"Weeds, rabbits, erosion, bushfires... Farmers and conservationists face the same problems", said a wise old matriarch to me some years ago, an umpteenth-generation mixed-enterprise farmer.
To that list of threats nowadays can be added trade policies that disconnect prices from costs, tenure policies that seem always to favour mining over farming, budget policies that starve rural extension and, of course, climate change.
Since time immemorial, farmers have understood stewardship, being custodianship of the landscape on behalf of the next generation. Environmentalists also understand stewardship, being sustainable management of the landscape on behalf of future generations.
Of course, their interests do not align perfectly. Environmentalists don't accept the need for more tree clearing, but even that hot dispute will fade as policy comes to assign more value to trees upright than flattened.
One would expect rural people and environmentalists to warmly embrace collaboration for their mutual benefit. That is not what we see. Instead, so-called "conservative" commentators seek partisan advantage by repeatedly bundling scientists, nature journalists and environmental campaigners together and labelling them all as "green extremists", condemning all to be perennial foes of farmers.
The Royal Society of Queensland is genuinely conservative, upholding centuries-old standards of evidence-based scientific enquiry. It does not represent the environmental movement, but it respects the role of environmentalists in assembling scientific knowledge from scholarly journals and interpreting it into popular language and policy submissions.
Science is inherently non-partisan - indeed at its essence so too is environmentalism - as both advocate conservation of the life support systems that sustain us all. Scientists are dismayed that national political leaders repeatedly twist what ought to be rational debate over serious threats to sustainable agriculture, such as water allocations in rivers, into inexplicable Left-Right cultural warfare in which farmers and the environment are both collateral damage.
Let's not exaggerate the city/rural divide either. In many suburban electorates, the defining issue in the forthcoming election will be climate change.
Politicians who have ridiculed warnings about looming climate change have delayed adaptation for more than 20 years, imposing what will become abrupt and painful adjustment on farmers and graziers from one end of Queensland to the other. And the climate is only one example of environmental distress.
I call on leaders of rural opinion to abandon rhetoric that is calculated to drive wedges between farmers and other sources of knowledge. Farmers need all the support they can muster as they confront a cascade of unresolved environmental challenges.
- Dr Geoff Edwards, president, Royal Society of Queensland
- The views expressed are not necessarily shared by all members.