Why is Federated Farmers promoting climate denial during a major drought?

By Cindy Baxter 19/03/2013

The man who believes Obama's birth certificate was faked, promoted by Federated Farmers.

The man who believes Obama’s birth certificate was faked, promoted by Federated Farmers.

You’d think, in the middle of the worst drought in 70 years, with farmers in crisis, that their national political body might be thinking about  the big picture of climate change and how best to communicate that to farmers.

In Marlborough, where the drought is hitting hard, the local Federated Farmers chapter is sponsoring a talk by crank Lord Monckton.   I asked Conor English, Federated Farmers CEO,  what he thought about this and he said:

“We have 24 Provinces and they get all sorts of speakers on all sorts of things. We simply don’t know.”

OK, one renegade chapter. Fair enough. I’m sure Top of the South farmers will be relieved to know climate change isn’t real.

But on March 8, Federated Farmers’ “Friday Flash” weekly email bulletin was mailed to members right around the country, including a full-on promotion, with dates, links, and phone numbers of Monckton’s wander around the country.  The item even questioned the science of global warming, running out the tired old denier “global warming has stalled for 16 years” argument (rebutted here) that is central to Monckton’s theories.

So I went back to Mr English to ask how they could be promoting Monckton’s visit, right in the middle of this terrible drought, the type of  drought farmers are expected to get a lot more of as climate impacts kick in.

Indeed, how could the only mention of climate change in that Friday Flash newsletter be to advertise a tour by someone who is currently in Australia promoting the Rise Up Australia Party, whose leader, Pastor Daniel Nalliah, says that the awful 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria were God’s retribution for that state’s abortion laws? 

Oh, the comms person said, that was just in our newsletter – we weren’t promoting it.  “Events publicised in the Friday Flash do not necessarily align with Federated Farmers official standpoint.”

Really?  So your newsletter can have any old rubbish in it? That’s not how a number of farmers who have contacted me over the last week see it. They are very much of the view that Federated Farmers are promoting the tour.

John Hart, a Wairarapa farmer, comments:

 “I think Monckton’s climate-change-denial tour couldn’t have come at a worse time, as we battle the worst drought in a generation. In my opinion, Federated Farmers promoting his tour most certainly associates their brand with his. The man is a crank and does Federated Farmers no favours among rational farmers that accept climate change is real and requires meaningful action.”

 Federated Farmers says:   “Our organisation is keen to encourage debate and free speech. That is why we have publicised events from both sides of the climate change debate.”

Hart responds:

 “As for “promoting debate”, they don’t seem to realise that by giving oxygen to cranks like Monckton, Federated Farmers are playing into the hands of the climate change deniers. It’s disappointing to see Federated Farmers wasting time we don’t have when farmers need leadership in sustainable agriculture.”

 Indeed, “debate” like this is exactly what Frank Luntz, the Republican communications guru, told the party to do:

 Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

 Because doubt, after all, is the only product Monckton deals in. Oh, sorry, and conspiracy.

Given that Federated Farmers went on to assure me that they were “well aware that scientists have predicted parts of New Zealand, in particular the East Coast, will get drier and hotter. That is why we have advocated a greater use of water storage and access to new science and new technologies,” what sort of contribution are they expecting from someone who’s going around the country saying climate change is a hoax?

Even that bastion of National Party fervor, David Farrar over at Kiwiblog doesn’t think that Monckton would make a useful contribution to the country.  “He has a history of over-egging his claims,” he says, linking to John Abraham’s thorough rebuttal of Monckton’s science.

So I went back (again) for some further clarification, asking how they think a climate denier like Monckton – with no scientific qualifications and who says Agenda 21 will lead to UN concentration camps and that Obama’s birth certificate was fake –  would further the “debate” on climate change for farmers?

They’re coming back to me on that one, apparently. Deafening silence so far.

What I find astounding is the fact that Federated Farmers refuse to distance themselves from Monckton’s tour.  Including something like this in your newsletter implies tacit approval, doesn’t it? Given that the majority of climate change’s worst impacts in New Zealand are likely to be on the farming sector,  they might consider that including a discredited denier in their newsletter is not going to be particularly enlightening to their constituents, or a helpful contribution on the issue.