Amendments regarding Agriculture within Climate Change Charter.

Amendments regarding Agriculture within Climate Change Charter.

Background and supporting statement

I have previously commented in my amendment to the water policy on the scapegoating of agriculture as major water waster, and I must apologise for the repetition within this explanation for my proposed amendment to our Climate Change Charter. However it was too unwieldy to amend two different policies within one contribution.

The Charter emphasises that climate change will impact our clean food, water and farmland.
That: “In this warmer world, maintaining large-scale agriculture would be difficult or impossible. Without a secure food supply, we can expect outbreaks of famine, disease and war.”

Australia is not only rich in potential renewable energy generation. We have massive untapped sources of food, feed, fertiliser and textiles in the same feral animal plagues that we desperately need to control. We have relatively small rich farmlands but almost half of Australia is marginal land unsuitable for cropping. We just have to manage it properly and play to our strengths, because if we don’t it will turn into carbon-emitting wildfire-ravaged desert. Much is seasonal grasslands with native grasses on poor soil with little water. Left unmanaged the vegetation grows vigorously when it rains, then dies and feeds huge bushfires, particularly as climate change increases heatwaves and both decreases rain and makes it more seldom yet more intense. All of these factors dry out the soil and vegetation. Rangeland rotational and holistic grazing is the best way to sustainably manage this marginal country and produce food from it with minimal water use and minimal use of fire.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on contribution of cows and sheep to Australia's methane emissions. Yet the role that grazing livestock plays in reducing bushfires is never factored into these emissions, and the huge fugitive methane emissions of the mining industry are unmentioned and unmeasured. Barry Cohen commented in the New Spectator in 2011:

"Among the millions of words spoken and written about carbon emissions, the fact that a third of Australia's emissions come from bushfires is never mentioned. … Professor Mark Adams of the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre estimates that the 2003 and 2006-7 bushfires could have put 20 to 30 million tonnes of carbon (70 to 105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere; that the 2009 bushfires (Black Saturday) created 165 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and that Australia's total annual emissions are approximately 330 million tonnes, of which 110 million are from bushfires."

Carbon emissions from bushfires are not factored into the Kyoto protocols as they have been labelled as an “act of god”, like volcanoes, although emissions from prescribed burning are included. Kyoto argues that carbon released by grass and woodland fires would have been released by natural decay and is replaced by regrowth within one or two growing seasons, which is how cool winter burns work. However Kyoto accounting fails to take into account the large, long-term — sometimes permanent — loss associated with high-intensity summer bushfires, which are hot enough to burn logs and kill large trees undamaged by cool winter burns. The total amount of fuel consumed by a bushfire depends on the amount of moisture in the fuel. Dry fuels burn more intensely. With global warming producing increased summer temperatures and heatwaves leading to drier soil conditions, interspersed with more intense rainfall events that produce rapid vegetation growth that then dries out into highly flammable fuel, bushfires can get so hot they sterilise the ground, and kill otherwise fire-tolerant seeds and mature trees. Under Australian conditions, such devastating wildfires can be prevented by low-intensity cool burns in mild weather and appropriate soil moisture conditions. The amount of fuel available to burn can also be managed with livestock.

In Bushfires, Prescribed Burning and Global Warming, Australian scientists Roger Underwood, David Packham and Phil Cheney said:

“Scientific research and long experience in Australian eucalypt forests has demonstrated that forest management incorporating prescribed burning under mild conditions always reduces wildfire size and intensity. Where prescribed burning is regularly carried out, the risk of a high-intensity bushfire at a later date is greatly reduced. The distinction between intense wildfires and mild prescribed burns is almost never made in the climate literature. Fires of vastly different size and intensity are lumped together simply as “fire”, and it is assumed that the impacts and consequences are equal. They are not …

Fire intensity is far more significantly affected by fuel quantity, fuel dryness and wind strength, than it is by temperature. Some climate change computer models also suggest a significant reduction in rainfall, leading to increased fuel drying and increased fuel availability at lower temperatures. This is the same effect as that of drought, a phenomenon which is common in Australia. The factor which “doomsday” commentators ignore is the opportunity for land managers to get in first, and reduce fuels before a potential megafire starts.”

Carefully-managed rotational grazing is a crucial tool in reducing the fuel available for wildfires, but this is not factored into calculations of greenhouse emissions from free range cattle and sheep.

Water use: Farming vs mining

Much has been written about unsustainable water use by Australian agriculture, but ABS statistics show that of the 399 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia in 2008-09, less than 1% was irrigated. Farmers are increasingly tightly regulated in their water use. In SA and VIC farmers are even charged for the irrigation water they capture in their own dams. The Murray Darling Plan allocates strict volumes of water to irrigators. However it does not regulate or even calculate water usage by mining companies, particularly not the water-intensive CSG industry. The legal rights given to mining companies by Queensland governments are in stark contrast to the water regulations enforced on farmers and everybody else, not only in how much they are allowed to use, but in how much they are allowed to pollute it. What makes this even more alarming is that the ways artesian basins operate and interconnect is not yet understood, which makes any damage almost impossible to repair. In Queensland, petroleum and gas companies have been given a statutory right to use whatever water they need. They must do a baseline assessment and report on underground water impacts, and have “make-good” obligations, but these are not specified.

Hardrock mining, such as the coal industry, must have a water licence in two-thirds of Queensland, but in practice these are never withheld. There were no requirements for reports on their impact on groundwater and no statutory “make good” provisions. The Queensland Labor government in 2016 tightened “make good” requirements and for the first time they looked at assessing, licensing and requiring “make good” requirements for associated water impacts, or how much water is taken or interfered with by the mining process. It then exempted the greatest threat to the Great Artesian Basin, the Adani mine, (which will have to pump out an aquifer to be able to mine) from complying with the new requirements.

The greatest risk to Australia's emission reductions, as well as to our ability to produce food for domestic use and export, is the mining industry, who are pumping our artesian basins and water catchments full of poisons, and releasing huge and unmonitored fugitive methane emissions from every stage of unconventional gas mining and coal mining. Clean water is our greatest natural resource, and artesian water is our only reliable supply. Mining is both wasting and poisoning it. The CSG industry pumps huge volumes of water into the coal seam to release the gas. But it also releases massive quantities of salt and carcinogens such as benzene and toluene into the water, which is then pumped up to the surface and stored in plastic-lined evaporation ponds, where the toxins can overflow and be washed down the catchments when flooded. Toxins left after the water evaporates from the pond are then stored in plastic in landfill to leach back into the groundwater and soil when the plastic breaks down. The Ensham mine wall holding back wastewater full of these poisons, supposedly the “best designed levy bank”, gave way recently upstream of the Fitzroy river — the water supply for Rockhampton and many other communities. Fortunately the toxic water was caught in small dams downstream and did not poison Rockhampton's water supply. However, the abandoned mine at Mt Morgan continues to release toxic waste into the Fitzroy River and its rehabilitation is estimated to cost $200 million. Mt Morgan is only one of 50,000 abandoned mines nationally which are poisoning our drinking and farming water. Since the January 2011 floods, the mining industry has been quietly permitted by the Queensland government to pump out toxic water from flooded operational mines into our rivers and drinking water catchments.

Proposed amendment 1

Replace agriculture section of charter "Boost organic farming and reforestation" with the following:

Replace industrial Boost organic farming with agroecological farming and reforestation

Agriculture accounts for 15% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by government estimates.estimates, but much more if all aspects are considered. Our current industrial agricultural practices consume huge quantities of fossil fuels and degrade our land and water. Industrial and factory farming. Livestock farming is extremely energy and water intensive and uses chemical fertilisers, herbicides and fungicides that destroy the ability of the soil to store carbon and absorb methane. Livestock have been scapegoated for agricultural greenhouse emissions, but properly managed their contribution is negligible for methane and is key to both storing considerable carbon in native grasslands and to eliminating the huge nitrous oxide emissions of industrial agriculture..

Livestock methane emissions are used as food for methanotrophic bacteria in the soil and neutralised. It was never a problem until industrial farming agricultural practices started destroying these methanotrophic bacteria, which are very sensitive to chemical fertilisers and herbicides. Mixed native perennial pasture also has the ability to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil by colonies of symbiotic mycorrhizal root fungi, greatly increasing carbon in soil. These fungi are suppressed by superphosphate, nitrate fertilisers, herbicides and fungicides. We need assistance for farmers to transition pastures to encourage key microbiota. Properly managed grass-eating ruminants help build and cool soil, maintain moisture levels and sequester carbon.

To address climate change and move to a sustainable future, Australia needs to phase out industrial and factory farming. We need to improve environmental and animal welfare standards of farming and protection of biodiversity by subsidising the costs of transition to agroecology instead of agrochemicals. Stop factory farming of livestock, and instead integrate them into traditional methods of crop rotation, land preparation, fertilising and pest control, and recycling crop residues and clean farm wastes. Use livestock to manage marginal country, wildfires and weeds. Stop feeding grain to fatten cattle and sheep, and ban use of cereals for biofuel production. Instead subsidise the costs of processing environmental weeds into biofuels.

Australia needs to reduce its flocks of sheep and cattle drastically, as part of a comprehensive reduction in methane emissions that will aid in rapidly cooling the Earth. We must start a transition to carbon-neutral and organic farming.

Existing farming communities should be encouraged with financial support, resources and training to make the transition to sustainable, low-emissions agriculture.

Land management and agriculture should aim to use methods that maintain or increase carbon storage in soils and ecosystems, while maintaining food supply and biodiversity. Outdated Land clearing and outdated forestry practices such as old-growth logging, which account for 2% of national emissions, must end now. Farm forestry and plantation forestry can supply timber and fibre needs sustainably, and holistically grazed grasslands can store huge amounts of carbon. Existing farming communities should be encouraged with financial support, resources and training to make the transition away from chemical inputs and into low-input agroecological farm and land management. sustainably.

Degraded soil releases carbon and holds much less water. Native forests that have not been logged store up to three times more carbon than forests that have been logged. Pasture grasses holistically managed with ruminants can build 500 kg of carbon per hectare in a year by pumping carbohydrates they make from atmospheric carbon dioxide into the soil to feed microbiota. What is needed to establish these pastures is subsidising cell fencing to assist in rotating pasture and preventing overgrazing; reducing erosion through smart burning practices; and replacing microbiota-destructive pesticide, herbicide and nitrate fertiliser use with integrated pest management and livestock manures. We can protect catchments and waterways with subsidised fencing-out of livestock from riparian zones and building water troughs away from fragile water sources; subsidising feral animal control; stabilising river banks; removing weeds; replanting native vegetation and expanding floodplain areas.

Wildfires contribute to global warming

Subsidised fencing and water points will help end overgrazing and assist in fire management. Barry Cohen commented in the New Spectator in 2011 “Among the millions of words spoken and written about carbon emissions, the fact that a third of Australia’s emissions come from [wild]fires is never mentioned.” The distinction between intense wildfires and mild prescribed burns is almost never made in the climate literature. Scientific research and long experience in Australian eucalypt forests has demonstrated that forest management incorporating prescribed burning under mild conditions always reduces wildfire size and intensity. Where prescribed burning is regularly carried out, the risk of a high-intensity bushfire at a later date is greatly reduced.

For at least 20,000 years Australia was actively managed by Aboriginal peoples using cool burns in the appropriate seasons, to create grasslands and open woodlands for grazing animals that were hunted, and to plant and manage food-producing plants. 46.3% of Australia is marginal land unsuitable for cropping. Now these marginal lands are managed by graziers in a similar fashion to produce mostly organic free-range cattle. Much is seasonal grasslands with native grasses on poor soil with little water. Left unmanaged the vegetation grows vigorously when it rains, then dies and feeds huge bushfires, particularly as increasing heatwaves dry out the soil and vegetation. Lack of management also encourages dense sucker growth, which then becomes an even worse fire risk. Rangeland rotational and holistic grazing is the best way to manage this marginal country and produce food from it with minimal water use and minimal use of fire, while allowing considerable carbon storage in the soil.

With less clean farmland available globally, we need to take full advantage of all food sources available, particularly if using them helps protect our environment. The underfunding of National Parks and State Forests means that their pristine nature and uniqueness is being destroyed by weeds and feral animals like deer, goats, pigs, rabbits, horses, camels, foxes, feral dogs, cats and buffalo, and they are more vulnerable to intense wildfires.

Introduced feral animals, particularly cats, are driving native animals and plants into extinction. The cost of controlling any of these animal species on its own is prohibitive, and their meat resource is presently left to rot and emit carbon. We can integrate livestock, wild and feral animals into sustainable grasslands and marginal country management, wildfire hazard reduction, food and resource production, and carbon storage. Farmers can increase productivity by allowing co-grazing of native wildlife and certain feral animals like brumbies and donkeys in controlled areas, if they can harvest them to manage and protect the land in times of drought and to control animal population growth beyond the ability of the land to sustain without damage. Subsidise the establishment and marketing of a feral animal products industry that will cover the costs of a total feral animal control program nation-wide, take advantage of sources of food, fertiliser and textiles that grow on poor country without inputs, and provide farmers with supplementary income and a way to prevent destructive overgrazing of destocked pastures by starving kangaroos.

This requires:

a. More regional abattoirs.

b. Mobile abattoirs.

c. Bone grinders on trucks to produce fertiliser.

d. Turning entrails into sterile maggot meal to replace using unsustainable fish meal as animal feed.

e. Converting hides and fur to leather and felt, and fat to tallow.

f. Changing legislation to allow regulated and humane home kill sales.

g. A campaign to win public support.

To increase this “carbon sink” capacity, extensive programs of native forest revegetation must be started. Food production should be decentralised and localised where possible, to reduce the energy needed to transport and refrigerate foods.

Government-subsidised urban agriculture should be developed in our cities. Organic waste, including green waste and sewage, should be composted and the methane gas by-product harnessed for energy or industry.

 

Proposed amendment 2:

Change Points 9 and 10 of The Socialist Alliance 11-point climate action plan to read:

9. Ban the logging of native forests and move to tree plantations and alternative crops for fibre and timber. Begin an urgent program of agroecological revegetation to sequester carbon and restore and protect biodiversity in the face of a changing climate. Promote synthetic-fertiliser-free and pesticide-free cropping and pastures, and decentralised farm forestry instead of industrial plantation monocultures where practical.

10. Create measures to support farmers to move to revegetate from industrial agriculture to agroecology and integrated pest management, starting with less productive land where practical, for carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Establish a humane feral animal and sustainable kangaroo harvest industry to minimise the damage done to our native wildlife and environment, and to make use of this wasted resource for food, fertiliser and textiles. Provide education, research and direct assistance to move to “carbon farming”, which stores carbon in soils, or causes reduced carbon loss from soils. Encourage new farming practices ending the use of chemical fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides for pastures, including organic cropping and urban food production. Oversee the process to enhance regional employment and maintain or improve food sovereignty.

Elena Garcia and Dave Riley, Brisbane branch
Alan Broughton, member-at-large, Victoria