The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that without significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the world will struggle to keep increases in global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius. If we can’t keep the increase under 2 degrees, there is a risk of ‘dangerous’ human interference with the system. That means that once it gets out of control, it really gets out of control, with all sorts of chain reaction type effects.
This scenario would appear to make agriculture – the most important industry to the Goulburn Valley – difficult to successfully operate. Higher temperatures, longer droughts, more severe storms and less predictability are what climatologists predict.
At the same time, there are jobs in regional Australia that are reliant on industries that mine and burn the very fossil fuels responsible for the warming.
Therefore, the agricultural and fossil fuel mining appear to be contradictory activities. In the southern states we are a food bowl – and want to irrigate crops and export food. In the northern states, they want to mine and burn coal to provide cheap electricity. It is clear that one is going to adversely affect the other.
It is also clear that there are alternatives to one but not the other. Food production is essential but there are other ways to generate energy. Those other ways are gaining in momentum, as technological innovation moves fast. We could do a lot of it here in regional Australia – solar, wind, green hydrogen, hydroelectricity, and waste-to-energy.
While it is true that agricultural activities emit greenhouse gases, farmers have the opportunity to reduce carbon in the atmosphere by sequestering it in their soil. A project led by the French called 4 pour Mille (4 per 1000) has the stated aim of having all farmed soils increase their carbon content by 0.4%. This, the project’s proponents say, would have a significant offset impact on emissions. Our farmers could be paid by leading emitters to sequester carbon, improving their soil fertility at the same time. It is useful to look at the opportunity, rather than merely the threat.
Of course, there needs to be a just transition. Fossil fuel industries cannot be shut down overnight. We need to have alternatives to coal fired base load power, but that means building them now, not in a few years. There is also an argument to say that while the developing world is transitioning, they will still burn fossil fuels. If this burning is inevitable, we would all be better off if they were burning our high-quality bituminous coal rather than some of the higher emission giving fuels they are burning now.
We have a window to slow atmospheric warming, and it is a small one. Our agricultural industries rely on us doing it. It is why commitment to net zero emissions is a good idea. The IPCC and other experts say our window is about 30 years. To pass on the predicted chaos if we don’t act is the true definition of inter-generational theft.