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

Bigfoot
25/02/2015 9:18:28 AM

Its looking more by the day that your out numbered Nico.The average man in the street has seen through the CO2 scam and its showing on sites like this. The evidence in the real world is there for all to see, dangerous global warming or climate change from climbing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is a total fraud. Atmospheric carbon dioxide does NOTHING but make earths plants grow better, basic botany.
Ivan
25/02/2015 8:31:08 AM

How many world leaders have signed the Kyoto agreement , protocol , call it what you will ,while telling us all that climate change caused by burning coal and petroleum is going to be the end to all of us . I know President Obama hasn't , and India China and Russia haven't , from 1972 to 1979 , numerous papers were telling us that we were headed for a new Ice Age very soon from too much co2 in the air , well I think those .scientists got it right . By the way I'll need more words than allowed in this column will permit to print all of those pro Ice Age scientific papers .
Logic
25/02/2015 8:13:25 AM

The cyclone wasn't a cat 5. Cat 5 wipes out everything, not a tree standing, as they have done before. I am not saying it wasn't destructive but any person with eyes knows it wasn't a 5.
nico
25/02/2015 7:19:57 AM

Don't be so naive, Max. Neither Jennifer Marohasy or Jo Nova are climate scientists, or ever have been. Both are strident political activists. The account in the Courier Mail makes it clear that the cyclone made landfall as a probable Cat 5, which then declined, and that the scientists involved rejected Marohasy's claims. (The newspaper quotes a Professor Nott of JCU as confirming the BoM's figures, though there was considerable variation over time and distance.) If you want to find a conspiracy, you can, but rational people understand that dealing with weather is an imprecise business.
Old Crow
25/02/2015 6:40:34 AM

The CAGW scam is busted and Nico knows it.
Max
24/02/2015 4:18:54 PM

Cont'd. From Jo Nova, "The UN GDACS alerts page estimated the cyclone as a Cat 3." And also, "The 295 km/hr wind speed was repeated on media all over the world, but how was it measured? Not with any anemometer apparently — it was modelled. If the BOM is describing a Cat 2 or 3 as a “Cat 5”, that’s a pretty serious allegation." Like I've said Nico your lot are a dangerous bunch of fools and one day their extremist record reporting will result in disaster. Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf Nico.....!
Max
24/02/2015 4:10:52 PM

Nico for more on BOM's extremist record reporting. TC Marcia reported as a cat 5. It takes, as you would put it Nico, denialist bloggers to show up the errors. A CLIMATE researcher at Central Queensland University ... Jennifer Morahasy said the bureau had used computer modelling rather than early readings from weather stations to determine that Marcia was a category 5 cyclone, not a category 3. BOM's response "US Joint Typhoon Warning Centre had analysed Marcia as at least a category 4…". Well Nico that's not a record breaking 5 is it but did you report the error, not likely. Continued,
nico
24/02/2015 2:15:18 PM

Don't you understand, Max? I'm asking for evidence, not repeated baseless (and abusive) assertions. Please take the trouble to refute the NASA statement, if you are so sure that it is incorrect. I am happy to learn from you - if you have evidence.
Max
24/02/2015 1:02:56 PM

Nico, every post you do just confirm a little more what a dangerous fool you and your lot are. You talk about me being driven by ideology. How wrong you are as I live and work with the natural climate variability every day and the natural changes we face whereas you wouldn't know or understand natural climate variability as it never makes it into your air conditioned environment where you continue your existence on the gravy train. There can be no other explanation for your continual refusal to answer simple questions so if there is ideology involved it is wholly by your lot of true believers
Old Crow
24/02/2015 12:41:08 PM

I can 100 per cent assure you, Nico, the only one driven by ideology is you.
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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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