When I stated the obvious to the ABC recently, I didn’t think there would be much reaction. It had been clear for months that net zero was as dead as disco. Boris Johnson had asked for a ‘leave pass’ from his climate commitments, the German Chancellor had told the Bundestag that they needed to invest in ‘coal and gas infrastructure’ and Italy was reopening coal plants. None of this was news.
From the moment that Russian special forces landed at the Hostomel Airport, it was clear that Glasgow had been the most ineffectual global summit since the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments in Geneva in 1932. After Mariupol any further limitation on fossil fuel production would only help Russia and their allies like China.
Even while the Glasgow climate conference was underway the signs were clear. During the talkfest, which Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin mysteriously avoided attending, both China and Russia banned the export of fertilisers. Hardly any Western media covered these actions, instead deciding to focus on what the temperature would be in 2050 instead of how we would grow food in 2030.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost, or they would be if more grain were available. Fertiliser prices have more than doubled since late last year forcing many farmers, especially in poorer countries, to cut back on applying them. Over the next year food yields will be markedly down. We have already seen food riots in Indonesia and Peru. Even US President Joe Biden has admitted that, ‘With regard to food shortage, yes we did talk about food shortages, and it’s gonna be real.’
Why do we rely so much on Russia for our food production and fertilisers? It is because the West relies too much on Russia to produce fossil fuels.
Some people fail to understand that around half the food you eat is only grown thanks to fertilisers that are made from fossil fuels. Natural gas is the main feedstock that is used to convert carbon dioxide, hydrogen and nitrogen into a fertiliser known as urea.
The development of synthetic fertilisers is the real green revolution. These fertilisers allowed yields to skyrocket – wheat yields have almost tripled over the past 60 years. Thanks to fossil fuels, hunger has effectively disappeared from the planet except in rare cases of political dysfunction.
If you complete a modern university education, you will no doubt learn much about fossil fuels. However, I bet that in the hours of instruction about coal, gas and oil there is not even a footnote devoted to their use in growing food.
How else to explain otherwise intelligent, and certainly university-educated bureaucrats, making such inane contributions to the emerging food supply crisis? For example, Biden’s Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, said on the weekend that, ‘fertiliser shortages are real… we are working with countries to think about natural solutions like manure and compost. And this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interests of farmers to make anyway. So never let a crisis go to waste’.
You may think the Ms Power has qualifications in agricultural science but, no, before being appointed as the US International Development Tsar, Ms Power was a journalist turned academic. She might not know much about food production but she does seem to be a specialist in manure, at least of the bull variety.
We do not have to look far to see what the impact of the au naturale approach to modern farming. In May last year the Sri Lankan government banned the importation of chemical fertilisers and President Rajapaksa declared that he wanted to make Sri Lankan farming 100 per cent organic.
Sri Lanka’s boldness was lauded by the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (Molnar) in Sri Lanka. In words that echo those of their net zero cousins, Molnar said that ‘the overuse of agrochemicals has also undermined food sovereignty, unravelled the ecological balance, and had led to the extinction of many animal and plant species’.
Within six months the decision proved disastrous. Rice production fell by 20 per cent and shops had to ration the staple. By November, the government had backed down and allowed chemical fertiliser use to resume. The damage had been done though and the decline in the production of cash crops like rubber and tea has led to a full blown financial crisis in Sri Lanka.
As one farmer named Anura said, ‘The government forced us to switch to organic farming all of a sudden and due to that, we could not produce anything. Now we are left with no money, survival is very difficult here’.
We will suffer the same fate if we continue on the naive net zero path written by people who have no idea how food is grown, minerals are mined, energy is made or metals are forged. If the entire world was headed down this primrose path at least we would all be in the school of hard knocks together.
Our problem is that China, Russia and many other countries that wish us harm are not drinking the green Kool-Aid. If we continue to aim for net zero emissions we will make the same mistakes that Europe did in the 1930s. Then the belief was that a de-militarised Rhineland, and an indebted Germany, meant that peace was assured. Military spending decayed and there was little investment in new war fighting technologies like aeroplanes. As Churchill remarked of this wishful thinking ‘conditions were swiftly created by the victorious Allies which, in the name of peace, cleared the way for the renewal of war’.
As the spectre of the 1930s looms large again, the longer we wait to wake from our net zero dream, the greater the nightmare will be.