Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The ‘green-tech’ future is a flawed vision of sustainability
What does your vision of a sustainable future look like? Some people imagine a scenario whereby technology solves the world’s most pressing environmental problems. In this world we all drive electric cars and have solar panels on our roofs that power our air conditioners and flat-screen televisions. We purchase “eco” products that provide all the convenience and comfort but without degrading the planet. We continue consuming and growing our economies, yet Mother Nature wins too. But I and my colleague Josh (who co-wrote this article) would argue that this vision of sustainability is flawed, and will in fact drive greater damage to the world, its ecosystems, and us. So how has this vision come to dominate?

Energy and Climate Change

Oceans Will Rise Much More Than Predicted, NASA Says
Year by year, millimeter by millimeter, the seas are rising. Fed by melting glaciers and ice sheets, and swollen by thermal expansion of water as the planet warms, the world’s oceans now on average are about eight inches higher than a century ago. And this sea change is only getting started. The question is: How much higher will they go? NASA scientists are now warning that recent projections seem too conservative.

Nature’s last refuge: climate change threatens our most fragile ecosystem
The Northwest Passage is not an obvious choice for a holiday cruise. It is, after all, one of the most notorious ocean routes. Many hundreds of sailors died in opening up the seaway, which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Canadian Arctic, before it was conquered just over a century ago. But the Arctic today is changing. Global warming is altering it at a rate that is unmatched anywhere else on Earth, and a journey once considered grotesquely dangerous has become a voyage now feasible for the inquiring traveller. Today you can sail through the Northwest Passage, as I did last week, on a ship that offers hot-tubs, bars and restaurants, albeit with armed protection against polar bears and kit for keeping out the cold.

W.A. says solar is the future as it prepares to dump coal
The West Australian government appears to have overcome years of institutionalised resistance and recognized that the state’s energy future will be built around solar energy. In a landmark speech this week, Energy Minister and state treasurer Mike Nahan said solar PV would meet the daytime electricity needs of WA within the next decade. Nahan noted that solar was cheap, and democratic, and was likely to account for all new generation capacity, and it would displace the state’s ageing coal generators.

Former EU climate action commissioner: ‘The future belongs to renewables’
Praise for the ACT government’s 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2025 has come from the highest authority – the European Union’s first commissioner for climate action. Speaking in Canberra at the Global Renewables Forum, former Danish minister for climate and energy Connie Hedegaard said the decision to become the first capital city in Australia powered solely by clean energy was a “strong signal” that the “future belongs to renewables.”

Sun-drenched miners look to the skies to cut fuel costs in half
The DeGrussa copper and gold mine in the sun-scorched outback is getting a solar farm, the latest example of the mining industry embracing clean energy. The plant will replace about 5 million litres of diesel a year, a fifth of the mine’s energy needs. Energy generated by the system may eventually cost about half that of diesel-generated power, according to Sandfire Resources, the deposit’s owner. Miners including Rio Tinto are installing new solar plants from Chile to South Africa, betting they’ll deliver long-term savings even as tumbling oil prices cut power costs.

Solar and distributed energy to power the world, not coal, says former US utility boss
The former chief executive of America’s biggest electricity utility, Duke Energy, has called on governments to focus on distributed energy technologies such as solar and storage to bring electricity to hundreds of millions in Africa, India and other countries. And he says this should also be the model for established grids in Europe and north America. In a new book called Lighting the World, Jim Rogers, who headed up Duke for 25 years, points to a energy future that focuses on local production, small-scale connections and distributed renewable energy sources, like solar.

This Ingenious $20 Lamp Gets All Its Energy From Gravity
The ingenious GravityLight—a light that gets all its energy from its own weight—first appeared about three years ago. We wrote about it as it was launching on Indiegogo and went on to raise $399,590. It provides free light (after you’ve bought it). It’s cheap. And it has none of the environmental or health side-effects as do other light alternatives in the developing world.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Newcastle’s ‘divestment’ is a chance for the world’s largest coal port to consider its future
AUSTRALIA – The City of Newcastle council’s Tuesday night endorsement of an “environmentally and socially responsible” investment policy threw more mud than a pig wrestling competition at the country show. The controversy thickened this morning as stories emerged that the council also recently accepted an A$12-million offer to expand coal terminals at its port, the world’s largest in terms of coal exports. Amid jeers of hypocrisy and cheers of climate leadership, what can we really say about this policy move in one of New South Wales’ historic coal towns?

Lammy and Khan commit to divestment if elected as London mayor
Boris Johnson has come under increased pressure to move the capital’s finances out of fossil fuels, as Labour party’s Sadiq Khan and David Lammy both committed to do so if they are elected as London mayor next May.  “We’ve got hundreds of millions of pounds invested in all sorts of things. I’m going to lead by example and say we’re not going to invest anymore in fossil fuels,” Khan said in an interview with Guardian columnist Owen Jones on Monday.

Environment and Biodiversity

Taronga Zoo tracks endangered sea turtles after they ingest plastic
Libby Hall never buys balloons. She also avoids groceries that are smothered in plastic wrap. As the manager of Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital, she has seen the devastating impact plastic has on marine animals, especially the nearly dead sea turtles people bring to the hospital. “They’re usually totally debilitated when they arrive. They’ve washed up on the beach or are found floating in the water,” said Ms Hall. “We had a turtle come in recently that had four different colours of balloons in its stomach. It had a whole party going on in there,” she said.

Tiny New Zealand bat under threat
New Zealand’s only native land-based mammal is under threat from logging and predators like cats, stoats and possums. Department of Conservation principal science adviser and bat expert Colin O’Donnell told the Wildbase Recovery Conference in Palmerston North that  although the New Zealand bat had had much of its forest habitat destroyed, there was still hope. About 50,000 live in colonies in the central North Island in the Tararua Range, Uruweras, in North Taranaki and in Ruapehu, with some on Kapiti Island. The tiny mammal is no more than 4 centimetres long when fully grown and about half that size when a juvenile. Bats play an important role in pollination and many native plants have adapted to being pollinated by bats.

A short-tailed bat covered in purple after pollinating New Zealand fuchsia flowers in Fiordland.

A short-tailed bat covered in purple after pollinating New Zealand fuchsia flowers in Fiordland.

Economy and Business

Trending: ‘Freaky Friday’ Technologies Grow Metal, Create Batteries from Trees
We know from the emerging discipline of biomimicry that natural systems can stimulate sustainable designs for human use. Two recent innovations use trees for inspiration and materials in unconventional products that may revolutionize very different industries: large-scale metal production, and battery technology to suit cars and wearable devices.

This Made-In-Detroit T-Shirt Is Guaranteed To Last For The Rest Of Your Life
When Christian Birky couldn’t find a T-shirt he wanted to wear that was actually made in a way he wanted to support, he decided to make his own. Two dozen prototypes later, he and his business partner—his sister Kathryn—are ready to launch what they consider the perfect men’s T-shirt. The Heirloom Tee is made from a custom organic fabric in Detroit and guaranteed to last for a lifetime.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The key to water security could be lurking in a New Mexico sewage farm
The sulphurous springs of Yellowstone national park are scalding, tainted with heavy metals and acidic enough to eat through clothing. But their murky depths are also home to an algae that scientists claim could one day help provide cleaner, healthier water around the world. “Galdieria sulphuraria is one of the most interesting microorganisms on the planet,” says Peter Lammers, a professor in algal bioenergy at Arizona State University. “It grows in a witches brew, can degrade over 50 organic molecules and even photosynthesise like a plant.” That makes it ideal, Lammers says, to use somewhere even more unpleasant than Yellowstone’s volcanic springs: urban sewage farms.

Small Business: Upcycling – Helen Copplestone, KARKT
Helen Copplestone and her husband Samuel Wyrsch founded KARKT, which makes bags from upcycled materials, late last year.
“KARKT is a company my husband and I set up that blends together various materials destined for landfill into messenger and gear bags. The bags are primarily made by reclaiming expired or damaged truck curtains, but we also use seat belts, bike and truck inner tubes, and street flags in various aspects of the bags. We see what we do as a double eco-whammy because we’re diverting quality reusable materials from the landfill plus we’re creating high quality products from them that will last and won’t need throwing back in the landfill or replacing any time soon.”

Porirua council embraces car wash ban backlash as a chance to educate
NEW ZEALAND – Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett has welcomed the flurry of feedback his council has received since passing a contentious bylaw to curtail car washing. Porirua City Council passed the bylaw on Wednesday to improve the water quality of the harbour by banning people from washing detergent and car wax into stormwater drains. Instead, residents will be forced to wash their cars over grass, or pay to use commercial car washes, which are connected to wastewater systems. Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett says there is a silver lining to the backlash about a bylaw change. Disgruntled residents have labelled the move ridiculous and have vowed to disregard it.

Politics and Society

Setting priorities for environmental research is daunting when the questions are so huge
One of the Australian government’s new research priorities is “environmental change”. But can be hard to know how to tackle such huge and interlinked issues as climate change and species extinctions. This article is part of [The Conversation] series on the Science and Research Priorities recently announced by the Federal Government.

Policy Exchange: Onshore wind could be as cheap as gas by 2020
Onshore wind could be cost-competitive with new gas generation by 2020 but needs continued Government support to get there, a new report from centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange has found.  The report, Powering Up: The future of onshore wind in the UK, claims that onshore wind is the cheapest form of low carbon energy and “should logically continue to play a role in cutting carbon emissions”.

‘We need New Zealand to act’, says Helen Clark on climate change
Global commitments to greenhouse gas reductions ahead of a world summit in Paris are not enough to tackle climate change – and developed countries, including New Zealand, need “to do more”, United Nations Development Programme administrator Helen Clark says. The former Prime Minister was in New Zealand this week giving a lecture on the challenges the world faces in 2015, including climate change. In it she said the commitments made ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris in November would not add up to what’s really needed to tackle the problem.

Obama defends Arctic drilling decision on eve of Alaska climate change trip
Barack Obama has been forced to defend his decision to allow the hunt for oil in the last great wilderness of the Arctic, on the eve of an historic visit to Alaska intended to spur the fight against climate change. The three-day tour – which will include a hike across a shrinking glacier and visits to coastal communities buffeted by sea-level rise and erosion – was intended to showcase the real-time effects of climate change. But a defensive White House was forced to push back against campaigners who accuse Obama of undermining his environmental agenda by giving the go-ahead to Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, only weeks after rolling out his signature climate change plan.

Digging into big coal’s climate connections
Have you heard about the group that has abused open records laws to harass climate scientists across the United States? The organization behind North Carolina’s ban on using sea level science to inform coastal planning? The institution attacking renewable energy targets? These are all activities of the innocuous-sounding Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal). Now, thanks to a scoop by Lee Fang at The Intercept, we now know where some of their money comes from.  It’s the coal industry.

Personal mentoring for jailed women ‘the key’ to reducing reoffending rates
A group which mentors female prisoners leaving jail says giving personal, one-on-one support is the key to stopping women cycling through the prison system. After mentoring hundreds of women coming out of jail, the Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN) found an obvious difference between those who received mentoring and those who did not. “At the moment the New South Wales recidivism rate for women is approximately 45 percent,” said WIPAN’s mentoring coordinator Lana Sandas. “Over the last year, 93 per cent of women who took part in our program and been linked to a mentor have not re-offended or returned to custody, so we have a 7 per cent recidivism rate.”

Trees ‘dripping with koalas’ along proposed Pacific Highway route – Ballina MP
AUSTRALIA – The state member for Ballina says the trees are “dripping with koalas” along the route of a proposed Pacific Highway upgrade. Conservationists and concerned residents have urged the government to scrap its plans for a highway up grade between Wardell and Ballina. Yesterday a petition of more than 17,000 signatures was presented to the New South Wales Parliament, raising concerns about the current preferred route and its potential effect on key koala habitat.

Built Environment

These Stunning Photos Show Life On The Densest City Block On Earth
Kowloon Walled City was once the densest city block in the world, with 33,000 people and 1,000 businesses squeezed into tiny shacks stacked 14 stories high. Photographer Greg Girard, who lived in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s, stumbled on the development one night when he was shooting pictures of the nearby airport. “I went around the corner, and this sort of building-like thing loomed at the end of the block,” he says. “It didn’t fit in with the rest of the city at all. It looked almost medieval, with electricity—this sort of super-dense, homemade-looking super-building that took up an entire block.”


Rio de Janeiro’s new superhighway to be lit by 4,300 solar lights
Japanese solar firm Kyocera has completed the installation of 4,300 solar streetlights along Brazils new motoring artery, the Arco Metropolitano do Rio de Janeiro.  More than half of the newly-built 145-km road, which connects the five main highways crossing Rio de Janeiro, will be lit by solar lights. The entire project will produce around 2.8GWh of solar energy per year, equivalent to the amount of power used by 1,500 average homes and equal to the carbon dioxide emissions that 1,583 acres of forest would offset.

Food Systems

GM technology isn’t good or evil – it’s what we do with it that counts
Just mentioning genetic modification (GM) creates division. The anti-GM lobby sees red mist, the pro-GM lobby seemingly wants to roll out the red carpet and others see GM as a red herring, a distraction from other (more easily acceptable) solutions to our huge food challenges. My reaction? To be honest, my heart sinks. I’m fed up with arguments that GM is necessary to give us enough food in the future, but also tired with those who dismiss the technologies out of hand.

Baroque playing organic turkey farmer wants to crowdfund a new processing plant
AUSTRALIA – GreenAg is no ordinary farm. Visitors to the Kingsthorpe Queensland operation can hear the turkeys before they see them, along with strains of classical music blending with the gentle chirping of three-week-old chicks.  Ewart Sylvester plays baroque music to his turkeys and says it has made a big difference to their health and happiness.  “Initially it was done because the birds were very rowdy in the pen and to us it seemed to be too loud,” he said.  “They were looking for their mothers, I suppose, and we talked to a naturopath and he suggested that we put music in with the birds.


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