Farming group labels new climate change teaching resource 'simplistic, counterproductive'

A new climate change teaching resource has come under fire from Federated Farmers who claim it presents an unbalanced view of the issue.

The new Ministry of Education resource for students in years 7-10, tells them climate scientists agree that "humanity is responsible for the vast majority of the enhanced greenhouse effect". 

It includes lessons on Greta Thunberg, dealing with "scepticism", understanding feelings about climate change, and advice to eat less meat.

Federated Farmers' climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said introducing children to the science behind climate change is positive and worthwhile, but it needs to be balanced.

"Teachers will need to present and explain the pros and cons of various courses of action in response to global warming, and in particular guard against the lessons fostering feelings of panic or hopelessness," said Hoggard.

He said while much of the material in the 'Prepare today, live well tomorrow' teacher resource was instructive and compelling, he claimed some of it was misleading. 

Andrew Hoggard said much of the material in the 'Prepare today, live well tomorrow' teacher resource was instructive and compelling.
Andrew Hoggard said much of the material in the 'Prepare today, live well tomorrow' teacher resource was instructive and compelling. Photo credit: Newshub

"For example, there's a section that urges people to buy local food and products as they haven't had to travel so far in a vehicle which uses fossil fuels."

He said the suggestion was simplistic, as New Zealand produce had a low environmental footprint.

"Per kilogram of protein, produce from New Zealand farmers can reach consumers in most parts of the world with a lower greenhouse gas/environmental footprint than is achieved by many local producers."

The resource also implied eating red meat was wrong and environmentally damaging, he said.

"Again, that's a misleading generalisation here unless other factors are explained, including nutritional needs, that New Zealand doesn't have the industrial livestock feedlots common in some other parts of the world, and that we have a role in another pressing challenge facing humankind - hunger in a growing world population."

A United Nations report on the effects of climate change last year said global meat consumption needed to fall to curb global warming, reduce growing strain on land and water and improve food security, health and biodiversity.

It called for big changes to farming and eating habits to limit the impact of population growth and changing consumption patterns on stretched land and water resources.

Federated Farmers wanted to see more input from farmers to the new teaching resource.

"Schools could invite farmers to come in and talk to students or even better they could get on board with the 'Open Farm' programme and kids could visit farms to see for themselves what happens there." 

Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw told Magic Talk's Sean Plunket the resource, modelled on a trial at New Brighton School in Christchurch, was based on science.

The pilot had been picked up by the Ministry of Education and was supported by organisations including NASA, NIWA, and National Geographic for Kids, among others. 

"We're getting a lot of demand from teachers so the fact that there were some resources that had been developed, once it was piloted and some changes were made, it seemed appropriate to be rolling out," Shaw said. 

The Ministry for the Environment said nearly half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture.

The main source of agriculture emissions was methane from livestock digestive systems, which made up almost three-quarters of agriculture emissions. 

The next largest source was nitrous oxide from nitrogen added to soils, followed by manure management.