Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Opinion: Vision needed to break destructive pattern of our groundhog day

Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day
Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies. In it, a cynical weather forecaster played by Bill Murray lives the same day over.

He first despairs at his situation and pursues various destructive behaviours. Then he begins to use his knowledge of how the day will unfold to help others. So he catches a falling boy and saves a choking man. When he changes his behaviour, people respond differently. The realisation dawns that he could be liked for who he really is. In nurturing this person, he finds peace, this being a romance, ends up with him getting the girl.

New Year is a bit like Groundhog Day. It's a fresh start, brimming with hope and potential. Unfortunately, unless we make a concerted effort to do otherwise, we quickly revert to semi-automatic living. Two elderly women I met over the festive period said (separately) they are glad to be nearing the end of the life rather than setting out.

They are scared for where the world seems to be going, that it's galloping towards a cliff. Syria is among a number of horrific humanitarian crises. Across the world, trust in traditional institutions is collapsing and various forms of radicalism rising. The European project is struggling politically which is very worrying for us economically. Once the EU's golden child, we've had to shoulder the banks bailout on our own.

However, the biggest concern, because it's the one that will ultimately affect all life on the planet, is climate change.

Last year, an Australian farmer Charles Massey wrote an inspirational paper about the potential for agriculture to become the key force in restoring Earth's ecological order.

Agriculture is the world's biggest land-user and the main source of income for most of the world's poor. But it is now pushing the planet on a number of fronts. Massey has made changes to his own thinking and embraced what is sometimes called "regenerative agriculture".

On his 4,500-acre farm on the Monaro tablelands in New South Wales, his shift from conventional agriculture has had "startling" effects, both ecologically and economically. Through trapping more rain, they grow more diverse vegetation. Sheep and cattle are healthier. Grasshopper plagues are no more, yet other biodiversity has exploded. He points out that similar results have been achieved elsewhere, in Africa and the Americas. Healthy landscape function has been restored.

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Why are we not hearing more about this? Given the choice, any farmer would obviously prefer to farm economically... and harmoniously. It might not be something that vested business would be putting resources into but what about our government, especially given the challenge in meeting our climate change commitments?

Massey quotes environmental historian Tim Flannery who, in his 2010 book Here on Earth pointed out that most of the great civilizations of the past - including Mesopotamia, China, and around the Mediterranean - fell because they overwhelmed their natural resources. All evidence today points to an even more spectacular collapse.

There is a tendency to view anyone who strays off the conventional line as some kind of a crank. The world needs more vision and courage... And maybe more cranks. Happy New Year.

Indo Farming