Tag Archives: climate change

Ecological Farming is the Most Affordable Option

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

I could not agree more with Wanganui provincial president of Federated Farmers, Brian Doughty, and his recent thoughts on the damage caused to vulnerable slopes due to outdated management practices and June’s weather bomb: “We need, at least, to think outside the square in an attempt to minimise the effects from an ever-increasing number of these storm events because it will happen again.” Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 9.45.38 am

A difficult and costly repair job after the flood.

From my reading of Brian’s Conservation Comment, he makes two main points in the second half of the piece: 1) climate change will bring more frequent extreme weather events; 2) redesigning our farms to work more closely with nature will save farmers money in the long run. As any regular reader of this column recognises, these are two of the central tenants of eco-thrifty renovation.

When eco-thrifty thinking is applied to the land it can be called “holistic land management” or “permaculture” or “ecological farming.” Whatever you call it, it relies heavily on pattern recognition. Specifically, the patterns that Brian addresses are ridges and gulleys and the best locations to place tracks and fences within the landscape to minimise damage from slips. This is sage advice, and we wish Brian could have been on the committee that chose to move the Sargent Gallery into a floodplain.

Designing with recognition for the patterns in nature has two clear advantages for farmers: 1) higher productivity; 2) greater resilience. In the day-to-day workings of a farm, holistically managed farms are more profitable, and during extreme weather events – either storm or extended drought – are more resilient.

And who would have guessed that ex-farmer and current Letters writer G.R. Scown was an eco-farmer long before it was fashionable?!? I admit to pleasant surprise as he waxed eloquently (Letters, 22-10-15) about worms, soil bacteria, humus, moisture retention and seaweed.

Similarly, I have experienced great results in pasture quality using some of the methods Scown describes along with rotational grazing. The result is a win-win-win situation that includes a healthier mix of pasture species, healthier animals (from eating better plants), and a resilient farm better able to weather both ends of predicted weather extremes.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford and Berkeley published in the journal Nature concludes that, “Climate change could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output as much as 23 percent by the end of the century” (Bloomberg News). Another recent report identifies that “Land degradation is costing the world as much as $10.6 trillion every year, equivalent to 17% of global gross domestic product” (Guardian, 15-09-15).

But none of this would be news to our outstanding regional council. For a long time, Horizons has taken a holistic, proactive and hands-on approach to land management and working with farmers. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the leadership shown by Horizons and the high quality advice and support offered by expert professionals.

I have been impressed with more than one regional councillor’s understanding and advocacy for holistic perspectives on issues ranging from watershed management to environmental education. Getting rid of the “Green Rig”, for example, was an excellent decision.

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Poplar poles planted this winter on a vulnerable hillside. 

I have also worked with a number of Horizon’s staff on issues of soils, slopes and tree planting. The advice was top notch and the customer service outstanding. I actually enjoy paying my rates because I know my dollars are doing great work. Speaking of which, I seem to recall reading that the regional rates bill was going to increase by $2 per household to buy more poplar poles for farmers. I reckon that should be doubled because decades down the track we’ll all be better off for it.

– Estwing

The Pope and the Flood: Whanganui, 2015

Pope’s Encyclical: “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home.”   With the publication of his encyclical last week, Francis’s status as rock star Pope has been elevated to rock icon Pope. The 183-page document, titled “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home,” will more than likely become remembered as the definitive writing of the 21st Century. I have praised Pope Francis in the pages of the Chronicle before and I will almost certainly praise him again. If there are two things I admire in this world they are courage and positive leadership. The courage and leadership Francis has demonstrated in the past turns out only to be a prelude to that which he demonstrates with this encyclical. Drawing on the best research in economics, science and sociology, Francis identifies the two most pressing issues facing humanity: climate change and income/wealth inequality. For anyone who has followed the research in these areas, the content of the encyclical is no surprise. Even avid Chronicle readers should be well aware that 98% of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is influence by human activity, and that wealth inequality exacerbates social problems and drags down economic growth. While these findings are based on the best data examined by the best researchers, they have proven to be politically unpalatable. The fact that Republican candidates for the American presidency are squirming in their seats in response to the encyclical is a sign of the times. Closer to home, we get the expected responses from National, Labour and the Greens, along with Paul Henry’s patented, “I don’t care.” Let’s pause for a quick reality check: Wellington, Dunedin and our own River City have experience historic flooding – ok, let’s call it Biblical flooding as long as this is a discussion about the Pope – in three separate rain events in the course of one month. Call me Noah ‘cause I’m building an ark.

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Was this flood event unexpected? No. Our community should be aware that Horizon’s Regional Council has halved the timeline for major flood events for the Whanganui River. In other words, what was the 100-year flood is now the 50-year flood, and what was the 200-year flood is now the 100-year flood. In light of this, ratepayers are right to wonder why our District Council has poured millions of dollars into developing the riverfront and moving an art gallery directly into harms way. Claiming it did not see this coming would beggar belief given what Horizon’s has advised along with over 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles on the topic of climate change. This would truly be the weakest possible response from our local government body to this crisis. If we wanted a non-response we could tune in to the Paul Henry Show. Floods happen, and data from around the world indicates they are happening more frequently and with more severity. Our ‘Katrina moment’ was never a question of if but of when. The Pope knows this. What amazed me was how gently and gradually it came upon us. There were no gales, thunderstorms or lightening. Quiz Night went on as usual Friday at Stellar and the River Traders Market took place Saturday morning across the street. The devastation came to us literally drop by drop, much in the same way wealth and income inequality has gradually widened over the last 30 years, hitting epic proportions – ok, let’s call them Biblical proportions – in the last seven years. The Pope knows this too.

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At the end of the day, what is significant about Francis’ encyclical is not its content. We already know that climate change and wealth inequality are bad for society and bad for the economy. What is significant is the person who has delivered that message with unprecedented courage and conviction. Would it be blasphemy to say this Pope has some serious huevos? For as long as I have lived in The River City, climate change and income inequality have been non-starter issues. Politically, they are perceived as no-go zones, yet we have seen their impacts on our community on more than a few occasions. Because of our unique location and economy, we suffer their effects to a greater extent than other communities. The longer our Council ignores them the greater our problems will become. The Pope even knows this. More than anything, Francis has issued a challenge of courage and leadership. Who in our community will answer the call of Care of Our Common Home’?