Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Viruses don’t deserve their bad rap: they’re the unsung heroes you never see  
The word “virus” strikes terror into the hearts of most people. It conjures up images of influenza, HIV, Yellow Fever, or Ebola. Of course we worry about these viruses—they bring us disease and sometimes an excruciatingly painful death. But the 21 viral types that wreak havoc with the human body represent an insignificant fraction of the 100 million viral types on earth. Most viruses are actually vital to our very existence. No-one seems to stick up for the good guys that keep ecosystems diverse and balanced (although I did recently in a TEDx talk in Noosa).

Energy and Climate Change

Like it or not, morality dictates that we wean ourselves off coal
Kiribati’s president Anote Tong recently led Pacific leaders in calling for the world to consider a moratorium on new coal mines. This week, an open letter from several dozen prominent Australians strongly supported his call. The overall case for such a moratorium is strong. As the International Energy Agency has argued, if we are to have a reasonable chance avoiding dangerous climate change, we can only extract and consume around one-third of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves, including coal. As an effective means of weaning ourselves off coal, a moratorium is an obvious practical step. But this claim is bolstered by significant moral arguments.

CSIRO team’s study erodes credibility of key soil carbon model
The Carbon Farming Initiative begun by the Gillard government and the Abbott-Turnbull government’s Direct Action climate policy have spent millions of dollars to encourage farmers to boost carbon levels in their soils to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the productivity of the land. However, the model used in Australia and elsewhere in the world to calculate carbon storage fails to account for soil and wind erosion, which means the carbon sink is as much as 17 per cent over-estimated over a century, according to the peer-reviewed research published last week in Nature Climate Change.

These Ice Cellars Fed Arctic People for Generations. Now They’re Melting.
Building an underground ice cellar to store bowhead whale and other meat in Barrow, Alaska, is no small task. Even in the summertime, permafrost is hard as a rock a foot or so below the surface. Last year Herman Ahsoak employed a jackhammer and drill to construct a cellar for the whaling crew he has captained for more than a decade. But in the spring, melting snow penetrated the hatch, and the 14-foot deep cellar “filled all the way to the top with water,” Ahsoak says. Maintaining ice cellars has always been hard work for subsistence hunters in Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States. But warming temperatures have now rendered many of these underground freezers unusable.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Paris 2015: Carbon promises lock in 2.7 degrees of warming, UN says
The world remains on course to exceed dangerous temperature increases even if nations carry out pledges they make at next month’s global climate summit in Paris, the United Nations says. An assessment by the UN of 146 national goals and those of the European Union covering about 86 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions found they would cut average per capita pollution by as much as 8 per cent by 2025 and 9 per cent by 2030 compared with the current trajectory. So-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) represent a big step forward from the 2009 Copenhagen summit but still fall short of keeping temperatures to within two-degrees warming on pre-industrial levels that scientists say would trigger dangerous climate change.

More: World’s climate pledges not yet enough to avoid dangerous warming – UN | The Guardian

Paris climate summit: ‘The world is ready for change’ | Christiana Figueres
Change is created by turning points. Whether through evolution or revolution, turning points in history have changed the way we think, move, communicate, live. We are at a turning point now. A decisive hour when a historical event occurs, when a decision must be made, when we have understood that the consequences of the past need us to intentionally and decisively redefine the future. The latest session of the climate change negotiations took place last week, and while I work in this process to support the governments of the world to adopt a legally-binding climate agreement, we should remember that international negotiations don’t cause change, they mark it.

Prince Charles pushes for a carbon price before his visit to Australia
London: Prince Charles has said putting a price on carbon is a vital part of addressing climate change, setting him on a potential collision course with his hosts during his November visit to Australia. Last year Australia became the first developed nation to repeal a carbon price scheme. The Prince of Wales, for decades a campaigner for conservation and ecological causes, has emerged as a keen mediator on climate change in the lead-up to December’s COP21 in Paris – the United Nations summit intended to draw up a new global climate change action plan.

Australian doctors call for Health Minister to attend Paris climate talks
The “increasingly unmanageable” threat of climate change  on children’s health has prompted an open letter from doctors around Australia to the government, calling for Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley to attend the United Nations Paris climate summit this December. In the letter, from  independent organisation Doctors for the Environment Australia, leading doctors warn of the “health emergency” climate change presents for children, who have the least capacity to act.

Indiegogo criticised for helping climate deniers crowdfund money
Crowdfunding site Indiegogo has been criticised for carrying a campaign raising money for the Heartland Institute, a thinktank that casts doubt on climate science, to run a rival conference alongside a landmark UN summit in Paris in December.

Environment and Biodiversity

Water too warm for cod in US Gulf of Maine as stocks near collapse
A rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine off the eastern United States has made the water too warm for cod, pushing stocks towards collapse despite deep reductions in the number of fish caught, a US study has shown. The Gulf of Maine had warmed faster than 99% of the rest of the world’s oceans in the past decade, influenced by shifts in the Atlantic Gulf Stream, changes in the Pacific Ocean and a wider trend of climate change, it said.

Omura’s whales: Scientists release video of first confirmed sighting of species in wild
For such large animals, Omura’s whales are one of the most mysterious and elusive species in the world. The species of whale was only discovered recently and had never been seen alive in the wild — until now. But now an international team of scientists, led by Salvatore Cerchio of the New England Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have released the first ever images and field observations of the little-known species of whale.

‘Know your enemy’: Collaring wild buffalo on the floodplains of Kakadu
AUSTRALIA – Wild buffalo are devastating Kakadu’s floodplains and destroying native flora and fauna. But a new program that uses GPS tracking devices is attempting to better understand the movements of the feral animals, so the World Heritage national park can finally stop them in their tracks.

NT sand mining destroying environmentally significant area without impact assessment, EPA confirms
AUSTRALIA – Top End river flood plains are being stripped of sand to feed Darwin’s growing demand for concrete, destroying an internationally significant area without environmental impact assessment. The area – known as the Howard sand plains, 30 kilometres east of Darwin – includes sand sheet heaths that are home to several threatened species and a community of carnivorous plants. Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) chairman, Dr Bill Freeland, said no environmental impact assessments had been carried out in relation to mining of the sand sheets.

Macedonia dam faces the axe over risk of Balkan lynx extinction
A controversial €100m (£71m) dam project in a Macedonian national park is expected to be scrapped after independent experts called for a halt to all funding and construction work because of risks to critically endangered species, including the Balkan lynx.  A Bern Convention mission to the Mavrovo national park reported that the planned hydropower dam there was “not compatible” with protection of the park’s status, ecosystems or species. The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has put up €65m in loans for the project but its environmental guidelines forbid the funding of projects prohibited by the Bern Convention, a legally-binding pact between 51 states.

Economy and Business

Notes on a scandal: using technology to improve a company’s reputation
It has been a good few weeks for anyone who likes to indulge in a bit of corporate schadenfreude: Volkswagen’s emissions scandal and the cyber-attack on TalkTalk have kept consumer and business news sites busy analysing what happened and how the companies involved should respond. Put either company’s name into a search engine and the results include plenty of links referring to these events. And they are far from alone. Any business can find its name connected to bad news online, whether it is a review from a disgruntled customer or a report about a legal case. So can companies use technology to improve their reputation by changing what people read about them online and in social media?

Environmental groups demand inquiry after Exxon ‘misled public’ on climate
Leading US environmental campaigners have joined a diverse line-up of pressure groups to demand a federal investigation into allegations that the oil giant ExxonMobil illegally covered up the truth about climate change. Earlier in the week, first Bernie Sanders and then Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidates, called for the US government to announce an official investigation.

Could Solar Energy Be California’s Next Cash Crop?
Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California’s Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family’s farming business. The ranch had a steady supply of water at the time. But that changed with the state’s latest, relentless drought: Federal water deliveries over the past three years dwindled to zero. “Now the almonds are dead,” Rajkovich says; and with the land bone dry and no relief in sight, “The only thing we can farm is the sun. That’s why solar is the obvious choice for us.”

Green Revolution: Tiny inner city Perth farm stocks high-end restaurants, gives work to unemployed
A pocket of inner-city Perth land has become a productive urban farm, supplying high-end restaurants and providing jobs for the long-term unemployed. Toby Whittington started his not-for-profit social enterprise— Green World Revolution — three years ago with the twin goals of solving environmental and social issues in the city. The 400-square-metre farm in East Perth’s Gladstone Street is staffed by long-term unemployed people on a work-for-the-dole program. It now supplies about 25 restaurants a week with vegetables.

Politics and Society

Science Guy Bill Nye Explores How We Mourn a Changing Climate
Perhaps you’d prefer to ignore the growing signs of climate change, denying that the Earth’s shifting weather patterns will have a material effect on your life. Maybe you’re angry—or even depressed—about the problem’s size and our insufficient response to it. Or perhaps you’ve accepted climate change as the great challenge of our time and are ready to get to work… With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Nye’s on-screen grief counseling—administered by a sage Arnold Schwarzenegger—serves to categorize the varied ways that different businesses, governments, and citizens are responding to climate change.

Europe migrant crisis: Mobile kitchen serves up ‘garbage’ meals to asylum seekers
A group of concerned citizens based in the Netherlands has come up with a unique way to feed Europe’s growing number of asylum seekers, serving them meals made from food destined for the dump.  Inspired by reclaimed food initiatives in Melbourne, a collective in Amsterdam called Guerilla (sic) Kitchen has created soups, salads and baked goods from food waste.

Wildlife TV shows don’t help conservation, says Autumnwatch presenter
Wildlife programmes have totally failed to have an impact on conservation, the presenter of some of the UK’s most popular natural history shows has said. Martin Hughes-Games, presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch series, told the Guardian that they have instead created “a form of entertainment, a utopian world that bears no resemblance to the reality”.

Confused about your cancer risk from eating meat? Here’s what the figures mean  
In a recent report on processed meat and risk of bowel cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) stated: “Each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.” This method of communicating risk led to confusion and some hostile reactions. Scientists can explain risks of cancer and other diseases in several ways; some are easier to understand than others.


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