Feel­ing ef­fects of four-fold hu­man ex­pan­sion in 90 years

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COMMENT - Stephen Cado­gan

Does the EU’S Joint Re­search Cen­tre sci­ence and knowl­edge ser­vice know some­thing we don’t, when they pre­dict livestock farm­ing will de­cline by 2030 in Ire­land, the Nether­lands, the UK, Aus­tria, Latvia, Es­to­nia, Swe­den and Fin­land, while ex­pand­ing in Poland, the Czech Re­pub­lic and Slo­vakia?

Their re­port en­ti­tled Trends in the EU Agri­cul­tural Land Within 2015-2030 looks at trends in acreages for livestock pro­duc­tion, ex­ten­sive livestock, mixed crop-livestock sys­tems, arable crop, and rice pro­duc­tion in each mem­ber state.

Across the EU, arable land and livestock graz­ing are ex­pected to de­cline by 4% and 2.6%, re­spec­tively. Mixed crops are ex­pected to ex­pand by 11%.

From 2015 to 2030, arable crops are ex­pected to en­large by more than 20% in Bel­gium, the Baltic States, Spain and Malta, while shrink­ing in Slo­vakia and Ger­many. The JRC’S pre­dic­tions are prob­a­bly as good as any­one’s, at a time when cli­mate change, green­house gas mit­i­ga­tion, Brexit, trade wars, and other fac­tors make it harder than ever to tell the fu­ture. One of the more un­usual JRC pre­dic­tions is ex­pan­sion of more than 15% of agri­cul­tural land in Scot­land, Swe­den, Fin­land, Es­to­nia and Latvia, ow­ing to (pre­sum­ably favourable) cli­mate change. As for Ire­land, with the high­est share of all mem­ber states for livestock farm­ing, at over 80%, per­haps the JRC reck­ons the only way is down. Maybe the Joint Re­search Cen­tre is telling Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Phil Ho­gan what he’d like to hear. He re­cently gave some ex­am­ples to il­lus­trate the scale of the en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenge in EU farm­ing. Speak­ing in Dublin, he said agri­cul­ture ac­counts for 10% of emis­sions across the EU, but here in Ire­land the fig­ure is 33%. Then he turned to the Nether­lands, say­ing they have had to re­duce their dairy herd by around 122,000 cows in nine months, cut­ting the milk sup­ply by 1.5%, to cope with their phos­phate prob­lem. In Den­mark, said the Com­mis­sioner, dairy and pig­meat ac­count for al­most 90% of car­bon emis­sions from agri­cul­ture, whereas the share of pro­duc­tion value and share of em­ploy­ment for these prod­ucts com­pared to the to­tal agri­cul­ture sec­tor is only onethird. He said the EU agri-food sec­tor, and specif­i­cally the dairy sec­tor, must also rise to the chal­lenge of 60% of wa­ter bod­ies not achiev­ing “good” wa­ter qual­ity sta­tus.

Our own En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency also summed up the sit­u­a­tion well re­cently.

It said it took 3.5 bil­lion years be­fore mul­ti­celled life ap­peared on our planet, an­other 525 mil­lion years be­fore the first hu­man walked the Earth. But our num­bers have grown nearly four-fold, by 5.5 bil­lion, in only 90 years. Each of us is us­ing more and more, ex­haust­ing fi­nite re­sources, and de­plet­ing those oth­er­wise sus­tain­able. We have more than halved the num­ber of ver­te­brates since only 1970, with sev­eral species be­com­ing ex­tinct each hour, which adds up to the great­est and fastest mass ex­tinc­tion the planet has ever seen. The fi­nal blow is cli­mate change. For 350 mil­lion years, car­bon diox­ide was drawn down by our biomass and locked away as fos­sil fu­els. We only started burn­ing these about 250 years ago, with most of the growth in re­sul­tant emis­sions of green­house gases oc­cur­ring in the last 50 years. Trap­ping long wave ra­di­a­tion, en­ergy is be­ing added to our at­mos­phere at a rate equiv­a­lent to a few Hiroshima bombs per sec­ond.

And as en­ergy in our at­mos­phere makes ‘weather’, ex­treme weather is be­com­ing more se­ri­ous and fre­quent. But should or­di­nary peo­ple pay for the sins of big busi­ness? Staff in the cli­mate change unit of Ire­land’s De­part­ment of Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture and Re­form have noted the dif­fi­culty of per­suad­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of farm­ers, 2m road users, and own­ers of 1.7m homes and about 200,000 com­mer­cial prop­er­ties to in­di­vid­u­ally re­duce green­house gas emis­sions, com­pared to per­suad­ing our 103 big power and in­dus­trial com­pa­nies which pro­duce just over 25% of to­tal emis­sions in Ire­land.

“One of the more un­usual JRC pre­dic­tions is ex­pan­sion of more than 15% of agri­cul­tural land in Scot­land, Swe­den, Fin­land, Es­to­nia and Latvia, ow­ing to (pre­sum­ably change” favourable) cli­mate

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