Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The results of the US midterm elections are nearly complete with the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives but the Republicans gaining more seats in the Senate. Our top story looks at a more positive side. In other news, huge numbers of animals are dying in NSW due to tree clearing; but in northern WA, possums are returning after predator control measures; more on plastics with lots found in the guts of coral trout; pollution from coal fired plants in Australia is third world standard; and a fun new light source, just add mushrooms and bacteria.

Top Story

The US midterms was an election of “firsts” | World Economic Forum
USA – The US midterms offered some bitter disappointment for progressive Democrats who were hoping to unseat Ted Cruz as senator of Texas, hold onto their Senate seats, and knock back the Republicans who embraced Donald Trump’s hardline, nativist views. But Americans have also elected some remarkable first-ever candidates around the country, reflecting a changing population, more inclusive attitudes toward non-Christian religions and LGBTQ people, and giving representation for the first time to some minorities in the country. Here’s a selection of “firsts,” but more may be added to the list as results continue to come in.


Climate Change

Global climate action needs to go viral. Here’s how | World Economic Forum
Since the United Nations Kyoto climate accord over two decades ago, national governments have occupied center stage in the fight against climate change. They are indeed best equipped to accelerate the diffusion of clean energy technologies through the power they have to set tax, trade, regulatory, procurement, technical standards, R&D and other incentives. But they are far from the only effective instrument of change available to societies.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indonesia’s Last Forest Frontier: 3 Facts to Know About Papua | World Resources Institute
INDONESIA – With declining forest cover in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Papua is the last frontier of intact forest in Indonesia. Indonesian Papua—which occupies the western half of New Guinea, the world’s second-largest island, and includes the provinces of Papua and West Papua—held 38 percent of Indonesia’s remaining primary forest in 2012. Home to one of the most biodiverse forests on Earth, as many as 20,000 plant species, 602 birds, 125 mammals and 223 reptiles live in Indonesian Papua. The forest also supports local people who rely on it for traditional sources of livelihood.

10 million animals a year die from tree clearing in NSW, report finds | SMH
AUSTRALIA – NSW is losing native animals at the rate of 10 million a year from tree clearing, a pace that has doubled after the Berejiklian government eased vegetation protection laws in 2017, WWF-Australia says in a report. Using government figures, 517,956 hectares of native bushland were cleared in 1998-2015. Using measured animal densities, that destruction would have resulted in the deaths of at least 9.1 million mammals, 10.7 million birds and 67.1 million reptiles, the report found.

Feral animal eradication leads to rare brushtail possum sighting in WA national park | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The telltale sound of a brushtail possum on the roof may be annoying for some, but the discovery of the species in WA’s north is a sign that the eradication of foreign predators has been successful. A brushtail possum was pictured in Kalbarri National Park, 485km north of Perth, in the first documented sighting of the species in northern WA.

Photo: While brushtail possums are common in the southern parts of Western Australia, it is the first time one has been documented north of Geraldton. (Supplied: DBCA)

Photo: While brushtail possums are common in the southern parts of Western Australia, it is the first time one has been documented north of Geraldton. (Supplied: DBCA)

Dairy conversion threatens rare beetle habitat | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – The home of a threatened beetle is being replaced with 14,000 cows as part of a dairy conversion. Only 10 Eyrewell ground beetles have ever been found. The five most recent finds have come from a pine forest north of Christchurch belonging to Ngāi Tahu which is to be removed and the land converted to dairy farming. Conservationists believe this spells extinction for any remaining beetles.

Economy and Business

Milestone carbon pollution plan rejected by Washington state voters | The Guardian
USA – A milestone plan to impose America’s first ever price on carbon pollution failed to win enough votes in Washington state, on a tough night for environmentalists who had pinned their hopes on a number of climate change-related ballot measures across the country. A majority of Washington state voters in the midterm elections rejected a measure, known as Initiative 1631, that would have put a $15 fee on each ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the state, with the funds used to bolster various renewable energy projects.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Microplastics found in Great Barrier Reef wild-caught fish, new research reveals | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Microplastics have been detected in wild-caught fish from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, researchers report. A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville is the first study to report the detection of man-made fibres in the intestines of coral trout, a commercially important reef fish, in the first sign marine debris is entering the animals’ food chain. The research published in Nature found 115 items of waste in the gut of 19 juvenile coral trout caught at Lizard, Orpheus, Heron and One Tree Islands on the Great Barrier Reef.

More than 100 individual microplastics were found in the intestines of 19 juvenile coral trout. (Supplied: Australian Institute of Marine Science)

More than 100 individual microplastics were found in the intestines of 19 juvenile coral trout. (Supplied: Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Calls for initiatives to prevent construction boom from piling up waste | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – The Green Building Council is calling for more to be done to stop construction waste going to the dump as the building boom ramps up. The Auckland Council estimates up to 600,000 tonnes of building and demolition waste is going to landfill each year. With the government’s KiwiBuild plan set to add a further 50,000 homes to the city’s workload over the next 10 years, the amount of waste is expected to skyrocket. New Zealand Green Building Council chief executive Andrew Eagles, which represents 400 industry members, said per home you’re looking at four to five tonnes of construction waste.

Politics and Society

The arts are a shadow health service – here’s why | The Conversation
People tend to think of personal health in a limited way. Medical services of one kind or another are largely given the onus of keeping people well and fixing them when they become poorly. We are encouraged to stop smoking, drink less alcohol, lose weight and exercise. More recently, the idea of well-being has helped to shift that somewhat. Yoga and mindfulness, to take two examples, are now heavily associated with the idea of health. But rarely, if at all, are people encouraged to take up creative hobbies: the arts do not tend to be thought of in medical terms. But creative practices in the arts and humanities really can help people stay healthy or recover when illness strikes.

Bylong Valley coal mine in Mudgee divides farmers and locals during planning meeting | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Environmentalists and farmers at an independent planning commission were locked in disagreement over a proposed South Korean-owned coal mine in Bylong Valley, north-east of Mudgee. Hundreds of people, including dozens of protestors, turned out to the meeting in Mudgee to have their say on the Kepco mine, which is expected to generate more than 6.5 million tonnes of coal per year.


Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian billionaire, calls on Government to reinstate carbon price | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has called for Australia to reinstate the controversial carbon price, as he pushes to influence government policy with his new green energy campaign. Mr Cannon-Brookes said the “movement”, dubbed Fair Dinkum Power, would put forward policy suggestions around renewable energy ahead of the upcoming election, with the aim to move Australia to “200 per cent renewable energy”.

‘Inexplicable’: Power plants’ pollution limits weak by world standards | SMH
Pollution controls for major coal-fired power stations in NSW are so weak that they are comparable to “fairly under-developed third world countries”, a US energy expert says. Dr Ron Sahu, a California-based air quality consultant, said the environment protection licences (EPLs) at the Mt Piper, Eraring and Vales Point plants were “very weak”. “It is inexplicable,” said Dr Sahu, who has worked in Kenya, India, the US and China. “Your neighbouring drycleaner [in the US] would have a stronger licence, and I’m only half exaggerating.”

Mixed reaction to new law banning oil and gas exploration |
NEW ZEALAND – Mixed reactions greeted the passing of the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Bill in Parliament on Wednesday. The Bill will have a major impact on the future of Taranaki’s oil and gas industry and thousands of workers in the region. Green Party leader James Shaw said the legislation was an “essential first step in winding down offshore exploration for new sources of fossil fuels.”

Bug covered ‘bionic mushroom’ generates clean energy | BBC News
US researchers have successfully tested the rather whacky idea of producing electricity from a mushroom covered in bacteria. The scientists used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom. The fungus provided the ideal environment to allow the cyanobacteria to generate a small amount of power. The authors say their fossil-free “bionic mushroom” could have great potential.

A button mushroom coated in bugs and nanowires can produce electricity from light. Photo: American Chemical Society.

A button mushroom coated in bugs and nanowires can produce electricity from light. Photo: American Chemical Society.

Paper towels or air hand dryers: Which is better for the environment and hygiene? | ABC News
Given a choice, what do you use: a paper towel or an electric hand dryer? Or do you wipe your hands on your jeans and walk out the door? The paper-towel-vs-hand-dryer debate makes headlines whenever a study comes out in favour of one or the other. Look at who doles out the money for these studies, though, and you’ll see it’s usually the “winning” side. Still, universities and research institutions do (hopefully) conduct the research independently, even if they receive industry funding. So let’s take a look at what they say.

Food Systems

Call for probe into pesticide banned by France after illnesses | RNZ News
A health expert is warning the government would be negligent if it did not investigate the use of a pesticide banned by France after dozens of reported incidents of intoxication. Dr Meriel Watts, an environmental consultant and leading expert on the adverse effects of pesticides, also called for mandatory reporting of illnesses where there was suspected intoxication and said the current system of pesticide management was flawed. Yesterday, France’s health safety watchdog Anses ordered a ban on products containing metam sodium, widely used in vegetable and strawberry farming.