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Owen Jennings: Critical questions

A number of critically important questions have been raised in recent discussions I have had with farmers about their greenhouse gas emissions. They deserve answers. The mainstream media ignore them preferring to bag the farming community saying they are getting off lightly and are not meeting their responsibilities.

Question 1. Why is Article 2 (b) of the Paris Agreement ignored when it states clearly that countries should not reduce food production in their pursuit of emission goals? Proposals that will reduce production by 15% or more violate the Agreement.

Question 2. Why are we taking unilateral action that will cut production in NZ that has the planet’s lowest carbon footprint when we know that other countries, with a worse record, will make up the shortfall leading to increased emissions overall?

Question 3. Why is 1990 used as a base date for measuring ruminant emissions when methane emissions only last 9 to 10 years in the atmosphere? Isn’t that deceptive? The Climate Change Commission showed clearly ruminant methane emissions are stable or falling slightly since 2005 which means farmers have achieved ‘net zero’ and are actually contributing to cooling the planet. The amount of methane from the farm in the atmosphere is falling. Farmers are heroes not villains.


Did I read it wrongly when the Climate Commission said if ruminant methane emissions are stable, as they are now in NZ, then no new warming is occurring? The only reason the Commission could muster up to tax farmers seems to emerge from their inability to find a way to reduce fossil fuel CO2.

Question 4. How come we can afford to subsidise huge, wealthy offshore corporations to plant trees to suck up CO2 and in the same breath tax farmers who suck up methane to grow grass? Isn’t that hypocritical? Farmers sequester CO2 into the soil, in meat and milk and a small percentage gets burped back into the air. They are doing us all a favour and we penalise them. It's that natural CO2 cycle we learnt in college where photosynthesis uses CO2 to grow plants and grass.

Question 5. Why do many scientists, the green lobbyists, the media and politicians focus on gas concentration, volumes of greenhouse gas and molecule strength and not on warming? Isn’t it warming of temperatures that is supposed to be the problem? Telling us that a methane molecule is 32 times more potent than a CO2 molecule tells us nothing about warming. For starters it overlooks the fact that there are very few of those molecules in the atmosphere anyway. On any one typical day over New Zealand H2O molecules, the overlooked greenhouse gas, out-number ruminant methane molecules 60,000/70,000 to one.

Omitting recent falling trends in ruminant methane and failing to admit its short 10 year life makes it look suspiciously like a con job. And my farming friends tell me many of their leaders have fallen into the trap of going along with the politics, ignoring the science.

Question 6. Why have recent science findings been ignored. Science is never ‘settled’. It evolves. New work shows that methane is a poor absorber of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. Methane has narrow absorption peaks in the 7 to 8 micron range, its only relevant bands. At the other minor absorption peaks for methane there is very little energy emitted by earth into that spectral region. This work by Wijngaarden and Happer has not been challenged or refuted. It downgrades methane as a greenhouse gas and as ruminant methane is only 14 – 15% of all methane it means we are wasting time and resources chasing farmers for something that is not a real problem.

Question 7. Do we really want the truth as a nation, as a community, as individuals or are we just playing political games willing to throw farmers under the bus to be the first, the biggest and brightest of the world’s climate warriors?

Why can’t we have a sensible discussion to get to the truth? Why won't the media help us find the reality? Why are we not, New Zealanders first and foremost, defending ourselves, supporting our farmers who bankroll the economy rather than blindly rushing to bag them?

Owen Jennings is a former ACT MP. Before entering politics, Jennings was a farmer. He was active in New Zealand Federated Farmers, becoming its National President in 1990 and served three years. Prior to this he was National Dairy Section Chairman.

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