opinion

Anika Molesworth is a NSW farmer. She's sick of Barnaby Joyce speaking for rural Australians.

In times of drought, Anika Molesworth can walk along the tree-line of her sheep station in far west New South Wales to an eerie silence. 

There's usually birds. But when the water dries up, so does life. 

There are plenty of skeletons though; an awful reminder of what global warming can and is doing to our planet. 

Anika, a farmer and scientist based in Broken Hill, knows intimately what doing nothing about climate change means. She's seen it. She's studied it. She is fighting to change it. 

So is everyone she surrounds herself with in the rural farming and agriculture industries. They're desperate for action on climate. In fact, they're not waiting for politicians, they're pushing forward with change themselves. 

If you're a city dweller, this might be news to you. Because if you glanced across the headlines this week you would've seen a lot of shouting from the federal National Party about how they're being held "hostage" on climate, and how they're "fighting for jobs and industry in regional areas."

Watch: Labor is not confident the Morrison government and the Nationals will strike a deal that means anything. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC News Breakfast.
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The Federal Government is trying to commit Australia to 2050 net zero targets ahead of climate talks in Glasgow next week. At the moment, it's the Nats that are holding them back. 

At the heart of the Nationals' concerns is the impact of deeper emissions cuts on rural and regional jobs and industry, especially mining and farming. They are adamant the coal industry must be allowed to continue well into the 2050s. It's this statement in particular that Anika finds incredulous.

"It's not going to happen," she told Mamamia. "The way the world is going you've got to have your head fairly deep in the sand to think that's actually going to be happening - that there are going to be people buying our coal still. And I think it's incredibly dangerous to be putting that forward as a statement when the most vulnerable and exposed people to the impacts of climate change, are those living in rural communities.

"To actually put them into a position saying, 'Oh, yeah, you know, your industry will be fine, long into the future, you'll have that stable job...' When it's actually not going to be that way. It's putting them in a pathway of danger and putting them in a pathway of failure."

The rural communities Anika frequent know this. She says when you look across Australian society, it's actually the farmers and the agricultural sector that are some of the most progressive in this space asking for strong emissions reduction, and actually putting it upon themselves to step up and do something about it.

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The National Farmers Federation have already backed the net zero target. So has the Minerals Council.

Farmers For Climate Action want emission reductions to be hit by 2030, and the meat and livestock industry has already enforced their own targets of net zero for that earlier date.

"There is a very obvious gap between our climate ambition in the farming sector and rural communities and what we want to see in terms of climate action... and where the federal Nats are standing, and what they're doing to delay serious climate action," Anika told Mamamia.

"Farmers look out the front door, and they can see climate change in action. Drought, floods, bushfires, extreme temperature; they're not an abstract concept [for us]. These have a very real impact, which are hurting farmers today."

According to a 2021 Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences report, the average Australian farm is losing $30,000 a year thanks to climate change. They simply can't afford to wait for the government to stop dragging their feet.

Research is underway to look at reducing emissions from livestock through selective breeding and feed supplements, farmers are planting trees to increase biodiversity and they're looking at drawing carbon down and putting it back into the soil. In their world - it's all systems go. 

But as Anika explains, "the rate and the magnitude of climate change is actually beyond farm scale. And that's why we actually need national and global leadership on this. The greatest driver of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, so we absolutely need to be dealing with how we're producing energy as a major way out of this mess."

As the 33-year-old points out, Australia is one of the sunniest and windiest continents on earth, and we could not just be powering our own country with renewable energy, we could be a superpower in this space - exporting renewable energies around the world.

Anika lives and works on a sheep station near Broken Hill. She's also a scientist and a founding director of Farmers for Climate Action. Image: John Feder. 

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"And that, obviously, injects growth into rural communities. Because that's where these renewable energy projects actually roll out," she said.

"We have good people and good organisations working on this every single day and implementing those practices on the ground. So this is not an issue of technology or know-how, this is an issue of willpower and leadership and people stepping up and saying let's actually put in place those practices and those technologies to help fix the problem. And we can do that. Because this is a people's problem, and this will require a people solution."

For Anika, watching the Nationals be so vocal against climate change in the name of regional and rural communities, is exasperating. It's doing "serious reputational damage" to country folk.

"I think this divide [between the country and the city]... it's been stoked and carved up by a very small number of very vocal people in politics and media. And I think it's damaging, [it's] setting us up against each other. And I think that's unfortunate, because I think Australians are naturally very caring and supporting of each other."

Finally, on Thursday, the National Party reluctantly agreed to strike a deal if their list of demands to the Prime Minister are met. We don't know what they are yet, but they've agreed to come to some kind of arrangement. 

So it looks like we'll be going to Glasgow with something to show for ourselves, but a 2050 net zero target would only be the bare minimum.

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A Climate Council report this month ranked Australia the worst climate performer in the developed world, and will remain last even if we promise to get to that emissions target by 2050. 

Anika is confident we can be one of the best performers. We've just got to front up to the challenge, wean society off fossil fuels, adopt renewable energies, and actually support rural communities and people in energy-intensive industries; to transition, upskill, and move to new jobs of the future. 

The bottom line is, we don't really have a choice. A recent IPCC report issued a "red code" for humanity on this very issue. 

"Federal Australian politics has distanced and downplayed the science," Anika told Mamamia. "And that's to the detriment of our environment, our society, and our economy. 

"Business as usual doesn't work anymore. And not only is business as usual causing significant harm to the environment and to people, we're missing out on a huge range of opportunity."

Anika Molesworth is a farmer and agroecologist with a Masters of Sustainable Agriculture and a PhD in Agriculture and Environmental Management. She has been working in international agricultural development for the past six years, giving her a holistic perspective of farming and food system issues at a global scale. Her book Our Sunburnt Country, explores the correlation between the land, the climate and the food on our plates. You can purchase it here. 

Feature image: Anika Molesworth/Getty.  

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