On November 30, 1987 – thirty years ago – Monash University hosted the inaugural Greenhouse conference that was to start planning a response to the global warming that scientists had been warning of since at least the 60s. Yet it is only in recent weeks that the National Farmers Federation (NFF) has turned a corner on climate change.
The NFF president Fiona Simpson was reported in The Guardian on Saturday saying that ‘people on the land can’t and won’t ignore what is right before their eyes. “We have been experiencing some wild climate variability… It’s in people’s face”.’
What boggles my mind is that the National Party – ‘the party for regional Australia’ – is only now beginning to address climate change and its impacts because it has been dragged to the table by its own grassroots support base.
By systematically ignoring climate-change science the Nationals could not have done regional Australia a greater disservice. Farmers and graziers are and will continue to be on the front line of climate change. These are the people whose livelihoods depend on the right amount of sun and rain – arriving at the right time and in the right amounts for crops to grow and animals to thrive.
By denying the clear scientific evidence and dire warnings that respected scientists worldwide have been putting forward for over 30 years the Nationals – through a lack of vision and foresight and in many cases wilful ignorance – have fundamentally failed those they claim to represent. Rather than helping Australian farmers build resilience and mitigate the far-reaching impacts of climate change they have undermined them at every level.
The Nationals should be greener than The Greens. As soon as there was a possibility that weather and ecosystems could be affected they should have been taking the threat to their voters with the utmost seriousness.
They should have been leading the debate on sustainable forestry, renewable energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and on how to reduce global warming. Instead they have supported coal mines, stripped away protections from old-growth forests and waterways and undermined the science that has been telling them what the impacts of these decisions are.
By not being the leaders of the debate on climate change and ecosystem sustainability it is the future and livelihoods of their own constituents that they have failed.
They had the opportunity and influence to bring genuine, considered and influential voices to the debate from the beginning. If they had, Australia could have been at the forefront of preparations for climate change. This was an opportunity squandered.
They should have led the debate. They could have inspired a generation.
Aslan Shand, acting editor