Climate change of mind

Now that I have your attention – it HAS got a little bit warmer, hasn’t it? Just not in the USA, according to a recent study.

Today I read an article in The Economist, about some scientists who had calculated that food prices were currently around 5% higher than they would have been without the global warming of the latest two decades.

This is a difficult thing to calculate, of course, and was probably wrong. There is a lot of marginal land that becomes worth farming if food prices stay high for a while, whereas if prices remain low, land may be laid fallow more easily. If prices should continue to rise, it may become economically viable to use new forms of agriculture, such as vertical farming. The world could easily feed 20 billion people if these were people who produced valuable goods and services, so that anyone would be bothered to grow the food to sell them. Facing a beggar bowl however does not motivate farmers to invest.

In fact, there is not a lack of food on Earth even today. There is a lack of money to buy food among some people, but less so than ten years ago, not to mention twenty or fifty. Today, obesity is a health risk to more humans than is starvation.

What we most need then, is not to reverse the physical climate change. I would not mind if we did something about that too, but it is not the most urgent. Rather, we should do something about the cultural climate. The climate of the mind, for each of us and for society as a whole.

For instance, we know that producing meat is in most cases far less efficient than growing plants. There are in fact some areas which are best used for pastures, but a large number of the meat animals in the world eat grain, soy and other food that is edible for humans.  While strict vegetarianism does pose some health challenges, most Americans and Europeans could halve their meat intake and halve it again without experiencing any discomfort. In fact, they would probably feel more energetic and enjoy better health and a longer life. And it would lower the food prices in the world, faster than reversing climate change would.

To permanently end starvation, however, there needs to be a culture change in the countries where starvation is widespread. There has to be an end to war and oppression in these places, so people again dare work without fear that their work will be stolen or destroyed by enemies. This is the fundamental requirement. There are various things that can be done after that, but this is what must be done first. You cannot grow food on a battlefield.

When I say that these countries need to change, you may hear it as “blame the victim”.  It is certainly true that the rich world could have dealt better with other parts in the past, and should do so in the future. But there will be no food to the starving by paying reparations to a dictator or by fanning the flames of war. There is only so much outsiders can do until the people themselves can agree on a philosophy of live and let live, at the very least. This is the task of religion, philosophy and art, to teach humans to live in this world without losing control of their own aggression. You cannot simply substitute money for any or all of these factors. There needs to be a widespread change of mind.


As you can see, I do not wish to teach something that is entirely remote and out of our hands. There are things that people in poor nations have to do for themselves, and there are things we can do as a society, but there are also things we can do as individuals, even at our dinner table. These things are not different and separate. Whether it is in Norway or the USA or Congo, we all have to cultivate a mind that accepts other people as real and precious.

I think I mentioned when it happened, a few years ago. As I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and came to the point “give us today our daily bread”, the Lord reminded me that I was not praying “give ME today MY daily bread”. This is the kind of awareness we need to have at the dinner table. What we choose to eat or not eat has effects on us, our families, our society, and the entire world.

Likewise when we come home from work and decide whether to sit down in front of the flat-screen or do some exercise, these decisions made by each of us has a profound effect on the national health care expense.

And of course, our energy use and transportation has some effect on the atmosphere. (Although not necessarily the way you think! For instance, if you are a meat-eater, biking actually causes more greenhouse gas emission than driving a small car, because of the large amount of greenhouse gas that goes into your food. Or to take another example, transport by ship and rail gives off very little CO2 compared to the mass and distance of transportation, so that buying something from halfway around the globe could cause less emissions than something made locally, if it was made more efficiently in the other place.)

There are a lot of things to learn, and there will be disagreement about details. This cannot be avoided. But we need a climate change of the heart, with much more warmth than before. Then we will surely find a way forward for everyone, starting at home and spreading around the world.