250 attendees at Yass conference on Climate Action

Over 220 delegates attended the Yass Boorowa Landcare conference held on the 25th May 2018.

A great turnout to hear from 4 speakers:
Dr Bradley Opdyke – paleoclimatologist from the Australian National University School of Science,
Dr Charles Massy – Monaro based sheep producer and author of The Call of the Reed Warbler, Dr Christine Jones – a soils consultant and founder of Amazing Carbon, and
Dr Siwan Lovett – a sociologist and a natural resource manager with the Australian River Restoration Centre.

The conference tone was established creatively by Welcome to Country, Wally Bell. Wally took the audience into the culture of his people and explained that spirit looks after land and people and that ancestral spirit looks after spiritual life.

He said: “We are here for a short while before returning to the spirit world.”

He spoke of the spirits present in the room and how they ask that you look after country whilst here. He then banged sticks together until they were of the right sound at which point he concluded that spirits were present. The story line was different to most welcome to country – and yet more powerful too for its explanation.

Following the Welcome to Country the conference began. The main points made from the speakers were:

Dr Bradley Opdyke:

Dr Opdyke spoke on what climate change would mean to the Yass district. To arrive at a comment on Yass, Dr Opdyke spoke about Darwin and how the tropical north will get more rain and for longer periods. This will impact on the temperate Yass region which will mean more rain in summer (and probably more torrential in nature possibly as high as 1000mm a year) and less rain in winter when winter crops are sown and grown. This could mean torrential rain in late afternoon which is a characteristic of the tropical north.

Dr Opdyke said that climate change is not linear – which makes it so terrifying and hard to predict. He indicated that as the sea temperature rises the amount of energy goes up exponentially and therefore the capacity for damage is commensurate with this.

On Lake George he indicated that at one time hundreds of years ago it had 25 meters of water to the extent that water overflowed into the Yass River. He indicated that the lake will fill again as part of the cycle of climate.

On methane Dr Opdyke indicated that since methane is 21 times more potent than CO2 the possibility of frozen reservoirs in the artic thawing and releasing CH4 into the atmosphere was a frightening scenario.

In a plenary session at the end of the conference Dr Opdyke had, literally, the final word when he indicated that on present CO2 levels and projections the temperature could increase by at least 3 degrees and perhaps more. This seemed to send a chill through the audience.

Dr Charlie Massy:

Dr Massy delivered a fascinating talk based on his popular book The Call of the Reed Warbler. Importantly, he stated firmly that regenerative agriculture is the solution and industrial agriculture is the villain.
He indicated that there is an underground sense of urgency with farmers setting the pace on how to farm carbon and maintain profits and output by doing it. He said that part of the solution is to develop a higher level of ecological literacy in agriculture right across the board. (The AIEA endorses this sentiment). He said the issue is one of changing the real estate we have between our ears and without this happening appropriate change will stall (Again another tick from the Institute).

Dr Massy indicated that industrial agriculture has nature as the enemy whereas the reverse attitude needs to apply. By far the strongest comment was reserved for glyphosate and its capacity to do damage to human wellbeing. In a frightening statistic Dr Massy pointed out that 1 billion tonnes of glyphosate are applied each year and that its impact is not as benign as its supporters might claim.

Charles Massy finished his talk with a question: “The moral of the story is to determine what sort of world we want to leave our children?!” (Amen to that)

Dr Christine Jones:

Dr Jones focus was on soil carbon and in this context she began by relating the story of George Augustine Robinson of the 1840s who as documented was able to push a stick into the ground by about 2 feet and this was even after 90 days without rain. She then referred to a Paul Strzelecki and his findings from 1839-1843 when the 10 highest soils had organic matter ranging from 11-37.75% with an average of 20%.

The 10 lowest had an average of 3.72 %. This meant there was an 18 fold difference in water holding capacity between the highest and lowest. This emphasised the point behind the story – that organic carbon is a key determinant of soil water. (I did not record the location of this experiment).

Dr Jones said that we have simplified the landscape and reduced the diversity of plants. Green plants support microbes that create well-structured friable top soil with high nutrient status and high water holding capacity.

Dr Jones indicted that the quantity of microbes in the soils is similar to the human body and that when we apply chemicals to the soil we destroy their numbers and types.

The critical issue is to enhance plant matter and to this extent she advocates planting herbs and flowers into crops to build the green matter base which can then be ploughed in. She showed a slide of sunflowers, for example, growing amongst sugarcane. Dr Jones said that soil structure will respond quickly and the story of George Robinson could then become more common.

In relation to the nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers  – Dr Jones spoke of the need to wean ourselves off these two elements. As far as phosphorus was concerned the recommendation is to encourage the breakdown of iron, aluminium and calcium phosphates by building up the soil microbes. It is they that deliver phosphorus to the plant (in exchange for plant root exudates).

Dr Siwan Lovell:

The message here was social rather than technical. Dr Lovell made the point that information does not lead to change. Emotional engagement is needed to achieve this outcome and not rational thought. In her talk she referenced Alice Bows-Larkin and her TED talk. This is well worth watching and to do so go to:

Dr Lovell listed 10 principles to achieve HOPE. They are in brief:

  1. Develop a new language for climate change.
  2. Accept uncertainty  – The lens of fear magnifies uncertainty.
  3. Keep learning: science + experience = understanding.
  4. Work with nature.
  5. Value natural and social capital.
  6. Educate and empower women and girls.
  7. Share knowledge and experience.
  8. Be the leader you want to follow.
  9. Seek connection with people and place.
  10. Use stories to inspire.

The conference highlighted the significance of climate change and the need to take action NOW. Here is a visual reflection on the conference:

The following link provides images of the speakers:

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