Category Archives: Farming

Sunday Reads #8: All things climate, environmental and politics

Firstly, I need to plug my survey again. I had a great response on Friday, but yesterday saw little movement. If the question and the answer matters to you, please try to get at least three friends or family members to spare 60 seconds to fill it in and a couple additional minutes to get three more to follow on.

Survey: Does the Aust Gov have a mandate on Chaplains in Public Schools?

Coalition’s Green Army passes the Senate

Having worked as a retail “trainee” when I was 19-20 in what was clearly a way to get around minimum wage restrictions, I am concerned by this, but not surprised at the bi-partisan support, sadly.

Carpark run-off cheaper to drink than desal water

Thinking for the 21st century!

Changing what we eat [relating to sustainability climate change]

Great to bookmark and refer to the future.

This Is What Your Grocery Store Looks Like Without Bees (PHOTOS)

Expect this message to become a bigger issue over the coming decades.

Fiji accuses global community of abandoning the Pacific on climate change, singles out ‘selfish’ Australia

Unfortunately, our leaders are not listening.

The jobs of yesterday: Abbott’s roads rear-vision

Sorry, second plug. This is my latest article on the Climate Spectator.

Power bills to drop 8pc in Tasmania if Senate approves carbon tax abolition

When the Gillard government introduced the carbon price, Abbott said people would pay thousands more a year in energy costs. He then said he would save people on average $550 a year in energy costs. Tasmanians’ are set to save $164 a year from the latest estimates.

For me, this is a clear indicator that reality is likely to be about 20% the estimate offered by our current PM.

Coal’s share of world energy demand at highest since 1970

And this is a genuine tragedy for the coal rich country down under, regardless what the short-term economics might say.

 

Economic Wealth is Tied to Ecology

Today I stumbled upon The Future Economy Group. Very interesting stuff, especially the following infograph. The biggest problem as I see it from my experience is that those you need to convince (typically conservative politicians) think that token gestures are enough (I’m thinking Direct Action and the Green Army, for example).

Farmers are often conservative, but they know better than most that symbiosis means wealth. “You reap what you sow” isn’t just a dated cliché, it is the unbreakable mantra of our relationship with environments. It is only through investing in environments that we can continue to obtain profitable returns.

This isn’t “Tree hugging” nonsense, but good business strategy.

Climate change by any name is economics

The Independent Australia has kindly posted my newest article.

LET’S BE HONEST. We all know the “budget crisis” is little more than spin. We have a minuscule debt, enviable among the OECD countries.

That’s not to say that the budget doesn’t have its problems.

The truth is that Labor successfully navigated us through the global financial crisis and the Coalition has successfully got the nation talking about a spending habit no longer suitable beyond that period…

Continue reading here.

Sunday Reads #2: All things climate, environmental and politics

CO2 ‘significantly reduces’ nutrients in major food crops

Dr Sridhar writes an excellent article on food security, in contrast to the sceptical claim that our CO2 emissions equal plant food. I did see an article a few years ago which found the same thing with grain crops; growth might increase, but food quality dropped.

We can’t count on plants to slow down global warming

John Abraham discusses how sequestration alone won’t save us.

Climate change affects us all. So what’s stopping us joining forces to act on it?

Climate change mitigation isn’t impossible, unsustainable, unsafe or expensive. We can define a new, vibrant and sophisticated 21st century. Solutions exist.

The fossil fuel industry and who really runs Australia

Sandi Keane provides us an example of some of the main players keeping us embedded in outdated technology.

Barack Obama’s emissions plan comes under new line of attack

Even more on the war to keep us locked into a fossil-fueled dark age.

China’s Mega-Cities Are Combining Into Mega-Regions, but They’re Doing It Wrong

In my opinion, this is a sneak peak of one of the major problems much of the rest of the world will face mid-century. Planning ahead of time (while simultaneously planning for a low-carbon urban environment) early will lead to wealthier and healthier populations by the end of the 21st century.

Welcome to the Idea of Carbon Removal

Pretty interesting video

Govt releases climate action draft bill

All indications show that Abbott’s government should keep on with the current policies….

I try to tweet all the articles that I read, when I’ve read them. Follow me on twitter to get even more updates.

 

A Viking Legacy and Australian Cuisine

A perspective piece I wrote for the Solutions Journal has now been published.

In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond provides us a chilling historical anecdote of the Greenland Vikings: faced with an increasingly harsh climate in the early fifteenth century, a large swath of the population died out from starvation. Greenland Inuit, however, continued to live during this period. Unlike the Vikings, they harbored no cultural taboo restricting them from eating fish, which remained abundant as the climate became too cold for the grazing herds maintained by Vikings.

In very much the same way, cultural preferences in Australia, concurrent with changes in climate, may limit local capacity to maximize long-term prosperity. So-called heritage preferences livestock—that is, cattle and sheep—are resource-intensive species. With increasing anthropogenic climate change, the cost of this investment may prove too much to sustain Australian populations, just as natural changes in climate proved too much for Greenland Vikings.

Read more here.

How Not to ‘Save the World’

Some months ago, a senior academic and I talked as we drove the many hours to the project site. He was informing me on his views regarding invasive species, some of which I thought were questionable.

To clarify, I bluntly asked, “What do you think we should do with weeds?”

He replied, with all the authority that he could muster, “Get rid of them.”

I didn’t pursue the conversation any further at that point. I knew from experience that the tone was one baiting me into a debate. I’m usually all for a debate, where I see value. In this case however, the individual is one who likes the fight more than a resolution and I’m not really one for that.

It’s a nice idea to remove weeds and certainly not impossible… as long as you throw enough money at the problem. This is where the environmental debate fails all the time.

It could be in discussions regarding invasive species management, limiting the impact of pollution or even climate change. Whatever the subject, for the most part, we can eventually achieve the currently unthinkable if only we wish to drain enough resources into it.

Those who fall prey to sci-fi resolution to problems, starting the discussion not unlike an Arthur C. Clark story, imagining the problem is soon to be resolve and the discussion should be about what this means for us, just like the environmental romantic, are victims to the results, without object rational on how to reach them.

An excellent example in Australia is the olive. How much money should we spend on managing olives in natural landscapes when the recruitment of these comes from dedicated plantation? I once refused to buy Australian olives for this reason, but is such a protest of any value?

Am I giving up?

This isn’t to be confused with environmental defeatism that Bjørn Lomborg tries to pass off as realism.

Let’s put it this way; it’s not impossible to rebuild your house to correct all the problems, but can you really afford to do so, or does it make more sense to allocate some of your money to repair what you have?

The olive is an assimilated immigrant to Australia. It has its place now in the local culture and environment (is that cringing I hear?).

To this realisation we have two general options that have their relative expenses; we could “get rid of it”, which would close down the industry and outlaw all trees in backyards and public parks as well; or, we give it a citizenship, acknowledging it as a productive food source well suited to Australia in a warming climate.

The former would require a major PR campaign and many years of eradication and monitoring. The latter would likely see us not managing it as a weed, but rather as new competition to endemic species with the aim of promoting biodiversity which would include this new “local”. This would require effort and research.

Paved in good intentions

Environmental discourse has been plagued with romanticism or an unrealistic impression of “indestructibility” ever since the notion that it was a topic worth discussing became established.

The worst part is not that those who discuss environmental management most passionately are the most likely to fall into such a trap while those least likely will typically reject concern altogether, but rather that there is this line drawn in the sand between both extremes.

Either your hopelessly infatuated with a resilient (or fragile) Earth or concede that such musings are little more than a “liberal conspiracy”.

Where is the possibility to even start to discuss the place of the “Australian olive” for instance, in such an absurd and naïve situation?

To Get rid of it?

Over the last century, the Australian government and landholders has spent countless hours and dollars in management of the rabbit. This has included a 1700km rabbit-proof fence (build between 1901-07), two different viruses, warren destruction, chemical control and even explosives (read more here). Even while the most recent virus was having its greatest impact (1998-2003) the management cost for feral rabbits was estimated to be around $1 million (more here).

Yet, I see bunnies throughout Melbourne and right up to central NSW on a daily basis.

Yes, something must be done and our efforts have had an impact, but how much really? We can’t rebuild the house, but equally, electrical tape over the tap isn’t going to stop the leak.

Out with the old

The olive and the rabbit are not good comparisons. Olives will forever spread while they are being farmed where ol’ bugs just has a thing for breeding prolifically.

The point is that the current attitudes and strategies do not reflect the realistic capacities of management options and beneficial outcomes. I’m tired of the blanket eradication message where the reality continually fails to meet the target. I’m just as tired of the dismissal scoffs of the other side of the discussion.

We need approach species management with fresh eyes and very likely, different goals. The promotion of biodiversity would be an excellent target. The promotion of productive ecosystems which thrive while providing services to urban landscapes would be another one.

In short, there is nothing ignoble in rethinking our relationship with other life and in designing ecosystems with which our landscapes actively interact. To be absolutely frank, there is no other multi-cellular organism as invasive as ourselves, but at least we have the capacity to promote ecosystems, rather than out compete all else until we are the last one standing should we choose to.

We need a new dialogue willing to step back, compromise or actively engage where it is needed, without unrealistic ideation or denial. This will start with an internal look on ourselves and our place within ecosystems.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

Wishful thinking over good governance: how the new government will avoid effort

A shorthand discussion on the excellent article I reposted from The Conversation yesterday is; does current forested areas balance our GHG emissions?

No.

Well, why should we think of this as our ‘saving grace’?

The Coalition is focused entirely upon sequestration. My guess is that, to a casual observer, it seems reasonable, but of course requiring as little effort on the behalf of the government as possible. It’s a lazy policy.

If you want to find a cure, rather than work on prevention, as this new government wishes to do, as always, there are no easy options and it is always the most time and financially expensive option.

Firstly, mature forests are close to carbon neutral; if they are neither growing nor shrinking, the carbon balance stays close to constant. Secondly, as stated above, standing forests are by no means meeting human GHG emissions currently. The only option that makes sense is to continually increase forested areas and, to avoid maturity, keep impacting on it, that is harvest.

This is why I focused on forestry in my analysis of the Direct Action Plan. The only way to harvest carbon from the atmosphere is to actively, well, harvest it. To increase the carbon sink the only option is, well, increase it. Using sequestration is not the cheap, passive option.

Bleeding obvious stuff, but something no-one is talking about.

Assuming that Australian annual emissions stopped growing in 2010 (which it didn’t), this amounted to carbon farming equivalent to increasing annual wood production by an additional 300% under the most optimistic assumptions by 2020, to meet the Coalition’s targets.

Planting a few trees or saving some patches of forest isn’t a climate mitigation option. It will be marginal at best.

In reality this “cure” approach is a massive, endless, industry and one with little financial incentive (noting that the carbon needs to remain “locked” in this wood production). This is why you don’t see any policy, outside the Australian Coalition, placing sequestration as a primary climate change mitigation strategy.

The primary focus that seems to hold the most weight is one of punishment. Where there is a cost, people tend to be more thoughtful with their use of the resource. Moreover, if there is an inherent cost to carbon emissions, low carbon options become more competitive, introducing new markets.

This is what I would call direct.

But Australia voted against the obvious.

All Terrain Gas Analyser System (A.T.G.A.S.)

A little something I finished putting together for a PhD student. We borrowed the chamber, but if I were to build one from scratch, I’d make the chamber a little differently, minimising the production further.

The Ord River: the unlucky horse shoe in the Coalition’s northern development

Firstly, I have to thank my readers. My previous post, The Great Northern Development: the Coalition’s dead horse, did extremely well. I’ve never had a post that has caught such traction, so thank you to everyone who has shared it via report, twitter, facebook, email, whatever. It’s rewarding to know that my efforts are not in vain.

Yet one criticism has crept up over and over again; I’m ignoring the Ord River Irrigation Area. The commentators think I’m dead wrong, based entirely on this point and so, I figured it was worth writing a detailed reply post.

While I admit that my local knowledge of northern Australia between Cairns and Broome is limited (not a small area, by any means), I know enough about remote sensing, climate and ecology to feel my analysis remains correct.

Productivity

Ecology demonstrates that where there is a resource, species move in to exploit it. Even warm springs full of chemicals that are toxic to most life can be abundant with activity – just look at Yellowstone Park.

The advocates of the northern development talk of the north as being “underdeveloped” and this River Irrigation Area being shockingly impressive for soil quality.

But microbe and plants never organised committees or governments to decide where they will set up home, they do so and to population sizes that the environment allows.

Looking at gross or net primary productivity gives us an idea of how productive an environment is, obviously. Apart from eastern Queensland and the top of the Northern Territory, much of this northern development region has a productivity akin to that of the dry land irrigation regions in southern Australia. Of course, it also lacks the accommodating mild climate of the south as well.

Using the MODIS GPP image, we have the existing Australian food baskets in the south – largely Victoria, Eastern NSW and the southern tip of WA – with a value greater than 0.03; a value this wonderful northern region simply does not reach anywhere.

Gross Primary Productivity - MODIS, LPDAAC MOD17A2 mosaic, Australia coverage

Gross Primary Productivity – MODIS, LPDAAC MOD17A2 mosaic, Australia coverage

If there is wide spread untapped fertile lands just begging for agriculture, how has it managed to hide itself from the most basic microbes, communities of trees (this region is typified by savannah, wetlands and arid landscapes) and most disturbingly, our best monitoring equipment?

I know the tropics can be farmed, but the land in southeast Asia is not as old and depleted as Australian soil. You cannot build complex carbon lifeforms without nutrient rich environments. Australian tropical rainforests are our best teachers to this reality; they are hives of life, yet their soils are depleted, which Australian farmers learned when they cleared them for farming.

In such places, there is a wealth of nutrients, but life lives on the fringe – keeping all the resources in the cycle and leaving none in the ground (ie. rip and burn removes the nutrient base).

So, as was stated in the original article, without vast investments in fertilisers or clearing of the few fertile ecosystems currently there, we do not have an untapped Australian food bowl in the north, as far as productivity is concerned.

Water… again

Again, water is a massive problem. One critic told me about pumping water – but that is a commitment. If one is planning to move hundreds of thousands of people to the north, that is a massive, ongoing, commitment to keep the community hydrated. It is terribly hot, regardless if it is dry or monsoonal, having ample water will be essential.

How is pumping gigatonnes of water to irrigate a low productive environment and to hydrate a heat stressed large community any different to the criticisms regarding desalination plants? In fact, I think it is worse because a political party is willfully wishing to invest in placing such people in such an otherwise avoidable position.

The Ord River Irrigation

This is the root of the dream for the northern Australian food bowl. The Ord River Irrigation area proves the norther is fertile and begging for development.

No, it is one region we have been flooding for more than 50 years, so that the feeding water supply and wetland birds can fertilise. It is also not an ecological risk if extended.

Yet it covers 117km2 of agricultural area – apparently to be extended to 440km2.

Yet a quick GIS polygon of the northern development region norther of Cairns to Broome is a region around 1025700km2. So the Ord River Irrigation area currently amounts for less than 0.0001% of the total region, to be extended to 0.0004%.

Sure, I’m ignoring currently developed regions and places you would not develop for ecological reasons, but are we really willing to bet on “greener pastures” on a sample less than a hundredth of 1% of the entire study region?

Conclusion

My argument was this; it is wishful thinking to bet on the northern development. The Coalition is no stranger to wishful thinking if basic mathematics mean anything, as I demonstrated in my review of the sequestration requirements of the Direct Action Plan or my analysis of their enthusiasm for 100 new dams – a move that would provide as much greenhouse emissions as a city the size of Warrnambool.

The advocates for the northern development, from my opinion, seem to be people who either have no personal interest to endure the harsh tropical climate or are the few locals there that seem to enjoy the prospect of investment potential and a few extra mates at the pub.

The climate is harsh. The soils are old and depleted for the most part. Once the mining investment is done, pumping water, maintaining dams, transporting resources to the middle of nowhere (which will also make them more expensive locally); all these and more will become more and more of a financial burden to be taken up by the locals. It will erode the financial security of the local community and leech the settlements until most move back down south (again the productivity is evident – not just in MODIS data, but in the carrying capacity and economy of a region).

In short, the dead horse is still a stinking rotting mass of bad ideas and wishful thinking. A good punter would be quick to be turned off. However, I do not like instincts. I prefer to test things. I have listened for a heart beat and found none. I have tested for temperature and found it unsuitable for life. I have looked into the eyes of the beast in search for the racers spirit and found nothing but the pale, unfocused glare of an idea that should have been buried a long time ago.

The Ord River Irrigation development is the unlucky horse shoe on the foot of the dead beast. This is not a subject I wish to debunk for the rest of my life, regardless of how many whipping boys are lining up in the vain hope of the norther development.

Part one here.

Future of Food: Water Woes

They even showed a rice crop, happily evaporating that water away…