Simon Lusk: Farmers and climate change

In recent decades farmers have seen their credibility undermined, mainly by water quality and the not unreasonable view that our rivers should be able to be swum in.

Many of the same people who go on about clean water are demanding something should be done about climate change. Yet, the immediate problem of clean water and the potential long-term problem of climate change resonate differently.

Rivers that poison dogs in the summer are an instant bad-news story and the average person wants something done about them. Climate change does not have the immediacy or the widespread conviction in the community that something should be done about it.??

Farmers are blamed for a very large proportion of New Zealand?s carbon emissions. The Labour party and the Green party would dearly love to find some way to force our farmers to pay for their animals? emissions. This is not guaranteed in the current parliamentary term because New Zealand First may oppose any extra tax on farmers.

So, how do farmers stop the government from imposing a carbon tax on farmers? A pragmatic approach that revolves around consistently lobbying politicians and supporting political parties is the most likely route to successfully defeating a new carbon tax.

This means doing what the Canadian dairy farmers did and influencing outcomes in politics. About 3,000 dairy farmers joined the Conservative party and ensured that Max Bernier, a free marketer who wanted to end supply management ? including the nearly 300% tariff on dairy products, lost the leadership to Andrew Scheer, who was less opposed to supply management.

Farmers should be investing in politics as their Canadian counterparts did. They should be supporting New Zealand First to ensure a carbon tax is not pushed through this parliament. They should be supporting National to ensure that National do not go wobbly on carbon taxes, and working with the farmers in the National caucus to ensure vigorous debate inside caucus.

Political support needs to be matched by a pragmatic public campaign against the carbon tax. This needs to be carefully calibrated or farmers will be accused of being climate-change deniers. Rather than deny climate change, farmers need to argue consistently about the very limited impact of carbon taxes on New Zealand farmers, given the tiny percentage of total global emissions that comes from New Zealand farms.

A public campaign has a good chance of success if it is reasonable and suggests we should be fast followers on climate change, not virtue-signalling do-gooders. New Zealanders are fair-minded people, and they will be instinctively questioning a carbon tax on farmers that does almost nothing to solve the problem of climate change.

This type of campaign will work on climate change while it will not work on water. Dirty rivers and drinking water that needs to be treated are easily blamed on the people doing the polluting. Climate change is far less tangible, and far less immediate, meaning sensible people are not as moved by demands for carbon taxes as they are by demands for clean water.