Sustainable Development News

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

Spectacular shark encounters: Fanning’s close shave reminds us we share the ocean
In the wake of the spectacular footage of champion surfer Mick Fanning’s recent shark encounter in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, and his good fortune in emerging without physical injury, sharks are back on the radar. Many people are probably scratching their heads wondering how we can avoid such dangerous incidents. Some have suggested that “shark attack” is on the rise, and therefore that risk is increasing. But the risk of dangerous interaction with a shark is incredibly low. In fact, a recent study found that in California shark-related fatalities have decreased significantly since 1950.

Energy and Climate Change

Marshall Islands says ‘we mean business’ with ‘simple and robust’ carbon target
The Republic of the Marshall Islands has become the first island state to submit its official climate action plan to the UN, revealing how it aims to cut emissions by 32 per cent by 2025 against 2010 as part of a plan to become emissions-free by the middle of the century. The strategy document, known as an INDC in UN jargon, also includes a commitment to cut emissions 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030. But the RMI’s government stressed that it has opted for a 2025 and a 2030 target in a bid to increase pressure on other countries to adopt shorter-term goals that would make it easier for states to increase ambition in the mid-2020s if necessary.

It’s cold in my house and the price of gas is going up – what can I do?
Cold weather has arrived in eastern Australia, to the glee of those who enjoy skiing. But you don’t have to venture onto the slopes for cold to be a danger. With gas prices rising, many in the community are shivering while contemplating how big their next gas bill will be. Eastern Australia’s gas market is rapidly changing, driven by the first exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Queensland. And this is affecting the whole supply chain, from gas producers, to the way we use gas in our homes.

Raglan beach crumbles while lifeguards scramble to save tower
NEW ZEALAND – Crumbling beaches are causing headaches for West Coast lifeguards after winter storms attacked their shores, blocking access ways and putting lifeguard towers at risk.  In Raglan, lifeguards are concerned about longer response times after erosion on the West Coast has blocked the only vehicle access to the beach.  A recent storm has turned the once gentle gradient onto the sand, into a crumbling edge, said Raglan lifeguard Keagan Gaarkeuken.

Environment and Biodiversity

Swamp power: how the world’s wetlands can help stop climate change
On a boat drifting through a swampy reed plantation in the Polish Baltic, Szymon Smolczyński surveys his blanket of green crops destined to heat northern European homes. “Many animals have their homes in our reed fields,” he says. “There are thousands of wild boar in this area and plenty of roe deer too.” The swampy reed plantations of Wolin Island may look like a tableaux from Europe’s distant past but if scientists, farmers and biotech companies are to be believed, this idyllic pastoral setting could be the face of a hi-tech and low carbon agricultural future.

Rare ferns, rainforest species found in Victorian forest earmarked for logging, environment group says
Rare ferns and rainforest species have been discovered in a part of the Eastern Victoria region that is earmarked for logging, according to an environment group. The Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) has been running citizen science camps to map the biodiversity of the remote Kuark Forest, outside of Orbost in East Gippsland. In an unreleased report given exclusively to the ABC, GECO said it had made a number of significant finds.

Fishing boats become citizen science data platforms
Fishermen in South Devon, UK, have turned their boats into “massive data platforms” for a citizen science study. They have become the first commercial fishers to gather data for the Secchi Disk Study, which is gathering data on the state of the oceans’ phytoplankton. To date, there is little scientific information on the health of the tiny marine plants that form the basis of global food chains.

Alien Animals and Tortured Seascapes off the Galápagos
Nearly 40 years ago, boiling water, towering chimneys, and a menagerie of weird creatures stunned researchers who were trying to study the seafloor 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of the Galápagos Islands. They had stumbled upon hydrothermal vents, which made for a hellish world completely cut off from sunlight.  The discovery upended our view of life on Earth, which until then had been based on the assumption that life couldn’t survive without the sun’s rays.   Ocean explorer Robert Ballard was part of the original expedition, and he recently revisited the area known as the Galápagos Rift to study how it had changed

Man bags half a dozen possums with half an apple
NEW ZEALAND – How many apples does it take to catch a possum?  None. In fact, for New Plymouth resident John Barrell he only needs half an apple with a touch of cinammon to catch six of the pests  Barrell has lived on Huatoki St, alongside native bush area, for 41 years and seemed to have perfected the craft of possum catching over that time. He said the most possums he had caught in a month came to around a dozen, but catching six off one apple, in one month, was quite a feat.  The SPCA-approved possum trap offered a humane death and Barrell was impressed at how effective it had been over the years, despite his sporadic use of it.

Scientists target new weapons at army of invading wasps
NEW ZEALAND – The common wasp is one of New Zealand’s most threatening invaders, according to a Victoria University professor who is hoping to take the sting out of their assault on native birdlife. Collectively, wasps can kill native chicks, says biologist Phil Lester. The rapacious colonies, originally from the northern hemisphere, also devour insects and honeydew, leaving little food for birds and geckos.


The tech industry is threatening to drink California dry
We hear a lot about what the tech giants are doing with our data, but what are they doing with our water? Water keeps our internet-based economy afloat by ensuring equipment in data centres stays cool enough to funtion. Yet in California, the drought-ravaged epicenter of the technology industry, water is in ever-shorter supply. Nasa scientist Jay Famiglietti predicts the state has only one year of water left. This raises serious questions about the environmental impact of our burgeoning data demands.

Economy and Business

How Do You Get Other Departments to Listen? Let Your Colleagues Run With Your Ideas
In the sustainability field, in contrast to other fields, it is the biggest possible compliment to no longer be needed in a discussion because your colleague in purchasing is already covering your topics. But how do you get your colleagues to not just listen to your ideas, but to consider them worth working towards?

$1 trillion solar, wind finance to outstrip oil and gas industry
Listed finance vehicles for large-scale wind and solar projects are likely to rapidly overtake the oil and gas industry in the US, but may bypass Australia altogether if the Abbott government continues to send the wrong signals to investors. Deutsche Bank last week released a report which said the renewable energy finance vehicles – known as “YieldCos” – were likely to rapidly outgrow their oil and gas industry equivalents, and become and order of magnitude bigger than their fossil fuel rivals.

Crowdfunding charge for new energy storage system
A London-based energy storage firm has launched a new crowdfunding campaign for a system which could rival Tesla, Powervault and other players in the UK’s surging battery market.  Moixa is seeking to raise £875,000 via the investment site Crowdcube in exchange for 6.48% equity in the company, meaning the company could be worth around £13.5m.

Wildlife Works Becomes Africa’s First Carbon Neutral, Fair Trade Factory
Forest conservation firm Wildlife Works’ factory in Kenya has become the first in Africa to be both carbon neutral and certified by Fair Trade USA. On the heels of this announcement, Wildlife Works is launching its first-ever carbon neutral, Fair Trade-certified t-shirts, designed by fashion brand Threads 4 Thought (T4T). The clothing company will be contributing over $6,000 in Fair Trade premiums directly to Wildlife Works factory workers.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Native wood waste hoped to fire up Tasmanian energy industry as environmentalists oppose biomass as renewable energy
An energy industry powered by native wood waste is hoped to finally fire up in Tasmania, now that it is considered a renewable energy source by the Federal Government. Last month the Senate passed a bill to include native forest biomass in the revised Renewable Energy Target (RET). Pavel Ruzicka, who sits on the Resources Minister’s Special Advisory Council, said it was fantastic news given Tasmania produced millions of tonnes of native wood residues every year.

[Ed: Although it’s a good thing to use wood waste, bear in mind there is a lot of controversy about logging Tasmania’s native timbers in the first place. There is also the question whether burning it is a good use with the associated particulate pollution that can become a problem, for example, in Christchurch, NZ.  Like many things, there are contradictions to consider]

Politics and Society

Marc Wilson: Why some of us disbelieve science
Some of my best friends are climate scientists. This is handy, because I’m not a climate scientist myself – I am just a nosy person, who can justify asking people what they think about their world by calling my nosiness “psychological science”. One of the things that I’m interested in is science (not just climate science), or at least what people think about it. For instance, I can tell you that the vast majority of New Zealand’s intellectual elite believe that human beings came to be the way they are over a long period of time, and through a process of evolutionary adaptation. What’s really interesting about our country is that, unlike the United States, the person on the street is pretty solidly in agreement with our scientific community on this one. In New Zealand, at least, evolution is not a particularly controversial topic… What about climate change then?

Governments shouldn’t be able to censor research results they don’t like
Government departments and agencies routinely commission research to help them understand and respond to health, social and other problems. We expect such research to be impartial and unbiased. But governments impose legal conditions on such research that can subvert science and the public interest. Gagging clauses in contracts permit purchasers of research to modify, substantially delay, or prohibit the reporting of findings. A 2006 survey of health scientists in Australia shows such clauses have been invoked by our federal and state governments to sanitise the reporting of “failings in health services … the health status of a vulnerable group … or … harm in the environment …”.

Is your deodorant safe? – interactive
Of all the products in your bathroom cabinet, deodorant is among those linked to the most health concerns. And yet it remains difficult for US consumers to determine what’s actually in their deodorant – and why it’s in there. Proposals to reform two US toxic substance acts are currently winding their way through Congress. If either is adopted, it could change products’ makeup and labelling. Until then, consumers are left to research independently and draw their own conclusions on product safety. To help you decipher the labels, we’ve evaluated the 10 most commonly used ingredients in deodorant, combing through the available research and consulting with a consumer product chemist to find out which pose health risks and which are harmless.

Built Environment

Jeremy Gill on Narrative Cities
The speed at which we travel determines how much we can absorb. When travelling by car, buildings loom in and out of focus. Walk along a city street however, and the finer-grain detail is observed: cracks in the footpath, billboard slogans, urban animal life. Urban planner Jeremy Gill takes us on a journey at the speed at which the minutiae of the city is best observed – walking pace.

Over 200 businesses call on Chancellor to save zero carbon homes standard
UK – Nearly 250 organisations, including some of the UK’s largest construction and property firms, have today written to Chancellor George Osborne urging him to reconsider the government’s controversial decision to axe long-awaited zero carbon home standards. Earlier this month, the Treasury unexpectedly announced the government was shelving zero carbon building standards for homes that were due to come into effect in 2016 and similar standards for non-residential buildings that were scheduled for introduction in 2019.

Food Systems

All eyes on bumblebees as bee peril deepens
NEW ZEALAND – Aviation experts argue that, technically, bumblebees, those lumbering bombers of the insect world, do not have the wing size or the wing speed to lift their hairy bodies off the ground, let alone achieve the miracle of free flight. But bumblebees defy their critics every day by nonchalantly cruising at air speeds of over 50kmh, foraging from dawn to dusk in all weathers when other more streamlined insects built like fighter jets are stuck in their hangars.

It is the Bombus species’ bomb-proof performance as a hard-working, highly efficient pollinator that has attracted the attention of Kiwi orchardists and horticulturists looking for a reliable alternative pollinator to their better known honey-producing cousins.  With the decline in honey bee populations around the world through a combination of bee diseases, parasites and exposure to a cocktail of new generation systemic pesticides, the bumblebee is rapidly earning itself a new level of respect in the world of horticulture.

Breakthrough films orange roughy 1km deep off NZ West Coast
A scientific survey of orange roughy stocks off the South Island’s West Coast and south of Fiordland  has used new technology to  “very promising” results on film shot at 1 kilometre deep.  It was the first time video footage from that depth has been captured at real time on the surface, Deepwater Group chief executive George Clement said.


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