Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning. 

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Overpopulation, overconsumption – in pictures
How do you raise awareness about population explosion? One group thought that the simplest way would be to show people.

Waves of humanity. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

Waves of humanity. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

‘Sprawling Mexico City rolls across the landscape, displacing every scrap of natural habitat  ‘If our species had started with just two people at the time of the earliest agricultural practices some 10,000 years ago, and increased by one percent per year, today humanity would be a solid ball of flesh many thousand light years in diameter, and expanding with a radial velocity that, neglecting relativity, would be many times faster than the speed of light.’ Gabor Zovanyi

Energy and Climate Change

California drought: governor tells climate-change deniers to wake up
As his state faces the worst drought in its history, with mandatory water rationing for residents and fears of destruction to the agricultural sector, California governor Jerry Brown had a message Sunday for climate-change deniers: wake up. “With the weather that’s happening in California, climate change is not a hoax,” Brown said, on ABC news. “We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.”

Why Do We Ignore Climate Change? George Marshall in conversation with Robert Manne
George Marshall is the author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. As part of La Trobe University’s Ideas & Society program, he joins Professor Robert Manne at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to discuss the complex psychology behind climate change denial.

Environment and Biodiversity

UK drew wrong conclusion from its neonicotinoids study, scientist says
A study on which the UK government bases its position that neonicotinoid pesticides do not threaten bees may actually be the first conclusive evidence that they do, according to a leading bee scientist. Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, reanalysed a 2013 study on the effect of the world’s most heavily used pesticides on bumblebees by the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera). The study was never published in a peer-reviewed journal and has been rejected by the EU’s safety authority. Yet the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) cites it on their website as a foundation for its support of the pesticides.

Largest fish trawler Geelong Star arrives in Australian waters
The controversial Dutch-owned factory freezer trawler Geelong Star has arrived in Australia and been given initial Federal Government approval to fish, despite concerted opposition. Geelong Star would be the largest trawler to fish in Australian waters, after a bigger sister ship, the Margiris, was banned in the 2012 supertrawler controversy. The 95 metre vessel arrived without notice on Wednesday in Albany, Western Australia, was inspected by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, and is expected to begin fishing within days.

Delta Smelt, Icon of California Water Wars, Is Almost Extinct
SAN FRANCISCO, California—A luminous little fish that smells like cucumbers and has the power to slow the flow of water to thirsty California cities and farms is swimming closer to extinction. Only six delta smelt—the lowest number ever found—were netted in a survey by state biologists last month. In previous years, as many as several hundred had been caught in spring surveys. Protected by the Endangered Species Act, the delta smelt is a powerful and divisive symbol of the troubles endured by the whole bay-delta ecosystem that is spread across northern and central California. Because smelt live only one year, they immediately reflect the ecological problems created by a massive system of dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts that export water south.

Let’s stop Tasmania’s swift parrots going the way of the dodo
You might have seen recently that swift parrots – little green parrots that migrate between mainland south east Australia and Tasmania – are headed for extinction. In modelling published in Biological Conservation, my colleagues and I found that these parrots could be all but gone within 16 years, largely through being eaten by sugar gliders. Today, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to protect swift parrots and two other Tasmanian birds: orange-bellied parrots, and forty-spotted pardalotes.

Economy and Business

NRG Energy and Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican top solar ownership table
Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy is among the largest investors in solar power stations, according to new industry figures. The company comes second only to NRG Energy in terms of solar capacity owned at the end of 2014, reveals data from Wiki-Solar. The two companies have invested together in the 350MW Agua Caliente plant, while MidAmerican also owns the world’s largest operating plant, First Solar’s 550MW Topaz plant, and will shortly add the 585MW Solar Star development, which is nearing completion. Among NRG’s 12 solar assets is SunPower’s 250MW California Valley project 250 MW.

Etsy Takes Its Social Mission to Wall Street
Since Etsy followed up on its ambition to go public by registering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, online commentators have expressed various levels of concern, anticipation, and extensive financial analysis and speculation. As a certified B Corporation, Etsy’s social and environmental performance should remain a designated priority. As a public company, it will have to answer to its shareholders and periodically meet SEC requirements, while maintaining its social mission. Will Etsy be able to win over Wall Street — and as a result add a little handcrafted and sustainable flavor to the stock-trading game?

Optimizing Your Sustainability Roadmap: Lessons from Product Development Portfolio Management
As sustainability management becomes ever more closely linked to company resilience and reputation, CSR goals are coming into sharper focus for companies that are truly on the journey. But there are many choices to be made among a broad range of sustainability initiatives that could achieve those goals; just as in the world of product development, where there is an unlimited number of possible new product ideas and features, there will always be too many ideas and not enough resources. So how do you prioritize your company’s sustainability initiatives for maximum value and impact?

Leonardo DiCaprio Builds an Eco-Resort
In what may be his highest-impact leading role yet, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the Oscar-nominated “Wolf of Wall Street,” is planning to heal an island. A well-known environmental activist, Mr. DiCaprio bought Blackadore Caye, 104 acres of wild, unpopulated land off the coast of Belize, with a partner soon after he set foot in the country a decade ago. “It was like heaven on earth,” he said, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles. “And almost immediately, I found this opportunity to purchase an island there.” Now Mr. DiCaprio has joined with Paul Scialla, the chief executive of Delos, a New York City-based developer, to create an eco-conscious resort there.

Study estimates wasps cost NZ $130m a year
NEW ZEALAND – Wasps potentially cost the country at least $130 million a year, a new study has calculated. The costs include more than $60m a year to pastoral farming. As a result of wasps disrupting bee pollination, the amount of clover in pastures is reduced and more has to be spent on fertiliser. Close to another $60m is lost in unrealised honey production from beech forest honeydew, which wasps monopolise. The cost estimate was made by the Sapere Research Group, in a study funded by the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Startup Turns Computers into Primary Source of Heat Generation
New York City-based tech start up Project Exergy is one step closer to developing a technology capable of heating smart homes using computers, following a successful crowdfunding campaign. The concept involves transferring the computation done in data centers into millions of home and office computers and putting the normally wasted heat to use through a liquid cooling system that can efficiently extract and thermally store the high temperature heat. Founded by a team of energy, software, data center, finance and engineering professionals, Project Exergy says it has created a high performance computer prototype designed to run as hot as possible so it can thermally store heat energy and use it to power a buildings’ water heating, HVAC and refrigeration systems.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Eco industrial park proposed for Westport
NEW ZEALAND – Qualified industrial chemist and former councillor John Hill has proposed the conversion of Holcim’s Cape Foulwind cement works into an eco industrial park in a pitch before Buller’s District Council. Lee Scanlon reported in the Westport News that, according to Mr Hill, the park would generate more jobs than Westport will lose when Holcim disuse their current site, and would result in a decrease in electricity prices for Buller. Hill envisages the eco park making use of varied forms of waste in the production of energy, chemicals, biogas, bricks and building aggregates.

Plastic bag levy possible for Palmerston North
NEW ZEALAND – A proposal to impose a levy on purchasing plastic bags to help pay for their disposal and discourage their use will be put to the Palmerston North City Council’s planning and policy committee on Tuesday. The council stopped accepting used plastic bags for recycling last year because of the problems they caused on the recycling sort line, and the cost of disposal given the lack of a market for them. proposal is to seek support from at least four other councils to put a remit to Local Government New Zealand’s annual conference to ask the government to impose a levy on the bags at point of sale.

Mediterranean Sea ‘accumulating zone of plastic debris’
Large quantities of plastic debris are building up in the Mediterranean Sea, say scientists. A survey found around one thousand tonnes of plastic floating on the surface, mainly fragments of bottles, bags and wrappings. The Mediterranean Sea’s biological richness and economic importance means plastic pollution is particularly hazardous, say Spanish researchers. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, turtles and whales. Very tiny pieces of plastic have also been found in oysters and mussels grown on the coasts of northern Europe.

Rhode Island Considering Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging
Rhode Island lawmakers have introduced two bills that could put end-of-life product management duties onto the shoulders of packaging producers. If passed, Rhode Island will become the first state to enact legislation for extended producer responsibility (EPR) for printed paper and packaging (PPP). House Bill 5508 (HB 5508), introduced on Feb. 12, calls on packaging producers to develop a plan to fund the recycling of at least 80 percent of packaging sold in the state by 2020.

Politics and Society

The lasting legacy of quiet leadership
In this short piece I’m interested in quiet leadership. Leaders that arises over time who are sometimes only fully recognised posthumously. These people set out with an idea and an ambition to be thought leaders but they are not today’s celebrity spectacles. They know that, in order to achieve, they must do the work and let the results do the talking. Many scholars may be good researchers but they are not necessarily good communicators. One of the delights of rereading Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin as examples of legacies of quiet leaders, is that they are eminently readable today. The same is true of Rachel Carson, author of the seminal Silent Spring published in 1962, and of course David Attenborough is thoroughly watchable.

Relearning the Art of Asking Questions
Proper questioning has become a lost art. The curious four-year-old asks a lot of questions — incessant streams of “Why?” and “Why not?” might sound familiar — but as we grow older, our questioning decreases. In a recent poll of more than 200 of our clients, we found that those with children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions. But those same clients said that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Why the drop off?

Nigeria will be ‘forceful’ climate advocate, says Buhari
Nigeria’s president elect has promised to make addressing global warming a priority when he assumes power in June.In his acceptance speech on Wednesday, General Muhammadu Buhari said his government would play a more active role in diplomatic efforts to craft a global response to climate change. “I assure all foreign governments that Nigeria will become a more forceful and constructive player in the global fight against terrorism and in other matters of collective concern, such as the fight against drugs, climate change, financial fraud, communicable diseases and other issues requiring global response,” he said. Buhari replaces president Goodluck Jonathan on May 29, in what is set to be the country’s first peaceful political transition since gaining independence in 1963.

£100m former hippy who began green ‘industrial revolution’ blasts David Cameron for betraying environment
He lives in an 18th century castle, runs a hugely successful company and is listed as one of the richest men in Britain… After spending almost a decade living in vans, a dilapidated ambulance and even a fire engine, the New Age traveller parked his van on top of a windy hill in Stroud, Glos, and hit upon an idea to power his trailer with windmills. It took him five years to realise his dream – but his project generated huge interest and today his company, ­Ecotricity, is worth £100million and supplies power to 160,000 customers. It turned Dale into a pioneer of what he calls the green “industrial revolution.” But he insists: “Ecotricity is not just about making millions. Life is about more than money. We need to hold on to our core principles.”

48 hours that changed the future of rainforests
Glenn Hurowitz sat down for his Thanksgiving meal discouraged. He’d spent 2013 flying halfway around the world to cultivate a fragile relationship with Kuok Khoon Hong, CEO of the world’s largest palm oil corporation, Wilmar. Kuok was the linchpin, Hurowitz believed — a single person who might turn the entire palm oil industry around. Wilmar buys palm oil from 80 percent of the world’s suppliers. If Kuok committed to buying only from farmers who promised not to cut down the rainforest, it would set off a chain reaction that might save hundreds of species from extinction and squelch one of the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions. But after months of progress, the signals he’d been getting from Kuok were not encouraging.

The Science Of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things
Most people are in the pursuit of happiness. There are economists who think happiness is the best indicator of the health of a society. We know that money can make you happier, though after your basic needs are met, it doesn’t make you that much happier. But one of the biggest questions is how to allocate our money, which is (for most of us) a limited resource. There’s a very logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will last longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like concert or vacation. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

National environmental report to exclude carbon emissions
The government revealed this week that the topics of this year’s national environmental report will exclude New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Environmental Reporting Bill, topics are currently going to be vetted by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Statistics. They are intended to give an accurate picture of the state of our environment. But Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says that omitting carbon emissions from the collated information means the government is ignoring New Zealand’s contribution to climate change.

Built Environment

Spacehus sets a new standard for energy efficient homes
The housing crisis is Britain is not just one of a shortage of homes. Our housing stock is among the oldest and coldest in Europeand the cost of heating leaking properties is leading to a rise in fuel poverty. The BRE’s Home Quality Mark aims to tackle this problem, and it is intended to help house hunters, both tenants and buyerschoose a home with low energy and water costs. BRE chief executive, Dr Peter Bonfield said he hopes the mark will become a “de facto sign of a better home”, which encourages the mortgage and construction industry to get behind sustainable living. But it may take innovation from abroad for the industry to change.

Food Systems

Palm Oil Scorecard 2015: Fries, Face Wash, Forests | Union of Concerned Scientists
Palm oil is a globally traded commodity used in a wide array of common consumer products, from shampoo to cookies. And much of this palm oil is produced in ways that involve the destruction of tropical forests and peatlands, adding to global warming emissions and reducing habitat for many already threatened species. The good news is that palm oil can be produced without deforestation—and many companies have begun to make public commitments to use deforestation-free palm oil in their products. The bad news is that too many companies are lagging behind, with weak commitments or none at all.

UCS is asking consumers to tell these companies that deforestation is an unacceptable ingredient in their products. [Ed: That means, know what companies are doing and buy responsibly.  Follow the article link above to see the 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard.]


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