Archive for Environment

Can business save the world from climate change?

From Ensia magazine, 16 August 2017:

“We are still in.” On June 5, 2017, with these four words a group of U.S. businesses and investors with a combined annual revenue of US$1.4 trillion sent a powerful message to the world: U.S. president Donald Trump may have withdrawn from the Paris agreement on climate change four days earlier, but corporate America was not following suit.

“We Are Still In” launched with more than 20 Fortune 500 companies on board, including Google, Apple, Nike and Microsoft, as well as a host of smaller companies. The statement was coordinated by a large collective of organizations including World Wildlife Fund, Rocky Mountain Institute, Climate Mayors, Ceres and Bloomberg Philanthropies. It has now grown to include more than 1,500 businesses and investors, as well as nine U.S. states, more than 200 cities and counties, and more than 300 colleges and universities.

And it’s not alone. In recent years, a number of initiatives and collaborations have sprung up around the world focused on private sector action on climate change. With Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, these initiatives have raised an intriguing question: In the absence of political action, can business save the world from devastating climate change? Read more. 

Securing Australia’s agricultural future

From KnowHow magazine:

The ever-growing importance of plant biosecurity in Australia can be seen from the gradual evolution of the Cooperative Research Centres dedicated to it. What began as the Tropical Plant Pathology CRC in 1992 morphed into the CRC for Tropical Plant Protection in 1999, then into the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity in 2005 and finally the Plant Biosecurity CRC (PBCRC) in 2012.

PBCRC will close in mid-2018, having brought together 27 multinational partners across agriculture and the environment, including almost all key biosecurity agencies in Australia as well as industry partners. At the same time, it is laying the foundations to bring 26 years’ of research and development to fruition in the form of a permanent national research agency to support plant biosecurity in Australia. Read more.

No more business as usual: the corporates stepping up to save the planet

From The Guardian, 30 June 2017:

When the US president, Donald Trump, announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, one might have anticipated a hearty cheer from industry around the world relieved that business as usual could continue.

Instead the opposite has happened. Across the United States, the business community is taking it upon itself to implement the measures needed to address climate change. And in Australia an increasing number of major companies are publicly stating their commitment to addressing climate change, even as the federal government drags its heels on implementing policies to address the crisis. Companies around the world – from small family-run enterprises to Fortune 500 firms – are not only calling for action on climate change but also putting their money where their mouth is. Read more.

Arctic peatlands may release potent greenhouse gas as permafrost thaws

From ABC Science, 30 May 2017:

Arctic peatlands may become a substantial source of a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide when they thaw, a new study suggests.

The study by a team of Scandinavian scientists indicated that thawing permafrost could release nitrous oxide (N2O) — also known as ‘laughing gas’ — under increasing temperatures.

Based on an analysis of frozen peat cores exposed to warming conditions in the laboratory, they estimated nitrous oxide emissions could occur from surfaces covering almost one-fourth of the entire Arctic.

The highest emissions, from bare peat samples, were on a par with tropical forest soils — the largest known natural source of nitrous oxide — they reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more.

Smart city: using technology to tackle traffic and social isolation in Melbourne

From The Guardian, 19 June 2017:

Traffic congestion and social isolation are two concepts that don’t immediately appear to be connected.

But in 2012, the Grattan Institute’s Social Cities report drew a direct line between inefficient urban transport and less time spent with friends and family. One estimate suggested every 10 minutes of commuting equates to 10% fewer social connections, while other research has found that more than 10% of working parents spend more time commuting to work than they spend with their children. It’s an issue that the city of Melbourne wants to get to grips with.

“Given congestion seems to be getting to be a greater scourge, more people are spending time in their vehicles, but by themselves, maybe listening to the radio. They’re not connecting to their communities and their families,” says Melbourne councillor Cathy Oke, chair of the environment portfolio.

“The city has two clear goals, not only around our transport strategy and around reduction of congestion, but we also have a social connection goal.”

And so the Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge was created. The brief: creative, feasible and impactful ideas to help to reduce transport congestion, and ideally also make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling. Read more.

Battery storage and rooftop solar could mean new life post-grid for consumers

From The Guardian, 13 June 2017:

To illustrate the impact of battery storage on the electricity network in Australia, Prof Guoxiu Wang likes to compare it to the invention of refrigeration.

“Before people invented the fridge, we produced food, we consumed food immediately,” says Wang, director of the Centre for Clean Energy Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney. “With the development of appropriate electricity storage technology, the electricity is like our food – you can store it and whenever you need that electricity, you can use that immediately.”

Batteries as a means to store electricity are nothing new. But with solar photovoltaic units now found on 16.5% of Australian residential roofs, battery storage has stepped into the big league. What was once viewed as an add-on to solar photovoltaic is now driving a revolution in the energy sector and turning the concept of a national electricity grid upside down.

The chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s report on the future of the national electricity market gives a glimpse of how profound this change will be. The report cites data suggesting that by 2050, 30% to 45% of annual electricity consumption (pdf p62) could be supplied by consumer-owned generators; namely, rooftop solar photovoltaic and battery storage.

This represents a huge opportunity for consumers, and a huge challenge for electricity providers. Read more.

How Australia can use hydrogen to export its solar power around the world

From The Guardian, 19 May 2017:

Nearly a century ago, British scientist JB Haldane saw an energy future in which wind power would be used to generate hydrogen; a fuel he described as, weight-for-weight, the most efficient known method of storing energy.

He thought this future was four hundred years away, but the so-called “hydrogen economy” may arrive a lot sooner thanks to a recent burst of innovations in hydrogen generation, storage, transport and use. And it could open a new energy export market for Australia.

Hydrogen itself isn’t actually a fuel – it’s an energy carrier.

The gas is produced by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen by the electricity-driven process electrolysis. That hydrogen is then condensed under pressure and at very low temperatures into a liquid, which can be used in much the same way as petrol and diesel, or it can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity.

The conversion of that solar, wind or water energy into liquid hydrogen also enables it to be transported to where it is needed, which in most countries in the world is a reasonable distance away from where the energy is generated in the first place. Read more.

Age discrimination: older Australian workers viewed as slow to learn

From The Guardian, 20 April 2017:

The trope of the older worker thrust back into the hurly-burly of working life made for great comedy in the 2015 film The Intern. But in reality this scenario isn’t always such a laughing matter.

Older workers face unique hardships. Hampered by unfair stereotypes about their abilities, their role in society and their responsibilities, they are regularly overlooked for interviews, jobs, promotions and recognition.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2016 report Willing to Work found 27% of people over the age of 50 reported experiencing age discrimination at work, a third of the most recent episodes occurring when applying for a job. One-third of those gave up looking for work.

Age discrimination was particularly acute among older women, who were more likely to be viewed as having outdated skills, being slow to learn, or as being likely to do an unsatisfactory job. Seniors with disabilities face an even steeper uphill battle for jobs and recognition. Read more.

Food security: the gene banks future-proofing Australian agriculture

From The Guardian, 27 April 2017:

n February 2018 the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the remote Norwegian Arctic will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Among the gifts it will receive are two collections of precious seeds and grains from the Australian Pastures Genebank and the Australian Grains Genebank, to be deposited into the vault as an insurance policy for an uncertain future.

Between them, the Australian Pastures Genebank and the Australian Grains Genebank are a record of Australia’s agricultural past, a resource for its present, and an insurance policy for its future.

“Our whole industry is predominantly based on improved species that have been introduced from overseas … and they are constantly at threat from pests and disease and climate change, drought, salinity,” says Steve Hughes, leader of the Australian Pastures Genebank.

Gene banks give researchers access to a library of seed and germplasm from which they can source the traits they need to ensure the next generations of pasture and grain crops have the best chance of overcoming diseases, pests and arduous conditions. The collection is classified by latitude, longitude, altitude, disease tolerance, soil conditions, climate, pest resistance and productivity. Items borrowed are not returned: the only payment the library demands is information.

“We don’t know what the future does have in place for us, which is why we have all this diversity which is hopefully going to be the key to future-proofing ourselves, or our agricultural industry,” Hughes says. Read more. 

Seaweed on shortlist in co-culture trial

From Fish magazine, December 2016:

Native seaweeds could be the next big thing in Australian aquaculture, as businesses look to diversify their income streams and improve water quality at the same time.

Researchers at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) have been investigating integrated multitrophic aquaculture. This describes the co-culture of organisms where one species benefits from and therefore removes the wastes from another species, and both species have an economic value.

The project had its genesis when a team of researchers from SARDI and CSIRO began working to improve their understanding of nutrient cycling in the water around Southern Bluefin Tuna and Yellowtail Kingfish farms off the South Australian coastline. The project investigated the hypothesis that farmed seaweed would absorb nutrients generated in the farm, producing a usable product and decreasing the industry’s environmental footprint. Read more.