The world on fire (and BBQ)

The introduction to the Dutch version of my book was headed: the world on fire. ( after summer in English available!)

“Well”, was often the reaction, “a bit exaggerated, isn’t it? Sounds like doomsday thinking right?” But it is not doomsday thinking, it is a realistic look at what is actually happening on earth, out of sight of daily life (at least, here in our neatly raked country, with all consequences outsourced). Systems are changing on a large scale, and not always in favor of us, the species of mankind. [1] And if politics continues like this, nothing will come of serious climate policy.

We do not even take our own set targets seriously. with regard to CO2 and nitrogen Just have a look at the policy regarding flying. That must, so it seems, continue to grow at all costs. Not only here, in France, Macron has proposed a flight tax: 1.5 Euro on an airline ticket. Laughable of course.

And so we head for a ‘fireball earth’, just like there was once a snowball earth, but then the other way. Nature’s way to restore order and balance. It is a bit too obvious to say now that we end up in hell , because we did not want to listen. Although I am not ‘religious’, I like research and ‘knowing’ (also what we don’t know yet), but here the Bible has a point, albeit metaphorically.

Anyway, it’s going on everywhere. Just came from vacation in Spain, where the temperatures at the foot of the Pyrenees in June rose above 40 degrees. Says nothing of course, such a one-off heat wave, but overall with all heat waves added together there is a huge pattern visible. And read the reports about the recent heat waves from above 50 degrees in India. They are already laughing at 35 or 40 degrees, the definition of heat wave has already shifted. [2]

A heat wave is not yet a fire, but it is getting close. And it does burn more and more often. Even now on the polar circle: mega-fires of 1000 km2, which further increase climate warming. [3] The world is indeed on fire.

And  water to extinguish the fire is  becoming increasingly scarce, such as in Chennai where the reservoirs are empty. [4]

Anyway, in Alaska they are currently lying on the beach, where they still benefit from some warming up. [5] We will have that also here, by the way, London will have the climate of Barcelona as early as 2050, a Swiss study found. [6]

And the summer has only just begun. Just like vacation for most, when we will add some fire: by barbecuing … Mind you, I’m not going to make you feel bad about barbecue, nothing like ‘barbecue-shame’ or such. That is, if you don’t do it every day. I wish everyone his or hers barbecue once and a while. But it’s a nice metaphor for the world on fire … You feel the heat, and that seems like a good time to reflect a bit about the situation in the world, while you feel the future heat coming.

Cooking started with the discovery of fire, anyway. And cooking food is a good thing. Its even the main difference with other species. As is colorfully described by Pollan in his latest book ‘Cooked’ [7]: Someone had his hut burned down, and discovered the pig that died in the fire. He felt it and accidentally leaked his fingers, wow, nice flavor , and there you have it, the BBQ was born. That as a result, as the story goes, everyone burned down his house to get a roasted pig, before they realized that it could be simpler, we take with a grain of salt. Pollan can tell it nicely.

But it is essential: eating and digesting raw food takes much more time and energy from the body. By pre-cooking the food, we have started to function much more efficiently, so that even our brains could grow, the brains being a large consumer of energy. By cooking. It is a theory, but it could well be true. So it all started with fire and cooking. That is why there is still some primitive drift somewhere in that barbecuing. If, by the way, there is a raw foody among the barbecuing party, then realize that their brain may function a little slower ….

Cooking or barbecuing naturally comes with some disadvantages: To prepare food, outside the body, requires external energy to be supplied: the coal. And that is at the expense of the potential of the system: we as a species are evolving, but the system around us that provides us with resources is deteriorating. For a one time barbecue that’s a minor thing, but nevertheless . For example, in large parts of Africa, cooking is still done on wood fires. A family needs about 3 m3 of wood per year for this. Add this up if everyone would do that, and find we couldn’t plant enough forests for that. (a temperate forest provides around 5m3 of wood per hectare per year).

Planting trees was by accident also in the news last week. Swiss research found that planting a 1000 billion trees or so could combat climate change. [8] What is usually not mentioned is that, although it is a good thing, it does not solve the problem: only slows down the process, delays the problem. We will still have to transform into a low CO2 society!

Cooking, that is processing stuff using external energy, is the same principle as we find in real life: we outsource all labor to systems that use external energy. And that gets out of hand, as you undoubtedly know and experience. Just ask your barbecue mates : whoever uses a leaf blower, an electric hedge trimmer? Who already has an electric bicycle on the campsite, or even a caravan with electric driven wheels, to park the caravan …? And making his own body energy useless and wasted by hanging in the couch in front of the TV. The body slowly growing and become vulnerable to all kind of welfare diseases. Now then , if you are on the couch anyway, then watch the movie Wall-e . [9] It will deliver for a nice discussion during the barbecue …

Anyway, I am loosing the subject….

A few facts about meat and bbq: searing the meat nicely, to preserve the juices, and to get a nice tan, is a lot of misery together. Because searing up does not make sense, not even in a pan, the meat only dries out faster. And the color comes from the Maillard reaction. It tastes great but carcinogens are created. It will not directly harm with an occasional BBQ, but there are countless misconceptions about meat processing. My cooking friends also swear by ‘frying’. I just can’t convince hem not to. Slow cooking, preferably sealed, gives the best results. That is difficult on a bbq, I realize. But then, you could try an alternative that uses the sun for the external energy source, such as a solar cooker, and therefore does also not affect the potential of the system earth! To create a Climate Neutral BBQ so to speak …. It takes a little longer, but that is automatically better for meat …. It is all a matter of time.

Solar cookers are commercially available as products, but that only shifts the problem from energy to materials. No, make one yourself: with some residual material such as an insulation mat or a car-sunscreen that you might have with you, you should be able to do it, with some experimenting with a sealed kettle in the middle. Or using a little aluminum foil and an umbrella, or many other ways. See this website: [10] Its also handy to have practiced this once, now that we have a natural-gas phase-out for our houses ( in the Netherlands) , and perhaps have to face some power blackouts in future. Then you know how to manage the cooking…

By the way, aluminum is bit problematic. It is the material that by far requires the most energy to produce, 10 times as much as steel, for example. So we have to be very careful with that and only use it when there is no alternative. Does your BBQ party include drinking cans? That is aluminum. And you can do without Aluminum , when it is for drinking cans. Use glass. Via a deposit system this will certainly last 30 cycles. While aluminum is thrown away. If you are lucky, possibly recycled. But even then it is even more environmentally harmful, and after 1 year almost all aluminum will still have disappeared into nature. [11] Ok, Reusing bottles also costs energy. That’s right. But 30 x guaranteed reuse is better than, only partly recycling. Moreover, the energy consumption of re-use is not due to the material used, but to our far-reaching regulations, not to the reuse itself.

With using your own bottles, and having them refilled, the step of reuse can even be skipped, and that makes a huge difference: for example for orange juice at the Supermarket.

One last thing as a nice discussion in the barbecue group: How could you have barbecued without using plastic ….? Put all the plastic from the bbq together, and come up with some creative solutions. Certainly an interesting discussion for the party!

But don’t forget: the world is on fire. Don’t be embarrassed about the barbecue, with some well-intentioned individual actions we’re anyway not going to save the world. But think about how you can do something about it, back from vacation and back to work, through work, politics, or business. We just have to arrange it decently, professionally, to put out the fire, and not wait for it to go out by itself, like for a BBQ.



[1] See the book: Gebroken Kringlopen, by Eburon Publishers, soon available in English :

[2] india :

[3] mega fires arctic:

[4] Chennai:

[5] Alaska:


[7] Cooked , M.Pollan,




[9] Wall-e:

[10] zonnekoker: