John Menadue. Opinion and fact on climate change.

Tony Abbott keeps telling us that climate change is not a factor in the current drought in eastern Australia. Last October he ruled out climate change as a factor in October’s early season bushfires in the Blue Mountains.

He keeps giving us opinions when the facts, supported by overwhelming scientific research, tell us that Australia is already experiencing more frequent and more intensive heatwaves, and that we can expect the number of hot days to continue to increase. He said that the climate change will not be a factor in the drought aid package he will announce soon. That aid package should take into account climate change and the necessity for marginal farmers on marginal land to find other occupations.

Tony Abbott’s confusion of opinion and fact reminds me of the comment made by the late Senator Daniel Moynihan that ‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no-one is entitled to their own facts’.

Reputable people and reliable organisations are all pointing to the challenge that climate change presents to Australian agriculture.

CSIRO says ‘forecasts show Australia will have to cope with less rainfall, longer dry periods and struggling crops’. (ABC News 15 January 2013). Mark Howden from CSIRO’s Climate Adaption Flagship Program tells us that ‘Increases in temperature … and decreases in rainfall will increase drought periods and increase dry spells’. (ABC News 3 February 2013). Steve Crimp, a Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO says that southern Australia faces ‘warmer and dryer conditions’. (ABC 3 February 2013).

The Garnaut Climate Change Review said ‘Climate change is likely to affect agricultural production through changes in water availability, water quality and temperatures. Crop production is likely to be affected directly by changes in average rainfall and temperatures, in distribution of rainfall during the year and in rainfall variability. The productivity of livestock industries will be influenced by the changes in the quantity and quality of available pasture, as well as by the effects of temperature increases on livestock. … A range of studies indicate that grain protein contents are likely to fall in response to combined climate and carbon dioxide changes. There could be substantial protein losses … which would lower prices.’(p129)

The Department of Environment of the Australian Government reported last year on “Climate Change Impacts in Australia” which included the impact on agriculture.

  • For NSW it said that ‘potential changes in climate may reduce productivity and output in agricultural industries in the medium to long term through higher temperatures, reduced rainfall and extreme weather events.’ It predicts possible falls in agricultural production in NSW by 2030 of 8.4% for wheat, 8.1% for sheep meat and 5.5% for dairy.(p35)
  • In respect of Queensland this report says ‘Future productivity growth in agriculture may be affected by climate change in the medium to long term…’ It mentions that ABARE estimates possible production declines by 2030 of 19% for beef and 12% for sugar (p45).
  • The report says in respect of WA, ‘By 2070 south-west WA is likely to experience yield reductions in wheat. Cropping may become non-viable at the dry margins with strong warming and significant reductions in rainfall.’ The report highlights that wheat production could decline by 9% by 2030 with similar declines for sheep meat.(p34)
  • For SA the report says ‘Since 1997 SA’s agricultural regions have experienced a marked decline in growing season rainfall. This decline is mostly due to a drying trend in autumn and to a lesser extent in winter. … Overall the trend in annual rainfall since 1950 shows a decline across the agricultural region. … Rising temperatures are likely to have a major influence on wine grapes bringing the harvest forward by a month and yielding lower quality grapes. … ‘(p35)

In 2011 CSIRO published a report by Chris Stokes and Mark Howden on “Adapting agriculture to climate change” They say ‘The Australian climate is already changing and these changes have a measurable impact on primary production as the drying of the Murray Darling basin and the wheat belt bear witness” (p85) They add “ areas of farming that are economically marginal today are among the most vulnerable to climate change; here impacts are most likely to exceed the regions adaptive capacity, stressing their communities, farming systems and natural resources. Such areas include outer wheat belt zones subject to drying, warmer dairying or fruit growing areas, or irrigation communities whose water resources are in decline-all areas where quite small changes in climate can have quite large economic and social consequences

Tony Abbott refuses to face these facts.

At the same time US Secretary of State John Kerry calls climate change “a weapon of mass destruction” and the IMF calls on Australia as the Chair of the G20 to show leadership on the issue

What is just as remarkable is that the National Party which claims to represent farmers and country people is as quiet as mice in the haystack on climate change. The National Party relies on people like Gina Reinhart for financial support. It ignores the long-term interests of its own farming constituency by following the climate sceptics in the Liberal Party.

No group in Australia is as vulnerable to climate change as Australian farmers. Historically they have shown themselves very good at adapting to change but they are not helped by the lack of leadership by the National Party.

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