Listen: What are some of the big changes and challenges agriculture is facing in the 21st century?

On Thursday 26 April, Professor Mark Howden delivered a public lecture to a full auditorium on how agriculture is changing in the 21st century, and what changes are still needed to limit and adapt to climate change.

Professor Howden is considered a world authority on climate change impacts and innovative adaptation options for agriculture, and how societies can balance the competing demands of food security with natural resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, energy, water and urban systems.

He has been a major contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Assessment reports, and various special reports. He shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with other IPCC participants including Al Gore.

Download Professor Howden’s slides for this lecture here.

In this lecture, he explores challenges facing the agricultural industry: the need to grow food production by 60 per cent by 2050 to meet a growing and wealthier world population; record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration; record global temperatures and sea levels; the detrimental effects of these on production and food quality.

Professor Mark Howden. Image: supplied, Australian National University.

Professor Howden also explores how we are taking steps to adapt to this new environment, but also steps we have yet to embrace: increased agricultural intensification; meat and dairy alternatives; better management of obesity; more research and development.

He also issues a warning about the public conversation around climate change and adaptation:

“There’s increased ideology and polarisation, which obscures these debates and [limits] sensible discussion around these options, including social media-assisted bubbles where people exist in their own little reality, only interacting with people who have the same views as themselves. And mostly they’re not scientific views,” he says.

“As a result of this, the relationships between researchers and funders, I think, have devolved to become much more transactional, rather than partnership-based.

“They have become much more short-term, rather than long-term, much more tactical, rather than strategic, and as a result we’re not making those long-term investments which are crucial for long term issues like food security, climate change, greenhouse gas emission reduction.”

Attendees gather for drinks and discussion after the lecture.

But he does find cause for hope in a recent paper applying data from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, which showed 12 to 14-year old children with an interest in science had increased trust in climate scientists in their 30s, irrespective of their political ideology.

“We actually need to be thinking about primary school targeting in terms of science,” he says.

“So STEMM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine education] is increasingly important, and STEMM at a young age has to be crucial.”

Professor Howden is the Director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University. He is also an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Listen to this and other past lectures on the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences’ Soundcloud page.

The Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences will hold its next Dean’s Lecture on 2 August 2018 with Norm Williamson, Professor Emeritus of Veterinary Medicine, Massey University.