Sustainable Development News

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Top Story

Materialism makes you a broke jerk, says science
Unless your friends and loved ones gave you backrub coupons for the holidays, you’ve probably found yourself wading through an apartment swamped with a tide of new things. These gadgets and whatsits may be reminders of the people who care about you, but an over-reliance on material goods can lead to very little fulfillment, if any at all. Psychologist Tim Kasser, from Knox College, sat down with the American Psychological Association back in mid-December to talk about what consumerism does to the human mind. We missed the story back then, when we were distracted by selfie sticks and Celebrate Christmas™ Yankee Candles, but his findings still bear repeating: Leading a materialistic life can lead to depression, antisocial behavior, severe guilt, and other negative qualities.

Energy and Climate Change

Rebound in clean energy investment in 2014 beats expectations
World clean energy investment rebounded strongly in 2014, boosted by demand for large-scale and rooftop solar photovoltaics on the back of its greatly improved competitiveness, and by the financing of a record $19.4bn of offshore wind projects. Authoritative annual data, published today by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, show that global investment in clean energy was $310bn last year. This was up 16% from a revised $268.1bn in 2013, and more than five times the figure of $60.2bn attained a decade earlier, in 2004, albeit still 2% below the all-time record of $317.5bn reached in 2011.

Renewable investment dives in Australia, bucking global trend
Investments in renewable energy rose to record levels globally in 2014 but fell sharply in Australia because of uncertainty triggered by the Abbott government’s review of the industry, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said. Worldwide investment in wind farms, solar photovoltaics and other clean energy sources jumped 16 per cent last year to $US310 billion ($383 billion), or more than five times the tally of a decade earlier. Solar investments accounted for almost half the total. China led the way, with investment soaring almost one-third to $US89.5 billion, while US investment gained 8 per cent to $US51.8 billion, and Brazil’s almost doubled to $US7.9 billion. Australia, though, went the other way, with investment sinking 35 per cent to $US3.7 billion.

Nebraska court approves controversial Keystone XL pipeline route
The state supreme court ruling clears one of the last remaining obstacles before Barack Obama is forced to render his decision on the future of Keystone, a controversial pipeline designed to deliver crude from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast. The decision is one of the most loaded of his presidency – and Obama has repeatedly deferred his determination, claiming he wants to let the process play out. Now, after six years of delays, that procedure is all but exhausted. With the Nebraska route settled, the State Department is expected to come out with its final decision on whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

These New Wind Turbines Are Designed To Look Like Trees
A lot of people moan about how wind turbines make the countryside look bad. Clean, renewable energy often comes at a price. Enter “turbine trees” — one company’s way of tackling the issue of aesthetics in sustainability.  Designer NewWind R&D has created a “silent” turbine called the Tree Vent that is supposed to blend into the landscapes which house it. It’s a 36ft-tall structure made of steel with 72 artificial leaves. It’s the leaves that produce the power — just like the photosynthesis of plants. Each one is a “L’Aeroleaf”, a mini turbine attached to the main structure that features an integrated generator.

Tree turbine

Caribbean Island Ditching Diesel In Favor Of Renewable Energy
Bonaire (pop. 14,500), a small island off the coast of Venezuela, is famous for its beautiful marine reefs, which are visited by 70,000 tourists every year. What many of the tourists don’t realize is that the majority of the electricity powering their needs comes from renewable energy. Yet for the residents of Bonaire, the switch from fossil-fueled to renewable energy systems has made a world of difference. Like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire originally relied on diesel fuel to generate electricity for residents, with a peak demand of 11 MW. This fuel had to be shipped in from other nations, resulting in high electricity prices for Bonaire residents, along with uncertainty about when and how much prices might increase with changing fuel costs.

Firefighting has hardly changed in a century. But bushfires certainly have
Jim Casey is the state secretary of the NSW Fire Brigade Employees’ Union.
The fire season has been starting earlier and lasting longer, extending into spring and autumn. This not only means longer periods in which conditions are ripe for bushfire, it also reduces the time in the off-season when firefighters can take preventative measures to minimise exposure in the coming season. All of these changes are expected to increase in the coming decades. Put simply, changes in weather behaviour are making bushfires bigger and more dangerous. What does this mean for those of us on the front line?

Environment and Biodiversity

Play hard, work hard: the animal guide to the good life
I am always repeating the mantra that we should “work hard and play hard”. But is having fun professionally productive? As someone who studies animal behaviour I sometimes look to my experimental subjects for an answer. There are many things that give both animals and humans pleasure, such as eating tasty food, but these are not all necessarily fun. When I look at my children I see that fun for them involves playing and scientists who investigate the biology of fun also focus on play.

Economy and Business

In 2015, make a New Year’s resolution that will actually change the world
Changing the world sounds like a tall order — something better left to Superman, the president, or at least a very, very competent plumber. Not anymore. Today, the commitment to energy awareness is changing the world and local communities in very real ways — and you get to be part of it. Best of all, you don’t have to jump over buildings or have x-ray vision. To begin, all you have to do is shave a few dollars off your electric bill by using energy wisely. This past fall, private and public organizations around the country came together as part of ENERGY STAR’s Change the World tour to make a difference through community service projects focused on energy efficiency.

Forget carbon offsetting, insetting is the future
Planting trees for carbon offsets is little better than green-washing in many people’s eyes. But what if this sustainability cliche were turned on its head – if trees were planted to support agroforestry within a business’s direct supply chain? Welcome to the world of insetting. Coined and promoted by sustainability standards Plan Vivo and Pur Projet, it’s a potentially powerful concept that can benefit businesses and the environment.

Ready For The iPhone 7? Get This Smartphone Designed To Last A Decade And Forget All About It
Worldwide, more than 1.8 billion mobile phones were sold last year—most replacing devices that were less than two years old. The average smartphone owner upgrades every 18 months. Is it possible to design a phone that people actually want to keep? The latest attempt is the Puzzlephone, a modular Android device with three parts that can easily be customized, replaced or upgraded: A “brain” with the main electronics, a “heart” with the battery, and a “spine” with an LCD screen. If the camera or battery stops working—or if you want to switch to a different operating system—you can just swap in a new part instead of buying an entirely new phone. The phone is meant to last 10 years.

Explainer: why reusable rockets are so hard to make
SpaceX is attempting a huge feat in spacecraft engineering. It is seeking to land the first stage of its Falcon 9-R rocket on a floating platform at sea. Normally this would end up at the bottom of the ocean. If successful, SpaceX will shake the rocket launch market, by shaving millions of dollars off launch costs. Whatever the outcome, the launch represents the culmination of a number of remarkable achievements in rocket science. It marks new developments in restarting rocket engines, orientation control, guidance and navigation, thermal protection and of course, deploying landing gear. SpaceX’s track record in the industry so far has been phenomenal. If other commercial providers haven’t woken up to the competition, this launch might force them to pay attention.

Fueling sustainable development in Africa through Impact Investing
The impact investing space is growing in Africa and could be the trigger this developing continent needs for faster sustainable development. As the MDGs are being replaced by the SDGs in 2015, new development concepts and policies are being floated for Africa to adopt. Impact investing could be one of the best strategies if embraced and well implemented across the continent. Most African economies have poor basic public services in terms of healthcare, education, infrastructure, water, energy, housing and technology.

Ranking the best and the worst cruises for the environment (spoiler alert: it’s not pretty)
Sustainably speaking, taking a cruise is a pretty dicey proposition. After all, any practice that centers around loading a few thousand people into a giant steel behemoth, motoring them around environmentally sensitive areas and feeding them extravagantly is going to burn a lot of fuel, consume a lot of water, and produce a lot of waste. That said, sustainability practices vary greatly from cruise line to cruise line and even from ship to ship.

Politics and Society

Eight months until new development goals are agreed. Then what?
This is a big year for global gatherings on existential topics. There’s the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons planned for New York, then in September, still at the United Nations headquarters, a new set of global development goals will be agreed, and finally the 21st UN Climate Change conference will be held in Paris late in the year. The outlook for these three conferences is mixed. But at least two of them have an obvious path towards world-changing impact. The summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda is the odd one out. The politics of writing the goals appears to have ensured the politics of using them has been relegated to a distant afterthought. And unless the UN secretary general and the world’s governments agree on what the goals are actually designed to accomplish, the hope that they’ll make a difference is misguided.

Sustainable development goals: 2015 events calendar
As the millennium development goals expire and governments negotiate a new development agenda, hundreds of conferences, workshops, and public lectures are being organised to take stock of the last 15 years and prepare for the next 15. Find out what events are being held and where.

Call to stand up for our rights
New Zealanders need to be prepared to protect their right to peaceful protest, warns a Nelson environmentalist who was jailed in Russia. Electrical engineer David Haussmann was released a year ago after being detained with 27 other Greenpeace activists and two journalists on charges of piracy over a protest at Arctic oil drilling. Now he says the same thing could happen here. “I think people need to be prepared to protect their rights to voice their protest and do that through non-violent means. They need to be aware that right is slowly being eroded away.” In 2013 the Government passed legislation, through an amendment to the Crown Minerals Bill, restricting anti-mining protests at sea and introducing heavy penalties of up to $100,000 in fines or a year in prison for illegal protests. “It basically legalises what Russia did to us, allowing the Defence Force to board vessels on our coastline,” he said.

What role for higher education in sustainable development?
The recognition that education, at all levels, can be a powerful tool in promoting sustainable development led to the concept of ‘education for sustainable development’.  Subsequently, in 2002, the United Nations declared 2005-14 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, with the objective of integrating the principles and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning, and appointed UNESCO as the lead implementing agency.  But what is ‘sustainable development’ and what is the role of higher education in promoting it?

Built Environment

These Beautiful Maps Show How Much Of The U.S. Is Paved Over
When you strip everything off a map except the roads, most of the U.S. is still clearly recognizable. In a series of maps of every state, and the country as a whole, Boston-based design firm Fathom took away mountains, rivers, and place names to demonstrate how well we can be defined by pavement.


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