Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Setting aside half the Earth for ‘rewilding’: the ethical dimension
As a scholar of ethics and public policy with an interest in animals and the environment, I have been following the discussion of half-Earth for some time. I like the idea and think it is feasible. Yet it suffers from a major blind spot: a human-centric view on the value of life. Wilson’s entry into this debate, and his seeming evolution on matters of ethics, is an invitation to explore how people ought to live with each other, other animals and the natural world, particularly if vast tracts are set aside for wildlife.

Energy and Climate Change

Global sea levels have risen 8cm since 1992, Nasa research shows
Sea levels worldwide have risen an average of nearly eight centimetres (three inches) since 1992 because of warming waters and melting ice, a panel of Nasa scientists said on Wednesday. In 2013 a United Nations panel predicted sea levels would rise from between 0.3 and 0.9 metres by the end of the century. The new research shows that sea level rise would probably be at the high end of that, said a University of Colorado geophysicist, Steve Nerem.

Ocean warming and acidification needs more attention, argues US
The US government has urged the international community to focus more on the impact of climate change on the oceans, amid growing concern over changes affecting corals, shellfish and other marine life. The US will raise the issue at United Nations climate talks in Paris later this year. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be asked to devote more research to the issue.

Distributed solar: evil drag on network or misunderstood blessing?
If you don’t like the answer, look for another. That may be the advice for both the opponents and proponents of renewables, climate change, distributed solar and a number of other controversial topics where reports and studies with contradictory results come out with increasingly frequency. Depending on your inclination, you can always find a study that fits your beliefs.

Subsidies for small scale solar face steep cuts
The UK government says it plans to significantly reduce subsidies paid to small-scale green power installations. Under the proposals, the amount of money paid to home owners and businesses producing electricity from roof-top solar and small wind turbines will be limited from January 2016. Subsidy schemes could be closed to new entrants from the start of next year. Ministers want to ensure that consumers who pay for the schemes through their bills get the best deal possible. They admitted in July that spending on renewable energy schemes was set to be higher than expected.

New LED buyers guide released
The Lighting Council Australia has published a consumer guide to assist in the selection of high-quality and safe LED lights. The LED Buyers Guide explains issues like safety, brightness, efficiency, colour, compatibility, lifetime and installation. There’s also cost comparison charts regarding average annual operating costs of LEDs compared to the incandescent and compact fluorescent lights. Download LED Buyers Guide.

Environment and Biodiversity

Turning snapper into mutants
NEW ZEALAND – Out of all the work I have seen that improves water quality, none is so impressive as what has been achieved by Whaingaroa Harbour Care. They have collaborated with over 40 farms and planted over 1 million trees in their local catchment. Why? To improve water quality so that they can catch more fish. They say that “after 18 years of riparian management, we’ve seen water quality improve dramatically in the Whaingaroa Harbour. Whitebait catches have increased from 1/2 cup per day to 1/2 bucket per day. Likewise recreational fishing catches have improved. Mudflats previously barren of life are now teeming with crabs, shellfish and wading birds.”

Rena disaster huge but environmental effects not long-lasting
NEW ZEALAND – The 2011 grounding of the container ship Rena on Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga brought about one of the world’s most tricky and costly wreck recoveries ever, a science conference in Nelson has heard. But it wrought very little long-term environmental damage, scientists reported.  A string of researchers gave presentatations on  aspects of the Rena disaster to the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s Australasia conference at the Rutherford Hotel. They concluded the area had a lucky escape, partly because of the huge public involvement in the clean-up.

Challenge to make Kiwis care more about conservation, says ambassador
New Zealand’s first threatened species ambassador says she would have an easier job if her fellow Kiwis cared as much about native species as they did reality television stars. Nicola Toki gave the keynote address at the Wildbase Recovery Conference in Palmerston North on Thursday and said the first battle in conservation was convincing people why they should care. Toki said most people could identify a Kardashian but questioned how many would recognise native birds such as the kokako, kaka or kakariki.

Marine reserve proposed for Mahurangi coast
NEW ZEALAND – A new marine reserve is proposed north of Waiwera. The Mahurangi Action group, suggesting a Mahurangi Coastal Trail linking Wenderholm, Te Muri and Mahurangi regional parks, is also keen to establish a 944 hectare marine reserve adjacent to those parks.

Humpback whale population growth shows no sign of slowing down, says Queensland researcher
Australia’s humpback population is the healthiest it has been since whaling ended along the east coast in the 1960s according to a Queensland whale counting group. Until 1962, humpback whales along the Queensland coast were hunted for use in oil, tennis rackets, medicine and animal feed with numbers dramatically dwindling until a ban was introduced. The University of Queensland’s Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory (CEAL) has counted between 25,000 and 26,000 whales this migration season, the highest seen in decades.

Economy and Business

Electronics Industry Launches Factory Worker Protection Program in Malaysia
The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), a nonprofit coalition of leading electronics companies dedicated to supply chain responsibility, on Wednesday announced the launch of a foreign migrant worker protection pilot program that aims to improve communications in electronics factories by providing workers with more effective ways to report issues related to social, environmental and ethical responsibility.

Teens sue Obama over climate, asking why future generations’ rights are not respected
This month’s decision by 21 young American citizens, mostly teenagers, to sue President Barack Obama and various branches of the US government over climate change has highlighted a crucial issue that is all too often overlooked: the tendency to value current generations’ well-being much more highly than that of future generations. The “youth plaintiffs”, aged between 8 and 19, argue that the US government has known for more than 50 years that carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is causing dangerous climate change, and yet has not prevented emissions from rising. Their lawsuit… argues that future US generations will disproportionately bear the cost of a destabilized climate, despite having the same constitutional right to freedom from harm as current generations.

Redflow to offer ‘plug and play’ home battery storage, after cutting costs by 50%
SX-listed battery technology developer Reflow looks set to expand into the small-scale energy storage market within months, after announcing it would deliver a plug and play version of its unique zinc bromide flow battery for households and small businesses by early 2016. The Brisbane-based company, which is now chaired by Australian tech guru Simon Hackett, said on Wednesday that the batteries would be developed with a companion Battery Management System (BMS) that would simplify their installation and management, essentially making it a “plug and play” device, not unlike the Tesla Powerwall.

Small Business: Upcycling – Fiona Leaning, ReMaterialise
NEW ZEALAND – At ReMaterialise we take single use plastic supermarket bags from all over the country and turn them into reusable shopping bags. Each bag is made out of at least 40 recycled plastic bags, which makes them strong and able to carry the equivalent of three to five regular plastic supermarket bags. So upcycling is the basis of what we do; we take a disposable item destined for about 12 minutes’ usage and give it an extended lifespan and purpose. Part of what we do is help educate people about why they should stop using plastic bags in the first place. And we’ve also recently added a range of lunch wraps made out of fabric to our website offering to give people another alternative to using disposable plastic wrap.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Texas teenager creates $20 water purifier to tackle toxic e-waste pollution
How to safeguard drinking water for local residents is an ongoing battle, with existing solutions such as chlorination, distillation, boiling and high-tech filtration prohibitively expensive and often reliant on fossil fuels.  Now a new filtering device, invented by a US teenager, could provide a cheap and easy way to purify water. The renewable heavy metal filter, designed by 18-year-old Perry Alagappan, removes 99% of heavy metals from water that passes through it. The filter, built from graphene nanotubes, can be rinsed with a vinegar concentrate and reused. The highly concentrated waste can then be evaporated, leaving a deposit of pure metal that can be used in many different applications.

Second grade Gascoyne produce cooked up for camp meals
A project to promote local produce and reduce food waste is looking to expand in Western Australia’s Gascoyne region.  Local pastoralist Chrissy Higham was sick of seeing Carnarvon fruit and vegetables binned, when they did not comply with strict market specifications. So the sheep and goat producer, from Meedo Station, bought them and started cooking up second-grade produce from plantations in her homestead kitchen. She paired the fresh vegetables with locally-sourced meat, including her own rangeland goats, and developed recipes for a range of slow-cooked curries, stews and pies to sell at local campgrounds.

Trending: New Use for Coffee Grounds, ‘Uber for Trash’ Among Latest Innovations in Waste Reduction
You might already be using them in your garden or they might be fueling your commute — but now you can use them in your 3D printer: Coffee grounds seem to be wasted less and less by the day, thanks to waste-to-energy and upcycling efforts across the globe.

We can turn CO2 in the air into new materials – but don’t expect that to stop climate change
What if there were a way to suck carbon dioxide right out of the air and turn it into useful products? It might seem fantastic but scientists have actually proved it’s possible. One of the challenges with making it a viable process, however, is manufacturing products that are valuable enough to cover the high costs of extracting the carbon dioxide. Some excellent new research has raised the possibility of a breakthrough in this area by using CO2 directly captured from the air to produce a type of graphene, the two-dimensional form of carbon often described as a “wonder material”. But reported claims that this amounts to producing “diamonds from the sky” are somewhat misleading.

Politics and Society

Naomi Klein on climate change: ‘I thought it best to write about my own raw terror’ (Book Talk)
Naomi Klein, the Canadian author, film-maker and social activist, will arrive in Australia this month for a series of events. The author of No Logo and the Shock Doctrine – a self-confessed fan of avocado on toast – will be discussing climate change and capitalism, the key topics in her new bestselling book This Changes Everything. She spoke to Guardian Australia’s Oliver Milman.

Gabon: protecting vital forests, and communities
Anne-Marie Ndong Obiang has a machete attached to her belt, which she assures us is “for cutting off poachers’ fingers”. In her spotless forest-green camouflage uniform she does not appear to be joking. Working for Gabon’s National Parks Agency (ANPN) she has firsthand experience of the harsh conditions in the big reserves in the north of the country, some almost impenetrable. Gold prospectors, often from neighbouring Cameroon, have been known to leave craters 40 metres deep in the middle of the woods. Obiang is head of the Raponda Walker Arboretum close to the capital Libreville, which is on the Atlantic coast. Her priority here is to combat uncontrolled urban sprawl. “My fellow eco-wardens and myself can’t look the other way for a moment without someone starting to build beside the track,” she says.

Middle East faces water shortages for the next 25 years, study says
Water supplies across the Middle East will deteriorate over 25 years, threatening economic growth and national security and forcing more people to move to already overcrowded cities, a new analysis suggests. As the region, which is home to over 350 million people, begins to recover from a series of deadly heatwaves which have seen temperatures rise to record levels for weeks at a time, the World Resources Institute (WRI) claims water shortages were a key factor in the 2011 Syria civil war.

The robots are coming for your job! Why digital literacy is so important for the jobs of the future
In a report released this week, the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) claims that up to 70% of young people are preparing for jobs that will no longer exist in the future. The report also raises concerns about decreasing entry-level occupations for school leavers and the impacts of automation. In another recent report, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia predicts that “almost five million Australian jobs – around 40% of the workforce – face the high probability of being replaced by computers in the next 10 to 15 years”. Some of the jobs most at risk of being automated include office administration staff, sales assistants, checkout operators, accounting clerks, personal assistants and secretaries.

Built Environment

Victorian government considering mandatory standards and disclosure for resi
The Victorian government has confirmed it is considering introducing mandatory disclosure of energy performance at point of sale or lease for residential properties, and mandatory standards for the energy performance of rental housing. A spokeswomen for the Victorian government confirmed to The Fifth Estate it was investigating the measures, which were also discussed at this week’s Victorian energy summit, according to Alternative Technology Association policy and research manager Damien Moyse.

Food Systems

Biochar increases soil fertility and water retention: WA avocado farmer
For thousands of years charcoal or biochar has been added to soil to increase fertility and water retention.  The Denmark Biochar group in the Western Australia’s south-west is convinced of the benefits to soil, and is developing kilns to create charcoal. Bart Lebbing, the group’s chairperson said charcoal-amended soil can improve fertility and help farmers retain water.

How to choose a good rabbit for dinner
Growing domestic rabbits for meat is coming back into popularity for a lot of good reasons. It is a healthy, low-fat, low cholesterol meat that is easy to cook, rabbits don’t take up a lot of space in your garden, and you don’t need to buy any expensive equipment to get started. They have a great bonus over breeding poultry too: the equivalent-sized bird isn’t nearly as easily bred and raised, and if you get roosters (on average, half of eggs hatched will be boys), it’s noisy. Rabbits are silent.


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