Sustainable Development News

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

Fish Pee, Coral’s Number One Nutrient Supply, Cut by Fishing
…Coral reefs wouldn’t be stunning havens for biodiversity without one key nutrient source: fish urine. The trouble is, humans like to eat reefs’ best recyclers: the biggest, and biggest bladdered, fish atop the food chain. And unsustainable pursuit of that protein comes at a cost. A study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications reveals that fishing can remove nearly half of coral reefs’ fish-driven recycling—underscoring the importance of large fish, and in particular large predators, in the post-food chain.

Energy and Climate Change

Solar cell technology: How it works and the future of sunshine
One in seven homes in Australia has solar panels on their roof — more than anywhere else in the world. So what is going on in all those shiny rooftop structures?

Dirty power games: Coalition steps on the gas
Yet more evidence has been produced about the dirty power games being played in the South Australian energy market, as fears grow that the federal government is pushing for little more than open season for the gas industry, rather than widespread reform in the National Electricity Market.

Environment and Biodiversity

Ocean Slime Spreading Quickly Across the Earth
When sea lions suffered seizures and birds and porpoises started dying on the California coast last year, scientists weren’t entirely surprised. Toxic algae is known to harm marine mammals. But when researchers found enormous amounts of toxin in a pelican that had been slurping anchovies, they decided to sample fresh-caught fish. To their surprise, they found toxins at such dangerous levels in anchovy meat that the state urged people to immediately stop eating them.

13 Pictures of Beautiful, Endangered Orangutans
For International Orangutan Day, we celebrate the red-haired great apes with lively and vibrant photos from our archive.

A family of Bornean orangutans hang out at Camp Leakey in Tanjung Putin National Park, part of Borneo, Indonesia. The camp, which spans 19 square miles (49 square kilometers), has hosted ongoing orangutan research for more than 40 years. Photograph by Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic Creative

A family of Bornean orangutans hang out at Camp Leakey in Tanjung Putin National Park, part of Borneo, Indonesia. The camp, which spans 19 square miles (49 square kilometers), has hosted ongoing orangutan research for more than 40 years. Photograph by Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic Creative


National parks must be for people, plants, pumas – not Big Oil
The creation of the 1.3 million hectare Sierra del Divisor National Park in the western Amazon in November 2015 generated considerable elation and Peruvian and international media coverage. Logging, gold-mining, coca cultivation and narco-trafficking were highlighted by some media as ongoing threats to the new park, but why such failure to acknowledge what is possibly, in the long-term, the most serious threat of all? The sorry, alarming fact is that approximately 40% of the park is superimposed by an oil and gas concession run by a Canadian-headquartered company, Pacific Exploration and Production.

This is the ‘fuse’ that ignites California’s explosive fires
Californians had prayed for an El Niño weather pattern to deliver snow and rain to a state beset by historic drought and tough water restrictions. And last winter, down it came. It snowed in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains and poured in the north near San Francisco, filling reservoirs that were critically low. It sprinkled in the arid south near Los Angeles, allowing wild grasses to finally sprout. The precipitation was a blessing – and a curse. By now, the tall grass has dried and hardened into kindling for wildfire. It contains virtually no water and has a “100 percent ignition rate for any spark,” said Janet Upton, a deputy director at the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.  “We have this fuse to a bomb.”

Politics and Society

Offshore detention: Australians have a right to know what is done in their name
How did one of the world’s most-successful multicultural countries made up of refugees and immigrants end up harming children who came to us seeking protection and help? One of the answers to this question is secrecy. Successive Australian governments, both Labor and Coalition, have dehumanised refugees and kept Australians in the dark about what really goes on in the offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

Cartoon - Wilcox asylum photo

Iran’s environment chief: Not much time left to preserve water resources
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Khwarizmi Festival for Young Adults in Mashhad, Khorassan Razavi province, Ebtekar said water consumption in agriculture must undergo changes in certain parts of the country. “We do not have much time to preserve water resources and the agriculture and irrigation pattern in certain regions much change,” Ebtekar asserted. She also said that the education system both at schools and universities should be based on establishing “new relationship with the nature in order to create psychological, physiological, and emotional balance”. Contact with the nature improves passions, she said, noting that an important part of the problems in today’s world is due to “lack of emotion”.

Environment: 67% of Europeans want the EU to do more
The environment is something Europeans care deeply about: 67% of them would like to the EU to do more on environmental protection, according to a Eurobarometer survey commissioned by the European Parliament. Read our article to find out more about what the EU is already doing and will be doing to protect your health, safeguard biodiversity and fight climate change.

Rod Oram: Earth’s hopeful future (Book Talk)
With economies stagnating, politics polarising, societies shattering and ecosystems suffering, I felt an urgent need to go walkabout last September. It was my best chance of making some sense of the news from around the world. I travelled to Beijing, London, and Chicago, three cities that have profoundly shaped my life, as much as Auckland has these past twenty years. I came home feeling in some ways more despondent. The damage being done is so rampant, the vital changes needed so radical, the time left so fleeting. Righting our utter unsustainability seems impossible. Yet if we give up we are already lost.

A Farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams review – climate change writ large (Book Talk)
Becoming a world authority on sea ice has taken Peter Wadhams to the polar zones more than 50 times, travelling on foot and by plane, ship, snowmobile and several nuclear-powered submarines of the Royal Navy. Nonscientists who read his astonishing and hair-raising A Farewell to Ice will agree that the interludes of autobiography it contains are engrossing, entertaining and, when one submarine suffers an onboard explosion and fire while under the ice, harrowing. Any reader should find the science of sea-ice creation and the implications for us all of its loss – explored and explained here with clarity and style – beautiful, compelling and terrifying.

Live exports controlled by ‘small band of multinational companies’, say Bidda Jones and Julian Davies (Book Talk)
Bidda​ Jones, RSPCA Australia’s chief scientist, blew the whistle on Indonesian abattoir workers cruelly hacking to death Australian cattle… Five years on, live cattle export is back bigger than ever in Indonesia, and Vietnam. China is the latest market to be targeted. Jones and her partner, novelist Julian Davies, have written Backlash partly as a counter to powerful interests they believe have successfully stymied the taste for reform of the live export trade that followed the national furore in 2011.

Faith Communities as Sowers of Sustainability?
The seeds of sustainable economies may be sown in surprising places, I thought as I toured a church-run project in East Palo Alto, California that is designed to promote home gardens. That project, and other religious activism on sustainability issues, made me wonder: Could religious congregations be important catalysts of sustainability practices? Maybe. But let’s start with the garden project.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein calls for climate state of emergency
USA – Dr Jill Stein called for a national state of emergency to be declared over the rapidly worsening effects of global warming, during a campaign swing through New York.  Promoting her party’s Green New Deal – an agenda designed to address the interconnected problems of climate change and the economy – Stein said the still uncontained Blue Cut fire in California and the record flooding in Louisiana were ample evidence of the worsening effects of climate change.

Built Environment

The eco guide to air pollution
We know pollution can be a factor in developing lung cancer. Now new research shows that it may also shorten the life span of lung cancer survivors. Researchers are joining the dots between pollution and dementia, too. We tend to give pollution polite names like “haze” and “smog”. We should call it “the killer”.

Food Systems

To future-proof our crops from drought, look to the Australian deserts
It was in the mid-20th century when the American agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug showed us how to make wheat and rice stems shorter, to increase their yield. He’s often referred to as the Father of the Green Revolution and his breakthrough meant food was suddenly more abundant across much of the world… The human population responded to this boon by catapulting from 2.6 billion to 7.3 billion in just 60 years. It continues to rise by about 80 million per year… Future climate scenarios predict that many croplands will soon be subjected to less rainfall and higher temperatures. That means the area of prime farmland will shrink and the area of marginal farmland will grow.

Can buying up fishing licences save Australia’s sharks?
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently raised over A$200,000 to buy shark fishing licences in Queensland’s waters. They estimate the licences, for operating nets in and around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, could have been used to catch 10,000 sharks each year. Retiring these licences is a new development in Australian shark conservation, but may also limit locally caught seafood. But do Australia’s sharks need saving, or can we eat them? It depends on where you look.

Gardening: Say snap
…What definitely does work is the fact that many flowering plants do provide a lot of Snap for the garden’s good guys. Shelter, Nectar, Alternative food and Pollen are the basis of this acronym.. A “tidy” vege garden, with all trace of weeds removed, is a bit of an ecological desert, with low non-crop diversity and a not very “snappy” environment.

Proud Marlborough beekeeping firm face challenges as centenary celebrated
NEW ZEALAND – Beekeepers are like any other farmers except they don’t have fences for keeping the stock in, says a Marlborough beekeeper celebrating 100 years of commercial honey making. “At the end of the day, like any farmer, we need healthy stock to control pests and diseases,” said J Bush and Sons managing director Murray Bush. “We do selective breeding programmes like the sheep and beef guys and we have similar concerns as they do. And like everyone else on the land climate is our biggest influence to how successful we are.”

Four Important Lessons from Cuba’s Urban Food Survival Strategy
Cuba has come a long way since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the loss of imports crucial for the island nation’s industrial agriculture system—such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers—left Cuba with a severe food crisis in the 1990s. Today, Cuba has become a regional leader in sustainable agricultural research. Within its practices and institutions lies a model for localized and small-scale urban agriculture.


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