Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Not a great start to the week with our top story today about passing the 410ppm threshold for CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  The lag effect means even if we stop all emissions today, the planet will continue warming.  Consider this extract from the article: “In the mid-Pliocene warm period more than 3 million years ago, they were also around 400 parts per million — but Earth’s sea level is known to have been 66 feet or more higher, and the planet was still warmer than now… In other words, Earth’s movement toward Pliocene-like conditions may play out in the decades and centuries ahead of us.”

It is so frustrating to see the slow pace of change, especially living in Australia.  However, some stories today give more incentives for climate action with pollution linked to mental health and crime; negative feedback loops increasing methane production; Adani discovering coal is a financial dud; and the economy in Trump voting  states will suffer under climate change. And these articles are supported by a story that science is more likely to be accepted if supported by a diversity of evidence.  Can I still be optimistic?!

Top Story

Earth’s atmosphere just crossed another troubling climate change threshold | The Washington Post
For the first time since humans have been monitoring, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have exceeded 410 parts per million averaged across an entire month, a threshold that pushes the planet ever closer to warming beyond levels that scientists and the international community have deemed “safe.” The reading from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii finds that concentrations of the climate-warming gas averaged above 410 parts per million throughout April.

Climate Change and Energy

New climate ‘feedback loop’ discovered in freshwater lakes | BBC News
Methane emissions from lakes in the northern hemisphere could almost double over the next 50 years because of a novel “feedback loop” say scientists.  Climate change is boosting the proportion of cattail plants growing in and around freshwater lakes they say.  But when debris from these reed beds falls in the water it triggers a major increase in the amount of methane produced.

Victoria wind and solar farms warned of curtailment | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA -Owners and developers of existing and planned wind and solar projects in north-west Victoria have been warned that their facilities run a high risk of “curtailment” – a deliberate cut back of their generation capacity – because of the weak grid in the area. The warning, given by the Australian Energy Market Operator, specially mentions three new wind projects and five new solar projects that are due to come online within the next year.

Environment and Biodiversity

Labor deal means Murray-Darling Basin Plan amendments to proceed | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan will reduce its planned environmental water savings by about one-fifth after the Turnbull government won support for amendments from Labor. Labor reversed course after siding with the Greens and other Senate crossbenchers in February to block a cut of 70 billion litres a year in environmental flows for the northern basin, mostly in NSW.
Read also: Federal Government and Labor strike deal on future of Murray-Darling Basin Plan | ABC News 

Algae-covered swamp transformed into thriving wetlands producing clean water for Swan River | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary is just eight kilometres from the Perth CBD, flanked by busy roads and suburbia on three sides. But once you are inside the wall of trees that surrounds the wetland, the city sounds quickly recede.  “You start to hear the birds in the background, the sound of the traffic starts to go as you walk through the wetlands, and at dusk you can start to hear the frogs as well,” Jeremy Maher, the manager of sustainability and environment at the City of Bayswater, said.  Just five years ago, what is now the bird sanctuary was a degraded wetland with major algal blooms on the surface for much of the year.

Photo: A wall of green greets you at the Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

Photo: A wall of green greets you at the Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

Native bush keeps asthma at bay – study | Radio New Zealand News
New Zealand children who spend more time in parks and surrounded by nature are less likely to develop asthma, a study has found. The Massey University research followed nearly 50,000 children who were born in 1998 until they were 18, using satellite images and land-use data to assess how much they were likely to have been exposed to the natural environment. Study lead Jeroen Douwes said children living in areas with more green space were less likely to be asthmatic, with rates even lower for those exposed to native plants.

Capital punishment for pests | newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – The national ambition to create a pest-free country by 2050 currently looks like a long shot but Wellington is starting to show some serious progress. Twenty-seven Wellington suburbs now have trapping programmes and native birdlife is rapidly returning to many of them. “I think we are about 50 percent of the way there” says Kelvin Hastie, who started the first trapping programme in his own suburb of Crofton Downs.

North Shore bush track closed while test for kauri dieback is carried out | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – The kauri-killing disease which has seen much of the Waitakere Ranges closed to visitors may have been found on Auckland’s North Shore. A track at Chelsea Estate Heritage Park has been closed as a precautionary measure after a survey found a tree suspected to be affected by kauri dieback disease.

Economy and Business

Adani losses prompt mining company to shift away from imported coal | The Guardian
Adani’s coal-fired power business has reported more heavy losses, prompting the Indian conglomerate to announce it would shift away from using expensive imported coal. Analysts say the fourth-quarter financial results for Adani Power, a subsidiary of the Adani group, showed the proposed Carmichael mega-mine in Queensland was no longer a viable proposition.

Global warming will depress economic growth in Trump country | Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian
USA – A working paper recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond concludes that global warming could significantly slow economic growth in the US.  Specifically, rising summertime temperatures in the hottest states will curb economic growth. And the states with the hottest summertime temperatures are all located in the South: Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona. All of these states voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Toxin linked to motor neuron disease found in Australian algal blooms | The Conversation
Algal blooms in major Australian rivers are releasing a toxic chemical that may contribute to the development of motor neuron disease (MND). My colleagues and I tested algae from waterways in New South Wales, and found that a neurotoxin called BMAA was present in 70% of samples, including those from crucial water sources such as the Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers.  This compound is well known overseas, and has been found in waterways in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. But this is the first time it has been detected in Australia. Although its presence has been suspected, it was never specifically tested until now.

A crisis too big to waste: China’s recycling ban calls for a long-term rethink in Australia | The Conversation
Australia’s recycling industry is in crisis, with China having effectively closed its borders to foreign recycling. Emergency measures have included stockpiling, landfilling, and trying to find other international destinations for our recycling – but none of these are sustainable long-term solutions.  To manage this problem sustainably, we need a mix of short and longer-term planning. That means taking a broader approach than the strategies agreed by state and federal environment ministers at last month’s emergency summit.

Survey reveals tiny plastic scourge hurting sealife | NZ Herald
NEW ZEALAND – Tiny pellets that were supposed to have been made into plastic products have instead been found in their masses around Wellington’s marine environment. Sampling work that recovered hundreds of the tiny “nurdles” of virgin plastic from around the capital’s waters and shores, along with large numbers of other microplastics, has highlighted the alarming toll pollution is now having on New Zealand’s life-rich blue backyard.

Five ways you can combat plastic pollution:

  1. Choose to refuse single-use plastic where possible.
  2. Find ocean-friendly alternatives. A quick Google search also offers lots of cheap and easy DIY options.
  3. Re-use everything you possibly can.
  4. Get creative and fix or make your own products.
  5. Educate yourself: watch documentaries, read articles and get involved with groups.


Great Pacific Garbage Patch plastic removal system could become ‘world’s biggest piece of marine debris’, critics say | ABC News
In 2012, an 18-year-old Dutch entrepreneur told a TEDx audience he was designing a device to clean-up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Boyan Slat’s idea sounded like a novel concept that would quickly succumb to the insurmountable logistical issues of cleaning up 1.6 million square kilometres of plastic in deep, remote, open ocean. However, six years on Mr Slat’s organisation The Ocean Cleanup is about to test a 120-metre section, ahead of deploying the first 600-metre system to the Northern Pacific Ocean later this year.

Politics and Society

‘It’s all about vested interests’: untangling conspiracy, conservatism and climate scepticism | The Guardian
Academics have suggested that people who tend to accept conspiracy theories also underplay or reject the science showing humans are causing rapid and dangerous climate change. But a new study that tested this idea across 24 different countries found the link between so-called “conspiratorial ideation” and “climate scepticism” only really holds in the US.

Good science doesn’t guarantee public acceptance – diverse evidence may help | The Conversation
It takes more than just robust science to convince people to take on a certain point of view – consider topics such as vaccination, genetically modified foods and climate change.  Our recent study looked how at the balance of evidence can shape the likelihood that people are convinced by it – and in particular how a psychological phenomenon known as “the diversity effect” plays out in assessing scientific evidence.

FactCheck Q&A: do ‘about 30% of homeless people have a job’? | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Inequality, class and social mobility in Australia were key issues discussed on a recent episode of Q&A. Social researcher and author Rebecca Huntley noted an uptick in the idea of “the undeserving poor” in Australia – particularly where homeless people are concerned. Huntley noted the perception held by some that homeless Australians are simply “not working hard enough”. Challenging that narrative, Huntley said “about 30% of those homeless people have a job”. Is that right?

Tourism’s carbon impact three times larger than estimated | BBC News
A new study says global tourism accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, around three times greater than previous estimates.  The new assessment is bigger because it includes emissions from travel, plus the full life-cycle of carbon in tourists’ food, hotels and shopping. Driving the increase are visitors from affluent countries who travel to other wealthy destinations.  The US tops the rankings followed by China, Germany and India.

Q&A: Pluses and minuses of the dairy industry |
NEW ZEALAND – National Party leader Simon Bridges has described the Government’s plan to cut pollution and clean up waterways as an “assault on the regions”. Is that what is proposed?

Read also:

Built Environment

Air pollution increases crime in cities – here’s how | The Conversation
The impact of air pollution on human health is well-documented. We know that exposure to high levels of air pollutants raises the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But there is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution does not just affect our health – it affects our behaviour too. It now believed that exposure to air pollutants can cause inflammation in the brain. What’s more, fine particulate matter is harmful to developing brains, because it can damage brain and neural networks and influence behaviour.

WA residential solar PPA could be “absolute game changer” | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Buyers of new-build houses and apartments at a property development in Perth’s northern suburbs are being offered an innovative solar power purchase agreement that promises to cut their daytime power costs by 40 per cent.

Food Systems

Stop the sheep trade in the northern summer, veterinarians say | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – The live sheep trade has received a fresh blow, with the Australian Veterinary Association opposing voyages in the northern summer, between May and October. The veterinarians’ stand prompted a call from the Western Australian government for the federal government to make a quick decision on the northern summer trade – already underway – “to ensure any pause can be properly managed”.
Read also: Government to announce increased penalties for live sheep trade | The Conversation 

Fish butchery, restaurants tackle seafood sustainability by promoting offal habits | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Joshua Niland has spent enough years working in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants to know the extent of potential food being wasted in the service industry. “It’s a shame, you spend all this money on all this beautiful fish,” the 29-year-old head chef and restaurant owner said. “If you work off the mantra of 40 per cent yield from a fish, then what’s the 60 per cent?”

Photo: Mr Niland offers up what he calls underutilised fish such as leatherjacket, garfish, bream and small whiting. (ABC Radio Sydney: Luke Wong)

Photo: Mr Niland offers up what he calls underutilised fish such as leatherjacket, garfish, bream and small whiting. (ABC Radio Sydney: Luke Wong)


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