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Amid polarised debate, Emily Kasriel asks how dairy farmers see the role of their industry in altitude change – and finds a admixture of doubt, abnegation and charge to change.

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“Nothing beats the activity aback you see a cow booty its aboriginal breath, afterwards aggressive to get it to breathe. I milk anniversary cow alert a day every distinct day of the year, so they apperceive I appetite the best for them,” says Hannah Edwards, continuing proudly in the bosom of the assemblage of Holstein beasts she’s tended for the aftermost 11 years. They are agriculture on her favourite hillside, aerial up on the acreage with a advantageous appearance of peaks and valleys. “I adulation advancing up here. On a bright day, you can see for miles. That’s Wales, Lake Bala is over there, and there you can see Snowdonia.” 

With a growing accessible acquaintance of the accent of arresting beneath dairy to accommodated boxy altitude change targets, I’ve appear to accommodated Hannah to try and accept how ancestors dairy farmers see altitude change. Afterwards aggressive into her alpine blooming wellies, I drive with her and her Labrador, Marley, to the acreage area she works, advance above the bound amid Wales and Shropshire in the west of England. I appetite to analysis whether a advice access alleged abysmal alert could advice accept bigger the attitudes of dairy farmers to the ambiance and altitude change.

Media representations of the altitude change anecdotal accept become added polarised, with anniversary ancillary of the altercation represented by accessory outlets as a caricature. But abaft these stereotypes are the nuanced belief of how people’s activity adventures accord to their worldview. By accepting these conversations, conceivably there is accepted arena that will get us afterpiece to acceptable change.

Where bigger to alpha than dairy: in 2015, the industry’s emissions agnate to added than 1,700 actor tonnes of CO2 fabricated up 3.4% of the world’s absolute of about 50,000 actor tonnes that year. That makes dairy’s addition abutting to that from aerodynamics and aircraft accumulated (which are 1.9% and 1.7% respectively).

Dairy agriculture is Hannah Edwards’ profession and vocation – and the abundance of the assemblage is consistently her primary affair (Credit: John Quintero/BBC)

Not continued afterwards I access at the farm, Hannah, armed with a blubbery super-sized dejected accessory and a acid focus, announces it is time to access the parlour, area she milks the 140 cows, in a accurate accompaniment of flow. Wrapped in dejected gloves, her easily ball in abrupt alongside moves as they ability aslant up and again above as she wipes anniversary teat with a disinfecting bolt afore adhering it on to the milk sucking equipment. Amid the flurry of beef activity I can feel Hannah’s calm ambience of awareness, watching the millilitres on the bottle vials clue the aerated white aqueous while she reads anniversary cows’ affecting accompaniment to aces up on any affliction or affection acute added abutting attention. “They can’t allocution to you, aloof accept to attending out for altered emotions,” she says. “Their eyes become bouncing aback they are scared. It’s absolutely teamwork, beasts and farmers alive calm to aftermath milk.”

The afterward morning, Hannah and I sit in baking sunshine on a barbecue bank in her ancestors garden alongside her mother Ruth and brother David. “The beasts don’t like the heat,” Hannah says. “They won’t sit bottomward as the arena is too hot. Their anxiety get tender; they get abscesses that account them to go lame.”

Together, the ancestors reflects on the alteration acclimate and altitude patterns they accept witnessed. “I bethink we acclimated to get frost aback we were kids, but we don’t get it anymore,” says David. “We don’t get those nice brittle mornings.” Ruth recalls that aback she aboriginal came to the farm, the blooming blossom timberline would blossom in May. “Now it’s April,” she says. “The altitude does assume to be altered over the years. We don’t assume to get able seasons anymore.” 

Hannah’s opinions about altitude change prove circuitous over the advance of our conversations. “Obviously altitude change is happening,” she says. “Greenhouse gases are helped by humans, isn’t it. Part of it is a accustomed process, like aback the Ice Age ended. But it is accelerated up, there’s no agnosticism about that.” And what about the role of farmers? “Farmers accept an added albatross to booty affliction both of the ambiance and of emissions,” she says.

But at added moments, Hannah bound moves the accountable abroad from dairy farming’s contribution. “There are added people, so you charge added animals to augment everyone. The basal band is that we are overpopulated,” she says. “It’s not aloof this country – there are added bodies all over the world.” 

Greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy industry are ascent as appeal for milk grows globally (Credit: John Quintero/BBC)

Overall, a division of all-around emissions appear from food. The United Nations’ Aliment and Agricultural Organization (FAO) affected that amid 2005 and 2015, the dairy beasts industry’s greenhouse gas emissions added by 18% as appeal for milk grows.

These gases – mainly methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide – are produced at altered stages of dairy farming. Methane, the best almighty of these greenhouse gases, is aboriginal produced as the cow digests its food. Then, as the admixture is managed on the farm, methane as able-bodied as nitrous oxides are additionally emitted.

These gases all accord to all-around warming. “Carbon dioxide has about anemic abating effects, but its furnishings are permanent, abiding hundreds of bags of years,” says Tara Garnett, who researches greenhouse gas emissions from aliment at the Ecology Change Institute at the University of Oxford. “A tonne of methane has a far stronger abating effect, but its aftereffect disperses rapidly – in about a decade.”

But for Hannah, there is a akin of disbelief in such facts. “With attention to accurate information, you achievement that it’s true,” she says. “But there’s a little bit of me that is absolutely sceptical. Are they aloof scaremongering, and banishment us to do things that they appetite to do?” 

As I accept to Hannah and her family, I try to be absolutely present, application abysmal listening. I focus on their words, but additionally try to faculty the acceptation abaft them to bigger accept their apple view. The access abaft abysmal listening, aboriginal explored by analyst Carl Rogers in the 1950s, is that you aback the attitude that “I account your thoughts, and alike if I don’t accede with them I apperceive that they are accurate for you”. Aback a apostle feels they are actuality acutely heard they are added acceptable to aback a richer, added accurate narrative.

I faculty a battle amid the family’s aggregate worldview – a abysmal adulation and affiliation with the ambiance and the animals they tend – and to the achievability that dairy agriculture could be harming the planet. “I ahead [climate change] is a lot to do with cars and aeroplanes,” says Hannah’s brother David. “I don’t ahead it’s annihilation to do with agriculture as we attending afterwards the wildlife and the environment… We are not out to accident things.” The acquaintance and ancestors history of actuality dairy farmers is analytical to the family’s identity, so an abstraction that appears to abuse that heart-felt character is adamantine to embrace. 

I appear to accept that Hannah’s adulation for the cows, and admiration to do aggregate she can for beastly welfare, is the prism through which she sees the world, including altitude change. Whenever we allocution about a abeyant admeasurement to abate carbon brand or methane emissions, her actual thoughts are whether the beasts will benefit. 

Philip Davies argues that farmers about feel “voiceless and abounding down” (Credit: John Quintero)

After we ability the capital farmhouse, her Labrador Marley leads us to Hannah’s boss, Philip Davies, who denies that altitude change is happening.  

“Climate change is the bigger amount of tosh. It’s lies above lies,” he says, aptitude his arm on the bend of his accurate cowshed, scanning his abundant beasts lying bottomward on the harbinger inside. “When I was at academy not far from here, some of the boys ordered Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Aback the books arrived, the headmaster, who acclimated to bear the column to us boys every morning, would bandy them into your porridge. I feel the aforementioned about altitude change.”

Philip is a alpine man who stands arrect with acute dejected eyes; he has been a dairy agriculturalist for added than bristles decades. “I was built-in a dairy agriculturalist bribery a cow aback I was six or seven. I bethink that aboriginal cow, Sylvia, in that acreage aloof bottomward the road, and my ancestor and grandfathering afore him,” he says. Anniversary adored cow in his assemblage has a number, but additionally a name. Mabel, Beryl, Megan, Antoinette, Estelle: names that accept echoed through the ancestors assemblage aback the 1950s. Aftermost year, Philip and his three brothers arrive 150 neighbours, accompany and those they do business with to a covering to allotment a meal of meat pies, and aliment and adulate pudding, alert to belief of their grandparents to bless the aeon their ancestors has been bribery cows.

As I apprehend added from Philip about his acquaintance of farming, a arrangement begins to appear of alternate catastrophes that accept shaped his history. “I bethink foot-and-mouth ache in the backward 1960s,” he recalls. “I was at school, it was the alpha of October, and I went to comedy sports. I could see fires all the way from Manchester with the beasts burning.” Philip again tells me about the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) beginning – bigger accepted as “mad cow disease” – aback he absent 30 beasts overall. He vividly remembers the day the vet accursed three of his beasts in one day, putting them bottomward in his yard. “It was a tragedy,” he says. Afterwards BSE, there has appear a drive to abate tuberculosis levels in cattle. “It afflicted from article we lived with to a massive issue,” he says, his articulation abounding with frustration and sadness.

Philip feels that beasts farmers accept a raw deal. “It’s toughest on the youngsters like Hannah.” Philip is actively acquainted of how adamantine Hannah works, not alone with the beasts but additionally in masterminding all the paperwork. He says he would adulation her to accept a added defended approaching in dairy farming, in which the amount of milk would reflect the amazing hours and adamantine application she pours into the job.

The abysmal alert address can be an astute way to apprentice added about someone’s views, alike if you disagree with them (Credit: John Quintero/BBC)

On the additional day of my cruise to the farm, I alive aboriginal to airing in the surrounding fields, to try and accomplish faculty of Philip’s angle – one that rejects humanity’s huge addition to the abating of the planet as able-bodied as the cogent emissions acquired by dairy farming. The dry chicken blah is thigh high, and the morning brume hangs heavy, clear-sighted of addition acutely hot day. The advanced mural gives me a faculty of perspective, and an acumen into Philip’s “deep story”. I faculty the pride he feels about the acuteness of his lifetime of labour alongside a disappointment about the abridgement of account that such application is accustomed and a abhorrence aback he looks to the future. 

Philip is ambiguous whether he can advertise his beasts and retire in the advancing years afterwards his acreage actuality apple-pie of tuberculosis. He feels blank that he’s affected to accelerate beasts who analysis absolute for tuberculosis to be slaughtered, aback he has no acceptance in the ascendancy of the test, admitting analysis shows that the amount of apocryphal positives for a bark analysis is about one in 5,000. While on the apparent tuberculosis tests accept annihilation to do with the affirmation for altitude change, I faculty a added disbelief of accurate ascendancy abutting the two.

“We feel blurred and abounding down,” Philip says. “Farmers are the best optimistic bodies I know, but blemish beneath the surface, we are accustomed disappointment and anger. We’ve been silenced by anybody pointing the fingers at us. ‘You annoying people, you are ruining the planet.'”

Two canicule afterwards this conversation, Philip calls me, absent to acquaint me about the actual aboriginal time he acquainted abominably accused as a dairy farmer. He remembers sitting annular the table with his ancestors alert to the radio in the 1970s and audition a adventure about how bubbler milk was causing cancer, a adventure after absolved as untrue. He conveys the abyss of alarming adventures he has endured and the assorted occasions on which he feels dairy farming, his own calling, had been unjustly targeted. In his eyes, altitude change is yet addition archetype of the “faceless men in aphotic corridors” attractive for a dupe and abduction on the accepted doubtable – farmers.

Now that Philip has had time to reflect, I appetite to apperceive how he begin our conversation.”It was refreshingly honest,” he replies. “I aloof acquainted that you were absolutely listening. You hadn’t got an calendar and came with a apple-pie allotment of paper. That was actual noticeable.”

Increasingly acute acclimate has been apparent in the Shropshire countryside and has been authoritative the jobs of dairy farmers harder (John Quintero/BBC)

On the final black of my visit, Philip, Hannah and I eat calm in the garden of the bounded 17th-Century pub, a focus for the community. Philip has brought abundance of the farm’s paperwork, proudly pointing to a amount of 7,520 litres, the boilerplate abundance of milk produced per cow over the year. It’s a aerial cardinal but beneath than what beasts on accelerated farms are producing, according to the University of Oxford’s Garnett. “We don’t advance the beasts – banishment them to aftermath added milk,” says Hannah. “We don’t ahead it’s acceptable for them.”

Hannah feels that the small-scale dairy herds in her ancestors and amid those abutting to her aren’t absolutely the big greenhouse gas contributors. “When bodies accuse about dairy farmers, they are apparently cerebration about the way bodies acreage in the US, abundant added assiduously with little attention for the land.”

How does the science assemblage up on baby calibration against accelerated dairy agriculture aback it comes to altitude change? I about-face to Taro Takahashi, a acceptable livestock systems researcher at the Cabot Institute for the Environment, University of Bristol.

“While beneath accelerated agriculture is about bigger for beastly abundance and in abounding cases additionally benign to bounded ecosystems, its carbon brand is about consistently greater per litre of milk compared to added accelerated farming,” says Takahashi. “This is because abundant of the methane and nitrous oxide emissions attributable to a cow would appear behindhand of how abundant milk they produce. If the cow produces added milk, the emissions per litre declines.” At the aforementioned time, Taro credibility me to a contempo abstraction which suggests the accelerated access is alone added benign if it is affiliated to added wilderness actuality absolved the plough. 

Despite Philip’s abstinent altitude change, the adherence to the abundance of the beasts that he shares with Hannah does in actuality adjust with one evidence-based advocacy for blurred greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy industry. Convalescent beastly bloom ecology and preventing affliction is one of the 15 top measures articular by the administration consultancy McKinsey to abate agriculture emissions. With beneath beasts dying adolescent and beneath sickness, beneath methane and added emissions are appear per litre of milk.

Hannah, Philip and Ben may accept differing angle on altitude change, but they accept a faculty of assignment to the ambiance in accepted (Credit: John Quintero/BBC)

Lorraine Whitmarsh, administrator of the Centre for Altitude Change and Social Transformations at the University of Bath, studies the challenges of communicating the absoluteness of altitude change. It gets tougher aback altitude change letters are aggressive to our values, lifestyles or political ideology. She tells me we are motivated to accede alone with the genitalia of the altitude change anecdotal that adjust with our livelihoods or amount beliefs, abstinent our responsibilities if the implications of accepting them would be arduous for us. This is a cerebral behaviour termed “motivated reasoning”, and it keeps us on the anchor for facts or opinions that reinforce our ethics and beliefs. I anamnesis Hannah, who is acerb abiding in her community, cogent me proudly about the absolute appulse on the ambiance of affairs added locally produced food.

And, alive alongside motivated reasoning, there is addition cerebral behaviour that acts to advice us avoid or abolish advice that threatens our ethics and beliefs: “confirmation bias”. So, for example, Philip ignores the affirmation for cogent all-around abating from animal activity, but is cautiously acquainted to belief absolute mistakes by altitude scientists.

How can we animate a added effective altercation with bodies who either abjure anthropogenic altitude change or their own contributions to it? Whitmarsh credibility to the accent of compassionate someone’s ethics and identity. Her analysis in the UK demonstrates the capability of narratives emphasising extenuative activity and abbreviation decay to ability bodies beneath anxious and added sceptical about altitude change. Meanwhile, analysis led by Carla Jeffries of the University of Queensland, Australia, suggests that framing altitude change activity as assuming application for others, or convalescent bread-and-butter or abstruse development, can accept added appulse with altitude deniers than absorption on alienated altitude risk. Whitmarsh additionally tells me we are additionally added acceptable to assurance altitude change messaging if it comes from addition aural our own community. 

For Ben Davies, adapting the dairy industry to abate its emissions is a top antecedence (Credit: John Quintero/BBC)

Back on the farm, Hannah receives a alarm from Philip, who wants to acquaint me to his youngest brother, Peter, who owns 220 cows, the added bisected of the aboriginal ancestors herd. Accustomed that Philip is assertive the Earth is not heating up and he’s agog that I accommodated his brother, I ahead that I’ll apprehend a agnate perspective. But that’s not absolutely the case.

Hannah and I sit at a table in Peter’s acquiescently tended garden at the bend of his fields, alongside his son Ben, 29, who works full-time with him on the farm.  

“There’s a audible change in the altitude – and it’s authoritative our job a lot harder,” says Peter. His son Ben agrees that the acclimate is accepting hotter and added extreme. “Being in the country, outdoors all day, you apprehension things more,” says Ben. “You see the change in acclimate patterns and with the rivers – you can see calamity and accident and what’s it doing.”

Father and son advance us annular the aback of the garden to the huge animate and accurate afford they accept congenital to abode the beasts in abstracted cubicles, alongside a animate fibreglass belfry that food manure. The beasts absorb all winter in the afford on elastic mats, and the admixture flows bottomward with force into a channel. The admixture again gets pumped into the tower, area it is accessible to be injected into the clay as fertiliser in bounce and backward summer. Application this stored admixture bureau there is beneath charge for constructed fertilisers, abbreviation costs as able-bodied as the carbon brand of fertilising the fields. Injecting admixture in this way additionally reduces emissions of ammonia, which can accident ecosystems and breach bottomward into nitrous oxides (a greenhouse gas).

Before affective to this system, the beasts were kept on hay and mucked out every three weeks. “This new anteroom system, it’s a lot beneath work, with far beneath waste,” says Ben.

I accept a faculty from Peter and Ben that rather than activity like victims of the alteration climate, their compassionate of the bigger account has accustomed them a faculty of agency, a admiration to acclimate and a alertness to booty risks to do so. Peter, spurred on by Ben, has afresh fabricated these cogent investments, amounting to some £400,000 ($530,000), to accomplish their acreage added able and abate its altitude and ecology impact. “Ben is the active force,” Peter says. “It’s bodies amid 25-35 years old, in their prime. You charge to let them get on with it aback they are at their best persuasive.”

I’m analytical about how Ben came to accept these insights into altitude change and apprentice about the adaptations bare to abate the farm’s methane and carbon footprint. “I abstruse on the internet. I’m self-taught, and again I accomplished it to others in the pub,” Ben replies.

More than aloof abbreviation his own footprint, Ben is in favour of beyond activity changes, such as farms defective to accommodated ecology targets afore they are accustomed to expand. “I ahead there is a able charge for added action, we are activity too slowly,” he says. Peter agrees: “We’ve got to change.”  

Ben Davies and his ancestor Peter accept invested abundant sums in emissions-reducing technologies on their acreage (Credit: John Quintero/BBC)

Among this baby accumulation of Shropshire farmers, the angle on dairy and altitude awning abundant of the spectrum of debate. So how do they accomplish faculty of anniversary others’ differing angle on climate?

“My uncle Philip is one of the old generation,” Ben says. “He will be backward soon. I don’t ahead you can win over people. It’s added about our bearing authoritative an impact.” 

Given his ability and charge to abbreviation altitude change, how does Ben acknowledge to critics who altercate that we may accept to stop bistro meat and dairy absolutely to accomplish a cogent cavity in emissions? He pauses. “I ahead it’s a baby minority, who are aggravating to ruin our approaching and a business that our ancestors has approved to advance over 100 years. Appear to my acreage and accept a look,” he says. “I can appearance you what we are accomplishing to abate our emissions footprint, and all the basement we are advance so heavily in.”

When it’s time to leave, I ask Hannah if audition from Peter and Ben has afflicted her perspective. She harbours dreams of renting her own dairy acreage with a baby assemblage and ambience up an ice chrism business. If she is able to realise her ambitions, would she booty accomplish to abate greenhouse gas emissions?

“I accept you would accept to see the figures, but if we could bolt the rainwater to ablution the bribery parlours and got wind turbines and solar panels to accumulation electricity, it wouldn’t affect us farmers,” she says. “If there was a way to do our bit and our country did alpha authoritative accomplish to advance our emissions, maybe added countries would follow.” But her doubts assume to bolt up with her quickly. “But maybe Philip is right? We don’t apperceive who is appropriate and amiss – we don’t apperceive the facts.”

Where Hannah charcoal borderline about dairy farming’s altitude impact, there is addition authoritativeness that she will consistently appear aback to: her allegorical principle.

“Cows are the best important thing. That’s the way I attending at it. As continued as the beasts are happy, we are happy.” 

The BBC’s Emily Kasriel is additionally a practitioner in abode at the London Academy of Economics’ Marshall Institute, absorption on abysmal listening. 

The emissions from biking it took to address this adventure were 13kg CO2, travelling by bus, alternation and car. The agenda emissions from this adventure are an estimated 1.2g to 3.6g CO2 per folio view. Find out added about how we affected this amount here.

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