Science & Tech Editor Matt Laing conveys his confusion at differing perspectives at COP26.
As COP26 kicks off in Glasgow, the eyes of the world turn to the climate. The vogue fashion of the day has tended to sustainability. Even within the conference however there is a great deal of disparity between the attendees’ intentions, the exhibitors’ displays, and what we actually need to do to save the planet.
Initially, some of The Glasgow Guardian‘s staff were invited to attend the filming of BBC Click, where presenters were very keen to convey a myriad of statistics – like 10% of our carbon emissions come from cattle, and did-you-know-that 90% of that comes from their burps (aptly demonstrated by the real, live cow-and-handler complete with bucket; just in case the 10% from the other end made an appearance). The show went on to have members of our party taste delicacies based on insects, much to their culinary pleasure, showing a sharp contrast to our current dietary habits and those which would benefit the world we live in. Research shows insects have the highest protein content of any food sources, and in the words of the presenter: “There’s magillions of them.” This is actually nearly 3 billion per person worldwide, so evidently we could soon see an insect-based diet for the masses to curb the public menace that are…cow burps.
“…10% of our carbon emissions come from cattle, and did-you-know-that 90% of that comes from their burps…”
Post-production, I approached Kate Adams of the National Farmers Union. The Union were quick to dispel the myths of agriculture. From their perspective, farmers have born the brunt of serial bad press for generations. We often blame them for cattle pollution and the food waste caused by inefficient methods when, in fact, this is because they are in serious financial danger. Most Scottish farms are purportedly already on the bread line with supermarkets super low prices minimising their profits.
“Farmers have born the brunt of serial bad press for generations…”
With the withdrawal of the EU’s direct support programme, all smallholdings are set to lose £26,000 of funding per year by 2027. Replacing it will be the UK government’s scheme to enable environmental retrofitting. For instance, included in their new benefit package will be free thrice yearly vets visit for herd health reasons (and to minimise the number of sickly animals, reported to increase carbon production in some by a third). Other benefits included will be an environmental advisor to help with water and land management. Whilst they were pleased by the aid, supposedly the financial loss could push the vast majority of small farms into the hands of conglomerates and thus do irreparable damage to our countryside, and indeed standardised industrial farming methods, notorious for environmental damage and animal welfare tragedies. Summing up our conversations, most farmers are reported to be doing their best for the environment and would rather just have the money.
My next conversation was with a Sainsbury’s rep who was very keen to talk about their new scheme to change diets. Supposedly they blame “people’s habits” for food rooted in environmental damage. In the causes of remedying this, the new diet plan from Sainsbury’s would have us increasing our vegetable consumption and balancing our diets. The representative would not be drawn on the issue of meat pricing leading to our super consumption of pollutants, nor on the issue of under-pricing produce to the detriment of farmers. Before I could enquire as to the state of their plastic bag production, she had decided our conversation was at an end.
“Before I could enquire as to the state of their plastic bag production, she had decided our conversation was at an end…”
On the way out I met a financial PR consultant and inquired as to the state of sustainable investments with his clients. Initially he was quick to tell me that whilst most of them genuinely care about the planets state, a small minority are solely concerned with their image In a climate sensitive age. The prevailing stance in the finance industry appears to be investing in energy firms (like Shell and BP) to enable them to convert to greener production methods in the future. One perspective would be that this stance supports the global economy in an age of cataclysmic change, however conversely it could be construed as withholding funds from companies that will produce the energy of the future.
Retrospectively my impression of this sample of the COP26 exhibition was that there is a lot of finger pointing going on: no one seemed to be taking any responsibility in their sector and each interviewee believed that they were the wronged party in the climate emergency.
“My impression of this sample of the COP26 exhibition was that there is a lot of finger pointing going on…”
In truth, we are all to blame for the climate crisis, and it must be noted that our consumption is ultimately what leads to any company operating. So, students should ensure they know where their food and energy comes from, and know what the consequences of that consumption will be. And – most importantly – go look around the COP26 Green Zone. It’s free, it’s 10 minutes from Ibrox station, and the conversations to be had there are truly eye-opening.