JAMES SHAW: Dairy is ending the era of climate denial


Dairy is ending the era of climate denial

By Green Party co-leader James Shaw

We’re making progress. This week Climate Minister Paula Bennett announced that the dairy industry will take its first tentative steps towards reducing climate pollution.

It is a far cry from the days when a National MP drove a tractor up Parliament steps as the industry protested outside parliament at the prospect of paying a small levy to fund research to reduce agricultural emissions.

Admittedly the new Dairy Action Plan is a little short on action. The main focus is on raising awareness among farmers that reducing climate pollution can actually be good for business.

What’s still missing is a basic commitment to actually reducing climate pollution across the industry and a firm date for when the dairy industry will start paying for the cost of the pollution it emits.

But, it is a start. When the climate crisis was first raised in New Zealand the response from polluting industries was denial – ‘climate change isn’t happening’. Second came ‘if it is happening, it isn’t caused by us’. Third, ‘if climate change is caused by us, it isn’t that bad’. And finally, ‘it is bad, but there’s nothing we can do about it’.

That last line is the one we have got used to hearing from National and the dairy industry itself. We’ve been told, on repeat, that it’s too expensive to reduce climate pollution from agriculture.

Despite being untrue, this line is widely believed. But it can’t hold forever, particularly as farmers themselves start to prove it false.

Many farmers around New Zealand are already showing it’s possible to reduce pollution on the farm; either by optimising stocking rates, planting high value crops like Manuka, or creating richer more productive soils that suck up carbon dioxide.

Farmers are, by necessity and nature, innovative and adaptive. Markets change, weather changes and farmers change with it. I have no doubt farmers can tackle the climate challenge head-on if given the chance.

The Dairy Action Plan will appoint climate champion farmers to ‘mobilise change’ amongst other farmers. This is an acknowledgement by the industry that change is possible and that change is profitable.

Yet, National hasn’t quite let go of its climate denialism. Paula Bennett still insists that the dairy industry shouldn’t be charged for its pollution, saying this would “cut our farmers off at the knees.”

No farmer I’ve talked to wants their child to inherit a world with longer droughts and chronic water shortages, they want to see real action on climate change. But farmers need government to send the signal that pollution must come down, they need to know that they’re not taking action all on their own.

Simply put, the Government can’t just rely on a few high performing farmers. It has to put a price on climate pollution so all farmers start to invest in solutions to pollution.

The dairy industry should get credit for raising awareness about climate change. It’s now time we had a government willing to show leadership to ensure that awareness is converted into action.