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

Old Crow
19/02/2015 1:24:08 PM

Action is on the road to Damascus . Miracles do happen. Next we will hear Nico and Bushie Bill have become born again . Whats happening ?
Rob Moore
20/02/2015 3:50:16 AM

Daw and Invey- don't waste your time arguing with clowns who are scared of Santa Clause-they drag you down to their level! Pete - this article is a serious breech of judgement and the last thing that we want a potential or existing mp to be wasting their brain matter on.It has been done to death and is a SCAM from the UN. There ARE real threats and natural disasters to save for not taxing the air that we breath out. I have met Anthony Watts..........2M visits to his site every day in US.
nico
20/02/2015 10:01:25 AM

"Whilst it may seem that an increase in the uptake of carbon by vegetation would serve to offset the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels, the amounts in question are too small to make a significant difference to the overall global picture." CSIRO. "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." NASA. If you have scientific evidence, Max, to refute these statements, please show it. Otherwise, desist from making baseless anti-science assertions involving gods and belief.
Max
20/02/2015 12:16:40 PM

Hey Nico, your whole 'scientific theory' is solely based on belief and nothing else, the belief that it is quite ok to adjust temps to achieve the desired outcome. If you can't see that that's how the AGW scam is being worked then you are certainly just a true believer and obviously part of the cult. Your lack of any response (other than your normal shoot the messenger) to the statements of your AGW leaders and scientists, which have been posted here, about the real agenda behind the AGW theory and the dodgy scientific methods used, shows you have nothing but belief.
daw
20/02/2015 2:18:37 PM

Hi Rob Moore you are right to comment about Pete's breach of judgement. The reason I have encouraged him to read Taxing Air. It really is a down to earth treatise on the issue. It is a pity that so many aren't prepared to think for themselves & maintain a questioning attitude towards so many incomplete & obviously questionable single issue aspects of a very complex & unprovable ( except with the effluxion of time ) topic. Indeed I am of the view that it is not mainstream science but only rates on the periphery. It certainly is not worthy of having large $ to do anything about.
nico
20/02/2015 6:34:40 PM

I asked you to produce EVIDENCE for your assertions, Max, but you don't seem to understand. Science depends on the publishing of evidence, in the scientific literature, for anyone to examine and refute. Assertions don't count. Can you refute, with EVIDENCE, the two statements I quoted? You may find this hard to believe, given your mind-set, but I look forward to being proved wrong. It's how science works (however painful). Just give me the scientific evidence.
Old Crow
23/02/2015 6:21:53 AM

500 odd years ago Nico, every single piece of scientific evidence pointed to, and everyone believed, the world was flat..... They were all wrong.
Old Crow
23/02/2015 6:54:27 AM

The scientific literature is not worth the paper its written on if the evidence at large keeps proving its wrong. For ideological or political reasons Nico you can't see past the end of your nose.
Max
23/02/2015 6:56:20 AM

Nico you refuse to accept any evidence supplied. Past claims by your leaders of disasters the would be the outcomes of AGW have failed again and again. Evidence. Rains were supposed to never be great enough again to give runoff water in eastern Australia so dams would never fill again. So how has that one gone. Ice and snow would never be seen again in areas which usually receive it. How has that worked out. Leaders that don't practise what they preach flying around the world to every jaunt burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow. And on and on it goes.......
Gumtree
23/02/2015 7:24:54 AM

If we all believed the global warming drivel the north and south pole and Greenland would be ice free by now and the pacific ocean would be lapping the bottom of the Sydney harbour bridge by now. BUT the reality in the REAL world is the exact opposite , Antarctica has more ice than ever , North America is now part of the Arctic with record snow and cold , sea level rise is going no where , we have not all fried and died from global warming and good old atmospheric CO2 just continues to make earths plants grow and grow better by the day.The AGW scam is purely political , smart people know this.
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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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