Tackling Environmental Issues More Complicated Than Simply Cutting Emissions: Farmer

Tackling Environmental Issues More Complicated Than Simply Cutting Emissions: Farmer
Queensland producer and food processor Mark Davie on Oct 4, 2021. (Courtesy of Beef Sustainability Australia)

An Australian farmer has called on the government to adopt a constructive and positive approach to environmental issues, warning that oversimplified methods could come with consequences and won’t address the complexity of the problems on the ground.

Mark Davie, chair of the industry group Beef Sustainability Australia, told The Epoch Times that society and science should find a solution that balances carbon emissions reduction targets and the need to maintain food production for a growing global population.

“I’m all for initiatives that can reduce emissions whilst working within the drivers of productivity for industry because we’ve still got to feed people,” he said.

Davie warned that without considering the need to feed people, “simple solutions” like cutting methane emissions might be effective in one aspect but can come at the expense of people’s livelihoods, as well as farmers and small businesses.

The Queensland producer pointed to an example in Ireland where farmers are forced to cut herd numbers to reduce emissions, calling it a “low hanging fruit approach.”

“[Given the fact that] people in other parts of the world are starving, I just question if that’s really the moral high ground in this situation.”

Davie further warned that an oversimplified approach might lead to solutions that are not cost-effective; for example, “We'll end up with a case where we’ve got big companies offsetting the carbon emissions by planting trees in agricultural land.”

Australia’s climate debate recently took place on the federal level when the lower house passed the climate change bill, which sets the 43 percent emissions reduction target by 2030 as the minimum standard.

However, the opposition and some independents have expressed concerns that the 14-page proposal lacks details on how the goal could be achieved.

Calls for Greater Focus on Solutions, Not Negativity

It follows the release of the State of Environment report, which portrayed a dire situation for Australia’s environment and a degenerating landscape and biodiversity.

“I have to confess—perhaps I should have known—I didn’t know how far behind we were on meeting those environmental flows until I took on this portfolio,” Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said on July 18 as she attacked the former Coalition government.

“Years of warnings that were ignored or kept secret. Promises made, but not delivered. Dodgy behaviour undermining public confidence, brutal funding cuts, wilful neglect,” she alleged.

A display of Australian beef sits in a butchers shop in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville on May 12, 2020. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
A display of Australian beef sits in a butchers shop in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville on May 12, 2020. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

But Davie noted that some of the aspects in the report “might be tied to domestic politics” and will potentially damage the reputation of Australian farmers overseas when they’re “actually doing the right thing.”

“We can back that up with with our own measurements and reporting,” Davie told The Epoch Times. “If you look at the national accounts, we’re back at the 1990 levels of forest cover ... We’ve [also] gone from 50 percent healthy ground cover levels at the end of last September (end of the dry season) to now 78 percent.”

“So the challenge with the environment is you can pick different timelines to measure things and have a different story.

“I think it’s got to be a holistic conversation.”

One factor behind the inaccuracies in the State of the Environment Report’s depictions of the environment is that Australia “doesn’t actually have really good metrics for measuring things like biodiversity or quality of our environments like canopy cover,” he added.

“That’s the big challenge with the State of the Environment report. The environment is about quality and not quantity of canopy from a satellite and we’ve really got to focus on that.”

The Queenslander also urged the government to focus on solutions instead of negativity.

“I think that the future is owned by the optimist,” Davie noted, saying that farmers are “also trying to communicate to a global population about how we operate here, and we can back that up with our own measurements and reporting that the industry’s done to demonstrate where we’re not causing this harm to the environment.”

Davie added that farmers and people in the industry he represents are very much looking forward to engaging with the new government and its ministers—Plibersek and agriculture minister Senator Murray Watt—as they can help provide the most informed view of the situation on the ground in contrast to top down approaches that tend to be more quantitative.

“We manage 50 percent of the Australian landscape. I don’t think the government can afford to do that, and we can do it productively, feed people, and deliver outcomes. We just want to get in the room and work out how to do it,” he said.

“There are lots of things producers are doing every day,” he added of private sustainability initiatives. “Beef producers and agricultural producers would have dozens of little environmental projects that they’re running on their own property that they don’t categorize as a project [with the government].”

On his own property, Davie’s been able to remove hundreds of wild dogs to see a Black Swan population recover. “There are some things we do that we probably don’t tell our customers about that they'd love to know about.”

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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