A weather eye on climate change

The climate debate has misled people about the quality of the science around climate change

A FEW years ago my oldest daughter came home from school in a state of high agitation. I quizzed her on what was concerning her, to which she replied angrily that I was killing the polar bears.

Apparently she had learned at school that our collective continued use of petrol and diesel was causing global warming and this was threatening the bears. In her young mind this was interpreted as the fuel use on our farm was directly and singularly the cause of the problem.

“My agricultural science training compels me to rely on good science in forming my own opinion”

I was more than a little disgusted that climate activists were able to terrorise my daughter in such a way. However, as much as it pains me to say so, it did cause me to check my own assumptions and attitudes to climate change.

In my farming system we employ strategies to manage and mitigate as much as possible the risk associated with climate variability. I am as prepared for the impact of climate change as anybody, particularly in the context of my likely tenure in the farming business. Furthermore, the farming systems deployed on my farm are also probably the most environmentally responsible systems in terms of water, soil and atmospheric considerations.

However, farmers are demonised by biased emission assessments and a hypocritical latte-sipping green set who have no real appreciation for the fact that modern agriculture is essential to sustain the global population.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am deeply concerned about the future my children will inherit. I am not a devotee of the late Reverend Malthus, but I do see real problems in the libertarian approach to climate and environment that at best suggests clever people will solve the future problems, or at worst simply suggests it is not a problem today so we do not need to do anything about it.

The climate debate has misled people about the science and more importantly about the quality of the science around climate change. In considering my daughter’s emotional and slightly illogical thought process, it seems the broader debate mirrored her reaction and shifted too quickly to a black and white, believe or deny faith-driven conflict.

My agricultural science training compels me to rely on good science in forming my own opinion. As a father and husband I have learned that life and its problems are rarely black and white. As a practising farmer I know that nature is similarly complex. Middle age has brought me a more pragmatic outlook.

We know that climate is continually changing. These changes have been relatively slow throughout history and there has been ample opportunity for humanity to cope and adapt over our much shorter history. We also know that the effects of relatively rapid climate change coupled with the stage of earth’s Precession was instrumental in the evolutionary success of our species in the Rift Valley.

At this time there is an extraordinary and unprecedented level of scientific consensus around climate change with 97 per cent of climate scientists agreeing that man is contributing to climate change. This is a higher degree of consensus than exists around the effects of smoking or asbestos. So what can we draw from this consensus?

“From an agricultural perspective we see modelling suggesting a 6pc decline in global wheat production with every degree of global warming”

We know that atmospheric CO2 levels are now at the highest levels since humankind has existed. We also know that CO2 and other gases have a greenhouse effect trapping radiant heat in the atmosphere and incidentally increasing global oceanic and atmospheric temperatures. We know this system is incredibly complex and well buffered so the full impacts of the changes are difficult to predict accurately. We know that atmospheric CO2 levels have risen with a strong correlation to human exploitation of fossil fuels.

I am the first to admit that I am not a climate scientist and happily not an expert on all aspects of the arguments. This gives me a massive out in the underlying conflict. However, there are useful tools to use in making risk assessments in uncertain circumstances.

It is helpful to ask how likely an outcome might be and then ask how serious that outcome would be.

The current climate models show a high degree of variability in rate of warming and similarly a high degree of variability in the impacts of that warming. Our own CSIRO has recently reported that, in line with universally forecast increases in weather volatility, Australia will likely see a doubling of the incidence of devastating floods this century.

From an agricultural perspective we now see modelling suggesting a 6pc decline in global wheat production with every degree of global warming. I think these models are founded on too many assumptions to be useful. However, the more important concerns are around an increasingly volatile production environment overlaid against a just in time supply management culture. This predisposes the market to acute shortages which will lead to inevitable social and political instability.

“If the outcomes of unchecked climate change are only half as bad as the moderate predictions, the human cost warrants immediate action”

Some of the more credible modelling suggests that if global temperatures reach two degrees of warming our existing agricultural systems and infrastructure will only reliably support a global population of four billion. Four degrees of warming will cause even greater disruption to global agriculture and resultant production may only reliably sustain one and a half billion people. It begs a slightly terrifying question about who and how we will decide which portion of our population will survive.

Let us go back and ask the important question. How likely is two degrees of warming? The answer is very likely. How likely is disruption to agriculture? The answer is very likely. How likely is it that we won’t be able to reliably feed the global population? The answer is very likely, but the extent is unclear. How serious would such a disruption be? The answer is that it would be devastating as isolated occurrence, but catastrophic if frequency increases.

I have already referenced Reverend Malthus and his predictions of dire outcomes from overpopulation as far back as 1798. I am not a Malthusian enthusiast, but if the outcomes of unchecked climate change are only half as bad as the moderate predictions, the human cost warrants immediate action or at least commitment to meaningful action.

“We must move quickly to address the carbon problem collectively ... and farmers should not be compelled to again absorb the cost of this structural reform on behalf of the rest of society”

As with all problems it is essential to acknowledge and define the problem before you can hope to meaningfully address it. I think back to my daughter’s angst and consider my obligation to provide a better future for her often. It frustrates me that today’s politicians regard this issue with little more consideration than garnering short term party advantage.

Joe Hockey, our Treasurer, announced in a television interview recently that he could not conceive any circumstance where climate change could affect the economy. His ignorance is culpable and constitutes a real threat to my children’s future safety and prosperity.

The truth is that for quite a few generations now we have consumed fossil fuels and liberated previously sequestered carbon into the atmosphere with reckless abandon. We are now completely reliant on industrial agriculture and committed to continue to use liquid fuels at least for some time yet.

We must move quickly to address the carbon problem collectively and with full consideration of the impacts of our and previous generations on the opportunity for future generations. Similarly, the cost of any mitigation must also be borne collectively and farmers should not be compelled to again absorb the cost of this structural reform on behalf of the rest of society.

In truth it is now a matter of highest order for global stability that we empower our farming communities and reprioritise the agricultural enterprise to the top of the political and social agenda.

FarmOnline
Pete Mailler

Pete Mailler

is a farmer on the Qld/NSW border and a co-founder of the Country Party of Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

daw
3/03/2015 6:13:01 PM

No Nico I haven't been there without a specific reference. It's too laborious a site. Besides I have been using CRU UEA - much easier and a more dedicated site than a space agency. Here's an hypothetical for you :- You have convinced us to accept AGW. So where do we start? Switch off coal fired generation? Stop driving vehicles that burn oil based fuels? Shoot all animals that exhale CO2? Change our lifestyle routines to rise during daylight hours and rest after sundown when there s little or no electricity generation? How do we best prepare to keep warm on colder days?
Max
3/03/2015 1:47:43 PM

Nico your visible trend you speak about to daw may be visible but it is only a visible fake because as I have posted above it is based on fake figures. If your homogenisation was in a similar direction for earlier and later figures then maybe but to push them in opposite directions to achieve your desired result, well that just makes them complete crap or if you like complete scientific crap, end of story.
Sandman
3/03/2015 1:09:34 PM

An interesting article for all to read. http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/do omed-planet/2015/03/global-warmin g-killing-scientific-integrity/
Sandman
3/03/2015 12:58:13 PM

And, your only telling half the story Nico. I notice you completely disregard my first point about the benefits of any warming? And I suppose your going to try to tell me also the increased energy , the weather instability and the brutal winters is all caused by an increase of 100ppm of CO2 ? Lol. Come on Nico , do you really think everyone is that dumb ?
nico
3/03/2015 12:44:15 PM

Que sera sera. says daw. Can you. daw, refute the statement which I quoted from NASA? It's not about what will be, but about what has just been. The visible trend.
nico
3/03/2015 11:41:18 AM

Sandman, you're only telling half the story. Weather doesn't just happen - something causes it. "Global warming" is a matter of increased energy, which in turn causes weather instability. The NH jetstream has been disrupted, leading to the "brutal winters" you mention. See: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-93 26/10/1/014005/article Max, you seem obsessed. The "homogenisation" or standardisation of the metric in fact resulted in a very slightly more accurate, but slightly LOWER, temperature for Australia.
Max
3/03/2015 7:02:23 AM

Nico, another one bites the dust. You continually claim that belief has nothing to do with AGW and it is all about science. Well not according to your gods, or former gods. Former IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri who recently resigned his position for reasons we won't go into here, conceded in his letter of resignation that he is motivated by religion rather than science. That is probably the most honest statement he has made since being head of IPCC. Let's see if you can accept that truth Nico seeing as it's not from a denialist sceptic.
Max
2/03/2015 5:28:19 PM

Nico you are up to your usual standard which is pathetic as normal. The post I did regarding TC Marcia only bring out the reality of the BOM disgraceful standard they work to and are highlighted by the two I quote. You may denigrate them but what they had to say was confirmed by the BOM response, the same as with the Alice Springs record temp issue, so the only hot air going around is yours. The records and exaggerated figures are only achieved by the use of adjusted figures. The older temp figures are adjusted down and more recent ones are adjusted up, resulting in AGW. Simple hey Nico.
Sandman
2/03/2015 4:56:00 AM

No one can deny that during the 20th century there were some brief periods of global warming . How much of it was natural and how much of it was caused by human GHGs will forever be debated but its really irrelevant for several reasons. The first is that the warming regardless of it's cause was entirely beneficial and is the reason food production and human population is where it is today. The second reason is this warming by all observation looks like it has come to an end with now a number of brutally harsh and cold winters bringing parts of the northern hemisphere to a grinding halt.
daw
1/03/2015 6:40:22 PM

I was going to respond in detail to Nico but nothing is going to change his ideological stance on AGW theory so I won't bother. Perhaps he is suffering from 'eye dee ten see why' syndrome for which there is no known cure. Blasting away at peoples credentials isn't science. It is biased ideology. I'll let people like you do all the worrying about the climate while I just go on living happily and not worrying about it. Que sera sera.
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Burrs under my saddlePete Mailler is a farmer on the Queensland/NSW border. His perspective and opinions are borne from seeing more than one side of many problems in his various farm leadership roles and in wanting to ensure a future for his children in agriculture.

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