Perception risk in farmers’ protest
Farmers ensured their Howl of a Protest was heard loud and clear yesterday and the Government is likely to react in some way, as no government can turn a deaf ear to such disgruntlement and this one is highly motivated by perception.
That will probably involve a redoubling of effort to take farmer concerns on board in the detail of regulation, rather than changing its commitments to improve the environment and reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
If one commitment was to be modified it would be the “ute tax” that was emblematic of yesterday's protest. Frustration over a hefty fee to encourage the transition away from fossil fuels is understandable when there is not yet an electric option to transition to.
It is ironic, though, that the Government's signature policy to speed our switch from fossil fuels has become the trigger for this protest, as turning our vehicle fleet electric as quickly as possible reduces the quantum of emissions we need, as a nation, to cut from agricultural sources or have offset by tree planting — the two greatest bugbears for many farmers.
The other key question is how much the wider public sees “The Howl” as an understandable reaction to the costly impacts of a range of sometimes impractical regulations, and how much it is seen as farmers wanting to continue polluting with as little consequence as possible.
The risk for the farming sector is that it is more the latter. Tied up in that risk, in this district, is the fact the local protest organisers are long-time activists trying to undercut the science of climate change.
On today's opinion page Neil Henderson claims that his farm has “zero liability” because it has stable emissions. That means he is failing to improve productivity on his farm (or slowly reducing herd size), and that he doesn't feel at all accountable for the warming those stable emissions lock in.
Electric vehicle technology, scale and sustainability are evolving rapidly; coal was used to generate 5 percent of New Zealand's electricity last year — it has spiked lately, but Huntly's operator plans to boost renewable generation and scale back its fossil-fuelled electricity.
And to methane metrics: Mr Henderson ignores the fact that the key proponent of his preferred GWP* metric, Professor Myles Allen, estimates a 10 percent reduction in global methane emissions is required for them to cause no further warming; that is, in addition to the large amount of warming that methane emissions already cause.