Tag Archives: farmers

The Nationals should support carbon farming, not coal

The Conversation

Andrew Hopkins, Australian National University

National Party MP George Christensen has invited other Nationals to join the recently formed pro-coal “Monash Forum”. But is coal in the best interests of their rural constituents, particularly farmers?


Read more:
The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Farmers stand to lose from any weakening of the government’s climate change policies. That is why farmers and their political representatives should be concerned about a current review of the government’s greenhouse gas reduction policy.

What is at stake here is the strange-sounding idea of carbon farming. To explain this idea takes several steps, so bear with me.

The policy under review is a legacy of the Abbott era. As prime minister, Tony Abbott abolished the carbon tax and replaced it with an Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). The ERF was to be used to pay businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, or to capture and sequester (store) carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.


Read more:
Carbon tax axed: how it affects you, Australia and our emissions


As it turns out, most of the funding has gone to rural enterprises that have developed various farming projects that qualify for funding – hence the term, carbon farming.

For example, these projects include:

  • regenerating native forest on previously cleared land
  • changed farming practices to allow for crop stubble retention
  • capturing and destroying the methane from effluent waste at piggeries.

How does carbon farming work?

To make it all work, the government first created the system of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). This system commodifies the outputs of carbon farming, so these can be traded.

In this system, a carbon farmer must show either a reduction in emissions, or carbon sequestration (or ideally both), according to clearly specified criteria. The government will then issue (free of charge) one credit for every tonne of carbon dioxide (CO₂) – or CO₂ equivalent – abated in this way. Farmers can then sell these credits, thus receiving a direct financial return for their efforts.

The primary buyer of ACCUs at the moment is the government, via its Emissions Reduction Fund. Farmers (individually or as collectives) who want to embark on carbon farming projects are asked to nominate a price they would need to make it profitable for them to go ahead with the project. Through a reverse auction, the fund selects the lowest-price proposals.


Read more:
Explainer: how does today’s Direct Action reverse auction work?


In this way, the government gets the greatest carbon abatement for the least money. Successful bidders embark on their projects knowing that they have a guaranteed price for their carbon abatement outcomes. There is nothing magical or mystical about it. It is simply the price at which the buyer and sellers of carbon credits find it mutually advantageous to do business.

The average price paid at the last auction round was A$12 per tonne of CO₂ abated. This is the current carbon price in this particular market.

The Safeguard Mechanism

A second potential set of buyers of carbon credits was created by the Safeguard Mechanism, introduced by the Abbott government. This caps emissions from big industrial emitters in order to to ensure that abatement achieved by the ERF is not offset or cancelled out.

The cap is set at whatever the maximum emission rate from the emitter has been. So it is not designed to reduce emissions from these big emitters, but simply to hold them to current levels.

The scheme covers just over 150 facilities, which are responsible for about half of Australia’s emissions. Emitters that go over their limit can remain in compliance by buying enough carbon credits to compensate for their “excess” emissions and surrendering these to government.


Read more:
Australia’s biggest emitters opt to ‘wait and see’ over Emissions Reduction Fund


This policy is now beginning to bite. The government has just announced that in the first period for which the policy has been in effect, some 16 large emitters were in excess and had to buy 448,000 carbon credits to remain in compliance. Among the biggest buyers were:

  • Anglo Coal’s Capcoal mining operations
  • Glencore’s Tahmoor Coal
  • Rio Tinto’s Alcan Gove aluminium operations
  • BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Coal/BM Alliance.

These companies bought their credits from carbon farmers who abated more carbon then they had calculated, and so had a surplus left over for sale.

But what is most interesting is the price that excess emitters were willing to pay for the surplus credits. Most of the sales were in the region of $14-15 per tonne (T), but the price rose to $17-18/T as the deadline approached.

This means that the price spiked at 50% higher than the most recent ERF auction price of $12/T.

Commentators describe this as a secondary market, and the price in this market is exciting news for carbon farmers. According to Australian Carbon Market Institute CEO Peter Castellas, “Australia now has a functioning carbon market.” Carbon farmers – who make up an increasing proportion of the Nationals’ constituency – will do well if this market expands.

One way to develop the market would be to slowly lower the caps on big emitters so they must either buy more carbon credits or find ways to reduce their own emissions.

From this point of view, there is good reason to progressively and predictably reduce the emissions allowed under the Safeguard Mechanism.

The current review

Here’s where we get to the current review. As already noted, the Safeguard Mechanism does not seek to reduce emissions from big emitters. In fact, it allows for an increase in emissions to accommodate business growth. Nevertheless, big emitters are still unhappy.

The government’s review is a response to business concerns. An initial consultation paper has proposed making it easier to raise the cap on a company’s emissions as its activity grows.


Read more:
An Emissions Reduction Fund could work, if well designed


If the rules are altered in this way, the demand for carbon credits may stall, and even decline, bringing to an end to this promising new source of revenue for farmers.

That is why members of parliament with rural constituencies should take note. Rural MPs should not sit by and allow the government to respond to the interests of the coal industry and other lobby groups.

The ConversationCarbon farming depends on reducing the caps under the Safeguard Mechanism, not raising them. This would also be a step in the direction of achieving the emissions reduction target to which Australia agreed at the Paris meetings in 2015.

Andrew Hopkins, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Was agriculture the greatest blunder in human history?

The Conversation

File 20171018 32345 1rwww1s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Rice farmers near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Darren Curnoe, Author provided

Darren Curnoe, UNSW

Twelve thousand years ago everybody lived as hunters and gatherers. But by 5,000 years ago most people lived as farmers.

This brief period marked the biggest shift ever in human history with unparalleled changes in diet, culture and technology, as well as social, economic and political organisation, and even the patterns of disease people suffered.

While there were upsides and downsides to the invention of agriculture, was it the greatest blunder in human history? Three decades ago Jarred Diamond thought so, but was he right?

Agriculture developed worldwide within a single and narrow window of time: between about 12,000 and 5,000 years ago. But as it happens it wasn’t invented just once but actually originated at least seven times, and perhaps 11 times, and quite independently, as far as we know.

Farming was invented in places like the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Yangzi and Yellow River Basins of China, the New Guinea highlands, in the Eastern USA, Central Mexico and South America, and in sub-Saharan Africa.

And while its impacts were tremendous for people living in places like the Middle East or China, its impacts would have been very different for the early farmers of New Guinea.

The reasons why people took up farming in the first place remain elusive, but dramatic changes in the planet’s climate during the last Ice Age — from around 20,000 years ago until 11,600 years ago — seem to have played a major role in its beginnings.

The invention of agriculture thousands of years ago led to the domestication of today’s major food crops like wheat, rice, barley, millet and maize, legumes like lentils and beans, sweet potato and taro, and animals like sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, alpacas and chickens.

It also dramatically increased the human carrying capacity of the planet. But in the process the environment was dramatically transformed. What started as modest clearings gave way to fields, with forests felled and vast tracts of land turned over to growing crops and raising animals.

In most places the health of early farmers was much poorer than their hunter-gatherer ancestors because of the narrower range of foods they consumed alongside of widespread dietary deficiencies.

At archaeological sites like Abu Hereyra in Syria, for example, the changes in diet accompanying the move away from hunting and gathering are clearly recorded. The diet of Abu Hereyra’s occupants dropped from more than 150 wild plants consumed as hunter-gatherers to just a handful of crops as farmers.

In the Americas, where maize was domesticated and heavily relied upon as a staple crop, iron absorption was consequently low and dramatically increased the incidence of anaemia. While a rice based diet, the main staple of early farmers in southern China, was deficient in protein and inhibited vitamin A absorption.

There was a sudden increase in the number of human settlements signalling a marked shift in population. While maternal and infant mortality increased, female fertility rose with farming, the fuel in the engine of population growth.

The planet had supported roughly 8 million people when we were only hunter-gatherers. But the population exploded with the invention of agriculture climbing to 100 million people by 5,000 years ago, and reaching 7 billion people today.

People began to build settlements covering more than ten hectares – the size of ten rugby fields – which were permanently occupied. Early towns housed up to ten thousand people within rectangular stone houses with doors on their roofs at archaeological sites like Çatalhöyük in Turkey.

By way of comparison, traditional hunting and gathering communities were small, perhaps up to 50 or 60 people.

Crowded conditions in these new settlements, human waste, animal handling and pest species attracted to them led to increased illness and the rapid spread of infectious disease.

Today, around 75% of infectious diseases suffered by humans are zoonoses, ones obtained from or more often shared with domestic animals. Some common examples include influenza, the common cold, various parasites like tapeworms and highly infectious diseases that decimated millions of people in the past such as bubonic plague, tuberculosis, typhoid and measles.

In response, natural selection dramatically sculpted the genome of these early farmers. The genes for immunity are over-represented in terms of the evidence for natural selection and most of the changes can be timed to the adoption of farming. And geneticists suggest that 85% of the disease-causing gene variants among contemporary populations arose alongside the rise and spread of agriculture.

In the past, humans could only tolerate lactose during childhood, but with the domestication of dairy cows natural selection provided northern European farmers and pastoralist populations in Africa and West Asia the lactase gene. It’s almost completely absent elsewhere in the world and it allowed adults to tolerate lactose for the first time.

Starch consumption is also feature of agricultural societies and some hunter-gatherers living in arid environments. The amylase genes, which increase people’s ability to digest starch in their diet, were also subject to strong natural selection and increased dramatically in number with the advent of farming.

Another surprising change seen in the skeletons of early farmers is a smaller skull especially the bones of the face. Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers had larger skulls due to their more mobile and active lifestyle including a diet which required much more chewing.

Smaller faces affected oral health because human teeth didn’t reduce proportionately to the smaller jaw, so dental crowding ensued. This led to increased dental disease along with extra cavities from a starchy diet.

Living in densely populated villages and towns created for the first time in human history private living spaces where people no longer shared their food or possessions with their community.

These changes dramatically shaped people’s attitudes to material goods and wealth. Prestige items became highly sought after as hallmarks of power. And with larger populations came growing social and economic complexity and inequality and, naturally, increasing warfare.

Inequalities of wealth and status cemented the rise of hierarchical societies — first chiefdoms then hereditary lineages which ruled over the rapidly growing human settlements.

Eventually they expanded to form large cities, and then empires, with vast areas of land taken by force with armies under the control of emperors or kings and queens.

This inherited power was the foundation of the ‘great’ civilisations that developed across the ancient world and into the modern era with its colonial legacies that are still very much with us today.

The ConversationNo doubt the bad well and truly outweighs all the good that came from the invention of farming all those millenia ago. Jarred Diamond was right, the invention of agriculture was without doubt the biggest blunder in human history. But we’re stuck with it, and with so many mouths to feed today we have to make it work better than ever. For the future of humankind and the planet.

Darren Curnoe, Associate Professor and Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of New South Wales, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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