Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Top Story

Ellen MacArthur on Leading a Complex System of Global Change
For many, the circular economy is still an abstract idea, or one that arouses skepticism. During an onstage conversation with Jack Ehnes after her opening keynote at last week’s Ceres Conference in San Francisco, when an audience member used Interface’s foray into carpet tile rentals as an example of a model that failed, MacArthur reiterated the importance of a holistic approach:

“You can’t become circular through siloed activity, it’s not possible,” she said. “It’s about changing everything from design to manufacturing to how you sell the product to how you recover the product, incentives for your salespeople … is it to sell a kit, to provide performance, to provide a service to remanufacture? There are big shifts that happen — within the finance department, the marketing department, everything — the entire company shifts. I can tell all the companies we’re working with are beginning to move towards that systemic change.”

Energy and Climate Change

François Hollande calls for ‘miracle’ climate agreement at Paris talks
François Hollande, president of France, has called for a “miracle” to happen later this year at a crunch climate change conference in Paris, saying this would be needed for a compromise to be reached on the future of limiting greenhouse gases that would involve both developed and developing countries. He urged all countries to come up with commitments on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of the signing of a new global agreement by world governments later this year in Paris. He ruefully acknowledged the difficulty of coming up with such an agreement. “We must have a consensus. If within our own country, that’s difficult, imagine what it’s like with 196 countries. A miracle!” He added he was confident it could be achieved. For any agreement to work, he said, the role of businesses would be “key”. Invoking the foundation of the French republic, he said: “We need a revolution in business.”

Graph of the Day: How utilities see themselves in 2030
Power utility businesses around the world are finally, and rapidly, waking up to the enormous changes taking place in the global energy market. That is what we have been noticing here in Australia, and that is the major message from the latest PwC global power & utilities report. The report, released on Wednesday, shows that over two-thirds (70 per cent) of senior energy industry executives they surveyed (and they surveyed 73 of them, from 70 different companies and across 50 different countries) expected significant or very significant market model change by 2030 – a huge increase of awareness, or acceptance, from 2014, when less that half of survey responScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 12.56.00 pmdents (41 per cent) said utility business models would be ‘completely transformed’ by then.

Environment and Biodiversity

Santa Barbara Beaches Slicked With Oil After Pipeline Breach
Mark Tautrim was checking fences along his coastal cattle ranch 20 miles west of Santa Barbara Tuesday afternoon, when he caught a whiff of oil so strong it gave him a headache.  “Gosh, do you think the pipeline is leaking?” his wife, Susie Tautrim asked him. Tautrim headed toward the beach to investigate. He was among the earliest witnesses to an oil spill that has coated several miles of beaches along one of California’s most ecologically important shorelines. A broken pipeline off Goleta, California, spilled an estimated 21,000 gallons of heavy black oil into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. The spill is along the same beaches contaminated by a 1969 oil-platform blowout that is widely credited with sparking the U.S. environmental movement.

Coal and climate change: a death sentence for the Great Barrier Reef
Back in 1999, I made an upsetting discovery. By comparing the temperature tolerance of reef-building corals with the projected effects of rising carbon dioxide levels, I found that the oceans would soon grow too warm for corals to bear, meaning that coral-dominated systems like the Great Barrier Reef would disappear within 30-40 years. Much as I tried to find a mistake in my reasoning and calculations, the numbers kept telling me that one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems would disappear in my lifetime. As my study drew active discussion and debate, I desperately hoped that it was wrong and that the world had more time to solve the problem of climate change. Now, 16 years later, my conclusions have been confirmed and the message, if anything, have become even more pessimistic.

The idea that hunting saves African wildlife doesn’t withstand scrutiny
Zambia has lifted a ban on hunting lions and leopards and said the move will help protect wildlife, as a US hunter killed a black rhino in Namibia in what he called a victory for conservation. But experts have serious doubts about the claims.

Stream fenced off to protect endangered mudfish
NEW ZEALAND – They look like black whitebait*, but the Foleys will not be turning the mudfish on their farm to patties anytime soon. The Foleys have just signed a deal with Environment Canterbury to fence off the spring-fed stream on their Hook farm, south of Makikihi, to protect the fish, Rory said. The loss of wetlands has caused the mudfish to become endangered. “The stream has the largest population in the area and they are very rare. We are protecting them for future generations,” he said. Mudfish are regarded as under threat but as a species they have an amazing ability to survive dry seasons for several months. “Mudfish are about as rare as the kakapo*. Several other properties in the area have them too, but we have got the biggest population,” Rory said.

[*Ed: I thought it prudent for those of you not in NZ to explain a couple of terms here: whitebait are juveniles of the various species of native fresh water fish.  They are a delicacy and often eaten as “fritters”.  The kakapo is the world’s largest parrot, endemic to NZ.  It is flightless and there are only about 150 left]

Dive Into ‘Infinity’ With Dizzying Views of A Colossal Cave
Son Doong is one of the world’s largest caves, with enormous chambers that can comfortably fit a 747 airplane or an entire New York City block full of 40-story buildings. Its mammoth chambers extend so far that explorers have called Son Doong an “infinite cave.” And with an amazing new digital tour, you can plunge below ground to see it yourself without ever leaving the country. Pictures have offered stunning peeks into the cave, which is located in central Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, since explorers discovered it in 2009 with the help of a local guide. But the attention of curious sightseers is a double-edged sword; planned construction projects to make the cave more accessible to tourists could harm the formation’s unique environment.

Economy and Business

The Irony of Happiness at Work in the Age of Automation
After my book, Hacking Happiness, was released last year, a lot of people got in touch wondering how they could help their employees get happier at work. My book focuses on how people should take a measure of their lives, utilizing emerging technology and positive psychology to increase their long-term wellbeing versus just their mood. When anyone is genuinely interested in increasing employee happiness, I’m encouraged. But more often than not, people are primarily focused on how the benefits of positive psychology will increase people’s productivity for the company versus how employee’s lives could genuinely improve. Herein lies the sad irony of the happiness industry in regards to improving the future of work. While we ponder how increasing wellbeing will lead to greater productivity, big data and automation are decimating the human workforce.

Obama Unveils Plan to Reverse Alarming Decline of Honeybees
The White House released three goals for saving honeybees and other pollinators, which are crucial to the nation’s economy. But money isn’t enough, one expert says… The White House announced a new plan for halting the precipitous decline in honeybees and other pollinators on Tuesday, winning praise from scientists and farmers worried about the collapse of bee colonies but also illustrating the difficulty of bringing back insects crucial for sustaining the food supply… More than half of managed U.S. honeybee colonies have mysteriously disappeared in the past ten years. Honeybees pollinate a third of the U.S. diet, from nuts to produce—not to mention coffee and cotton. In 2010 the insects, originally from Eurasia and northern Africa, contributed to more than $19 billion worth of crops in the U.S.

Morgan Stanley sees 2.4m Australia homes with battery storage
Investment bank Morgan Stanley has painted a bullish outlook for the home battery storage market in Australia, saying it could be worth $24 billion, with half of all households likely to install batteries to store the output from their solar panels. That will mean around 2.4 million households in the National Electricity Market (all states except WA and Northern Territory and off-grid areas), more than the double the 1.1 million households that already have solar in the NEM. That, the investment bank says, is likely to impact the incumbent electricity utilities, particularly AGL and Origin Energy, cutting earnings and forcing asset write-downs. So much so that Morgan Stanley has slapped a “cautious” tag on its outlook for the industry, suggesting they could be badly hit by lost revenue in coming years.

Politics and Society

Will mega dams turn Bhutan’s happiness sour?
Bhutan is… praised as a global leader in environmental protection: 72% of the country is under forest cover and more than half is a protected area. The country has declared it will be the world’s first 100% organic nation and carbon neutral for all time to come. Yet, less than 20km downstream from the sacred Buddhist fortress at Punakha, Bhutan’s winter capital, we are forced to a halt by the intensity of thick clouds from construction dust, machinery and buses shuttling workers home at the end of a long day. The roadsides are littered with shantytown settlements housing the thousands of migrants who’ve come to work at the site of one of Bhutan’s mega dams, Puna I.

Barack Obama: climate deniers pose serious threat to US security
American politicians who deny that rising seas, thawing permafrost and longer wildfires are the crippling effects of global warming pose a serious threat to US national security, Barack Obama said on Wednesday. The US president issued a forceful call to action to combat climate change, framing global warming as a national security priority, at the commencement ceremony – or graduation – of the United States coast guard academy in New London, Connecticut. In his speech, Obama detailed the ways the US military would be forced to respond to climate change in the future. He called refusing to act “a dereliction of duty” and said it undermined American readiness.

Nature Behind Bars: Animal Class Helps Prisoners Find Compassion
Next Friday at 8:30 a.m., if you happen to be an inmate at the Boulder County Jail in Colorado, consider going to the animal behavior class taught by Marc Bekoff. But be prepared to stand, because seats fill up quickly. It turns out that guys in prison love learning about animals, and sometimes it changes their lives. Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, has been teaching “Animal Behavior and Conservation” to male prisoners for over a decade (that’s more than 600 classes). It’s part of Jane Goodall’s global Roots & Shoots Program, and has been a model for similar projects at other jails. National Geographic spoke to Bekoff about why the inmates bond well with animals, what issues upset them the most, and how animal videos can soften even the hardest felon.

FactCheck: Has any country bested Australia in emissions intensity reduction since 1990?
Reduction in emissions intensity is an important measure of how well a country is doing in cutting greenhouse gases while continuing economic growth. Recent comments by Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, implied that Australia is leading the world in reduction of emissions intensity. Is that right?

Revealed: BP’s close ties with the UK government
FoI documents show the extent of BP’s influence on government policy and how their intimate relationship is at odds with UK commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

Built Environment

The military spy turned sustainability warrior – drones have come of age
Drones have come a long way, from their military origins as sinister hardware for spying and remote warfare to their more recent use by conservation charities monitoring whaling ships and rare bird nests. This year’s Drones for Good awards finalists included social enterprises hoping to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver vaccinations in Africa, provide better planning in India’s slums and help with international disaster relief planning.

NASA Offering Designers $2.25M for 3D-Printed, Sustainable Housing Solutions for Deep Space
NASA, along with the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute — known as America Makes — are holding a $2.25 million competition to design and build a 3D-printed habitat for deep space exploration, including NASA’s journey to Mars. The multi-phase 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. The competition is aimed at advancing the additive construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.

Food Systems

Organic farming ‘benefits biodiversity’
Organic farms act as a refuge for wild plants, offsetting the loss of biodiversity on conventional farms, a study suggests. Fields around organic farms have more types of wild plants, providing benefits for wildlife, say scientists. The research is likely to fuel the debate over the environmental benefits of organic farming. Studies suggest that organic farming produces lower yields than conventional methods but harbours more wildlife. The new study, by researchers at the University of Swansea and institutes in France, looked at fields sowed with winter wheat in the region of Poitou-Charente.

Organic food expected to become more expensive as grain demand outstrips supply
Australian organic foods could become more expensive and harder to source due to a shortage of organic grain. Demand for organic grain in Australia outstrips production, leading to high prices for organic stockfeeds, as well as milling-grade grain for human consumption.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.