Monday, December 15, 2008

Imagining the Future (Preamble to Response to National Soils Strategy paper)

Planning for the future is like trying to put a spacecraft on the moon. You
don’t aim for the moon. You aim for where it will be when you get there.
The same goes for soils. A National Strategy for Soils needs to be designed to
take into account the likely presence of Soil Carbon as a Tradable Offset on
either or both the voluntary and compliance markets.
The need to imagine the future was highlighted by the Commission into 9/11
which concluded that the main factor in the success of the terrorist attacks on
the USA was a ‘failure to imagine the future’ on behalf of the US security
forces. Such a failure is common among planners. They imagine that the
future is the same as the present. It’s not. It can’t be.
The following are a few thoughts on what the future might look like in a Post
Soil Carbon world. A world in which farmers and landholders are encouraged
to grow soil carbon and paid fairly for what they grow. These are not
inevitable outcomes, but potential ones, based on scientific reports describing
how soil carbon behaves.
1. Many NRM objectives would be met due to the groundcover
requirement for carbon farming. Eg. erosion, stream turbidity, crusting,
etc. It would be like every farmer had joined a LandCare Group. They
2. Many soil conditions would be addressed: eg. revegetation and the use
of deep rooted native species would have an impact on hydrological
problems and reduce salination.
3. Reduced need for inputs (biocides, artificial fertlisers, etc.) would make
more enterprises financially viable.
4. Increased yields due to increased soil microbial activity would make
family farms more viable and rural economies more sound.
5. Revegetation and restoration of mid-story would encourage increased
species diversity of bird life.
6. New species emerge, some thought extinct, as biodiversity scores
7. The impact of Climate Change – increasing temperatures and reduced
rainfall – is buffered by a resilient farm landscape which holds more
moisture naturally and makes more effective use of rainfall than before.
8. Enterprise and employment opportunities will be created in the new
fields of soil sampling, composting, cultivation equipment leasing,
fencing, water infrastructure, compost tea production, natural fertilizer
sales and consulting, grass seed harvesting and sales, dung beetle
supplies, etc.
9. The opportunity to achieve a premium price in markets for ‘carbon
neutral’ produce exists currently.
10. Farm gate sales of soil carbon offsets into the retail market can give
producers the opportunity for building relationships with non-rural
families, creating potential farm stay, etc. involvements.
11. More children of farmers elect to stay on the land as the terms of trade
have improved.
12. There is greater respect for the farmer in the wider community because
of awareness of the Climate Change role they play.
13. Soil science becomes the hottest course on campus once its social,
ecological, economic, and heroic characteristics become well known.
14. Articles appear in Women’s Weekly and tabloid newspapers about it.
15. Soil science, especially microbiology, is taught in primary schools.
It is always easier to imagine bad things happening in the future, especially
when all the agencies of government are busy pumping out negative estimates
of the future and worst-case scenarios of scientific predictions. Bad things
never happen as you expect them to. It’s the ones that you don’t expect that
do the most damage.
It behoves all of us to indulge less in negativity and hand-wringing and practice
more ‘possibility thinking’. Innovation, invention and new ideas cannot be
predicted or factored into estimates of the future.
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

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