Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Reimagining NSW: going beyond ‘wilderness’ and finding fresh ways to relate to our environment
NSW finds itself contemplating life after the mining boom. It’s a moment of significant challenge but also an opportunity to reflect on the environmental impact of the industry at the heart of Australia’s recent economic growth – and how we can change our relationship with the land for the better. We envisage a NSW where necessary industrial innovation is coordinated in ways that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. Critical here will be the state’s capacity to drive knowledge-led and low-carbon innovation. But we also need to rethink the way humans relate to the environment.

Energy and Climate Change

Environmental records shattered as climate change ‘plays out before us’
The world is careening towards an environment never experienced before by humans, with the temperature of the air and oceans breaking records, sea levels reaching historic highs and carbon dioxide surpassing a key milestone, a major international report has found. The “state of the climate” report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) with input from hundreds of scientists from 62 countries, confirmed there was a “toppling of several symbolic mileposts” in heat, sea level rise and extreme weather in 2015.

Why so many serious people are backing a declaration of climate emergency
AUSTRALIA – Melting permafrost releasing deadly anthrax, worldwide floods and fires, temperature records being set more and more frequently – the effects of climate change are clear and growing. Now a group of concerned scientists and activists are calling on the government to declare a state of “climate emergency”, and have even drafted legislation to illustrate what such a move could look like.

Paris Agreement update: A possible “entry in force” this year
Twenty countries have already ratified the Paris Agreement, with Peru’s ratification on 26 July. Cameroon, Brazil, Iran and Ukraine are about to join the Agreement and 23 additional nations – including China, the US, Mexico, Canada and Australia – have publically committed to join as well.

UK’s carbon footprint rises 3%
The “carbon footprint” for the pollution caused by UK consumption has increased slightly, official figures show. The amount of greenhouse gases linked to goods and services consumed by UK households, including emissions from the foreign manufacture of imported products, rose by 3% between 2012 and 2013, the most recent data shows.

The electricity market’s not doing a great job – here’s how to improve it
The past three weeks have seen considerable discussion of Australia’s wholesale electricity market, driven largely by severe price spikes in South Australia. Hugh Saddler, writing last week on The Conversation, and the Climate Council, in a report released yesterday, have each done a good job of busting the myth that this is all because of SA’s relatively large share of wind energy. After outlining the growing lack of competitiveness in the SA electricity sector, Saddler called for “a fundamental rethink” of the National Electricity Market (NEM). What would this involve?

South Australia takes on networks over soaring grid charges
The South Australia government has decided to take on the monopoly electricity network operator in the state as it continues its campaign against the market dominance of the powerful energy oligopoly, and their ability to pass on huge price increases to consumers that are often blamed on wind and solar. Network costs in South Australia – like most of the country – account for more than half the average household bill.

Appeal launched over Otago windfarm project
NEW ZEALAND – The proposed three turbine project for Porteous Hill north of Dunedin was declined consent by an independent commissioner last month. The commissioner, Colin Weatherall, said it was a close call when he found the windfarm’s impact on neighbours living within 500m would be greater than its benefits. This morning the group behind the project, Blueskin Energy, filed an appeal in the Environment Court to try to get that decision changed.

Nevada’s solar plant: the next generation of solar energy technology?
In Nevada desert, the Crescent Dunes represent the latest technology for solar power plants. The solar power plant is not composed of photovoltaic panels like the ones that are installed on rooftops and in usual solar farms, but they are multifaceted mirrors made of glass, which follow the course of the sun in the sky and direct the sunshine towards the top of a central tower. Smith, CEO of Crescent Dunes’s parent company, SolarReserve says: “The difficulty with photovoltaic is that it’s intermittent… When the sun goes down, you’re done.” According to Smith, the solar farm also features “the world’s most advanced energy-storage technology”: molten-salt storage.

Tapajós dams may bring fish kills, species loss, mercury contamination
Brazil plans to construct seven hydroelectric dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries — a part of the Amazon known for its exceptional aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. The São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower plant is the largest and first proposed dam. An Environmental Impact Study (EIS) commissioned by the federal energy agency Eletrobrás in conjunction with the companies hoping to build the São Luiz do Tapajós dam says the project will cause a quick disappearance of habitat, loss of animals and reduction of their populations. Still, the EIS concludes the dam will cause little environmental impact.

Environment and Biodiversity

Are local efforts to save coral reefs bound to fail?
Over the last six weeks, scientists have published two major reports on coral reef resilience that appear to contradict each other. The first – “Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs” was produced by 39 scientists led by Professor Josh Cinner of James Cook University in Australia and drew on data from 6000 reef surveys from all over the world. Cinner et al concluded that those reefs that were sustainably managed had a much better chance of withstanding bleaching impacts related to global warming and periodic climate events like El Niño. The second however suggested remote coral reefs not subject to human stressors like overfishing or pollution were faring no better than those close to populated areas and that ecosystems management made no real difference to the overall health of reefs. So which is right?

Anthrax outbreak triggered by climate change kills boy in Arctic Circle
A 12-year-old boy in the far north of Russia has died in an outbreak of anthrax that experts believe was triggered when unusually warm weather caused the release of the bacteria. The boy was one of 72 nomadic herders, including 41 children, hospitalised in the town of Salekhard in the Arctic Circle, after reindeer began dying en masse from anthrax.  Five adults and two other children have been diagnosed with the disease, which is known as “Siberian plague” in Russian and was last seen in the region in 1941.

Zombie microbes, reindeer and the health risks of climate change
An outbreak of anthrax in Siberia is being sheeted home to climate change. But it’s not just reindeer and their herders that are at risk from our warming climate, writes Hilary Bambrick.

Anthrax-spewing zombie deer are the least of your warming planet worries
Conditions that are melting Arctic permafrost there recently thawed the carcasses of deer felled by anthrax some 75 years ago, when World War II raged. Warmer temperatures then reactivated the infectious disease, which can survive in hibernation for decades. More than three dozen people have been hospitalised, half of them children, though with no confirmed cases. Making matters worse, a heatwave combined with the anthrax outbreak may have killed more than 1200 deer.

Catalyst: Gut Reaction Pt 2
Could our food be making us sick – very sick? In the second episode of this two-part special, Dr Graham Phillips reveals new research about the interplay between food and the bacteria deep within our guts.

Button Salesman Discovers Most of Life on Earth: True Story
What if someone told you that right now there are trillions of fellow Earthlings hiding, crawling, and buzzing directly in front of you, under you, in you, on you—but you can’t see them. And what if—indulge me here—all of a sudden, you could? … This actually happened. All at once, sometime in the early 1670s, one man took the first deep dive into our microbial world. He wasn’t a scholar, a philosopher, or a scientist. He ran a small fabric shop in Holland.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are able to adapt to extreme environments because of a process called cryptobiosis. Leeuwenhoek was the first to document this process after observing what were likely cryptobiotic rotifers.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are able to adapt to extreme environments because of a process called cryptobiosis. Leeuwenhoek was the first to document this process after observing what were likely cryptobiotic rotifers.
Photograph by The Science Picture Company/Alamy

Microscopic marine plants bioengineer their environment to enhance their own growth
All life affects the environment. All organisms remove material they need, and they all release material that they do not need. During the evolution of life on Earth, the planet has been greatly modified by both non-biological factors and also by life itself. The most dramatic event was the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and its replacement by oxygen. Driven by photosynthesis, it perpetrated for the original life forms – which evolved in strictly anaerobic conditions, with no oxygen – what could be viewed as the greatest environmental pollution event to affect Earth.

Raccoon, mongoose and cabbage among invasive species banned from UK
The north American raccoon, an Asian hornet and an American cabbage are among 37 invasive species that will be banned from being brought into the UK from Wednesday when a new EU regulation comes into effect.  The continent-wide rules now make it illegal to import, keep, breed or grow, transport, sell or use, or release into the environment without a permit the listed invasive, non-native plant and animal species. But the ban will no longer apply when then UK leaves the EU.

Fish pretend its night to tackle hot seas
Some fish may cope with the changing chemistry of the oceans linked to global warming by permanently setting their body defences to night-time levels, the time of day when they find sea water least hospitable, a study says… Fish adjust their bodies every day because levels of carbon dioxide naturally in the seas peak at night and dip during sunlight hours when algae, seaweed and other plants absorb carbon dioxide to generate energy. The study of spiny damselfish, a small species from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, found that those best able to tackle high carbon levels in the water produced offspring with flexible body clocks that helped adapt to acidification.

Hammerhead sharks use side-swimming behaviour to save energy, research discovers
Hammerhead sharks spend most of their time swimming on their side to reduce drag and save energy, new research shows. Video cameras and tools to measure acceleration were attached to two hammerhead sharks off Australia and Belize, and three sharks in the Bahamas. They showed great hammerheads spent up to 90 per cent of their time swimming on their side, at angles of between 50 and 70 degrees.

PETS – Healthier pets, healthier New Zealand
Back in 2007 Dr Lyn Thomson started Raw Essentials to enable New Zealand pet owners to feed a natural, ‘raw meaty bone’ diet to cats and dogs. The diet is good for your pet’s health as it is unprocessed and nutrient-dense. It’s also good for the New Zealand environment. The product comes from farms working to improve soil quality. It also includes pest species such as rabbit, hare, possum, wild goat, NZ wallaby and wild deer.

Economy and Business

Are you ready for the jobs of the future?
The flow of reports about the impact of automation, mostly dire, continues. The latest is from StartupAUS, Australia’s national startup advocacy group. This report follows the now familiar line captured in the phrase “exponential technologies”: exponential improvements in computer power and advances in technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, cloud computing and the internet of things will have a profound impact on future employment, with almost 5 million current jobs (that is 40% of the workforce) in Australia becoming obsolete by 2030.

‘The stigma is still the main barrier’: getting female ex-offenders back to work
When the fourth season of Netflix’s prison drama Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) came online last month, a whopping 6.7 million viewers in the US tuned in to see (spoiler alert!) what the inmates would do with their newfound freedom. But once the joy of frolicking around in a lake was over, the reality started to set in: what do offenders do when they get out?

Waste and the Circular Economy

Does not compute: Australia is still miles behind in recycling electronic products
Australia is lagging far behind other rich countries in dealing with the growing mountain of “e-waste” from discarded electrical and electronic products. My research, carried out with my student Ashleigh Morris, shows that in comparison with leading nations like Japan and Switzerland, Australia’s management of e-waste is ineffective and poorly implemented. This means that precious metals are not being recycled and hazardous materials are going into landfill instead of being properly dealt with.

Politics and Society

What would the Pokemon Go of sustainability look like?
Love it or hate it, Pokemon Go shows how digital technology can be an agent of behavior change — getting people to do things they otherwise might not do. As the endless stories of Pokemon Go mayhem filled up my social media feeds, I got to thinking: What would the “Pokemon Go of sustainability” look like?

What happens when the needs of endangered tigers and endangered people collide?
What can be done to help vulnerable Baigas and endangered tigers co-exist? Lessons from elsewhere in India offer some promising insights — not only for the Baigas and tigers, but for indigenous communities around the world that find their own survival at odds with the survival of endangered species.

Reimagining NSW: Five ways to future-proof NSW’s innovation ecosystem
There’s been no shortage of talk about innovation recently, with the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda calling for new ideas in innovation and science to “…harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of economic prosperity in Australia.” Delivering economic prosperity for all Australians will require an inclusive and collaborative approach across all parts of society, whether near or far from its cities and research hubs. But what would that look like in practice – and how can it help bolster the future of NSW? Here are five ways to strengthen innovation in NSW, so that all the talk of “being innovative” translates to “doing innovation” into the future.

UN tries to hide involvement in deleting Australia from its climate report
The United Nations has tried to cover up its involvement in the Australian government’s successful attempt to have all mentions of the country removed from a report on climate change and world heritage sites, freedom of information documents show.

Mark Rylance heads list of artists calling for end to BP cultural sponsorship
Rylance, who is the former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and star of Steven Spielberg’s new film The BFG, heads a list of 214 signatories to a letter in the Times claiming that BP uses art sponsorship to help develop its interests in oil extraction, which must be reduced to avoid rapid climate change. It comes after BP announced it would invest £7.5m in the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company last week.

How emotion coaching brings out the best in children
Emotion coaching emphasises emotional regulation rather than behaviour modification. It views all behaviour as a form of communication, making an important distinction between children’s behaviour and the feelings that underlie their actions. It is about helping children to understand their varying emotions as they experience them, why they occur, and how to handle them. The system is comprised of two key elements – empathy and guidance.

Built Environment

Most Aussies want energy disclosure for homes (and how it can add to values)
An overwhelming number of Australians support a national voluntary home energy efficiency disclosure system, which could deliver a net public benefit of up to $535 million a year, new research published by the CRC for Low Carbon Living has revealed. The two-year EnergyFit Homes Project, which was conducted by CSIRO and Common Capital, found a massive 92 per cent of consumers wanted energy efficiency information made available in building inspection reports, while 82 per cent wanted it made available at open inspections and 72 per cent in property advertising. However, only half of those surveyed said they were willing to pay for this information.

How Auckland drivers would respond to road charges
Auckland motorists are open to paying charges to use roads, but few would give up using their cars, a survey shows. The Automobile Association (AA) quizzed 1300 members about the government’s intention to consider a road pricing scheme in the future in Auckland, to help ease congestion. Asked whether the government should consider charging on congested roads at busy times, 31 percent said yes, 33 percent said maybe and 30 percent said it should never happen.


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