As a society, we need to understand the nature of the threats we face so that we can develop strategies to help us survive and prosper as our world changes around us. Whether those changes are due to climate, fuel availability or different cultures, it is in our own interests to understand them. In Australia, it has become abundantly clear that we can ill afford to wait for our governments to take action to protect us. It seems they prefer to deny there are problems, perhaps to avoid their having to do anything, perhaps because they haven’t got the faintest idea what to do, or perhaps because they are hopelessly compromised to large corporate donors.
Drifting focus – losing organisational memory
As our societies have solved various difficulties over time, government priorities have moved on to help us to deal with new questions. Shifting government priorities away from problems already solved has allowed our societies to keep moving into newer areas that assist the members of our society to improve in other ways. In this way, we’ve tended to move from overarching and fundamental problems like public health and food production, to addressing other questions like supporting chosen industries and changing our terms of trade. One result is that we have ended up with public services that have little competence or knowledge of how basic industries such as food production actually work, while having in-depth skills in law, administration and security.
But as climate conditions change and threaten our basic needs, such as water and food, our governments are not able to reprioritise our resource allocations, often preferring to deny the severity of any problems. Our politicians have to face many internal public service voices and external lobbyists arguing for their own requirements. Given the highly bureaucratic nature of Australia’s government systems, it could take many years for government to acquire the skills and systems to recognise the threats, let alone develop effective responses.
For example, due to the drought much of our land that was suitable for food production may no longer support that activity, due to a lack of water for irrigation. To assure our own food supplies, we need to change both our water priorities and our land use priorities. The ability to produce our own food is a vital strategic capacity and we are losing it at an alarming rate. Much of the Murray Darling is now under threat, our dairy industry is collapsing, our beef growers cannot get feed and our sheep flock levels have dropped to levels of 1925. It is clear that our governments are not organised to deal with these problems, in part because the voice of the food producers is now swamped by more recent priorities, e.g. growing pulpwood.
The drought is highlighting various inter-related problems, including whether our food producing sector can provide sufficient food for our needs and whether our food producers themselves can survive and prosper.
Sadly other government programs, with priorities unrelated to our physiological needs, are impeding our ability to feed ourselves. Examples of this include water use priorities that exclude watering vegetable gardens, and tax priorities that deliver financial incentives for converting progressively scarcer food production land into low productivity tree plantations.
In Tasmania, the proliferation of the plantation estate has 4 strongly negative characteristics:
• Plantations take large amounts of water from catchments thereby reducing water availability to other more essential and productive uses; and
• MIS funded farm buyouts for plantations are reducing the area of land available for food production; and
• Tree plantations have multiple negative impacts on adjacent properties (e.g. over spraying, pests) that can compromise the production of healthy foods and medicines; and
• Rural community services start to collapse as food producers leave areas and annual cash flow from their activities dries up.
State government priorities are with trees, not food production. The PAL Act being supported by Councils effectively prevents farmers from building their houses on their own land, allows several hundred metres setback for spray drift and defines trees as an agricultural crop. Overall, the impact of PAL is to favour the subsidised conversion of food producing land to tree farms.
So here we are, in a drying climate, losing our food producing lands to drought and tree farms, with governments who do not appear to even comprehend the nature of the problem. We are faced with inept governments who are keen to spend our tax money on Abrams battle tanks and F22 Raptors but do not have any coherent plan to protect our strategic ability to feed ourselves.
Equally important, they have no plan on how to deal with the rural populations that will be displaced as Wilson Tuckey’s vision of Tasmania as the ‘plantation estate’ is brought to fruition. The state government’s claims that a majority supported the pulp mill are now seen as totally wrong after the Hobart council poll showed 74% in Hobart opposed the government’s handling of the pulp mill process. Yet our Premier insists that he won’t be driven by popular opinion. What does he think a democracy is supposed to be?
What you can do
Get fit and maintain your health as best you can. Our health system is rapidly becoming a health hazard itself and being forced to use it is a constant threat to your survival.
Install some means of collecting and storing rainwater that you can use for your own purposes, such as growing food.
Grow your own food if possible. A few well chosen pots on a veranda can keep you in tomatoes, or chillies or anything else that you care to grow. For greater productivity, put a lattice up against the wall of your house and you can grow climbers like beans.
If you have land, even if it’s just a small back garden, consider growing more of your own food this year. Gardening will help keep you fit and help to control your expenditures as food starts to both escalate in price and become scarce. If you’ve got more space, consider chickens and other sources of protein, such as rabbits.
If you are adversely affected by your Council’s implementation of the PAL Act, start documenting what has happened to you along with your Council’s actions. There is every chance that the actions of the Council may be invalid and could be challenged effectively at law by those impacted, probably as a class action. Keep your evidence, it may come in very useful. Talk to others about your actions and problems.
Support your local food producers by buying from them direct at the gate or at farmers markets or in local stores that support our farmers.
Create or join local networks to help trade goods and food.
Help stimulate the development of slow food businesses.
Get serious about electing Council aldermen who have some commitment to helping the community. If there’s no-one like that, consider running for Council yourself.
Develop waste and unused land into community gardens that help people to feed themselves.
Press your Council to support our food producers instead of tree farms.
Put constant pressure on politicians is to adjust land use priorities away from pulpwood and towards food production.
Get involved in local and state political movements and demand appropriate priorities that support our food producers and other key life needs, like water.
Query state budget priorities that subsidise large corporations while leaving our hospitals and schools under funded.
Pressure federal politicians to abandon tax subsidies for tree plantations. It is these MIS that are fuelling the conversion of rural food production lands into tree farms and fuelling logging industry profits.
Press federal politicians to stop corporate subsidies and instead fully fund water and food infrastructures and devise ways of distributing foods that do not require heavy fuel use (food mile reductions).
Press federal politicians to conduct national food production capability and water audits so we can better understand the threats and opportunities that we face.
Ask your federal politician whether our ability to feed ourselves is a strategic priority – many of them are saying we can buy our food from overseas. If that happens, how much will you pay? Answer: as much as the suppliers can squeeze out of you!
Other ideas are keenly sought.
State government priorities are with trees, not food production. The PAL Act being supported by Councils effectively prevents farmers from building their houses on their own land, allows several hundred metres setback for spray drift and defines trees as an agricultural crop. Overall, the impact of PAL is to favour the subsidised conversion of food producing land to tree farms. So here we are, in a drying climate, losing our food producing lands to drought and tree farms, with governments who do not appear to even comprehend the nature of the problem. We are faced with inept governments who are keen to spend our tax money on Abrams battle tanks and F22 Raptors but do not have any coherent plan to protect our strategic ability to feed ourselves.
( Earlier: Another ray of light )