Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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.

Today’s top story is about a study warning that pollution may be damaging the fungi that live in forest soils and assist trees to absorb nutrients, in exactly the same way our gut microbiome helps us. Speaking of microbiome, apparently triclosan, an antimicrobial ingredient used in products such as toothpaste, kills some of the bacteria in mice intestines, with serious consequences. In other news, flooding from high tides in the USA is increasing in frequency, while the severity of droughts is getting worse in Australia; coal mining’s huge impact on Hunter Valley groundwater; and the founder of Oz Harvest has four simple rules to help you reduce your food waste.

Top Story

Pollution hits fungi that nourish trees – study | BBC News
Scientists are warning that pollution could be starving Europe’s trees of vital nutrients by damaging essential fungi. The fungi live on the roots of trees, supplying them with minerals and water. Current pollution limits may not be strict enough to protect the forest fungi, say researchers. Signs of tree malnutrition, such as discoloured or missing leaves, have been seen across Europe’s forests. Loss of fungi may be a factor, according to the study, published in the journal, Nature.

Climate Change and Energy

Flooding from high tides has doubled in the US in just 30 years | The Guardian
USA – The frequency of coastal flooding from high tides has doubled in the US in just 30 years, with communities near shorelines warned that the next two years are set to be punctuated by particularly severe inundations, as ocean levels continue to rise amid serious global climate change concerns.

Wind and solar farms face tough new connection hurdles | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The pace of confirmed and aspirational wind and solar projects in Australia continues at breath-taking speed, with 30GW of proposals in Queensland alone, but developers face new hurdles that some fear will add unnecessary costs. The changes have been proposed by the Australian Energy Market Operator in response to changes to the grid, and particularly the increasing share of renewables and the decline of traditional “synchronous” generation.

Solar and battery underway in Australia’s “largest” renewables microgrid | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – The plans of Western Australia regional utility Horizon Power to develop what it claims will be Australia’s largest hybrid renewables microgrid are edging closer to completion, after the awarding of the utility-scale solar and battery storage contracts. The project aims to see the coastal Pilbara town of Onslow – a launching base for the massive Wheatstone LNG project owned by Chevron – powered by at least 50 per cent renewable energy, and likely up to 70 per cent.

UQ solar farm approved in southern Queensland despite community concerns | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Residents of a southern Queensland town say they are “extremely disappointed” a multi-million-dollar solar farm has been given the green light for construction on prime agricultural land. Terrain Solar submitted the application to develop a 154-hectare site at Freestone Valley near Warwick, but the University of Queensland (UQ) will take ownership of the project when construction begins later this year.

Tasmanian pumped hydro sites identified for feasibility studies | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The State and Federal Governments are pushing ahead with plans to make Tasmania the battery of the nation. Government ministers are meeting at Lake Cethana in the state’s north-west to unveil a list of 14 sites with high potential for pumped hydro energy storage.

Environment and Biodiversity

Triclosan, a common antimicrobial in toothpaste and other products, linked to inflammation and cancer in the gut | The Conversation
The antimicrobial chemical triclosan is in thousands of products that we use daily: hand soaps, toothpastes, body wash, kitchenware and even some toys. Work in our lab suggests that this compound may have widespread health risks, including aggravating inflammation in the gut and promoting the development colon cancer by altering the gut microbiota, the community of microbes found in our intestines.

‘Massive impact’: Coal mining’s effect on the Hunter water tallied | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Coal mining in the Hunter Valley has affected groundwater in about a quarter of the region, and the 22 planned new coal mines or expansions of existing ones will expand the impact on water resources further, a federal government study has concluded. The Hunter bioregional assessment, published online this week, examined the expected impacts of the extra mining in an area “of great ecological significance”.

‘Insane’: Government gets its way on wild horses despite protests from scientists | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The Berejiklian government has secured passage through Parliament of a controversial bill to protect wild horses in the state’s largest national park, ignoring broad protests from scientists and even a farmer responsible for relocating many of the feral animals.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Ronni Kahn’s four-point plan to halve our annual $20 billion food waste bill | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The former corporate events manager had just put on a lavish spread for 1,000 people, with all the abundance and generosity you would want. Then she saw the aftermath: thousands of kilograms of good food going straight into the dumpster out back. “I felt sick. Totally horrible,” she said. That was in the early 2000s. Fast-forward 14 years and Ms Kahn is now the proud founder of OzHarvest — one of Australia’s largest food rescue charities that collects excess food from commercial outlets and delivers it to more than 1,000 charities around the country.

Photo: Ronni Kahn has travelled the world to preach her food waste message. (Supplied: Livia Giacomini)

Photo: Ronni Kahn has travelled the world to preach her food waste message. (Supplied: Livia Giacomini)

Auckland eateries encouraged to allow customers to bring own takeaway containers |
NEW ZEALAND – An Auckland community is doing its bit to reduce plastic waste by encouraging eateries to let customers bring their own takeaway containers. Plastic Free Mt Albert co-ordinator Fleur Tuck said a small group got together after talk on social media about how to reduce the “eye watering” amount of plastic leaving takeaways in the area… But Tuck said people needed to be given the “psychological permission” to bring in their own container to an eatery without feeling uncomfortable. “[We thought] a poster saying it’s OK would be a great idea,” she said.

Politics and Society

Spending time alone in nature is good for your mental and emotional health | The Conversation
Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications. As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.

I want your (anonymized) social media data | The Conversation
Social media sites’ responses to the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and new European privacy regulations have given users much more control over who can access their data, and for what purposes. To me, as a social media user, these are positive developments: It’s scary to think what these platforms could do with the troves of data available about me. But as a researcher, increased restrictions on data sharing worry me.

EPA staff say the Trump administration is changing their mission from protecting human health and the environment to protecting industry | The Conversation
USA – The Environmental Protection Agency made news recently for excluding reporters from a “summit” meeting on chemical contamination in drinking water. Episodes like this are symptoms of a larger problem: an ongoing, broad-scale takeover of the agency by industries it regulates. We are social scientists with interests in environmental health, environmental justice and inequality and democracy. We recently published a study, conducted under the auspices of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative and based on interviews with 45 current and retired EPA employees, which concludes that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration have steered the agency to the verge of what scholars call “regulatory capture.”

Queensland ministers will be targeted if state funds roads for Adani, warn activists | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Activists say they will relaunch a disruption campaign targeting Queensland government ministers and MPs after reports the government has considered financing road upgrades required for access to Adani’s Carmichael coalmine. The ABC reports that documents, obtained under right-to-information laws by the consultancy Energy and Resource Insights, reveal ongoing discussions about upgrades to the local dirt roads.

DB, Les Mills, Phil Goff among call for climate action | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – More than 200 businesses, leaders and community groups have signed a letter backing the Government’s fresh steps toward a zero-carbon 2050 – and compelling it to keep moving forward. The open letter was delivered to Climate Change Minister James Shaw this morning by representatives from WWF-New Zealand and youth group Generation Zero.

Built Environment

‘Impossible-to-cheat’ emissions tests show almost all new diesels still dirty | The Guardian
Emissions tests that are impossible for carmakers to cheat show that almost all diesel car models launched in Europe since the “dieselgate” scandal remain highly polluting. The True analysis shows that new diesel models released in 2016 were still on average five over times above the EU’s official baseline limit of 0.08mg of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per kilometre. The 2017 models were a little cleaner, but still nearly four times over.

Food Systems

National party comments on drought and climate ‘a disservice’ to farmers | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Farmers have challenged National party claims that conditions in drought-stricken regions in eastern Australia should not be politicised by attributing them to climate change. Farmer and former Nationals leader John Anderson said this week that while the drought was the worst he had experienced, it was not unprecedented.

The Climate Council has identified an 11% decline in the growing-season rainfall in south-east Australia since the mid-90s. Photograph: Andrew Munro

The Climate Council has identified an 11% decline in the growing-season rainfall in south-east Australia since the mid-90s. Photograph: Andrew Munro

Live sheep exporters get longer ‘grace’ period for sub-standard ships | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – The government has extended by a year the time it is giving exporters with old ships to continue with sub-standard conditions for sheep carried to the Middle East. Exporters were to be provided with a grace period for these ships only until January 1 2019, under a decision made when the government approved in May tougher standards for the industry. Previously the date had been 2023. But in the past two or three weeks the government accepted the claim put to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud by some in the trade that the new deadline was too ambitious. It has now changed the date to January 1 2020.