Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation Voted ‘Best Thing Ever’

Basically, there is this really exciting method of paddock rehabilitation that is called Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR, pronounced ‘wop-er’) and is run by Greening Australia, a very awesome environmental NGO that works with farmers to make their land healthier, more productive, and have better biodiversity.

The Problem

The agricultural area of south-east Australia is highly productive but also really very degraded. Farmers face problems such as salinity, erosion, bad soil health, and having their stock exposed to the elements. This makes their land less productive than it could be, means that stock loose weight due to stress, and means that they lose land to problems like salinity or erosion.

unhappy sheep
These sheep are pretty unhappy in their treeless paddock. Photo: Michael Marriott.

A Solution 

WOPR started in 2008 and since then has been pretty successful and shows great potential for kicking goals all over the place. Simply put, the way it works is that stock are taken out of a paddock of at least 10ha and trees are directed seeded in belts. Each belt has about four rows of trees and are 40-50 metres apart, giving the paddock a tree cover of 20-30%, which is ideal. Some trees and other plants such as grasses are put in a tubestock.

happy sheep
Happy sheep grazing in a WOPR paddock. Photo is copyright GA.

Among many other things, it has been shown to:

  • improve weight gain for stock;
  • increase habitat for native fauna, especially for birds;
  • be an additional form of food for stock;
  • increase carbon sequestration; and
  • improve soil health.

So how does WOPR happen?

A farmer applies to Greening Australia to be a part of the project. If they are accepted they need to put aside some land of at least 10ha paddocks, or a large paddock can be divided into smaller paddocks based on the quality of certain bits. Using existing paddocks save a lot of time and money on building fences!

WOPR
This is a really excellent diagram of WOPR that I did on Paint. The green rectangle is the >10ha paddock and the black lines are contour lines. You can see that the dark green belts of four bands of trees trees are planted along the contour lines, that’s because if you plant trees down a hill you just channel water and enhance or create problems with erosion and lowered landscape functionality.

 

The farmer takes out her stock and trees are direct seeded in belts across the paddock. She has to exclude her stock from that paddock for the next five years, so she is compensated at roughly $50/ha/year in two lump payments; one at the start of the five years and one at the end. After this time the trees should be big enough to be grazed by stock so she can let them back in, but Greening Australia recommends using a rotational grazing system for the five years thereafter to really get the best out of the pasture.

The projects are monitored throughout and as WOPR is a fairly new thing, the oldest sites are only six years old there is a lot of research to be done, which is where I come in …

WOPR and I

There is a strong tradition of ANU students doing research on WOPR, especially Honours projects. I intend to follow this tradition and spend between now and November doing a little bit of preparation for Honours next year, when I will be looking at something to do with tree density, probably creating models to project the next 200 years or so (it is only week one of semester, so a question hasn’t yet emerged from my excitement).

————————————————————————-

For more information on WOPR, check out the website here, where there is a nice little video and some lovely pictures. Tony Magee, the farmer from ‘Gunyah’ was nice enough to let us onto his farm to take a look at it when I did a sustainable agriculture course last semester, and it was really easy to see the benefits of it, especially when contrasted with his neighbours’ paddocks.

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Book Review: The First Eden

I cannot stress enough how exciting and interesting this book is.

first eden

Written as a tie-in for the BBC’s First Eden TV series, everyone’s favourite nature commentator David Attenborough takes us on a journey through about 7 million years in the region that is the cradle of civilisation.

the book

The book is divided up into four parts that nicely describe the geography of the region. It’s just mindblowly amazing because it’s 200 pages of a well written discussion that explicitly states how the natural environment shaped the civilisations that occur(ed) there, and how they in turn shaped the natural environment. Nothing says geography is *awesome* like examining these relationships because as we know that is what geography is all about.

Typically of such books, it’s not a happy story and the four parts of it can be summed up thus: there is a beautiful, highly biodiverse place; people come along and live bountifully; people overstep the limits of the natural environment; the natural environment collapses.

There are lots of  photos, maps, and diagrams, which were very nice/helpful.

Although the book is a bit old (first published in 1987) it only feels old in the final few chapters, and it doesn’t detract significantly from the educational value or the pleasure of reading it.

I haven’t seen the TV series but I’d really, really love to because David Attenborough.

the book and geography

The first part is called The Making of the Garden and talks about the physical processes that formed the area and the biodiversity of it and how all that came about. It presents a different picture to what you might get when you hear ‘Mediterranean’ (olives, crowded Spanish beaches) and in doing so really gives the reader a feel for what the region was like before people came along and why it is called the Fertile Crescent and the Cradle of Civilisation.

“…at the (eastern) end of the Mediterranean, other human communities were developing a different way of life. They were building permanent homes and settling together in villages. And they were devising ways of exploiting the animals and plants around them that would eventually transform the whole world.” pg 53.

The Mediterranean. I didn't realise that there's such a big bight along the top of Libya!
The Mediterranean. I didn’t realise that there’s such a big bight along the top of Libya.

The second part, The Gods Enslaved, talks about how the old goddesses and gods could do things on their own, like a bull that is the font of fertility. By around the first century CE things changed from that old style animism to beliefs that placed humans at the centre; the bull was still the symbol of fertility but needed someone to stab it to release it’s power. This is a big change in the relationship between society and the environment and sort of spelled the beginning of the end for the Romans,  who as we know expanded their empire until they just ran out of food/farmland.

Classic mistake (pun!) and one we’re busily repeating today.

It used to be said that such cities collapse because nature fails to support man. The truth is the reverse. … The bull, the all-powerful god of fertility who had been worshipped since long before man began to build cities, was now dethroned. The last debased relics of his cult were the ritualized slaughter of the Spanish bull-ring.” pg 101

Yes, they are nice pants but truly the man is mad.
Yes, he has nice pants/socks, but truly the man is mad.

Things really start getting glum in part three, The Wastes of War, when it talks about how people’s strange need to attack each other really took it out of the Mediterranean. It goes from when the horse was domesticated in what is now Ukraine/Hungray/Poland (doesn’t say when) to the Crusades in the Middle Ages. In terms of geography, it again demonstrates that a bad relationship between a society and the environment it is in/relies on is only going to end in tears.

This really hits home in the final part, Strangers in the Garden, which discusses ‘modern’ times (i.e. up to the late 80s when the book was written.) I can’t say much, except this: can we try and get along with our environment please?

“The processes that started here ten thousand years ago and brought the Mediterranean to its present condition are now at work all over the earth. Now it is not just a small sea, and the lands that surround it, that nations must come together to save. It is the planet.” pg 207

bear
This picture is fantastic because not only does it scream ‘global warming!’, it also reminds us that we are poised on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. Hint: they’re both our fault.

metadata

Name: The First Eden: The Mediterranean World and Man

Authors: David Attenborough

Date: (first ed.) 1987

Publishers: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.

Rating: I give it ten out of ten ancient civilisations

 

Geographer of the Week: Disney’s Pocahontas

Disney’s Pocahontas is a fictionalised person.

pocahontas
So necklace. Such leaves. Many hair. Wow.

There was a real Pocahontas who met the English when they came to north America, who then moved to England and married a bloke named John Rolfe and who died at 22, never to see her homeland again. It’s a slightly sad story, full of lost promise.

The version most of us know is the highly fictionalised account in Disney’s 1995 film “Pocahontas”. For it’s depiction of Native Americans, Pocahontas herself and the actual facts of her life, and the historical context it has been called disrespectful, dehumanising and just plain inaccurate in the decades since it’s release, and these things are obvious upon a critical viewing. (Also, there is no way she’d have the full set of internal organs/ribs with a waist that tiny.)

pocahontas1
It’s my favourite hat. – Pocahontas.

However, we can all agree (surely) that there is one outstanding part of the film: Colors (sic) of the Wind is a beautiful song with a great clip/story and it is just lovely.

For her understanding of environmental science and how society should have a healthy relationship with it’s environment, Disney’s Pocahontas gets Geographer of the Week.

Check out the  song here and then let’s go through the song as geographers (song, lyrics & etc. are all copyright Disney).

You think I’m an ignorant savage
And you’ve been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don’t know?
You don’t know …

In this first verse she is reminding us that even if you’re “civilised” you might have a rubbish relationship with the natural environment. Her use of the word “savage” reminds us that indigenous peoples all over the world are still treated with racism, disrespect, and are seen as subhuman. This is an enormous problem here in Australia; we treat First Australians so, so awfully then wonder why the land has gone to shit under 200 years of white mismanagement.

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew

When the British landed in Botany Bay in 1770 they decided that the land was ‘terra nullius‘; a land belonging to no-one despite that fact that First Australians were living there very happily, and had been for up to 60 000 years. Pocahontas reminds us that we should respect every part of the environment  and that we need to listen to the knowledge of those connected to the land if we’re going to manage it properly, rather than being bigoted fools.

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth

Here she sings about experiencing and enjoying the natural world, thinking about it and connecting with it, without trying to make it a commodity.

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

It’s the CIIIIRCLE OF LIFE!

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

She’s so, so right.

coloursofthewind
You need to paint with all the colours of the wind.

A Bird in the House …

… is worth nothing at all as it is a very stressful experience for all involved.

I was in my room earlier this evening while downstairs all the bustle of making dinner was going on, when I heard Dad say something about there being a small hummingbird in the house.

As we’re not in the Americas it clearly wasn’t a hummingbird, but when I went to look there was a tiny, olive green bird with a relatively long, curved black beak darting  frantically around the ceiling.

You can see why Dad thought it was a hummingbird. This photo is nawt mine.
You can see why Dad thought it was a hummingbird. This photo is nawt mine.

It was clearly highly distressed; hitting the ceiling again and again with little ‘thump’ noises, flying into the walls and hanging off the rims of the downlights. Watching it panic thus was awful.

First I closed all the doors so it couldn’t go into another room, then I got a broom and sort of waved it around a bit and it moved towards the front door (was this related to the broom waving? We may never know), which was open, but I couldn’t convince it to fly down to it and out.

I thought that maybe it was attracted to the light so I turned them off and switched on one outside, but that did nothing (we will find out later that I was half right).

The little bird thumped into a wall again and again, then /fluttered down to the floor where it sat next to a door looking dazed. I picked it up, feeling it’s heart thudding in an insanely fragile chest. It was almost weightless, like holding a few grapes or a large flower. I took it out to the garden and opened my hand.

It didn’t move. I was afraid I’d broken it’s neck. I felt utterly responsible for that warm, small creature; as if something infinitely precious was crouched in my palm (as indeed there was). It looked so small, it’s body beak to tail barely longer than my index finger.

urgch
I didn’t take this photo and this isn’t my hand, but it gives you an idea of how small and fragile looking these birds are.

Oh shit, what have I done?

My eulogy for the tiny bundle of feathers was cut short as it sat up on one of my fingers, gripping it with tiny claws, looked around then vanished with a pprrrp of wings. Relived, I went back into the house – only to find it dashing itself fruitlessly against the ceiling.

Note to self: close the door behind you.

This time it’s movements were more intense as if it’s encounter with me had scared it further. It hurled itself at the ceiling time and again as I stood below it, hands wringing with stress.

What if it had a heart attack? It’s beak was so slender – what if it was damaged against the roof? What if I can’t get it out, and find it dead in the morning, cold feet curled and stiff; blank eyes accusing? I hate the way the head of a dead bird lolls.

It was fluttering in a corner now, then dropped into the laundry basket. I scooped it up and hurried it to the garden, closing the door behind me. I crouched down by a thicket of bushes I often see small birds in, but it just sat in my hand listlessly, no longer moving it’s head around. It seemed to have let go of my finger and just be lying there.

Sitting there under a macadamia tree beside some bamboo I thought it would die in my hands. It’s heartbeat was slowing. It did not sit on my finger or move to fly away; I couldn’t convince it to climb onto a small bamboo stem.

I had almost given up hope when, with a sound like a deck of cards being shuffled, it burst out of my hands. It’s wing brushed my face and I flinched; then it was gone.

After dinner I was sitting by the windows trying to figure out what it was. Some kind of honeyeater, probably. The outside of the flyscreen was covered with insects attracted by the lights – and eating those insects with a whirr of wings, I saw a tiny green bird.

It clung onto the mesh, it’s head swiveling this way and that, it’s body contorting around itself, slender beak snapping up insects. It looked exactly like the bird from earlier – it may have even been the same one. It was not to be afraid at all and I used my bird book to guess that it was a juvenile eastern spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostis).

A juvenile eastern spinebill. Note how flexible they are, you should have seen it on the flyscreen; it was like an acrobat. This photo isn't mine.
A juvenile eastern spinebill. Note how flexible they are, you should have seen it on the flyscreen; it was like an acrobat. This photo isn’t mine.

I guess the one that had come in was eating insects then had been unable to get out again. We will make sure to keep the doors closed in the future.

There isn’t really a point to this story, I just thought I’d share it. It’s nice to be fairly certain of what it was. It was really nice when the bird flew away with the exaltation of free wings. To get that feeling, follow this link and pay attention from around 4:00. (Also, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, so just generally listen to it whilst imagining yourself bushwalking through the mountains on a clear winter’s day, watching a bird fly over a sunlit valley.)

I could say something about caring for urban and peri urban biodiversity, but I don’t feel like that’s a valid statement because, a. If there wasn’t an ‘urban’ the bird wouldn’t have been in danger; and b. I just feels like a wanky thing to say.

So yeah. Interesting story.

 

 

Repower Port Augusta

This is a rough transcript of a speech I gave at an Earth Hour event this year after we watched 2 Degrees, a film wich I can highly reccomend. It talks about the collosal fail that was the Copenhagen CoP in 2009 and the wonderful story of the Repower Port Augusta campaign, which I was lightly involved in in 2012.

I want to start by acknowldging the traditional owners of this land, the Gumbaynggirr people, and their elders past and present. I want to apologise to the elders of the past, of all countries across Australia, because they were stewards for tens of thousands of years and looked after the country, and in the 200 years of whitefellas being here we now have all kinds of environmental problems.

We’re here tonight to work on fixing one of those problems; climate change.

A warning: this is a slightly interactive talk.

In 2012 I was part of a group that walked the 328km from Port Augusta to Adelaide. It was really fun; I met some lovely people, travelled through beautiful countryside, and became an expert in taping up blisters. For two weeks we walked through heat, dust, rain and cyclonic winds and when we finally marched into Adelaide and were met by a huge, supportive crowd it was one of the most exciting and powerful things I have ever done.

pt_augusta_rally
We walked into Adelaide and about 2000 people joined us to march through the streets to the SA Parliament. It was wonderful; we were all singing and dancing and chanting and the police cleared the streets for us and that night we were all over the news right around Australia. #kickinggoalsallovertheplace

(We were all over TV the day we arrived in Adelaide. Ellen Sandell was AYCC Director at the time, check out her talking to the ABC here.)

Repowering Port Augusta will start a new way of thinking in Australia. This project will prove that renewable are not only viable, but that they are better than fossil fuels. It will show that we can move away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change without compromising our standard of living or the environment. This campaign, and in particular the Walk, marks a turning point in Australia’s interaction with climate change – when a community stood up and took action instead of waiting for action from a government.

community vote
The Repower Port Augusta team lead by Daniel Spencer who was the AYCC SA co-coordinator at the time (pictured) and the late Joy Baluch, who was Mayor of Port Augusta for decades, put in hundreds of hours of work to put together a community vote which showed overwhelming support for solar energy over fossil fuels.

I went because I wanted to be a part of it, to be able to say, I was there; much like I am tonight. I loved the idea of showing how much I cared in the real world, not just through a petition or something, but through tangible action. And I can tell you, with the number of blisters I got it was very, very tangible.

Volunteers of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition were invited to go on the walk and we helped to escalate the campaign and create national awareness of it, which we did wonderfully. This was only possible because of hundreds of hours of work put in by the PA team and their volunteers.

See, as a Walker, I was just one cog in the Repower Port Augusta machine. Leading up to the Walk and in the years since, the Port Augusta team worked hard with the local community to grow support for concentrated solar thermal for their town. Port Augusta hasn’t been repowered yet, but the community is so behind it that it will be.

Here’s the first interactive bit: If I said Vincent Lingairi and Paul Kelly, you would say … ?

(If you don’t know the song, have a listen here. It is a classic from one of Australia’s best contemporary musicians about a very important episode in our history.)

We know that from little things, big things grow and because of their determination and commitment, this little group of South Australians as the potential to grow into Australia’s first big renewable energy project.

cst
A concentrated solar thermal plant in Spain. The mirrors shine light onto the top of the tower where molten salt is heated up and put in tanks. The salt is used to heat water to spin the turbines to create electricity and can provide baseload power.

The lessons from Port Augusta are important now, as the science gets grimmer, time slips away from us and governments around the world – and in Australia – refuse to take it seriously. It’s easy to lose motivation.

But in 2012 a hundred of us walked 328km for solar, this week UniSuper, Australia’s 7th largest super, announced it would start transitioning away from fossil fuels, and tonight we are all here to continue strong climate action in Coffs Harbour.

unisuper
There is still a long way to go on UniSuper, but this is a good start.

Even if you’re just six people with five laptops and one idea, with enough time and effort you can change climate change. We can save the Great Barrier Reef, we can transition Australia to renewable energy, we can divest from fossil fuels, change hearts and minds, and lead our governments.

Port Augsta teaches us that we have the skills, technology and will to beat climate change, we just have to get our local community organised and put in a lot of work.

Second interactive part: I want you to all hold out your hand and imagine that there’s a little puzzle piece on it. Now all we have to do it fit them together to grow something big.

earth hour
While I was giving my speech in NSW, Canberra was looking mighty fine for Earth Hour, fitting 3600 little candles together for one big message: we have to fight climate change to save the Great Barrier Reef.

Here Be Dragons

Imagine living in a garden full of dragons. Imagine have breakfast while chatting to one, or walking down the main street and seeing one casually draping itself over a sign in front of the police station.

IMAG0026
This little one was draped over a sign outside the police station in the main street.

I’m speaking of course of the Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

Growing up to a metre in length they are the largest dragons in Australia but are sometimes mixed up with their cousins, the Gippsland Water Dragon. You can tell them apart if you look at their faces: the Gippsland ones don’t have a black stripe going from their nose to their ear.

Water dragons are, as their name suggests, very well adapted to water. Their tails constitute 2/3 of their body length and are used for swimming while their nostrils are on the top of their heads making it possible to breathe while their heads are submerged, a trait they share with crocodiles. Like other lizards such as lace monitors and goannas they can use their strong claws to climb quickly and easily.

IMAG0054
This little girl is taking a dip in one of the ponds out front.

They are good indicators of biodiversity as they mainly prey on insects and frogs as juveniles, meaning that if there is a healthy population of dragons there is also a healthy population of insects and frogs. When they’re older they become omnivores. It’s always nice to see predators like dragons and kookaburras in the garden as it means that the garden ecosystem is diverse and healthy enough to support them.

IMAG0050
Aw, yiss.

It is possible to identify males and females as males have crimson, vermilion or orange chests to attract mates. After mating a female will lay a clutch of eggs in soft soil or sand by the water and when the baby dragons hatch they are completely self sufficient. However, studies have shown that the temperature of the eggs during incubation can determine the sex of the dragons. This is worrying as males are only produced in middling temperatures, with females produced in cooler and warmer temperatures, so over time the species may becomes less viable as there are fewer males produced due to the temperature of the ground being affected by increasing temperatures.

Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
IMAG0049
The red on the chest identifies this one as male. He’s just chilling on the front deck.

Although it’s legal to keep water dragons as pets in NSW you need a license for it and it is ideal that you only purchase reptiles from other license holders to try and source reptiles that are healthy and well looked after. It is illegal in Australia to keep animals that have been collected from the wild. Keeping these beautiful lizards as pets seems strange to me, why not just make your garden suitable for them?

Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They're not like dogs; they don't like you, you don't have a relationship with them. You just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.
Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They’re not like dogs; they don’t like you, you don’t have a relationship with them. You’re just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.

Do that and they’ll come of their own accord. Build a pond or a small waterway, have lots of native shrubs to hid in. Make sure that your garden has plenty of flowers to attract insects and have a pile of old logs and tiles for reptiles to hide in and sunbake on. Also, keep your cat indoors. Or just don’t have a cat. (We were talking about this last night at dinner and I said “At least with dogs you can fence them in; there isn’t much you can do with cats.” Without missing a beat Dad said “You can do two things with cats: drown them or shoot them.”) Dragons aren’t meant to be kept in small glass boxes; they’re wild animals, not puppies to be played with.

Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
tiles
These tiles are onduline, a cladding and roofing material that is soaked in bitumen. Stack them with rocks between them and reptiles will love the heat and safety. Photo: NZ Department of Conservation.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is the perfect hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is a good hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.

If you have lizards in your yard resist the urge to feed them – it’s not healthy for them and teaches them to rely on you. Instead, just sit quietly and watch them. We should encourage and appreciate urban biodiversity, not seek to control it or interfere with it.

If you're going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This raptor is a cheap as chips $2500 from some silly homewares place.
If you’re going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This fibreglass raptor is a cheap as chips at $2500 from some silly homewares place.

Here are some links for those interested in all things dragon:

A fact sheet from the Australian Museum on Water Dragons

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-Dragon

A guide to creating a reptile friendy backyard:

Lizards

Making your backyard wildlife friendly:

Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard

IMAG0047
Hello! I’m a dragon!

 

Drought, Doubt and Climate Change

So today I’m going to review a news article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning. The SMH is one of Australia’s biggest newspapers, along with The Age, its Victorian counterpart, and The Australian. This article was writtten by Peter Hannam, who is the papers Environment editor. My comments will be interspersed throughout like this. It’ll be a bit of a long post, so jut hang in there. Climate change is the ultimate sign that we’ve failed to relate to our environment and to natural resources in a healthy and sustainable way and the Abbott Government’s response is just ridiculous …

Tony Abbott downplays role of climate change in current drought

PM vows help is on the way for farmers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has  played down the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia.

For anyone who may not know, last September Australia voted in a right wing Coalition government. Not a conservative government in the British tradition but a US style ‘climate change is fake because Jesus’ government.

And he has indicated that the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted in a new report by scientists.

As recently as 2009 the PM is on record saying ‘Climate change is complete crap.’ Now that his Liberal party is in a Coalition government with the Nationals, who have long represented farmers and rural Australia, you’d think they’d do a bit more to tackle climate change. We all know that because of climate change droughts are only going to get longer, more frequnent and more severe so if they really cared about farmers they’d be doing everything they can to take it head on, looking at the long-term effects of climate change on the land.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott met grazier Kym Cramp of “Mount Gipps” station near Broken Hill, NSW, as part of a drought tour with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.

‘‘If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘This is not a new thing in Australia.”

 The PM is not a climate scientist or a meterologist and here he is dismissing any link between climate change and this drought. While one cannot say ‘This drought is 4 times worse because of climate change’ or ‘This drought is so long because of climate change’ we can say ‘Every drought *may* be linked to climate change and as our GHG emissions go up it’s only going to get worse. This is not normal for Austrlia. This drought is very bad and we’re only going to see them get longer, more frequent and more intense.’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the "Mount Gipps" station near Broken Hill on Monday.
Mr Abbott at the “Mount Gipps” station. Photo: Andrew Meares

‘‘As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia,’’ he said.

Yes, it has been. But not to this extent. Never in the history of huamnity the world’s climate changed so rapidly. Our agricultural systems are set up for a very specific climactic envelope – a global average temperature of about 15’c – and with every day we fail to act the climate heats up and weather pattens go haywire. I don’t want to see a 6’c world and it’s doubtful that Australian agriculture as it exists today could survive in that.

Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.

So with one hand he gives farmers some money to deal with this drought while with the other he dismantles climate related policies and istitutions and blindly ignores that there’s a serious problem. That doesn’t create the resilliance and sustainablity that our agriculture sector needs. Australia needs to feed it’s own people and prop up a huge export market yet instead of looking at the long term and acting responsibly, this government wants farmers to be reliant on hand outs as the droughts get ever worse.

‘‘Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is … beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.’’

A new report by the Climate Council – formed with public funding from the ashes of the Climate Commission, which the Abbott government abolished – says heatwaves are becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.

It says Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide were already experiencing the number of annual hot days that had been forecast for 2030 in the first decade of the century.

The report, by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes and UNSW researcher Sarah Perkins, said: ‘‘Record hot days and warm nights are also expected to increase across Australia over the coming decades.

‘‘For both northern and southern Australia, one-in-20-year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century.’’

Records melt

Those three cities, as it happens, have each broken heat records this summer.

Adelaide has had 13 days of 40 degrees or more, beating the previous record set more than a century ago, of 11 such days. Melbourne has hda seven days above 40 degrees, the most in any calendar year just six weeks in, while Canberra has had 20 days above 35 degrees, the most for any summer, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Emphasis added.

The Climate Council report highlights the effect that increased heat is expected to have on agriculture, including reduced crop yields and lower livestock productivity.

That is going to push farmers and rural communities further into debt as they have to invest in seed, stock, chemicals and labour but don’t get the return on the product. There are already far too many mental health concerns and suicides in rural and regional farming communites, and decreasing yeilds and productivity will only lend to this.

The three regions  Mr Abbott visited all had their hottest six-month period between August and January, with rainfall as little as one-fifth of normal levels.

Cabinet is expected to consider an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures.

Touring the Mount Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was  ‘‘a world of difference’’ between companies seeking handouts and farmers needing help to get through the drought.

Graziers have been offloading their livestock throughout much of inland eastern Australia as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.

John Cramp, the owner of  Mount Gipps,  said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.

‘‘They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed,’’ Mr Cramp said, adding that in his view ‘‘climates have always changed’’.

During a drought farmers often turn to bore water to hydrate stock and water crops. This drought that stretches across NSW and Qld is largely in coal seam gas territory, where the federal government supports putting in gas wells. These wells are known to be risky in that they can contaminate ground water which farmers rely on. Seems as if the farmers are being put to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities.

It is strange when farmers themselves dismiss the link between climate change and drought. I wonder if it’s because climate change has been branded as this massively left wing thing that only tofu eating, hairy legged lesbians care about? We know that there are many people in this world who profit from climate change and they fund groups such as the Heartland Institute to sow doubt about it. It’s so disenhartening to see that among the people who are most affected – farmers – there is the most denial or dismissiveness. Does that make it up to the rest of us? Do we try and convince them, or just go on doing our best without them?

Link to the orignial article: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-downplays-role-of-climate-change-in-current-drought-20140217-32vub.html#ixzz2tcfNuIBN