Food


The Great Climate Debate has generally - and rightly - focused on energy. However it has gradually become clearer that food and land-use too, are  significant contributors to the problem, and also exert strong pressures on other 'planetary boundaries' such as biodiversity, water availability and nitrogen overload. Soils too, why aren't they on the list?

It has also become clearer that the decarbonisation of energy systems consists principally of technical measures that from social and political perspectives are fairly straightforward. We know how to do it, and (with due acknowledgement to the many thorny practical issues) it's just a question of Getting On With It.

Not so with food! This is much more difficult to decarbonise without considerable changes in diet and agriculture that cut across deeply embedded cultural preferences. As emissions from energy decline, those from food and land use will become a larger and larger proportion until they dominate the picture. 

Energy decarbonisation scenarios are now two a penny, but there are very few special studies of the land use systems, and almost none that integrate energy, food and land, with the key exception of CAT's Zero-Carbon Britain series.

For these reasons I have moved much of my analytical effort from energy to food and land use. Land-use problems are largely driven by food policy, so I have decided to give Food its own section in this part of the web site, leaving Land Use and Agriculture a separate section of its own. But of course they overlap a lot.


Even a superficial analysis will quickly reveal that livestock and livestock products contribute a disproportionate share of most recognised impacts, climate-related and otherwise. This is the root of the largest cultural collision between preference and sustainability, and clearly is a Very Big Problem. However, once this nettle is grasped, and diets are re-envisioned with much lower livestock components, nearly all the other problems become much more tractable. Furthermore, a wide range of hidden resources and benefits emerges.

The bare bones of this analysis was already understood by the early years of the century, and I wrote a short article on it in 2006, "Food and Carbon Emissions".

This perspective fed into the treatment of food and land-use in the series of Zero-Carbon Britain reports produced at the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2007, 2010 and 2013. A summary of recent conclusions is found here.

Much of this material has found its way into public lectures and exists in the form of Powerpoint presentations, for example Low Carbon Food and Diets (2013).  I have also conducted substantial courses on the same topics, see for example Lecture Notes on Post-Carbon Food (2014).