THIRD generation Harcourt farmer Katie Finlay says harvests have become more unpredictable over the 20 years she has worked her family’s land.
“Dad had been through droughts, sure, but it’s the extremes,” she said.
“Not long after I got home (20 years ago) we went into the Millennial Drought. We’d never had anything like that. Since then, we’ve had the wettest year, the driest year, the biggest flood. It’s just ridiculous.”
Extreme weather was forcing farmers to change how they operated as new research forecasts the chaotic impact of climate change.
A Climate Council report released this week warned greenhouse gasses had created a “new normal” in Australia, with temperatures nudging 50 degrees, more bushfires and the risk of more cardiac arrests during heatwaves.
Ever more extreme weather events were costing greater amounts of money, the report stated.
The nation’s insurance companies paid out more than $1.2 billion in claims following 2018’s extreme weather events, the Climate Council found, while the current drought in eastern Australia was forecast to cut the country’s GDP growth by $12.5 billion by the end of the financial year.
It came as NASA published data linking greenhouse gas emissions to unprecedented heat in every part of the world.
Last year’s global surface temperature was the fourth hottest since records began in 1880, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies scientists found.
While surface temperatures were lower than 2017’s, the last five years were collectively the hottest on record, Goddard Institute director Gavin Schmidt said, and the average across the global surface had risen one degree since the 1880s.
Bendigo recently smashed records for both hottest January day and highest monthly mean temperatures, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. So did Echuca and Maryborough.
There were fears 2019 was shaping as another difficult year for those working the land in many parts of the country, Farmers for Climate Action CEO Verity Morgan-Schmidt said.
She called for national action from all sides of politics.
Other people were more specific about who needed to shape up.
Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said the federal government’s policies had been an “abject failure” and called for a “credible national policy” to drive down greenhouse gas production in agriculture, land use transport and industry.
“The Coalition government has been in power for five years and it has obstructed action on climate change while extreme weather worsens. It’s unconscionable,” she said.
Australia was not on track to push down greenhouse gas pollution by 45-65 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, as the Climate Change Authority recommended in 2015, the Climate Council’s report stated. Nor was Australia on track to meet its weaker 26-28 per cent reduction target.
Environment minister Melissa Price said Australia was “making progress” on its 2030 targets and was on track for those coming up next year.
She said the government had a range of policies to address climate change including an Emissions Reduction Fund to drive low-cost emission reductions; and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – a “green bank” with access to $10 billion to invest on Australia’s behalf.
Mrs Finlay said farmers had been talking about climate change for a long time, but those who believed it was real and caused by humans were becoming more common.
“Even 10 years ago you still were out on a limb in ascribing things that happened in the environment to climate change,” she said.
“Now it’s so much more accepted.”
They were also changing how they operated to withstand more extreme weather, Mrs Finlay said, though not many had taken the path she had.
While her father only had orchards, Mrs Finlay and husband Hugh last year founded a co-op on their land.
Now the land was worked by four enterprises, including a market garden, a fruit tree nursery, the orchard and a soon to open micro-dairy.
“We can’t protect ourselves completely from a massive storm or fires. But we are preparing as well as we can,” Mrs Finlay said.
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