Guest Post: Twice Net Zero

A guest post by Owen Jennings:

One of the many undertakings arising from the COP26 discussions is the target of “net zero emissions”.  Minister James Shaw was quoted in the Herald (5.12.21) as wanting “net zero emissions for farmers in New Zealand”.

Well, Minister, you have your want.  NZ farmers have already achieved net zero emissions.  It’s done and dusted.  It is big news.  It should be all over our media………..

New Zealand Farmers Hit Net Zero Emissions ahead of Target Date

But……….  It doesn’t fit the narrative.  Its not about robust science. We cant have facts getting the way of the “fear porn” and the “conversation” we are having about farmers being polluters.  It would get in the way of the “ban meat and milk” meme.

Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away. Pretty obvious?  Of course.

This is the test according the Minister Shaw. If an emission causes the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas to increase it is causing global warming and is not at net zero. If the emission does not cause any atmospheric greenhouse gas to increase it is not causing global warming and is at net zero.

Farmers, through their stock put ruminant methane into the atmosphere.  Most of that methane is oxidised and gone inside 12 years.  It is a short lived gas compared to CO2 which apparently has a much longer life.  The difference in longevity is why the “split gas” approach has been widely adopted.  Comparing methane and CO2 is “apples and onions”.

The emissions of ruminant methane in NZ have been relatively stable for 50 years or more and declining steadily since 2005.  Here is how the Climate Change Commission saw it.  The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment fully agrees.

That’s very clear.  No additional methane entering the atmosphere, even a slight, steady reduction.  There is slightly more going out than as is entering the atmosphere.  In schoolkid language if there are 100 people entering a room and 102 leaving the room there are fewer in the room. Hardly complicated maths.  By any definition farmers are achieving NET zero emissions.

But wait, there’s more!!

For Betsy to belch a molecule of methane she had to chew through a heap of grass.  Remember that 3rd form science stuff about photosynthesis?  That grass comes from CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere.  Farmers remove heaps of CO2 every day.  They can’t produce one lot of what we stupidly label “carbon” – CO2 – without removing an equivalent amount.  Call it “zero, net zero emissions”.

Here is a bit or irony.  We pay overseas investors handsomely in taxpayer’s cash to buy our land, kick the animals off, run down local communities and plant trees so they can offset their CO2 emissions.   But farmers who offset their carbon emissions get taxed.  What sort of world is that?

Farmers have been around long enough to know that net zero emissions is more a political game than a scientifically based reality.  When senior UN officials say it’s less about the environment and more about getting rid of capitalism farmers know they need to play their political cards.  They know there are countries dying to find an excuse to put tariffs on our goods if we don’t join the ‘reduce emissions’ game.  That’s why they are spending literally millions breeding stock with fewer methane belches, creating seaweed additives to limit methane emissions and researching new grasses that help.  Afterall it will be technology, not taxes, that fixes this “problem”.

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