Sustainability and climate action can be awkward bedfellows, says Nigel Greening, as he navigates the complicated business of reducing emissions.
I’m referring, of course, to the campaigns on agricultural greenhouse gasses, water quality and afforestation. All of which unnerved many of us who work the land.
When it suited the current Government, we were a country in a world with international obligations. For some, it was important to be a leader – even if it was to our detriment or to the detriment of the world. However, also when it suited, we were a country with no greater or lesser natural attributes than any other.
Moreover, our Government determined we – as a country – needed to have the cleanest water quality in the world. That we needed to plant trees to offset our individual countries carbon footprint. That we needed to reduce our individual agricultural industries greenhouse gas footprint – even though we were already recognised as the most efficient pastoral producers in the world by scientific analysis.
Domestically, it was a divide and conquer campaign where – we as an agriculture sector – were constantly fighting the next wave of government bureaucracy. Where committees were hand-picked – not necessarily with the most appropriate expertise, but with the most appropriate ideology – to ensure the appropriate outcome and with much perceived politicking and pitting is against our urban counterparts.
It was a pretty disheartening time.
When you work in agriculture you are constantly reminded nature is the great leveller. If it rains you get wet. If it’s cold as well; you get wet and cold. This is cause and effect and it doesn’t need to be in policy format to be life threatening to yourself or your livestock.
Where possible you mitigate risk. This cause and effect philosophy is something that is not well understood by many in ivory towers. And especially – it appears – not by those in the areas of the NZ Government who have responsibility for agriculture.
Nature developed COVID-19. Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that can cause illness in animals and humans and can transfer from one to another in certain (crowded) situations. SARS-COV was associated with Civet cats. Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not been accurately established – although bats have been implicated as a likely source.
Nature has reminded us that we are very much part of the world (for worse in the case of COVID-19) and that in most respects we cannot take an isolationist view.
Nature has reminded us that it is not in the best interests of this country, nor the world, for us to plant trees to offset carbon-hungry industries – such as airlines commitments. Certainly not on farmland capable of producing pastoral produce and certainly not aided with Government incentives
Nature has reminded us that encouraging international tourists to flock here by their hundreds of thousands annually is no guarantee of riches.
Nature has reminded us that if you want to reduce “non-essential” pollution in the atmosphere the most effective way is to reduce at source not ‘offset’
Nature dictates that in times of desperation, some of the lesser important issues of life seem exactly that! For many, life is going to get desperate.
Ideology, however, runs deep. It is particularly galling in my view that the current coalition Government has done little to acknowledge the importance of agriculture to our country at this time.
To hear finance minister Robertson talking it up about ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects and scaling-up the manufacturing sector gives me little confidence. I think it’s well about time he and his compatriots had a re -think!
Nature has reinforced to those of us who stuck steadfast in our belief that agriculture is the backbone of our economy. This is no ‘sunset industry’. We have a natural advantage in this country in the efficient production of nutrient-dense foods that the world desires.
Agriculture has been our past, is our present and will be our future – no matter the challenges. Let’s hope we can pull this country out of the economic mire that we are descending into and with the recognition agriculture deserves.
• John Jackson farms sheep and beef at Te Akau. He completed a Bachelor of Agricultural commerce at Lincoln University and read Social Studies at Oxford (Philosophy, Politics, Economics).