Saturday, 9 March 2013

My Tortuous Route to the OU

About ten years ago I realised that climate change was a real and looming problem. I started reading, and occasionally writing, on the subject, linking global warming with peak oil as two sides of the same problematic coin. Our dependence on fossil fuels was and is clearly the overarching problem, and that dependence stems from our addiction to an unsustainable way of life. The unsustainability arises from our love of all things material and luxurious and our complete disregard for either seasonality or geography when it comes to shopping for food.

And it is an unfortunate fact that despite the continuing decline in oil production worldwide, it will be possible to continue to find and use fossil fuel for a long time to come, albeit at incalculable cost both environmentally and financially – until we finally poison our planet with a surfeit of CO2.

No matter how we address these issues, no solution to the greenhouse gas problem can work unless our consumption of fossil fuel is very substantially reduced. We can produce bio fuels and burn wood in our power stations, but we are still adding to the CO2 in our atmosphere, even while persuading ourselves that it is in a more sustainable way. We can invest in true renewable energy sources like solar, wind and tidal power, but without an unswerving determination to dramatically reduce our energy consumption, we will not stop the rise in our global temperature with many resultant disasters.

One of the most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions is the fossil-fuel-intense way in which our food is produced and distributed. We could be talking about developing countries where vast tracts of land are rendered unproductive by unsophisticated subsistence farming methods, leading to the burning of forest or the draining of precious wetlands to liberate new land for agriculture. Equally we could be talking about major agribusinesses which destroy the soil (releasing CO2) by using heavily mechanised monoculture methods with the over-use of carbon-based fertilisers and pesticides, and the inherent fuel use associated with both farm machinery and crop transport and distribution.

Over the years I have continued to read and learn, and have come to understand that globally our means of food production and distribution are in a very bad way indeed. Recently the fact that horsemeat has been found in cheap ready meals where it was not supposed to be, has only served to reinforce my concerns regarding food production.

The more I learned, the greater was the effect on my own life. I dispensed with prepared meals some years ago. I started to make my own bread (having read about the ‘baking aids’ which are added to factory bread in the interests of a quick bake), I dramatically reduced my consumption of meat and am still edging towards vegetarianism! I started to incorporate different types of beans and pulses into my cooking. And recently, in the interests of saving CO2 emissions, I discovered a source of UK produced dried peas and beans, which should enable me to stop buying imported produce altogether.

A few years ago I stripped my garden of ornamental plants, bought a greenhouse and started to pay serious attention to growing my own food. I watched on-line video clips on all aspects of domestic food production, forest gardens, no-dig gardening, organic food and so on. In the course of conversations with like-minded friends, I discovered the concept of aquaponics as an efficient means of food production. I had finally arrived at a point in my life when I decided to rethink my entire future.

I proceeded to use up my limited savings to renovate my cottage before putting it on the market. I anticipate a time, not many years hence, when food becomes very much more expensive than it is now, through escalating production and transport costs, and I intend to use some of the released equity from the sale of my house to set up an aquaponics greenhouse, with the hope that I can keep my family supplied with the majority of their vegetable requirements, as well as some home-grown fish.

As yet my house has not sold, and I am getting frustrated with the wait! But it has occurred to me that there is a lack of balance in my search for answers. For all my reading about food production and distribution, I have realised that my knowledge on food consumption is pretty sparse. What should we eat? What shouldn’t we eat? How do vegetarians and vegans give themselves a rich, varied and tasty diet? And can they do it without relying on imported staples like soya (which is almost all genetically modified)? I know someone who remains very fit and healthy despite not only being vegan, but not eating any cooked food at all!

I decided I should try to correct these gaps in my knowledge, and so trawled through the Open University website for an appropriate course. Thus I discovered a short 21 week course on nutrition which is about to be conducted for the very last time, due to funding cuts! I spent some weeks thinking about it, taking into account my age at over 70; considering whether I was still up to the studying; whether my noticeably deteriorating memory is an insurmountable problem; whether my two-finger keyboard skills are equal to the task; wondering what happens if I have to move house part way through the course; and wondering if I could justify the expenditure.

Given a very positive level of encouragement from my family, I decided to register for the course and now eagerly await the arrival of the material. And, to occupy my mind in the interim, I have just taken delivery of Andrew Simms’ new book ‘Cancel the Apocalypse’, so that I can continue to search for reasons for optimism about the future of our planet!

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