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Energy and Climate Change

Ozone-depleting chemical hydrogen chloride found to be on the rise
Atmospheric levels of a key ozone-depleting chemical are on the increase but the rise appears to be a symptom of climate change rather than additional sources of the destructive substance, according to international researchers including three from the University of Wollongong. Investigations were prompted when scientists identified levels of hydrogen chloride had began rising in 2007 – but only in the northern hemisphere – when they should have been falling because of curbs agreed under the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer.

Wentworth Group of Scientists recommends scrapping diesel fuel rebate and giving farmers an incentive to look after the land
The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists wants widespread water reform and increased farm production to form the basis of discussions on future taxation. They are some of the suggestions contained in a paper released today, called A Blue Print for a Healthy Environment and a Productive Economy. The group argues the way to fund this, as well as greater environmental management of our natural resources, would be to remove the diesel fuel rebate (DFR) that the mining industry receives and re-allocate it.

Special section: Reaction to USA mid-terms and climate policy

Election Results Make U.S. Congress Action on Climate Change Even Less Likely
In the green hills and gray hollows of Kentucky’s well-mined mountains, the economy of extracting coal from the fuel-rich ground isn’t what it once was. Yet Mitch McConnell, a longtime senator poised to become majority leader of the U.S. Senate in a Congress that will be fully controlled by his Republican Party come January, has found political fortune in those hills. He successfully campaigned for reelection there with warnings about a “war on coal” he accuses Democratic President Barack Obama of waging. This helps explain what the United States won’t be doing about global warming in the near future.

Climate change denier Jim Inhofe in line for Senate’s top environmental job
The Senate’s top environmental job is set to fall to Jim Inhofe, one of the biggest names in US climate denial, but campaigners say Barack Obama will fight to protect his global warming agenda. Oklahoma Republican Inhofe has been denying the science behind climate change for 20 years – long before it became a cause for the conservative tea party wing. Following midterm elections which saw the Republicans take control of the senate, he is now expected to become the chairman of the senate environment and public works committee.  However, advocates believe Obama will work to protect his signature power plant rules from Republican attacks, and to live up to his earlier commitments to a global deal on fight climate change.

4 Ways Election Results Could Intensify U.S. Energy Battles
The Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, the result of Tuesday’s election, may alter the nation’s posture on energy and the environment. The power shift could put a climate change denier in charge of a key environment panel, pave the way for the Keystone XL pipeline, and lift a four-decade U.S. ban on crude oil exports. Republicans won control of the Senate for the first time in eight years and expanded their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Emboldened, they will also likely move to block funding for the crown jewel of Obama’s climate agenda: the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Environment and Biodiversity

Elephant ivory price ‘spiked as China VIPs snapped up thousands of kilos’
China has strongly dismissed claims suggesting that a Chinese delegation accompanying Xi Jinping to Tanzania last year purchased so much illegal elephant ivory that prices spiked. According to a scathing report on the country’s illegal wildlife trade by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), business boomed when Xi’s delegation was in the capital city, Dar es Salaam, last March, doubling the market price of ivory to $700 a kilogram. Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, called the allegations groundless, adding that the ministry was “strongly dissatisfied” with the report. “We attach importance to the protection of wild animals like elephants. We have been cooperating with other countries in this area.” But the campaigners EIA, who are based in London, UK, said that the Chinese president’s entourage had purchased “thousands of kilos of ivory” and later sent the load back to China.

Japan-China relations strained over illegal coral poaching
A cluster of Japanese islands has become a potential flashpoint in already tense relations between Japan and China after Tokyo urged Beijing to crack down on a rise in illegal coral poaching by Chinese fishermen. The demand came as Japanese officials warned that Chinese poachers currently in the area would not be allowed to take refuge on the Ogasawara islands, located about 600 miles south of Tokyo, from a powerful typhoon expected to arrive later on Thursday. Japan has boosted its coastguard and police presence near the islands after observing a dramatic rise in the number of poachers searching for red coral in its exclusive economic zone.

Economy and Business

Society must call business’ bluff on its fixation with profit maximisation
The world of business appears to be so powerful and robust from the outside but look up close and it is brittle and full of fear. Anxiety among top executives about losing their lavish bonuses and the status and lifestyle that comes with it, leads to the most perverse behaviour. Ignoring the damaging impacts on both society and the environment keeps things nice and simple in the same way as keeping away from the great unwashed by living behind high walls and security cameras. I was reminded of this listening to John Kay, one of the UK’s leading economists, give a strongly worded condemnation of shareholder primacy, arguing profit maximisation is a “crass description” of the purpose of a company. “Making a profit is no more the purpose of business as breathing is the purpose of living,” said Kay, who chaired the government review of UK equity markets and long-term decision making (pdf). “Why should I allow organisations that believe in profits above all else to exist in modern society? There is no good answer to that question.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

End of life for wasteful churn if Sydney Industrial Ecology Network has its way
The churn from office fit-outs is a huge waste of resources, with often perfectly good equipment and furniture tossed to landfill, at great cost. Now the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network, funded by a grant from the NSW Environment Protection Authority, has started a program to map a new pathway. First to get aboard is DEXUS.  The first full-scale green de-fit of a commercial building by the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network is underway, with Edge Environment and a range of stakeholders including the Better Buildings Partnership, DEXUS and the NSW government together trying to tackle the issue of “fit-out churn”.

Politics and Society

Beyond GDP: happiness is about more than just individuals
Many readers of this piece will be aware that economists are rethinking the role of happiness and GDP. They question facile assumptions about economic growth alone being good for us. What’s the good of being better off if it doesn’t make people any happier? There has also been a vast literature in psychology looking at individual well-being and its determinants. If money doesn’t make us happy, what does?

What’s the environmental impact of modern war?
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has called on nations to do more to protect the environment from the devastation of war. War changes our parameters. In the face of actual or perceived threat, acts that would normally be abhorrent become acceptable and even routine. One of the first of our sensibilities to be discarded is the protection of the environment, says Catherine Lutz, a professor on war and its impacts at the Watson Institute for International Studies. “There is this notion that it is life or death for a nation so you don’t worry about niceties. We have this idea that human beings are separate from their environment and that you could save a human life through military means and military preparation and then worry about these secondary things later,” she says.

Ex-Greens MP Sylvia Hale donates $500,000 to environmental lawyers
Just before last Christmas, the Environmental Defender’s Office NSW received unhappy tidings in the form of a federal government cut to almost all its aid. By July, the public interest law group – along with EDOs in other states – had lost the rest of its roughly $400,000 in annual federal support, sending its lawyers scrambling for support. In an unlikely source of funds, former state Greens MP Sylvia Hale, offered EDO NSW one of four donations of $500,000 the former MP was donating to groups close to her heart including public housing. “We’d be up the creek without the EDO I’m sure,” said Ms Hale, who made a profit of about $4 million from the sale of an Erskineville publishing site and plans to give it all away. “It’s a critical source for so many community groups that are concerned about inappropriate developments.”

Queensland farmer ploughs giant G20 climate message
A Queensland farmer has ploughed a giant message to G20 leaders in one of his paddocks, telling them to prioritise climate change action. Rob McCreath ploughed the “Go Solar” statement on his land after Brisbane Airport rejected a billboard asking for climate change to be added to the G20 agenda. He hopes world leaders will see his message and pressure the Australian government to do more about emissions and renewable energy.

Meet Podemos: the party revolutionising Spanish politics
A new political party has erupted onto the Spanish political scene and is now making major waves. Podemos – whose name translates as “we can” – has pulled ahead of the country’s two main political parties in an opinion poll published by El País, and it has shaken the establishment. Its leader is Pablo Iglesias, a charismatic 36-year old political economy lecturer at the Complutense University in Madrid. Against a backdrop of shocking levels of corruption, a dismal economic situation and an overall unemployment rate of nearly 25% (more than 50% among young people), Podemos is suggesting a new type of citizen politics.

Warning over exercise as air pollution from fireworks night ‘very high’
The government is urging people to reduce their physical activities, particularly outdoors, after pollution levels across much of England and Wales peaked because of a combination of fireworks night and unusually still weather.  Pollution levels across the north and south-west of England, the Midlands, and south Wales are now “very high” meaning that the official health advice now urges people with lung problems, heart problems, and older people, to avoid strenuous physical activity, while people with asthma are told they may need to use their reliever inhaler more often.

Built Environment

Conference: UK empire building again, thanks to BIM
The UK’s excellence in building information modelling will see it “rebuild its empire”if other countries don’t quickly lift their game, Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference has heard. Through the use of BIM and green building innovation, the UK’s Construction 2025 strategy aims to cut construction capital expenditure by 33 per cent, delivery time by 50 per cent, carbon emissions by 50 per cent, and also reduce “the trade gap between total exports and total imports for construction products and materials”by 50 per cent. It’s this last point that other countries should pay attention to, Bentley chief operating officer Malcolm Walter told the conference crowd.


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