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Humanity is in the existential danger zone, study confirms
The Earth’s climate has always changed. All species eventually become extinct. But a new study has brought into sharp relief the fact that humans have, in the context of geological timescales, produced near instantaneous planetary-scale disruption. We are sowing the seeds of havoc on the Earth, it suggests, and the time is fast approaching when we will reap this harvest. The research, published in the journal Science, should focus the minds of delegates and their nations as it lays out in authoritative fashion how far we are driving the climate and other vital Earth systems beyond any safe operating space. The paper, headed by Will Steffen of the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre, concludes that our industrialised civilisation is driving a number of key planetary processes into areas of high risk.

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Energy and Climate Change

2014 officially the hottest year on record
The numbers are in. The year 2014 – after shattering temperature records that had stood for hundreds of years across virtually all of Europe, and roasting parts of South America, China and Russia – was the hottest on record, with global temperatures 1.24F (0.69C) higher than the 20th-century average, US government scientists said on Friday. A day after international researchers warned that human activities had pushed the planet to the brink, new evidence of climate change arrived. The world was the hottest it has been since systematic records began in 1880, especially on the oceans, which the agency confirmed were the driver of 2014’s temperature rise.

2014 temperature map of the world. Source: NOAA

2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record
Deny this. The animation below shows the Earth’s warming climate, recorded in monthly measurements from land and sea over 135 years. Temperatures are displayed in degrees above or below the 20th-century average. Thirteen of the 14 hottest years are in the 21st century. [Ed: This is a MUST SEE]

Wind farms could save UK £7.4bn in gas import costs, report finds
Wind farms could save Britain up to £7.4bn in gas imports in 2030 if they are used to replace dwindling North Sea supplies, a new renewable energy industry-backed study has found. The Cambridge Econometrics report, published today, concluded the UK would have needed to import an additional £579m worth of coal and gas in 2013 if it had not had access to power from its fleet of wind farms. The report predicts this figure could rise substantially over the coming years as gas production from the North Sea declines, increasing the UK’s reliance on imports.

Environment and Biodiversity

Climate catch as giant fish arrive
Record-sized big fish are being caught in warm New Zealand waters – a sharp warning of the impact of climate change, scientists say. As New Zealand lurches into a drought on the back of a likely El Nino global weather system, out on the water there are breath-taking catches of marlin, kingfish, tuna and once rarely seen tropical fish. The tourist business potential might be great, but its boom-like nature worries those closer to the ocean.

Victoria University seeks beekeepers to help swarm avoid death
NEW ZEALAND – A swarm of 15,000 bees that took up residence inside a Victoria University building have avoided extermination. The university has opted to extract the Italian honey bees from the wall of the film, theatre and media studies building on Fairlie Tce and find them a new home. Alan Hoverd, technical team leader at the university’s School of Biological Sciences, said calls were being made to beekeepers around the Wellington region to find space for them. Hoverd said the university was positive about looking after the Italian honey bees, which are in decline because of the varroa mite. “The bees are really dependant on us for their survival.”

Photographer captures rare shot of flipped iceberg’s underbelly
A rare sighting of a flipped iceberg has shown what really lies beneath the water’s surface in Antarctica. In a series of breathtaking images San Francisco photographer Alex Cornell snapped an iceberg that had turned a full 180 degrees to reveal its underside. About 90 per cent of any iceberg lies under the surface of the water and, while iceberg flips are not especially rare, to come across one with shades of such vivid blue is unusual.

Vivid blue: A flipped iceberg at Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Alex Cornell

Vivid blue: A flipped iceberg at Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Alex Cornell

Economy and Business

Six ways the US is building a people-powered economy Six years ago, the global economy nearly collapsed. Now big corporations and the wealthy are recovering well. But that’s not the case for the vast majority of Americans: according to calculations by author Les Leopold, the richest 7% gained $5.6tn net assets from 2009 to 2011, while the remaining 93% lost a combined total of $669bn. Americans are not content with this state of affairs. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center (pdf), 62% believe the dominant economic system favors the powerful, while 78% believe too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies. This enormous economic divide is just one reason people are losing patience with the corporate economy – and why many are turning to initiatives that build a new economy. Grassroots groups, local entrepreneurs and broad-based coalitions are building the foundations of an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment.

New ROI Tool Helps Building Designers Make Biz Case for Triple Bottom Line
Impact Infrastructure has unveiled AutoCASE, a new cloud-based tool that enables triple-bottom line business case analysis to become an integrated part of a Building Information Modeling (BIM) project design workflow. The analysis tool goes beyond exploring only the engineering aspects of a design to embrace an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. This makes triple bottom line business case analysis more affordable, easier to produce and more accessible to infrastructure professionals around the world. AutoCASE is available in two forms: a plug in for Autodesk’s AutoCAD Civil 3D, a key member of the Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite Premium and Ultimate, and as a stand-alone service accessed via a web browser.

Sachs: Why sustainable development is just as important as finance
American economist Jeffrey Sachs has urged investors to add socially responsible firms to their portfolios in 2015, as consumers become more aware of companies’ social and environmental credentials.  Speaking at Skagen Funds’ annual conference, Sachs said investors should not just look at the financials of a company before making an investment decision. “We invite financial loss by not being insightful and rigorous,” he said.

The Smart Home Nudges Manufacturers Toward Sustainability
From lock manufacturers to heating and air conditioning companies, the smart home space is disrupting legacy industries. Big names in consumer products with decades of experience behind them have been caught off-guard by Kickstarter-powered startups and Silicon Valley CEOs. The Nest Learning Thermostat, which debuted in 2011, was the first product to show what a nimble young company with high-tech brainpower behind it (in this case, two of Apple’s bright minds) could do to a space that many thought was set in stone. It took a little under five years, but the legacy companies are catching up — Honeywell launched its Nest alternative, the Lyric, late last year. Is it too little, too late? Not at all. Don’t discount benefit of the decades of experience that legacy companies like Honeywell bring to the table.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Where Waste Meets Waste: EcoSponge Encourages Stewardship
Confluence Energy, based in Kremmling, Colorado, is manufacturing a line of effective bioremediation products, such as EcoSponge, used in and around oil fields to absorb spills. The material contains micro-organisms that neutralize the hazardous material, so it doesn’t have to be collected and removed once the drilling operation ends.

Process Developed to Recycle Fuel Cells
A recycling process to recover high-value materials from waste fuel cells has been developed in a collaborative project between resource recovery specialist Axion Consulting, Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells and Technical Fibre Products (TFP). Funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, the objective of the Recover project is to establish the technical and economic feasibility of recovery and re-use of high value materials from fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies and ultimately to establish the potential for a new UK-based global recycling business.

Politics and Society

It’s not just millennials: nearly half of Brits want jobs that change the world
British people are dissatisfied with traditional business practices, a new report has found. According to social change consultancy Global Tolerance, 68% of those surveyed for its latest report (pdf) released Thursday agreed that “businesses, governments and nonprofits all need to deliver more social and environmental change”. Three quarters of the 2,216 people surveyed wanted to see more transparency, and 81% want to see more accountability. The report highlighted the increasing importance of socially conscious values in determining how people spend their money, choose their jobs and relate to companies.

Court challenge will test coal mining’s climate culpability
A new legal challenge to the proposed Carmichael coal mine – Australia’s largest – will test in the federal court whether climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions should be taken into account when assessing prospective coal licences in Australia. The challenge, by the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office on behalf of the Mackay Conservation Group, will argue that federal environment minister Greg Hunt failed to take into account the climate impact of greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of coal from the Carmichael mine when assessing whether to grant its licence.

Built Environment

7 Cities That Are Starting To Go Car-Free
After over a hundred years of living with cars, some cities are slowly starting to realize that the automobile doesn’t make a lot of sense in the urban context. It isn’t just the smog or the traffic deaths; in a city, cars aren’t even a convenient way to get around. Traffic in London today moves slower than an average cyclist (or a horse-drawn carriage). Commuters in L.A. spend 90 hours a year stuck in traffic. A U.K. study found that drivers spend 106 days of their lives looking for parking spots. Now a growing number of cities are getting rid of cars in certain neighborhoods through fines, better design, new apps, and, in the case of Milan, even paying commuters to leave their car parked at home and take the train instead.

They’re Going To Bury A Stretch Of German Autobahn And Cover It In Parks
When the A7 highway was first built in Hamburg, Germany, it sliced the city in half. Now a few divided neighborhoods are starting to be stitched back together, as the city begins construction on three new parks that will fully cover parts of the autobahn. The highway is the longest in Germany and one of the busiest. As traffic keeps getting worse, the city realized that it had to find a way to keep the noise in the area low enough to meet national laws for noise pollution. Since simple walls wouldn’t be enough, they decided to turn sections of the road into covered tunnels. The design can reduce noise in surrounding neighborhoods to almost nothing.

Food Systems

From trough to table: mapping the food chain saves lives
Nearly half of global manufacturers say they don’t have any visibility past their direct suppliers – in other words, they don’t know what is happening in their supply chain. While they may audit first tier suppliers, they usually cannot see beyond them to their suppliers’ suppliers. Applying higher standards to information collection and management will reduce the impact animal disease has on global food production and have huge public health benefits. Last year, faecal matter was found in more than 80% of ground turkey in 21 states across the US. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found salmonella not only in poultry, but also in bean sprouts, nut butter, chia powder and cheese. It estimates that, each year, roughly one in six Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalised and 3,000 die from food-borne diseases.


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