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A Twitter image posted by Professor Emma L Johnston showing her friend catching a coral trout off Sydney. Photo: Twitter @DrEmmaLJohnston

A Twitter image posted by Professor Emma L Johnston showing her friend catching a coral trout off Sydney. Photo: Twitter @DrEmmaLJohnston

Coral trout off Sydney a sign of ‘alarming’ tropical future
A coral trout species caught off Sydney could be a sign of tropical times to come, as one expert warns of Great Barrier Reef temperatures within 50 years. The common coral trout usually calls the warmer waters of Queensland home.   But on the weekend, local spearfisherman Derrick Cruz found a mature, 2.8 kilogram orange specimen a little north of the Cape Banks region in the city’s eastern suburbs. Mr Cruz, a doctoral student researching native fish at UNSW, was taken aback. His was the southernmost sighting of the common coral trout in Australia.

Energy and Climate Change

EU carbon market price expected to rise after MEP’s vote
The chances of a modest increase in carbon prices before 2020 rose on Thursday after votes by MEPs on one of the European Parliament’s most conservative committees.  MEPs on the industry committee voted first against market reforms to EU carbon trading, and then against the package they had just agreed. The chaotic manoeuvring leaves open the possibility of more ambitious reforms early this year, which could lead to higher carbon prices. The European Commission views the Emissions Trading System (ETS) as a key driver for lowering industry emissions and, after 2020, it will be the only collective mechanism for doing so. But at around €7 a tonne, carbon prices are far too low to influence industry behaviour and drive significant emissions cuts.

U.S. Wind-Power Installations Rose Sixfold in 2014
Installations of wind power in the U.S. surged sixfold last year, making it the largest market for the technology worldwide after China. The U.S. added 4.7 gigawatts of new onshore wind capacity in 2014 compared with 764 megawatts a year earlier, largely due to the extension of the Production Tax Credit in January 2013, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said today in a statement. Total U.S. onshore wind installations are now 64.2 megawatts.

Wind turbine studies: how to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly
Yesterday, The Australian ran a front-page article about what it called a “groundbreaking” new study on wind turbines and their associated health impacts. The study supposedly found a trend between participants’ perceived “sensations” and “offending sound pressure”. Carried out by Steven Cooper of The Acoustic Group, the study was commissioned by energy company Pacific Hydro near its Cape Bridgewater wind farm in southwest Victoria. But this study is an exemplary case of what we consider to be bad science and bad science reporting. Far from “resolving the contentious debate”, it’s much more likely inflame an already fractious and fraught situation. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you read this and similar studies.

Saudis to build world’s first large scale solar powered desalination plant
A Saudi Arabia company is to build the world’s first large-scale solar-powered water desalination plant, using solar PV to provide much of its power needs during daylight hours. Advanced Water Technology, the commercial arm of the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology has commission Spanish renewable energy group Abengoa to incorporate the plant into the $130 million facility. Abengoa will build the 15MW solar PV facility, with tracking, and expects it to provide all the desalination plant’s energy needs during peak output –which in Saudi Arabia will be for much of the daylight hours. The plant, to supply Al Khafji City in the north-east of the country, will produce 60,000 cubic metres of water a day. It is due to be commissioned in 2017.

Fossil fuel firms accused of renewable lobby takeover to push gas
Major fossil fuel companies and energy utilities have used their financial power to take control of key renewable energy lobby groups in Europe in an effort to slow the continent’s transition to clean energy, according to industry insiders. Big energy firms such as Total, Iberdrola, E.On and Enel have together adopted a dominant position in trade bodies such as the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). Their representatives now constitute a majority on both group’s boards.

FactCheck: did carbon emissions fall faster before the carbon price?
Emissions fell by six times the rate in the five years before the carbon tax than they did under the carbon tax. – Environment minister Greg Hunt, The Guardian, January 17, 2015.
Australia’s total greenhouse emissions have been declining since 2007, the year the Rudd Labor Government was elected. According to data from Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, emissions fell, with fluctuations, from 551 million tonnes (Mt) to 546.2 Mt (excluding emissions from forestry) between 2007 and June 2012 – the five years before the carbon “tax” was introduced. This is a drop of 4.8 Mt. A further decline of 3.6 Mt (from 546.2 Mt to 542.6 Mt) occurred from July 2012, when the carbon price came into force, through to June 2014. So the yearly rate of decline appears to have been greater during these final two years. Prima facie, therefore, Minister Hunt’s assertion is incorrect if forestry and land use-related emissions are removed (these activities are not directly subject to the carbon price and its influence).

Environment and Biodiversity

Special chambers simulate ocean acidification in Antarctica
Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division have built special underwater chambers to test what will happen when the ocean becomes more acidic. Increases in carbon dioxide in the atmospherare absorbed by the ocean, making sea water more acidic.  The experiment being conducted under the sea ice at Casey station this summer is designed to show what effect acidification will have on marine life in the next 100 years.

Sam Judd: Hot clams and duck itch
I have to say this searing hot weather has been great. We have just finished the hottest year on record. Now whilst lovely for going to the beach – aside from the concern about what will happen if the globe heats up too much – the heat also creates conditions for environmental problems that are really quite nasty. Two of the things I love to do in summer is swim in freshwater lakes and collect shellfish from the coastline. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council recently confirmed that the previously pristine Lake Tarawera now has potentially toxic blue-green algae. This foul slime grows when there are too many nutrients in the waterways and the heat helps it too. Nutrients are pollutants that come largely from agriculture, deforestation of areas around waterways (the shade of trees cools down the water) and other pollution sources such as greenwaste and animal faeces (particularly dogs and ducks) that happens in urban centres.

Wildbase vets urge use of decals to keep kereru from hitting windows
Something as simple as a sticker could save a kereru from a potentially lethal collision with a window. Vets at Wildbase Hospital in Palmerston North have treated a dozen kereru this year that were thought to have crashed into windows. One bird had to be put down because of the severity of its wounds while four are still being treated at the Massey University facility. Wildbase supervisor wildlife technician Pauline Conayne said injured kereru, also known as wood pigeons, were more common at this time of year as they were more actively out feeding. But their injuries could be prevented by placing decals, available from, on windows, she said.

Antarctic fish find surprises
Polar scientists have been startled to find fish living deep under ice a thousand kilometres south of New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica. The fish, found 850 kilometres from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, are the southern-most life forms ever found. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the find today saying researchers with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project had drilled 740 metres thought the ice shelf, punching through on January 8. “Cameras sent down the drilling hole also revealed an unsuspected population of fish and invertebrates living beneath the ice sheet, the farthest south that fish have ever been found,” the NSF says. “The surprising discovery of fish in waters that are extremely cold at -2 [degrees] Celsius and perpetually dark poses new questions about the ability of life to thrive in extreme environments.”

Business backing keeps DOC on track
Commercial input from high-profile businesses is helping to protect and preserve more of New Zealand’s assets than the Department of Conservation can do on its own. DOC commercial partnership unit member David Ross said partnerships with businesses were a way the department could operate outside its normal budget, but they didn’t mean DOC had fewer resources. “Conservation is a big task, a big part of New Zealand, too big and important to be left to DOC itself. Partnerships are about engaging and working with other people, not about saying ‘we don’t have enough money’.”

Record number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa in 2014
The number of rhinos killed in South Africa last year jumped by a fifth, marking a new record for poaching, driven by Asian demand for rhino horn which is more valuable by weight than gold. A total of 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014, statistics published by the environment ministry on Thursday showed, in what environmentalists said was now a “do or die situation”. The number of rhinos killed by poachers – 827 of which were in the country’s famous Kruger national park in 2014 – has risen rapidly in the last decade.

Economy and Business

Net positive: ‘It’s the leading edge of sustainability, but we’ve not cracked it’
The aim of the net-positive movement is to encourage businesses to leave the world a better place than they find it, explains Sally Uren, chief executive of sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future. So if you use water in your business model, then leave the planet with more or better quality water than you take out. It’s the same with forests, energy, or whatever finite natural resource your company relies upon.

Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business
Web 2.0, or the ability to share and manipulate information online through user collaboration, has had a disruptive effect on business. Customers now expect to participate in the corporate world, and place a greater value on transparency in return. This new environment, termed “wikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, is based on four principles: openness, peering, sharing and acting globally. Here are the top 10 ways that web 2.0 technologies and digital cultures will impact on business, driving them towards more sustainable behaviour during the next decade.

Ethical super funds – it’s what people want
Two of the most sustainable superannuation funds around are celebrating. One, Australian Ethical Investment, notched up a cool one billion dollars of funds under management as of late November. The other, Future Super, which launched just under five months ago with a promise to avoid fossil fuel investments altogether, hit the $30 million mark and celebrated its 1300th member on Tuesday just before we called to see how things were going. According to Adam Verwey, executive director of Future Super and a founder along with Simon Sheikh, it’s good news all round, but the best part is that all but four per cent of the new members are not coming from other ethical or sustainability funds but are new to the field and seizing the opportunity to turn consumer power into activist power.

Kiwi entrepreneurs join icy think-tank in Antarctica
A New Zealand couple are joining more than 100 entrepreneurs from Australia this weekend heading for the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica for an 11-day think-tank aimed at “raising financial intelligence”. During the trip entrepreneurs will enjoy two adventure sessions out on the ice per day and three collaborative sessions working on their own enterprises as well as a variety of topics, including social entrepreneurship, and solving the planet’s problems as the key to business wealth.

Politics and Society

US Senate fails to accept humanity’s role in climate change, again
It is nearly 27 years now since a Nasa scientist testified before the US Senate that the agency was 99% certain that rising global temperatures were caused by the burning of fossil fuels. And the Senate still has not got it – based on the results of three symbolic climate change votes on Wednesday night. The Senate voted virtually unanimously that climate change is occurring and not, as some Republicans have said, a hoax – but it defeated two measures attributing its causes to human activity.

Book Review: Stuffocation – Living More with Less by James Wallman
If you received any gifts at Christmas that made you sigh and think, “Why would I want this?”, or look in the shed or cupboards and get an urge to grab a garbage bag and start purging, author James Wallman says you are suffering from Stuffocation. Wallman explores what our materialistic culture is doing to both people and the planet. He traces the transition from a western narrative that was about frugality and saving to one about spending and consuming to excess. He points the finger at the USA’s overproduction in the 1950s and the corresponding rise of the advertising industry, who he claims were tasked by the US government with ramping up consumption to maintain the health of the manufacturing sector.

Government’s final ERF is a bit like last year’s sushi
In the finest tradition of governance that doesn’t want to be noticed, the official [Australian] Emissions Reduction Fund methodology for commercial buildings passed into law on January 14 without even so much as a ministerial photo opportunity. Environment minister Greg Hunt put his signature to the legislation, but there was no press release, no Greg Hunt Facebook or official minister web page announcement, not even a general update to the CFI webpage that tells anyone exactly how to push the “go” button and put in a proposal under the Emissions Reduction Fund to get cracking on a project.

Built Environment

Explosive report lifts the lid on Australia’s building energy performance sham
There is “a pervasive culture of mediocre energy performance across the Australian building industry”, according to a damning review by pitt&sherry and Swinburne University that the government has sat on for months and only released just prior to Christmas. It’s what the industry has long turned a blind eye to, but now it’s finally written in black and white. The National Energy Efficient Building Project engaged with more than 1000 stakeholder to look into the systemic weaknesses and widespread non-compliance regarding energy efficiency requirements of the National Construction Code.

Food Systems

Yes, Africa will feed itself within the next 15 years
Africa will be able to feed itself in the next 15 years. That’s one of the big “bets on the future” that Bill and Melinda Gates have made in their foundation’s latest annual letter. Helped by other breakthroughs in health, mobile banking and education, they argue that the lives of people in poor countries “will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history”. Their “bet” is good news for African agriculture: agronomy and its natural twin, agricultural extension, are back on the agenda. If Africa is to feed itself, the women and men who grow its crops need access to technical expertise on how to manage their variable natural resources and limited inputs and market intelligence on what to grow, what to sell and what to keep.


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