CONFERENCE: FARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
‘Water is the new oil’
A major conference on the effects of Climate Change on Farming in Ireland and abroad was held in Kilkenny College on Saturday 4 October 2015 under the auspices of the Environmental Committee of the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory.
The Chairperson of the Committee, the Venerable Andrew Orr, said the conference would ask about the Christian response to issues of climate change and rural life: ‘the future of our planet depends on reducing carbon emissions. How that can be matched with the need to produce more food for a growing population is one of the challenges which faces us all. The Christian response to these issues needs to be discussed and heard’.
The conference was divided into several sections with presentations from invited speakers, a musical interlude and concluded with a question and answer forum.
The Conference was opened by the Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows who welcomed everyone: those of all denominations and also those from the political world who on the day might lay aside their individual party views to consider the issues that concerns every single person on the planet. In his inimitable way he quipped that he never preached on the subject of the weather as he could never be right either with prediction or by being in agreement with his flock.
Professor John Sweeney:
The Conference quickly moved into action with a presentation from its keynote speaker Professor John Sweeney from NUI Maynooth. Now retired Professor Sweeney is much in demand speaking on climate change and is a member of The Inter-governmental Panel on climate change, which was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007 for their work.
Professor Sweeney with the aid of maps showed his audience where the world was heading in the next number of years and how it was the underdeveloped countries that were going to suffer most from global warming. He reckoned we had about 30 years to rectify matters, to reverse the trend. Use of fossil fuels over the last 150 years was largely the cause since the Industrial Revolution with increasing carbon emissions. These were quickly running out and when they gone – they were gone!
Ireland too, he said would experience climate change and while would not suffer extensive flooding such as Bangladesh, would be noticeably warmer, especially inland. He suggested that while wheat and other cereals might do slightly better, crops such as potatoes which depend on wetter summers, might not be suitable for Ireland any more. Kilkenny, traditionally with its micro-Mediterranean type climate would be considerably hotter.
He was sceptical about the drive to produce more beef and dairy products in Ireland, as more cattle inevitably meant more methane emissions, despite Ireland’s low carbon production methods.
Ms Lydia Monds from the Church of Ireland aid agency Bishops’ Appeal showed the assembled company the effects of climate change already prevalent in Africa and expanded on her time there and the work being done to help underdeveloped areas and the ways in which crops can be best nurtured in such deteriorating conditions.
During the interval, Mr Malcolm Noonan, from the erstwhile Green Party sang some relevant folk songs. Having heard these presentations, the final part of the afternoon was given over to an open forum.
This was expertly chaired by Cllr David Fitzgerald FG along with a panel that included Mr Harold Kingston, IFA spokesperson on the environment and rural affairs, former Government minister Mr Trevor Sargent, Ms Lydia Monds, local well known farmer of organic cultivation Mr Rod Calder- Potts and Professor John Sweeney.
Questions and comments came thick and fast between panel and audience and at times became quite heated as the debate ranged over agricultural issues in Ireland, there being many representatives from the sector present.
All agreed that everyone on the planet was entitled to clean water, whatever about the costs. Such life supporting facilities varies hugely between the developed, comfortable world and the often struggling developing countries. Such areas are constrained by severe climates and large populations.
There was much debate on the question of agriculture, specifically relating to Ireland which is primarily an agricultural country where one in four are involved in the industry. The centre of the debate was the Government’s Harvest 2020 plan: can we reduce emissions if we are also driving up production?
Other issues raised included diversity, level of price and profit, transportation of foodstuffs and the pros and cons of organic farming. Sustainability is also very important
It was underlined that the use of land is vital; controversially, Prof. Sweeney said ‘it is erroneous to think that the farmer owns the land. He merely looks after it in such a way that he eventually hands it on in as good, if not better condition than he inherited it.’
The ethical issue:
The Christian’s role is to help alleviate poverty and care for the poor. Bishops’ Appeal has spearheaded this in underdeveloped places in the world since its inception in the 1970s. The church must continue to maintain an active role and not simply be a self-preservation church and become an irrelevancy. It must shoulder responsibility and not be afraid to ‘rock the boat.’ In the same way the United Nations have too look globally, not locally.
Finally Cllr Fitzgerald asked the panel, having heard the views of the audience and from their own experience, did they have a feeling of optimism.
They all agreed that internationally the debate has widened and made people and countries aware of the urgency. BUT… Time is running out. Those who live ‘comfortably’ at the expense of those who do not, have to come to the realisation that they will have to give up those luxuries that they enjoy but that are rapidly destroying the atmosphere and earth of the planet.
There will have to be a vision for greater efficiency – smart farming for instance. The earth is suffering from the desecration of the last new decades in particular. Within 20 years there will be nothing to burn, the earth will have reached the dangerous level of another two degrees centigrade and disruptive weather patterns will become more widespread, causing mass destruction, especially in the poorer areas of the world.
In conclusion and appropriately in Kilkenny College Cllr Fitzgerald referred to Dean Jonathan Swift who said: ‘Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.’
The Ven. Andrew Orr thanked everyone for coming, especially the invited guests and rounded off the afternoon sending all out into the suffering earth reflecting on the biblical context: ‘Stewardship and caring means that change is essential.’