We've heard a lot lately about farmers in western New South Wales in revolt: wanting to clear "woody weeds"; ready to walk off the land; clearing wetlands. Farmers are usually quite a benign group, mostly content to confine their negativity to carping about the bloody weather. Other than that, they get on with the job. So what's really crook in Tallarook?
Well, it's all about global warming and the Kyoto Protocol. Although Australia has not signed the protocol, it has a policy of trying to meet its Kyoto target, that is, to reduce its increase in greenhouse emissions in the period 2008-12 to a mere 8 per cent rise over 1990 levels.
It's pretty reasonable stuff. We must cut greenhouse emissions, particularly carbon dioxide. What state and federal governments are doing is to put almost all of the weight of fixing the problem onto farmers and forestry people. Twenty-two per cent of our greenhouse emissions are due to agriculture, land use, land use change and forestry. Stop farmers and foresters chopping down trees and turning soil over and we gain a 20 per cent reduction in the damage that we are doing and straight away come within reach of our Kyoto target.
But this is all smoke and mirrors. First the figures are simplistic and may not represent a sufficiently accurate view of greenhouse dynamics. But the biggest issue is whether farmers should have to carry most of the burden of fixing things up. The farmers are surely being compensated in what amounts to $2 billion savings in gas emissions, aren't they? No, they are not.
It might hardly surprise you to note the biggest producer of greenhouse gases is government. Half comes from stationary energy, that is, burning coal in power stations. The rest is made up as follows: transport (13 per cent), industrial processes (5 per cent), fugitive emissions (5 per cent) and waste (3 per cent).
All of these non-farming-forestry emissions are hard to fix, but governments have clear conflict of interest here as they are the biggest polluters with their power stations. If Australia had signed Kyoto, the farmers would have had access to compensation of one sort or another. But we didn't - and they don't.
So, let's look at the farmers in western NSW. These lands were fire managed as grasslands by Aborigines for about 50,000 years. With the end of these fire regimes, trees and shrubs have sprung up to dominate. By and large the trees are of very few species and only a handful of species of shrubs have re-appeared. This has led to poor forests - low levels of biodiversity combined with overcrowding of trees leading to unhealthy growth and soil erosion.
The farmers asked if could they clear these lands and return them, via a crop or two, to native grasslands much like those before white settlement. Over many years they negotiated with greenies and government until agreement was reached. Then the goalposts were moved by groups such as the Wilderness Society, leaving the farmers nowhere and very frustrated.
They are offering about 15 per cent of their land to stay full of shrubs and trees. Would you give 15 per cent of your land or business to the government? But this is not enough. They believe the system they propose would be environmentally much better than now and it would enable them to earn a living. They are right. But government has its eye on a cheap fix and has no interest in the plight of the farmers or the land.
And you are on the side of government. Many of you who are reading this are the enemy. Why? Well, you respond to suffering baby seals, cute pandas and impressive whales. These cutsie-pie animals appeal to your emotions, yet boring old woody weeds in the outback somewhere don't interest you. Cutsie-pie animals won't save the planet. More than 60 per cent of NSW is farmland; less than 5 per cent of Australia is national parks.
If we are to save Australia it will be on private property, mostly on farms. If we want to save, say princess parrots, we need to save the entire biodiversity of their habitat. Forget how cute they look.
If we are to have a hope of stopping global warming, we need to create fair and equitable systems where all industries and people work together. Bashing the farmers won't do it. As for the wetlands at Moree, if the claims of land clearing are true, it shows the beginning of desperate action by unfairly treated people. This indicates poor behaviour by governments more than anything else.
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