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More application of external force needed

By Anna Campbell

When I look back on my years in school, I feel some sympathy for my teachers.

The saying ''that education is wasted on the young'' rings true in my case. In saying that, some concepts did manage to stick for neither rhyme nor reason.

Newton's laws of motion are an example, particularly his first law: "Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it." At the time, I applied this theory to the state of my bedroom.

I am not entirely sure Newton had this in mind, but it still crosses my mind every time I vacuum - "if I want to change the state of this place, then an application of opposing force is needed!"

I have been thinking about Newton's "law of inertia" in relation to environmental management. Here's my society example: people have been actively campaigning against single-use plastic bags for well over a decade and yet, suddenly, the shift away from their use is happening quickly.

Hessian bags have become entrenched in our everyday behaviour in what feels like a matter of months.

We reached a tipping point and using Newton's law of inertia, we could say that the force to change direction was finally strong enough to create the change of direction by consumers and supermarkets.

For those that have been campaigning against supermarket bags for over a decade, their battle is just beginning. The amount of plastic wrap within supermarkets right now is madness - who needs their bananas or cucumbers shrink-wrapped? How much force will it take before we see wholesale change? This of course, is a global problem. In New Zealand, it is hidden by our small population.

Travelling in India and seeing first-hand piles of plastic rubbish that resembled small mountains was a salutary lesson in how far we need to go.

At a New Zealand farm level, there is a global farming movement gathering momentum - that of "regenerative farming". It's hard to define exactly what this is, because it means different things for different farming systems and environments, but at a fundamental level, regenerative farming requires farmers to actively work to leave their farms in a better environmental state than they found them in.

Again, this will mean different things to different people, but it might mean any one or all of these: greater biodiversity (of plants, insects, birds), better soil health, cleaner waterways and healthier livestock. Regenerative farming success requires a different mindset and a shift in direction as to how we farm.

There will be some that approach the task in a more extreme manner than others but, like the early plastic bag campaigners, as time goes on, their behaviours will seem less extreme and more mainstream.

There is a group of farmers in Otago and Southland who are very active in this space and may become a driving force - I hope so!

Interestingly, Newton's third law is that: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Does this mean that a move to regenerative agriculture will create unintended consequences? For example, if regenerative farming should result in lower production levels, then this might lead to an increase in the price of our food.

In my mind, products from such systems should be more expensive than indoor farmed, battery-hen-type operations. But what does that mean for food access for the average consumer?

New Zealand media - which probably reflect the views of the wider community - have run a relentless barrage of dirty dairying (very emotive term) headlines and agriculture is slowly shifting from inertia. I do wonder when the media will shift their focus to other industries, such as tourism.

How can we justify people travelling thousands of miles on an international flight to then catch another flight to jump out of - in the name of what? At least farmers produce food!

I will never become a physicist - my teachers predicted that - but in a world of inconvenient truths, we all need to think why we resist forces of change and how long should we continue to do so?

A rising global population and an increasingly challenging climate mean tipping points across many industries may be closer than we think - it is bigger than plastic bags and agriculture.