Monday, February 27, 2023

Climate Change: We need more trees, not less

Newshub reports that farmers are outraged that we're planting too many trees:

Newshub can reveal 25 times more land was converted into forestry last year than a decade ago.

It's angered farmers who hope the Government's ministerial inquiry into forestry slash will lead to limits on land conversion. They say the Government needs to answer for incentivising forestry to earn carbon credits.

"We're not absolutely against off-setting, we're certainly not against commercial forestry, but our argument is that there needs to be some limits put on it," Beef + Lamb CEO Sam McIvor told Newshub.

Which is fascinating. Because a decade ago, Aotearoa was in the midst of a boom in dairy conversions, when whole forests were being ripped out and chipped to make way for cows. At the beginning of this boom, when the government was picking up the carbon costs, farmers and their National party proxies in Parliament insisted that land had to be free to change to its highest value use. Now that the value equation has changed, and carbon is more valuable than the dirty, polluting, low-value sheep and beef industries, they're calling for controls. As I noted earlier, these are the final squeals of a dying industry, which is now simply too dirty and inefficient for the modern economy.

Secondly, farmers are complaining about 18,000 hectares of net reforestation. After 25 years, that will have soaked up about 12.6 milion tons of carbon - or less than a third of our annual agricultural emissions (39.4 millions tons in 2020). Farmers oppose any cuts to those emissions, and the government has grovelled to them, with only a weak commitment to cut agricultural methane. As a result, our gross emissions are still expected to be 59.2 million tons in 2050, and our net emissions 19.7 or 31.8 million tons depending on whether you use real or bullshit accounting (weirdly, bullshit is higher, because of course its focused on making things look good in the short term). And this is going to be comprised mostly of agricultural emissions - everything else is basicly expected to hit zero. Which suggests that we actually need more trees, not less, to soak up and draw down our pollution. If farmers don't like that, then the alternative is to radically reduce the size of the agricultural sector (in practice, we are going to have to do both).

Of course, these trees don't have to be production forestry, or pine. Ideally, we'll be returning polluting agricultural land to native forest, like it was before pākehā turned up and ruined the place. But at this stage of the climate crisis, any tree is better than a cow, and turning production pine into permanent forest - locking the gate and just walking away - is an acceptable alternative. The over-riding emphasis must be to get trees in the ground and cows off the land. And we can't let farmers' hurt feelings at the demise of their polluting lifestyle get in the way of that.