Opinion: The value of meaningful protest

  • Opinion
  • 29/05/2019

By Gavin Forrest

OPINION: I value the right to protest. Without protest and people standing up for a better society or against threats to their current way of life many of my friends would not be able to exist in the way they do today.

Farming wouldn't  be the way it is today if it were not for the actions of those who came before us.  

While still in shock farmers protested in the streets of Wellington against a background of having subsides ripped from them with little to no consultation and at breakneck speed in the 1980s.

Through these trying circumstances farmers had to work out, pretty much by themselves, on how they were going to survive as farmers.

Farmers have come out the other end stronger and producing a much wider variety of products than before.

The move to an unsubsidised world for the primary sector was greatly assisted by the removal of a wide range of support across other sectors of the economy that was eventually brought into place.

There is now greater access to food and food types than ever before from within New Zealand and from across the world. Good food is no longer just the domain of the super rich. New Zealand food producers have done exceptionally well. 

New Zealanders are great at leading the world in protesting against discrimination or for a better future, particularly the fight for equal rights for women and the outlawing discrimination based on race, religious beliefs and sexuality.  

Farmers are also known to protest. New Zealand farmers have taken tractors to Parliament to fight a fart tax.

There were those in rural who launched the orange ribbon protest against the Government seeking to force access across private land without compensation or, a protest that I was part of against the US imposing a levy on imported New Zealand lamb to promote their own product. 

As last week's climate protesters age they will understand the greater issues that lie at the causation of potential for a mass extinction event, climate change, we all now find ourselves in. 

The cause is not cows burping (or farting for that matter). Farming is just being painted as a convenient bogeyman. The cause though is far more obvious and is hiding in plain sight.

It's the very economic structures West and East Government's exist on. It's the conversion of fossil fuels such as petrol and coal to Carbon Dioxide that is the elephant in the room.

So options about what to do are limited. The best and most tangible way we can combat and plan to adapt to a future altered by climate change is to start looking at what we are consuming.

We need to make informed choices about what we can do to reduce our own greenhouse gas footprint.  It will take bold leadership to increase the proportion of New Zealand's energy use from renewable sources - current use is approximately 40 percent.  

How much of our electricity is renewable is largely irrelevant - we need to start assessing, planning and building now. 

New Zealand farmers are already playing their part in maintaining and restoring their environments and are already close to carbon zero.  

If we can make small reductions to the amount of grass we grow and feed to our animals then that could mean pastoral farming's methane emissions would make no further contribution to global warming.

But the current drum beating that suggests the pastoral sector can halve its methane emissions - that can only be achieved by halving the size of the sector.  

This will achieve minimal long-term climate change gains but will have a dramatic and painful effect on all New Zealander's standard of living. 

People need to start questioning who really stands to gain if New Zealand farming is cut off at the knees.

Who does that serve? Who will feed New Zealanders if it's not New Zealanders? How will we earn overseas fund to pay for our cars, TVs and smart phones and to pay for technologies needed to move to a green economy? 

Those that protest for action on climate change need to look close to home first. We need to take meaningful action but not panic and make knee jerk decisions.  

Gavin Forrest is Federated Farmers Policy and Advocacy General Manager.