Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

We need regenerative farming, not geoengineering
The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature. Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic herd animals. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff. But these methods are impractical, expensive and slow in feeding a growing population, right?

Energy and Climate Change

February carbon dioxide levels average 400ppm for first time
The US government’s greenhouse gas monitoring site at Mauna Loa in Hawaii has confirmed that its average recorded carbon dioxide levels for February topped 400 parts per million (ppm) – the first time that this has been seen in a northern winter month. Back in May 2013, the Hawaiian site recorded daily levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide at 400 ppm for the first time. Last year the average hit 400 ppm in April, and remained above this level for three months. So this year, reaching 400 ppm as part of the seasonal ebb and flow of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as early as February is another milestone.

Bill McKibben: Climate fight won’t wait for Paris: vive la résistance
The official view: all eyes are on Paris, where negotiators will meet in December for a climate conference that will be described as “the most important diplomatic gathering ever” and “a last chance for humanity.” Heads of state will jet in, tense closed-door meetings will be held, newspapers will report that negotiations are near a breaking point, and at the last minute some kind of agreement will emerge, hailed as “a start for serious action”. The actual story: what happens at Paris will be, at best, one small part of the climate story, one more skirmish in the long, hard-fought road to climate sanity. What comes before and after will count more. And to the extent Paris matters, its success will depend not on the character of our leaders but on how much a resurgent climate movement has softened up the fossil fuel industry, and how much pressure the politicians feel to deliver something.

10 myths about fossil fuel divestment put to the sword
As environmentalist Bill McKibben lays out the case for divesting from coal, oil and gas companies in the Guardian, we examine some of the popular myths around fossil fuel divestment.

Finland passes Climate Act ahead of election
Finland has approved a Climate Act setting a target to cut emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, in line with Europe-wide goals.The Finnish Parliament passed the law 150-33 on Friday afternoon, a week before breaking up for a general election. Only the nationalist True Finns systematically opposed the legislation, which was tabled in June 2014.It cements Finland’s contribution to the European Union emissions target of an 80-95% reduction by 2050, ahead of key international negotiations in Paris this December.

Environment and Biodiversity

Forests And Water: The Unappreciated Link
Science tells us that healthy forests make healthy rivers and lakes, but policy rarely reflects the connection. That could be changing as the general public comes to better understand the role that deforestation plays in climate change – an understanding that could ratchet up an appreciation of all the ecosystem services that forests deliver.

Are you overweight? The clue’s in your poo
We are all populated by microbes – helpful or otherwise – which form a community known as a microbiome. Recent research by Ryan Newton and co-workers has shown that sewage-based analysis of the human microbiome can be used to diagnose health issues at a population level… Projects such as BiobankUK and the 100,000 genomes project aim to fully describe human genetics and health at the cellular and molecular level, whilst revealing information at an individual and population level. This will result in the creation of a UK disease map, possibly linked to genetic information and factors that significantly affect health.

These projects focus on the human genome – yet we are not just human. Each of us is populated by microbes: bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. Bacterial cells alone outnumber our own by a factor of 20. No one has estimated the number of viruses, but we expect between ten and a hundred times more than the bacteria. In the body, microbial genes outnumber human genes by a factor of 200.

See also a related TED Talk: Rob Knight: How our microbes make us who we are

The wisdom of orca grandmothers
Menopausal female orca are knowledgeable leaders who help younger members of their community find food, particularly in years in which prey is scarce, according a new study. The findings suggest that the older females end up living so long — as much as 40 years longer than male killer whales — because the knowledge they possess helps the whole group survive. “Postreproductive individuals act as repositories of ecological knowledge,” the study’s authors write. The study sheds a little more light on why menopause exists in the first place. Menopause (when a female loses her reproductive capabilities before death) is a really weird trait, considering that the point of life is to reproduce. And it’s rare. We know of just three species — humans, killer whales and short-finned pilot whales — whose females can live long beyond their reproductive years.

Urban wildlife: when animals go wild in the city
Perching on the side of an old power station chimney with St Paul’s Cathedral to the north and the Shard, Europe’s tallest building, to the east is not where you might expect to glimpse the world’s fastest bird. Yet Tate Modern, and London landmarks including Battersea Power Station and the Houses of Parliament, have been home for several years to peregrine falcons. A surprising flash of the wild in the heart of the city, the powerful bird of prey is also a specialised hunter of feral pigeons, considered such an urban pest that in 2003 a ban was imposed on feeding them in Trafalgar Square. With cities’ abundant food sources and tall buildings providing a predator-free equivalent of the species’ traditional cliff-side home, the raptor’s success has extended far beyond the capital. Having colonised urban areas from Aberdeen to Cardiff, ecologists now believe it is only a matter of time before peregrine falcons are breeding in every major UK town and city.

Nearly 1m birds were killed on British military base in Cyprus, says RSPB
Almost a million birds were illegally killed in just two months on a British military base in Cyprus last year, according to the RSPB. Dr Tim Stowe, the RSPB’s international director, called on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to do more to stop local poachers, who reportedly took 15,000 birds every day during September and October from British Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area (SBA). “The report highlights the illegal trapping of songbirds on the British military base has escalated and we are urging the Ministry of Defence and the Base Area authorities to resolve it before this autumn’s migration,” said Stowe.

Economy and Business

If dollars rule the world, why don’t the bees get a bailout?
Attempts to put a dollar value on the natural world – so-called “natural capital” or “ecosystem services” – have produced some frankly staggering numbers. A seminal 1997 paper valued the world’s ecosystem services at US$33 trillion (A$42 trillion) a year. This estimate was controversial, given that it dwarfed the entire global market economy, which at the time stood at roughly US$18 trillion a year. An updated estimate published last year suggested that a better annual global estimate of the value of ecosystem services would have been even higher – a massive US$145 trillion in 1997. Disappointingly, the paper also valued today’s natural world at less than this – roughly US$125 trillion a year, because of damage to Earth’s ecosystems in the interim.

Researchers Say Ecotourism In Protected Areas Delivers 60:1 Annual Return On Costs
The world’s national parks and nature reserves receive around eight billion visits every year, according to the first study into the global scale of nature-based tourism in protected areas. The paper, by researchers in Cambridge, UK, Princeton, New Jersey, and Washington, DC, published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, is the first global-scale attempt to answer the question of how many visits protected areas receive, and what they might be worth in terms of tourist dollars. The authors of the study say that this number of visits could generate as much as US$600 billion of tourism expenditure annually – a huge economic benefit which vastly exceeds the less than US$10 billion spent safeguarding these sites each year.

US green economy adds 47,000 new clean energy jobs
Clean energy and transport projects across the US created 47,000 new jobs last year, according to a new study from business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). The group, which describes itself as a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, published its latest tracking analysis late last week confirming that the US has created more than 233,000 clean energy and clean transportation jobs nationwide over the past three years. The study also highlighted the leading states for clean tech job creation, which saw Nevada top the league table, followed by California, New York, Michigan, Arizona and Texas.  “The clean energy revolution continues,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, in a statement. “Nearly 47,000 good-paying jobs in businesses ranging from solar energy to electric vehicles were announced in almost every state last year.”

The problem with sustainability marketing? Not enough me, me, me
Why is selling sustainability still so hard? It shouldn’t be. We know that consumers “care”. We have surveys in abundance revealing people pay attention to social and environmental credentials, especially in the millennial generation… A study from National Geographic (pdf) found that although the number of global consumers who say they are very concerned about the environment (61%) has increased since 2012, sustainable purchasing behaviour has actually decreased in key markets such as the US, Germany Japan and China. The great “value-action” gap between what consumers say in surveys and then actually do seems to be closing at a snail’s pace.

Politics and Society

Schoolgirl takes on top film-makers
An 11-year-old girl’s cinematic efforts to preserve an endangered New Zealand bird will be shown at an international film festival. Tomairangi Harvey’s five-minute film, Te Ao o te Tuturuatu, tells the story of tuturuatu (shore dotterel or plover), their habitat and survival in Aotearoa.  The New Brighton schoolgirl took inspiration from two birds, named Yellow and Scalpy, who she met while volunteering at the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch.  Tomairangi turned her drawings of the birds into an animated film, which she narrated in Te Reo Maori and submitted to the Outlook for Someday film challenge last year.

The film won the Te Puni Kokiri Whakatipuranga Award for a film with a Maori indigenous perspective on sustainability, and had now been nominated for the prestigious Japan Wildlife Film Festival in August.  More than 1800 films were entered into this year’s festival, but only 48 would be shown during the four-day event in Tokyo and Kyoto. Tomairangi said she was surprised to learn her film would be shown alongside others from renowned organisations like the BBC.

Protesters keep axes at bay over 500-year kauri
NEW ZEALAND – Residents upset with plans to axe a 500-year-old kauri in their Auckland neighbourhood have managed to keep the tree-cutters away – for now. And their fight is gaining support, including from New York-based former Prime Minister Helen Clark. About 100 people gathered at Paturoa Rd, in West Auckland’s Titirangi, early yesterday to protest the scheduled felling of the centuries-old kauri to make way for two houses that have consent to be built on the site. A neighbouring 300-year-old rimu is also due to be chopped down.

See also: Auckland Council powerless to save kauri

How Training a Wild Hawk Healed One Woman’s Broken Heart (Book Talk)
Helen Macdonald was at home in Cambridge, England, when she got a phone call saying her father, Alisdair, had died suddenly of a heart attack on a London street. The news shattered her world, propelling her into a vortex of raw grief. As she struggled to come to terms with her father’s loss, she began to have dreams about goshawks, the wildest, most temperamental of the hawk family. An experienced falconer since childhood, she decided to buy and train one. Her memoir of that experience, H Is for Hawk, must be one of the most riveting encounters between a human being and an animal ever written.

Jeremy Leggett: world can win the ‘carbon war’
In recent years there has been a shift in the ‘carbon war’ that means those fighting to cut emissions, avoid dangerous levels of climate change and encourage green technology could win, according to Jeremy Leggett’s new book. The book ‘The Winning of the Carbon War’ is downloadable for free.

Neil Greet and why engineers call for a radical new approach to energy, beyond the economics
In this thoughtful interview a highly regarded former military officer, humanitarian aid worker, government adviser and spokesman on energy by Engineers Australia outlines the huge opportunities that better systems thinking on energy can offer.

Renewable energy target (RET) deal very close after fresh talks with clean energy sector, Greg Hunt says
The Federal Government says a renewable energy target (RET) agreement with the clean energy sector is “very close” after fresh talks over the weekend. Environment Minister Greg Hunt had discussions with the Clean Energy Council and the Australian Industry Group. If any agreement is reached with industry, it will most likely need the support of Labor to pass Parliament.

Built Environment

Air checks lagging – report
New Zealand’s monitoring of air pollution is lagging behind the rest of the developed world and needs to start picking up the tiniest, most harmful particles, Government’s environmental watchdog says. In a report released yesterday, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright said air quality in this country was generally good, and often “very good”. But she warned there was “real evidence of harm” from the small airborne particles created by vehicle emissions or open fires, even when present in small amounts.

Food Systems

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Suspends Members
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has emerged as the premier self-regulating authority on educating and monitoring industry about the benefits and urgency of sourcing more sustainable palm oil within a firm’s supply chain. Many organizations and writers, however, have criticized the multi-stakeholder group on everything from greenwashing to allowing companies responsible for deforestation to maintain membership within the group. But advocates for more rigorous sourcing of sustainable palm oil may be encouraged by the RSPO’s decision to terminate or suspend over 100 members for not submitting an annual report to the organization.

Fast food companies facing fight to win trust of millennials
Since the 1980s, we have almost seen a doubling of obesity worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 65% of the world’s population live in countries where being overweight or obese kills more people than malnutrition and in 2013, 42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese… Two casualties of millennial distrust are McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, both of which have experienced a steady drop in sales volumes. McDonald’s, in particular, saw earnings fall 30% in the third quarter of 2014.


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