Wednesday 17 August 2016
Sustainable Development News
Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Nearly two decades of data reinforce concerns that pesticides are really bad for bees
New research has provided some of the strongest evidence yet that pesticides can do serious, long-term damage to bee populations. And the findings may help fuel the ongoing debate about whether certain insecticides should be permitted for agricultural use at all. The new study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, examines the question of whether the use of a common (and highly controversial) class of pesticides called neonicotinoids can be linked to wild bee declines in England. The results suggest that this could be the case.
Energy and Climate Change
July 2016 was world’s hottest month since records began, says Nasa
Last month was the hottest month in recorded history, beating the record set just 12 months before and continuing the long string of monthly records, according to the latest Nasa data. The past nine months have set temperature records for their respective months and the trend continued this month to make 10 in a row, according to Nasa. July broke the absolute record for hottest month since records began in 1880.
UK Tories wake up to nuclear folly, as wind and solar found to be cheapest
The decision by the UK’s Tory government to put a hold on approval for the world’s biggest single energy investment – the Hinkley C nuclear plant – may have less to do with concerns about the potential role of Chinese state companies and more to do with the realisation that new nuclear is a horrendously expensive boondoggle.
Disasters like Louisiana floods will worsen as planet warms, scientists warn
The historic and devastating floods in Louisiana are the latest in a series of heavy deluges that some climate scientists warn will become even more common as the world continues to warm. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) is set to classify the Louisiana disaster as the eighth flood considered to be a once-in-every-500-years event to have taken place in the US in little over 12 months.
Second phase of world’s biggest offshore windfarm gets go-ahead
UK – Plans for the world’s biggest offshore windfarm off the Yorkshire coast are to be expanded to an area five times the size of Hull after being approved by ministers. The multibillion-pound Hornsea Project Two would see 300 turbines – each taller than the Gherkin – span more than 480 sq km in the North Sea. Fifty-five miles off the coast of Grimsby, the project by Denmark’s Dong Energy is expected to deliver 1,800MW of low-CO2 electricity to 1.8m UK homes.
Solar households to lose subsidies, but it’s a bright future for the industry
AUSTRALIA – Solar households in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales will this year cease to be paid for power they export into the electricity grid. In South Australia, some households will lose 16 cents per kilowatt-hour (c/kWh) from September 31. Some Victorian households will lose 25 c/kWh, and all NSW households will stop receiving payments from December 31. But while the windback may hurt some households, it may ultimately be a good sign for the industry.
Grid-scale battery storage not yet ‘panacea’ for Australia renewables
AUSTRALIA – A senior solar energy researcher from the University of Queensland has questioned the role of grid-scale battery storage as the “missing link” of Australia’s shift to renewables, and suggested that much more research needs to be done if the technology is to be rolled out successfully.
Environment and Biodiversity
Moss boosted Earth’s oxygen 400 million yrs ago: study
New research has shown moss is responsible for giving Earth the oxygen boost needed to allow humans to evolve. The report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) said mossy ground cover began to proliferate about 470 million years ago, giving our planet its first stable source of oxygen and allowing intelligent life to thrive.
Whale of a problem: why do humpback whales protect other species from attack?
A group of killer whales are on the hunt. They work together to submerge and drown a whale calf. But then more whales appear. The newly arrived humpbacks bellow a trumpet-like call, and wield their five-metre-long pectoral flippers like swords against the prowling killer whales. The killer whales are driven away from the calf, and the humpbacks also move away. As they do, the killer whales turn back and descend on the calf once more. In response, the humpbacks swing around and return to the calf’s defence. The humpbacks position themselves close to the calf, between it and the killer whales, potentially putting themselves in harm’s way. This process continues and repeats for many hours, but it is not a calf of their own species, it is a grey whale calf.
Why Big Solar and environmentalists are clashing over the California desert
Large-scale solar projects require vast amounts of land, land that also is home to many animal and plant species, most iconic among them a slow-moving herbivore called the desert tortoise. The creature is so highly regarded by the conservation community, and so threatened by climate change, that groups that might otherwise regard themselves as allies of clean energy find themselves at odds with the solar industry.
‘Intense’ process of coral bleaching captured on video by scientists
The intense process of coral bleaching has been captured in a new video that shows coral in warming waters violently expelling the algae that provides it with most of its food and gives it its colour. The study, by a team from Queensland University of Technology, follows rises in sea surface temperatures this year that caused the worst mass bleaching event on record in the Great Barrier Reef.
Giant goldfish threatening freshwater species in WA waterways, researchers find
AUSTRALIA – Unwanted pet goldfish are being dumped into waterways and growing as large as 1.9 kilograms, researchers in Western Australia have found. Dr Stephen Beatty from the school of Veterinary and Life Sciences at Perth’s Murdoch University has been working on a control program for Busselton’s Vasse River for the past 12 years. He said he and his colleagues regularly found goldfish that weighed over 1kg, and the largest they had found weighed 1.9kg.
The rise of citizen science is great news for our native wildlife
AUSTRALIA – For some species, our time to see them is rapidly running out. We know that unfortunately many native animals face considerable threats from habitat loss, introduced cats and foxes, and climate change, among others. More than ever before, we need accurate and up-to-date information about where our wildlife persists and in what numbers, to help ensure their survival. But how do we achieve this in a place the sheer size of Australia, and with its often cryptic inhabitants?
Citizen science is helping science and conservation, reconnecting people with nature and sparking imaginations and passions in the process. A fantastic example of this is Wildlife Spotter, which launched August 1 as part of National Science Week.
Australia’s rarest tortoises get new home to save them from climate change
Twenty-four of Australia’s rarest tortoises have been released outside their natural range because climate change has dried out their remaining habitat. The natural range of the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, Pseudemydura umbrina, has shrunk to two isolated wetlands in Perth’s ever-growing outer suburbs, and a herpetological expert, Dr Gerald Kuchling, said reduced rainfall and a lowered groundwater table made those areas increasingly untenable.
Economy and Business
Forester calls for polluter pays policy to encourage planting
NEW ZEALAND – A forestry leader has taken a swipe at dairy farming, saying it was time to make polluters pay with a nitrogen tax and for farming to be included within an emissions trading scheme. President of the Forest Owners Association, Peter Clark, said people could not be expected to plant trees “when the current policies are sloping the playing field in favour of grass”.
How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy
A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying. All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.
Why aren’t ships using wind-power to cut their climate footprint?
MS Estraden looks, on first glance, like a normal cargo ship. Just another one of the 50,000 vessels transporting pretty much everything we buy, sell and consume. But on closer inspection, ship-spotting enthusiasts will notice two large cylinders rising from the deck. These are rotating devices that capture wind and help propel the ship forward. It is technology first trialled back in the 1920s, but only now brought into commercial use.
Obama tightens emissions and fuel efficiency rules for heavy duty trucks
US trucks will produce 10% less carbon dioxide and consume 10% less fuel within a decade under the last major plank of Barack Obama’s climate policy. The second phase of a new benchmark for medium- and large-sized trucks will cut more than 1bn metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and 2bn barrels of oil use, the Environment Protection Agency announced on Tuesday.
Phone companies release too many new models, say consumers
A survey of approximately 6,000 people across the US, Mexico, Russia, Germany, China and South Korea has found they have an average of at least three phones sitting at home (and more than five in Russia and Mexico). But more than half think manufacturers release too many models, and almost half feel phone makers should be “most responsible” for making recycling accessible.
[Ed: If you haven’t already, check out the Fairphone. Not available downunder yet but should be in time…]
Waste and the Circular Economy
Microbeads are leaching toxic chemicals into fish, sparking public health fears
Fish are eating plastic microbeads, which are capable of attracting and releasing toxic chemicals, scientists say. Australian and Chinese researchers have shown for the first time that chemical pollutants accumulated on the surface of microbeads can pass into the fish that eat them. With fish being a staple meat in the Australian diet, the researchers say products with the tiny plastics should be immediately removed from sale.
Politics and Society
Why ‘Partnerships For Sustainable Development’ Counts As An Essential Sustainable Development Goal
Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the 17th is the odd one out. As “Partnerships for the Goals”, it is a goal that helps you get to the other 16 goals. For most businesses committed to sustainable development, however, this 17th goal may be the most essential – and challenging — one to accomplish.
Welcome to City Plaza, Athens: a new approach to housing refugees
…Unlike the accommodation provided by the United Nations and its partners, people at City Plaza are not chosen on the basis of their vulnerable status or nationality. The people accommodated on site were purposefully chosen not according to whether they qualified for relocation, and questions about why people migrated were not a factor in identifying those to be accommodated. Instead, attention was paid to ensuring a mix of nationalities, a gender balance, and a combination of religious beliefs
Islamophobia: why Adnan doesn’t get a job callback but Aidan does
AUSTRALIA – You can imagine her surprise when the young lawyer was mistakenly copied into an email which revealed she hadn’t got a job because of her parents’ religion. Well, she might have been surprised, but as a Muslim, such instances of discrimination are hardly uncommon. In fact, the Islamophobia Register has collected 280 reports in the past 12 months of people being abused, discriminated against, spat on and marginalised in Australia because of their Muslim heritage.
Alaskan village votes on whether to relocate because of rising sea
The residents of an Alaskan coastal village have begun voting on whether to relocate because of rising sea levels. If they vote to move, the village of Shishmaref, just north of the Bering Strait, and its population of 650 people, could be the first in the US to do so because of climate change.
Top energy rating awarded to Melbourne high-rise office building
A Victorian high-rise commercial office building has become the first in the state – and just the second in Australia – to achieve a 6 star NABERS energy rating… As a 6 Star NABERS Energy rated building, it emits 50 per cent less greenhouse gases than a building with a 5 Star rating – long regarded to be the benchmark for modern office buildings. Among the features that have won it the milestone rating are an Australian-first ceiling tile system that absorbs office pollutants; and an innovative grey water treatment system that collects used water from the cyclist shower facilities and recycles it through the building’s cooling towers and toilets, offsetting more than 90 per cent of the cooling towers’ water consumption.
Veganism is not the key to sustainable development – natural resources are vital
Veganism is not the simple solution to sustainability that George Monbiot recently argued. I wish it were that easy. While I commend those taking steps to change their diets to reduce their environmental footprints, a vegan world – where no one consumes animal-derived meat, milk and eggs – is not how we will achieve sustainable global development.