Friday 13 February 2015
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change
Fiddling with global warming conspiracy theories while Rome burns
It shouldn’t need to be said, but the Earth really is warming. Air and ocean temperatures are rising fast, ice is melting across the planet, ecosystems are shifting, sea levels are rising, and so on. The latest zombie climate myth to rise from the dead involves the oldest form of global warming denial. It’s a conspiracy theory that the Earth isn’t really warming; rather, fraudulent climate scientists are “fiddling” with the data to introduce a false warming trend. In The Telegraph, which is a mostly serious UK newspaper, Christopher Booker calls scientists’ adjustments to temperature data “the biggest science scandal ever.” These accusations have echoed through conservative media and online blogs, even being aired on Fox News (three times).
Ocean carbon release ‘ended last Ice Age’
Carbon dioxide escaping from the depths of the ocean heralded the end of the last Ice Age, a study suggests. Its release into the atmosphere drove the shift towards a warmer period, according to scientists at the University of Southampton. The research, published in Nature, is based on analysing chemical signals in the shells of ancient plankton. The world’s oceans absorb about a third of the atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Scientists predict that as the oceans warm, their ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide will be reduced, potentially leading to faster global warming.
Slim down climate science reports to boost impact, IPCC told
The top UN climate science body should slim down its reports to have more impact and curb the mounting workload for authors. That was the message countries sent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ahead of a key meeting on its future later this month. The IPCC’s scientific reviews “should become more concise with an enhanced focus on policy relevant topics,” said Germany, with a page limit set at the outset.
Alstom bags £45m deal to build geothermal plant in Java
French company Alstom has won a €61m (£45m) contract to build a 30MW geothermal energy plant in Indonesia, which could pave the way for more companies to exploit the country’s vast renewable energy resource. Indonesia is located on the “ring of fire” volcano belt and, according to the International Energy Agency, holds around 40 per cent of the world’s viable geothermal reserves, equivalent to about 27GW. But to date, geothermal accounts for just five per cent of Indonesia’s electricity mix, suggesting a huge potential for the industry to expand.
Sandfire copper-gold mine in Western Australia may have world’s largest solar-pv power project built by Juwi
A Western Australian copper and gold miner plans to soon house one of the largest off-grid solar-pv power systems of its kind in the world. Sandfire Resources, which owns the DeGrussa mine near Wiluna in the far north Goldfields of WA, will integrate the 10.6 megawatt solar array with its existing 20 megawatt diesel power station. The solar array, inverters and batteries will cover an area of around 18 to 20 hectares, equivalent to the size of 11 Melbourne cricket grounds.
Environment and Biodiversity
4 Clever (and Kind of Sad) Ways Animals Adapt to Humans
Their habitat is disappearing due to widespread logging, but orangutans seem to have found at least one tiny silver lining: traveling on timber roads instead of the more challenging tree canopies. Recently, ecologist Brent Loken set up 41 camera-trap stations in the Wehea Forest on the Indonesian island of Borneo (map). The traps were spread out across three blocks of the forest, each representing different levels of logging impact. In all three blocks, the cameras captured images of orangutans walking. This in itself was unusual, as it was previously thought the critically endangered animals kept to the canopy whenever possible.
Early results from farm bird count
UK – Early results from a major count of farmland birds reveal sightings of several rare species. The farmers participating in the Big Farmland Bird Count recorded seeing 117 bird types, including 14 at-risk species. These included the linnet, the yellowhammer, starling and lapwing. The organisers expressed delight with the preliminary results, calling them “remarkable.” More than 2,000 farmers and gamekeepers have been taking part in the survey, which is organised by Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). A downloaded tick sheet is taken in to a field for 30 minutes and any sightings are recorded. The spotting started on 7 February and will finish on the 15th.
Note to tuna fans: Mercury levels are rising
Manmade air pollution is hitting open ocean fish with scientists discovering that mercury levels in tuna is climbing rapidly. The news is particularly relevant to pregnant women as the developing nervous system in the unborn baby is particularly sensitive to mercury. US scientists studying Hawaiian yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) says mercury concentrations are increasing at a rate of 3.8 per cent or more a year, according to their study in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Dugong poachers face fines of up to $1 million; funding approved for threatened animals like bandicoots and quolls
Illegal poachers of dugongs and turtles in far north Queensland are about to face tougher penalties, as the Federal Government announces new measures to protect threatened species. New laws passed in the Senate have increased the hunting fines to up to $1 million in Commonwealth marine areas. Environment Minister is Greg Hunt said it was important legislation. “I am determined to wipe out any residual practice of poaching of dugongs and turtles,” he said. “I think what we find is that these are majestic creatures.” Traditional owners welcomed the move. Gavin Singleton, a project officer at the Dawul Wuru Indigenous Corporation in the Cairns region, said poaching was an insidious practice in far north Queensland
Seagrass helps protect natural ‘carbon sinks’, study finds
The disappearance of seagrass meadows could be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, an international study has found. Research conducted at Oyster Harbour in Albany found centuries-old carbon dioxide deposits have been created by seagrass meadows. Scientists at the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute, in conjunction with overseas researchers, discovered the meadows act as carbon “sinks”, preventing the erosion of carbon deposits and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When the seagrass is removed, usually by dredging or mooring but sometimes by severe storms, the old carbon is eroded and freed.
Economy and Business
New Collaborative Futures Platform Helps Decision-Makers Plan for Tomorrow Based on Our Choices Today
UK sustainable development consultancy Forum for the Future has launched The Futures Centre — a platform for decision-makers to track trends, share resources and spot windows of opportunities for sustainable innovation and collaboration. Launched last week at an event in Singapore, the goal of the tool is to provide business leaders access to “a vast online bank of futures knowledge” to help them consider the business impacts of environmental risks such as climate change, ecosystem health and resource scarcity, and opportunities to respond to them.
Meet the cutting-edge fashion designers doing good
Over the past few years we have seen a growing desire for more transparency in our clothing manufacturing processes. Just as consumers are becoming more informed about the pitfalls of mass-produced clothes, so more brands are emerging that cite ethical production as their purpose. This is great news for consumers who care about the people who make their clothes. But what do these brands bring to the table in terms of design credibility? Does a focus on ethics actually have staying power in a trend-driven market?
Inditex Bans Use of Angora, Donating Leftover Stock to Syrian Refugees
Inditex, one of the world’s biggest fashion firms, has banned the sale of angora wool after activists highlighted the cruel treatment of rabbits by farms in China. The parent company of Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka said it would stop selling angora garments in all of its 6,400 shops after facing months of pressure from animal rights campaigners. A PETA campaign against angora wool showed videos of live angora rabbits screaming while fur is pulled from their skins on ten Chinese farms. The video also showed rabbits being stretched on boards and cut as their fur is hacked off.
M&S and Waitrose score top marks on animal welfare
Food retailers Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have both scored top marks in a global annual farm animal welfare benchmark. The benchmark can be used as a tool for investors to manage risk and return within the food sector. The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) is now in its third year and provides an annual review of how 80 leading food companies are managing and reporting their farm animal welfare practices. Firms are ranked from tier one, indicating companies are taking a leadership position, to tier six, where animal welfare does not appear on the business agenda.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Reusable cup ‘changes the game’ for festivals
When Ryan Everton’s French girlfriend asked him why Kiwi festivals didn’t provide reusable cups, Everton decided he would start producing them himself. They had them in France, his girlfriend told him, so why did New Zealand which was “such a green country” still provide one-use cups to festival-goers? Three years on and Everton’s Christchurch based company, Value Road, is producing 70,000 reusable polypropylene ‘Globelets’ a year. In 2014, eco-conscious arts and music weekend Splore was the first New Zealand festival to use the Globelet. Recently named one of the world’s 36 greenest festivals, the move saw Splore reduce its 55,000 recyclable one-use cups to 11,000 reusable cups as a result.
Peter Calder: Frog isn’t telling us the full story
It was the cartoon frog that caught my eye. It was smiling – beaming, even – and the lines above the eyes highlighted the fact that this was one happy little amphibian. As such, it made an excellent mascot for the plastic bag it adorned. The words “100% degradable” that accompanied the image completed the picture: here was a plastic bag you could feel good about using. Well, a shopper who drew the bag to my attention after she saw it in use at a local food market wasn’t feeling good about it at all. Her worry was that the degradation alluded to was a process of breakdown only into fragments that are invisible to the naked eye. Perhaps, she suggested, they are out of sight, but not out of the waste stream. As it turned out, she had a point.
Politics and Society
Salaried employees more likely to embrace green measures
People employed on an hourly wage are less likely to engage in environmental measures at work, such as reusing materials or recycling, new research from the Canada has shown. The study suggests that sustainable best practices are easier to embed in businesses that employ salaried staff, rather than rely on flexible contracts or hourly pay structures. Five studies by University of British Columbia psychologists, published in the journal Organisational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, found that people who had the mindset “time is money” were less likely to engage in green actions.
Dropping public building energy rating ‘beggars belief’
The government is facing criticism after proposing to scrap Display Energy Certificates (DECs), the energy ratings for public buildings, with the UK Green Building Council labelling it “simply beggars belief”. Since 2008, all public buildings over 1,000 meters squared have been required to have a DEC that shows the energy performance of the building based on its annual energy consumptions and the resulting CO2 emissions. The government has previously announced it would extend DECs to all commercial buildings in 2011 but did a U-turn.