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Saving people and planet begins at breakfast

Jonathan Safran Foer connects people and planet in We are the Weather.

“We are both the flood and the ark. No one but us will destroy the planet, and no one except us will save it.” Powerful words from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book We are the weather, saving the planet begins at breakfast. As humanity is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, I wonder: can we save people and save the planet at the same time?

Never waste a good crisis

Planet with a mask

The word crisis stems from the Greek word krinein: “to separate, decide, judge.” And while we may not always be able to determine the outcome of a crisis, our decisions in a crisis reveal who we are. We show our true selves by figuring out what we’re capable of letting go of. This applies to climate change as well as the current pandemic. Recognition of what’s really important helps us to keep trying. To not give up after the first attempt to eat less/no meat or to not rebel after the first week of lockdown. The trouble is, that while decision-makers excellently frame what’s at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, they don’t consistently do this for the looming climate crisis.

Structure for collective action

Just three months ago, who would have thought that large parts of the world could be locked up? People are sticking to the measures because the daily reporting of deaths makes us all feel fragile. And because governments make clear what’s expected of them. (Of course, this is grossly overgeneralizing the reality, but I think you see what I mean.) While we all had high hopes that the Paris Climate Agreement would lead to collective to halt climate change, the truth is that instead, we’re lagging behind these commitments, collectively. In some countries, NGOs have even successfully sued the national government for not taking enough action against climate change.

Let’s hope governments learn from the current crisis to prepare effective measures to halt climate change. To frame the urgency and to invest in what’s needed, rather than what’s the easiest course of action to secure reelection in the short term. Helping citizens make better decisions for people and planet.

Options for individual action

Of course, none of us have to wait for collective action plans and government measures. In Safran Foer’s book, he lists four actions everyone can take to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint:

  • Switch to a plant-based diet;
  • Avoid air-travel;
  • Get rid of your car;
  • Have fewer kids.
Vegan food connects people and planet

What sets the first action apart from the rest of this list is that what you choose to eat is a decision you take many times, every day. The author’s plea is for everyone to stick to vegan food for breakfast and lunch, at the very least. He admits finding it a challenge at times. Yet in the end, it’s better for the environment to be an inconsistent vegan, than to only eat vegan or vegetarian food every once in a while.

When I heard him talk about this at the book launch in Amsterdam, I was quite surprised that he was cutting himself and his readers this much slack. But I must admit that I too find it hard to keep vegan during lunch, even though I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years. But I’m sure I’ve cut my animal protein footprint – and hence my greenhouse gas emissions since I started trying!

Accelerating the protein revolution

Livestock farming is bad for people and planet

The pandemic adds another dimension to the discussion about animal-based protein and the need for a protein revolution. Animal welfare, climate change, and individual health problems were already part of the debate, but it now becomes painfully clear that our collective health, our society, and the economy are at stake as well. Pandemics are often caused by diseases that spread from animals to humans.

So as we build back a better world post-COVID-19, let’s include a move towards more plant-based protein. Let’s create a new normal where we no longer spend taxpayers’ money to support livestock farming. Greenpeace research estimates that, up to now, nearly a fifth of the EU’s budget goes to livestock farming. If instead, that money is directed at more future-proof ventures, we’d be better off in many ways. The European Green Deal added “From Farm to Fork” in May 2020. It strives to create a healthy food environment that makes it easier to choose healthy and sustainable food options. The current pandemic makes the need for positive change even more clear.

What positive change are you driving?

I’ve been meaning to write this blog since Jonathan Safran Foer was in Amsterdam to launch the book in September 2019. By the time I’d finished reading the book, I felt the corona-environment would not be the best time to blog about climate change and protein.

Until one of my favorite columnists, Ionica Smeets, linked the pandemic to Eating Animals, one of his earlier books. That helped kickstart me into blogging mode again, with the new normal providing all kinds of topics to blog about for positive change! What kind of change are you hoping for – or better yet driving – off the back of this crisis? How can you connect saving people and planet for positive change?

This blog was written by Marjolein Baghuis. It also appeared on the website of The Terrace. To read about interesting people, book reviews and other posts about sustainability, change, and communications please subscribe to this blog in the right-hand column.

Photo credits: Anna Shvets, Ella OlssonNoelle Otto