Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Climate change threatens to cause 'synchronised harvest failures' across the globe, with implications for Australia's food security

What rubbish! Crops are positively influenced both by warming and high levels of CO2. Global warming would produce MORE food worldwide

New research shows scientists have underestimated the climate risk to agriculture and global food production. Blind spots in climate models meant “high-impact but deeply-uncertain hazards” were ignored. But now that the threat of “synchronised harvest failures” has been revealed, we cannot ignore the prospect of global famine.

Climate change models for North America and Europe had previously suggested global warming would increase crop yields in the short term. Those regional increases were expected to buffer losses elsewhere in global food supply.

But new evidence suggests climate-related changes to fast flowing winds in the upper atmosphere (the jet stream) could trigger simultaneous extreme weather events in multiple locations, with serious implications for global food security.

I have been examining opportunities to manage agricultural risk for 25 years. Much of that work involves learning how agricultural systems can be made more resilient, not only to climate change but to all shocks. This involves understanding the latest science as well as working with farmers and decision-makers to make appropriate adjustments. As the evidence on climate risk mounts, it’s clear Australia must urgently adapt and rethink our approach to global trade and food security.

Building resilience to shocks

Unfortunately, the global food system is not resilient to shocks at the moment. Only a few countries such as Australia, the US, Canada, Russia and those in the European Union produce large food surpluses for international trade. Many other countries are dependent on imports for food security.

So, if production declines rapidly and simultaneously across big exporting countries, supply will decrease and prices will increase. Many more people will struggle to afford food.

The prospect of such synchronised harvest failures across major crop-producing regions emerges during northern hemisphere summers featuring “meandering” jet streams. When the path of these fast flowing winds in the upper atmosphere shifts in a certain way, the likelihood of extreme events such as droughts or floods increases.

The researchers studied five key crop regions that account for a large part of global maize and wheat production. They compared historical events and weather to modelling. Yield losses were mostly underestimated in standard climate models, exposing “high-impact blind spots”. They conclude that their research “manifests the urgency of rapid emission reductions, lest climate extremes and their complex interactions […] become unmanageable”.

Free trade or food sovereignty

Australia has been a big advocate for free trade, reducing barriers to trade such as tariffs and quotas. But the new research revealing the climate risk to food security should trigger a change in policy.

We have already experienced the limitations of an over-reliance on trade to access food. The system has wobbled during the COVID pandemic and the global financial crisis of 2008, when millions of people were thrown back into food insecurity and poverty.

Encouraging free trade in agriculture has not significantly improved global food security. In 1995, the World Trade Organisation implemented the Agreement on Agriculture to liberalise agricultural trade. That agreement constrained the ability of national governments to protect their agricultural industries, and many more people have become food insecure since its introduction.

Australia needs to reconsider its short-term focus on the advantages of selling goods internationally. Conceptualising food more as a human right than a commodity might initiate such a shift.

The global poor do not have the buying power to influence market demand and increase food supply for their benefit. As they face hardship, many are becoming angry, sparking conflict and undermining food security further.

The long-term goal needs to be a global food system that will be resilient to shocks, including climate change. Trade policy may need to respond by allowing governments to prioritise sovereign food security in a world dominated by risk.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics was spruiking the nation’s food security. But it isn’t that simple. Even though there has been a lot of food available across Australia since early 2020, access has declined. Local food insecurity increased as the pandemic disrupted supply chains, with rising poverty on one hand and inflation on the other.

Climate change risks are likely to dwarf the impacts of COVID on Australian food systems.

Australian agriculture is highly exposed to climate change because rainfall and temperatures are so strongly influenced by El Niño. The drying phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation is expected to strengthen with climate change.

As atmospheric circulation changes, global weather patterns are shifting towards the poles. This is partly why early modelling of climate change in the cold-constrained agricultural systems of North America projected production would increase with global warming. But not anymore.

In Australia, modelling has rarely suggested the country would benefit from climate change. The Murray-Darling Basin, the heart of the nation’s food bowl, is expected to suffer warming, drying, reduced streamflow and more extreme events.

Australian agriculture is also highly sensitive to climate shocks because it is mostly rainfed – literally dependent on water that falls from the sky. Projected increases in droughts, evaporation and reduced average rainfall are going to challenge production systems.

Recent floods have also had shown how extreme weather events can have widespread impacts on agriculture and food prices. La Niña “rain bombs” (flash flooding from short duration, heavy rainfall events) damaged oranges and mandarin crops in 2022, downgrading produce.

To reduce the risk we need to adapt. Until recently, it was only rising land prices that enabled many Australian agribusinesses to remain viable for long periods of poor terms of trade.

Australian agriculture’s ability to withstand shocks relies on a range of structural factors that need more recognition, including:

our research and development capacity, which has been eroding with stagnant public investment

the sustainable management of key resources, such as the waters of the Murray-Darling and high-quality agricultural land, both of which we have struggled to protect

the resilience of farming communities, even though many are lacking key services and support.

Australia is fortunate to be one of the few countries that produces more food than it needs, but it has other responsibilities towards global food security. Policy will need to respond to the new understanding of how food security will be affected by climate change.

There are a number of ways Australia could respond to the new evidence. To drive that change, there needs to be a new level of awareness of the true extent of the risks to agriculture.

On a global scale, governments may need to rethink their strong advocacy for food trade liberalisation.

Locally, Australia will need to invest in adaptation to ensure that agriculture, and our food systems more broadly, are resilient to the gathering storm, because this one will be like nothing we have ever seen.


‘You’re not allowed to just talk about women any more’

Honi Soit records that in June 1973 a small group of feminists and leftist activists kicked off a historic battle to offer students the first women’s studies course at the University of Sydney – and only the second in the country. Two PhD students, Jean Curthoys and Liz Jacka, wanted to teach a course called Philosophical Aspects of Feminist Thought.

The university professorial board’s rejection of the course led to a month-long strike by staff and students, supported by the Builders Labourers Federation and other unions. The Philosophy Strike, as it came to be called, was the precursor to the arrival of intellectual feminism on campus.

Fifty years later, philosopher and feminist academic Holly Lawford-Smith has had a security guard stationed outside her tutorial room at the University of Melbourne to protect students from disruption during her feminism course. At times the guard also has escorted Lawford-Smith as she walks the short distance from the Old Arts building, across a path called the Professors Walk, back to her office in the Arts West building. Feminism is not so welcome these days on campus.

What has gone wrong? Before women had rights, imparting feminist thoughts may have been dangerous. But now? In 2023? This is nuts. Ferret around the wondrous English language all you want. There is no other word. Has feminist philosophy so lost its way that it no longer deserves a place on campus? Or is there something seriously wrong with those forces that have led to a security guard being posted outside a feminism tutorial room?

To answer these questions, we should start with what Lawford-Smith teaches. Her intensive course of 24 online lectures and 12 in-person tutorials for PHIL20046: Feminism covers topics one would expect: “Are women oppressed?” and “Patriarchy”, “The sex industry” and “Beauty norms and women’s revolution”. Given the security guard stationed outside Lawford-Smith’s tute room, maybe the trouble stems from lectures 21 and 22 on “sex/gender identity”.

Yet it would be remiss of an associate professor in political philosophy not to discuss in a feminism course the difference between sex – a woman’s biology – on the one hand, and gender, where a man self-identifies as a woman. And it would be entirely ridiculous to expect all academics to agree that gender identity is a sufficient reason to up-end feminist teaching about issues confronting women that are rooted in women’s biology.

In an interview with Inquirer this week, Lawford-Smith describes the first time she faced intense hostility for believing that a woman’s biology is central to the teaching of feminist philosophy.

In March 2019, the philosopher was interviewed for cultish literary and philosophy magazine 3:AM. After discussing mostly ethical and collective responsibilities about climate issues, she was asked about the trans issue and her gender-critical beliefs.

“It really has become toxic,” Lawford-Smith told interviewer Richard Marshall. “I’ve been surprised by the levels of vitriol that have been directed at me and other radical and gender-critical feminists within the profession. My stance is that a person can’t change sex (not even with sex reassignment surgery), that ‘gender identity’ has no bearing on sex, and that with very few exceptions gender identity should have no bearing on a person’s sex-based rights.”

“Some trans women inside the magazine complained to the editor to get the piece taken down,” Lawford-Smith tells Inquirer. Her interview was pulled. Marshall quit the magazine in protest against the censorship.

It started escalating from there. There were threats of protests and attempts to deplatform Lawford-Smith and another gender-critical academic at the University of Reading in Britain a few months later. “But they (university administrators) stood their ground and let the public event go ahead rather than give in to the protesters.”

Lawford-Smith mentions the Australian Association of Philosophy conference in Sydney in July 2019. Her conference abstract about women-only spaces led student organisations and other groups to organise protests. “I walked into this big conference, maybe 300 or 500 people go, and there was security everywhere and I was thinking, ‘Oh, did something happen?’ And then I realised that they were there for me,” Lawford-Smith says, matter of factly.

“I just remember it so vividly. My heart was racing. I felt like, ‘Oh god, everyone must be staring at me. I’ve caused all this fuss.’ ”

Though the online threats were extreme, protests didn’t eventuate that day. In June 2019, Lawford-Smith’s Twitter account was permanently suspended – it was pre-Elon Musk.

In September 2019, student activists tried to cancel her talk called Deplatforming is a Feminist Issue at RMIT.

“I’m sure the irony was lost on them,” she writes on her online Censorship timeline.

That the philosopher can fill five pages about censorship attempts against her is evidence of the level of abuse and hatred she has endured. “It felt really intense being a person who was hated that much by a small sector of society,” she says.

After a few more extreme online hate fests against her failed to translate into physical protests, Lawford-Smith says she realised that the numbers were small.

“That just took some experience to learn that the numbers (of trans activists) are puny,” she says.

I come back to why is there a security guard being posted outside a Melbourne Uni tute room to protect students who want to learn about Lawford-Smith’s feminism? The university, she says, has overreacted on many fronts, bestowing more power on a small group of trans extremists than they deserve.

Lawford-Smith is known as a “radical” feminist because her focus is on women and their biology. Radical? How times change. Her new book, Sex Matters: Essays in Gender-Critical Philosophy, was not an easy project, either.

Publication was halted by Oxford University Press last year. Matters were resolved and the book is out this week. Originally classified as a book for a general retail audience, it has been reclassified by OUP as an academic book.

Nothing is easy if you believe feminism is for women. Does that make Lawford-Smith a TERF? The term trans-exclusionary radical feminist is thrown around a lot these days.

“TERF is a slur. I’m trans women exclusionary from feminism,” Lawford-Smith explains. Not from society, note. From feminism. “It is indispensable to our form of feminism to have the concept of femaleness because women are the people to whom subordination, marginalisation has been done over centuries.”

Can’t feminism include trans women?

“It’s hard to see how it would be coherent. You could say we have this constituency of female people who, by their biology, have been mistreated over the centuries. Oh. And there are also trans women.”

But she says these two groups – biological women and trans women – “have nothing in common; there’s not a shared constituency. There’s not much at all of an overlap between the groups.”

Lawford-Smith says including trans issues in feminism has changed the focus, away from issues facing women and feminist politics to those facing trans women who claim to be the most marginalised.

Is the trans movement trying to take over feminist politics?

“Absolutely. That’s my impression,” she says. “Somehow – and I can’t fully account for the hostility and aggression of it – but somehow you’re not allowed to just talk about women any more.

“There’s a sense now that feminism has kind of accomplished its goals and there isn’t really a problem any more. So why would you want to talk about women when you could be talking about trans people? The gender studies approach has assumed cultural dominance. That’s the big project that cares about everyone and everything. And it’s wrong to take the women’s studies approach, which is the approach that I’m taking.”

If issues facing women and trans women differ historically and intellectually, why not a separate university course for students who want to explore trans issues?

“I ask myself that question all the time.” Instead, “feminism is being devalued”, Lawford-Smith says.

This is not just an intellectual debate. It’s about women-only spaces, and sport, and our language where a woman’s essential biology is being erased. Tampons are for “people who menstruate”, breastfeeding has become “chest-feeding”, untethered from a woman’s biology, and new laws allow gender self-identification.

In short, modernity’s diversity- and-inclusion project is excluding large parts of what it means to be a woman, and necessarily undermining women’s rights, to accommodate a tiny group of biological men who identify, in gender terms, as women.

The irony of an inclusion movement excluding women and their biology is not lost on Lawford-Smith, let alone millions of people off-campus who wonder whether trans extremism has peaked.

Certainly, in some sports there is a reckoning with reality about male physiology up-ending an equal playing field. Business is not immune either, with the manufacturer of Bud Light beer in the US learning that tagging on to the trans issues was a dumb idea for business. Former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon learned the hard way about overreaching on gender self-identification laws and what that meant for female prisons.

Meanwhile, in Britain last week, tax expert and feminist campaigner Maya Forstater was awarded more than £100,000 ($190,600) after she was discriminated against, losing her work contract, because she expressed her view that “male people are not women”.

Though there are signs of trans extremism causing the first major chink in the woke movement’s armour, academia is proving to be more obscurant.

Lawford-Smith says it drives her crazy that the university has had ample opportunity to see that this is not actually a sizeable threat yet they keep pandering. She points to policies that have turned university bathrooms into shared spaces.

“The policy has invited (into female-only bathrooms) any male who decides that he would prefer to use them,” she says. “This tiny proportion of trans students is prioritised over the interests that any female students of any religion or culture might have to having single-sex bathrooms.”

The university’s new LGBTQIA+ Inclusion Action Plan allows students to lodge griev­ances against course curriculum, putting Lawford-Smith’s course in the direct line of fire from trans activists. She notes that none of her students has complained about her course; complaints have come from students who have not done her course. But this could change, she says, if trans activists take her course simply to try to shut it down.

More broadly, the philosopher feminist is concerned that policies about the “safety and wellbeing” of students could be weaponised to stop important debates.

Whereas once it was about hurt feelings, the new battleground is over “wellbeing”. It’s easy to see how this equally slippery term could be exploited by trans activists to censor a feminism course that focuses on women and their biology.

Lawford-Smith, who has lodged a complaint against her employer for not protecting her from spurious attacks, is disappointed at the lack of support.

“I don’t think the (university) leadership have shown that they understand that you cannot serve two masters,” she says. “They constantly make statements that they’re trying to balance academic freedom against diversity and inclusion. I just think that’s not true.

“These two objectives pull in really different directions.”

The contemporary corporate diversity and inclusion mantra on campus of creating a safe place where everyone’s comfortable, where everyone feels celebrated, is not consistent with rigorously challenging orthodoxies, she says.

Some discussions that prise open our minds to new ideas may be uncomfortable and potentially even distressing.

“A lot of students today just uncritically swallow gender identity ideology and don’t see any kind of conflict with feminism. I can perfectly imagine going into a first-year subject and trying to teach something slightly critical about reifying gender as identity and having most of the class against me and think I’m transphobic.

“We want to be able to challenge orthodoxies. That’s the really important thing. If there’s something where that’s just what we progressives do now, you want to be able to challenge that and make sure it’s a view held for good reason.

“How do you gain new knowledge? How do you overthrow old paradigms? How do you really pursue the truth at all costs and also keep everyone really comfortable?”

We have no law of physics to help a cultural pendulum settle somewhere more sensible. Only a healthy marketplace of ideas can do that. And that requires people such as Lawford-Smith to keep teaching what is now deemed “radical” feminism.

But back to that security guard. Is there room for feminism on campus? The philosopher pauses. She’s not sure.

“It seems nuts if the answer is no, right? It’s absolutely nuts.”


Long march of the Marxists

Instead of 'I think therefore I am', the credo is ‘I feel therefore I’m right’

‘The Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,’ wrote L P Hartley. What schools and universities teach and don’t teach about Western civilisation and Australia’s development as a nation illustrates the truth of Hartley’s observation.

Remember when government schools had a picture of the Queen in the foyer outside the principal’s office, and Monday morning assembly began with raising the flag and taking the oath of allegiance: ‘I love God and my country, I will honour the flag, I will serve the Queen and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers, and the law.’

The history curriculum adopted a grand narrative centred on Western civilisation, starting in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and moving on to Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia from the time of the First Fleet. Students were taught to acknowledge the debt owed to a Westminster government and a common law system inherited from the United Kingdom.

Fast forward, and it’s obvious how much has changed. ‘Advance Australia Fair’ has replaced ‘God Save the Queen’, and ‘Welcome to Country’ has replaced the ‘Oath of Allegiance’. The national curriculum has jettisoned a balanced approach to history, civics, and citizenship. It embraces the ‘black armband’ view of history. The arrival of the First Fleet is described as an invasion leading to genocide. It ignores the arrival of the King James Bible and Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England that arrived with Captain Phillip and underpins our freedoms and liberty.

The way civics and citizenship is taught highlights the success of the cultural left in its long march through the institutions. Students learn that: ‘Citizenship means different things to people at different times depending on personal perspectives, their social situation, and where they live’. Based on postmodern relativism, they are taught citizenship involves multiple perspectives that ‘reflect personal, social, spatial and temporal dimensions of citizenship’.

Instead of acknowledging our British heritage, Australia is described as a ‘secular democracy and pluralist, multi-faith society (that) draws upon diverse cultural origins’. Forget about nation-building. The focus is on diversity and difference instead of promoting social cohesion and stability.

Under both Labor and Coalition governments in Canberra, the curriculum undermines a sense of pride in Australia. So, it’s hardly surprising that when millennials were asked in a poll commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs whether they would defend Australia if it was invaded, 38 per cent answered ‘No’.

Although the most recent iteration of the curriculum mentions Magna Carta, Westminster government, common law, and our constitutional monarchy, it is not compulsory to teach students about them. Indeed, it is more than likely that schools will continue to teach the ’Black armband’ view of the nation’s political and legal systems because the cultural left dominates tertiary education and teacher training.

In her chapter on universities in Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March, Jennifer Oriel writes that universities have long since forsaken the concept of a liberal education defined by Matthew Arnold as the ‘best that has been thought and said’. Instead of the pursuit of what T S Eliot called wisdom and truth, universities are dominated by a rainbow alliance of nihilistic theories, including radical feminism, postmodernism, deconstructionism, post-colonialism, and LGBTQI+ gender and sexuality. In line with the Black Lives Matter movement and post-colonial theory, students are taught that Western societies are structurally racist, Eurocentric, and riven with white supremacism.

And it’s not just happening in Australian universities, across the Anglosphere, academics are purging curricula of ‘whiteness’, and even science and mathematics are not immune. In the UK, students and academics associate Enlightenment thinking with capitalism and imperialism. Such oppressive thinking is condemned as ‘the knowledge and standpoint of wealthy white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men occupying positions of objective superiority. Dismantling the white curriculum thus requires the dismantling of the multiple spheres of power that reproduce the dominant system of thought.’

The origins of Woke ideology and cancel culture can be traced back to the Frankfurt School in Germany in the 1920s. In Celsius 7/7, British conservative Michael Gove argues this was a time when the Left concluded that the most effective way to overthrow capitalism was to take a long march through the institutions. Instead of inciting a revolution as occurred in Russia and China, leftists infiltrated and took control of schools, universities, and churches, and undermined the family. The cultural revolution of the 60s, epitomised by the student riots at the Sorbonne and the rise of postmodernism and deconstructionism, has also had a profound effect on education.

As a result of the dominance of cultural Marxism, we live in a world where identity politics prevails, and disadvantaged individuals and groups are presented as powerless victims of an oppressive, Eurocentric, capitalist system while Eurocentric, heteronormative men are guilty of being male, pale and stale. Rather than relying on reason and rationality, arguments are subjective and emotional, leading, in the end, to either epistemological suicide or violence. Instead of the Enlightenment’s focus on rationality and reason, generations of young people espouse the belief ‘I feel therefore I’m right’. Free and open discussion and debate are replaced by what Camille Paglia calls, ‘An ethical chaos where intolerance masquerades as tolerance, and where individual liberty is crushed by the tyranny of the group.’

What is to be done?

Conservatives and those committed to rationality and reason must be willing to call out the true nature of cultural left ideology and have the courage to be true to their beliefs and convictions. Cultural warriors must reassert the importance of the Anglosphere and the debt we owe to the UK and Western civilisation that can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. As Augusto Zimmermann argues, ‘Our political and legal systems are underpinned by the New Testament and the admonition to ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’, and the importance of Christianity must be asserted. Like the cultural left, we must call on like-minded individuals and associations to be active in the public sphere and take a medium to long-term view of the struggle against nihilism and neo-Marxist ideology.


Anti-gay defrocked minister not unfairly dismissed, ‘not employee’

The Uniting Church as gone so far Left that it is now effectively post-Christian

A defrocked church minister has failed in his bid to claim protection for unfair dismissal under employment laws after he was sacked for his anti same-sex marriage views, when members of his congregation dobbed on him to the church hierarchy.

Reverend Hedley Wycliff Atunasia Fihaki applied to the Fair Work Commission for unfair dismissal after he was defrocked by the Uniting Church of Australia, Queensland Synod.

It is the second time he has been sacked by the church then mounted a legal challenge against the Queensland synod’s decision to dismiss him, having taken action 11 years ago when he was sacked from the Emmanuel Church in Cairns.

According to the decision handed down by Commissioner Paula Spencer on July 7, Rev Fihaki is barred from claiming protection from unfair dismissal because he is “not an employee” under the Fair Work Act.

“The Letter of Call cannot be construed as an employment contract,” she said of his agreement to a May 2013 letter of call for congregational placement.

“I find that Reverend Fihaki is not an employee or an independent contractor and is in a separate category of spiritual or covenantal relationship,” Commissioner Spencer ruled.

She also ruled that even if Rev Fihaki was determined to be an employee of the Uniting Church “a valid reason … existed for the dismissal.”

Rev Fihaki was sacked from his role as a Minister at Mooloolaba Christian Church and lost his ministerial credentials after he “publicly departed from and significantly recanted the teachings of the Uniting Church of Australia in his statements to the media”, the FWC heard.

He made a number of statements to and on both mainstream and social media between January 2019 and August 2021, and his views were contrary to the church’s position permitting same-sex marriage under certain circumstances, the FWC heard.

His congregation made “multiple complaints” to the church synod committees about his anti same-sex comments which “significantly recanted the teachings of the UCA in his statements to the media”, and the synod committee “made out” 23 breaches of the church’s code of ethics.

Rev Fihaki “did not refute that he made those statements as part of the disciplinary investigation undertaken by the” church.

One of the complaints was about his conduct at a Sunnybank Uniting Church Council meeting on December 22, 2020, and a formal complaint to the church hierarchy was made on January 11, 2021.

Rev Fihaki has been minister at the Mooloolaba Christian Church since 2013, and this church was dissolved on March 18 this year by a regional committee of the church due to their opposition to same-sex marriage.

A day later, he became pastor of the church congregation rebranded as Faith Church (Sunshine Coast) Limited.

Rev Fihaki holds the position of national chair of a breakaway organisation called the Assembly of Confessing Congregations of the Uniting Church in Australia, which is not a recognised council within the church.

Rev Fihaki unsuccessfully argued he should be regarded as a church employee under the Fair Work Act because he is paid at a rate of $28.32 per hour for work, he gets a monthly pay slip from the church, and receives superannuation and holiday and housing allowances and that the government declared “religious practitioners” as ‘employees’ so they could get JobKeeper payments during the pandemic.




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