The size of a cow

AtomHeartMother.jpg NZ’s farming leadership remains in denial about the need for action on climate change, as a remarkable speech [full text, Stuff report] by Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson demonstrates. Addressing the Plant Protection Society’s annual conference in Dunedin yesterday, Nicholson took swipes at Keisha Castle-Hughes, Greenpeace and the Green Party:

It’s not the reality that Greenpeace or the Green Party informs people before they ‘sign-on’. There’s no hint of a real solution apart from some ‘great leap backwards’. No, the vision they extol is instead apocalyptic. It is designed to create a climate of fear and don’t the anti-progress agents love fear. A fear of no oil, rising sea levels, extinction and starvation. It’s moral brainwashing without facts or context.

No real solutions on offer? No facts to support calls for action? It looks to me like Nicolson’s the one who’s making stuff up — and leading NZ’s farmers down a commercially disastrous path in the process.

Nicolson’s thoughts on farming’s role in coming decades are a sad travesty of reality. Apparently, the world will be able to feed 10 billion people if we trust farmers and science, but ignore climate change:

In the course of some 230 years, the earth’s human population would have increased by nine billion mouths or 880 percent. Can we feed them, yes we can. I have confidence that science will keep farmers ahead of the game. We are realistic optimists and history has proven us – not the neo-Malthusians – right.

Unrealistic optimism would be nearer the mark, especially when science is telling us [IPCC, WG2, Chap 5 PDF] that food production in many parts of the world will be stressed by climate change in coming decades.

Nicolson then devotes some time to demonstrating that climate has changed in the past — including a fascinating little diversion into the cause of Saxon migrations — before offering this pearl of wisdom:

This is not to say that the activities of the Earth’s population have not affected the climate. It’s just to illustrate that climate variation is nothing new. Yet it’s being interpreted by those who do think it’s new.

What’s new, Don, is that current greenhouse gas levels are the highest since humans evolved, and that the rate of change (in GHG levels and temperature) is faster than at any time in human history. Little things like that make a difference, you know, and might just threaten food production around the world. Nevertheless, Nicolson then proceeds to explain the basis of the Fed’s “no target” policy:

Due to the weight of billions of more human beings — some 3.3 billion more in fact in the next 40 years – any attempt to cut emissions, as I said earlier, is doomed. That demands solutions and I don’t mean a tax or a target. This is where Federated Farmers diverges from the Government, its policy advisors and the many people and organisations calling for big emissions cuts. It’s why we say don’t set a target. Federated Farmers backs The Skeptical Environmentalist, Dr Björn Lomborg, in calling for research — not taxes.

Relying on Lomborg for policy guidance is like asking Attilla the Hun to mind the kids, but there is one item of Federated Farmers policy I’m very happy to support. The Feds wants NZ to spend 3% of GDP on scientific research — but apparently believe that this is all we need to do, somehow a magical solution ro climate change will present itself:

What a sizeable amount of money into climate change solutions delivers is the means to become more efficient while reducing the footprint. It recognises that there is science we can only dream of today, which will become available over the next 40 years.

Unfortunately, doing nothing now is not an option. NZ’s farmers face global competition, and our competitors are not sitting on their hands and whinging. Here’s a recent news item about the UK diary industry’s response to carbon constraints being imposed by their customers, the big retailers — a carbon footprint guide:

Euan Murray, carbon footprinting general manager, Carbon Trust said: “Milk is an important part of most UK consumers’ daily lives. We are really pleased to be working with Dairy UK to help the whole dairy sector develop specific guidance on carbon footprinting. Building a consistent and accurate footprint is a key step towards managing and reducing carbon emissions from agriculture.”

Dairy UK environment manager Fergus McReynolds added: “This project represents a real stride forward for the dairy sector.”

So: Feds President Don Nicolson wants to do nothing but advocate research. He wants agriculture excluded from the emissions trading scheme, and the nation to set no target for emissions reductions. Meanwhile, the rest of the world — especially the farmers and businesses that compete with our exporters — are doing their best to reduce carbon footprints, because they know which way the wind is blowing.

Nicolson’s thoughts are not just wrong-headed and based on a spectacular misreading of the evidence (pace Lomborg), his advice amounts to a recipe for export disaster for our agricultural sector, and commercial disaster for the country as a whole. It’s high time the farming community found itself some leaders who live on the same planet as the rest of us

[The Wonder Stuff]

6 thoughts on “The size of a cow”

    1. Here’s the direct link to Upton’s piece:

      How different it all seemed from the image of producers conveyed by Federated Farmers. Imagine how M&S would respond to suppliers who actively urged their government to follow Canada in reneging on Kyoto commitments; or opposed controls on nutrient flows from farms into Lake Taupo when point-source polluters have been regulated for decades?

      The Feds went feral during Charlie Pedersen’s term in office. He labelled environmentalists “arrogant, fear-mongering religious zealots waging war against the human race”. They don’t seem to have recovered. Their press statements reveal a chip-on-shoulder, them-and-us antagonism towards life beyond the farm gate.


      1. Shane Arden’s tractor drive was not just a moment in history. It represented the sad arrogance of a sector of our society that cannot accept that they are the worst polluters in the land, and they see no need to change it.

  1. Outstanding link to the uk dairy – thank you.

    Be certain that EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb) are closing fast on NZ’s ‘clean production’ numbers…. they were here not long ago taking notes…

  2. “A fear of no oil, rising sea levels, extinction and starvation. It’s moral brainwashing without facts or context.”

    It ought to be hard to believe that such blustering ignorance can be displayed by leaders in a modern educated society. Unfortunately it’s so pervasive that it may yet mean we fail to measure up to the challenge of climate change. Bluster sometimes carries a sense of menace with it.

    Perhaps I’m being unduly pessimistic this morning, having been reminded in something I’ve just read that “the vagaries of the US electoral system, the malign influence of fossil fuel industry lobbyists and the collective psychosis of parts of the American Right” are conspiring to make it very difficult for the comparatively enlightened US Administration to achieve what it knows needs to be done to battle climate change. Federated Farmers seems to be wanting to make it difficult even for our comparatively unenlightened government to achieve the minimum it thinks it can get by with to qualify as a hanger-on.

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