Farmers for Climate Action hosted a Zoom meeting on December 1 to discuss the implications of the federal government’s gas-led economic recovery. Participants joined from all over regional eastern Australia, as well as Melbourne and Sydney.
Richard Heath from the Australian Farm Institute noted that the push was a huge risk to agriculture and was incompatible with slowing climate change. Heath said two jobs are lost in agriculture for every job in the gas industry, meaning there is a net negative benefit where gas exploration is allowed.
The social impact on communities is also bad on farmers’ mental health: communities fragment as agricultural workers move away when industrial scale gas extraction sets up. This leads to schools, shops, banks and football teams closing down.
The power imbalance between individual farmers and the large corporations they are trying to deal with exacerbates the problem and makes it important for farmers to understand their rights.
Compared to other businesses, the economic risks of inaction on climate change for farmers is high: drought, excessive heat, erratic rainfall, high costs and uncertain sales all mount up.
“There is a need to reduce farmers’ risks, not to increase it”, said Heath. “It is clear we have alternatives to gas for energy needs. The impact on the water supply to farms could be catastrophic if gas exploration goes ahead.
“The construction of gas pipelines also damages the farm’s infrastructure, which is not taken into account. The loss of water assets is of most concern because of its potential contamination.”
Health added that the gas corporations’ modelling of the impact on groundwater and the aquifers is so badly done that the impact is virtually unknown. Further, insurance companies will not insure farmers for any damage to their farms caused by gas exploration, putting farmers in a vulnerable situation.
Niall Blair from Charles Sturt University in New South Wales said that, as most industries are embracing renewable energy, even beer companies, it is now a very viable alternative source of energy. He said that farmers are not against renewable energy and pointed to the iconic windmill as evidence.
Blair talked about moving from a linear to a circular economy where food waste, water overuse, packaging and emissions are addressed. He said plastics need to be recycled and supply chains need to be made more sustainable. The technology is reliable and, in the future, industries will be powered using batteries for storage.
He said gas exploration threatens to pollute the underground water supply, possibly forever. He criticised the situation where gas corporations are able to negotiate deals with individual farmers in a non-transparent way.
Blair said confusion over the federal government’s energy policy had led to a lack of investment in renewable energy infrastructure.
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