Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Energy and Climate Change

FactCheck: does Australia have too much electricity?
In electricity markets, “capacity” is used to describe the total potential technical capacity (in megawatts) of a system. The total capacity in the National Electricity Market (NEM) is approximately 50,000 megawatts. “Energy” is often used to describe the output, or the electricity that is actually delivered. The National Electricity Market is an “energy-only” market — capacity isn’t traded. We consider these markets in balance when there is 15% more capacity than the expected peak demand for electricity. The NEM has been in a state of structural over-supply for some time now — currently close to 30% over expected peak demand.

WA farmer living amongst wind turbines backs keeping Renewable Energy Target
Living amongst 15 massive wind turbines might not be everyone’s idea of paradise, but West Australian Mid West farmer Bruce Garratt believes he is investing in the future. Eight years ago, he agreed to accommodate the turbines as part of WA’s first privately-built wind farm, south of Geraldton, and is still enjoying the serenity. “People tell me how noisy they are, people tell me how they affect your health,” he said. “I’ve had lots of people tell me different things that honestly, unless they have lived on a wind farm, they don’t really know what they are talking about.” Mr Garratt, who manages cattle and crops on his 2,000 acre property, said the turbines — part of the Alinta Walkaway Wind Farm — provided an additional passive income, as well as a sense of purpose. “No-one in their right mind could put up an argument and say that wind turbines aren’t of benefit,” he said. “They’re not producing C02.”

China aims high for carbon market by 2020
China’s national carbon market is likely to regulate 3-4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020 and be worth up to 400 billion yuan ($72 billion), a government official said on Thursday, which would make it twice as big as the EU market, currently the world’s biggest. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s top economic planner, and the Asian Development Bank held a conference in Tianjin on Thursday, outlining initial plans for a nationwide market to slow down the rapid growth of greenhouse gas emissions in China. A senior climate official said last month China planned to start a national market in 2016.

‘PUMP’: The Film Setting Out to ‘Change Your Attitude About Fuel Forever’
A provocative new documentary called PUMP, produced by Submarine Deluxe, in association with Fuel Freedom Foundation and iDeal Film Partners, is opening in limited release next week. Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, and narrated by Jason Bateman, the film “tells the story of America’s addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly and simply how we can end it — and finally win choice at the pump.” The movie, which was declared “a must see movie that jump-starts an important conversation about the crippling costs of our oil addiction,” by Peter Lehner, executive director of the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), features interviews, ideas and solutions from top energy experts including Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors; David Blume, author, biofuels pioneer and CEO of Blume Distillation; John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil US; Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation; and many other industry, political and environmental leaders.


Extent of Antarctic sea ice reaches record levels, scientists say
Antarctic scientists have declared a new record has been set for the extent of Antarctic sea ice since records began. Satellite imagery reveals an area of about 20 million square kilometres covered by sea ice around the Antarctic continent. Jan Lieser from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC said the discovery was made two days ago. “This is an area covered by sea ice which we’ve never seen from space before,” he said. “Thirty-five years ago the first satellites went up which were reliably telling us what area, two dimensional area, of sea ice was covered and we’ve never seen that before, that much area.”

Dumping is trashing Australian beaches, says CSIRO reportLarsen_Litter
Illegal dumping is a primary source of rubbish on Australian beaches, according to the world’s largest survey of coastal rubbish. The survey, carried out over three years by the CSIRO, Earthwatch Australia, TeachWild and petroleum giant Shell, dispels the idea that the rubbish on Australian beaches is due to ocean currents bringing the world’s rubbish to our shores. “The majority of coastal debris in Australia is from Australian sources, not the high seas,” the report says. “Consumer behaviour and illegal dumping are primary causes of marine debris in Australia.” The survey was conducted at sites approximately every 100 kilometres along the Australian coastline. Students, teachers, scientists and Shell employees were enlisted to conduct the surveys. The surveys found that about three quarters of the rubbish along the cost is plastic, and that local measures such as the South Australian bottle refund program can be effective to stop plastic pollution reaching the water.

Marine reserves ditched despite tide of research
Over the past 18 months, both federal and NSW governments have abandoned protective marine zones or sanctuaries. Seemingly throwing aside decades of previous research and consultation, the federal government has just announced that it has appointed a new expert panel to review the “management plans and balance of zoning” of Commonwealth marine reserves. This is despite more than 95 per cent of the 750,000 public and stakeholder submissions to the federal government since 2011 supporting greater protection of the marine environment. Recent Australian research indicating significant levels of improved diversity and abundance in protected marine zones significantly boosts the case for returning to the reserve protections that the government has suspended. Research also indicates that natural systems in marine protected areas are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, allowing biodiversity a greater chance of persisting into the future.

Sick waterways may gain from farm retirement
Two of Canterbury’s sickest waterways are prime candidates for Crown cash to retire farms and restore their wetland “lungs”, environmental leaders say. The National Party last week pledged $100m over 10 years to voluntarily retire farms on New Zealand river and lake margins. Environment Minister and Selwyn MP Amy Adams said it was likely some of the proposed fund would go to Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere. The National Institute of Water and Atmosphere Research’s 2010 Lake Water Quality Report rated the 20,000ha Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere as having the worst nutrient status of the 140 lakes measured.

Economy and Business

The rise of south-south trade: a challenge for sustainable agriculture
Patterns of trade and the distribution of market power in the global economy are shifting – rapidly. In the past, most trade in agricultural commodities occurred between the countries of the global south (sites of production) and the countries of the global north (sites of consumption).  But, in recent years, the volume of south-south trade has increased significantly. Today, some of the environmentally most problematic crops such as soya and oil palm are predominantly traded amongst southern countries. With a total import volume of 63m tonnes in 2013, China is now by far the largest buyer of internationally traded soya, and India’s share of the global palm oil trade is estimated to have reached 20% (China 16%, EU 14%). The booming demand for soya and palm oil in emerging markets has further fuelled agricultural expansion, deforestation, and biodiversity loss in producer countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia – creating a new sustainability crisis in the global south.

Why are farmers not using the latest technologies? [Opinion]
New Zealand leads the world in developing new technologies for improved production but they’re poorly taken up on our farms. So how do farmers best learn about new technologies? The latest research suggests we need a modern public good service that uses education and social network research to ensure that farmers are supported to learn from an evidence-based source. Farming is big business with about half of our land area managed by farmers. Some of the new technologies that farmers need to learn are in their commercial interest but others are in the interests of us all. It can take a long time for farmers to adopt new technologies – they require complex changes to their farm systems and that requires understanding of the science behind them.

Tesla’s $5bn Gigafactory looks even cooler than expected, will create 22,000 jobs
As predicted yesterday [4 Sep], Tesla and the Neveda governor have confirmed that the gigantic battery Gigafactory that will make enough battery cells to power 500,000 electric vehicles per year will be located in Nevada. Governor Brian Sandoval and Elon Musk made the joint announcement, with the Governor saying that this investment in his state represents “nearly one hundred billion dollars in economic impact to the Silver State over the next twenty years” and that he called Tesla and Musk “21st century pioneers, fueled with innovation and desire”.

Politics and Society

We don’t need no (moral) education? Five things you should learn about ethics
The human animal takes a remarkably long time to reach maturity. And we cram a lot of learning into that time, as well we should: the list of things we need to know by the time we hit adulthood in order to thrive – personally, economically, socially, politically – is enormous. But what about ethical thriving? Do we need to be taught moral philosophy alongside the three Rs? Ethics has now been introduced into New South Wales primary schools as an alternative to religious instruction, but the idea of moral philosophy as a core part of compulsory education seems unlikely to get much traction any time soon. To many ears, the phrase “moral education” has a whiff of something distastefully Victorian (the era, not the state). It suggests indoctrination into an unquestioned set of norms and principles – and in the world we find ourselves in now, there is no such set we can all agree on.

Blue and red US states going green on energy policy
Politically “red” and “blue” US states are increasingly turning green as they push energy efficiency and renewable power to save money and protect the planet, says a report today with prominent bi-partisan support. In the last two years alone, GOP-dominant red states have adopted policies that could serve as models for others seeking to meet proposed federal targets for reducing heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, according to the “State Clean Energy Cookbook” by Stanford University and the Hoover Institution. “There’s no blue or red tinge to it. It’s across the board,” says George P. Shultz, co-chair of Hoover’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy and U.S. secretary of State, Treasury and Labor under two GOP presidents. He says the new report shows “what works and what doesn’t.”

Louisiana Is Going To End Up Underwater Sooner Than You Might Think
Southeastern Louisiana is part of a wetlands ecosystem spanning thousands of miles–one that is, according to an investigation from ProPublica, in grave danger. The interactive report, entitled Losing Ground, reveals how a combination of oil and gas drilling, climate change, and the state’s famous levees are creating a situation where 16 square miles of land are washing away yearly. That’s the equivalent of a football field disappearing every hour. At the current rate of sea level rise and land sinking, the Gulf of Mexico could rise up to 4.3 feet by 2100, putting the majority of southeast Louisiana (everything outside the levees) underwater. An entire culture–a swath of a U.S. state–buried.

Quadruple Homicide in Peruvian Amazon Puts Criminal Logging in Spotlight
PUCALLPA, Peru—Tribal people in a remote headwaters region in the Peruvian Amazon are reacting with defiance and despair to the recent brutal murders of four community leaders who were ambushed on a jungle trail near the border with Brazil. Among those slain last week was Edwin Chota Valero, 54, the president of the Ashéninka indigenous settlement of Saweto. Chota was a charismatic activist who opposed drug traffickers and criminal timber syndicates that have come to operate with a sense of near-total impunity across broad swaths of Peru’s isolated borderlands. Three of the victims’ widows, along with eight of their younger children, arrived in the Amazonian timber hub of Pucallpa on Monday night after traveling three days and nights from Saweto by motorized dugout canoe. Upon their arrival, the women demanded that the government act immediately to retrieve the bodies of their husbands and provide security for Saweto’s remaining residents, who remain under grave threat from loggers and other criminal elements still lurking in the surrounding forests.

Built Environment

Totally tubular: Innovative fans redistribute hot ceiling air to the floor for warmer rooms & lower heating costs
One of the big inefficiencies in most home heating systems comes from the natural tendency of warm air to rise, which leads to hot ceilings and cool floors and frequent on-and-off cycling of the systems. Considering that all human activity in homes and offices takes place in the bottom 6 feet of a room, not up near the ceiling, that rising hot air can add up to a lot of wasted energy, money, and cold toes. A bid to reduce this heating inefficiency during the cold Maine winters spurred one man’s search for a solution, which has yielded a novel invention that functions like a focused ceiling fan to redistribute warm air from the ceiling to the floor. Bill Zelman’s Hot-Tubes, which use a tall Tyvek tube and a small fan to move the air, are designed to be low-cost, simple to install, and easy to use, and could end up saving homeowners a fair bit of energy and money every winter.

Food Systems

Spirulina: a luxury health food and a panacea for malnutrition
Hailed by health obsessives as the superfood to conquer viruses, prevent ageing and even ward off cancer, spirulina may be able to play another, much more significant role as a way to combat malnutrition in developing countries. Could what the west regards as a luxury health supplement become a vital tool in the fight against undernourishment? The contrast is a stark one, putting our incessant western search for nutritional nirvana into harsh context. But unlike other superfoods such as quinoa and coconut water, there are as yet few indications that western consumption of spirulina is detrimental to those producing it – in fact, so far quite the opposite.

Alarm as almond farms consume California’s water
Touted as the ultimate superfood and an essential ingredient in everything from mezze to marzipan: the humble almond has never been so popular. But with prices at a nine-year high, almonds are in the frontline of a battle over water as California struggles to cope with one of its worst-ever droughts – stoking fears of an almond shortage over Christmas. Californian farmers, estimated to grow around 80% of the world’s almonds, have been accused of siphoning off groundwater at the expense of the state’s future water reserves.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.