Friday, October 08, 2010

Farmers: our biggest environmental problem

Last night, DoC Chief Executive Al Morrison told some harsh truths about the relationship between the economy and the environment. Currently, much of our economy - and in particular farming - is explicitly based on destroying our environment. Rather than generating wealth, these sectors are in fact reducing it, and leaving an enormous environmental debt for future generations to pay off.

And today, we have a perfect example of that, with Federated Farmers challenging the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council's One Plan in the Environment Court.

The One Plan, agreed after a six year process, provides a unified planning framework for managing the region's environment. Water quality is a key focus, and the plan attempts to protect waterways by imposing restrictions on dairy farms, including fertiliser controls, nutrient budgeting, and requirements to fence waterways. While the restrictions don't apply to every farm, they're a welcome start towards cleaning up the Manawatu River, which is in a terrible state. But farmers profit by dumping shit in that river, which directly costs the rest of us. If they dump their shit in the river, we can't swim in it or drink it, we can't use it recreationally, we have to pay (eventually) to clean it up. Their actions are directly costing us. But that cost is not recognised on the balance sheet, or paid by those imposing it. the result is an artificially profitable sector, whose "profits" in fact come from hidden environmental subsidies from the rest of society.

This challenge shows the lie behind the claims of farmers to be stewards of our environment. They're not. Instead, they're just dirty polluters who profit by dumping their costs (and their shit) onto the rest of us. And clearly, they will fight tooth and nail to continue to do so.