Why carbon suddenly turned up in extension

Did you know that carbon was not discussed in extension until recent times?

For the thirty years that I was a grazier up until 2000, not once was the word carbon mentioned to me. Land management was never explained in terms of carbon management, or more specifically, management of carbon flows. Nobody suggested to me that my day job was recycling carbon. It was never explained to me that the meat and wool I sold were actually carbon compounds.

Dr David Freudenberger, a former CSIRO rangelands scientist and now lecturer at ANU, says my claim is true. He said land management simply wasn’t discussed in terms of carbon. Dr Allan Wilson, another former CSIRO rangelands scientist said the same thing. Allan said that they only got as far as discussing organic matter but did not couch it in terms of carbon. A Queensland Country Life journalist said that if carbon was seen as relevant back then, they would have been writing about it.

Reductionist science

The reason carbon was originally left out of extension can be traced back to reductionist science in education institutions. Reductionist science is sometimes referred to as putting information in silos. Reductionist science breaks up landscape function into separate processes and is a focus on isolated processes within a system.

Those who take a reductionist science approach place a lower importance on carbon than those who take a systems approach. This is because there are always more important things than carbon when you look at isolated processes in a paddock.

It is only when you step back and look at the whole paddock and everything in it, that the importance of carbon becomes more obvious. This is because carbon is a part player in so many processes.

When a big picture perspective of the landscape and how it functions is taken, it quickly becomes obvious that flowing carbon influences the other cycles. The more carbon that flows the better the other cycles function. Some understandably think that water is the main driver however it is how well carbon flows have been managed over time that determines how effective water is in promoting current carbon flows. If water ends up in a gully instead of the soil, then it promotes no carbon flows.

Extension is more successful when it takes a systems approach i.e. starts with the big picture and then looks at the finer detail second. This is because producers manage paddocks, not a collection of isolated processes. 

Climate change policy  

It was climate change policy that introduced the word carbon into extension. This explains the current incomplete discussion around carbon. Current extension is focused on carbon stocks because funding is being directed towards carbon stocks projects and not carbon flows projects.

Institutional processes are always slow to change, so if carbon wasn’t part of the debate in 2000, then it is unreasonable to expect that current extension would have fully matured in the area of carbon.

In 2008, Dr Greg McKeon wrote - Future graziers will see themselves as “managers of carbon”. This is a different view of the world to what Dr David Freudenberger said existed in 2000. Today I am sure Greg would write – Future graziers will see themselves as “managers of carbon flows”.


Next week's discussion: "How moving carbon carries energy"

Alan Lauder


WHY CARBON FLOWS?,