Archive for Environment

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Age discrimination was particularly acute among older women, who were more likely to be viewed as having outdated skills, being slow to learn, or as being likely to do an unsatisfactory job.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.

A voice for Indigenous fisheries

From Fish magazine, December 2016

As the world’s oldest continuous culture, Aboriginal Australians have not only maintained a connection to the land for tens of thousands of years, but also to the waters that encircle and run over it. These waters have provided a wealth of food and other resources to countless generations.

With the arrival of European settlers, Indigenous cultural fishing practices and access to fisheries were dramatically changed. But Stephan Schnierer, an adjunct professor at Southern Cross University, is working to ensure that Indigenous fisheries are recognised as the original fisheries in Australia. This will help to ensure that Indigenous people have a strong presence in both management and use of Indigenous fisheries. Read more.

Australian consortium launches world-first digital energy marketplace for rooftop solar

From The Guardian, 23 February 2017:

Australian homeowners with solar panels and batteries could soon trade their electricity in a digital marketplace developed by a consortium of electricity providers, energy tech startups, energy retailers and energy agencies.

The Decentralised Energy Exchange – or deX – was launched on Thursday with the promise to “change the way energy is produced, traded and consumed at a local level in Australia”.

Phil Blythe, founder and CEO of GreenSync – an energy tech startup and partner in deX – says the project reflects a shift in energy production from a centralised model of large-scale power plants to a decentralised model of rooftop solar.

“The uptake of rooftop solar is one of the highest in the world per capita in Australia – around 1.6 million rooftops are fitted with solar – and it’s being rapidly followed by battery storage,” Blythe says.

This has led to a shift away from thinking of households solely as energy consumers towards them being viewed as active participants in the grid. Read more.

Urban heat islands: cooling things down with trees, green roads and fewer cars

From the Guardian, 21 February 2017:

When it comes to coping with heatwaves, our own cities are conspiring against us. Road surfaces, pavements and buildings all contribute to keeping urbanised environments three to four degrees hotter than surrounding non-urbanised areas.

With heatwaves like the ones that have just baked half of Australia to a crisp forecast to increase in frequency and intensity, city councils are taking the urban heat island effect very seriously.

“Some of the modelling studies have shown that we can often have an urban heat island magnitude – so that’s the difference between the temperature in the city versus the temperature in the non-urbanised surroundings – that can be greater than the types of temperature increases that we’re looking at with global warming,” says Dr Melissa Hart, graduate director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales.

The urban heat island effect occurs because the dense dark surfaces such as bitumen on roads and building materials used in cities accumulate and store heat during the day and then release it at night. Read more.

As global demand for electricity grows, geothermal energy heats up

From Ensia magazine, 9 January 2017:

At 2:46 p.m. local time on Friday, March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by the largest earthquake ever to strike its shores. The 9.1 magnitude quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people. It also took out the back-up emergency generators that cooled the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex, causing a series of catastrophic meltdowns.

But amid the chaos, the Yanaizu-Nishiyama geothermal power plant in Fukushima prefecture didn’t miss a beat. Along with two more of the nine geothermal power plants in the region, the 65-megawatt facility continued to generate power, even as many other power plants around them failed because of damaged equipment and transmission lines.

“This is big news for many geothermal people around the world,” says Kasumi Yasukawa, principal research manager at the Institute for Geo-Resources and Environment in Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

In a country as seismically active as Japan, it was a clear signal that geothermal energy was worth investing in.

Geothermal electricity generation might not have the high-tech flashiness of solar, or the romance of wind and wave, but it’s the solid, steady workhorse of the renewable energy race. The never-flagging heat lurking at various depths below the Earth’s surface is tapped to produce steam that is used to drive turbines and generate electricity. This heat can also be used more directly to warm spaces or swimming pools, but sustainable electricity generation is the goal that most have in their sights. Read more.

Transforming waste into fuel with Australian innovations, from tyres to sugar cane and agave

From The Guardian, 16 December 2016:

In a world of dwindling resources, waste is one thing in no danger of running out. Each Australian generates more than 2,000kg of waste per year, and around half of that ends up in landfill. But at least some of that waste could be turned into a resource that is both in demand and in decline: fuel.

The global waste-to-fuel industry is considering options as varied as agave, plastics and disused tyres to solve two environmental problems – reducing waste and increasing fuel production.

Landfill and agricultural wastes are already burned to generate heat and electricity, and methane is captured from landfill for the same purpose, but these technologies are both relatively low-hanging fruit.

A greater challenge is the production of liquid fuel that can be readily and reliably substituted for conventional petrol or diesel. The Queensland government’s recently appointed biofutures ambassador, Prof Ian O’Hara, says waste-to-fuel is a promising area. Read more.

Solar energy and rethinking geothermal: ARENA’s hits and misses

From The Guardian, 27 December 2016:

As any punter will know, backing winners isn’t easy. There’s a little bit of science, a little bit of art and a whole lot of luck.

Australia’s independent renewable energy agency came into being in 2012 though an act of parliament, with a $2.5bn, 10-year mission to improve the affordability of renewable energy and increase its supply in Australia. It hasn’t been smooth sailing; this year Arena was facing a $1.3bn budget cut but this was commuted to a smaller but still significant $500m.

Six years on it has spent nearly $100m wholly or partly funding more than 60 projects across the renewable energy portfolio, from solar to geothermal to wind to hybrid.

Its chief executive, Ivor Frischknecht, says it’s not so much about picking winners as working to generate market interest in the area. But with a rapidly expanding range of technologies and innovations arising to meet the demand for a truly sustainable energy supply, the agency and its expert advisory boards have had to make a lot of tough decisions. Some have paid off handsomely. Others have not. Read more.

Concrete products reabsorb nearly half CO2 released in cement manufacture

From ABC News in Science, 22 November 2016:

The production of cement is a major source of carbon dioxide, but new research suggests the material that makes up our concrete jungles also plays an important role in reabsorbing carbon emissions.


But as cement ages and weathers over time, it also absorbs carbon dioxide in a process called carbonation.

In a paper published today in Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers calculated that the carbonation process has offset as much as 43 per cent of the emissions associated with cement production, not including the emissions associated with fossil fuel use during cement production, over the past 70 years. Read more.