UK is only ever a fortnight away from food shortages

6 March 2013

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6 March 2013 | Rebecca Ellinor

Sustainability is a necessity, not an option. So argued Jae Mather, director of sustainability at the Carbon Free Group addressing buyers the night before the London Universities Purchasing Consortium conference.

Presenting the evidence during his lecture at The British Library, Mather said a 2-3 degree celsius rise in temperature could reduce global economic output by 3 per cent. “Extreme weather alone could reduce global gross domestic product by up to 1 per cent,” he added. Conversely, more renewable energy means more jobs and a stronger economy, he said.

Mather said with the population on the up we’re already consuming more than Earth can support. “We’re starting to bump up against the limits of what our planet can provide. It’s the equivalent of going bankrupt as a business.”

For the UK alone, the situation is bleak. “The UK has two weeks of stored food and oil and three weeks of natural gas. We have the least amount of backed-up storage of any first-world nation. That’s quite shocking because all it takes is a hiccup in the just-in-time supply chains we all rely on to force us into a place where we’re running out of food.

“If you take a country like ours and cut off the power, police and everything else you will have 72 hours before it’s complete anarchy. Even though we think we’re clever and highly evolved, if you’re sitting at home with a child that’s starving you’re going to go out and get that food from someone who’s got it.

“We’re on the edge of so many different supply chains that could collapse because of little things like a volcanic eruption in Iceland that cut off our airplanes and put us three days away from some massive shortages of basic food stuff. The whole world economy is pretty fragile.”

After presenting this dismal picture, Mather said since ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ we all need to pool ideas and effort to turn the situation around. “We should not be afraid to try things and fail but people are.”

Highlighting an example where an unnamed buyer changed the face of the paperclip industry in the US when he slipped a line into a US Department of Defense tender document that said all paperclips must be made from 100 per cent recycled materials, Mather said: “It’s phenomenal how much power procurement has.” In this case suppliers were forced to innovate and the result was better for the planet and cost less.

Giving examples from nature he said: “Iceland could power all of the UK and Ireland with its geothermal energy; seawater greenhouses modelled on a Namibian beetle could purify water and grow plants and generate energy in deserts; spider silk is 45 per cent stronger than Kevlar and produces it more efficiently. We can learn from nature’s multi-billion year R&D programme,” he said.

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