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Sustainable Development News, Monday 05 May 2014

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

Joe Hockey says wind turbines ‘utterly offensive’, flags budget cuts to clean energy schemes
Government sources have moved to reassure the energy sector that they have no plans to close down the clean energy regulator, despite Treasurer Joe Hockey saying it is in the Government’s sights.  Mr Hockey made the comment while launching an attack on wind farms, saying he finds the giant turbines “utterly offensive” but is powerless to close down those operating outside Canberra.

Scientists Warn of Quake Risk From Fracking Operations
Underground disposal of wastewater from fracking may pose a much greater risk of causing dangerous earthquakes than previously believed, particularly in areas of the U.S. Southwest and Midwest where earthquake faults have not been mapped extensively, seismology researchers said at a conference Thursday.

Australia to pilot new power plan
‘WHAT DO YOU DO when the sun doesn’t shine?’  It’s been one of the criticisms levelled at the solar panels that are now so common on residential and commercial roofs across Australia.  Australia has the world’s greatest penetration of solar photovoltaic panels (PV). By the end of 2013, more than 3,000 megawatts of small-scale solar was installed across 1.1 million households, with the average system now 3.9 kilowatts in size.  Now Sunpower Corporation – which builds solar panels but also large-scale solar plants – has flagged that it will be using Australia as a global testing ground for a new model for providing electricity.

Storing solar power is the key to cutting energy bills, CSIRO says
When Paul Graham was busy writing a report on the future of Australia’s electricity sector, a salutary reminder of the rapid progress of technology landed in his letterbox.  In the mail for the chief economist of the CSIRO’s energy flagship was an advertising leaflet spruiking batteries on the market for solar photovoltaic panels. These are the game-changers in the scenarios he was trying to map out.   “Every now and then, you think you’re doing something futuristic and then things happen faster than you think,” Dr Graham said.

An open letter to BHP from Tokelau
The leader of a tiny Pacific island state wrote to Australian coal mining giant BHP Billiton asking company executives to visit Tokelau and learn about their struggle with climate change. Here he responds to their decision to decline.

Global carbon dioxide levels exceeded historic threshold throughout April
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged more than 400 parts per million throughout April, the first time the planet’s monthly average has surpassed that threshold.  The data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, shows how world leaders are failing to rein in greenhouse gases that climate scientists say are warming the planet.

Environment

Human litter found in Europe’s deepest ocean depths
Bottles, plastic bags, fishing nets and other human litter have been found in Europe’s deepest ocean depths, according one of the largest scientific surveys of the seafloor to date.  Scientists used video and trawl surveys to take nearly 600 samples from 32 sites in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, from depths of 35 metres to 4.5 kilometres. They found rubbish in every Mediterranean site surveyed, and all the way from the continental shelf of Europe to the mid-Atlantic ridge, around 2,000km from land.

Environmentally friendly surfboards float our boats
TWO Brazilian university students have floated their message of environmental sustainability by building surfcraft made from bottles.  Renata Marcadella and Niel Terme have reached thousands of schoolchildren in Brazil and now hope to inspire Gold Coast students.  The couple won a Facebook competition to study at the Bond University English Language Institute after showing how successful their ecological surfboard design project — Projeto Prancha Ecologica — was in their home country.

Economy and Business

Tax rules facilitate avoidance, with developing countries the biggest losers
Developing countries are losing out on vital revenues, writes Oxfam’s Claire Godfrey. It’s time to reform international tax.  Current international tax rules are allowing multinational companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, according to Oxfam’s new report Business among friends: why corporate tax dodgers are not yet losing sleep over global tax reform. It also warns that many of the world’s poorest economies – also the ones being worst hit – are being left out of global negotiations to tackle this scandal.  It’s not just Oxfam that is making the case. The IMF recently issued a report showing how effective progressive taxation and redistributive fiscal policies are in decreasing or offsetting growing inequality.

Balancing people and profit at a global oil company (Book extract)
I had seen sketches of what the plant would look like: a modern complex of gleaming silver buildings, circled by trucks and cars filled with men in hardhats. I tried to visualize the images from those sketches on the scene below me, mentally replacing swathes of forest with steel and concrete. Suddenly the ride got uncomfortable: The cabin felt tiny and the chopper noise was deafening. I mopped my brow, tugged at my lifejacket and took a swig of water, and realized where my discomfort was coming from. For the first time, I was seeing what BP – my new employer – was in the business of doing, and it was literally making me sick.

UK Startup Turning Enterprising Beer Lovers Into Urban Farmers
Some breweries in England are increasingly sourcing their hops from New Zealand and the US instead of buying closer to home, which generates a bigger carbon footprint. While chatting about beer over a pint at an Incredible Edible Lambeth event in the fall of 2011, Helen Steer and Ann Bodkin started thinking about how to engage a larger range of people in locally sourced food and drink. From that conversation, Grow Beer — a project to crowdsource hops from personal and community gardens for use at local breweries — was born.

Bacardi Reusing 2,300 Tons of Concrete Rubble to Build New Warehouses
Spirits giant Bacardi Limited announced it has built three new warehouses at its rum distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico using recycled concrete. The waste was derived from the demolition of six older structures on the 127-acre campus.  “We took all the rubble from the demolition and reused it as backfill material in building our new warehouses,” says Julio Torruella, project director for Bacardi in Puerto Rico. “This was a zero-waste project designed to reuse steel and concrete, rather than sending material to the landfill.”

McDonald’s Reveals CSR/Sustainability Framework and Host of 2020 Goals
This week, McDonald’s unveiled its first Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability Framework. The fast-food giant says the goal of the plan is to position the company for the future, while generating measurable, positive impacts for society.  McDonald’s released the framework in conjunction with its 2012-2013 CSR & Sustainability Report, “Our Journey Together. For Good.”

Politics and Society

Barack Obama’s emissions plan comes under new line of attack
The Guardian has learned that the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a free market group of state legislators funded in part by coal and oil companies such as Peabody Energy and Koch Industries, launched a much broader style of campaigning in 2014 to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.  Documents obtained by the Guardian offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Alec as the organisation tried to drum up opposition from coal, oil and electricity industry groups and state officials.

Ben & Jerry’s referred to consumer watchdog over save-the-reef campaign
A Queensland senator elect has referred Ben & Jerry’s to Australia’s consumer watchdog for its advocacy efforts against development around the Great Barrier Reef.  The international ice-cream company has been campaigning against dredging and dumping near the reef. The company has been going on the road delivering free ice-cream around the country to raise alarm about the future of the reef.

Sustainability needs new narrative between catastrophe and utopia
Put another way, the old story of the industrial-growth society has passed its sell-by date. We know that it no longer works (indeed that it has only ever worked for a privileged minority) and many of us crave a different kind of social, business and political leadership that is more focused on helping us find new and healthier stories than on propping up the old one.

Food Systems

Cornwall’s carbon neutral farm offers hope for sustainable agriculture
With no experience in farming, the Sousek family left their urban life in Kent to run a farm powered by solar panels, a wind turbine and waste vegetable oil.  So why did the couple leave behind successful careers and the life they had built in Kent to take to the Cornish fields?  “That’s a simple one to answer”, says Paul. “I learnt about peak oil. Right on cue we then had the oil crisis in 2007, swiftly followed by the financial meltdown in 2008. Some believe that has all been resolved, but together with the ever worsening climate change situation, I think our problems are only just beginning.”

Fighting the seed monopoly: ‘We want to make free seed a sort of meme’
By trade, Jack Kloppenburg is a sociologist and a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Lately, however, his job has entailed packaging seeds and mailing them to farmers, in addition to his normal teaching and grading duties.  This change in routine was prompted by the unexpected popularity of the recently launched Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) a project spearheaded by Kloppenburg and Wisconsin horticulture professor Irwin Goldman. In mid-April, the initiative released 36 seed varieties, all free from the patent restrictions that limit much of the seed commercially available today.

Showdown at the organic standards board meeting
There’s a fierce struggle that’s been going on for years over what organic should represent.  “The bottom line is that as sales of organics and natural brands soar, and large corporations buy up the smaller, organic and natural brands, those corporations begin to throw around their weight at the USDA. That leads to the degradation of organic standards,” Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, wrote in an email.

Technology

Electric car sales speed up as UK plugs in to global trend
If you live in west Manchester and have a plug-in electric car, one of the few places you can charge it is the Irlam and Cadishead leisure centre. But since the public point was installed a year ago, only one car has used it, according to centre manager Natalie Wareham.  That may soon change. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that, while there was just a handful of electric cars on the road three years ago, there are now nearly 10,000, with 1,200 electric vehicles sold in March, compared with 270 in the same month last year. Meanwhile 10,200 hybrid cars – using electricity and petrol or diesel – have been sold in Britain this year, up 45% on last year.

Built Environment

Japan’s disposable home culture is an environmental and financial headache
It’s time to move to a new city. You look at houses you might want to buy and finally settle on one that’s in the right location and appeals to you. But in Japan, that appeal hardly matters: the average home only lasts for 30 years.  That’s because, as the economists Richard Koo and Masaya Sasaki show in a report, 15 years after being built the average house is worth nothing. “It’s a direct contrast to, for example, western Europe, where many of the most desirable buildings are 200 years old,” notes Alastair Townsend, a British architect living and working in Japan. “It’s not environmentally sustainable but also not financially sustainable. People work very hard to pay off a mortgage that’s ultimately worth zero.”

This 10-Mile Loop Of Parks Would Protect New York From Rising Water
As sea levels rise along the New York City waterfront, “100-year” storm surges may eventually happen as often as every three years, with more chances of Sandy-like damage if the city doesn’t rebuild its borders. One redesign under consideration now: Big U, a 10-mile long shield of parks and community spaces that would help protect Manhattan neighborhoods from flooding.  Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and a network of collaborators over the last 10 months, Big U is one of 10 finalists in the Rebuild by Design competition launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year.

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