A Green party press release this morning alerted me to the fact that UK supermarket giant Tescos has committed to labelling the full carbon footprint of all their goods. This will start by labelling goods which are airfreighted, with more information being added as it becomes available. Phil Goff says that this won't hurt New Zealand exporters, and will benefit them in the long term as the total carbon cost of production is far lower here in New Zealand than it is in Europe, but I'm not so sure. The problem is that that long-term benefit depends crucially on reliable information on the carbon footprint of New Zealand goods becoming available. And if there's one thing New Zealand farmers are opposed to, it is measuring their carbon emissions. Currently, the government is working on a voluntary scheme, but according to my sources, farmers are virulently opposed to participating it for fear that the information will be used to make them pay the cost of their emissions in future. By their logic, if they don't measure it, they can't be taxed on it, and they can continue to dump their costs on the rest of society, just as they've always done. Unfortunately, this attitude may mean that they will find it increasingly difficult to sell their goods overseas to companies which demand such information.
Tesco's decision is a real "wake up and smell the coffee" moment for New Zealand farmers. If they continue to be obstructive Deniers, they will pay an economic price for it. It would be far better for them to take advantage of New Zealand's "clean and green" brand by measuring their emissions and promoting the fact that feeding cows grass and letting them live outdoors rather than in a heated barn means there is less carbon emitted per bottle of milk or block of cheese from New Zealand than there is in one from England or France. The facts are on their side; all they have to do is let them speak for themselves. The question is whether they can overcome their culture of Denial and leadership hostile to the idea of climate change in time to do this.