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[Ed: I couldn’t choose… both good stories on consumerism]

Much ado about stuffing: over-eating and wasting food at Christmas
Christmas at our place is all about family and fun, but most of all food. Our table groans under the weight of the rich, festive treats. But come afternoon, we’re groaning too – our bellies overfull, and the fridge stuffed with glad-wrapped leftovers. As Boxing Day slides past, containers start to emit questionable aromas. By New Year’s Eve, the ham has turned green and nobody will brave a turkey sandwich. The bin beckons. Tis the season to over-eat, waste food or both. But if we’re honest with ourselves, the over-eating and wastage happens all year round.

Sick to death of consumerism? Find freedom in a tiny house
When I was an intellectually promiscuous doctoral student my eyes happened to fall upon a copy of Henry Thoreau’s, Walden, a fiery “simple living” manifesto, first published in 1854. This book, like no other before or since, ignited in me a shift in consciousness that I can only describe as an earthquake of the soul. It shook me awake from a deep slumber, opening my eyes to how consumerist cultures were foolishly celebrating a mistaken idea of freedom, leaving people materially rich but too often empty and twisted inside.

Energy and Climate Change

How climate change is making its mark on the world – pictures
Over the last century, climate change has transformed the surface of the planet. Since the industrial revolution, humans have pumped more than 1,890 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, warming the planet by around 0.85C. This heat has resulted in glaciers retreating, lakes shrinking and droughts spreading. Some areas of the world have changed beyond recognition, and some of the damage is irreversible. In a series of almost 300 images taken by cameras and satellites, NASA has illustrated where climate change is already scarring the face of the earth.

Climate Change Authority calls for delayed renewables deadline
AUSTRALIA – The Climate Change Authority has recommended that the government move back the deadline for the large-scale Renewable Energy Target by three years, from 2020 to 2023, rather than risk jeopardising investment by reducing the target itself. The recommendation was made in one of two reviews released by the authority today, covering two climate policies: the Renewable Energy Target (RET), and the now defunct Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) together with its successor, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

‘Climate hacking’ would be easy – that doesn’t mean we should do it
Some people might argue that the greatest moral challenge of our time is serious enough to justify deliberately tampering with our climate to stave off the damaging effects of global warming. Geoengineering, or “climate hacking”, to use its more emotive nickname, is a direct intervention in the natural environments of our planet, including our atmosphere, seas and oceans. It has been suggested that geoengineering might buy us time to prevent warming above 2C, and that we should look at it seriously in case everything goes pear-shaped with our climate. There are two problems with this argument. The first is that we already have an affordable solution with a relatively well-understood outcome: reducing our carbon emissions. The second is that geoengineering itself is fraught with danger and that, worryingly, the most dangerous version, called solar radiation management, is also the most popular with those exploring this field.

2014 was UK’s hottest year on record, says Met Office
2014 was the UK’s warmest year on record, figures from the Met Office show. Provisional figures for the whole year reveal that it was the hottest for the UK in records dating back to 1910.  Last year was also the warmest in the Central England Temperature series, the longest running temperature record in the world which stretches back to 1659, recording temperatures in an area of central England. The average temperature for the year was 9.9C, some 1.1C above the long term average, and making it warmer than the previous record year of 2006. It was also the fourth wettest year in records dating back to 1910, the Met Office said. The figures for 2014 mean that eight of the UK’s top 10 warmest years have occurred since 2002, the weather and climate experts said.

2014 was UK's hottest year on record, says Met Office

Report: Scotland’s power grid could be fossil fuel free by 2030
A fossil fuel free Scotland is not only technically achievable but could prove a cheaper and safer option than pursuing fossil fuel-based development, according to a new WWF-backed report. The study by consultancy giant DNV-GL tested the viability of the Scottish Government’s current policy goal of decarbonising the country’s electricity generation by 2030, setting a target of bringing carbon intensity down from 271 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour to 50g CO2/kwh. The target is separate to the goal of providing 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewables by 2020, which still allows for coal and gas to remain on the grid.

Environment and Biodiversity

Rare species of killer whale sighted
A rare species of killer whale, hardly seen since a pod stranded on Paraparaumu Beach 60 years ago, has been spotted in the south Indian Ocean. The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker encountered the pod of rare “Ecotype D” orcas while chasing a toothfish-poaching boat on Boxing Day. American marine ecologist and orca expert Robert Pitman examined photographs and video of the orcas and confirmed they were a Type-D Killer whale. “I don’t think they have ever been filmed alive,” he said.

Economy and Business

Big accounting firms taking the lead on sustainable development
Accountants around the world are currently considering how the organisations they work for can meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As experts in measurement and data controls, analysis, reporting and monitoring, it makes sense for them to take the lead. The goals and targets integrate economic, social and environmental aspects with the aim of achieving sustainable development in all its dimensions. Governments will be responsible for achievement of the goals and a key tool will be legislation and soft regulation requiring measurement and accountability by private and public sector organisations.

Plight of New Zealand glaciers is global news
New Zealand’s two big glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef, are now only accessible to tourists by air and their retreat has been highlighted over the way global warming is impacting on businesses that depend on ice and snow. Glacier-related tourism on the West Coast directly contributes at least $100 million a year to local economies, New York Times reports. But now at Fox the river has changed course cutting the trail up and Franz Josef lost hiking access in 2012. Helicopter landings are the only way to get on the glaciers now.

Businesses urged to make resource efficiency their New Year’s resolution
As Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is recycled, Mayor Boris calls for business action on food waste and Scotland promotes Resource Efficiency Pledge. As households and offices across the UK prepare to dispose of their Christmas trees and decorations today, businesses at opposite ends of the country are being urged to prioritise resource efficiency efforts throughout 2015. London Mayor Boris Johnson recently released new data showing that over the festive period households in the capital produce an extra 30,000 tonnes of rubbish, landing councils with a £4m bill. In addition, by tonight Londoners are expected to have discarded one million Christmas trees and 75 tonnes of Christmas tree lights.

Will 2015 Be the Year of the Plug-in Hybrid?
As we start the New Year, there is a quiet sense of optimism that says perhaps we are reaching a tipping point in the race against time that will determine the future of life on our planet. Whether it’s the impressive growth of renewable power, the recent agreement between the U.S. and China to take meaningful action to curb emissions or the various moves towards a zero-waste economy, there are signs everywhere that humanity is slowly beginning to pull together in a unified way to save ourselves from our epic miscalculations of the past. Another sign is the transformation of the transportation sector. According to the website EVObsession, there will be at least 15 new electric vehicle models hitting marketplace this year.

How Green Businesses Can Avoid Misleading Consumers
To environmentally conscious consumers looking to make more responsible purchasing decisions, there’s nothing more frustrating than being confronted with vague or misleading “green” labels. A bottle that reads “100 percent environmentally happy” might trick some consumers into buying it, but it’s going to turn off those eco warriors who see right through the marketing malarkey. When companies make claims about their environmentally friendly practices that aren’t backed by facts or that are downright false, their credibility takes a hit. And for a business that’s identified as a “green” company, the damage might be irreversible. But what can well-intentioned business owners do to make sure they avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing?

Waste and the Circular Economy

ACT Government to consider ‘cash for containers’ scheme
The ACT Government is likely to adopt a “cash for containers” scheme similar to the one planned for New South Wales. The NSW scheme will have a rebate of 10 cents for recyclable bottles and cans to be collected at community vending machines. The cost of the rebate would be covered by higher drink prices. ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell said the territory would look at joining the scheme. “The ACT has always said we support a consistent uniform approach,” Mr Corbell said. “With New South Wales now coming on board, I want to make sure ACT sporting clubs and ACT community groups can get the benefits of a cash for cans scheme and help clean up our parks and playgrounds.”

Successful New Year’s resolution: Brisbane woman creatively upcycles preloved clothing for 365 days
A Brisbane lady has successfully completed her 2014 New Year’s resolution to wear only upcycled clothing for 365 days. Jane Milburn vowed not to buy any new clothing last year as part of the Sew it Again, 365-day eco-clothing project. The communications consultant and former rural reporter told 612 ABC Brisbane that she made the resolution in the hope of inspiring others to upcycle preloved clothing as a way to improve their creativity and wellbeing. “There are so many beautiful things out there already, and it is about dressing individually and creatively and thinking about sustainable and ethical clothing,” she said of the project.

Politics and Society

Scotland and Ireland tackle homelessness in very different ways – here are the results
Housing tends to be seen as a human right, but here’s something to make you pause this winter: very few countries give homeless people any entitlement to emergency shelter. Scotland goes further and gives virtually every homeless person a legal right to settled accommodation via their local authority. What difference do these legal rights make in practice, though, and are homeless people’s experiences in Scotland actually better than elsewhere? In particular, do rights really empower those who are homeless in the way their advocates claim? These are some of the questions I’ve been exploring in my research by trying to unpack exactly what empowerment means in relation to homeless people and by comparing two very different policy approaches in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland

Why conservation should be top of politicians’ New Year resolutions
The introduction of new environmental laws is a rare event these days. But 2015 could see growing momentum toward one of the most important pro-nature legislative initiatives that the UK has ever seen, manifest in the growing campaign for a new Nature and Wellbeing Act. The runup to this year’s general election will see the case for a new act of parliament being made by groups including The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB. In my new book, What Nature does for Britain, I also make the case for such a “nature and wellbeing act” and call on political parties to introduce the idea into their manifestos.

Built Environment

Green Buildings Cost 25% Less to Operate
Green buildings cost less to operate and have a smaller carbon footprint, according to the US General Services Administration. reports on a post-occupancy evaluation study of 22 green federal buildings conducted by GSA and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The study compared one year of operating data and surveys of green building occupants, compared to the national average of commercial buildings.

Food Systems

Tagged trophy marlin found dead on long-line boat
A single elegant trophy fish caught by a couple of Auckland men two years ago has ended up exposing the reality of the ruthless plunder of the South Pacific’s fishing stocks. The pair caught a blue marlin and tagged it before releasing it.  Two years on, the marlin which had doubled in size, was found dead on one of the 3000 or so hooks strung out behind one of the 650 Chinese fishing boats registered to chase Pacific tuna. For game-fish charter boat operator Henk Gros of New Zealand it is soul destroying. In 21 years out of Tonga’s Vavau he has tagged hundreds of marlin but this was only his second ever “recapture”.

EU fish discard ban comes into force
The UK has hailed the first step towards a full ban on the controversial practice of fish “discards” whereby fishing vessels tip unwanted fish back into the sea. January 1st marked the date when fishermen targeting pelagic quota species such as mackerel, whiting, sprat and herring will have to land all the quota fish they catch, with a similar rule for demersal fish including cod and hake set to come into force at the start of 2016. The move follows three years of hard-fought negotiations in Brussels to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, which was marked by a high profile public campaign to bring an end to the practice of discarding and tighten restrictions on overfishing.

Fukushima rice passes radiation tests for first time since 2011 nuclear disaster, official says
Fukushima rice has passed Japan’s radiation checks for the first time since the 2011 nuclear disaster that prompted international alarm over the region’s produce, a prefecture official says. Fukushima official Tsuneaki Oonami said about 360,000 tonnes of rice, nearly all of last year’s harvest, had been checked and none had tested above the 100 becquerels per kilogram limit set by the government.


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