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Author Archives: Rochelle

Interesting rumblings in Australia’s energy markets

August 16th, 2016 | Posted by Rochelle in Blog - (0 Comments)

As many of you will know, I publish a free daily summary of news about developments in sustainability.  I felt compelled to comment on an news this morning (16 August 2016) that we’re almost certainly going to pass 1.5C of warming and, in Australia, a theme across a range of newspapers, telling a story of unrest Australia’s energy markets.  Below is a summary of my observations.

Passing 1.5 Degrees

A safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere is considered to be around 350ppm (which is why is called  We passed 400ppm earlier this year.  Temperatures are skyrocketing, especially as a consequence of the very strong El Nino of 2015-16. The Paris Agreement, signed by 90-odd countries in December 2015 called for countries to introduce legislation to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases with the aim of keeping the warming of our planet well below two degrees and ideally under 1.5 degrees.

Well, it looks unlikely we’re going to achieve that.  Due to inertia in the system the planet will continue to warm even if we stop emitting warming gases today.  Daily, we’re seeing extreme, historical weather events around the world, many with catastrophic consequences and most with hefty financial costs.  Passing 1.5 degrees means more of this and I don’t like what’s happened to the Gold Coast summers so far and certainly don’t want to be around for the effects of two degrees.

Action around the world

There is a LOT of activity to get renewables in place. Most especially in China, who is also concerned about other environmental areas.  There are hiccups, like the Hinkly Point nuclear power station in the UK.  Obama has put in place some really bold legislation and made ballsy decisions on big issues. Of course that’s all in jeopardy if Trump wins the next election.

Even though renewable energy generation has increased by 70 percent in the last five years, the G20 on average still only produce eight percent of their electricity from renewables.  In New Zealand, it’s sitting at 74% (PDF) but the per capita emissions are still high due to a sparsely distributed population, very successful farming practices and high car ownership with very little in the way of public transport outside of major cities.  This highlights that we mustn’t forget about emissions outside the electricity sector.  In Australia, renewables make up about 15 percent of electricity (PDF) generation but there are some very interesting things happening there.

So what about Australia?

Under the Paris Agreement, the Australian government has a committed to an emissions reduction target of 26-28% reduction from 2005 by 2030.  This target is rated poorly compared to the rest of the world and Australia is a very sunny continent.  Australia has endured nearly ten years of political unrest with five changes of Prime Minister creating such instability for energy policy that renewable energy investment had pretty much stalled.  I’ll focus on the climate issues here but all areas of people, planet and profit have suffered as a result.

Political instability

It all started after Labor won the 2007 election from the long-standing and stable Howard administration.   Then the squabbling began with the unseating of a bullying and divisive Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard in 2010 who announced an election a month later winning 72 seats (76 are required to reach a majority).  For the next three years, Gillard managed a minority government with a significant involvement from the Greens party and some Independents.  During her term, Gillard managed to push through a myriad of robust but poorly communicated legislation, including a carbon tax (to become an emissions trading scheme), and she progressively lost the support of the people.  Kevin Rudd was reinstated prior to the 2013 election where Labor suffered a resounding defeat by the conservative Coalition.

A disastrous two years followed dominated by far-right politics from Tony Abbott before Malcolm Turnbull grabbed power in September 2015 before the 2016 election.  From day one of his leadership, Tony Abbott introduced legislation to repeal the Carbon Tax and went on to shut down the Climate Commission, who were an advisory group and provided public information on climate change, he reduced the Renewable Energy Target (RET) but dragged the decision out for many months due to opposition (he would have liked to abolish it altogether).  He restricted the CEFC (Clean Electricity Finance Corporation) from investing in existing technologies, and tried to dismantle the very successful ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) that is tasked with making renewable energy more affordable through funding renewable energy projects. Oh, and he ordered a parliamentary inquiry into wind turbines.

Hope ensued when Turnbull became Prime Minister as he is a long standing supporter of climate action.  However, he appeared, and still appears, to be under the influence of the far-right in his Coalition and hamstrung with an inability to provide clear leadership.  He won the recent July 2016 election by the minimum 76 seats but remains vulnerable to political challenge.  He has a tough job ahead of him and Australia’s emissions are on the rise according to several sources. Turnbull has created a new Energy and Environment portfolio headed by Josh Frydenberg.  Frydenberg has been criticised for his past support for coal but appears to have changed his mind somewhat in acknowledging that coal is in decline “and that’s not a bad thing.”  A review of the Paris target has been taken off the table but clearly Australia needs, and certainly has the potential, to do much, much more.

The long awaited rise of renewable energy in Australia?

There does appear to be more confidence in the renewables market despite the lack of political direction.  And perhaps letting the free market have it’s way may actually start to work as the price of solar and particularly storage continue to plummet.  But progress would most certainly be helped by some positive policies.  Right now there are a few things happening that I’m finding interesting reading.

go to link 1. There’s been a big hoo-haa over the electricity price spikes in South Australia
South Australia, like some other states and city councils, is going ahead with it’s own legislation to reduce carbon emissions.  Recently there was a huge spike in the wholesale price of electricity there that was blamed in some quarters by their very high percentage of renewable energy on the grid with intermittency being blamed.  It was subsequently found that it was actually a gas plant at fault. It did raise the issue of how the electricity market will handle more intermittency due to renewable energy and the need to plan carefully, including storage.  There are generally rumblings of dissatisfaction with the generators. 2. There’s a lot of support for community solar
Community owned solar farms are popping up all over the place.  There are great investment returns.  Two council backed projects will turn out to be even bigger than planned due to strong support in Wangaratta, VIC, and most recently Lismore, NSW, where they will build an extra solar farm.  There are even opportunities for business tenants to participate in solar schemes.

click 3. Feed-in tariffs are being repealed
In New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, Feed in Tariffs (FiT) that were set high to encourage investment in rooftop photovoltaic arrays (solar panels) will be reduced by about 80% leaving the owners with an increase in electricity bills or a reduced income from their array.  This makes battery storage more attractive and could lead to more independence from the grid.  It may also encourage leasing, both for suppliers and customers.  In a new development, blockchain technology will be trialled in Western Australia where neighbours can sell excess energy to each other for a higher price than the FiT.

source link 4. Battery storage is becoming more affordable
Storage is the obvious answer to the problem of intermittency from renewables.  There are several ideas out there but the most advanced is the battery.  Late in 2015, Tesla burst onto the Australian market with the (pretty much) affordable Powerwall and was greeted with great enthusiasm from home owners, property developers and even whole suburbs.  There appears to be an increase in interest in storage at a much larger scale as well with business and state government.  The world’s largest solar and storage plant is being built in… you guessed it… South Australia and in an Australian first 512kW of battery storage will be installed in Adelaide government buildings.  South Australia’s distributor are also trialling rooftop solar and storage with the purpose of defraying network costs.  Related to this, again in South Australia, the still functioning ARENA  has loaned up to $5m to AGL to install batteries in homes, again in South Australia.


The implications from these developments is a serious disruption and possible increase in decentralisation of the Australian grid.  Really, not such a bad thing given the huge expense of covering such a vast country with poles and wires.  Even mining companies are getting into solar.

This is very much early days but there does seem to be a lot more activity that I would attribute to a) the perception of a government more amenable to climate action b) the reducing costs of solar, wind and storage.

South Australia is positively shining as an exemplar of what can happen with strong policies and a stable government.  If the Turnbull government can keep the politics adult-like for the next while and give the impression of some semblance of stability, perhaps the market will continue to take heart, even if no policies change.  Imagine how the pollies would revel in not only achieving but beating Australia’s little emissions target (if only they would beat it by two times!).  And with the latest Reserve Bank rate cut and jobs outlooks not promising, Australia’s renewable energy revolution could be over the next hill.

Today I am optimistic.


We’re not all human

April 2nd, 2016 | Posted by Rochelle in Blog - (0 Comments)

I’ve been thinking for a very long time that I need to get writing regularly.  Having recently listened to Dr Tim Spector on the radio talking about our microbiome I have been (re)inspired to write about how enmeshed humans are in our environment.  I’m hoping to maintain the mojo for future editions.  My main problem is that I have so much to say that I procrastinate over what to say first, so here goes…


Firstly, I’d like to touch on the concept of an ecosystem.  By training, I am a zoologist so I’ve learned about the complexity of ecosystems and the variety of functions each component plays.  Each part of the system compliments or competes with other components.  An ecosystem tends towards an equilibrium where everything is in balance but various factors can upset that balance.  These are things like differences in availability of food, extreme weather events, and evolution.  The more diverse a system is (biodiversity) the more resilient it is to imbalances.

As an example, let’s look at recent beech ‘mast’ events in New Zealand (2014 and 2016) when climatic conditions have been perfect for a bumper crop of beech seeds.  The beech mast provides lots more food than normal for all who live in the forest, including native birds.  However, the balance tips in favour of the pests such as rats and stoats who experience a population boom as a result of their huge breeding capacity relative to the natives.  This upsets the balance of the ecosystem when the pest species have a greater impact on native birds by eating more eggs and preying on ground dwelling chicks such as kiwi.

Obviously this is a modified ecosystem, like most on earth, and human intervention is an attempt to balance the equation. To help adjust the ecosystem balance back in favour of the birds, the NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) drops 1080 poison.  This has a high success rate but also affects a small number of native birds and dogs can die if they eat a poisoned carcass so it can be controversial.  It’s the best tool in the arsenal at the moment.

The human ecosystem

I thought I had a good idea of how ecosystems worked but never realised how completely entwined we are with the world until more recently.  In particular, I remember an article I saw published some years ago that really made me think about my relationship with the rest of the natural world.  It was by a Norwegian researcher, Fern Wickson, entitled “Why we need to forget about the environment”.

Strong words.  Fern argues we have a problem with the way we are thinking about conserving our planet.  We conserve areas of land or sea thinking the value is in preserving the biodiversity in one area. We have this concept that the environment is something we live in and it’s outside of us. In fact, our bodies harbour more non-human cells than human.  Fern states “Within our bodies, microbial cells outnumber our cells by an astonishing 10-1”.  We are more external environment than human.  And it’s also fairly well known humans are about 60% water.

This struck home.  Our health is fundamentally linked to the health of our microbiome.  Protecting our environment needs to come from a more selfish point of view… we can now argue that we need to protect our environment not because it contains a wonderful variety of plants and animals that provide ecosystem services for us, but because we are the environment and the changes we are making to the environment affect our very being, our own personal ecosystem.

The microbiome

I’ve been interested in the bugs and bacteria that are a part of us ever since I read Fern’s article.  Last week my newsletter featured a radio interview with Dr Spector, a Clinical Epidemiologist, who has been studying our microbiome for decades.

It’s fascinating.  Every person has a unique biome. All mammals are basically born sterile, without any microbes of their own and they are “seeded” as they pass down the vaginal canal by their mother’s microbes, microbes that are there specifically for this purpose.  This is an essential start and helps populate the gut from the first breath of air to allow the baby to digest breast milk.  Wow.

Our microbiome is on our skin, in our gut, our blood, our bones, it is everywhere.  We are literally a living, breathing ecosystem and our ecosystem equilibrium can easily be upset by environmental changes like changes in diet, exposure to pollution, not getting enough fibre or particular nutrients, taking antibiotics, which, as the name suggests, are anti-microbial, indiscriminately targeting good and bad bacteria.


In order to maintain a healthy personal colony of bugs, we depend on resources from outside our body.  Nutrients.  This means our food systems are important.  Whole foods with real nutrients are important.  Fresh local food, where the plants are as fresh as possible when they arrive to you (and have less carbon emissions from transport), are important.  And it follows that soil is important to grow food that is nutritious.

Dr Spector tells us we’ve lost about a third of our microbiome in the last few decades and this is directly related to diet.  Hunter gatherers ate about 500 types of plant and animal by season, now we eat in a modern diet about 40 types of foods.

Modern agricultural practices are often intensive and performed as a monoculture (one species) with little or no biodiversity.  We need to use pesticides to keep pests away, herbicides to keep weeds away, antibiotics to stop the spread of disease in close quarters, and chemical fertilisers to make plants grow because the soil is not being naturally replenished with nutrients.

We need diversity in order to be healthy.  The old adage “everything in moderation” is a pretty good one.

Ecosystem services

So we come full circle back to the ecosystem and the benefits of biodiversity to a resilient system.  When an ecosystem is healthy, it provides ecosystem services that benefit humans, such as breaking down waste and building soil, purifying water, capturing carbon and producing oxygen.
What’s more, we don’t need to pay for this service.  A healthy ecosystem functions without the human invention of money.  But it certainly does have enormous value and should be factored into our finances because humans value money.

An example of an ecosystem service with a twist comes from another featured article last week.  It talks about “goodies versus baddies” on a farm and how the classification of friend or foe isn’t as clear cut as we might imagine.

The example given is of cockatoos in almond orchards.  They are classified a pest because they love to eat the almonds.  Farmers chase them away.  But when the almond tree has finished fruiting, unripened seeds remain that can to rot on the trees and cause disease.  The farmer employs workers to take them off the tree.  The cockatoos, if they weren’t chased away, do that for free.  Their clean up service is better value for money than paying humans to do it and better for the environment too.  It’s worth losing a few good nuts to have all the bad nuts cleaned up later.

Dell home or business The real value in caring for our planet is that it benefits each one of us directly through the health of our microbiome.  If we nurture healthy ecosystems, we nurture ourselves.  We need to recognise the importance and value of a healthy planet, not just the rainforest in the Amazon or the Great Barrier Reef, but everywhere: our bodies, our farming, our mining and energy, and our cities. That means encouraging biodiversity.

enter miglior trader binario online Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.

Concepts arising in this blog post to think about:

  • Complexity and diversity in the environment are important
  • Human intervention in ecosystem balance
  • We’re more non-human than human
  • Water is a vital resource so water quality is vitally important
  • Soil health, plant health and food health go hand in hand
  • Biodiversity loss outside of forests, in agriculture and the built environment
  • Impact of agricultural systems
  • Antibiotic overuse in farming and resistance
  • Ecosystems perform vital services that can be calculated in monetary terms
  • Be open to thinking of the role of flora and fauna from different perspectives

What interests you?  Help me with my procrastination problems and let me know what you would like to learn more about.

A blog about nothing much

August 8th, 2014 | Posted by Rochelle in Blog - (2 Comments)

I’m writing this blog entry, not because I have anything sensational to say, but because I feel so guilty about neglecting my website.  Apart from the Sustainable Development News I haven’t written anything for months.  I had imagined my progress would be better than this.

I must admit though to feeling a little disengaged.  For those of you who don’t know, I moved to New Zealand recently.  A very stressful experience that I won’t go into.  I am now ensconced in my new home and have been here now for a total of six weeks.  Long enough to stop moping about the cold weather and get on with writing?

I had forgotten how weird it is to move to another country, especially given that I’d been in Australia for ten years and the same house for nine.  I was expecting culture shock, as has happened every time I’ve moved country, but there isn’t, not in the same way as when I was younger.  The people here are lovely and caring, the scenery is outstanding, the weather, well, that’s pretty shit… the only substantial downside.  So I don’t feel unhappy, this time it’s more about a feeling of being lost.

Back in Australia, I was well-established, I had (have – they’re just a bit further away) fantastic friends, I knew where everything was and what products I liked at the supermarket.  Now I have to re-evaulate almost everything I do.  It’s quite energy sapping… but that might be too melodramatic.   I only feel a bit adrift and this brings home to be how important our society, our community and a sense of place, belonging, is to us.

I managed, in the first couple of weeks, to purchase new terracotta pots (made in Italy) and potted some fresh herbs – a must for cooking.  I have discovered a small organic shop that has a fair range, but nothing like where I came from.  A good example of how population and consumer demand or consumer power affect availability of goods.  Going from 500,000 to 50,000 people is a big change in the scale of economies.  But there is obviously a demand for organics and I’m glad for the choice and I will support them when I can.  There is a VERY small farmers’ market on Sunday that is not well attended.  I have only been once and must get back to compare (maybe I went on a slow day).

Today, I finally got my spinach, rocket and cavolo nero (Tuscan cabbage) planted into the garden.  We’re renting a furnished bach by the ocean – it has ocean and mountain views, quite stunning on a clear day – and there is, happily, a vege garden here that the neighbours have kindly allowed me space to plant in.  The soil looks fantastic, rich, dark and friable and nothing like the sticky clay in my Australian garden.  I hope everything will grow like a weed.

Now I am writing this on the couch as rain squalls pass by, interspersed with sunshine, watching the naturalised European Goldfinches forage in the grass and the occasional Blackbird digging for worms.

Tonight we will have NZ rump steak, NZ Brussel sprouts and NZ home-made potato fries washed down with a nice drop of NZ red.  A good Friday night meal.  I am finding the range of veg available at the supermarket is good but much of it is from Australia, which does surprise me.  I would have thought NZ could grow round beans, for example, and capsicum.  Some things that NZ does grow are interesting.  Lovely persimmons, at a good price too, and aubergine/eggplant, not a good price at this time of the year.  A lot of the dry goods are also from overseas.  I have some learning and research to do.

On Monday I start a new full-time job, a new direction and not related to sustainable development, but one has to have an income to pay the bills… so that will also affect my time available to write.  I remain committed and am waiting for the passion to burn again.  Once I feel more at home here I’m sure I will be back. Right now I’m off to make yummy home-made muesli

About your consumer super-powers…

May 14th, 2014 | Posted by Rochelle in Blog - (0 Comments) I’m a big believer in the power of the consumer.  That’s why this website is here.  I hope the content will help you uncover how you can influence the provision of better products on our shelves by what you buy.

We all need to buy stuff, that’s an irrefutable fact.  We have to eat, clothe ourselves and have somewhere to live.  But we consume too much.  We have, as a species been extraordinarily successful but we are now becoming victims of our own success.  We are using too many resources.  There’s not enough for everyone in the future if we carry on this way, and I’m talking just around the corner future.  How you react to this is entirely up to you.

If you’re concerned, you can make a difference by speaking to companies’ financial bottom line by demanding products that are healthier, less harmful to the planet and fair to the societies that are producing them.  But this is not as easy as it sounds.  An obvious issue is climate change but production of goods can be extremely complex and there are many additional factors to take into consideration each time you purchase something.  So you need to be aware of what products are more ethically produced in order to send the right message through what you buy.

As a start, I’ve produced a guide on how to make ethical decisions at the supermarket.  It’s the first in a series of resources to help you make better purchasing decisions.

If you’re interested to know what current issues are in sustainable development, our free daily newsletter can help you stay up to date.   We live in a very interconnected and globalised world and the news includes articles that demonstrate links between what you buy and harmful impacts resulting from their production.  Examples include microbeads in skincare products, unintended consequences of demand for ‘superfoods’, how tuna stocks are failing due to overfishing, and the possibility of terrible consequences from buying ultra-cheap clothes.

No matter what your view, it is undeniable that you have far reaching impacts all around the world through every product you buy.  That’s heavy, I know, but you can either ignore the fact or change the world by changing the way you consume.  You have consumer power.  Use it for good, not evil!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

I’m online… again…

April 30th, 2014 | Posted by Rochelle in Blog - (0 Comments)

I’ve been offline for a little while… well, I was on holiday for two weeks and then when I got back I couldn’t get into my website to administer it.  The daily sustainable development news has been continuing but I have been busy with trying to get the website up and running again.  So I’m back but I’ve had to start from scratch – my posts and news archive are gone but I’m rebuilding.

In the interests of posterity, thought I would copy my first post from 22 February 2014, when I first got online… a very exciting moment…

“I’ve done it… I’ve created my own website! If you’ve stumbled across this site, follow welcome to my life of contradictions :D

I’m working on how to use the web publishing software and then will come the content so please check back in a little while if you’re interested in what I have to say, starting with…

This site is dedicated to follow sustainable development and the interesting and difficult path that we must take to get there.

Many of us are concerned about how we are living on our planet. The sheer number of people consuming huge amounts of resources seems, and is, unsustainable. Most of us would like to live a life a good life with a good standard of living and we would like our descendants to also be able to live well. But the journey to sustainability is complicated; there are so many decisions to make about how to live our lives and so many issues to consider that inevitably there are contradictions in what we do…

I would like to explore how we can limit the contradictions and live a better life, together.”

source site Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.

Viktor E. Frankl