Sometimes good friends and close colleagues disagree. When they do, it is important to respect each other‘s opinions and develop a mutual understanding of each other‘s positions.
Case in point, about six months ago, I was approached by a group of friends and colleagues who work for some of Canada‘s largest corporations to brainstorm strategies to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the Canadian agricultural sector. This work will result in a series of reports we are releasing over the next six months. The first of these was released recently and is titled The Next Green Revolution: how Canada can produce more food and fewer emissions. This report is the result of a large team of dedicated writers, researchers, and graduate students who spent much of the summer of 2022 interviewing farmers, scientists, private sector players and nongovernmental organizations. While the report isn’t perfect – and there are lots of things both said and unsaid that need to be unpacked – I am intensely proud of this effort and excited by the suggestions contained therein.
But of course, whenever we deal with complex issues there are always important alternative positions. Upon reading the report, Dr Phil Loring, who holds the Arrell Chair in Food Policy and Society, reached out to express his discomfort at many of the recommendations. Phil argued that working with large corporations is a distraction in that this entire exercise draws attention away from major societal issues that prevent groups of people – and Indigenous Communities in particular – from achieving real and systemic changes.
First, it should be noted that having the kind of relationship that allows colleagues to disagree is a key element of finding change within society. In my opinion, we need to have common cause, common respect, and have enough trust with each other to be vulnerable if we want to progress as a society.
Second, in my opinion many of Phil’s criticisms are both valid and well-articulated in the rebuttal that he has posted on his Medium Page and that we have re-printed here.
And I stand by the recommendations made in the aforementioned report. I think the proposals pertaining to reducing methane emissions from cattle, improving fertilizer use efficiency, and exploring financial incentives to promote regenerative agriculture will result in positive change in Canada’s food system. Six months ago, when I was asked to help the corporate sector wrestle with how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I was extremely excited. I was proud to be able to bring a group of dedicated and passionate masters and PhD students into the process to share their expertise. And I remain excited by these proposals that, if enacted, will help our country meet our international emission reduction targets.
And I take Phil’s critique about needing to engage more very seriously.
While this may seem like a contradiction, perhaps this is really a necessary tension given that the real world is messy, complex and actions don’t need to be perfect to have a positive impact. Additionally, I think change comes when we engage with a range of players be they community based or large companies. So, I am happy to have had the opportunity to engage with the private sector to explore how they can help mitigate climate change.
The two of us feel it is important to share our thoughts openly and transparently and use our common platform at Arrell Food Institute to allow our friends and collaborators to witness this serious – but respectful and good natured – debate. And I would like to thank Phil for being open with his concerns. We hope by sharing both these thoughts, along with the report, and Phil’s rebuttal, we can shed light on the tensions implicit in tough food systems conversations.
For me, the bottom line is this: we sit at a momentous moment in human history where devising the ways and means to sustainably, equitably and nutritiously feed the future is one of the great global challenges facing this generation. While we disagree at times on the means and instruments, we must be committed to the dialogue.