The Butterfly Effect: sustainability in an ever shrinking world

They say that the movement of a butterfly’s wings can create tiny changes in the atmosphere and cause a ripple effect that could ultimately lead to a tornado forming.Actions, no matter how small, can have huge and sometimes damaging consequences that go far beyond predictable “cause and effect”.Such a metaphor certainly holds true today. The world is getting smaller and in this microcosm all things are connected. Global market places and the ability to communicate in real time from anywhere in the world has almost made geographic distance meaningless. Actions in this country that may seem so insignificant and localised can have far reaching consequences for communities and ecosystems across the globe.What I am talking about is how we spend our money and the way we consume. Your choice of product has a real impact on the rest of the world. We are consuming at a rate that is unsustainable. Each year we lose an area of forest equivalent to the size of Britain. Pollution, a changing climate and deforestation for arable farm land are all taking their toll. The Amazon Rainforest alone produces 20% of the world’s oxygen. Rainforests perform various crucial natural processes and ecological services, such as regulating rain fall and controlling water run-off. At least 80% of the developed world’s diet originated in the tropical rainforest.Populations worldwide are exploding. Today’s population of 6.8 billion is estimated to reach around 9 billion by the middle of the century.To keep pace with growing world populations we must increase our harvests by about one-third. This in itself is deeply problematic. If we are to increase crop yields, whilst simultaneously protecting the environment we are going to have to work on increasing levels of productivity within already existing arable farm land.This has to be done with the added challenge of land degradation. Many farmers in the Rainforest will raze an area of the forest for farm land and once the land has degraded to a level that gives a poor return they will simply move onto another area of virgin forest and continue the process of deforestation. So what practical steps can we as a nation take?We need to start thinking local when it comes to food. We need to support our farmers and increase amount of food we produce in this country. Food prices are rising as supplies come under threat and it is the poorer nations that will suffer. We have a responsibility to produce more of our food. By reducing our dependence on the global marketplace we will avoid contributing to escalating global commodity prices.By increasing our food production we are also decreasing the distance that our food has to travel. This can significantly reduce the cost, as well as the number of harmful emissions that contribute to climate change.With an increase in local food production we will also be able to ensure high levels of animal welfare standards for our livestock and have better quality and hygiene controls.If we in the developed world are to keep pace with production to feed our growing populations we need to find smarter ways of farming. Improved machinery, plant breeding and the use of advanced agro-chemicals and fertilizers have the potential to increasing our crops yields. Along with increased food production there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we consume. We, as consumers, need to ensure that the food we are buying is responsibly sourced, is sustainable and local. I think most people do want to buy local produce and do want to buy food produced in an ethical way. The problem is that we often do not know whether the food they are buying is British and if it is responsibly sourced. There have been some positive steps in this regard with the Fair Trade label appearing on more products however this is still limited to only a few products and is not widespread enough to ensure that you know what you are actually buying.Some food labelling is just downright misleading. Supermarkets are selling meat with the Union Jack printed on the packaging. However, to be allowed to use the Union Jack on food packaging the product only has to be processed in Britain. That means the meat can be imported from abroad and then sold as a British product.More labelling just is not enough. It has to be accurate and it has to fair if the public are to make informed decisions on what they buy. Sustainability and responsible consumption should not be seen as an impediment to progress. We need to start seeing as a fantastic opportunity. Preventing waste in our own community, better food labelling and protecting ecosystems is in everybody’s interest.We must protect developing nations and ourselves from the chaos of food shortages and develop sustainable methods of agriculture. Because in a world where all things are connected, one butterfly can cause a storm. Neil Parish MPYou can read Neil Parish’s monthly column in the Express and Echo.