Build a bunker with a vegetable plot on some high but sheltered ground

Sometimes I’m asked why the New Optimists Forum (twitter: #tnofood) is about feeding Birmingham in 2050, when climate change is now the biggest, most urgent challenge facing humanity.

Here’s why.

“Build a bunker with a vegetable plot on some high but sheltered ground and leave it to your grandchildren; dangerous levels of climate change now look all but inevitable.” So wrote Ian Jack in the Guardian yesterday.

So what, I ask myself, might this mean for us Brummies?

We flee above the bog-line on Kinder Scout along with a million others? Abandon all to join the squabbling gannets on Rockall and intone Carol Anne Duffy’s The Prayer?

Maybe instead Brum counts as “high but sheltered”?

It’s 500-1000 feet above sea level, lots of shelter, a long way inland by British standards and maybe even the UK capital when a briny Father Thames laps the Speaker’s Chair.

Vegetable plots? There are seven thousand or so allotments here, more than in any other city. Sizeable gardens aplenty, thanks to the Victorians, the Cadburys and the Nettlefords. Many streets are lined with almond and hazelnut trees. Blackberries, bilberries, plums, apples, damsons, sloes. Fungi of all sorts, many of a kind you can eat more than once.

Ah, but that’s far from enough to feed a million of us . . .

On one level, Julia King was absolutely right to take me to task when I was asking for Aston University’s support for the New Optimists Forum on the topic of Food & Cities: Birmingham 2050.

Climate change, she said, is the biggest challenge we’re facing. And we’re not doing enough. That’s where the focus has to be.

My argument is that climate change is just too big a challenge, too overwhelmingly difficult for us to handle.

Food and eating, however, are within our psyche, because it’s part of the ancestral past of every living creature, humans included. Then add in a place, one well-known to us . . . a particular geography is familiar to a stone-age mind. (And I’m not mentioning here how food and eating are as social glue . . . )

In contrast, climate change is cognitively too far a stretch for us. We can cope with weather today, tomorrow, even for next year’s holiday. But climate is on a global scale and, until now, was thought about as being over hundreds of years, way beyond the scope of our seemingly modern but smaller-scale minds.

What Ian Jack is scared of, what Julia’s scared of, what I’m scared of, is that global warming will shortly become weather.

As for the here and now: I have little idea what my just-finished breakfast means in terms of carbon emissions. Too high, I suppose. Coffee. Organic Scottish oats packaged in a non-biodegradeable plastic bag. The tail-end of a mango and a Fairtrade banana both grown t’other side of the planet. A few Herefordshire raspberries. Some Unilever-processed yoghurt.

It’s mid-November, it’s Birmingham. And the BBC weather forecast is for a sunny afternoon. 16 degrees Celsius. And so jeans and T-shirt for a Sunday morning walk along Woodgate Valley before my infant grandson arrives at lunchtime. (A whisper-thought: It’s his world, not mine, in 2050 . . .)

Yeah, I know today’s warmth isn’t necessarily because of global warming. It spooks me nonetheless. And very possibly with due cause.

(Image of Kinder Scout in the montage used with kind permission Copyright S. Dumpleton 2011.)

One response to “Build a bunker with a vegetable plot on some high but sheltered ground”

  1. […] Nearly two years ago, I wrote a blogpost about why The New Optimists Forum took food as its topic for the Birmingham 2050 Scenarios Project. […]

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