We’re teetering on the brink of catastrophe. Or so it would seem, going by the reactions in the media to last month’s EU referendum, in which 52% of the turnout voted for Brexit in an outrageous act of disobedience, rejecting what political party leaders, big business, celebrities and VIPs the world over had made it pretty clear was the correct choice. This outcome wasn’t meant to be, and something has obviously gone horribly wrong with democracy.
Bad Things, clearly, are looming on the horizon. And it might come as no surprise that many of the wise souls who predict Bad Things to come about from man-made global warming are predicting similar sorts of things to happen as a result of Brexit.
One of those is Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University in London. Now there’s someone who doesn’t lightly put up with all this “freedom to choose” nonsense, as you’ll know if you’ve read this eerily prescient 2007 article in the Guardian, where he advocates “choice-editing”, i.e. limiting people’s food options, so that they don’t go and do silly things like buy unethical tomatoes.
A prescient article, I say, because if there’s one thing last week’s referendum has shown, is that given a choice between good and bad things, people will insist on choosing the bad, just like a horde of greedy schoolchildren in a sweetshop. They really can’t be trusted. As Professor Tim says, “there has to be far more involvement and regulation by those in power” if people are to be made to do the right thing, like vote Remain or eat their greens.
In a Briefing Paper co-written by economist Victoria Schoen and published earlier this year, Tim Lang sets out what he sees as the risks to Britain of Brexit, from a food policy point of view. And would you know, these are uncannily similar to the risks facing Britain from climate change.
There’s the risk of expensive food. In the paper, it says “The post-Brexit food world will be characterised by volatility, disruption and uncertainty. Food import costs will rise if the price of sterling falls.”
And it doesn’t take long to find that coincidentally, the climate-crisis food world will be characterised by exactly the same kinds of volatility, disruption and uncertainty. “Food prices driven up by global warming, study shows”, warns the Guardian. Or take this 2010 study from the International Food Policy Research Institute which “shows that global warming may further increase the prices of corn, wheat, and rice by at least two-thirds by 2050”.
But the biggie is food security. On the global warming front, things look simply awful. As the Guardian put it, citing Tim Lang in March this year: “After losing thousands of orchards and farms, Britain is now dependent on foreign production that could be hugely disrupted by droughts and heat waves resulting from climate change”. Heavens, our crucial five-a-day under threat!
On the Brexit front, things look even more pant-wettingly dreadful. In the summary of his paper, Prof Tim writes: “The UK is heavily dependent on other EU member states for food. UK food production is below 60% of consumption and particularly reliant on imports for fruit and many vegetables. Supporters of Brexit have not once addressed the UK’s dependency on EU producers and suppliers.” He doesn’t spell out what exactly might happen, but the ominous implications are clear and – like in the best horror movies – vagueness makes them all the more frightening. If we’re not friends with the EU any more, there are likely to be… consequences.
It’s a scary prospect, made exponentially scarier by Tim Lang in a scary article entitled “How Brexit threatens Britain’s food security” in the Conversation, in which panic-inducing phrases just leap off the screen and send thrills of alarm and despondency into the reader’s brain. “Food stocks are low in a just-in-time economy, an estimated three to five days’ worth. The UK doesn’t feed itself… The UK faces harsh food times ahead, but they have been a long time coming… The Brexit euphoria won’t last long if food prices rise or shelves empty. This needs planning…” Don’t know about you, but I’m going to dash to the shops and stock up before it’s too late.
The one crumb of comfort in all this morass of terror and despond is that strangely enough, the key to solving both the Brexit and climate food crises is – you may be astounded to learn – planning. There needs to be a Plan A, naturally. A Plan B too, you ask? Of course, as Tim Lang explains in a recent radio interview. “There should be Plan B – there should be Plan C, D, E and everything!”
For Brexit, “we need a people’s food plan“. And for climate? “Obesity and climate change are two huge market failures. Our review of the last decade shows that progress requires the hands-on participation of governments – not a ‘leave it to the market’ approach.” In other words, plans! Drawn up and executed by governments, under the benevolent guidance of experts very like Professor Tim Lang of City University.
Because, as last month demonstrated, when you leave it up to people to decide things for themselves, it can only lead to trouble.