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The climate chap: Sometimes we get it wrong

 

 

11 July, 2022


SteveGreen-984I love capitalism. The ability of talented and resourceful entrepreneurs to generate wealth and employment through the innovation of new products and services. They take risks, some fail and some succeed on an enormous and global scale. But sadly, sometimes their endeavours come with a price, usually in the form of human suffering and environmental harm. A few examples from my humble childhood.

I was raised in Ilford, a suburb of London. As a 5-year-old I attended the Golf Road Infant School, a mere 400 metres from our home. I vividly remember that the smog – a combination of fog plus smoke generated from coal – was so bad you literally could not see your hand in front of your face, so to get home we formed chains with 10 kids plus teachers at the front and back, each holding a torch. One by one we were delivered to our front doors. Simply terrifying! Enough was enough and the government of the day passed the Clean Air Act to reduce the use of coal for industrial and home heating. Probably the first ever “environmental recovery” legislation. Naturally the UK coal industry violently objected, especially as coal underpinned their industrial revolution and subsequent power, but enough was enough.

When a teenager we moved to Barking, next door to Ilford. The largest factory and major employer was Cape Asbestos. Needless to say, this factory and the whole asbestos industry effectively closed down once the risks to personal health became undeniable. The industry objected and resisted for decades, but we are still paying a horrendous price for asbestosis.

Smoking used to be not just normal but fashionable. I grew up watching Frank Sinatra on the TV, tuxedo, a microphone in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Never knew how he could sing and smoke at the same time. Back in the 50s there were no concerns as to the terrifying impact of smoking on one’s lungs. As this became apparent and undeniable, gradually measures were introduced to restrict smoking, but many decades later millions of sensible people still smoke. The cost to our health sector remains enormous, and annually over 6 million people die from smoke related diseases.

So just three examples of where “decent” industries have caused immense suffering. Each went down fighting, and denying as long as possible the downside to their industries.

Are we facing the same dilemma with the climate crisis? We rightly celebrate the role of our pastoral farming industries and their contribution to our economy. Over the past century foods such as milk, butter, cheese, bread, beef, and lamb have been the foundation of our kiwi diets. Our exports prior to the UK joining the European Common Market established New Zealand as a prosperous trading nation.

But sadly, we now face the dilemma that our livestock-based industries are causing immense damage to our environment and climate. Approaching 50 percent of our nasty emissions are generated from ruminating livestock belching methane gasses. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that the vast use of fertilisers is resulting in significant nitrate-based emissions plus impacting the quality of water entering our artesian wells. If these wells support irrigation or industry the harm may be minimal, however increased contamination may make bore water undrinkable.

We all share the goal of vastly reducing our toxic emissions. The 50 percent that are related to fossil fuels gets most of the publicity, and reducing our reliance on coal, petrol and natural gas is well underway. We should achieve “net carbon neutral” status well before 2050. However, as a nation we simply cannot achieve our overall “net neutral” status without a vast reduction of methane gasses.

Only really three options available. Less livestock, re-engineer the DNA of livestock so that they no longer generate methane, and re-engineer grasses to also minimise the generation of gasses.

Our government has just generously allocated approaching $800 million of our taxes to this industry to sponsor scientific research. Will our nation willingly support genetic engineering? No idea. Are other countries trying to solve the same problem? No idea. Can we simply continue to let this industry contribute so massively to the climate crisis? No.

 

We are recognised worldwide for our farming industries, but now the publicity isn’t so good. PHOTO/Pxfuel

Sadly, we now face the dilemma that our livestock-based industries are causing immense damage to our environment and climate.


 
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