every day. That is 23 billion meals per day across the world.

People who may not understand or relate to the other nine ‘mega risks’ faced by our species can relate to food – and also the dangers of not having enough of it. We know from history that when food supplies fail, humans fight. It is a major cause of wars.

Food Or War carefully explains the long history between food and conflict. Do you think further conflict is set to likely as our population grows?

On the evidence of the past, conflicts over food, land and water are inevitable in the near and medium-term future.

Most wars in human history have a major food dimension – as a driver of conflict, a result of it, or both.

It is not population as such that causes wars, but the competition of different human groups over key resources, including food, land, water, oil, fisheries etc.

The only way to avoid these wars is to secure the food supply for all humanity. The book, Food or War, proposes how we can achieve this.

The book highlights climate change as a major threat to world food supply. How can we better illustrate the global impact that climate change will have?

Climate change is a major driver of food insecurity.

If the Earth’s temperature is allowed to rise by +3 degrees C it will cause catastrophe to world grain harvests, fisheries etc.

However it is not the only driver – these include the global loss of topsoil, freshwater, a clean environment and other things essential to a stable food supply.

Most people have yet to realise that food will be the greatest impact of climate change on their personal lives, both its availability and its cost.

The switch to a meat-based diet is a sensitive issue as the book points out. What is your stance on vegetarian diets?

Some people have always chosen to be vegetarians, others to eat meat.

Our teeth reveal we are designed to eat both. I do not believe that compulsory vegetarianism will work – too many people like to eat meat and hundreds of millions are employed producing it.

However, there are ways to produce meat which are far more sustainable and climate-friendly that the present intensive US system. For example, sustainable grazing of the world’s rangelands is essential to locking up carbon and preserving wildlife.

Also I consider that progress in producing meat direct from animal cells is now so rapid that many will prefer to eat this kind of meat in future, instead of meat from whole animals.

It will be cheaper, healthier and use far less water, soil etc to produce, and will not impact the climate.

Food Or War doesn’t just point out problems facing the problems facing humanities but also the opportunities we have to change global food production through the likes of ecological farming, aquaculture and urban farms. What do you find most exciting about these opportunities?

The economic and social opportunities in the new food industries of the future are as boundless as the human imagination, and I find that very exciting, as well as challenging.

But for me personally, the most exciting opportunity is that by adopting the three pillar food system proposed in the books (regen farming, urban food and aquaculture) we can return half of the planet’s presently farmed or grazed regions to the wilderness. And that will help to end the Sixth Extinction, with many of today’s farmers and indigenous peoples as stewards of the earth.

In the book, you recommend putting women in charge of all spheres of human life including politics, business and religion. Why is this important in the context of food?

Putting women in charge of the planet is not just important to food, it is essential to human survival.

Women do not start wars or pillage the biosphere like men. They take a longer view, for the sake of the children or grandchildren. Men mostly like to fix things quick – with machines, chemicals or weapons, usually.

This is not stereotyping: its an observation of the fundamental rules for human survival on a hot, overcrowded, resource-depleted planet.

Male instincts were perfect for the rise of H. Sapiens. Female instincts are now required to save it from a situation that has already become unsustainable.

Where, unless women lead, male tendencies to war and environmental destruction may seal our fate. Also, we need more men who think like women, and less like traditional males.

The book outlines the basics of a sustainable future food system for the world. How likely do you think it is that we can work together to achieve this, and what steps must we take most urgently?

The encouraging thing is that it’s already happening. The food revolution is underway, and the Age of Food has begun.

By eating wisely and well we can all help it to go faster, to increase the economic opportunities that the new food system brings.

Food is, quite literally, a chance for humanity to avoid disaster and build a brighter, greener and fairer world. The critical person in all of this is you.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Food or War is released in the UK on October 3.


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2 years ago

Perhaps the author would like to estimate the cost of feeding several billion starving people for 200 years.
Few seem to grasp the dimensions of what lies ahead.

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