Sustainable Development News

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

No, we aren’t heading into a ‘mini ice age’\
Wouldn’t it be great if scientists could make their minds up? One minute they’re telling us our planet is warming up due to human activity and we run the risk of potentially devastating environmental change. Next, they’re warning that the Earth is heading for a mini ice age in the next 15 years. The latter headline has its roots in a recent press release from the UK’s National Astronomy Meeting that reported on a study suggesting the sun is heading towards a period of very low output.

Energy and Climate Change

Schwarzenegger invests in battery storage, micro-grid startup
Before last November, very few people had heard of Advanced Microgrid Solutions. But after winning a 50-megawatt contract to deliver storage services to Southern California Edison, the startup is pulling in some well-known backers and technology partners… AMS is planning to develop behind-the-meter storage systems in commercial and industrial buildings. But unlike most other distributed storage developers that are focused on customer control, AMS is offering utilities full control of the systems for grid services.

CEFC investments dive 45% amid renewable energy industry turmoil
AUSTRALIA – Investments by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the $10 billion green investment bank under siege from the Abbott government, has reported an 45 per cent drop in annual commitments amid turmoil in the renewable energy industry. The fund made commitments of $500 million in the year to June, down from $900 million in its first year of operations. The $1.4 billion total has also triggered a further $2.2 billion in investments from partners in those projects, saving 4.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year in the process, the fund said in a statement on Wednesday.

Environment and Biodiversity

Is Your State Consuming More Than Nature Can Provide?
USA – Get too far into financial debt and creditors come calling. Fall into debt with nature and the consequences can be even more distressing: Hotter temperatures, shrinking farmland, and dried up reservoirs are only a few of the problems we’re grappling with as a result of overtaxing the environment. Data from a new report by the Global Footprint Network looks at which American states are running into the red with Mother Nature through such activities as burning fossil fuels, overfishing, and chopping down forests.

Hunting in Africa: to ban or not to ban is the question
Hunting has long been a highly controversial activity, whether as a sport (leisure or recreational), for commercial purposes or if done for cultural reasons. African countries that legalise hunting activities experience scrutiny around their conservation efforts, and how much money they make from it.

Photos Show Sad Plight for African Elephants Lifted to China
New, secretly obtained photos show that elephants snatched from the wild in Zimbabwe months ago and airlifted recently to China are malnourished, sunken-looking, and scarred by wounds. “These calves look really horrible,” says Joyce Poole, co-founder of ElephantVoices, a Kenya-based research and advocacy organization. Poole reviewed the photos, which were sent exclusively to National Geographic.

Kookaburra and willie wagtail disappearing from parts of Australia
Researchers are calling it a wake-up call. Some of Australia’s most common birds are disappearing from parts of the country. The list even includes kookaburras and willie wagtails. The startling finding has come from the State of Australia’s Birds report, released today. The report is part of a broader index looking at the health of birds and their environments. It encompasses 15 years of data collection by ordinary Australians.

Can Rewilding Bring Nature Back to Modern Britain?
Britain’s most endangered animals and plants have declined by 58 percent since the 1970s, and one in ten is threatened with extinction, according to a recent report. The U.K. has lost 44 million birds since 1966  and, historically, more large mammals—including wolves, lynx, bears, beavers, boars, moose, bison, and wolverines—than any other European country except Ireland… To remedy this catastrophe, Rewilding Britain—a charity set up by a group of leading environmentalists—was launched on July 14

Queensland’s shark control program described as ‘indiscriminate killing machine’ by Sea Shepherd
The Queensland Government has defended its shark control program after vision was released showing non-targeted animals caught on drumlines and in nets. The vision taken by conservation group Sea Shepherd shows a juvenile dolphin hooked on a drumline off the Gold Coast. It also shows a turtle hooked on a drumline and other animals drowned in nets. Sea Shepherd director Jeff Hansen described the vision as heartbreaking. “These drumlines and nets are a false sense of security that merely kill our precious marine life,” he said. “It’s time for it to go.”

Natural selection in black and white: how industrial pollution changed moths
The world is constantly changing around us. However, we might not realise the importance of a change until we see its effects on another animal. The peppered moth will always hold a special place in the annals of evolutionary biology. Its story is a classic example of natural selection, and of how animals can act as indicators of environmental change.

Pain before gain for farmers, environment minister Nick Smith says
NEW ZEALAND – Farmers will need to get used to “pain” as the Government moves to improve water quality around the country says environment minister Dr Nick Smith. Smith made the comments aboard a catamaran on Lake Taupo today as authorities celebrated a milestone in a decade-long process to reduce the amount of nitrogen leaching off surrounding land.

[Ed: I can’t resist comparing this political resolve to the lack of leadership on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Climate change is an issue were we can’t afford to wait until the environmental effects are unacceptable before we take action.]

Oysters could be grown in tanks to avoid weather conditions threatening industry’s future, researchers say
Oyster growers in New South Wales may soon move their oysters into land-based tanks in an attempt to protect them from weather conditions threatening the future of the industry. A research project is underway at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour, looking into the viability of growing oysters in tanks for more than three weeks. Under the plan, growers would remove their oysters from rivers and estuaries late in the growing process, to protect them from floods, storms and pollution events.

Economy and Business

Has the EU’s carbon trading system made business greener?
The EU is celebrating 10 years of the world’s largest carbon trading system this year by looking at new reforms to keep it on track. The emissions trading scheme (ETS), which covers half of Europe’s CO2 emissions by limiting the number of carbon permits available to energy generators and industry, has been dogged by low prices and oversupply of allowances.  The problems are largely ones of success – carbon emissions are lower than anticipated. But much of the oversupply was caused by the recession in Europe, so has the trading system been a waste of time or has it changed business attitudes and operations?

Feds slammed for contravening Montreal and Kyoto protocols on old aircon gases
President of the Australian Refrigeration Association Tim Edwards has slammed a federal government decision not to pursue product stewardship arrangements for domestic airconditioning and refrigeration equipment, saying the move contravenes Australia’s commitments to the Montreal and Kyoto protocols. The decision, announced last month by the Department of Environment, was based on a cost-benefit analysis by KPMG that showed “no net benefit” if end-of-life equipment was subject to stronger de-manufacture and recycling protocols.

UN Secretary-General Calls on Businesses to Help Finance Sustainable Development
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called on the corporate community “to be our partners in supporting and financing this agenda” at a global conference on financing for development. The International Business Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was tasked with finding resources for a 17-point, 15-year UN plan on meeting human needs, protecting the planet and ending poverty. These Sustainable Development Goals will be up for final approval at the UN General Assembly in September.

Politics and Society

The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene, Part 2
Yesterday in Part 1 I argued that the most enduring of the great crimes of the 20th century will surely prove to be human disruption of the Earth’s climate. Its effects are already locked in for thousands of years. With modern technology humans have become so powerful that we now rival the great forces of nature, so much so that we have diverted the planet from its natural course, taking it out of the Holocene’s 10,000 years of climatic stability and clemency into a new, unstable and dangerous geological epoch, the Anthropocene. If this feat is a crime then before the enormity of what humankind has now done, the grand constructions of international law and all modern ethical systems appear frail and almost pathetic.

Yes, Animals Think And Feel. Here’s How We Know (Book Talk)
Do animals feel empathy? Does an elephant have consciousness? Can a dog plan ahead? These are some of the questions that award-winning environmental writer Carl Safina teases out in his new book, Beyond Words: How Animals Think and Feel.

Socially conscious app wins world support
NEW ZEALAND – A world-first Kiwi app promoting ethical and green buying power reached its PledgeMe goal with hours to spare. Wellington entrepreneur Ben Gleisner asked backers for $75,000 to create the Good Spend Counter, which will track app users’ spending on registered Eftpos and credit cards. Their very own Big Bleeding-Heart Brother will then give them the dollars they have spent at enlisted ethical businesses lining up with the causes they have selected, from global warming and recycling to fair trade and living wages. The idea was to change the world not through donations, but purchasing power, by making buyers aware of how ethically they were shopping. The businesses signed up with Conscious Consumers will also see users’ combined spending and the causes they support, which Gleisner hopes will push them to take new steps.

Why these grandparents are fighting climate change
The slight, white-haired figure of grandfather-of-four Phil Kingston doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of an environmental activist but old age, he has found, does have advantages. For a start, it’s clear that police don’t want to arrest grandparents, he says with a smile. In fact he regrets that on one occasion when he was arrested, to be removed from a sit-in at a bank in the UK, he was promptly de-arrested on the street outside. “I was disappointed about that in the sense that you don’t get the chance to speak in court, to say that there are some laws that are more important than state laws: care for our grandchildren, the sheer immorality of what’s happening.”

Alan Jones takes aim at Tony Abbott in 30-minute spray about Shenhua mine
It can’t be fun to be on the receiving end of a blast from Alan Jones. But that’s the position Prime Minister Tony Abbott found himself in on Wednesday, when the broadcaster told his listeners on radio station 2GB that the Abbott government’s approval of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine was “disgraceful”, “beyond belief”, and tantamount to selling their soul to mining.

[Ed: For those outside Australia, Alan Jones is a vocal far-right radio personality…]

Shenhua mine: the federal government could have chosen farming over coal
Federal environment minister Greg Hunt has claimed that he had no choice but to approve Shenhua’s controversial Watermark Coal Mine near Gunnedah in New South Wales. In a radio interview on Monday, Hunt stated that Commonwealth environmental law is “clear and prescriptive” and that the advice he was given about the mine could not have been clearer… In the midst of this public dispute between cabinet members, Hunt’s claim that he could not have refused the mine due to the impacts on agricultural land is wrong. Just as considering the economic benefits of the mine is a legitimate consideration when weighing up approval of the mine, the economic costs due to loss of agricultural land is also a legitimate factor to consider.

Govt fossil fuel promotion cost dwarfs renewables
NEW ZEALAND – Government spends up to 20 times more money on wooing oil and gas companies to New Zealand than it does on promoting renewable energy, newly released figures show. The disproportionate funding was justified, Government officials said, because of the large royalties paid by petroleum companies. The Green Party said it further confirmed the Government’s misplaced priorities.

ExxonMobil gave millions to climate-denying lawmakers despite pledge
ExxonMobil gave more than $2.3m to members of Congress and a corporate lobbying group that deny climate change and block efforts to fight climate change – eight years after pledging to stop its funding of climate denial, the Guardian has learned. Climate denial – from Republicans in Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level – is seen as a major obstacle to US and global efforts to fight climate change, closing off the possibility of federal and state regulations cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the ability to plan for a future of sea-level rise and extreme weather.

Residents of Australia’s tiniest towns share what happiness means for them
A new survey conducted by the University of Melbourne has found Australians who live in towns of fewer than 1,000 people are significantly happier than others. Take a look at snapshots of life in a few of Australia’s tiniest towns.

Built Environment

Ken Maher on cities – they matter to our future, why not the pollies?
As the most urbanised nation on earth, Australia has good reason to invest in cities. More than two thirds of Australians live in a major capital city. Our cities are growing rapidly. And we’re not alone. Urbanisation is a worldwide trend. Globally, the UN estimates that around five billion people will be living in cities by 2030. This provides global challenges, but it also means that opportunities for research, innovation and best practice are evolving at a rapid pace. Most major nations are already responding with shifts in policies and practices. So why does the Australian Government ignore this critical opportunity to nurture our cities, increase productivity and consequently the success of our nation in a globally competitive market? The wellbeing of our citizens is reason enough to focus on cities policy.

Nearly 9,500 people die each year in London because of air pollution – study
Nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London due to long-term exposure to air pollution, more than twice as many as previously thought, according to new research. The premature deaths are due to two key pollutants, fine particulates known as PM2.5s and the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2), according to a study carried out by researchers at King’s College London. The study – which was commissioned by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London – is believed to be the first by any city in the world to attempt to quantify how many people are being harmed by NO2. The gas is largely created by diesel cars, lorries and buses, and affects lung capacity and growth.

An air pollution episode in London in 2015. There were 9,416 early deaths caused by the pollutants NO2 and PM2.5 in 2010, according to King’s College London. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

An air pollution episode in London in 2015. There were 9,416 early deaths caused by the pollutants NO2 and PM2.5 in 2010, according to King’s College London. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

You’ve got green buildings? How about the humans in the machine?
Comment: The US Green Building Council has teamed with the University of Virginia School of Medicine to work out how to measure the health impacts of buildings. It’s the next step to expanding the green building agenda to a broader more holistic definition of “green” applied to the health of the humans within the machine, so to speak.

Five ways to be a sustainable traveller
Not all of us are going to take a holiday building schools or feeding baby orang-utans, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care. Here are five ways to travel lightly and make a difference.

Food Systems

Will the worst bird flu outbreak in US history finally make us reconsider factory farming chicken?
The avian flu outbreak that has more than doubled egg prices across the country has also led to the death of more than 48 million birds in a dozen states, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Iowa, the hardest hit, has euthanized more than 31 million birds, including approximately 40% of the state’s 60 million laying hens, according to Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association. Turkey farmers in the state, while affected to a lesser degree, also have suffered. Minnesota, the leading turkey producer, has lost nearly 9 million turkeys.


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