Friday, April 11, 2008

THE PUSHBACK*: Australia's dangerous knowledge gap

Australian officials are suffering from a dangerous knowledge gap over Climate Change and soil carbon. This was revealed at the Yass Area Landcare Groups' seminar called "Climate Change: Carbon Farming and Trading" on 9 April, 2008.

The speakers included the head sherang of Minister for Environment, Penny Wong's department, David Borthwick who told us how bad it was going to be when Climate Change really starts to bite. He was followed by a stream of high profile speakers from significant Canberra-based organisations who read chapter and verse from the official IPCC predictions about how bad things will be. The ANU, CSIRO, ABARE, etc. gave depressingly similar stories using the same data in many cases.

There as one thing missing from all their calculations: soil carbon. None of the IPCC's projections or the AGO's predictions re accurate because none of their models includes the impact of increasing levels of soil carbon and what they would do to water availability, ambient on-farm temperatures, productivity of soil, etc. The IPCC projections for parts per million increases in Greenhouse Gases make no allowance for the impact of 5.5 billion hectares of agricultural soil coming on line to start sequestering.

This dangerous gap was caused by the false conclusions made by the now-defunct Australian Greenhouse Office based on incomplete, out-of-date, wrong data. These myths have taken hold in official circles and given a kick along by the Australian Farm Institute. Despite its usual rigor and independence, it has made no attempt to correct the distorted version of the "soil carbon trading will be bad for farmers" line put forth by John Carter, author of the original AGO soil carbon report that suffered from huge gaps in the datasets which led naturally to the poor advice given to governments.

The Farm Institute's Mick Keogh made a presentation at Yass that found many technical and administrative reason why soil carbon shouldn't be traded. However the urgency of equipping farmers with some way of addressing the Methane and Nitrous Oxide issues, both of which will crush farmers if they have no soil carbon offsets to trade against them.

It s difficult to imagine the cause of such opposition, given the extraordinary benefits soil C offers the world:
* Restoration of degraded soils and landscapes.
* Vast capacity to reduce Greenhouse Gases already in the atmosphere.
* Give other Climate Change responses time to achieve criticla mass over 15-20 years.
* Help the world feed itself in 50 years time when it will need to produce twice as much food with the same water and land.
* Give farmers another revenue stream which doesn't require losing productive land to forests.
* Low input farming becomes the norm and spiralling prices are avoided.

*THE PUSHBACK is a counter-attack by the loose alliance of "soil carbon sceptics" who occupy influential positions in government, industry associations and companies. Since PM Rudd's statement they have been preparing for the last desperate fight. We need to be resolute and believe in ourselves and fight back.

1 comment:

Peter Donovan said...

Michael: There is going to be huge conflict. We ain't seen nothing yet. It is a power struggle, between different forms of knowledge--what I call know-that and know-how.


You are right on to highlight this conflict. Only by highlighting it will we involve the bystanders whose future is at stake, and get them involved in solutions.

best wishes,

Peter Donovan