Sustainable Development News

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

NSW coal generation plunges 25% from 2008 peak
Coal production in Australia continues its revival post the carbon price, but in some areas the coal generation appears to be in terminal decline. In New South Wales, according to new data, coal generation is down one quarter from its peak in 2008. Energy analyst Hugh Saddler, from Pitt&Sherry, describes the fall in coal generation as dramatic. Three plants have been closed – Munmorah, Wallerawang, and Redbank, even though the latter was only opened 13 years ago. The decline in NSW coal generation has been accelerated by the removal of the carbon price, which has favoured brown coal generators in Victoria, and black coal generators in Queensland (where demand has been stronger than other states).

We can’t bail out fracking if it turns into another housing crisis
In his inaugural address back in January 2009, President Obama waxed eloquent about his vision of harnessing “the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”. Achieving energy independence for the US through alternative fuel is a noble goal, both for national security and biospheric survival. But little was then said about that goal for several years and, when it finally was, that vision had morphed beyond recognition. It was no longer about renewables, but about more fossil fuels. The unlikely hero was fracking natural gas, and investments poured in from those who would benefit the most: the major oil and gas companies. The break-even level for fracking in the US has been estimated by the industry at about $75-80 per barrel. Of course, oil prices since 2010 had been comfortably above $100 most of the time, so oil and gas multinationals and their bankers eagerly placed their bets. Does this sound familiar? Heard of the housing bubble?

Environment and Biodiversity

Great white shark ‘slammed’ and killed by a pod of killer whales in South Australia
Divers who witnessed a family pod of killer whales kill a great white shark in South Australia say it was “the title fight of all title fights”. The divers, who were off the coast of the Lower Eyre Peninsula, said they witnessed the attack during a shark cage diving trip to the Neptune Islands on Monday. They said it involved a family group of orcas, including two calves. Charter operator Matt Waller said the whales were launching themselves out of the water and slamming down upon the great white. “If that’s what we’re seeing on the surface, then I can only imagine that under the surface you had other whales that were working to try and keep this shark up,” he said. “It never actually went down. It stayed on the surface and was trying to get away.” Mr Waller said it was the first time he had seen “two apex predators of the marine world” fight.

Cute Killers? Gray Seals Maul, Suffocate Seals and Porpoises, Studies Say
It seemed a heart-warming sight: two seals apparently frolicking in the sea before slipping below the waves off the German island of Helgoland (map) in 2013. Then an ominous sheet of red unfurled across the waves. When the pair resurfaced, the bigger seal was skinning and eating its companion. (Also see “Did Grey Seals Mutilate Two Harbour Porpoises?”) “We thought they were playing,” says marine biologist Sebastian Fuhrmann of the environmental consulting firm IBL-Umweltplanung, whose photos of the killing of a young harbor seal will appear in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Sea Research. “It looked really cute, but in just a few seconds, it was over.” The triumphant hunter of the harbor seal was, astonishingly, a gray seal. These soulful-eyed animals have long been thought to subsist on lowly creatures such as cod. But now the gray seal seems to be morphing into the most murderous killer of the southern North Sea.

Sea Shepherd locates two boats suspected of illegal toothfish fishing near Australian Antarctic base
Environmental activist group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says it is chasing two illegal fishing boats that were spotted sailing just 50 nautical miles from Australia’s Mawson Base in Antarctica. The New Zealand navy made an unsuccessful attempt to board the two boats after they were discovered operating illegally in the Southern Ocean last month. The New Zealanders pursed the Yongding and the Kunlun for about a week before returning to New Zealand. Sea Shepherd has criticised Australia for not taking up the chase when the New Zealand navy had to return to port to refuel. The activists report the boats are now in waters that Australia claims as part of the Antarctic territory. Sea Shepherd Captain Sid Chakravarty said he found the boats on Monday near Antarctica. “I told the captains that they were wanted by the Interpol, they were fishing illegally in these waters, they did not have permit,” he said.

Ragwort Raid cyclists and volunteers pull weed from roadsides
Pedal power is the latest weapon in Tasmania’s Tamar Natural Resource Management’s annual ragwort raid. The weeding raid became a ride when the Tamar Bicycle Users Group (T-bug) joined landholders to pull ragwort along the roadsides south east of Launceston. It is the first time the group has tackled the area from Nunamara to Blessington, although Tamar NRM has done annual raids for 16 years in the east and west Tamar districts.

Extremely Rare Fox Seen in Yosemite—First Time in 100 Years
One of the rarest animals in North America, the Sierra Nevada red fox, has been caught on camera in California’s Yosemite National Park for the first time in nearly a century. Motion-sensitive cameras stationed in the northern part of the park captured two images—possibly of the same animal—one in December and one in January. The little-seen fox was sighted north of the park in 2010, but no one’s seen it inside the park’s boundaries since 1916. To say researchers are excited would be an understatement.

Building fences could stop cane toads in their tracks
Cane toads, introduced in 1935 to control cane beetles, have now spread across a huge swathe of Australia, from the Kimberley in northern Western Australia to northern New South Wales. They’re still spreading, at a rate of between 40 and 60 km westward each year, and without management could eventually cover almost all of northern Australia. Over the past few years, I and colleagues have been modelling and testing the best way to control toads, particularly by fencing off man-made dams in inland Australia. In a paper published this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, we show that fencing off dams can stop the spread of toads.

Economy and Business

Business bosses should speak out against ‘anti-sustainability rhetoric’
Last week was my final at Kingfisher, after 17 years with the organisation. As I step down as chief executive I am moved to reflect on my personal view about what leadership is – or at least should be – all about. Leadership must be about creating real change in two directions: inside an organisation and in the wider systems which affect the ways we live and operate. Though our primary duty must be to develop and sustain our own businesses, making sure it is truly sustainable, it is not enough to tidy up internally. Business leaders have a responsibility to use their impact across their supply chains, their industries and their political systems.

Apple to open $2bn solar-powered data center
Cupertino-based technology company Apple has announced plans to convert a former sapphire factory in Arizona into a new, $2 billion global command data center that will be powered almost entirely by solar power. The 1.3 million square-foot facility in Mesa is a former First Solar module factory and was previously earmarked as the fab in which GT Advanced Technologies’ (GTAT) would supply Apple with sapphire for its iPhone screens. However, GTAT filed for bankruptcy protection in October after it emerged that the company would not be able to make good on its promise to produce screens of usable quality for Apple.

‘Clicking Clean:’ The Overlooked Opportunity and Scalable Benefits of Sustainable Web Design
A few interesting facts:

  • If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth-largest consumer of electricity on the planet, behind Russia, Japan, China, India, and the US.
  • In the US, less than 15 percent of that electricity comes from renewable sources, according to the Energy Information Administration.
  • According to the appropriately named website, TweetFarts, a single tweet puts about .02 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • With Twitter users sending over 500 million tweets every day, the social media giant potentially emits nearly 4,000 metric tons of CO2 each year. And that’s just one of a growing number of social networks.

Tim Frick, one of our board members here at Climate Ride, has spoken about the carbon footprint of digital tools we know and love on several Climate Ride events. So when it came time to work with his firm Mightybytes for a website overhaul, sustainability was at the forefront of our project discussions. The designers and developers at Tim’s company are experts in sustainable web design. Mightybytes builds websites that are optimized for both users and energy efficiency and are hosted on servers powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and it has an ongoing blog series that contains dozens of helpful ‘how-to’ posts for creating more energy-efficient websites.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastic Permanence: Our litter is now part of the geologic record
From a human perspective, the earth’s geography changes pretty slowly — it takes thousands of years for a glacier to carve out a valley, for plate tectonics to form mountains and for volcanic eruptions to layer new land masses. But a recent discovery by scientists shows a new addition to the rock record, and it’s partly man-made. The new hybrid rock type is called a plastiglomerate, and the colorful stones are cropping up on shorelines in Hawaii. They’re multicolored and multitextured, a mosaic of stone and polymer. Plastiglomerates are formed when plastic is melted and hardens into pores of existing rocks. They’re usually between 2 and 8 inches, and rounded from erosion on the shore.

Politics and Society

New Documentary Highlights Human Benefits of Saving Wilderness
Conservation is often billed as people vs. nature. But a new documentary argues that cohabiting with wildlife can actually be mutually beneficial. It features a poor farmer in Africa, to take one example, who turned part of his land into forest and ended up with much more productivity. The series EARTH A New Wild is hosted by conservation scientist M. Sanjayan, who takes viewers to 29 countries to show how animals and people can live more in balance. National Geographic spoke with David Allen, the Emmy-winning executive producer of the series.

Health sector should divest from fossil fuels, medical groups say
The health sector should get rid of its fossil fuel investments on moral grounds, as it previously did with its tobacco investments, according to a report by a coalition of medical organisations. The report cites climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” and says air pollution from fossil fuels also causes millions of premature deaths a year. The organisations argue that the health sector, and in particular the £18bn Wellcome Trust, should not be helping to fund the harm they exist to tackle. “The link between fossil fuels, air pollution and climate change are clear, and the health impacts are unacceptably high,” said Dr David McCoy

Auckland Council backs Maui’s dolphin campaign
Auckland Council is set to lend its might to the campaign to save the Maui’s dolphin. Councillors are likely to vote today to oppose an oil exploration permit on Auckland’s west coast which overlaps with the habitat of the critically endangered dolphin. The West Coast Marine Mammal Sanctuary was set up in 2008 and runs from Northland to Taranaki, including Auckland’s west coast. It extends 12 nautical miles out to sea. The areas the government are offering up for deep sea exploration, known as Block Offer 2015, go within six nautical miles of the shore and therefore impinge on the sanctuary. Last year it approved exploration in a similar area. Auckland Council argued then that the edge of the permitted blocks should be moved out to 12 nautical miles from the coast to avoid any impact on the dolphins. The government rejected its submission, saying existing protections were adequate.

Details on proposed tourism developments in national parks to be released within a fortnight
The details of proposed tourism developments for Tasmania’s national parks including the World Heritage Area (WHA) will be made public in the next fortnight. The State Government called for expressions of interest for tourism developments in national parks after last month’s decision to change the area’s management plan. The draft plan would scrap the dominant wilderness zone and replace it with a remote recreation zone allowing low-scale tourism developments, such as basic accommodation, as well as the logging of specialty timber.

David Pocock Maules Creek mine protest case dismissed, no conviction recorded
[Australian Rugby] Wallabies star David Pocock and his wife Emma Pocock walked free from Gunnedah Magistrates Court today after charges against them following a Maules Creek protest in November last year were dismissed.​ Pocock was in court on charges relating to his arrest during a coal mine protest in northwest NSW Emma Pocock said she was “relieved” at the result. “It is a big relief to have had these charges dismissed,” she said. “But the reality is the mine is still going ahead and just this week a new mine was approved to go ahead in Gunnedah. It is a relief for Dave and I to not be facing these charges, but the reality is that we all breathe, and we all eat food, and fuel is expanding at a time when we should be winding it down.”

Peter Newman: Sustainability – We’re winning!
Director of the Curtin University Sustainable Policy Institute Professor Peter Newman gave a speech at last year’s TEDxPerth conference, which goes against the usual doom and gloom scenarios presented to offer hope that we can change enough to prevent a global climate catastrophe. Newman details recent trends such as peak fossil fuel investment, peak power consumption, peak car use and peak oil to show that things are starting to turn, and with applied effort – particularly in our cities – we can head towards a green economy.

Built Environment

Obama orders planners to factor in climate change
US President Barack Obama has issued an executive order directing planners, developers and local consent authorities to factor in increased flood heights and frequency due to climate change, in an effort to bolster the resilience of the nation’s built environment.  The move, which follows a massive increase of funds for climate and renewable energy on Mr Obama’s wishlist for the US budget (see below), might be something a new Queensland government should consider after last year’s debacle where former deputy premier Jeff Seeney ordered a Brisbane council to remove future sea-level rise from its planning regulations.

Food Systems

Tuna industries in Solomon Islands, PNG and Tuvalu warned to comply with European Union regulations
Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu are facing a European Union (EU) tuna import ban if they do not take action on illegal fishing. The three Pacific nations have received yellow cards from the EU for non-compliance with its laws designed to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency director-general James Movick last week told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program that in the case of Solomons Islands, virtually all their fisheries exports were going to Europe.




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