It’s easy to feel despair about global warming. The IPCC tells us we have less than 12 years to cut CO2 in half — or face devastating consequences. But wherever you look people are driving more, consuming more and those who say we must change our ways are often ridiculed and marginalised.
I doubt Romania’s new government will take these warnings seriously. Why should they when countries like Sweden, which trumpet their green credentials are, according to Greta Thunberg, hypocrites for ignoring aviation, shipping and the carbon-cost of manufacturing in Asia.
It might seem better in countries like mine, the UK, where the government passed a Climate Change Act in 2008 and, ever since, has been able to “claim the moral high-ground globally on this fast-emerging global issue.” But they haven’t stood up to Big Oil (in fact they subsidise the oil industry with billions of pounds a year) or started on the most important task of all: educating the public about the need for “unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.”
Instead of changing attitudes about climate change, Boris Johnson’s government is arresting people for challenging their hypocrisy and lack of action. Over 1,300 people were arrested at the recent “October Rebellion” protest in London – and the media portrayed the climate protesters as the problem, for blocking traffic, which enabled them to “shoot the messenger” and avoid discussing the real issue.
I know how hard it is to change. I found it really difficult to give up my car and go around by bike, bus and train – and to stop eating meat (which is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases). It has taken me years to make these modest changes.
When I look at Romanians driving along in their expensive cars I wonder “how can I convince them to switch to electric?” How dare I say that everything he’s been working towards, and saving up for, is wrong? How can I counter his view that electric cars are just as toxic as his one, if he’s read articles like this: Are electric cars actually worse for the environment?
Hamburgers give me hope
It’s hard to find signs of hope in Romania, where car-driving and meat-eating are central to their modern culture, and the whole green issue seems to be of marginal importance (pretty much like in the UK).
But I’m an optimist and, after many years of living in Botosani and Bucharest, I see signs of hope where many Romanians see only despair. And recently I found hope in a very unusual place: the website of METRO, the wholesale supplier to shops and the catering industry all over the country.
I would never have looked at METRO’s website had the editor of Romania’s main weather channel (Meteo.ro) not emailed it to me – by mistake. His autocorrect function inserted it.
I was amazed to find that METRO was promoting a vegetable-based burger to an industry that is well known globally to be highly resistant to change – the waste and pollution that restaurants and hotels emit is biblical in its proportions.
METRO’s description of their veggie burger is well written, convincing and on the front page of their website. Here’s an extract:
“Beyond Meat® is as succulent and delicious as beef … and its production uses 99% less water and 93% less farming land,” [than the production of beef]. “This means 90% less greenhouse gases are produced and 46% less energy consumed.”
These are some of the facts that radical vegans use to convince others to join them. But the problem with vegans is that many are so passionate in their beliefs, so purist in their faith, that it repels people who don’t want to give up meat, fish and dairy. The carnivores become defensive, it becomes what the Americans call a “culture war,” and the whole issue is thus marginalised (and politicised, often casting us into the left wing of politics, whereas these issues are “beyond politics” to quote Extinction Rebellion).
But when a major food supplier can pick up the key points – non-meat farming emits far fewer greenhouse gases – without mentioning veganism or being political – it’s a really encouraging sign that things can change.
Apart from those in the catering industry, think how many people in other parts of the economy will have read that veggie-burger text by METRO and, in doing, have become more informed about one part of the problem (our methane-emitting-agricultural-system).
Although most people are aware that global warming is a big problem, very few know what they can do about it and the tendency is to just shrug and carry on as normal. Now, thousands of people in the heart of Romania’s economy have been provided with a better way.
A Romanian language version of this article was published on that country’s main weather site. I’ll be writing a series of articles for that site as they have a unique target audience — people checking the weather — that is refreshingly non-political.