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

nico
27/02/2015 1:07:16 PM

Yes, we remember you. Another one of the yapping crowd who don't understand that assertions without evidence are meaningless. For anyone who is interested, UCSUSA has a good overview of the probable effects of global warming, with each statement fully referenced to published science. See:http ://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global -warming/science-and-impacts/glob al-warming-impacts#.VO_3y477MwA
Remember Me
27/02/2015 11:01:37 AM

And the warming is bad or dangerous claim is also simply wrong Nico.
nico
27/02/2015 6:57:24 AM

Some facts, daw: "Lord" Monckton is not a climate scientist. Neither are Carter, Corbyn, Nicol, Quirk, Watts, Bastardi, Idso, Idso et al. What they have in common is an ideological position. The "no warming" claim is simply wrong. "All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years." Source: NASA.
daw
27/02/2015 5:55:42 AM

Every point you make is wrong Nico It's you against 134 climate scientists. Your 'brief' look needs a radical review. You can brand them 'denialists' in typical Nico style but that is anything but scientific and is just a broadscale ad hominen attack worth zilch. For someone forever complaining about non scinetific facts that is very hypocritical. Pointless giving you references so you have someone to keep bagging. As a serial AGWer nothing will change your mind other than waiting for a few years to see what the temp does.
nico
26/02/2015 2:09:51 PM

You too can do better, daw, than recycling an anti-science letter addressed to Ban Ki Moon in 2012. The letter is factually wrong (no warming for 16 years, it claims), while a brief look reveals (almost) no climate scientists among the signatories, who are mostly members of anti-science groups. Some familiar denialists: eg Australians Nicol (ACSC), Carter (IPA), Quirk (IPA); the risible "Lord" Monckton; Piers Corbyn the UK crank weather forecaster; Anthony Watts, Joe Bastardi; and as always, Idso and Idso. This is an ideological gathering, not a scientific one.
daw
26/02/2015 12:59:36 PM

Nico & all posters the ref I have given has a space between 'o' & 'n' in the word content. As with all refs spaces are not allowed. Remove it & all should be well. ( How they get there I know not) In any event google 'International Climate Science Coalition' (ICSC) Read their Mission Statement and Climate Scientists Register. In order to read the full wording of the Open Letter to UN Sec-Gen you will need to get id=761
Bigfoot
26/02/2015 6:45:49 AM

Ohbrillance, you're using the argument of a consensus in your defence but then turn around and say it means nothing when I use it. A bit hypocritical don't you think ? And no one is saying climate change is not real, OF CAUSE ITS REAL and entirely natural, climate change is CONSTANTLY occurring but that's where we part company. Your ideas about climate change are alarmist unscientific drivel that come from a comic book, my ideas about climate change are based on scientific common sense and observable evidence for all to see. Your arguments wouldn't hold up in a primary school essay.
nico
26/02/2015 6:33:27 AM

I am always interested to read your comments, daw, but I can't get your reference to work. More clues please, so that I can Google it. Ohbriliance, sadly I think you are wasting your time. Your comment is entirely correct but some posters to this forum are impervious to rational thought. A high school essay would be beyond their capabilities.
Ohbrilliance
25/02/2015 8:32:20 PM

Bigfoot, outnumbering proves nothing more than a higher proportion of denialists have found their way here. The vast majority of scientific research on the matter indicates that climate change is real. Do you have a more accurate and provable method to support your stance than science itself? Your beliefs perhaps? That it was cold yesterday? That the rating of one storm may have been accurate? Such arguments wouldn't even hold up in a high school essay.
daw
25/02/2015 5:54:24 PM

Nico here's some interesting reading for you - Open letter to UN Sec- Gen from 134 expert scientists & social scientists c/w sigs & quals. http://www.climatescienceinternat ional.org/index.php?option=com_co ntent&view=article&id=761
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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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