“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – FARM head’s call for science to underpin regulation

Overseer and farm greenhouse gas emissions are back in the news today.  The need for the regulation of farmers to be underpinned by good science comes into the picture, too.

Robin Grieve, chairman of FARM (Facts about ruminant methane) issued a press release calling on politicians to wait for science to catch up with their rules, regulations and diktats.  Regulators must not make the same mistake with farm greenhouse gas emissions as they did with Overseer, he said.

Councils and Government attempting to regulate farm activities without having the tools to measure what it is they are regulating, is a classic example of politicians running ahead of the science.

Our environment deserves better than having our politicians blundering their way along a regulatory path when they don’t really know what they are talking about or dealing with. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a farm adage that our politicians would be well advised to learn from.

Overseer was never the tool for the job and the zest with which our politicians adopted it as a tool to regulate, despite knowing its deficiencies, should be concerning to any fair minded person who cares for the environment.

Farm greenhouse gases were subject to the same disregard by our politicians when some decades ago they adopted the CO2 equivalent system to quantify methane emissions, despite being told by the climate scientists at the time that it was not fit for purpose.

The CO2 equivalents system does not take in to account the cyclical nature of ruminant methane emissions which leads to it massively overstating the impact of methane emissions and renders it meaningless. To use this system at all is to deny science.

If improving water quality and stopping global warming are important to our politicians, Grieve concluded, they will call time on overzealous regulations that lack scientific credibility, and instead seek enduring solutions that are science based.

Source:  Scoop

Reducing our climate emissions – can eating greener make a difference?

New Zealand Herald science writer Jamie Morton has asked what difference would be made to climate change emissions if we all moved to climate-friendly diets.   More specifically, should we take red meat out of our diets?

Let’s look at what we know, Mr Morton writes.

His article kicks off:

Climate change presents an existential threat – and a challenge that’s going to require transformative action by governments and polluting industries across the globe. What actions can we, as individuals take?

 The article which looks at climate-friendly diets is one of a series of extracts from Mr Morton’s contribution to the upcoming book Climate Aotearoa: What’s happening and what we can do about it, edited by former prime minister Helen Clark.

Mr Morton notes that agriculture covers nearly 40 per cent of global land, making agroecosystems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet.

Food production accounts for up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly three-quarters of freshwater use.

In this country, land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.

Mr Morton writes:

Ditching animal protein is seen by an increasing number of people as the only way to deal with the fact that, by 2050, the world’s population will hit 10 billion, rendering the demand for meat higher than the industry’s ability to supply it.

He references science communicator Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, who cites studies which suggest that climate change is going to lower the yields and nutritional value of staple crops like corn and wheat.

At the same time, it will expand the areas where crop pests can survive, and make it more difficult for farmhands to work at certain times of the day due to the heat.

“In other words,” she says, “we simply can’t rely on our current land-hungry, water-thirsty, pollution-heavy and extinction-inducing ways of producing food if we are to feed the ever-growing human population as our environment changes around us.”

Mr Morton also references Otago University researchers who have found that eating less red meat could be key to New Zealand significantly slashing emissions while saving billions of healthcare dollars over coming decades.

Specifically, they showed a population-level shift to diets rich in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes could — depending on the extent of changes made — cut diet-related emissions by between 4 and 42 per cent annually.

More strikingly, if all Kiwis adopted an exclusively plant-based diet tomorrow, and avoided wasting food unnecessarily, we’d achieve what would be equivalent to a 60 per cent drop in emissions from cars.

As a bonus, Kiwis could collectively enjoy up to 1.5 million more “life years” — that’s those equivalent to a year of optimal health — and save our health system between $14 billion and $20b over the lifetime of our current population.

Mr Morton sees signs that a green shift is happening.

By 2016, the proportion of Kiwis who stated that all — or almost all — of the food they ate was vegetarian had grown by nearly a third from four years earlier.

And recent polling by Colmar Brunton indicates that about one in 10 of us is now largely shunning meat, amid a growing shift to sustainable lifestyles.

Industry data similarly indicate a downward trend of red-meat consumption in New Zealand over the past 10 years, with beef, lamb and mutton down 38 per cent, 45 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.

Rates of vegetarianism tend to drop among Kiwis in their 30s and 40s  but veganism is increasing.

Mr Morton notes that almost half of New Zealand’s emissions come from agriculture — the bulk of that being methane from ruminant animals such as cows and sheep — and some farming models like intensive dairying do generally emit more greenhouse gases.

But sheep and beef emissions have fallen by a third since 1990, in step with falling stock numbers.

And with some 2.8 million hectares of forest on sheep and beef land, the industry holds the largest collection of native bush outside the conservation estate, bringing some carbon-offsetting benefits.

  • Mr Morton acknowledges that his text has been extracted from Climate Aotearoa: What’s happening and what we can do about it, a new book from a range of leading New Zealand climate scientists and commentators, edited by Helen Clark. Published by Allen & Unwin NZ. RRP$36.99. Available in stores from Monday, April 19

Source:  New Zealand Herald