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Science & Environment

U.K. Farmers Join Protest Group To Show Commitment To Climate Causes

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The agriculture industry in Britain has come under scrutiny for its role in producing greenhouse gas emissions, but a growing number of farmers are turning to climate change activism to show how they believe they are unfairly criticized. They are joining the so-called Extinction Rebellion protest group hoping to show how they're committed to the climate cause. Our co-host Rachel Martin spoke with British buffalo farmer Dagan James, who's been at the forefront of this movement.

DAGAN JAMES: I've been farming for 18 years - regenerative farming, planting trees, building soil, doing what we could to kind of address these problems on a very local and small scale. But, you know, it comes to a point where that just is not enough. And so I - when the protests by Extinction Rebellion started in April, I took myself up there to join in. And as a result, we then set up XR Farmers because farming was not really in the conversation and not being talked about, and we felt that this was wrong. And farming has to be a very important and large part of the solutions to climate and ecological emergency.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So explain why. What has been happening in agriculture that has made it a contributor to the effects of climate change?

JAMES: Farming systems, particularly in the West, are massively dependent on fossil fuel inputs. And we now see that the carbon footprint of modern intensive farming systems is very large and has also led to huge problems with biodiversity, massive loss of insects and wildlife populations and habitat. And all these things do combine, you know, when farming is practiced in this way to add to the already significant problems we've got with ecological collapse and, you know, the impacts of climate change that are increasingly being felt.

MARTIN: Something like agriculture - the problems you've just outlined, these are issues that need to be addressed. The problem has always been how to leverage that change and how much role government should have in making that happen, how much private industry should bear responsibility. What change do you want and where does it come from?

JAMES: We would argue that the gravity of the situation is not going to be resolved by people, you know, doing their bit, acting locally alone or trying to reduce their own individual carbon footprint. But the situation is sufficiently grave that we need to engage with the problem on a much more substantial and significant level, and therefore, change has to come from government. And government policy has to be put in place to really get into resolving these issues and making progress on these issues.

And in the U.K. now with Brexit, we're going to be having a new farming policy that is being designed, you know, in theory, as we speak. That new farming policy, we would argue as XR Farmers, needs to put the climate and ecological emergency right at the front of how they design, you know, the system going forward. And so, yes, that would involve subsidies to enable different types of farming systems to be able to thrive and to come into place to address the problems that we have.

MARTIN: I understand you're also encouraging - as a movement you're encouraging farmers to take acts of civil disobedience. Have you been out on the streets?

JAMES: Yeah, few times.

MARTIN: What's it like?

JAMES: You know, it's great because when you're sat at home thinking about all these problems and thinking, God, how are we going to find a way forward, and how I can read my, you know, read my kids bedtime stories about the lovely natural world, and how under threat all that is and how helpless one feels in the face of all these huge problems. And the changing conversation here over the last year since Extinction Rebellion really got going and the youth strikes have really got going is quite amazing. And the whole discourse around climate change is completely, completely new.

MARTIN: Dagan James, thank you so much for your time.

JAMES: OK. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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