Thursday, February 02, 2012

It' only a market. It won't kill you.

Carbon Farming is now law. It is the Law of the Land. It is being progressively implemented by the approval of "Methodologies" which govern the way offsets can be earned. It is a fait accomplis. Still some people champion alternative solutions. This is good. Diversity means opportunity. For instance, Sam Archer's National Ecosystem Services Scheme (ESS) would see farmers paid for land stewardship - which involves 'setting aside marginal land' for ecological 'goods and services' such as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, improved water quality and bushland protection. (Taking animals off land and locking it up is the fast way to degrade it.) Government regulation would be 'light' to avoid the scheme becoming a victim of political whim and changes of government. (Can't see how this works.) "Potential funding for the scheme could come from a GST on fresh food..." Whoa! The Community loves its farmers and expects them to protect the environment, but not enough to pay for it. And governments tend to find the concept of 'light regulation' difficult and keeping their hands off a GST? Stewardship payments are handouts which institutionalise the top-down, dependency relationship traditional for farmers. They can be switched on or off at will. The 600lb gorilla not in the room is the market. The market for offsetting carbon emissions... "Mr Archer said his proposed ESS could become the cornerstone of Australia's response to climate change..." But it has no connection to Climate Change. The carbon market is anathema to many in agriculture - and those involved in it are seen to be ethically compromised. This has motivated some to propose "Market Based Instruments" which are not markets at all, but schemes that pit farmer against farmer to compete for handouts.

My colleague and fellow director of Healthy Soils Australia, Walter Jehne, has an excellent scheme: “The Net Emissions Reduction Incentive“ scheme or N.E.R.I. "Emitters have an option of ... offsetting their emissions ... by buying offsets generated by farmers through soil-carbon farming, whereby farmers manage their land in a regenerative, holistic, productive, resilient system that sequesters carbon as HUMUS in the soil, giving long-term food and water security."

" There would be no opportunity for carbon to be on-traded as a commodity."

Farmers are commodity marketers by nature. They are used to derivatives as a concept. The answer to every problem is not Government interference. Cooperatives don't guarantee protection from being ripped off. There is a role for stewardship payments and for Government regulation. But we are not dealing with a temporary change. We need a change in culture and tradition, a permanent shift in the relationship between humanity and nature in the way we extract our food, clothing and shelter from it. The free market drives innovation and incites entrepreneurs to develop new solutions, new technologies, new answers. Our future is bright only if bright ideas are allowed to flourish in an open market. Open minds are needed, not ancient prejudices.

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