This blog presents actionable ideas on how to halt or at least reduce biodiversity loss to enable a future where Swiss cities are urban biodiversity oases. It was developed in the context of the Hirschmann grant Policy Kitchen project and is part of a series. In this blog, we present ideas in the field of food consumption to bring the natural value of food to people living in cities and map necessary changes in the construction industry.
By Lisa Hüglin, Ulysse Loup, Ivanna Crmaric, Anita Filli, Louisa Merten
To lay the ground for a future similar to the one pictured in the possible future snapshot – see cover picture – several greater shifts are necessary today. This blog post outlines ideas so that by 2035 we may see green – not grey – cities. Cities in which parks and biodiversity corridors are an integral part, and building walls covered in vegetation that cool the building and are breeding grounds for insects and birds. We believe that the greenness should be visible to the bare eye. However, our proposed changes target the seemingly invisible material mix of urban architecture and the relation of city dwellers towards food. We address our ideas to anyone, as we fundamentally believe that changes can be pushed for on the grassroots level. Should this blog also get the attention of decision-makers who have the power to change our consumption patterns top-down, all the better. We are running out of time and action is required at all levels.
The meaning and the real value of food
The average household budget for food is currently close to 6%. In the sixties, it made up to 40% of the household budget. We always want cheaper food without looking at how it is produced and where it comes from.
It is well known that food from industrial agricultural production is a major contributor to the decline in biodiversity, and that meat induces significant external costs that are not reflected in the price the consumer pays. To correct that and to encourage a more coherent behaviour, a meat taxation, similar to the tobacco taxation, could be introduced: the tax could allow investment in more extensive and local meat production of rare and ancient animal breeds, or allow for breeding that pays particular attention to animal welfare and the environment. For that, a proposal should be made at the level of the Swiss Parliament, as it is the case at the European level, where notably the Netherlands and Germany try to set up such a system.
To massively increase the understanding of the value of food among Swiss consumers, we advocate for a new civilian work model. Women and men alike are to choose between military service or civilian work, the latter including agricultural work. It is already possible to do community service in rural areas protecting the forest or working in the field of environmental protection, nature conservation and landscape management. To give an example, in summering farms as alpine pastures, civilians maintain nature conservation or biodiversity promotion areas, prevent forest encroachment or combat problematic plants. Although civilian workers are not trained farmers, many farmers already see the value of additional helping hands, leading to a current situation where supply of places far exceeds the demand. But it is a win-win situation in which not only farmers are relieved, but also the civilians get the chance to (re-)create a closer relationship with nature and food. If we are to improve the awareness of agricultural work consumers would eventually be willing to pay more for local and sustainable products having gained a new understanding of the wealth nature has to offer naturally.
Building sustainably by dropping concrete
Concrete is beloved for its endurance in time – giving imaginative assurance in uncertain time(s). Nothing illustrates the human aim to tame nature more vividly and there are massive amounts of concrete out there. Indeed, it is the second most widely used substance on earth after water. But the extraction of materials for concrete production pose major risks to biodiversity and ecosystems. Without going into detail, concrete is a thirsty behemoth, sucking up almost a 10th of the world’s industrial water use. The sand acquisition of our predominant building material destroys many of the world’s beaches, rivers – ecosystems that are habitats to animals. Surprisingly little attention is given on the impact of concrete, which can easily be linked to the importance of concrete on the GDP. The material binds politicians to the massive construction companies and vice versa.
We need considered consumers that demand innovative building materials for construction – because they do exist. Many traditional materials such as wood, lime, clay are to be reconsidered. Due to the demand, politics must move to adapt laws. An example: There are height restrictions for timber frame buildings, but higher buildings would be technically possible with wood-based materials. Maintaining and enhancing historic structures and buildings, instead of replacing them with new ones, should be subsidised not only for heritage conservation but also for environmental reasons. New is often not better, especially not if concrete is in the equation.
Whether it is for food or housing, it is important that consumers are informed of the impact of their actions in order to grow their awareness. While our politicians play a crucial role in establishing new laws to prevent further decline in biodiversity, we the citizens and consumers must make them react. Maybe we should all stop eating like Guillermo Fernandez did? Or begin with being more considered consumers.