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Climate Change storytelling & the UK chip

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Climate change is a complex subject to communicate technically to the wider population, especially whilst the direction of travel is clear, the precision of local scenarios is still vague in the minds of communities. Climate change storytelling, however, can package learning and education into a format that resonates with people and their experience of the world to date. In this article, the news headline ‘Climate change has made UK chips an inch smaller on average’ provides a neat example of climate change storytelling. Translating complex weather patterns into climate change outcomes that people can relate to or can experience first-hand in their lives. 

Today the UK news is full of reports that in 2018, extreme and unpredictable weather patterns driven by climate change had a significant impact on UK potato crop yields. The combination of heatwave and drought reducing the potato harvest by 20% (from a report by The Climate Coalition of environmental and social groups). The result was also smaller and misshapen potatoes. UK chips would be an inch shorter in length was one conclusion reached! 

Shock horror … but an example of climate change storytelling that neatly fits into the saying that ‘today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip papers”.

The weather pattern during the summer of 2017 combining both drought and record temperatures. Across the UK yields of carrots, brassicas and onions crops were down by 25-40% on average. Calculations by the UK Met Office suggest that 2017’s weather patterns were 30 times more likely to have been influenced by climate change.

The dry weather pattern also caused forage crop problems for livestock farmers.  The prediction is that future yields of UK fruit and vegetables, from the humble potato to expectations that the UK will become the next great champagne region of the world, could increasingly be hit by extreme weather patterns such as longer-lasting and more intense heatwaves, downpours and flooding.

Weather pattern warnings of the Future

Through extreme weather patterns that people can relate to. The future impacts of climate change on food supplies and supply chains are starting to make their impression on growers and marketers. Not only as an extreme weather event but also as a business reality.

Over the last decade, storms and flood events have affetced over half of the UK’s farmers. Future cyclonic weather patterns are likely to bring further records in rainfall! 

Few growers have started to consider the investments or changes in agricultural practice required to mitigate these changes in their businesses. This may be because the new ‘business as normal’ with the economic scenarios they represent are too unpredictable to contemplate. Do the producers switch crops? Do they invest in new farm reservoirs or upgrade flood defenses. The scale and occurrence of such risks cannot be quantified easily – so many are taking no action at all.

2017 will have left many growers and farmers poorer less able to take immediate action.  What happens if the next two to three years follow similar weather patterns? Will they be financially able to adapt to climate change or even respond to calls by their own National Farmers Union to become net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040?

By 2050, climate projections indicate that 75% of UK land used in potato cropping will have declined in productivity. Raising the risk that chips will lose their position as the cheap, staple food so beloved on Friday and Saturday nights – and could become a delicacy!

Climate Change adaptation

Developing climate change adaption strategies for agriculture is in all our interests, as we need now to consider in depth the benefits of home-grown seasonal foods, the adverse carbon footprint of crop production and the considerable carbon mileage of UK and imported crops to market.  We currently fly green beans halfway across the world only to throw 30% of them away! 

Farmers cannot face this challenge alone as it will need significant changes in UK agriculture policy, it’s financing and management. Ultimately we all have a vested interest in achieving a successful outcome, it cannot be left to the marketplace alone to muddle through, it is a partnership between the agricultural industry, food manufacturers, retailers, and the public.

Politicians Beware

Donald Trump takes note, Thomas Jefferson had “potatoes served in the French manner” during his time in the White House in 1802.  Will the climate change revolution finally gain unstoppable momentum in the US when your heartland voters in Ohio, Arkansas, and Oklahoma finally link climate change reality to the size of their French fries during a visit to McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Arby’s. 

Will they be joined by other nations concerned about the reduction in size of their Pommes Frites (French), “frieten” (Dutch), slab chips (RSA), Salchippas (Peru), Chipsi mayai (Tanzania) and 炸/马铃薯条 in China.  I hope so.

Climate change storytelling – Take-home point

Storytelling is important in all human societies and climate change storytelling is one communication method through which we can raise awareness of future risks. Sometimes it takes simple stories to help us change our cultural perceptions and start to consider the global picture. To make progress on this issue are any other nations measuring the average length of their fried potato – could I suggest the Leading Green Chip Index as a future global sustainability marker!  

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.

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agriculture, farming, potato, sustainable farming

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