Opinion: Extinction Rebellion turned the volume up

Maya da Souza and Farhana Yamin say we must all confront climate change.

Maya da Souza and Farhana Yamin say we must all confront climate change. - Credit: Archant

In our last article we wrote about climate-related school strikes, the powerful voices of teenage children, seemingly wise beyond their years creating a sense of guilt.

We talked about how to respond, in different capacities - schools, local authorities and parents - suggesting tangible and concrete action by all these groups. As Greta Thunberg put it: the strikes are like a fire alarm; the better way to respond is by action rather than irritation with the sound of the alarm. It's finding the impactful actions that is most important.

The volume has gone up several notches since then. The Extinction Rebellion is in full swing - it is inter-generational with many older people standing up to be counted with young people. The Committee on Climate Change has issued its latest report stating that the UK could set an ambitious net zero emissions target for 2050. Camden Council has declared a state of emergency. Ninety other councils have done the same including the London Assembly, and a recent poll shows that 66 per cent of the UK public think we are in a state of emergency. We will be discussing this in Dartmouth Park Talks in a couple of weeks. The alarm has in effect been getting louder.

The next step is committing to, and taking those tangible steps. But we know how unsettling confronting this crisis can be.

So we are going to move on to the topic of food: comfort food like sausage rolls, the healthy fare of cosy gastropubs, and the creative multi-cultural culinary contributions much loved by our North London community.

Why food you may ask? In part because such a large part of our greenhouse gas emissions, approximately 25 per cent, relate to agriculture from methane emissions from cattle to crop production. A further 5pc arises from loss of carbon stores through deforestation. And 18.7 million hectares of rainforest is being cut down each year to grow crops like soy often used to feed livestock and also to graze livestock direct. Terrestrial acidification, eutrophication and biodiversity loss are other consequences. Avoiding these impacts requires food production which lowers greenhouse gas emissions - reducing the meat content especially beef and lamb in our diet is the simplest solution. Many countries already have largely plant-based diets but others, especially wealthier ones, do not.

The other reason is that the potential for change is high, and the momentum already underway. It's something households, restaurants and caterers can easily take on board. From Gregg's vegan sausage rolls and Tesco's Wicked Kitchen range, to the menu at the Flask in Highgate and Purezza vegan pizza in Camden Town, we're witnessing incremental and appetising change first-hand. Gregg's crusty vegan sausage rolls have been so popular - we have almost seen a run on them locally. They are much better on the fats and saturates front than the meat variety and to be found in many high streets from Kentish Town to Kilburn High Street. At the Flask in Highgate, I recently had an exquisite dish of pumpkin with roast spices - Star of Anise and more. I've had my share of vegan pizza too with a friend who can't stomach animal cruelty.

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Levels of innovation are huge. From the ingenuity of Beyond Meat with its products that resemble meat in texture if not taste to the Duke of Westminster's efforts to improve production of milk through happy healthy cows, we can see the opportunities for change. The plant-based protein market has expanded globally, worth $6.37bn in 2018 and growing by 7pc a year, according to Mordor Intelligence. Comparative prices are also lower except perhaps for chicken. Our multi-cultural North London heritage also offers a deep pool of choices to draw from - the rich repertoire of Ottolenghi's recipes to Govinda's Pure Vegetarian food in Soho.

There is no need to feel gloomy about the change required. There is a lot to do, we can start by weaving together our diverse culinary heritage and draw on the innovation of the sector to feed ourselves sustainably and keep energy levels high as we all confront the climate crisis.

- Maya de Souza was previously a local councillor and a community activist in Camden. Farhana Yamin is a climate change lawyer and activist. They host Dartmouth Park Talks a platform for dialogue and discussion on the big issues facing our local and global community.