Cherishing our Earth at Fieldays 2018

I was at Fieldays last week, as an exhibitor in the Innovation Centre.  It was an exciting three days plus one.

Here are some thing that struck me as I observed the weather, the people, the products and of course, the innovations.

First was that despite being the 50th anniversary year, the weather still made its presence felt.  ’Twas not the parka-penetrating chill of the sou-westerlies.  Nor the eeriness of foggy mornings.  No, it was the wheel-spinning wetness that led to hour-long waits to get out of the parking lot that I remember most about the weather.  Is 50 years not long enough to solve that energy-consuming problem?

Then there were the people.  Those who looked away when eye-contact was imminent, those who freely gave a big smile without expectations of anything in return, those who listened to learn about dairy’s role in climate change, and those who either did not care or simply did not want to know.  Guess which group was in the majority?

That so much of the activity was focused on products that we want but do not need, was the big disappointment for me.  We will never achieve societal and environmental sustainability for as long as we try to consume our way to ego-satisfaction.

Finally, innovation in the agricultural sector is a major aspect of Fieldays and there were some really great ideas on display.  However, unlike the judges view that the winners of the awards choose their problems to solve with care, it seemed to me that they choose their products not to solve the problems that the world need solving, but instead, chose them to make a profit.

Will I return for Fieldays 2019?  Of course I will.  Despite my cynicism, it was still a buzz.  But I could do without the Saturday when the general public turn out.

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Grow Your Own Food: a means to an end in an uncertain world

A beginners “Grow Your Own Food” course is offered at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting August 30th.  Over six weeks, the workshops will focus on practical, organic food growing techniques that don’t require a green thumb to follow.

Grow Your Own Food Course 2 flyer“When I was a kid,” recalled project manager John Allen, “our family and most of our neighbours had vegetable gardens.  Growing our own food was one of those things we just did.”

For many of today’s generation, the arts of growing vegetable have been forgotten or were never practiced.   In the uncertain world we are on the threshold of, there are many good reasons to learn those arts.

First is that growing your own food is a means for individuals and households to mitigate the drivers of global warming, to adapt to climate change, and address social justice issues.

In today’s society, it is easy buy whatever food we want, whenever we want it. The impacts of a warming climate are changing that.

For example, the crops that can be grown in some areas is changing due to warmer temperatures, stronger winds and unexpected rainfall patterns.

A recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal, concluded that climate change will cut crop yields.

A 2015 report by WWF, The Calm before the Storm highlight how disruptions to long supply chains will affect the availability of food.

These change will lead to food prices rising.

As well as these impacts, there are many others reasons for people to grow their own food.

For some, saving money is the reason.

For many, it is about knowing what has gone in to their foods.  People are looking for ways to avoid the chemical pesticides or genetically modified organisms that are increasingly finding their way in to our foods.

For an increasing number, it is about consuming in-season foods, grown locally on family-centred organic farms.  This is a reaction to industrialised global food chains that feature excessive food miles, lowered nutrition values and pesticide residues.

For others, it is about the simple pleasures of working outdoors, getting our hands dirty in the soil and harvesting what we have grown.

For most of us, growing our own food is a combination of these reasons and is a practical action for sustainability and resilience in the face of uncertain world.

Take this opportunity to learn the simple arts of food growing.

Enquire below or visit facebook.com/groups/GrowYourOwnFoodNZ/


Removing our weather blinkers to take climate action

Another Tuesday, another severe weather warning from the MetService.  On Good Friday, Cyclone Cook is expected to dump 200mm of rain as it passes close to or over the North Island.

NIWA’s modelling suggests that the upper and eastern North Island “currently stand the best chance of experiencing an impactful weather event from Wednesday through to Friday morning”.

Huh?  The “best” chance?  Like it’s a desirable event?

Try telling that to those in Edgecumbe who may never be able to return to their homes. For them, last week’s flood was a catastrophe.

Heavy rain events are now regularly occurring somewhere in the country.

Last week’s event was much more than a flash flood.  It was more than a 1 in 100 year event.

Have we normalised extreme weather to the extent that we are now blinded to its causes?

A new study, linking human-caused carbon pollution to extreme weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, ought remove our weather blinkers.  The study, published on nature.com, finds that this pattern has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural weather variability.

As report co-author Michael Mann says, “We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”

This study will not placate those increasingly affected by the increasing incidence of extreme weather events.

Should someone be held to account for those affected?  To me, yes of course.

The responsibility lies with each of us who continue to release new carbon to the atmosphere – nature will hold us and future generations to account.

Our grandchildren will not thank us for shrugging our shoulders and writing this off as “acts of God”.

An event at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Anglican Church on Sunday 23rd April, is an opportunity for us, individually and collectively, to make a stand against our climate changing actions.

At 8 am, a fire will be lit in a special in-ground pit.  When the fire is extinguished at 11 am, more than one third of the wood burned will be turned to charcoal.

If left to rot in the field or burn completely, one hundred percent of that timber would be turned to ash and all of its carbon released back to the atmosphere.

Instead, burying the biochar will sequester carbon away for a long time, effectively taking carbon out of the atmosphere.  Planting fruit trees on top of the biochar will remove even more atmospheric carbon.

Join us at 18 Wesley Street, Pukekohe any time between 8 and 11 am and show your support for a climate action that does make a difference.

Is the Pope being used to support BigAg?

subliminal

[suhb-limuh-nl]
adjective, Psychology.

1.

existing or operating below the threshold ofconsciousness; being or employing stimuliinsufficiently intense to produce a discretesensation but often being or designed to beintense enough to influence the mentalprocesses or the behavior of the individual:

a subliminal stimulus; subliminal advertising

 The article below was first published by Corporate Europe Observatory and is best read on that site as it includes many pertinent visuals.
The article begs the question of whether corporate lobby groups and multinational corporations used the Pope’s influence, without his approval, to push their own agenda around industrialised agriculture.
To me, the case is well made.  What do you think?

The Pope and the Pesticides

“On March 28 2017, participants in the 10th Forum for the Future of Agriculture were greeted with a big surprise at the beginning of the conference: a “special” video address from Pope Francis! Although the lobbying event is an annual Brussels mainstay for the big agribusiness lobby, organised by Syngenta and the EU lobby group of large landowners (ELO) every year.”

. . .

“The day following the FFA, the video title on the FFA’s website and on Youtube was changed from “FFA 2017 Address From His Holiness The Pope” to “His Holiness Pope Francis on agriculture and environmental issues”. FFA organisers told CEO that this was because the former title could have been interpreted as being “potentially misleading”, and La Machi told CEO that they had asked for the title of the video to be changed. Indeed, it did mislead the participants.”

Here’s three reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Glyphosate was back in the news last week.  As expected, a second European agency found that that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

On the face of it, this latest determination is contrary to that of a UN agency’s classification in March 2015, that glyphosate was “probably” a human carcinogen.

Both determinations looked at the hazard that glyphosate poses to human health and came to different conclusions.

Of the two agencies, the UN one studied only independent research.  It also explored the impact of other chemicals added to glyphosate.

These differences mean that the UN research carries more weight for me when I consider using chemical pesticides.

Instead of looking at hazard, the European Food Safety Authority looked at the risk that glyphosate poses, and also found no basis for classifying the chemical as a carcinogen.

Hazard and risk?  Are they not the same thing?

No, not really.  Hazard is about the possibility of a substance being a carcinogen.  Risk is about how likely it is that you will get cancer from being exposed to the hazard.

If you don’t expose yourself to a hazardous substance, whether nuclear waste or glyphosate, then the risk of contracting cancer is negligible.

So if you have to use this hazardous chemical, then taking precautions will reduce the risk of it undermining your, or your children’s, health.

The risk is zero when you grow your own food without using glyphosate.

IMG_1388
Laying out the St Andrews Communal Food garden

When it comes to the risks of eating GMOs, there are no precautions we can take despite the risks being real.

Scientists are concerned that we do not know how differently our genes will work, when we eat GMO foods.

Again, these risks posed by GMO foods are minimised when we grow our own food.

IMG_1476
The St Andrews Communal Food garden early in its development

The third reason to grow your own food, is around the need for us to take action on climate change.

Harvesting fresh produce from our own garden achieves two climate actions.  One is a reduction in green house gases emitted to the atmosphere.  The other is to increase the carbon stored in our soils compared to industrialised agriculture.

Glyphosate, GMOs and climate change, are all hazards.  All are issues of our time, consequences of a capitalist economic system focused more on corporate profits than on the health and wellbeing of people.

As hazards, there is now little that we can do individually, to undo their presence in our society.

But the risk these hazard pose can be minimised when you grow your own food.

IMG_1601
Just a part of the harvest from the St Andrews Communal Food garden

——

A beginners Grow Your Own Food course runs at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting April 5th and running for six weeks.  Interested?  Please leave your name and contact number at 09 238 7228.

Or download our brochure: Growing Your Own Food Course.page1

Time to cherish this earth, our common home

Christmas.  For most a season to share good times with friends and family, to relax and regenerate in the outdoors, and to give and receive gifts.

For many, it is a time to celebrate our faith and to recover from the many activities that celebrate the time of year – the work functions, school prize-givings, and the commercial pressures to spend, spend, spend.

For some, it is a hedonistic time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and the consumption of stuff that we want but do not need.

For a few, but still too many, Christmas has a downside.

A time of stress, resulting in a surge of domestic violence and disorder.  Or of grief, consequent on the annual spike in the number of road and water deaths.

The increasing number of families queuing outside the Auckland City Mission for Christmas food parcels is a sad reflection of an unequal society.  [Don’t be too sad – donate to the City Mission’s work at aucklandcitymission.org.nz or by phoning them on 09 303 9200.]

These are the human faces of Christmas.  But Christmas is not only about the human race, as the song released in 1984 by rock band Queen, ”Thank God It’s Christmas”, reminds us.

This song brings God, and the birth of Christ, back in to the focus.

In an increasingly secular society, many question or ignore that focus and so an important message gets lost in the frenzy of shopping and partying.  The consequence of our over-consumption and hedonistic disregard for the environment, is impoverishment.

Christians believe the environment was entrusted to human beings by God, who commanded us to cherish the earth. So care for God’s creation we must. Others lived here before us they argue, so we in turn must maintain it for posterity.  Whatever your view of God is, christian or secular, this is an imperative to guide us.  It is a definition of environmental sustainability.

How many will take the time to ponder the year past, the year ahead and to reflect on the climate actions needed to address the greatest threat to our existence on earth?

Actually, I meant to say, threat to our existence.  The earth will out-survive us.

kepler186f_artistconcept_2
The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Credits: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

And contrary to the fanciful ideas of science fiction, nor the ambitions of Elon Musk to make human life multi-planetary, there is no way that we humans are going to escape this earth before the proverbial hits the fan.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians.  He called for us to show mercy to our common home, to cherish the world in which we live, and to have compassion for the poor.

In my context, the pontiff is appealing for us to be sustainable (mercy), mitigate the causes of climate change (cherish) and for social justice (compassion).  Please do your part to make it so.  And have a cheery Christmas whilst you do it.

Blessings
John Allen

Be a light switcher to save cash and the planet

After testing more than 3,000 different theories before finding one that worked, Thomas Edison was reported as saying “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

A corollary of this Edison quote is that the most certain way to fail, is to give up. Which is what Professor Guy McPherson is doing, giving up.

Those particular 3,000 theories were about finding a filament that worked in the new electric light bulb.

edison_bulb
Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Edison’s incandescent light was launched at a public ceremony in December 1879.  His belief then, that electricity would become so cheap that only the rich would burn candles, was proved correct.  And hasn’t our society become a better place for that invention?

Today, 137 years later, we need to move away from that old technology, not because of the cost of electricity, but because of the need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LEDs are the new lighting technology and many will be skeptical that replacing old light bulbs will have a material impact on climate change.

For sure, replacing one light bulb has only a small impact.  But if each New Zealand household, more than 1.5 million of them, replaced them all, then the impact would be significant.

How significant?  Stay with me while we do some easy maths.

Based on the average burn time for a light bulb of three hours each day for a year, a 60 watt incandescent bulb will burn 66 units of electricity and emit 9.8 kg of carbon to the atmosphere.  That’s the equivalent emissions from driving 32km in a large car.

The equivalent seven watt LED will burn less than eight units of electricity over a year and emit nearly 1.1 kg of the carbon – less than a 4 km drive in that same large car.

As well as helping save the world, light switchers will save cash too.

At $0.30 for each unit of electricity and a 3-hour burn time per day, a $9.95 LED bulb is paid for through electricity savings in just seven months.  That’s an incredible 172% return on investment.

Those returns are much greater when we factor in the lifetime savings of switching to an LED bulb – over $240 through replacing an LED once every 14 years instead of replacing an incandescent every year for each of 14 years.

led-bulb-green-backgroundThese comparison apply to LEDs of the same brightness and with a range of colour tints available, switching to an LED, gives no loss of light quality.

Being a light switcher is an easy do, will save you cash as well as demonstrating that we are not giving up on saving the planet.

Biochar a foil to doomsayer Guy McPherson

Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.

I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say.  For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.

When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right.  Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.

But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”.  His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.

For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous.  But not even worth trying for?

As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.

One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels.  As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.

Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world.  But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive.  While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.

There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.

First is planting trees.  We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.

Biochar_1694Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.

Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.

This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.

To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm.  If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed.  Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%.   Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate.  So doable it is if we start now.

As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not.  If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.

Without healthy soils, our changing climate matters less.

Today, Monday December 5th 2016, is World Soil Day.

Who knew? Who cares?

There are more than two reasons to care. First is that nearly all of our food production requires soil to grow in. Second is that we have only 60 years of food harvests left at current rates of soil degradation.

The 60-year estimate comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their first Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published last year.

The FAO argue that “Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs.”

a hand full of wormsLet’s be clear what soil is. Soil is one of our three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is so much more than the dirt that covers much of the earth’s land. Soil is made up of three main components: the minerals that come from rocks; organic matter from the residues of plants and animals; and the living micro-organisms that live in soil.

It takes nature 200 – 400 years to make a layer of soil one centimetre deep. To make it fertile, may take 3,000 years.

The FAO estimate that between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are eroded by wind or rain every year.

Not only does this loss lower farm profitability, it is also a major driver of climate change.

Soil organic matter is exposed when forests are clear-felled and when agricultural lands are tilled. The exposure of soil organic matter to oxygen means that previously sequestered carbon joins the carbon cycle and is added to the atmosphere as a new source of carbon dioxide.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs us to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere. The longer it takes us to act on that need, the harder it is to avoid catastrophe.

As well as driving climate change, the loss of soil organic carbon reduces the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants and so affects the quality and safety of our food. It also leads to increased pests and diseases which, in a downward spiral, further reduces food availability.

For the sake of our climate and our food supply, the health of our soils needs to be assured. This can best be done through regenerative farming and gardening practices.

One regenerative action that anyone can take, is to add carbon, in the form of compost and biochar, to our gardens and farms.

By looking after our soil, so the soil will look after us.