Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The biggest news story today is about the Pacific Garbage Patch.  This is one of the five gyres of concentrated plastic waste in our world’s oceans and this one is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought and growing exponentially. Eeek! This is a global problem that needs everyone to act on.  Are you reducing your plastic consumption?  Are you supporting bans on plastic bags and single use plastic?

In other news, Mark Boyle is living without technology, of any kind, through a handwritten letter to The Guardian, he describes why.  In another comment on society, how planting trees with your neighbour increases a sense of community and reduces crime.

Top Story

Plastic patch in Pacific Ocean growing rapidly, study shows | BBC News
A collection of plastic afloat in the Pacific Ocean is growing rapidly, according to a new scientific estimate. Predictions suggest a build-up of about 80,000 tonnes of plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” between California and Hawaii. This figure is up to sixteen times higher than previously reported, say international researchers. One trawl in the centre of the patch had the highest concentration of plastic ever recorded.

From other agencies:


A sampling of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (The Ocean Cleanup.)

A sampling of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (The Ocean Cleanup.)

Climate Change and Energy

Last year dashed hopes for a climate change turnaround | The Washington Post
After three flat years that had hinted at a possible environmental breakthrough, carbon dioxide emissions from the use of energy rose again by 1.4 percent in 2017, according to new data released by the International Energy Agency on Wednesday.

Coal plant construction extends dive – but not fast enough: report | SMH
Coal-fired power is on track to start shrinking globally by 2022, dimming prospects for exporters of the fossil fuel, including Australia, according to a report by environmental groups. China and India, which have dominated construction of new power plants for more than a decade, both cut new capacity sharply for the second year in a row in 2017, the annual Boom and Bust report by Greenpeace, Sierra Club and CoalSwarm found.

Mexico Forecast to Add 24 TWh of Clean Energy by 2022 | Bloomberg New Energy Finance
MEXICO – Mexico’s 2013 energy reform has changed the corporate power market dramatically. The introduction of a market in clean energy certificates (CEL) will lead to the generation of an additional 24 terawatt-hours of clean energy by 2022, Bloomberg New Energy Finance finds in its 1H 2018 Corporate Energy Market Outlook.

Solar installed on 500 public housing homes in Queensland, focus turns to rental market  | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Rooftop solar has been installed on almost 500 public housing homes across Cairns, Rockhampton and Lockhart River in Queensland, as part of a a state government scheme that winds up this week. The scheme is one of a suite of policies unveiled late last year in an effort to open the way for thousands more homes in the Sunshine State – including the largely untapped rental market – to gain access to rooftop solar and battery storage and cut their electricity bills.

Environment and Biodiversity

‘Dead zone’ in Gulf of Mexico will take decades to recover from farm pollution | The Guardian
The enormous “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico will take decades to recover even if the flow of farming chemicals that is causing the damage is completely halted, new research has warned. Intensive agriculture near the Mississippi has led to fertilizers leeching into the river, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico, via soils and waterways. This has resulted in a huge oxygen-deprived dead zone in the Gulf that is now at its largest ever extent, covering an area greater than the state of New Jersey.

3 Reasons City Dwellers Should Care About Forests | World Resources Institute
If you’re reading this, you are probably a city dweller. More than half of humanity lives in cities, and the percentage continues to grow. As more and more of us move from the rural landscapes our ancestors called home, we are particularly estranged from forests. Trees have been cut back to the hinterlands, replaced by farms, housing and urban sprawl. But even if you live in the heart of the concrete jungle, you should care about forests. [Wednesday was] the International Day of Forests. This year’s theme is Forests and Sustainable Cities. Take a minute to reflect on how much you depend on these ecosystems, from the park in your neighborhood to the distant Amazonian rainforest.

Even if you were the last rhino on Earth… why populations can’t be saved by a single breeding pair | The Conversation
Two days ago, the last male northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) died. His passing leaves two surviving members of his subspecies: both females who are unable to bear calves. Even though it might not be quite the end of the northern white rhino because of the possibility of implanting frozen embryos in their southern cousins (C. simum simum), in practical terms, it nevertheless represents the end of a long decline for the subspecies. It also raises the question: how many individuals does a species need to persist?

What dolphin teeth can tell us about ocean pollution | NZ Herald
Crucial clues about the contamination of our coasts could be found – of all places – inside the teeth of bottlenose dolphins. Metal contaminants in marine environments are a particular health risk for humans and other animals as they get absorbed into teeth and bones. Now, Dr Carolina Loch, of Otago University’s Faculty of Dentistry, is leading a study to track metal exposure in marine species to help determine pollution in the ocean.


Understanding the risks to Canada’s drinking water | The Conversation
CANADA – March 22 marks World Water Day, an acknowledgement of the importance of safe, clean drinking water. This year, the celebration takes place against the backdrop of water shortages.  The United Nations has concluded that there is an international water crisis, and the principal failing is one of governance. Cape Town is the latest crisis, but we can only expect water shortages to become more common. Canada has an abundance of water for its size: It has 0.5 per cent of the world’s population but seven per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater supply.  From a global perspective, most Canadians are lucky, but the messages that emanate from academic and popular literature often paint an unsettling picture.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Sustainable shopping: if you really, truly need a new phone, buy one with replaceable parts | The Conversation
Almost 90% of Australians own a smartphone, and almost 40% of us are expected to update our phone in the coming year. The most sustainable mobile phone is actually the phone you already own! This is because manufacturing a phone has far more environmental impact than using it. The circuit board, display and battery are primarily responsible for your phone’s environmental impacts. These contain valuable minerals such as cobalt, gold, silver, palladium and tin. Huge amounts of ore, processing and energy are required to yield small amounts of these materials.

Politics and Society

My advice after a year without tech: rewild yourself | Mark Boyle | The Guardian (Opinion)
Having once been an early adopter of tech, I was an unlikely early rejector. But it has now been over a year since I have phoned my family or friends, logged on to antisocial media, sent a text message, checked email, browsed online, took a photograph or listened to electronic music. Living and working on a smallholding without electricity, fossil fuels or running water, the last year has taught me much about the natural world, society, the state of our shared culture, and what it means to be human in a time when the boundaries between man and machine are blurring.

‘When you’re connected to wifi you’re disconnected from life.’ Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

‘When you’re connected to wifi you’re disconnected from life.’ Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Want to fight crime? Plant some flowers with your neighbor | The Conversation
USA – Neighborhoods struggling with physical decline and high crime often become safer simply when local residents work together to fix up their neighborhood. My colleagues and I at the University of Michigan School of Public Health Youth Violence Prevention Center have spent nearly a decade documenting why. Research from cities across the United States shows how small changes to urban environments — like planting flowers or adding benches — reduce violence.  The result is an emerging crime prevention theory we call “busy streets.” Here’s how it works.

War on drugs has failed – Helen Clark | Radio New Zealand News
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says a bill that would quadruple the maximum prison sentence for people supplying synthetic cannabis reflects a failed war on drugs mentality… Ms Clark said it was time for New Zealand to have a fresh look at its drug policy. “We have to look at the evidence of what works – and if we looked at Portugal or to Switzerland or any number of countries now we see more enlightened drug policies, which are bringing down the rate of death and not driving up prison populations.”

Coalition accuses green groups of misleading public on forestry agreements | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The government has accused green groups of deliberately misleading the Australian people by raising concerns about the roll over of long term logging agreements.  The accusations from federal assistant agriculture minister senator Anne Ruston were revealed after Guardian Australia reported the government itself had discussed concerns that the agreements were invalid as they are based on old scientific assessments.

Buried, altered, silenced: 4 ways government climate information has changed since Trump took office | The Conversation
After Donald Trump won the presidential election, hundreds of volunteers around the U.S. came together to “rescue” federal data on climate change, thought to be at risk under the new administration. “Guerilla archivists,” including ourselves, gathered to archive federal websites and preserve scientific data. But what has happened since? Did the data vanish?  As of one year later, there has been no great purge. Federal data sets related to environmental and climate science are still accessible in the same ways they were before Trump took office.  However, in many other instances, federal agencies have tampered with information about climate change. Across agency websites, documents have disappeared, web pages have vanished and language has shifted in ways that appear to reflect the policies of the new administration.

Built Environment

The case for upgrading Melbourne’s poor housing stock | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – The cost of upgrading Melbourne’s poor-performing homes from 1.5 star NatHERS to four stars could be paid off in energy savings in nine years, according to new research from the University of Melbourne, while a six-star upgrade would take 14 years.

No action on rising seas without law change |
NEW ZEALAND – People considering buying property on the Coromandel Peninsula may notice something new if they request a land information report: a pointer to an online simulator showing potential future flooding. A Thames lawyer and campaigner, Denis Tegg, has persuaded Thames-Coromandel District Council to include a link in all future LIM reports alerting people to a Waikato Regional Council tool showing how flooding may affect properties after sea level rise.

Food Systems

Battle of the barns |
NEW ZEALAND – Animal welfare groups can rightly claim a victory over egg producers with the phasing out of battery cages, but a new fight is developing over the replacement – barn-laid eggs.


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