Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change
We can now only watch as West Antarctica’s ice sheets collapse
Antarctic climate science is having a moment – a worrying moment. Three new studies have all concluded that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has begun to collapse. This collapse will impact humanity for generations to come, and the indications are that it is too late to stop it. L
Forest fires worsen global warming to thaw Greenland’s ice
Forest fires and global warming caused an extreme melt of Greenland’s ice in 2012, according to a study on Monday that said such thaws may happen almost yearly by 2100, threatening the survival of the entire ice sheet. Clouds of soot from forest blazes in Siberia and North America dumped a dark layer onto Greenland in 2012 and made it absorb more of the sun’s heat, it said. Greenland’s ice, the second largest body of ice after Antarctica’s, is already thawing, raising world sea levels.
Fire and ice: Melting Antarctic poses risk of volcanic activity, study shows
New research on the effects of ice sheet melt in the Antarctic shows climate change is deforming the Earth’s crust, potentially prompting volcanic activity that could cause global sea-levels to rise much more than predicted. Scientists led by Newcastle University in the UK studied the impact of the collapse of the giant Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, using Global Positioning System (GPS) stations to gauge how the Earth’s mantle responded to the relatively sudden loss of billions of tonnes of ice as glaciers accelerated.
In Brief: Deep-sea Trawling Has “Devastating” Impact, Study Finds
Trawling—dragging nets behind boats to catch fish—dates back to the 1300s. But with coastal fisheries’ stock increasingly depleted, industrial trawlers have traveled farther out on the world’s continental shelves, with ships now trawling below 650-foot depths (200 meters). What happens when those nets are dragged along the deep-sea floor, where they disrupt slow-growing sea life? Nothing good, says the new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report led by Antonio Pusceddu of Italy’s Polytechnic University of Marche, in Ancona.
Conserving rainforests and meeting rising demand for palm oil
The Royal Society has supported science in the rainforests of Sabah, Malaysia and Borneo since 1985. For much of that period, our rainforest research programme simply acted to support excellent science focusing on rainforests and their recovery after disturbance by logging. Through the 80s and 90s, deforestation was the biggest threat to southeast Asia’s tropical forests. However, in recent years the focus as shifted, as the nature of the threats has changed. The major threat now faced in Sabah is around a shift in land use driven by a rapid expansion in the demand for – and the profitability of cultivating – palm oil.
Endangered wildlife black market thriving online with illegal listings on eBay, Gumtree
Australia’s black market for endangered wildlife is thriving, with mainstream websites eBay and Gumtree caught out listing illegal ivory and native reptiles for sale. The number of native and foreign species being bought, sold and exported has more than doubled since 2008, with bones, skins and animal teeth all regularly traded online.
Endangered cockatoos flourish at protected reserve
There are less than 1500 south eastern red-tailed black cockatoos left in the world, but a new South Australian project is working to reverse the population decline. The nationally endangered species is dependent on native vegetation for food and habitat. Farmers’ mass clearance regimes have greatly affected survival rates. In some parts of South Australia farmers have cleared to such an extent that only 10 per cent of native vegetation remains.
Economy and Business
Coal, climate change collide as customers query banks’ green credentials
After 35 years of banking with big Australian banks like National Australia Bank, Paula and Peter Samson closed their accounts to protest the lenders’ exposure to the polluting fossil fuel industry. The Samsons, who live in Perth and drive an electric car, are part of a hundreds-strong, environmentally-driven movement that is taking hold in Australia after sweeping through the United States over the past year or so. Protesters like the Samsons have withdrawn about $200 million worth of deposits from the “Big Four” banks – NAB, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ – since the divestment campaign began last year, according to data from Market Forces, an independent environmental group that tracks the operations and investments of banks and their effects on the environment.
Banks reluctant to fund carbon farming ventures
A western Queensland grazing family is being driven off the land despite their best efforts to diversify their income through carbon farming. Mrs Stuart says their biggest problem is Rabobank’s reluctance to recognise the earning potential of carbon sequestration. “According to the bank they see that [carbon farming] as a long term ‘encumbrance’ that could stop any other diversification or any development of the station.”
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Bill Clinton talk better business, online publishing , and social media (Video)
During the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative University meeting, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone sat down with former President Bill Clinton to discuss the future of online media, the keys to better business, and how best to use the massive amounts of information to which the world now has access. In this never-before-seen interview, the two thought leaders tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges. Though their conversation took place in 2012, their conclusions remain relevant today as world leaders grapple with the ever-shifting landscapes of technology and global politics.
Good Energy: it’s not about technology anymore, it’s about people
Juliet Davenport set herself a simple but gargantuan task: to supply customers with renewably sourced energy. Her company, Good Energy, is one of a very few companies who do this – Co-op is another, Ecotricity is the one my mum uses, but the strides these companies have made between them are incredible. Davenport herself is a fascinating mix of hard-boiled analysis and lavish optimism, not so much feel the fear but do it anyway as finely calibrate the fear with mathematical modelling, map the fear in a number of different scenarios, then still do it anyway.
Starbucks turns coffee ground to milk in Japan
Coffee is the most commonly traded agricultural commodity in the world. According to the International Coffee Organization, 93.4m bags were shipped in 2009/2010. That’s a lot of bags whose contents – used coffee grounds – overwhelmingly end up in landfills and incinerators. To tackle the problem, Starbucks is developing a space-age coffee grounds recycling method in Japan. The Seattle-based company has teamed up with a contact lens manufacturer to reuse coffee grounds from 136 of its Japanese coffee shops.
Recycling industry is recession proof and growing, so policy support makes sense
Recycling is one of the fastest growing manufacturing sectors in Australia and also one of the most recession proof, according to environmental consultant Mike Ritchie, former national vice president and New South Wales president of the Waste Management Association of Australia. However, the success of the industry ultimately relies on policy settings creating the right pricing signals, he said.
Yorkshire Water develops an environmental profit and loss account
Most companies are taking a huge risk by treating natural resources as if they are infinite rather than measuring and responding to the business risks created by their dependency on natural capital, according to a new report. This dependency is still largely hidden from view, meaning that companies could have significant unmanaged risks in their supply chains and material off-balance liabilities, says Accounting for natural capital: the elephant in the boardroom.
Politics and Society
Can Taking Control of Our Personal Data Change the World?
Can you measure happiness? Can you track civic duty and social citizenship? Can all this help change the world? Perhaps, and this book sets out to find out. Imagine a not-so-distant future where you are waiting in line at an exclusive nightclub and as you enter, instead of scanning your ID, the bouncer scans your face using his phone or tablet. Using facial-recognition technology, the phone immediately displays how socially conscious you are: What causes do you care about, what organizations do you support, and most importantly, what have you done for other people? Without the right credentials, you don’t get in.
Are We Seeing the Emergence of the Enlightened CEO?
Society. It’s one of the three pillars of sustainability, but the least defined and the least understood. Corporations have traditionally struggled to blend social purpose with hard-nosed business acumen, but as consumers increasingly look to brands to combat key societal issues such as climate change, human rights, equality and unemployment, this is starting to change. Social brand value is becoming much more sought after, and with it the necessity for a new type of leadership — a more honest CEO.
There’s more hidden salt in your diet than you think
Most of the salt consumed in Australia is already hidden in processed foods and meals, but there are some simple steps you can take to avoid eating too much of this palatable seasoning. High salt intake is implicated in a variety of health problems, most importantly, in raising people’s blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney disease. Salt may also play a role in other health problems, such as osteoarthritis, cancer, asthma, Ménière’s disease and obesity. Lowering your salt intake will improve your health and reduce your risk of experiencing these problems.
Farmed fish consumption at record high, UN report reveals
Humans have never eaten so much fish and other seafood, but nearly half of it is no longer caught wild but is grown in farms, says the United Nations. New figures from the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) suggest while around 80m tonnes of fish were caught “wild” in 2011-12, global aquaculture production set another all-time high at more than 90 million tonnes, including nearly 24 million tonnes of edible plants like seaweeds.
Retrofitting older buildings: innovations and necessity
Ask a green construction expert if it’s easier to design an energy-efficient building from scratch or retrofit an old one and the answer will almost certainly be unanimous: a new build every time. Yet, if the UK is to achieve its target of halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2027, refurbishing old buildings is vital. And it has to be done at scale.
Long-term NABERS results revealed
The long-term benefits of the National Australian Built Environment Rating System have been revealed for the first time, with those participating in the scheme for eight years seeing a 29 per cent reduction in energy use on average. The results, presented at the First Joint NABERS and Commercial Building Disclosure Assessor conference earlier this month, showed that energy use in the average office building reduced by seven per cent after just two ratings, and that average savings climbed to 20 per cent by the fifth rating and up to 29 per cent by the eighth rating.
The Happiness Guide Chapter 7 – Material Change
A new tenant is moving in, so it’s in with the new and out with the old. And it’s not just the tenant we’re talking about – the office fittings are most likely going the same way. More often than not they’ll end up in landfill at great expense to all involved, not to mention the environment. Oh, and our health, if there are any undesirable substances in the fittings that might leach into the soil, air and water. And it won’t happen just once with a new tenancy, but possibly three times.