Opinion: Climate change deniers are a threat to farming

I recently commented on Facebook about the Farmers Weekly editorial leader of early January, covering the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests at the Oxford Farming Conference.

A few of the comments that subsequently appeared below my post were harsh and, I believe, unfair.

As the Farmers Weekly article pointed out: “The vast majority [of farmers] accept that rising temperatures and melting ice caps are for real.

“Serious action is going to be needed across all parts of society in the coming years if the long-term sustainability of the planet, and the human population that lives on it, are to be secured.”

See also: Farmers need incentives to counter climate change

Farmers have a great deal to offer to this debate, so it was concerning to see some FW Facebook users who did not accept the reality of climate change.

Farmers are already experiencing climate change first-hand – more frequent, extreme and costly flooding, water shortages and weather events.

The science is clear (see Skeptical Science).The changes we are experiencing now are global and closely related to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If we don’t curb fossil fuel and other emissions, and decarbonise our industry, housing and transport, we will be facing far more frequent disruptions to food and feed supplies globally

Social media posts about “Roman warm periods”, “natural variations in the weather” and so on are age-old talking points, endlessly and repeatedly debunked. Time to move on.

But what most people don’t realise is, we haven’t seen the half of it yet.

If we don’t curb fossil fuel and other emissions, and decarbonise our industry, housing and transport, we will be facing far more frequent disruptions to food and feed supplies globally.

In the UK, we will face sea level rises, even more frequent extreme weather, flooding, changes to disease and pest risks, and livestock heat stress.

All are likely to have profound effects on the agricultural industry. Business as usual just isn’t an option.

Yes, some in XR are strongly minded to demand more. And yes, the government may want to label people campaigning for our future security as “extremists”.

In real life, it isn’t so simple. Many are teachers, scientists or doctors who have taken time out of their daily lives to protest.

We can argue the case on which sectors need to do what in more depth. But it is no longer feasible to argue against taking action.

The XR approach is deliberately provocative, but that is because all other approaches have not worked.

They have not attracted the attention needed at the right time, when actions to curb emissions would have been more manageable.

Over the past 30 years, when we’ve known the problem was there and solvable, we tried everything else, from peaceful protests, insider lobbying, working with businesses and so on. It was not enough.

We are really at the point where we have to act now and act fast. It only takes a quick read of the summaries of the UN reports on climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem harm to realise that.

Listen to XR and read their materials. They clearly expose the system beyond the farmgate that is causing much of the harm and providing inadequate rewards for farmers.

The tide has started to turn, and over the next few years, I predict we will see more and more farmers joining XR Farmers or other climate campaigns, making their voices heard.

The industry has so much to offer and is so crucial to this debate. Concerned farmers and land managers should not be silenced by lazy denial or lack of awareness of what is happening.

It’s too dangerous – farmers, nature and our food supply deserve better.

Vicki Hird is head of farming at Sustain.

See more