Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Drawing back the panel: what a solar energy ranking system looks like
As more solar electricity lights up homes and businesses across the country, it also spotlights a growing, thorny issue: how do you recycle discarded solar panels safely? And should solar companies follow a set of sustainable practices similar to those in the electronics industry?  That debate could grow louder with the release of the latest Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) “solar scorecard” Tuesday. The scorecard, based on survey responses and publicly available information, ranks 37 solar manufacturers’ actions and commitments to practices such as reporting emissions, using water and energy efficiently, avoiding the use of conflict materials and promoting workers’ health and safety.

To shift away from fossil fuels, we need to copy plants
Most of the energy that fuels our lives comes from plants. Whether it is a fossil fuel that was formed hundreds of millions of years ago or the food we eat, all carbon-borne energy has its ultimate origins in plant photosynthesis. By burning fossil fuels (the fossilised remains of ancient plants) and releasing the carbon stored within into the atmosphere, we are warming the earth, with potentially devastating consequences. Photosynthesis, put simply, uses the energy in sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into plant structures. It also creates an energy store. Unsurprisingly, given our need to quickly move away from fossil fuel use, researchers world-wide are frantically investigating methods of turning plant material into more useful forms of fuel. One way is to mimic the process plants use to make energy, through artificial photosynthesis. And a recent discovery may be a big step in generating new, climate-friendly fuels.

Rich countries subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by $88bn a year
Rich countries are subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by about $88bn (£55.4bn) a year to explore for new reserves, despite evidence that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change. The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields.

Climate change ‘will see more UK forces deployed in conflicts around world’
The impacts of climate change will drive violent conflicts that require the deployment of British military forces around the world, according to one of the UK’s most senior military figures. “Climate change will require more deployment of British military in conflict prevention, conflict resolution or responding to increased humanitarian requirements due to extreme weather impacts,” said Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti.  “It is posing a risk to geopolitical security, which is a prerequisite for economic growth, good health and wellbeing for all of us.” Morisetti warned that without sharp cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, even military action would not be able to prevent global instability. The world’s governments have pledged to cut carbon and limit warming to 2C to prevent dangerous climate change. But emissions are continuing to rise and current trends point to 4C of warming. “We could probably secure a 2C world,” he said. “I think it most unlikely we would be able secure a 4C world.”

Environment and Biodiversity

How plywood started the destruction of Indonesia’s forests
Indonesia now has the has the fastest rate of deforestation in the world, driven largely by clearing for palm oil plantations. But the process began long ago, with one of the most common building materials: plywood. As far as commodities are concerned, it was plywood that defined the rainforests of Borneo in the 1970s and 80s, clearing the way for pulp and paper, and the booming palm oil industry. Indonesia was once the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world (after the Amazon), a position it has relinquished to the rainforests of the Congo. The flora of Borneo has about 15,000 species — richer than the whole continent of Africa, which is 40-times larger. As many as 315,000 orangutans lolled in the branches of the giant dipterocarp forests in Borneo. Now it is estimated only 27,000 orangutans are left.

Satellite eye on Earth: October 2014 – in pictures
Pollution haze over India, autumn leaf colour and smog from Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano feature in this month’s selection of stunning satellite images.  This night panorama [below] shows Los Angeles, the Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada in the foreground, with Salt Lake City and a display of green aurora (left) on the horizon.


Seabirds’ plastic diet shows up in their feather oil
Scientists have developed a new technique to assess how much plastic a seabird has eaten. It involves a quick massage and a cotton swab. A team of Australian scientists has developed a new method for assessing how much plastic debris a seabird has eaten while foraging on the open ocean, leading to a better understanding of how human rubbish is affecting other species. The scientists, from CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, say preening oil — the waxy substance used by seabirds to prevent their feathers from becoming waterlogged — can provide an indirect measure of plastic ingestion.

Adelaide scuba divers share great white shark encounter
It was just another Sunday morning dive at Glenelg tyre reef for Mark Sutcliffe and Jan Busch until Mr Sutcliffe noticed they had adopted an extra dive buddy – a 3.5 metre great white shark.

Politics and Society

Facebook fight: why we banned laptops, iPads and smartphones in lectures
Senior professors occasionally insist that today’s students are lazier than their predecessors, but this is plainly wrong. Students work hard and, in the hours they spend in lectures, they create enormous amounts of value. The problem is that this is not value accredited only to their personal educational merits or their alma mater’s knowledge production. It also represents value for Facebook, a corporation already worth $200 billion. A considerable part of this value is produced in lecture halls throughout the world. This contribution is critical for Facebook’s stock value, but the consequences for universities and their students are catastrophic: the loss of time and creativity is colossal. A solid university degree, obtained through focused study, may potentially secure you a job. An armada of Facebook friends and thousands of updates on your timeline simply indicates how effectively your free labour is harvested by Facebook.

More cattle will suffer under Australia-China live export deal
The number of animals exported live out of Australia is set to increase as Australia prepares to enter into a A$1 billion trade agreement with China. Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce has claimed up to a million Australian cattle may in the future be exported each year. Live animal exports has been a divisive political issues in recent years. Passions reached boiling point when Prime Minister Gillard temporarily suspended the trade following a Four Corners exposé based on footage gathered by Lyn White and her team at Animals Australia. Since then, the trade has recommenced. The former Labor Government introduced a live export tracking system called the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS); Lyn White has been awarded an Order or Australia; and under the Abbott government live animal exports have expanded, including into China as a new market.

Lawsons pulls both elephant ivory and rhino horns off the auction list after public uproar
A public uproar over the sale of a pair of black rhinoceros horns and two pairs of elephant tusks has forced a Sydney auction house to withdraw the items from this Friday’s auction list – a critical win, say animal rights campaigners. Lawsons has, since mid-August, resisted calls from animal conservation groups to remove the specimens from its auction list, telling one campaigner that they “had nothing else to say”. Humane Society International, with the support of Greenpeace and International Fund for Animal Welfare, began a social media campaign on Tuesday, demanding Lawsons pull the horns and ivory from auction and change its policies to prevent similar items from surfacing in the future.

Built Environment

The long road to zero – embodied carbon in the built environment
Leading industry organisations AECOM, Aurecon, BlueScope Steel and Sydney Water, in conjunction with research institutions UNSW Australia, the University of Melbourne and the University of South Australia, are collaborating to comprehensively quantify greenhouse gas emissions related to the built environment in Australia. The aim of the project is to identify the main factors responsible for carbon emissions in the design, construction and operation of the built environment. Armed with this information, designers, construction companies and legislators will be able to make evidence-based design decisions on the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

Food Systems

British-grown quinoa is coming to a supermarket near you
A pioneering British farmer has sold his quinoa crop to Pret a Manger and is part of a network of European ‘Facebook farmers’ committed to growing the South American superfood locally. Quinoa has traditionally had its fair share of good and bad press. Lauded for its high protein and impressive amino acid content, the grain-like seed has wowed meat and non-meat eaters alike. The sharp rise in demand for the crop in the West, however, has led to a tripling of world quinoa prices, in turn triggering significant problems in the traditional producing regions of Peru and Bolivia, including malnutrition and land disputes. Increasing quinoa production across Europe is therefore intended to help meet European demand while developing new markets, stabilising world prices in the process. Jones intends to take this a step further by recruiting growers in multiple counties across the UK in order to develop a hyper-local product for each.


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