Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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#coalisamazing goes viral after Minerals Council of Australia’s ‘PR fail of the year’
IT APPEARS like a celestial body; a fascinating object floating through the cosmos.   What is this strange, sparkling object appearing on our TV screens? Has NASA discovered a new, faraway universe? Is this proof we’re not alone out there? Oh, no, no. It’s an advertisement about … coal. In an effort to swing popular opinion on the “little black rock”, The Minerals Council of Australia has launched an advertising campaign hailing coal’s “endless possibilities”… But instead of changing minds, it’s backfired spectacularly, with Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, describing the campaign as “negligent”.

More on amazing coal:

Energy and Climate Change

The cheapest way to heat your home with renewable energy – just flick a switch
A few years ago, similar to views about future electricity demand, forecasters thought gas demand in Australia would keep rising. As it turns out, gas demand peaked in 2012 and may halve by 2025 – as we showed in our recently published University of Melbourne Energy Institute (MEI) report, and earlier on The Conversation. Step by step, householders are making economic decisions that will eventually lead to many completely disconnecting from the gas grid, as they find gas to be an increasingly costly secondary source of home energy.

Parliament to vote on solar bill
NEW ZEALAND – Green MP Gareth Highes had one of his Member’s Bills pulled from the ballot in mid-August. The Electricity Industry (Small-Scale Renewable Distributed Generation) Amendment Bill is now set to be voted on by Parliament in the near future. MPs will decide whether to support an amendment to the Electricity Industry Act, which would ensure households receive a fair price for any excess renewable energy they sell back to the grid.

Robin Hood Energy: Nottingham launches not-for-profit power firm
UK – A local council has set up a not-for-profit energy supplier that it hopes can sign up 10,000 customers a month and save them each up to £237 a year on bills.  Nottingham city council said Robin Hood Energy, which employs 30 staff, was the first local authority-owned energy company run on a not-for-profit basis since the market was nationalised in 1948. The council said the first customer, who signed up with the new firm on Monday, had cut their annual energy bill from £2,000 to £1,400.  The company will use energy generated from the city’s incinerator, solar panels and waste food plants and also buy in gas and electricity from the market.

Environment and Biodiversity

Restoring and conserving nature in the Anthropocene means changing our idea of success
The Earth has unofficially entered a new epoch – the Anthropocene. It suggests that humans are the dominant influence on the planet’s ecosystems and biosphere – the sum total of life and non-living material on Earth. Many ecosystems have changed so radically that it is no longer possible to restore them to what they once were, and in other situations it is not appropriate. Instead we need to look at what we can change, accept the things we can’t, and recognise that humans are now an important part of nature. Woylie

Conservationists open feral-free zone in WA bush to protect endangered mammals
AUSTRALIA – Woylies may have been dubbed “rat kangaroos” because of their appearance, but the small nocturnal marsupials are far less resilient than either of those species. The population of woylies has in fact shrunk by more than 90 per cent in the space of 15 years… The woylie, weighing less than two kilograms and standing about 30 centimetres tall, once ranged across two-thirds of Australia. One of the country’s great “silent achievers” of the bush, the animals have played an important role in promoting the health of their environment.

Aerial pictures reveal rampant illegal logging in Peru’s Amazon forest
Only from the air is it possible to make out the scale of three illegal logging roads which have been carved into Peru’s eastern Amazon, while local authorities in the jungle Ucayali region seemingly turn a blind eye. Huddled in a twin-engine Cessna 402, the Guardian saw as many as 20 lorries carrying tree trunks plying their way up and down three dirt roads, each estimated to measure up to 32 miles. Dotted by stockpiles of logs and workers’ camps, the roads led to barges on a dock on the Ucayali river, a major tributary of the Amazon, a few dozen miles from the regional capital Pucallpa.

World Heritage Area selective logging still an option despite Unesco advice: Wilderness Society
AUSTRALIA – The Tasmanian Government is determined to log parts of the World Heritage Area (WHA) despite receiving expert advice months ago the action would threaten World Heritage values, the Wilderness Society claims. The Government wants to provide limited access to specialty species trees for craft timber workers, which the State Opposition also supports. In June, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee urged the Australian and Tasmanian Governments to ban commercial logging within the zone.

Ocean acidification may not speed up coral bleaching, say scientists
There are still fears that warming sea temperatures may damage the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s better news when it comes to acidification. Scientists using specialist technology in Australia believe they’ve established that increasing levels of acid in the ocean will not speed up coral bleaching… “Of particular note is the relationship between rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification. Many scientists had thought that the combination of the two accelerated the rate and severity of coral bleaching.”

Farmers taking land out of production to build artificial wetlands
A wetlands expert says farmers are becoming increasingly interested in installing artificial wetlands on their properties, despite the fact it takes some of their land out of production.  Artificial wetlands can intercept sediment and pollutants like nitrogen, ammonia, phosphorous and even heavy metals that would otherwise end up waterways. Damian McCann, from Australian Wetlands Consulting, said the push to build artificial wetlands on farms was coming from land care groups, with support from farmers.

The WWF Conservation Innovation Awards
Picture this – you’re sitting in front of the TV at home when an alert pops up on the screen. There’s been an incursion at one of the predator traps you’re monitoring. Instead of pulling on your boots and jacket you make a quick swipe and Coronation Street is paused as you prepare to launch a drone. Later, as you settle down with a glass of vino, an alert pops up telling you the incursion is now dealt with. Sound like science fiction? It’s a lot closer than you might think. In 2014 WWF launched New Zealand’s first ever Conservation Innovation Awards, with the tagline of finding ‘new ideas for nature’.

Economy and Business

More efficient gaming PC’s could save $18bn
Simply upgrading a few core components in gaming PCs could save enough energy to stop the construction of 40 500MW power plants, a new study has claimed.  Research from the Berkeley Lab entitled “Taming the energy use of gaming computers” found that gaming PCs could achieve energy savings of more than 75% with simple modifcations.

Aviation industry 12 years behind UN efficiency goals, warns study
Aircraft manufacturers are 12 years behind their 2020 fuel efficiency goals set by the United Nations aviation agency, a new study has warned, prompting fresh calls for tougher regulation on the industry.  In 2010, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) set a target to deliver fuel efficiency improvements of two per cent per year to 2020. However, new research by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), released late last week, showed the average fuel burn of new aircraft has improved by just 1.1 per cent per year in the past five years.

Politics and Society

The best way to measure a household’s resilience? Ask those who live there
Normally, the first step in designing a method for resilience measurement is to consult a group of experts, who consider the assets and capacities that make a household robust. They typically come up with a number of indicators, which can consist of anything from household income and child nutrition to social networks and access to financial capital. Each indicator and characteristic is then mashed together and weighted, often resulting in a single overall score. While useful, these approaches make a critical assumption: that experts are best placed to evaluate someone else’s resilience.

Putting Human Faces on India’s Mega Problems (Book Talk)
Like China, India is a leviathan among the world’s emerging economies. As with China, economic and social progress have come at a price: pollution, depleted natural resources, and overpopulation. Presenting an overview of these issues in a country of 1.2 billion people, with a stunning diversity of landscapes, faiths, and ethnic groups, can be bewildering—and dull. By concentrating on the stories of individuals, Meera Subramanian, author of A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World Crisis, From The Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka, puts a human face on seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Failure to act on climate change means an even bigger refugee crisis
As I looked in on my own children sleeping safely last Thursday night before I went to bed, I did so with added poignancy as I reflected that this was something Abdullah Kurdi was not able to do. I’m sure millions of parents of young children right across Europe have felt similar emotions these last few days. We’re all human, and so it’s perhaps not surprising that it takes a single photograph and an individual’s story to shake a society, all too belatedly, into glimpsing at one horrific aspect of Europe’s refugee crisis and demanding action.  But if we really want to reduce the future suffering of millions of refugees, and politicians want to avoid more shameful paralysis in the years ahead, we also need to look at the bigger picture.

What Emma Thompson got right and wrong on climate change
Actress and Greenpeace activist Emma Thompson was interviewed on BBC Newsnight about Shell’s drilling in the Arctic and associated climate change threats. In the interview, Thompson made some inaccurate statements about the timescales associated with those climate threats. However, her concerns are generally justified.

Health Check: Stressed at work? How to beat common traps in the rat race
Hunched over, hardly moving for hours on end, hitting the same buttons again and again in the hope of a future reward … sound familiar? I’ve spent most of my 20-year career as a neuroscientist in laboratories, studying rats and other animals to better understand how and why our brains get stuck in vicious cycles of addictive behaviour. But over the past two years, I’ve also started working with people on applying what I know in the human world of work. And what I see in most of the workplaces I visit – everywhere from corporate office towers to government departments and blue-collar work sites – is strikingly similar to the behaviour of addicted lab rats.

The Aussie beaches odds-on to be swallowed up by sea level rise
Australia’s favourite beaches are at risk of disappearing into the sea as global warming drives sea levels ever higher, prompting a betting agency to start offering odds on which strips are likely to vanish first. Palm Cove in far north Queensland is 4-to-1 favourite to be the first to go, with Noosa and Byron Bay beach not far behind with odds at $7.50, according to online bookmaker Sportsbet.

Built Environment

The end of the car dependent empire is upon us (Book Talk)
Curtin University professors Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy have released a new book on the transformation of our urban transport modes, The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning. The third in a series of books on automobile dependence the pair have completed over the past 25 years, it explores phenomenons such as “peak car use”, the new era of urban rail, central cities being revitalised and the reversal of suburban sprawl.

Electric vehicles ‘will happen’, says Ergon Energy, in deal with Mitsubishi
AUSTRALIA – The key role electric vehicles could play in the distributed power grids of the future has been acknowledged by Queensland’s state Labor government and its major network operator, with the announcement of a new partnership between state-owned Ergon Energy and car maker Mitsubishi, to bring eight EVs into the distributor’s passenger fleet this year.

Food Systems

Kay Baxter: organic gardening champion
NEW ZEALAND – “You can’t separate the quality of our health, from the quality of our food, from the quality of our soil.” With these words, Kay Baxter – one of New Zealand’s best-known organic gardening pioneers – sums up her current quest to regenerate our health and the Earth’s health at the same time. Kay and the team at Koanga Institute, based in remote northern Hawkes Bay, are on a mission to teach people how to get the nutrition that allows the human body to thrive. And so they have become evangelists of healthy soil.

School food rules ‘no-brainer’
New Zealanders want more regulation to ensure school food is healthy, a survey indicates. Almost 80 per cent of those polled were in favour of the Government requiring all schools to implement a health food policy. The same proportion also supported restricting the use of junk food and fizzy drinks as fundraisers. The Government scrapped a ban on the sale of unhealthy food at school tuck shops in 2009 on the grounds schools should not have to be “food police”.

Insects on the menu as Kimberley food producers discuss how to better feed the region
AUSTRALIA – Food growers and producers have gathered in Broome to discuss how the Kimberley can access better quality, locally grown ingredients, and whether insects have a place in feeding regional Australia. Organised by the community food and gardening group Incredible Edible Broome, the Broome Harvest aimed to bring Kimberley food growers together with restaurateurs, food retailers, and the public. Food supply chain representatives were invited to feast on local produce and discuss how to improve the quality of food across the remote region.

Russia’s war on western food is leading to a national cheese revival
A year after Russia banned the import of dairy, meat and fish products from European and other western nations in response to sanctions against it over its actions in Ukraine, a wide array of cheeses is back on store shelves. Shoppers can expect to find the usual variety, but may be surprised to see mozzarella from Tver, feta from Vologda and camembert from Krasnodar. The negative impact of the sanctions is clear. Images of contraband western food being incinerated in Russia have led to condemnation in a country where nearly 16% of the population live below the poverty line… But as the government pushes for a more self-sufficient agricultural sector, and Russian cheeses come into their own, could there be positive consequences for sustainability in the cheese sector?

Western Australian sheep farmer puts mutton on the menu at top Perth restaurants
Mutton is often thought of as tough and gamey, but a sheep farmer from Katanning, in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, is getting top-dollar for his mutton at some of Perth’s top end restaurants. “They’ve grazed for 1,000 days” is how the mutton is being marketed and some have even grazed for twice that.  Sheep farmer David Thompson, from Moojipin Merinos, claimed the best mutton he has had was seven and a half years old.


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