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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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How To Get Farmers To Reduce Carbon When They Don’t Have To

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How farmers around the world can participate in See Through Carbon’s farming Pilot 6: Global Agriculture

We feel farmers’ pain

For family farmers in developed economies, some form of compulsory emissions reporting is on the horizon, and approaching fast. 

For the moment, however, a full farm carbon audit remains voluntary.

See Through Carbon understands why this makes participating in its Pilot 6 a hard sell. Even if thousands of dollars worth of free greenhouse gas calculation, auditing and consultancy are on offer, which may only take a couple of hours to complete, busy farmers are reluctant to add non-mandatory items to their to-do list. 

Like all small and medium businesses, farmers are busy people, often struggling to stay afloat, with little time to spend doing something that’s not yet legally required. 

Farmers already have plenty on their plate:

  • Navigating a growing bureaucratic maze of regulations and requirements
  • Dealing with changing weather patterns resulting from climate change
  • Responding to business pressures created by decades of globalisation
  • Making their voice heard in increasingly centralised food systems

Because they’re at the base of a complex food system, farmers are the first to feel the impact of shifting global pressures, natural or political. 

Farmers around the world protest about the same things: cheap foreign imports, expensive fuel and fertiliser, margins being squeezed by big buyers, additional ‘green’ taxes.

Such protests are responses to the immediate symptoms of farming’s dilemma, but don’t address the long-term root cause behind them all – human-induced climate change.

Politicians are reluctant to confront the inconvenient truth that the era of cheap food is over. After two centuries benefiting from ‘cheap’ fuel that aided mechanisation, and ‘cheap’ fertiliser derived from fossil fuels, old habits are hard to change. 

But there’s only one direction of travel. Sooner or later, willingly or not, humans must start to factor in the real-world environmental costs of producing food sustainably. The inconvenient truth is that this will either mean more expensive food, or a massive transfer of subsidies from the oil and gas industry to farmers.

Politicians, concerned that voters or citizens might not like being confronted with this inconvenient truth, are happy to deflect blame, and leave the problem for their successors. 

If it’s hard for politicians to explain to voters why they’ll need to pay more for food, it’s even harder for farmers to explain it to the public. 

See Through Carbon’s Pilot 6 therefore faces a double dilemma:

  1. How to interest sceptical farmers to do an emissions audit of their farms, when they don’t have to
  2. How to explain to food consumers (i.e. all of us) in an accessible, engaging way, the complex challenges faced by food producers (i.e. farmers)

Which is why See Through Carbon asked sibling media content producer See Through Together to come up with something special.

Our Secret Weapon – Betting The Farm

The people behind See Through Together are professional journalists, creatives, filmmakers, TV entertainment format experts, and visual storytellers. 

They took on Pilot 6’s dual challenge, and came up with a solution that would not occur to most technocratic emissions accountants – an original, entertaining, compelling ‘reality show’ format.

Farming families gather at their kitchen table, unaware of what they’re about to see. They’re filmed as they watch a video together, which presents them with a series of 3 statements, which they’re invited to agree or disagree with. If they agree with all three statements, they’re presented with the Betting The Farm Deal. All the while, the audience eavesdrops, as families discuss the statements and whether they want to proceed.

The Deal offers a professional CO2 audit of their farm conducted by See Through Carbon’s expert emissions auditors, and a bespoke list of CO2-busting solutions for their farm, compiled by See Through Carbon’s expert agricultural consultants.

In return, they agree to make their emissions data public, and to share their experiences in trying to implement CO2-reducing actions with other farmers around the world – and with the Betting The Farm audience.

By wrapping these serious matters in an entertaiment ‘game show’ format, Betting The Farm bridges that gap between farmers and consumers. For the farmers, the format gives them the space to talk to each other about their challenges, rather than to have their thoughts ‘interpreted’ by a non-farmer intermediary. 

For the audience, Betting The Farm is a fresh way to engage ordinary people with famers’ real-world dilemmas – not just in one country, but around the world.

See Through News has reported elsewhere about:

The Betting The Farm format is still in development, but here are some sneak peaks at some (currently unlisted, so only viewable via these links) YouTube videos. They’re not yet broadcast-ready, but they show how real, non ‘cast’, farmers, respond to the Betting The Farm concept. We see in real time how sceptical players become Pilot 6 participants after considering the game’s premise, and accepting the Betting the Farm Deal.

The Deal offers a professional audit of their farm, plus expert emissions-reducing suggestions, at no cost, in exchange for agreeing to share their experiences with the viewing public:

Further pilot participants will be filmed taking the Betting The Farm challenge in Norway, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Clips from these ‘game show’ reveals, recorded discussions between farmers from the same country comparing their experiences, and farmers from different countries comparing their experiences in implementing emissions-reducing actions, form the basis for a multilingual  online Digital Knowledge Hub. 

This online resource will help further spread best practice, using clips from this original, entertaining and stimulating reality show format as a shop window.

Farming’s Special Challenge

Food and farming accounts for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, but there’s also a technical reason why See Through Carbon selected agriculture for one of its 7 pilots. 

Agriculture presents some unique challenges to a CO2 accountant trying to measure a business’s greenhouse gas footprint. 

First there’s farming’s in-built complexity. 

The basic physics of measuring the emissions footprints of an automobile supply chain, for example, are relatively simple. A chain of specialist manufacturers buy bits of metal, plastic etc.. Each combines these components into more complex assemblies, which are in turn assembled into larger components by their customers, until a car is produced at the end. Screw-gear-gearbox-car.

Farming, by contrast, is a complex cocktail of physics, biology and chemistry, with multiple intersecting variables. It involves not just machinery, but fertilisers, pesticides, animals, plants, soil, trees, hedgerows, variable weather systems, all interacting in complex, dynamic ecosystems.

In many cases, the science required to accurately measure farming’s CO2 impact is still immature. The amount of CO2 soil can sequester, for example, depends on a huge number of variables, not all of which have the kind of established, peer-reviewed, industry-standard conversion factors that can be applied to, for example, steel or cement products.

Also, unlike a plumber, clothes shop or car mechanic, farmers have considerable potential for greenhouse gas ‘insetting’. 

‘Insetting’ is like offsetting, in that it’s a kind of carbon ‘credit’ or ‘asset’ that can mitigate a business’s emissions liabilities. 

Most forms of offsetting involve outsourcing to third parties, who sell elaborate financial products involving paying distant poor people to plant poorly-audited trees that often never get planted, might die within a few years, and yet are credited with the CO2 a mature tree might have sequestered in a hundred years time.

Insetting, by contract, is CO2 reduction that occurs directly under a business’s own control. It only counts real-world amounts of emissions sequestered in real time. Farmers have many insetting opportunities unavailable to plumbers, clothes shops and mechanics, such as waste recycling, CO2 sequestration from no-till agriculture, forestry, etc.

All of this makes accurately measuring a farm’s emissions footprint much more complex than the scopes of See Through Carbon’s other six pilots – more precise questions need to be asked about the kind of crops, livestock, fertiliser and pesticides being used, where the water comes from and where it goes, etc.

The other pilots use See Through Carbon’s own prototype calculator. The pilot process is designed to make STC’s data collection form, and calculator, as comprehensive and up-to-date as possible. The pilot stage is an iterative process, that incrementally improves itself as it incorporates: 

  • feedback from the auditing process (conducted by volunteer human experts)
  • newly-available open-source conversion factors
  • Free licences to specialist conversion factor databases agreed by negotiation

By using the same prototype for different pilots, covering different sectors (SMEs, live music, multinationals, health services, local governments), the See Through Carbon calculator aims to rapidly deliver an effective, accurate all-round calculator flexible enough to cover any business.

Farming special challenges, however, mean See Through Carbon is adopting a different approach for Pilot 6.

Cool Farm Tool

The Cool Farm Tool has been developed by specialist agricultural CO2 accountants. It’s a multilingual calculator tool, designed for farmers, that:

‘offers quantified, credible, and standardised metrics based on empirical research and a broad range of published data sets and IPCC methodologies.’

Who’s behind it? Cool Farm Tool is supported by food and beverage companies, NGOs, academic institutions, farmer groups and agronomists. It shares See Through Carbon’s core principles of transparency, and open source.

Rather than re-inventing this wheel, for Pilot 6, See Through Carbon is using the Cool Farm Tool as the best available, zero-cost way to obtain a solid initial footprint calculation, which then acts as a baseline from which to calculate future reductions.

The open source tool permits users to measure the footprints of 5 farms per registration. 

By including their farms as one of these 5 registrations, Pilot 6 participants can use the tool to provide See Through Carbon with convenient, online data, asking most of the information required . 

See Through Carbon can then pass on this data as an initial calculation to its specialist expert auditors, who will use it as a basis for a more detailed, bespoke auditing process.

After this auditing process is completed, the audited pie chart showing the farms baseline emissions will be passed to See Through Carbon’s expert agricultural consultants, who will provide a bespoke emissions-reducing list of solutions for each participant’s farm. 

Unlike the Cool Farm Tool, which keeps all reporting private by default, See Through Carbon’s audited footprint measurement, and list of solutions, will appear publicly on the STC site.

Carbon – no more secrets

This is the fundamental difference between See Through Carbon’s transparent approach, and the proprietary approach used by commercial emissions accounting standards.

Commercial standards charge for their services, and their customers get to choose what, if anything, they make public.

The See Through Carbon pilot provides calculation, auditing, and consultancy services for  free, but in return participants must make their results public, in the same way the annual accounts of public companies are published for anyone to see.

Only when we start taking CO2 reporting as seriously as financial reporting, can we sincerely demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable future.

For a farm, or any other business, publishing your footprint – and over time showing how your actions have reduced your greenhouse gas emissions – is the only path to a sustainable future. 

Emissions footprints are too important to be left to PR departments to decide on releasing what they think makes them look good, and concealing what they think puts them in a bad light.

Like financial reports, emissions reports should be accurate, verifiable, transparent and public as a matter of routine.

Eventually, this will be required of all businesses. For farmers, participating in Pilot 6 is a unique opportunity to get ahead of the game, prove they take greenhouse gas reduction seriously, and discover whether government policies help or hinder CO2 reduction in agriculture.

Betting The Farm enables farmers to share your experiences in trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with other farmers in their own country, in different countries – and with audiences around the world.