Thursday, October 20, 2022

Farmers need to earn their social licence

Last week, Labour grovelled to the sacred cow, releasing an agricultural emissions plan which was basicly a plan to subsidise their emissions (and so keep them emitting) for a century. But even that was too much for farmers, and so today they sent their tractors into our cities again in protest.

The protests are driven by a sense of entitlement amongst farmers, a belief that they're so important to the economy that they ought to be treated as special and exempt from the environmental and social principles that apply to the rest of us. In 1913 and 1951, they had the numbers and the power to enforce that. In 2022, when 85% of us live in cities, they're just a tiny rural elite, clinging to outdated and toxic privileges.

Of course, they had friends. In Wellington, it was anti-vax rioters Voices For Freedom and the antivax DemocracyNZ party. In Christchurch, it was Nazi Kyle Chapman. Most kiwis find these groups absolutely repugnant. By aligning themselves with such groups, farmers are going to end up joining them at the bottom of the shitlist.

Not that they were doing great on that front anyway. The social licence of farmers depends on two things: their environmental impact, and providing cheap food to the rest of us. On the first front, they're a disaster, polluting the soil, atmosphere, and water with nitrogen, methane, and disease. From a climate perspective, they're the dirtiest, least efficient part of our economy, producing the fewest dollars per ton of emissions. And as for "cheap food", they export 95% of what they produce, and our domestic prices are set by what they can get overseas - meaning that while we pay the full environmental costs of their business, we get no real benefit for that. We could shut them all down tomorrow, import all our food, and it would make no economic difference to consumers, while making us all better off from the reduced pollution. I don't think we should actually do that, but it does illustrate how the costs and benefits stack up for the rest of Aotearoa, and how parasitic this dirty industry is. It also illustrates that we could make quite radical cuts to farm production without affecting our food supply in the slightest (and if farmers would rather export than feed us, that's what export controls are for).

If farmers want to continue to farm, they need to earn their social licence. They can do that by accepting regulation, cleaning up their act, and behaving like responsible members of society. But if they'd rather behave like a spoiled, entitled, elite, then we should just regulate them harder. And if they don't like it, they will have only themselves to blame.