Thursday 20 November 2014
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. Sign up on the right for sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.
Stunning NASA Visualization Reveals Secret Swirlings of Carbon Dioxide
NASA has released a striking visualization of how carbon dioxide flows around the world. In the simulation, plumes of the greenhouse gas gush into the atmosphere from major industrial centers, swirling from continent to continent on the winds of global weather systems. The simulation, which took 75 days to create on a supercomputer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, depicts CO2 emissions from May 2005 to June 2007. Its superhigh-resolution mapping—64 times as great as the average climate model—dramatically illustrates two often neglected facts.
Energy and Climate Change
CO2 emissions must be zero by 2070 to prevent climate disaster, UN says
The world must cut CO2 emissions to zero by 2070 at the latest to keep global warming below dangerous levels and prevent a global catastrophe, the UN warns. By 2100, all greenhouse gas emissions – including methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, as well as CO2 – must fall to zero, the United Nationals Environment Programme (Unep) report says, or the world will face what Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists have described as “severe, widespread and irreversible” effects from climate change. The Unep report published on Wednesday is based on the idea that the planet has a finite ‘carbon budget’. Since emissions surged in the late 19th century, some 1,900 Gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 and 1,000 Gt of other greenhouse gases have already been emitted, leaving less than 1,000 Gt of CO2 left to emit before locking the planet in to dangerous temperature rises of more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.
Melbourne councils and businesses take charge in huge renewables program
Progressive Melbourne councils and businesses including Mirvac, bankmecu and Federation Square are seeking to pool their collective might of 100 gigawatt-hour a year purchasing power and source their own electricity from renewables, bypassing Victoria’s dirty grid. The group of large energy users, led by the City of Melbourne, have today (Wednesday) launched a request for information process in order to test the market and hopefully secure long-term electricity supply from renewables. And not just any renewables. It has to be from new developments – “shovel ready” projects that have not commenced development or secured off-take agreements.
Methane levels ‘elevated’ in air surrounding Queensland’s Tara coal seam gas field
Scientific research published today casts new doubts on the environmental benefits of coal seam gas over conventional coal. Southern Cross University researchers found evidence of elevated levels of the dangerous greenhouse gas methane in air samples from around Queensland’s Tara gas field. The tests showed levels three times above normal.
Environment and Biodiversity
World Parks Congress: call to extend no-take share of marine protected areas
The world’s oceans need expanded regions where fishing is barred to help preserve fragile ecosystems and protect them from what one leading biologist dubbed “a silent storm” driven by climate change. The World Parks Congress, a once-in-a-decade event, wrapped up in Sydney on Wednesday with calls to ensure at least 30 per cent of marine-protected areas are made no-take zones by 2030. Dan Laffoley, a marine biologist and vice-chair under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said expanded marine reserves were necessary to help the world’s oceans recover from over-fishing and pollution.
Comet landing: Organic molecules detected by Philae
The Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the surface of its comet, scientists have confirmed. Carbon-containing “organics” are the basis of life on Earth and may give clues to chemical ingredients delivered to our planet early in its history. The compounds were picked up by a German-built instrument designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere. Other analyses suggest the comet’s surface is largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer… It has not been disclosed which molecules have been found, or how complex they are. But the results are likely to provide insights into the possible role of comets in contributing some of the chemical building blocks to the primordial mix from which life evolved on the early Earth.
EU court rules UK government must clean up dangerous air pollution
The government will be forced to urgently clean up illegal air pollution in British cities following a ruling on Wednesday in the European court of justice. It is likely to see many diesel cars and heavy goods vehicles restricted from city centres within a few years. The landmark case, brought by a small environmental group through the UK courts, will allow people to sue the government for breaching EU pollution laws and will force ministers to prepare plans for many cities to improve air quality. The court firmly rejected Britain’s long-standing approach to complying with EU air pollution laws which has been to appeal to Europe for time extensions. The government has admitted that under current plans, several cities in the UK will not meet its legal limits for the toxic nitrogen dioxide gas (NO2) until after 2030. This is 20 years after the original deadline set by Europe.
Cities should look to nature to bridge investment gap in water sector
The water sector has always struggled for investment, and each year the gap between dollars being spent and dollars that need to be spent on critical water infrastructure grows. The US, for example, is facing an $84bn funding gap by 2020, and it is estimated to grow to more than $140bn by 2040. Despite numbers like these from around the world, investment in water remains low as cities struggle to keep annual budgets out of the red. Governments, international organisations and water utilities are trying to find solutions that provide for growing global populations, but traditional financing of engineered structures cannot get us there alone. We need to think beyond city boundaries and look to nature for a solution and an investment opportunity.
Geckos inspire ‘Spider-Man’ gloves
The way geckos climb has inspired a device that allowed a 70kg man to scale a glass wall like Spider-Man. Much research has gone into trying to unlock the clever way that little geckos climb. But trying to use gecko adhesion to work at larger scales – such as on a human hand – without any loss of performance has proven difficult. The hand-sized silicone pads created by a team at Stanford University keep their adhesive strength at all sizes. They employ the same attractive and repulsive forces between molecules – known as van der Waals forces – that geckos use. Although the forces are very weak, the effect is multiplied across the many tiny hairs that cover the toes of a gecko, allowing them to stick firmly to surfaces.
Elephants are being wiped out, but not enough people seem to care
I asked a senior environmental journalist the other week what he thought was the single most under-reported environmental issue. He replied, unhesitatingly, wildlife poaching. “It’s as if the wildlife is just being hoovered out of Africa,” he said. “In the 1960s people campaigned around whales and wildlife. The Daily Mail actually put rhino poaching on their front page. But now there just doesn’t seem to be the same level of interest.” Dr Paula Kahumbu, a wildlife campaigner based in Kenya, echoes his sentiment, but adds that the UK public is still more active than most areas of the world. “Not a single African leader has spoken out on this,” says Kahumbu. “The silence is deafening.”
Economy and Business
Economic Gains, Attracting Talent Top Benefits of Sustainable Manufacturing
Almost all 12 companies, which included Eli Lilly, Proctor & Gamble, Cummins and General Dynamics, surveyed for a study on sustainable manufacturing were surprised to learn that among the biggest unforeseen benefits were meaningful economic gains and attracting new talent. The Success Paths to Sustainable Manufacturing study conducted by Indiana University’s School of Public & Environmental Affairs analyzed which factors contribute most significantly to successful sustainable manufacturing efforts and common barriers to implementing them.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Waterless toilets turn human waste into energy and fertiliser
You might have heard of flying toilets. I’m not talking about the well-equipped loos available to us as we soar 39,000 feet into the sky, complete with soft loo roll, airline-branded soap and hand dryers. No, flying toilets are the outcome of people forced to go to the loo in a bag before throwing it into the streets because no better option exists. According to the UN, 2.5 billion people in the developing world lack what many of us take for granted – access to a toilet. As a result, human faeces ends up on the roadside, in drinking water and eventually in people’s stomachs. The outcome is diarrhoea. Second only to pneumonia in its destructiveness, diarrhoea kills more than 4,000 children a day (pdf), yet gets a fraction of the attention and funding given to the likes of cholera, TB and measles, says Rose George, author of The Big Necessity.
World Toilet Day: business tackles open defecation with affordable toilets
Happy World Toilet Day! Most people living in high income countries, probably won’t have thought twice about the convenience of it when sitting on the throne this morning. But for the 2.5 billion in the world without access to proper sanitation, it is a serious health issue. One billion people have no alternative to open defecation and sanitation has proved the most intractable of the Millennium Development Goals. The business world is stepping in. Launched today, the Toilet Board Coalition brings together a range of businesses, NGOs and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) experts united by the same belief: that sustainable solutions must be market-driven.
Conservationists slam plans to dump mining waste into Norwegian fjord
Norway’s image as one of the world’s cleanest, greenest countries with some of the finest unspoilt scenery will be tarnished if the government allows a giant titanium mining company to dump hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste directly into a fjord, conservationists warn. Nordic Mining has applied to dump nearly 6m tonnes of tailings a year for 50 years into Førde Fjord, one of the country’s most important spawning grounds for cod and salmon, and a site where whales and porpoises congregate. The government is expected to give a decision in the next few days.
Waste-to-Energy Plant Cuts Nestlé Factory’s Costs, Carbon
Nestlé’s on-site anaerobic digestion plant is supplying about 8 percent of the factory’s electricity demand and has eliminated its solid waste handling costs one year after commissioning. The on-site bio-energy plant was designed and built by Clearfleau for Nestlé’s Fawdon confectionery factory, near Newcastle, UK. In addition to the financial benefits, the plant is helping Nestlé reduce its carbon footprint and develop environmentally sustainable manufacturing at Fawdon.
Americans Hoarding Electronics, Not Recycling Them
The rate at which Americans acquire new electronic devices far outpaces the rate at which they recycle unwanted ones. A study commissioned by Staples, titled American Tech Recycling Habits, found that while 74 percent of Americans own two or more television sets and 38 percent own two or more smartphones, only 8 percent have recycled their unwanted gadgets. Owning a gadget does not preclude the average American from wanting another one. The study found that 52 percent would like to receive more gadgets this holiday season, 36 percent of whom said it was because they would like to own the latest technology available. But people don’t always receive the gadget they want. Of the people who said they would like a new device this year, 56 percent said they have received a gadget they didn’t want as a gift.
Politics and Society
Simon Terry: Pressure mounting on NZ to deliver real emission reduction
After many years focused on creative accounting, New Zealand is facing pressure to deliver emission reduction results. Things are different partly because the two biggest carbon polluters, the US and China, last week pledged to do something meaningful – though not that much. Mainly things are different because New Zealand’s options for more pretence are running out as old games come back to bite it. Tackling the actual problem requires a big change in thinking. It begins by facing up to the size of the multi-billion dollar carbon hole New Zealand has been digging itself into. Official figures acknowledge that government policy directed at climate change has reduced gross emissions by less than 1 per cent to date, and the projected reduction in 2030 is just half a per cent. In other words, these emissions would be essentially the same if the government had taken no action at all.
Climate change science provokes textbook battle in Texas
Several textbook publishers have withdrawn passages from social studies textbooks that could have led middle school students to think that climate change is not caused by human activity, an advocacy group said Monday. The move comes a day before elected Texas school officials vote on whether to approve the books. The decisions of the Texas State Board of Education could have national impact because the state is the second-largest textbook market behind California, so textbooks written for its market tend to end up in other parts of the country as well.
Global Market for Zero Net Energy Buildings to Reach $240 Million by 2018
The global market for zero net energy (ZNE) commercial buildings is expected to grow to $239.7 million by 2018, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50.6 percent, according to a new report by BCC Research. Zero Net Energy Buildings: Global Markets shows growth is being driven by a global green building boom, ongoing governmental regulations and regional environmental concerns. ZNE buildings—those that consume only as much energy as they generate within a year—are the next target for green building construction and renovation over the next several years, the report shows. Although the market is at an early stage, ZNE has become the focus of the green building industry and regulators in most major geographic markets.
An artisan grain industry takes root in Maine
In the central Maine town of Skowhegan, an old county jail is housing something entirely different these days. Since 2012, the 117-year-old brick and granite building has been the home of Somerset Grist Mill and Maine Grains, a wholesaler producing stone-milled flour and related products from grains grown by local farmers… Maine Grains sells its products – mostly certified organic flour and rolled oats – wholesale to bakers, grocery stores, and smaller markets in five- and 50-pound bags. Lambke credits the local food movement for a renewed and expanding interest in regionally-produced grains.
SI’s top farmers started with three little pigs
Canterbury [New Zealand] pig farmers Steve and Josie Sterne began with three pigs to build a large operation, convincing judges they were the South Island Farmers of the Year at a close final at Lincoln University tonight. The owners of Patoa Farms with their daughter, Holly, in North Canterbury’s Hawarden, edged out stiff competition to lead the four finalist field in the Lincoln University Foundation competition. Their management of the large scale free-farmed pig breeding and finishing operation impressed the judges enough to hand them the prizewinning purse of a $20,000 travel grant for overseas business study. Chief judge Nicky Hyslop said the Sternes had shown impressive growth, technical excellence, efficient production and strategic focus. They demonstrated that it was possible to achieve at the highest levels of farming technology and business management in an outdoor free-roaming stock operation, she said.
[Ed: I thought I would throw this in to show the trend in farm management styles – positive]