Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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In, what I find, a very scary scenario, today’s top story describes the beginnings of a hidden collapse of an ash forest ecosystem in Victoria, Australia.  Scientists say the collapse may end with the system becoming an acacia woodland, in the process making the area uninhabitable for the current occupants and affecting the water catchment for Melbourne. In other news, the melting Arctic is a major warning of the speed of climate change; scientists undertake a mission to study the Thwaites Glacier, that is also at risk of collapsing with major consequences for sea level rise, and better news on how some of our more adaptive animals can form new ecosystems in our backyards.

Top Story

Melbourne’s water supply at risk due to ‘collapse’ of forests caused by logging | The Guardian
Melbourne’s water supply is at risk because decades of logging and forest loss from large bushfires has triggered the imminent collapse of the mountain ash forests in Victoria’s central highlands, ecologists have said. The Victorian government was warned of the likelihood of ecosystem collapse by Australian National University researches in 2015. New research led by Prof David Lindenmayer of ANU, published in PNAS journal on Tuesday, has found the ecosystem has already begun to undergo a “hidden collapse”.

Climate Change and Energy

Melting Arctic sends a message: Climate change is here in a big way | The Conversation
Since I have spent more than 35 years studying snow, ice and cold places, people often are surprised when I tell them I once was skeptical that human activities were playing a role in climate change. My book traces my own career as a climate scientist and the evolving views of many scientists I have worked with. When I first started working in the Arctic, scientists understood it as a region defined by its snow and ice, with a varying but generally constant climate. In the 1990s, we realized that it was changing, but it took us years to figure out why. Now scientists are trying to understand what the Arctic’s ongoing transformation means for the rest of the planet, and whether the Arctic of old will ever be seen again.

Collapsed block of ice-rich permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska, at the edge of the Beaufort Sea. Coastal bluffs in this region can erode 20 meters a year (around 65 feet). USGS

Collapsed block of ice-rich permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska, at the edge of the Beaufort Sea. Coastal bluffs in this region can erode 20 meters a year (around 65 feet). USGS

Thwaites Glacier: Biggest ever Antarctic field campaign | BBC News
It is going to be one of the biggest projects ever undertaken in Antarctica.  UK and US scientists will lead a five-year effort to examine the stability of the mighty Thwaites Glacier.  This ice stream in the west of the continent is comparable in size to Britain. It is melting and is currently in rapid retreat, accounting for around 4% of global sea-level rise – an amount that has doubled since the mid-1990s.  Researchers want to know if Thwaites could collapse.  Were it to do so, its lost ice would push up the oceans by 80cm or more.

See also:

Rod Oram: So what happens if we fail? | newsroom (Comment)
NEW ZEALAND – Rod Oram reviews the Productivity Commission’s landmark report on moving to a carbon-neutral economy. He finds a wealth of insight on the task ahead, but no analysis of what happens if we fail or what a radical disruption might look like.

Latrobe Valley dairy farms to share energy via blockchain micro-grid | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Up to 200 dairy farms, more than 100 households and 20 local businesses in the Latrobe Valley could share the output of solar energy as part of a “virtual micro-grid” being put together by Brooklyn-based company LO3 Energy. The project has received funding from Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and will look to use locally generated solar, battery storage, smart appliances and blockchain technology to buy and sell locally produced renewable energy.

Environment and Biodiversity

It will take decades, but the Murray Darling Basin Plan is delivering environmental improvements | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Amid the politics, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was originally designed primarily to restore the rivers’ environment. While questions have been raised over the plan’s governance, economics, and political commitment by the states, it is important to note that, more than five years after the plan’s adoption, the environmental benefits are slowly but surely being seen.

Rockin’ the suburbs: bandicoots live among us in Melbourne | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Through our effects on the environment, humans are increasingly creating “novel ecosystems”: areas composed of new combinations of species and/or new and modified environmental conditions. In these areas there are winners and losers. How we perceive and manage such ecosystems could have a big influence on conserving species more broadly, and helping to address Earth’s extinction crisis.

Young southern brown bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus obesulus), an endangered marsupial species living in outer Melbourne. Sarah Maclagan, Author provided

Young southern brown bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus obesulus), an endangered marsupial species living in outer Melbourne. Sarah Maclagan, Author provided

Fly-overs find 450 potential kauri dieback sites | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Hundreds of new sites possibly infected with tree-killing kauri dieback disease have been found by a sprawling, three-year aerial survey. The joint-agency Kauri Dieback Programme has been running low-level flights across northern regions – taking nearly a million pictures and covering the equivalent distance of one circuit of the Earth – as part of its programme to monitor the soil-borne scourge.

Forestry linked to damaging sediment in Nelson river |
NEW ZEALAND – Pine forest plantations are “probably” contributing a disproportionate amount of damaging fine sediment into Nelson city’s Maitai River,  new research says. Recently harvested or replanted forestry land was a substantial source of sediment in the Maitai and tributaries in its upper and middle reaches, the NIWA research carried out for Nelson City Council showed.  Pine sediment accounted for 80 per cent of sediment below the Maitai Dam.

Economy and Business

Sustainable shopping: where to find a puffer jacket that doesn’t warm the Earth | The Conversation
A good winter coat is an investment, and puffer jackets are a timeless classic that speak to the mountaineering, outdoor lifestyle of Patagonia and Kathmandu, whose names alone evoke wintry wildernesses and wild geese in flight. If you’re looking to replace your old winter coat, there is every possibility that one of the Michelin-man-looking puffer jackets has caught your eye for its warmth, lightness and associations with trekking through the wilderness. However, the environmental, ethical and social impacts of your puffer jacket might not leave you feeling so warm and fuzzy. Here is a guide to the considerations you should keep in mind when looking for your winter jacket, and where to find the best options.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastic is not the problem, it’s what you choose to do with plastic that’s the problem: expert | ABC News
Getting rid of plastics entirely is highly unlikely, but also unnecessary. What we need to do is learn to stop using bad plastics and start using good plastics instead, a polymer scientist says. Last week scientists revealed higher amounts of micro plastics in the Arctic sea ice, as well as in ocean floor sediments two kilometres below the Great Ocean Bight. Greens Senator Peter Wilson said Australia’s current recycling crisis highlights why plastics need to be removed from everyday life. But can society function without plastics? And are there some plastics worth keeping? Professor Anthony Ryan, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Sheffield, said it was not plastic that was the problem, but how people chose to deal with plastic.

Sentinel tracks ships’ dirty emissions from orbit | BBC News
The new EU satellite tasked with tracking dirty air has demonstrated how it will become a powerful tool to monitor emissions from shipping.  Sentinel-5P was launched in October last year and this week completed its in-orbit commissioning phase.  But already it is clear the satellite’s data will be transformative.  This latest image reveals the trail of nitrogen dioxide left in the air as ships move in and out of the Mediterranean Sea.

Politics and Society

Budget earmarks $500m to mitigate Great Barrier Reef climate change | The Guardian
The Turnbull government will allocate $500m to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef. The funding, …confirmed in the May budget, follows a recent study finding that 30% of the reef’s corals died in a catastrophic nine-month marine heatwave in 2016.

Coalition’s energy guarantee: modelling assumes Liddell power plant retired by 2023 | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Technical work undertaken for the Turnbull government’s national energy guarantee assumes the ageing Liddell power plant will be out of the system by 2023 – a development that will help drive the emissions reduction requirements of the Coalition’s new energy policy. While the Turnbull government has applied extraordinary public pressure to AGL Energy to extend the operating life of Liddell, including encouraging the Hong Kong-owned Alinta Energy to make an offer for the asset, technical work done for the Neg suggests retirement is already factored into the new system.

Greenpeace head Russel Norman pleads guilty to obstructing oil survey ship | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Greenpeace executive director Dr Russel Norman and a climate activist have pleaded guilty to attempting to obstruct an oil industry survey ship off the coast of New Zealand, forcing it to stop its seismic blasting work. The former Green Party co-leader and Sara Howell swam in front of the Amazon Warrior as it searched for oil off the Wairarapa coast in April last year. They were charged under a 2013 amendment to the Crown Minerals Act, dubbed the “Anadarko Amendment”, by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, a division of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Built Environment

Why buy an EV? The planet, your wallet … and Trump | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Kiwi electric vehicle owners have cited everything from cheap running costs to Donald Trump in explaining why they’d made the switch. The latest findings from the ongoing Flip the Fleet citizen science project, which regularly polls hundreds of EV owners across New Zealand, revealed a range of fascinating motivations for walking away from petrol and diesel-driven cars.

Food Systems

EU member states support near-total neonicotinoids ban | BBC News
Member states have voted in favour of an almost complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides across the EU. Scientific studies have long linked their use to the decline of honeybees, wild bees and other pollinators.  The move represents a major extension of existing restrictions, in place since 2013. Manufacturers and some farming groups have opposed the move, saying the science remains uncertain.
Related: EU ban on neonicotinoids triggers call for a similar ban in Australia to protect bees | ABC News 

To Fight Food Insecurity in Malawi, Just Add Trees | World Resources Institute
In a country where 71 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and nearly everyone depends on rain-fed agriculture, maize is Malawians’ lifeblood. Yet climate change threatens this critically important crop. Satellite and other data reveal one strategy that could help—restoring degraded landscapes.

NZ scientists’ anti-cow burp vaccine | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – In a cream-colored metal barn a few minutes’ drive from Palmerston North a black-and-white dairy cow stands in what looks like an oversize fish tank. Through the transparent Plexiglas walls, she can see three other cows in adjacent identical cubicles munching their food in companionable silence. Tubes sprout from the tops of the boxes, exchanging fresh air for the stale stuff inside. The cows, their owners say, could help slow climate change.


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