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Sustainable Development News, Tue 05 Aug 2014

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Without full disclosure of accidents and chemicals used, fracking risks remain unknown
The rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has ushered in an era of intense drilling that has been called the great shale gas rush. Fracking allows oil and natural gas to be extracted from horizontal wells, thousands of metres below the Earth’s surface. We tried to piece together the environmental impact of the great shale gas rush, and quickly discovered how little is actually known about the effects this booming industry is having on plants and wildlife.

Environment

A Swiss pesticide company’s plan to bring back the bees
Scientists have been baffled by the mass die-off of honeybees that has destroyed around 10m beehives since 2007. The crisis among these creatures has scientists worried. Bees are a crucial part of the crop cycle, the pollination of several species of flowers and, of course, a vital source of breakfast honey. Now, a new initiative from Syngenta, a Swiss agribusiness and the world’s largest manufacturer of crop chemicals, aims to boost the number of pollinating insects, especially bees, on commercial farms in the US. The project, called Operation Pollinator, will grow flowers and plants on what’s known as “marginal ground”, the thin strips and edges that border large plots of commercial farmland. These areas usually total about one or two acres per plot.

Saving seabirds, empowering women: the Albatross Task Force gains momentum
In Namibian waters alone, more than 30,000 seabirds are drowned every year due to long-line and trawl fishing, making these fisheries some of the most destructive in the world. We have devised, and been awarded for, a simple solution – techniques to scare birds away from death by entanglement (such as bird-scaring lines). Now in Namibia, fishermen are voluntarily using bird-scaring lines on their boats, a testament to the work of our Namibian Albatross Task Force. This is not only incredible news for seabirds which, as we have seen in South Africa, will now almost entirely avoid accidental drowning on these boats. But this is great news for local Namibian women in Walvis Bay too, whose home-made bird-scaring lines have started to be sold to the fisheries, generating them an income and greater gender-equality in the community.

How ecosystems can keep their fish, and we can eat them too
Tighter bag limits for fishing could be the key to ocean conservation, according to new research showing that limiting fishing across entire regions can offer better protection than using marine reserves. Our study shows that while marine reserves can protect small areas, they don’t offer much protection for the areas outside their boundaries. In contrast, limiting fishing across entire regions can give more widespread protection. This suggests that the best approach might be to combine strict bag limits with a network of marine reserves. That way, we can conserve healthy ecosystems while still allowing fishers to make a living.

Tuatara hatching caught on film
Extremely rare footage of a tuatara hatching has been filmed at Victoria University of Wellington.  Last to hatch, the egg was one of 23 being incubated in captivity this year as part of a joint initiative that helped save the threatened tuatara population from extinction. Since the early 1990s, the university, the Department of Conservation (DoC) and local Mana Whenua Ngati Manuhiri have run an intensive conservation recovery plan for tuatara on Hauturu ō Toi/Little Barrier Island.

Shell and Nigeria have failed on oil pollution clean-up, Amnesty says
Little action has been taken to clean up pollution caused by oil production in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, either by the government or Shell Oil, Amnesty International and other groups charged Monday. Oil production has contaminated the drinking water of at least 10 communities in the Ogoniland area but neither the Nigerian government nor Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigeria subsidiary have taken effective measures to restore the fouled environment, said the new report by Amnesty International, Friends of The Earth Europe, Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, Environmental Rights Action, and Platform.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Most Australian businesses don’t recycle, don’t care: study
A new study has found that almost 80 per cent of Australian businesses don’t recycle – and furthermore, they don’t care. The study, conducted by Business Waste, Australia’s leading waste and recycling experts, found that the majority of companies have no green policy in place and do not separate recyclable waste from non-recyclable. Business Waste found that many businesses send most, if not all of their rubbish to landfill. The study found that many businesses will not sort paper, food and glass waste, despite the practice being widespread in domestic waste collections.

Economy and Business

Report: Climate Change Adaptation Could Be $2 Billion Business
Weather-related disasters present significant opportunities for companies positioned to help clients prepare for, adapt to and even gain competitive advantage from the consequences of climate change, according to a new report by Environmental Business International. The global market for this could be as high as $2 billion. In the report, EBI evaluates the first generation of service providers in this emerging business space, looking at how they are positioning their companies to win contracts and at the challenges involved in pioneering adaptation work.

Electric vehicles go from status symbol to company workhorse
…for all the hype, EVs remain more common in glossy magazines than in peoples’ driveways. In Western Europe plug-in EVs made up less than 0.5% of total passenger car sales by May this year. It’s not hard to see why: at around £22,000 for the more affordable Nissan Leaf, and minimal resale market, it’s tough to see who beyond the early adopters are likely to take the gamble.  The answer is: forget California or Tokyo, think the company accountant of your local delivery firm. It is in fact the business owner, fleet manager and procurement officers who are beginning to take a hard look at the benefits offered by EVs and are likely to be the driving force to mainstream adoption.

Why collaborating with the competition can make business sense
Businesses are engaging in varied models of collaboration to improve their own, and society’s resilience. Businesses banding together to learn from each other is nothing new: think of medieval guilds or chambers of commerce. More recently, business-led corporate responsibility coalitions have galvanised action on economic regeneration, social inclusion and responsible business practices. Business in the Community, for example, has got member companies to act on issues such as employability, homelessness and mental health in the workplace.

Politics and Society

Why do some controversies persist despite the evidence?
The debate over climate change is relatively young while nuclear power and pesticides have been heated topics since the 1960s, and fluoridation since the 1950s. So what is it about these scientific controversies that makes them seem to go on forever? Some campaigners despair, assuming that those on the other side simply refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence: “They must be ignorant. Or devious – they’re lying. Or they’re getting paid.” Ignorance or psychological resistance might be relevant in some cases, but there are better explanations for why controversies persist.

Saving lake one waterway at a time
It will take decades to restore one of Auckland’s most polluted waterways so the work might as well start now. That’s the view of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board which is diving into a long-term project to clean up Otara Lake and the streams which flow into it. Member Stephen Grey admits it’s an ambitious project but says there’s no time like the present. “Everyone’s looked at the lake and seen a multi-million dollar price tag and given up,” Grey says. “We thought ‘Why don’t we just start now and do a series of small projects inside a bigger project?’.”

Queenslanders at odds with government on environmental future
The Queensland public is at odds with its government on how it sees the future of renewable energy and environmental management in the state, according to a newly released plan formed after extensive community engagement. The Queensland Plan has seen 80,000 Queenslanders contribute to a strategic plan and vision for the next 30 years. “The Queensland Plan sets a roadmap for future growth and prosperity and outlines what Queenslanders – in a huge and exemplary exercise in listening and consulting – want over the next 30 years,” Premier Campbell Newman said. The environment section of the plan, however, sees the disparity between the citizenry and government at its starkest.

Forest thinning in conservation areas should be subsided, NSW report recommends
Taxpayers are being asked to subsidise logging in four ecologically sensitive state conservation areas in northern NSW, according to the recommendations of a draft report of the Natural Resources Commission. The report, which remains open for public comment until August 10, recommends logging of white cypress pines be permitted in four regions within the Brigalow-Nandewar conservation area north of Coonabarabran.

Logging can ‘greatly increase’ fire severity for 50 years, researchers say
Logging practices can “greatly increase the severity of fires” in extreme weather conditions such as Black Saturday, Australian researchers have said. Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and Melbourne University examined hundreds of thousands of trees burnt in the 2009 bushfires in Victoria, which claimed the lives of 173 people on a day of extreme temperatures and high winds. They found that the increased fire risk began about seven years after an area had been logged and lasted for another 50 years.  Professor David Lindenmayer, from the ANU, said the results showed the fires around Kinglake and Marysville were about 25 per cent more severe due to the clear-felling of forest in the area.

Food Systems

Why bad food is good for business
Many people eat badly because far too much of their energy is provided by nutritionally worthless junk foods and drinks. Part of the problem is the push by the food industry to get us to buy food that may be bad for us but good for its business. In the 1960s, we had between 600 and 800 foods to choose from, many of them only available at the right season. But that was before supermarkets became widespread. Now, the typical supermarket stocks about 30,000 items with whole aisles devoted to sweetened drinks, confectionery, savoury snack foods, biscuits, cakes and pastries, sugary breakfast cereals and substitute bars, and drinks full of added sugar.

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