Federated Farmers and Environmentalists never have much in common, according to the media. A bunch of Gecko and Environmental Studies students, Ben, Tush, Silvia, Aaron and Rod decided to challenge this and set off on their merry way down to the Federated Farmers head office in the Wellington CBD. Although there was no sign of any cattle or sheep (I thought I caught one out of the corner of my eye, but it was just a cow ghost, apparently the place is riddled with ‘em), the place was running thick with farmers. According to Charlie Pederson, the President, Federated Farmers have the largest policy unit outside of government, and about 17,000 farms are members (that’s about 100,000 people they represent).
So it was no man in gumboots we came face to face with, but a sophisticated suit with green shirt and tie. This man had only in the last month delivered a speech at the F.F. annual conference where he singled out environmentalists: “Environmentalism threatens to be the new century’s politics of envy, the politics that seek to reduce the brightest and hardest working, the committed, to the level of the ordinary, the uninspired.” Here was a man in need of some serious help, but fair to say, environmentalists in general have not engaged with their ‘opposites’ in a collaborative manner, so we set up the meeting to share our vision for dare I say it…a sustainable future.
We started the discussion by asking him what the best plan of action is for NZ on climate change, considering our commitment to the Kyoto protocol. After much talking around the topic, he made it clear that Federated Farmers had not supported the Government’s ‘fart tax’, as farmers felt they should not be taxed for their carbon emissions. NZ is nearly unique in that our farmers are not subsidised by the government in any way. Therefore, farmers are very dependent on the success of the export market. Any taxation of emissions would put extra pressure on farmers. But what are the alternatives? Pederson didn’t seem to offer too many.
As for NZ’s clean green image, Pederson claimed that the ‘buy local’ campaigns in parts of Europe, for example, had destroyed the incentive of NZ’s ‘clean and green’ image.
Pederson also claimed that NZ is producing all this meat for other countries, so why should NZ farmers pay for the carbon emission? Hang on a second. NZ chooses to export its meat and don’t the farmers make the profit? So what are the solutions? This is where we found some real commonality, over the idea that everyone needs to work together, and that individually we need to be more efficient both in the way we work and live. Rod suggested that the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative which rewards those who establish new permanent forests may be a good way for farmers to work towards neutralizing their carbon emissions. Pederson agreed that this was a good incentive and certainly farmers should be encouraged to plant on marginal land. We moved on to talk on the Resource Management Act and water use. But that is for another story!
Since Pederson’s slanderous speech a month or so ago, Federated Farmers have obviously changed their tact somewhat to work more collaboratively. We certainly found that he was most approachable and willing to talk to us. In a time when the government is so indecisive about what action to take on climate change, people across the board need to have discussions about how we are going to tackle the issue. It affects not just us who study it, but you, your aunty and your posse!