If we accept the premise that humans are rational beings and have a reason for doing what they do, then in my first article I tried to throw some light on what motivated the National Party, and the Coalition, to have the policies they have or don’t have on climate. In summary I suggested this was a result of the decline of membership and branch structure and the resultant decline of influence by the rank and file on policy. The belief in there being votes in differentiating their brand from the Greens and city lefties. The power of Canberra lobbyists and those who fund MPs’ re-election campaigns. And the social conservatives simplistic faith in their God and His capacity to “fix” planet Earth. Essentially policy is driven by money, power and a job. It is interesting to observe how National MHRs go soft on coal when they have new investment of renewables in their electorate!
But to get to the nitty gritty, “do farmers believe in Climate Change or not?” Previously I made the point that farmers are practical people who tend to concentrate on things under their control. This is certainly true of the younger generation who are disillusioned with politics. However farmers know that to maintain efficient production systems, research and science are critical to their ongoing profitability and indeed survival.
But farmers operate in a tough environment and to survive they have learnt not to be gullible. In other words their “crap detectors” need to be always on high alert! Short of working capital and already with considerable borrowings, farmers know an incorrect investment can spell disaster. They know from experience that not all scientific research results in long term benefits. Cautious about adopting new research, they prefer to see the research results demonstrated on either a research farm or on a farm of a farmer who has an appetite to be an “early adopter” and can afford the risk of a mistake, before they themselves adopt!
So farmers coming from a culture of being cautious about “rushing in” to adopt new research tend to prudently wait to observe evidence of what the scientists are proclaiming. And so it is with climate change! The early promoters for action on Co2, i.e. Kevin Rudd “the greatest diabolical issue of our time”, tended to make assertions that didn’t resonate with many in the community, particularly farmers.
Against this background of caution by farmers, I would like to detail some of the reasons for farmers not appearing to embrace climate change with the enthusiasm of many!
Many farmers across Australia keep daily rainfall recordings. Some have records for their property going back to the 1880s. Farmers are keen observers of the weather and climate. Droughts, floods, good and bad years are part of the narrative of every farming family, as it was previously with indigenous Australians.
On my office wall hang two large maps. One shows the growing season rainfall (April to October) for the whole of Australia from 1900 to 1999. The other shows the annual rainfall from 1890 to 2004. Clearly we have cycles, some wet, some dry, and they can run for varying lengths of time.
Prior to Federation each State as part of their Meteorological Bureau employed an Astrologist. When the Federal Bureau was established around 1915 the astrologists were all dismissed as their work was considered unscientific. Inigo Jones was one of the last astrologists employed by the Brisbane weather bureau. He died in 1954 but before his death he correctly predicted the Centenary drought of 2000 to 2004. His predictions were based on sunspot activity, possibly influenced by the alignment of the planets. He knew nothing of ocean temperatures, La Ninas, El Ninos and the Southern Oscillation. But he studied cycles; a reality to which all farmers will attest, and importantly also the original indigenous inhabitants who have been here at lot longer than we have!
But currently the Australian Bureau of Meteorology refuses to acknowledge that research and understanding of cycles and what drives them is a valid area of investigation.
Recently Fiona Simpson, National President of The National Farmers Federation, broke ranks to some extent by saying “that the severity of the current drought could be caused by Co2 and climate change”. But do we know?
Anyone who has access to monthly/annual rainfall figures for a range of locations across Eastern Australia – and these figures are readily available on the BOM website – can do, as I and many others have, a simple calculation: calculate the average rainfall for the 50 years following the breaking of the Federation drought, the average rainfall for the 50 years following the breaking of the 1940’s drought in 1946. What they will find is that the 50 years following the Federation drought were drier than the long term average, the 50 years following 1946 much wetter than the long term average. Are we now back into a drier, yet for Australia normal cycle?
If Australia has returned to a drier cycle, the length of which is unpredictable, then the consequences are immense, both in respect to land use and water allocations both for our cities and agriculture. These decisions were made on the best evidence available at the time – but during the run of wet years from 1946 to 1996.
For example much of the land that moved from merino sheep to cattle and crops will fail. Water allocations will not sustain the irrigable areas of better times. Allocations for the environment never imagined during the 50/60/and 70s will be unsustainable and only hasten the disaster for agriculture. The reality is that farmers who have changed their land use in unstainable areas will face disaster, by that I mean bankruptcy, as they have in previous times!
This is a potential disaster for Australia and to my knowledge there is no research being undertaken in the area of cycles and their impact on land and water use.
Of course humans, if they are rational beings as I suggest, will see no point in burning carbon to create energy when it can be done cost effectively with wind, sun and water, all of which are free, or should be free to mankind. And no one should support burning of coal and carbon if there is any chance of risk to planet earth but many do, but only because the facts are drowned out by the greedy who own coal resources.
CO2; carbon dioxide a pollutant?
Farmers know, in fact we all should know, that Co2 is not as many attest a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is essential for plant growth. Increase Co2 and mother nature immediately responds by increasing plant growth! Increased Co2 has made a considerable impact on the greening of the earth and increased crop yields in the last 50 years.
Farmers and many environmentalists also know that while the increased use of industrial fertilizers and chemicals has also contributed to increased crop yields in the last 50 years, they have also had a serious effect on soil, water and air pollution. Many are concerned that the penetration of chemicals into our environment is having a serious impact on human health and changing our DNA which could really have “diabolical’ results! But it is also the greedy who convince us that the only way agriculture can feed the growing world population is from the application of industrial fertilizers and copious applications of pesticides and herbicides.
On our farm we have moved to a biological system of farming. Productivity has increased but, critically, soil health has improved dramatically. Increased microbial action is encouraging plant roots to penetrate deeper into the soil profile increasing carbon and moisture retention. And of course, healthy soils = healthy plants = healthy animals= healthy people!
And a thought to conclude with: If half of the world’s arable land were to move to biological farming, the soils on this land would absorb all the excess carbon and we would all be healthier. But the greedy – will they allow that? For those who would like to learn more, watch soil scientist Dr Christine Jones on YouTube.
Peter Small is a farmer at Wilderness, Gritjurk.