Category Archives: Farming

Converting from Conservation: growth before guard

About a decade ago, I had nearly completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biodiversity and conservation. It was on these subject too, where I excelled, based entirely on my passion for the subjects.

I even completed a third year project with a report titled, Fennel, (Foeniculum vulgare); an unappreciated weed in South Australia. I was inspired by a love of hiking which had left me acutely aware of how much of an impact weeds had on the SA landscape.

I despaired for the loss of our wonderful and fragile arid landscapes rich in colour and life to anyone willing to look beyond the “Scrub”.

Today, I grow fennel in my garden.

PSX_20160126_105033It was a slow yet inevitable fall from the concept of conservation for me.

Sure, where possible, we should protect remnant vegetation and, ideally, establish corridors between these islands – that is and forever remains sensible. But a devotion to a pristine landscape isn’t even remotely possible.

Avoiding goats in protected mallee woodlands and first-hand witnessing of olive seed dispersal by birds throughout SA has continually reinforced the immense scale of effort that would be required.

More recently, when I did research for what became the article, A Viking Legacy and Australian Cuisine, I solidified the growing realisation within me.

Conservation for conservation’s sake favours no species; ours included.

We already fight for access to water, land and other resources. No matter who wins these fights, eventually we all lose a quality resource.

Take for example water allocation on the Murray Darling system. Over time more and more water has been used for agriculture. We can’t fault this because agriculture ultimately feeds us.

However, every drop taken away from the system is one that is no-longer available to the surrounding environment. The only option with less water is to do less. Less evaporation from the waterways + Less evapotranspiration from the surrounding environments =  less rainfall recharge. We have a compounding water reduction system that no management scheme could possibly improve.

The realisation that I finally reached is that the commons itself is actually also a player in ‘the tragedy of the commons’ concept and not simply a bank.

We need to accept that old regimes cannot persist with existing criteria and so, for environments to prosper, new species and new ecosystems will need to be introduced to improve biodiversity, biological services and improved resource quality and quantity.

An edible “weed” that will happily grow in a heavily degraded environment is immensely valuable. We have food in an otherwise barren landscape.

….

Nowadays when I hike, it’s a lot slower. I have two pairs of tiny feet walking with me.

“Look!” my eldest daughter points out suddenly. “It’s fennel! It’s a licorice plant!”

I snap a few pieces off, handing one to her, one to her little sister and I keep one for myself to chew while we walk.

Fennel is, in my opinion, still unappreciated. But not as a weed.

Instead, it is an incredible plant that grows remarkably well in poor soils with very little effort. My own fennel was grown from a fennel seed tea bag that I tore open and sprinkled into a seedling tray (and one a being from a dropped seed that grew straight in the hard clay soil of my yard).

Looking towards the future, with an appreciation for the difficulties and uncertainties around our climate and resource security, species that ask the least of us, but serve a function (be it carbon sequestration, food production or water quality) will gain centre stage. They are our safety net.

Today, I’m a grower, not a conservationist.

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.