ANIKA MOLESWORTH. The drought and intergenerational equityAug 17, 2018
In failing to act on human-induced climate change, our political leaders are neglecting the rights of the next generation.
You just need to turn on your television to know this drought is tough. Every evening, Australian families are being bombarded with footage of struggling farmers, dust-bowl paddocks and hungry animals.
The bad news is that the extreme weather events plaguing Australian agriculture are about to get worse.
This drought is not an anomaly. It’s not a once-in-one hundred year event. It’s inextricably linked to human-induced climate change. We’ve known for more than 50 years that the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels is destabilising the climate system.
Right now, that’s set to continue with the IPCC Fifth Assessment report warning that ‘continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.’
Despite all of this evidence, our political leaders have continued to campaign for new coal mines. They have failed to develop a clear and ambitious strategy to transition to renewable energy. Even now, in the depths of the worst drought of our generation, no political leaders are openly discussing what is needed to arrest climate change impacts.
This failure to act in regards to human-induced climate change is fundamentally an issue of intergenerational justice. Our leaders have been aware of the hard-scientific evidence of climate change for decades, yet they have failed to act. In so doing, the benefits of present generations have been put ahead of the rights of the next.
As a young person with the dream of taking on the family sheep property, I am being unfairly disadvantaged by this failure to take action. My family’s sheep farm in far west New South Wales is projected to become hotter and drier, with more frequent and intense dust storms due to human-induced climate change.
High temperatures can stress our livestock, reduce fertility, increase mortality and adversely affect pasture and fodder crops. In the near future (2020–2039), this region could expect maximum temperature increases of 1oC. In the longer term (2060–2079), this could rise to 2.7oC. The viability of our farming operation – and my future as the custodian of this property – is precarious.
The hurdles facing the next generation of food and fibre producers are great. There’s no denying it. The combined challenges of feeding a growing number of people on the planet, with reduced environmental footprint, on a backdrop of social pressures and climate change, will ask more of these farmers than ever before. Building the support structures now in policy and institutions that are forward-thinking, ambitious and embrace intergenerational equity is essential.
As a young farmer, I am calling on our government to do more to prevent harmful climate change impacts. The failure to protect the future of young farmers by slow or inadequate action violates their rights to life, liberty and property enjoyed by previous generations. The idleness in setting in place policies and structures to reduce pollution emissions exacerbates the risk and intensity of droughts, pest-outbreaks and floods – threatening those setting out on a career in agriculture.
Climate change is impacting me personally. My future is being re-written. Extreme high summer temperatures will make my working conditions less safe, it will reduce the profitability of my farm through diminished livestock capacity, and this will have flow-on effect to the vitality of my rural community. Our government is accountable for taking action to fight climate change. The alleged danger of drought has been sufficiently demonstrated – we see that on the faces of the farmers pushed to the edge on the nightly news – and there is direct link connecting CO2 emissions to the danger of drought. Ignoring these facts is putting people’s futures at risk.
Farmers are people who generally have their eyes on the horizon, from planning the next growing season to ensuring a strong working farm for their kids in their succession plan. As landmanagers we know we have responsibilities to the next generation so we also must be part of the story in reducing greenhouse gases arising from agriculture and taking care of the places we call home. And as a wider society, we have certain obligations to the welfare of future generations.
This obligation to future generations must guide the strategies that we adopt to address issues like climate change, to minimise damage caused by changes already set in place, and ensure that young people receive the tools and resources to help them adapt. Many of the solutions already exist, from renewable energy technologies that reduce pollution, to education programs on best-practices in a changed climate – what we need urgently is now the political will to change our current trajectory in the magnitude necessary for the better. Climate justice means implementing measures that effectively protect young citizens from the foreseeable impacts of climate change – and that means taking ambitious action today.
Anika Molesworth is a passionate advocate for sustainable farming, environmental conservation and climate change action. A Farmers for Climate Action board member, she was the 2015 Young Farmer of the Year, a 2017 NSW Finalist for Young Australian of the Year and, most recently, received the NSW Young Achiever Award for Environment and Sustainability.