Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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A new climate threat in today’s top story with a study in Nature estimating extra carbon dioxide will cause plants to take up less nutrients and we’ll therefore have less nutritious food. Onto today’s politics in Australia with several stories from influential people calling for climate action. A powerful analogy told by Dr David Shearman, honorary secretary of Doctors for the Environment Australia and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Adelaide University, makes a strong point about the need for articulate and strong leadership to take action on climate emissions, while Malcolm Turnbull’s son says people can’t vote for the coalition “in good conscience”, and the former President of the National Farmers’ Association calls for drought action to include climate change adaptation and mitigation. Don’t miss the irony in three articles providing a perspective on water, with people fighting over water in the Middle East and half the world’s children without access to clean water at school, some of the best tap water in the world is to be found in Australia… yet we still buy bottled water, in plastic.

Top Story

Carbon dioxide’s hidden hunger risk | Newsroom
Rising carbon dioxide levels could soon mean the vegetables on your dinner plate may not be as nutritious as they are today. Many food crops grown in conditions with high carbon dioxide have reduced levels of zinc, iron and protein. A new study has estimated hundreds of millions more people could suffer nutrient deficiencies by 2050 as a result of the lower nutrient levels in plants.

See also:

Climate Change

Climate fund snags threaten opportunity to fight warming – Ban Ki-moon | Thomson Reuteres Foundation
Insufficient cash is hampering a flagship international fund to help poor nations combat climate change, which is not working as fast and efficiently as the urgency of global warming requires, said former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established at U.N. climate talks in 2010 to channel a substantial portion of the $100 billion per year wealthy nations had pledged to mobilise by 2020 for developing-world efforts to curb carbon emissions and weather the impacts of climate change.Environment and Biodiversity

Victorian Government stalls decision on new timber plantation for Latrobe Valley | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Not a single tree has been planted more than a year after the Victorian Government pledged $110 million to establish timber plantations in the Latrobe Valley. The announcement in the 2017 budget followed anxiety within the timber industry over reduced wood supply from the state-owned logging company VicForests and job losses in the region. But industry figures said there has been no progress and their questions to the Government have gone unanswered.

Photo: Both the timber industry and environmentalists are advocating for timber plantations. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Photo: Both the timber industry and environmentalists are advocating for timber plantations. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Small town’s fortunes improve as whale visits boost tourism | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Southern right whales are returning to the winter waters around Fowlers Bay on South Australia’s west coast, after avoiding the area for a century. The waters were once teeming with mothers and calves, but after becoming an American whaling station in the mid-19th century, whales stopped returning to the area in favour of Head of Bight. Today, the mammals are returning, bringing tourism with them to a town that had been all but deserted.

Photo: Southern right mothers and calves come within a 100 metres of Fowlers Bay's beaches. (Supplied: Rod Keogh)

Photo: Southern right mothers and calves come within a 100 metres of Fowlers Bay’s beaches. (Supplied: Rod Keogh)

Do dogs have feelings? | The Conversation|
If you live with a dog you just know when it’s happy or miserable, don’t you? Of course you do. Even the scientific community, now admits that dogs have emotions – even if scientists can’t directly measure what they are experiencing. Research has shown time and time again the positive impact pet ownership can have on our lives. Indeed, a study of 975 dog-owning adults, found that in times of emotional distress most people were more likely to turn to their dogs than their mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, or children.


Water Is a Source of Growing Tension and Violence in the Middle East | World Resources Institute
In the hot, dry Middle East, where populations are growing rapidly and all major rivers cross political borders, water has become a focal point for escalating violence. From the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Turkey that feed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the desert wadis on the southern tip of Yemen, the history of water conflicts provides a cautionary tale: When water and politics mix, and when cooperation gives way to conflict, freshwater becomes an issue of human and national security and a tool of violence.

Half the world’s schools lack clean water, toilets and handwashing | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Nearly half the world’s schools lack clean drinking water, toilets and handwashing facilities, putting millions of children at risk of disease, experts warned on Monday. Almost 900 million children have to contend with a lack of basic hygiene facilities during their education, putting their health at risk and meaning some have to miss school. “You can’t have a quality learning environment without these basics,” said Dr Rick Johnston of the World Health Organization, a lead researcher on the project.

Bottled water and why Aussies still drink it | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – With one of the most stringent governances of tap water in the world, you would think developing a booming bottled water market in Australia is akin to selling ice to Eskimos. But despite publicity about plastic waste, effective marketing is not the only force steering consumers to a bottle. Age, gender, culture, and lack of trust in water utilities all contribute.

Economy and Business

Is a circular economy the key to a sustainable future? | Newsroom
NEW ZEALAND – There are some wildly different theories on the role of technology in the coming era. Some suggest technology will overcome our global challenges like climate change (as described by Rohan MacMahon here at Newsroom recently), and may even take over our world. Some argue that nearly all our technology is unsustainable, and we will be forced to survive without it. So how to navigate between these two extremes? The circular economy is one way of doing so.

Materials that can be extracted from mobile phones include gold, copper, silver, lead, tin and indium. Photo courtesy of Umicore

Materials that can be extracted from mobile phones include gold, copper, silver, lead, tin and indium. Photo courtesy of Umicore

Waste and the Circular Economy

We know the wrong way to deal with e-waste. But what should we do instead? | Ensia
Rajesh was just 10 years old when we met. His days were spent standing on tiptoe to dunk computer circuit boards into big vats of hot acid. He had gloves but no goggles, and the acid splashed his shirt. He had an incessant cough and drank alcohol at night to ward off dizziness caused by the fumes…

Politics and Society

Climate change is World War III, and we are leaderless | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – “World War III is well and truly underway. And we are losing,” writes environmental activist Bill McKibben, so when Malcolm Turnbull implied that the insurgency that demolished his government was based on climate ideology, what lessons are there for Scott Morrison?

As a child in Britain during WWII, I lived in a street of mothers and children. Every father was away fighting. Each house and garden was surrounded by a metal palisade fence. One morning the fences were gone, mother was delighted. Then a horse and cart came and took away every metal cooking pot and pan, some treasured, but mother smiled at her sacrifice. It was difficult for me to understand…

Malcolm Turnbull’s son Alex Turnbull blasts Liberal Party’s stance on climate change | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Alex Turnbull blamed “rent-seekers” backing the coal industry for felling his father Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister, saying it’s “impossible” to vote for the Liberal-National coalition “in good conscience” because of its climate stance. In a wide-ranging interview just days after his father lost power in a party room putsch, the Singapore-based fund manager told Fairfax Media the Liberal Party faced being hijacked by financial interests that stood to make windfall profits if coal-related assets were bolstered by taxpayers.

Drought policy must reflect climate change, says former farmers chief | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The former president of the National Farmers’ Federation, Brent Finlay, has accused politicians of “jumping in front of the cameras” while shirking effective policy work on drought and climate change.

Australians think our politicians are corrupt, but where is the evidence? | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – There is a public perception that a small elite is reaping large benefits in Australian society in terms of political influence and its flow-on dividends. In Australia, the “game of mates” is flourishing. There’s now a revolving door in politics with many politicians, advisers and senior government officials leaving the public sector to become well-paid lobbyists.


On first day as PM, Morrison learns difference between Big Battery and Big Banana | RenewEconomy
On his first day as prime minister, Scott Morrison got to test his theory that the Tesla big battery in South Australia is about as useful as the Big Banana in New South Wales… Well, it turns out that the Tesla big battery is more useful than the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, or even the Big Prawn near Ballina, judging by the impacts of a dramatic loss of two transmission line on Saturday that caused major power outages in NSW and Victoria.


Built Environment

Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals | The Guardian
Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

Related: Trump’s Dirty Power Plan is much worse for kids’ health than for climate change | Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian

Food Systems

Brazil’s pesticide poisoning problem poses global dilemma, say critics | Mongabay
Brazil is second only to the U.S. in its use of chemical pesticides, with many of the chemicals sprayed in Brazil on soy and other crops banned by the EU and the United States. Pesticide poisoning is a major Brazilian problem. In 2016, 4,208 cases of intoxication by exposure to pesticides were registered across the nation – the equivalent of 11 per day (killing 355 people). The ruralista bancada, the powerful agribusiness lobby, is currently pushing an amendment through congress that would significantly weaken Brazil’s 1989 pesticide law. Analysts say the legislation (6.299/2002), dubbed the “Poison Bill” by critics, would make the approval of new pesticides far easier.

Various agrochemicals to be mixed and applied to the soy crop. Pesticides are rarely applied one at a time, but rather in toxic combinations whose interactions on people and the environment are largely unstudied. Image by Thomas Bauer.

Various agrochemicals to be mixed and applied to the soy crop. Pesticides are rarely applied one at a time, but rather in toxic combinations whose interactions on people and the environment are largely unstudied. Image by Thomas Bauer.