By Gord Stewart
Never mind if we got to yawning at the mention of ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’. After decades of denial and dallying we now get to call it a ‘climate crisis’ and an ‘existential threat’.
With more hui than do-ey, chain-dragging by the previous Government, lots of lip service, greenwashing by some, small positive steps by many, and outright opposition by others, the situation has only continued to get worse.
Well-informed and caring young people, and adults of all ages and from all walks of life, aren’t standing for it any more. They are speaking up and taking action. Some under the banner of ‘School Strike 4 Climate’; others as a part of Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) efforts.
I was there on a sunny Friday in late September to support keen students at our local college in their ‘protest’. Out front of the school with banners the kids had made – my favourite: “I want a hot date not a hot planet” – we got many supportive honks from passing cars. It was a small contingent, but not a bad turnout for a conservative farming community.
Soon after that, Extinction Rebellion disrupted a typical Monday in Wellington. They blocked streets near the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (think oil, gas and minerals) and had a ‘lie-in’ at the Lambton Quay branch of the ANZ Bank (calling for them to divest from fossil fuels) before moving on to the Beehive. Arrests ensued.
The Wellington blockade was the first in a string of 60 XR events occurring around the world. XR is putting three demands to governments: declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and create and be led by a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Governments around the world face different issues and will need to take different courses of action. Australia must learn to live without coal, for example. Canada will have to get over its love affair with pipelines. Given about half our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, we’ll need to dramatically alter what and how we farm to be truly part of the solution.
A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights this. It notes that it will not be possible to keep global temperatures at safe levels without a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. The report’s proposals include a significant shift toward vegetarian and vegan diets.
To cater to this, a world of plant-based protein, ‘mylk’ (almond, rice, soy, you name it) and meat grown in vats is upon us. The disruption to livestock agriculture is looming larger and approaching ever faster – as various studies and reports confirm.
Award-winning agriculture journalist, Philippa Stevenson, has written, “There is this barmy notion that New Zealand farmers feed the world. Bollocks. They are making the mistake of believing their own PR. Our farmers mostly produce high-end products for the world’s wealthy. There is such a sea of alternatives out there New Zealand’s entire production could disappear tomorrow and few would notice. Or at least not go hungry.”
Given these threats and challenges, you’d think Federated Farmers would be urging its members to innovate and change. To the contrary, they are standing firm. As recently as August they did not support inclusion of agricultural emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) “whether that be from 2025 or any other time” in the absence of a “cost-effective [methane] mitigation tool”. Sadly, we do not have time to wait for a scientific techno-fix.
That there is now some agreement on pricing agricultural emissions (and at the farm level) has been called a ‘breakthrough’, even ‘historic’. But the methane reduction levels they are calling for, the sort of paltry level of costs they will bear, and the time lag before any payments are forthcoming are better indicators of the farming sector’s true colours. (All this in a world where you don’t even need animal protein for a healthy diet, indeed, are better off without it.)
By all appearances, Fed Farmers and other industry lobby groups are happy for farmers to nail their chairs to the deck of the Titanic to ensure they get the best view for as long as it lasts.
Federated Farmers need a rev up and Extinction Rebellion might be just the ones to do it. While they’re at it, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, New Zealand First and the National Party could be added to their visitation list.
A strong and appropriate Zero Carbon Bill is absolutely crucial. We need all hands on deck to get it.
*Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics