FARMERS and food are the focus of this year's Earth Hour Australia campaign, with a scientific report embedded in a new cookbook drawing attention to the link between global warming and food sustainability.
Leading up to Saturday, March 28, when Australians will switch off their lights for 60 minutes from 8.30pm to 9.30pm EDT, Earth Hour is promoting this year's theme of Australian food and farmers with a collection of 52 recipes in Planet to Plate: The Earth Hour Cookbook.
Some of from Australia’s biggest culinary names have contributed to the cookbook, including: Matt Preston (MasterChef); Neil Perry, (Rockpool, Spice Temple); Kylie Kwong (Billy Kwong) and Guy Grossi (Grossi Florentino).
The accompanying 28-page report - Appetite for Change - by leading climate scientists David Karoly and Richard Eckard at the University of Melbourne, was created in collaboration with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute.
The report outlines the impact of global warming on the six climate regions of Australia, and contains a list of 55 household food items - from wheat, seafood and dairy products to poultry, meat, grains, and fruit and vegetables - and how global warming will impact them all.
Authors warn of climate impacts
“It’s definitely a wake-up call when you hear that the toast and raspberry jam you have for breakfast, for example, might not be as readily available in 50 years time,” said Professor Eckard.
“Or that there may be changes to the cost and taste of food items we love and take for granted, like avocado and vegemite, spaghetti bolognaise and even beer, wine and chocolate.
“It makes you appreciate that global warming is not a distant phenomenon but a very real occurrence that is already affecting the things we enjoy in our everyday lives, including the most common of foods we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.
Report co-author Professor Karoly said that out of all the impacts global warming is having on farming, increases in heatwaves and bushfires pose the biggest threat to Australia’s agricultural regions.
“Global warming is increasing the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and bushfires affecting farms across southern and eastern Australia, and this will get much worse in the future if we don’t act.
“It’s a daunting thought when you consider that Australian farms produce 93 per cent of the food we eat,” he said.
Appetite for Change reports dairy foods are likely to be affected by warmer temperatures and heatwaves, as heat stress on dairy cows typically reduces milk yield by 10-25 per cent, and by up to 40pc in extreme heat wave conditions.
A warmer and drier climate will also pose significant challenges to beef production systems in southern Australia. Southern pasture growing seasons are expected to contract, while increased heat stress may lead farmers to choose more heat tolerant cattle breeds, possibly of lower meat-eating quality, according to the report.
Warmer temperatures and impacts on the availability of water are predicted to adversely affect the flavour and quality of produce such as carrots, honey, fruit, potatoes, beetroot, rice, wheat.
Traditional growing regions are also forecast to alter, impacting farming communities.
Anna Rose, national manager of Earth Hour Australia and 2015 Australian Geographic Society Conservationist of the Year, said the report highlighted the vulnerability of Australian farmers and the food they produce.
“Aussies are proud of our farmers for feeding the nation but they are on the frontline of global warming and are already feeling the effects of rising temperatures and more extreme weather,” she said.
“If we don’t tackle this issue head on and make the move to renewable energy while committing to a stronger target to cut carbon pollution, Australia is on track to import more fruit and vegetables than we export by the end of the century.
“This will result in higher food prices and poorer food quality, undermining our farmers’ livelihoods and the viability of our rural communities.”
Next generation leading the way
An initiative which aims to reconnect consumers with the people who produce their food and fibre - Art4Agriculture - is calling on farmers to get involved by hosting or joining an Earth Hour event and by getting active on social media with the hashtag #appetiteforchange.
"We think that’s a vital audience for Australian agriculture and a huge opportunity to generate momentum and support for farmers facing the challenges of producing food under increasingly variable climatic conditions," the organisation said.
"Earth Hour is about all Aussie produce and farmers, so let’s get behind them and join in on March 28."
Art4Agriculture encourages farming communities to start their own event or find one nearby, and has plenty of ideas for kid-friendly events.
For more information and to register go to the Earth Hour website.