Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Oh, the uncertainty: how do we cope?
Uncertainty is a paradox. On one hand, it is a potent and powerful force that motivates research, a need to know. The gratifying result of research is evidence used to guide practice and policy. On the other hand, uncertainty always remains after research because of the inherent complexity and ambiguity of the real world. So policy-makers and practitioners are (or ought to be) troubled about inevitable residual doubt. Examples include what to do about climate change, what body mass index is ideal and whether to test for prostate cancer.

Energy and Climate Change

Desmond Tutu’s climate petition tops 300,000 signatures
A petition launched by Desmond Tutu urging global leaders to create a world run 100% on renewables within 35 years has been backed by more than 300,000 people globally. It describes climate change as “one of the greatest moral challenges of our time”. The petition on calls upon US president Barack Obama and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to set a target of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Australia tipped to have 50GW of solar capacity by 2040
A new forecast by leading analysts Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that Australia will have more than 50GW (50,000MW) of solar capacity by 2040, and more than half of all generation capacity will be “behind the meter” and located in households and businesses. The forecasts by Bloomberg, made at RenewEconomy’s Disruption and the Energy Industry conference in Sydney this week, also included a prediction that household solar capacity would be 2.5 times greater than that of remaining coal-fired generators by 2040. Analyst Hugh Bromley says it will simply be a matter of economics. “Solar is getting cheap … and coal will become expensive,” particularly for new power plants. “It (coal) is not in the money any more.”

Sure, winter felt chilly, but Australia is setting new heat records at 12 times the rate of cold ones
Spring feels like a welcome relief from an Australian winter that felt very cold and very long. Melbourne has just shivered through its coldest winter in 26 years and Canberra hibernated through more cold nights than any winter since 1997. But while it felt cold, it turns out we’ve just become accustomed to unusually warm conditions. My new study online in Geophysical Research Letters (with my colleague Andrew King) shows that Australia has been losing out on cold temperature records over the past 55 years.

Southern Ocean showing ‘remarkable’ revival in carbon absorption ability
The Southern Ocean, which acts as one of the natural world’s most effective sponges for absorbing carbon dioxide, is showing signs of an unexpected revival in its ability to do so, according to scientists. The oceans absorb around a quarter of emissions caused by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, reducing the speed of climate change. About 40% of this occurs in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds the Antarctic, making it the planet’s strongest ocean carbon sink. The researchers said the new findings are surprising and remarkable.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

First State Super joins divestment movement
One of Australia’s top 10 industry super funds, First State Super, has joined the divestment movement, ridding its socially responsible investment option of shares in companies that derive more than 20 per cent of revenue from fossil fuels. According to, a letter to First State Super members on Wednesday said the company would “exclude companies that source more than 20 per cent of their operating revenues from the production, sale and distribution of fossil fuels, including thermal and coking coal, oil, natural gas, transmission or transportation for the purpose of exporting and/or non-household use (eg. power generation).”

California University divests $200m from coal and tar sands holdings
The University of California has sold off $200m (£130m) of coal and oil sand investments from its $98bn investment fund less than a year after initially refusing to do so. In September of last year, the university’s board of regents chief investment officer Jagdeep Singh Bachner refused to sell off the holdings, arguing that a more “holistic approach” than divestment was needed. But he said that a drop in global demand and stricter regulations had now made such investments too risky, reports Reuters. The university has not changed its policy though and says it may purchase such coal or oil investments in future if the market changes.

Environment and Biodiversity

Scientists, volunteers campaign against plastics killing increasing numbers of marine life
Every week, up to a dozen sick or injured seabirds are brought to the Australian Seabird Rescue centre in the town of Ballina, where staff try to nurse them to better health. Marine ecologist Jann Gilbert said hundreds of these birds do not survive and an increasingly common culprit is to blame. “Plastic, lots of plastic,” Ms Gilbert said, as she dissected a dead Shearwater’s gizzard, revealing a collection of brown pearly fragments. “There’s a very good chance, because of the size of the plastic and the tiny size of the opening that goes to the digestive tract, that this bird wouldn’t have been able to digest anymore.”

Forestry Tasmania urged to help save swift parrot by reducing logging area by 3 per cent
AUSTRALIA – Forestry Tasmania is being urged to stop logging in 3 per cent of its native forest logging area because it is habitat for the endangered swift parrot. Analysis by the Wilderness Society used publicly available information to plot the location of important habitat in state forest areas. It argues if Forestry Tasmania fully implemented the Threatened Fauna Adviser protections developed by the Forest Practices Authority, it would impact less than 0.1 per cent of forest production and could help save the parrot.

Otatara pest control efforts paying off
NEW ZEALAND – When Otatara couple Darren and Joanna May spotted a kaka in their yard they took it as reward for all their pest control efforts. The pair spotted the kaka in a kowhai tree in their backyard in the early hours of Wednesday, September 2. It was the only kaka they have spotted in the area, May said. “I do trap lines for the Otatara Landcare group out at Bushy point, so I like to think of it as payback for keeping the pests down.”


Many residents of this California town don’t have enough water to shower or flush the toilet

Glance at a lawn in East Porterville, Calif., and you’ll instantly know something about the people who live in the house adjacent to it. If a lawn is green, the home has running water. If it’s brown, or if the yard contains plastic tanks or crates of bottled water, then the well has gone dry. Residents of these homes rely on deliveries of bottled water, or perhaps a hose connected to a working well of a friendly neighbor. They take “showers” from a bucket, use paper plates to avoid washing dishes, eat sandwiches instead of spaghetti so there’s no need to boil water, and collect water used for cooking and showers to pour in the toilet or on the trees outside.

Economy and Business

BP, EDF and Procter & Gamble face pressure over climate change lobbying
A group of 25 investors with €61bn in assets has written to a number of FTSE 100 companies, including BP, EDF, Glencore, Johnson Matthey, Procter & Gamble, Rio Tinto, Statoil and Total asking them to justify their membership of prominent EU trade associations. The letter, coordinated by responsible investment charity ShareAction, sets out a number of concerns about the lobbying activities of these trade groups on EU climate policy, based on research my colleagues and I carried out earlier this year. We investigated eight influential trade associations including BusinessEurope, which has argued that EU climate targets undermine industrial competitiveness, and the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), which has stated that strengthening the EU emissions trading system would force businesses to move overseas because of high energy costs in Europe.

Oil giants derail California bill to reduce gasoline use by 50%
An ambitious environmental bill in California that attempted to legislate up to a 50% reduction in gasoline use by 2030 had been derailed by the oil industry in the final week of the legislative session. Senate president pro tempore Kevin de Leon announced on Wednesday that he would amend the bill, SB350, to drop the petroleum provisions. It will be changed in the assembly’s natural resources committee as soon as Thursday to deal only with increasing the state’s renewable electricity supply and boosting energy efficiency in buildings through retrofits and upgrades.  With only two days left in the legislative session, “we could not cut through the million-dollar smokescreen created by a single special-interest with a singular motive and a bottomless war chest”, he said in a statement.

How NZ can shift to a green growth economy
Sustainability thinking in New Zealand needs to shift from regarding it as a costly marketing line item to being central to creating a healthier, wealthier future for the country, according to Pure Advantage chief executive Simon Millar. The not-for-profit organisation is a corporate think-tank founded in 2012 by international fitness entrepreneur and former Olympian Phillip Mills. It aims to show leadership in sustainable thinking, something Millar says is lacking at the government level and lagging in the business world.

Why you should fix your iPhone instead of buying a new one
Shhh! Do you hear it? That quiet weeping? Do you feel it? The tingle in your wallet? That’s the sound of millions of soon-to-be-obsolete iPhones seeing the light at the end of their extremely short proverbial tunnels. And that tingle? Well, that’s just Apple CEO Tim Cook trying to pick your pocket. That’s right — it’s Apple announcement day, and you know what that means: Cook is revealing the company’s new and (moderately) improved products, while live bloggers the world over put their lives on hold to write down everything he says as he says it so that they can tell us immediately, because consumerism is God, and we have no shame.

Why baby boomers will be the last generation to have good pensions
Baby boomers will be the last generation to have good pensions. Having started work between around 1960 and the mid-1980s, older members of this group are mostly retired and even the youngest are in their 50s and likely to retire in the near future. Their well-off position is no thanks to their own doing, however. But – critics will be sad to hear – a result of good fortune.

How marketers condition us to buy more junk food
While excess weight and obesity is a growing global concern, there has been more and more advertising and promotional effort encouraging the consumption of unhealthy food. In many cases this marketing is targeted at children, and takes place online. In our recent study we investigated the impact of online marketing communications on children and their intention to consume unhealthy food. We found fast food ads on social networking sites can manipulate young audiences – their purchasing likelihood, their views of fast food and their eating habits. The qualitative study included a sample of 40 Australian children who use social networking sites. Half (21) of the children were male and the average age was 14 (the youngest being 12 and the oldest 16). Their parents were also present during the interview, however they agreed not to intervene during the conversation.

Making herbal remedies in the Hawke’s Bay
I grew up on a farm south of Hastings. As an only child I spent hours alone in the hills and the bush and by the creek on the farm, which laid the foundation for my lifelong passion for botanic wisdom, healing and nature. I always wanted to work with plant medicine, but needless to say, life doesn’t always go in a straight line and so I have worked my way towards that via an international career that traversed the arts, corporate sector and conservation. It was a role with the United Nations Environment Programme that got me thinking about how I could build a business that works with nature, and then gives back to it by using some of its proceeds to establish plant conservation projects.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Book review: Make Garbage Great
Make Garbage Great – The Family Guide to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle
by TerraCycle founders Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes is a glorious hybrid of coffee table conversation starter, encyclopaedia of materials and major waste streams, and a how-to-handbook for nifty reduce, reuse and upcyle ideas. It covers the major categories of materials that permeate our everyday lives and then sadly go on to permeate the environment, including in some cases the stomachs of birds and marine life. In explaining in simple and coherent ways how plastics, metals, paper, textiles, glass, wood, rubber and organics come into our lives, it lays out the footprint picture in a way that shows it is much more vast than just carbon emissions.

Fishing industry vows to tackle wildlife deaths from ‘ghost gear’
Exact numbers are unknown, but the National Marine Fisheries Service reported an average of 11 entangled large whales per year from 2000 to 2012 along the US west coast. Around the world, seals, turtles, birds and fish are also injured and killed in the same way. Between 2002 and 2010, 870 nets recovered from Washington State alone contained more than 32,000 marine animals. One cause of this problem is “ghost gear”, fishing gear that is lost and abandoned in the ocean. Thought to make up 10% of all marine litter, fishing gear can be lost accidentally during storms, but it can also be abandoned deliberately. Many ports lack the facilities to collect, recycle or trade nets and it’s simply cheaper and easier to throw them overboard.

Politics and Society

Coal burning costs UK between £2.5bn and £7bn from premature deaths
Deaths related to emissions from coal cost the UK economy between £2.47bn and £7.15bn in 2013, according to a comprehensive overview of coal production in Europe. The figure, which includes mortality costs from coal-related respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, such as heart disease and lung cancer is linked to the 395 kilotons of pollutants emitted by UK coal plants. Europe as a whole had equivalent mortality costs of between €21bn and €60.6bn, according to the authors.

Moral case to tackle climate change overwhelming, says Lord Stern
Failing to act on the grave threat posed by climate change devalues the lives of future generations and amounts to unacceptable “discrimination by date of birth”, according to the influential economist Lord Stern. Speaking at an international meeting in Rome on environmental justice and climate change attended by senior Vatican officials, Stern said that the “moral arguments” for action to combat climate change were overwhelming. “Discounting future welfare or lives means weighting the welfare of lives of future people lower than lives now, irrespective of consumption and income levels, purely because their lives lie in the future,” he said. “This is discrimination by date of birth, and is unacceptable when viewed alongside notions of rights and justice.”

Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” to hit movie theaters
The book This Changes Everything — Naomi Klein’s opus on how climate change could be our greatest opportunity to reinvent the world before we destroy it — is now becoming the movie This Changes Everything. Directed by Klein’s husband, filmmaker Avi Lewis, it will soon make its way into theaters.

Why should we place our faith in science?
Most of us would like to think scientific debate does not operate like the comments section of online news articles. These are frequently characterised by inflexibility, truculence and expostulation. Scientists are generally a little more civil, but sometimes not much so! There is a more fundamental issue here than politeness, though. Science has a reputation as an arbiter of fact above and beyond just personal opinion or bias. The term “scientific method” suggests there exists an agreed upon procedure for processing evidence which, while not infallible, is at least impartial. So when even the most respected scientists can arrive at different deeply held convictions when presented with the same evidence, it undermines the perceived impartiality of the scientific method. It demonstrates that science involves an element of subjective or personal judgement.

Sam Judd: Feed the kids
Three years ago, while working in a school in Cannon’s Creek, Porirua, I was doing an educational presentation with primary school students. One of them was completely unable to concentrate, making so much noise that it disrupted the talk. Raising my volume and intensity I pushed on through to the end, where I was left realising that one kid had negatively impacted the experience for the other 25 or so in the class. I was exhausted and asked the teacher what was going on with the child. She told me that he could be just as smart as the others, but regularly turns up to school unfed, or if he has anything, with a packet of chips and a bottle of Coke.

This ex-Black Panther started an urban farm to create jobs for ex-inmates
Ray Kidd was incarcerated for violent crimes from the ages of 16 to 23. Both of his parents are currently in federal prison. Now, Kidd wants to break the cycle, and he’s doing it through farming. Kidd is an employee at West Oakland Farms, a for-profit operation founded by former Black Panther Elaine Brown. “Every day I come here I learn something new,” says Kidd. “I didn’t know that a lot of fruits start life as a flower; that just blew my mind.” Kidd is one of 10 former inmates working at West Oakland Farms. “People come out of the joint with nothing to do and $200 in their pocket,” says Brown. “Once that money runs out … they’ll do anything to survive, including hitting somebody in the head for $20. We have to create positive opportunities for these people to return to the community.”

The Biggest And Boldest Ideas For How To Stop Rising Inequality
As inequality has grown over the last several decades, the United States has become a nation where a few are making it, and the many are being left behind. Poverty and elite wealth are in. The working middle class is out. From Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter to the improbable celebrity of economist Thomas Piketty and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, there’s a deepening consensus that this trend isn’t sustainable—not if America is to stay a thriving, democratic, and globally-competitive nation. Achieving a more fair society is a defining challenge of our time. In 12 stories, we present an in-depth look at the scope of the issue and the radical, creative, and smart solutions at hand.

Thieves target beehives as global buzz grows over manuka honey
NEW ZEALAND – Beekeepers and farmers are being warned to be on the lookout for suspicious activity after a spate of beehive thefts thought to be sparked by rocketing prices for manuka honey. Dannevirke-based producer The True Honey Company is the latest victim of what appear to be commercially motivated raids on apiaries around the North Island. Waipukurau police are investigating after the company had 19 of its hives, worth about $14,000, stolen from a Central Hawke’s Bay farm over the weekend. Last month 50 hives were stolen from a Kiwi Bee Waikato site near Te Awamutu, and apiaries in Huntly, Northland and Taranaki are among others to report thefts of hives this year.

Bangladesh fish chutney recipe to solve malnutrition and stunting of women and children
Chutney and flour made of small fish could be the simple solution to chronic malnutrition and stunting in the women and children of Bangladesh. An Australian PhD student has worked with researchers at the WorldFish Research Centre in Bangladesh.  Jessica Bogard, from the University of Queensland said the small fish solution could be made anywhere in the world, using local spices. “Bangladesh suffers from, what we call in nutrition, the double or even triple burden of malnutrition,” said Ms Bogard.

Community housing gets an efficiency boost with CEFC finance
More than 200 energy efficient low-income and affordable homes are set to be built by not-for-profit community housing provider SGCH under an Australian-first agreement reached with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Under the deal the CEFC will provide up to $60 million in long-term senior debt that will see new social and affordable housing built to high energy efficiency standards, as well as the retrofitting of some of SGCH’s 4300 existing properties.

Built Environment

How should we design cities to make the most of urban ecosystems?
Back in 1839, public health expert J F Murray published his article The Lungs of London, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Even then, city dwellers appreciated the advantages of open, green spaces. Murray described the benefits of the parks of London as “great vehicles of exercise, fresh air, health, and life to the myriads that congregate in the great metropolis”. Living in cities offers numerous advantages in terms of employment, education, healthcare and social communication, among others. But urban living also comes with its challenges: in particular, urban environments can put a strain on mental and physical health, because they tend to be noisy, polluted, overcrowded and hot. Ecologists are increasingly turning their attention to urban areas, in an effort to find solutions to these problems. Their work is beginning to show us how cities can be designed to accommodate all the advantages – and minimise the disadvantages – of urban living.

Australian homes open their doors for Sustainable House Day
Evidence that sustainable homes are both affordable and achievable will be on display this Sunday 13 September, as residents across the country open their doors as part of Sustainable House Day. The close to 150 homes taking part will offer public tours and information sharing on topics ranging from renewable energy, designing for passive solar benefits, aquaponics and making use of reclaimed materials. Jointly hosted by the Alternative Technology Association and EnviroShop, the national open house event aims to showcase the value of sustainability in building and renovating. As well as talks and tours by the homeowners, sustainable architects and designers will also be sharing their expertise.


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