Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Economics is quite interesting if you look at it properly, that is, to include costs and benefits to society and the environment. Today’s top story exposes the false economy and factors behind large household debt. In other news, thirty years ago Exxon and Shell knew exactly what would happen if the world continued to use fossil fuels; genetic technology used to link ivory to poachers and to sequence the cane toad genome; wasps have environmental benefits too (maybe not in NZ though); and microplastics ingested by water-borne larvae are shown to move to adult insects and into other animals.

Top Story

Ending austerity: stop the UK’s dependence on private debt | The Conversation|
The UK economy is based on an overlapping set of dependencies on private debt – of financial institutions (as a major profit centre), of households (to sustain their standard of living), and of governments (to expand economic activity). What makes households a central pillar of debt-led growth is the amount of money they send each month into global financial markets, either as payments on debts like mortgages and consumer loans, or as income claims on debt securities.

Climate Change

Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980s climate change warnings | The Guardian
In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560 parts per million – double the preindustrial level – and that this would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 2°C over then-current levels (and even more compared to pre-industrial levels).

Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

Tech giants fail to distance themselves from fight against new EU climate targets | The Guardian
Companies including Facebook, Google and Microsoft have failed to distance themselves from a lobby group’s proposal to fight any effort by the EU to set more ambitious climate change goals. A leaked document shows that BusinessEurope, Europe’s biggest business lobbying group, will urge members to oppose any moves by the European Commission to ratchet up the bloc’s 2030 targets for clean energy, carbon cuts and energy efficiency.

Climate change, battery boom threatens life on the ‘roof of the world’ — the Tibetan Plateau | ABC News
TIBET – Climate change is sometimes discussed as a problem of the future, but on the “roof of the world”, it has already arrived. The remote, icy plains of the Tibetan Plateau — the highest and largest plateau on the planet — cover a massive 25 per cent of China’s landmass. It plays an important role — it contains the largest supply of fresh water outside the polar regions, and gives birth to some of Asia’s most legendary rivers. From the Mekong and the Ganges to the Yangtze and the Yellow River, it has nourished civilisations, sustained ecosystems, and inspired religions. Today it is a lifeline to the estimated 1 billion people who rely on it. But that lifeline is under threat.

Photo: The mountains and grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau as seen from the air. (Getty: Kevin Frayer)

Photo: The mountains and grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau as seen from the air. (Getty: Kevin Frayer)

Environment and Biodiversity

Why do we hate wasps and love bees? | BBC News
A new study reveals that wasps are largely disliked by the public, whereas bees are highly appreciated. The researchers involved say that this view is unfair because wasps are just as ecologically useful as bees. The scientists suggest a public relations campaign to restore the wasps’ battered image.

We’ve cracked the cane toad genome, and that could help put the brakes on its invasion | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – We and our international colleagues have deciphered the genetic code of the cane toad. The complete sequence, published today in the journal GigaScience, will help us understand how the toad can quickly evolve to adapt to new environments, how its infamous toxin works, and hopefully give us new options for halting this invader’s march across Australia.

Go with the flow: desalination plant study finds ‘amazing’ ocean impact | SMH
AUSTRALIA – The Sydney desalination plant’s biggest effect on the nearby ocean is unlikely to be from the release of toxic saline brine, in an unexpected outcome from what is claimed to be the world’s first peer-reviewed study into the industry’s marine impacts. The report, published in Water Research this month, found the $2 billion plant had a negligible effect on the offshore ecosystems during the two years it was operating before its mothballing in mid-2012.

Genetic detectives link ivory shipments to hone in on African smuggling cartels | ABC News
As many as 40,000 African elephants are being slaughtered every year for their ivory. And since there are only an estimated 415,000 African elephants remaining in the wild — down from possibly 5 million at the turn of the 20th century — poaching is a key threat to the future of the species. However, efforts to stamp out poaching by prosecuting poachers have so far proven largely unsuccessful. Professor Wasser used genetic analysis to link multiple ivory shipments back to the same three export operations, shipping out of Togo, Kenya, and Uganda.

Bipartisan inquiry recommends Australia ban domestic ivory trade | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – A bipartisan parliamentary committee has recommended a national ban on the domestic trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn. Australia’s environment minister, Melissa Price, is considering the recommendations from a Senate inquiry examining the trade before she attends an international wildlife trade conference in London next month.

Baby elephants orphaned by poaching at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

Baby elephants orphaned by poaching at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

It’s teamwork: how dolphins learn to work together for rewards | The Conversation
Cooperation can be found across the animal kingdom, in behaviours such as group hunting, raising of young, and driving away predators. But are these cooperating animals actively coordinating their behaviour, or are they simply acting individually to accomplish the same task at the same time?

Chris Packham launches People’s Manifesto for Wildlife | The Guardian
UK – Replanting hedgerows, including birdboxes on all new-build homes, rewilding uplands and an end to seal culling: these are among demands of the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, a new initiative aimed at halting the drastic decline in British wildlife. The manifesto has been drawn up by the naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, with the aid of 17 independent experts and scientists. They warned that people are sleepwalking into an “ecological apocalypse”, but said everyone could take practical steps themselves…

Economy and Business

Global carbon prices too low to combat climate change: OECD | Reuters
Carbon prices in major advanced economies are too low to cut greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst effects of climate change, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Tuesday…The OECD examined carbon pricing between 2012, 2015 and 2018 in 42 OECD and G20 economies, which represent around 80 percent of global carbon emissions. It found the average pricing level across the countries in 2018 was 76.5 percent lower than the benchmark 30 euros ($35) a tonne it said is needed.

Public funds to kill crown-of-thorns starfish funnelled through companies linked to tourism operators | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – More than $20 million of taxpayers’ money allocated to protect the Great Barrier Reef has been funnelled through a series of companies linked to two tourism operators, one of whom is on the Government board making those funding decisions. Governance experts said the potential for conflict is so serious, Cairns-based tourism operator Margie McKenzie should reconsider her position on the board of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. “You can’t be a member of the public authority dispersing the funds, and then run a private company receiving the funds,” said Professor Thomas Clarke from the University of Technology Sydney business school.

See also:

Waste and the Circular Economy

Microplastics are getting into mosquitoes and contaminating new food chains | The Conversation
Much plastic pollution is in the form of microplastics, tiny fragments less than five micrometres in size and invisible to the naked eye. Our new research shows that these microplastics are even getting into tiny flying insects such as mosquitoes. And this means the plastic can eventually contaminate animals in a more unlikely environment: the air.

“Wild, Wonderful” West Virginia’s Decapitated Mountains and Deformed Fish | Scientific American (Blog)
USA – I spot a mountain peak covered in dense forest, then another and another. But then, where I expect to see yet another forested mountaintop, I see instead a stunted plateau—a mountain whose once distinct peak has been chopped off, flattened and denuded of vegetation. My eyes continue to scan the distance as we drive through the coal country of West Virginia. What I first thought was an anomaly now appears to be the dominant pattern.

Politics and Society

Three things we can all learn from people who don’t use smartphones or social media | The Conversation
Many of us spend hours every day tethered to our devices, pawing at the screen to see if it will deliver a few more likes or emails, monitoring the world and honing our online presence. Social networking platforms such as Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are supposed to make us feel more connected. Yet our reliance on technology to “see” the social world around us can be a heavy burden.

Built Environment

Wishlist of goals for cities and nationwide planning | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – The Building Up & Moving Out report released on Monday by the committee that [MP John Alexander] chaired has endorsed a great wish list of ideas for Canberra to embrace. Among them are high-speed rail, creating high-value jobs in regional areas, expanding energy performance disclosure requirements for commercial buildings, and a far more integrated planning approach that supports the transition to a low-emissions economy among them

Food Systems

Crucial antibiotics still used on US farms despite public health fears | The Guardian
USA – Antibiotics crucial to human medicine are still being used in “unacceptable” quantities on US livestock farms, despite rules brought in last year to curb their use and combat the spread of deadly superbugs. Tests on thousands of meat samples by the US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) show that powerful antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human health are still being used. The widespread use of such drugs on livestock is one of the key drivers of antibiotic resistance, a growing public health crisis.