Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meet the Plastisphere: Ocean Plastic Pollution is so Bad, it is Now its Own Ecosystem

by Jaymi Heimbuch, Tree Hugger.com: http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/meet-plastisphere-ocean-plastic-pollution-bad-now-own-ecosystem.html

tritan lego figure photo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Chris Christian
We all know ocean plastic is a big, and growing, problem.

But what some scientists have recently realized is that plastic is such a pervasive presence in the ocean that it is actually worthy of being its own sphere - The Plastisphere.

According to a press release from the American Chemical Society:

"Erik Zettler of the Sea Education Association, Tracy Mincer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory explain that plastic has become the No. 1 form of ocean debris, causing serious concerns about its impact on the health of ocean communities".

"The damaging effects that plastic in the oceans have on fish, birds and other seafaring animals have previously been described in detail by other researchers".

"But scientists had yet to explore what plastic does to some of the smallest ocean inhabitants. Zettler, Mincer and Amaral-Zettler decided to find out".

"They discovered that tiny organisms from algae to bacteria thrive on plastic debris, transforming it into rich "microbial reefs" that are distinct from communities in surrounding water. Though some inhabitants may be degrading the plastic, it still provides a relatively stable home for microbes".

"Apparently a good home for its little residents, plastic debris might pose a health risk for invertebrates, fish or possibly humans. The Plastisphere harbors a group of bacteria called Vibrio".

"Some Vibrio species can cause illnesses, such as cholera, when they come in contact with humans. So, plastic can be great for the tiniest organisms while still devastating for the larger lifeforms. This is exactly why we can expect that last surviving creatures on Earth will be microbes".

2013 Shaping Up to be One of Australia's Hottest Years on Record

by David Jones, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Blair Trewin, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Karl Braganza, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Rob Smalley, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

The last 10 months have been abnormally warm across Australia and we’ve seen a notable lack of unusually cold weather this winter. Are we heading for the hottest year on record? The more significant records for this period include:
  • Australia’s hottest day on record
  • Australia’s hottest week on record
  • Australia’s hottest month on record
  • Australia’s hottest summer on record
  • Australia’s hottest September to June (10 months) on record
A feature of the last 10 months has been the persistence of unusually warm temperatures. Every calendar month since September 2012 has had temperatures 0.5°C or more above normal.

The result has been a national mean temperature anomaly of +1.03°C for the past 10 months, well ahead of the previous record of +0.94 °C set in 1997-98.

Year to date temperatures deciles for Australia showing that temperatures have been above average to record warm over nearly the whole continent in 2013. Bureau of Meteorology

The record heat has affected rural, regional and urban Australia alike, with many stations setting records. Hobart (41.8 °C) and Sydney (45.8 °C) both recorded their hottest days on record.

The last 10 months have seen above-normal temperatures over 97% of Australia; only the Capricornia district of central Queensland has missed out.

The heat has extended to the oceans around Australia, with record warm sea-surface temperatures during summer (January and February 2013) as well as the warmest start to a calendar year (January to June) on record.

Year to date sea surface temperature deciles around Australia showing that temperatures have been above average to record warm in most oceans around Australia in 2013. Bureau of Meteorology

Record heat following the demise of La Niña

Australia’s climate has been on a roller coaster in recent years. 2009 was a particularly hot year: there was a nation-wide anomaly of +0.81 °C and it was the third-warmest year since national records began in 1910.

2010 (with 704mm and third wettest) and 2011 (with 708mm and second wettest) were very wet years Australia-wide. 2012 was a year of transition from a significant La Niña event with widespread flooding and heavy rain to abnormally hot and dry conditions from September onwards.

This heat eventually culminated in the record hot summer of 2012-13 which - in combination with dry conditions - led to severe and widespread bushfire activity in southern Australia.

The past few years highlight a number of features of the Australian climate, and provide some context to the recent unusually hot period.

Perhaps the most obvious is the role played by the regular and (mostly) natural cycles from El Niño (typically dry and warm) to La Niña (typically wet and cooler) conditions across Australia.

Australian temperatures from late 2010 to mid-2012 were kept relatively cool by two major La Niña events and record high rainfall, which caused flooding affecting much of the country. The cooler conditions were a direct result of the high rainfall during these two years.

Widespread, excess rain over the continent acts like a large evaporative cooler, suppressing daytime temperatures in particular. Additional cloud cover also cools daytime temperatures, especially in summer.

Year to date mean temperature anomaly for Australia, indicating that the three warmest January to June periods (2005, 2013 and 1998) stand well above any others. Bureau of Meteorology

The national mean temperature from September 2010 to August 2012 was 0.27°C below the 1961-1990 average. Rainfall was the highest on record, with 1365mm falling on Australia against a two-year average of just 930mm.

Another feature of recent climate in Australia is that background trends have continued; in the case of temperature, the warming trend is adding a warming bias to the natural variability. This was apparent even during the two recent La Niña years.

While late 2010 through early 2012 were slightly cooler than the 1961-1990 average, the period was warmer than comparable wet periods of the past, such as those which occurred during the 1970s and 1950s.

In other words, while the temperatures were below average, the warming trend held the values higher than they should have been (without the trend) given the amount of rain that fell.

The warming trend over Australia now means that, in the absence of year-to-year natural variability, a calendar year can be expected to be (on average) around +0.35°C above the 1961-1990 base period, or about 0.9 °C warmer than the temperatures during the early decades of the 20th Century.

Every year - wet, dry or with near average rainfall - is affected by this warming trend. It favours the occurrence of abnormally hot years, and a reduction in the number of cool years. This is most obviously seen at the annual scale where typically only one year in ten is now below average.

Year to date temperature anomalies for Australia (January to June 2013) showing a range of scenarios (see table) compared with past July to December outcomes. The light blue shaded area shows the range of historical outcomes from hottest to coldest. Continuation of the current anomaly will see 2013 fall just short of a new Australian annual mean temperature record. Bureau of Meteorology

How is 2013 likely to end up?

While it is not possible to accurately predict temperatures by month for the rest of 2013, it is possible to look at recent temperatures and longer-term trends to develop a range of scenarios for how the year may end.

Two sets of numbers summarise the current situation, and allow us to determine the range of values under which 2013 temperatures might fall. The first is the year-to-date (January 1 to June 30 2013) Australian mean temperature anomaly.

At the end of June, 2013 is currently sitting equal second-warmest on record with an anomaly of +0.99°C, some 0.17°C behind the warmest on record in 2005 (January to June).

On face value, it appears that the current year has some catching-up to do to surpass 2005 as a record hot calendar year.

The three warmest January to June periods on record are 2005 (+1.16°C); 2013 (+0.99°C); 1998 (+0.99°C).

However, if we look at the hottest years, we find that 2013 is, perhaps, closer to beating the 112 year record than might first appear to be the case.

Calendar year 2005 saw falling temperatures (or more precisely, less positive temperature anomalies) during the second half of the year. If the temperature anomalies seen so far to the end of June 2013 were to persist until year’s end, 2013 will fall just short of being the nation’s hottest year on record. The three hottest calendar years on record are 2005 (+1.03°C); 1998 (+0.85°C); 2009 (+0.81°C).

A range of scenarios for 2013 temperatures are provided in the table below and displayed in the accompanying graph.

Possible ‘hottest year’ ranking for 2013. Bureau of Meteorology

Arguably, the first three are the more likely scenarios for the remainder of 2013, and show that it is likely that 2013 will finish as one of Australia’s warmest years on record.

We know that, in the absence of a significant La Niña event and excessive rain, Australian mean temperatures are unlikely to be below normal over the remainder of the year (July to December): only two of the last 20 years have seen below-normal July to December temperatures.

On the warm side, a record hot finish to the year would see Australia pass the annual temperature record currently held by 2005.

The second half of 2013 needs to run near record cold for the 2013 annual anomaly to fall below 0.0°C, a scenario that is statistically possible, but regarded as highly unlikely.

The Bureau’s National temperature outlook for August to October was issued on 24 July 2013. This outlook suggests below average maximum temperatures are more likely in eastern Australia. This is largely offset by shifts towards above average maximum temperatures in northern and western areas.

For minimum temperatures, most parts of Australia show a shift towards above average temperatures, which are particularly strong in the tropics. This reinforces the expectation that the coming months will be warmer than average overall.

In summary, at the mid point of 2013 we can be quite confident that the current year will be one of Australia’s warmest years on record. It is possible that 2013 will set a new record high if the remainder of the year tracks slightly warmer than the first six months have been.

The unusually warm ocean temperatures currently surrounding Australia and the continued influence of the enhanced greenhouse effect mean that an unusually warm end to the year remains likely.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. David Jones does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Blair Trewin does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Karl Braganza does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Rob Smalley does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Greenhouse Emissions Stable Over Decade as GDP Grew 31%

by Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

There has been no growth in greenhouse gas emissions in Australia over the last decade, despite economic growth of 31% over the same period, a new report has found.

The findings show that conversion to a green economy need not be painful and is already underway in Australian industry.

The report, released today by Monash University research unit ClimateWorks, said stable emissions levels despite economic growth was achieved through reduced deforestation, increased tree-planting, a big boost in industry energy efficiency and sharp drops in power emissions.

However, a lot more needs to be done if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, the study found.

Despite the progress so far, Australia is on track to achieve only about 40% of the reductions needed to meet its minimum national target of reducing domestic emissions by 5% below year 2000 emissions levels by 2020.

Report co-author and head of research at ClimateWorks, Amandine Denis, said previous climate science research has found that Australia should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% of year 2000 levels by 2020 to keep levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases 450 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent or lower.

Keeping atmospheric greenhouse gases at that level provides a chance to limit the global increase in temperature to 2°C, previous projections have shown.

“What our analysis has found is this is achievable in Australia with domestic activity with technology available today. We can do more than what is currently being aimed for,” said Ms Denis.

The researchers identified potential for nearly three times more emissions reduction activity than is currently being observed.

“The large areas of potential abatement are mostly in the power and land sectors: by replacing further coal generated power plants with renewables and gas, reducing deforestation and increasing afforestation further and increasing energy efficiency in the building sector,” she said.

Emissions stable - now, to reduce them

Pep Canadell, Global Carbon Project executive-director at CSIRO, welcomed the report.

“The report brings good news and shows that the implementation of key energy and land use policies are beginning to pay off, and that it is possible to decouple economic growth from emissions growth,” said Dr Canadell, who was not involved in the study.

“There is an opportunity to explore in detail which policies have worked and which haven’t based on their contributions to the stabilisation of emissions and economic growth".

"It is important to realise that, ultimately, we need to achieve the complete decarbonisation of the energy system, and this requires the continued development of new policy to address the increasingly harder components of the transformation required.”

Chris Riedy, Associate Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, said the findings align with data from Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

“Australia’s total emissions have been relatively stable over the last decade. Reductions in emissions from land clearing and waste have offset ongoing increases in emissions from other sectors".

"The recent decline in electricity demand and associated emissions has been really important in halting the overall growth in emissions,” said Associate Professor Reidy, who was not involved in the new study.

“Now that Australia has successfully halted the growth in its total emissions, it’s time to start actually reducing emissions. The report shows that Australia has the potential to aim higher than its current target of a 5% reduction in emissions by 2020".

"A commitment to a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020 is feasible, is more consistent with what climate scientists are telling us is needed and would reinvigorate international climate negotiations.”
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Australian Endangered Species: Southern Corroboree Frog

by Michael McFadden, University of Technology, Sydney

High up in the sub-alpine bogs of the Snowy Mountains lives one of Australia’s most iconic and rarest creatures, the Southern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne corroboree).

A captive male with his nest at Taronga Zoo (Michael McFadden)
This small, vividly-coloured species is restricted to Kosciuszko National Park, in the south-east of New South Wales. Found only at altitudes above 1300 metres, this species historically had a range of 400km2.

The Southern Corroboree Frog breeds throughout summer. Males call from moist terrestrial nest chambers, typically around the edge of pools in sphagnum bogs.

The large eggs, with a diameter of 9mm when hydrated, wait for autumn rains or early snow melt before the tadpoles hatch and enter the pools. Adapted to life in cooler climates, this species may take three to five years to mature and can live for at least nine years.

Its striking yellow and black longitudinal markings make it one of our most easily recognised frogs, but also indicate the lethal alkaloids within its skin. These protect them against predation.

But even with no known predators and a distribution almost entirely within a pristine wilderness area, the Southern Corroboree Frog is still one of Australia’s most threatened vertebrates.


The Southern Corroboree Frog is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. It is also listed as Critically Endangered under the Commonwealth EPBC Act, and Endangered under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act.

The species has declined steadily since the mid-1980s, and there may now be as few as 50 adult Southern Corroboree Frogs left in the wild. The most recent surveys have detected only 15 calling males across all historic and reintroduction sites. No breeding was recorded in 2013.

With its ongoing decline and the small population remaining it’s likely that without human intervention the species will become extinct in the very near future.


The primary cause of decline of the Southern Corroboree Frog is chytridiomycosis, the disease associated with amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).

This fungus has caused the disappearance of many species around the globe, especially in Central America and eastern Australia.

Studies show that the pathogen was not present in the Corroboree Frog population before the declines in the 1980s. The arrival of the fungus in disease-free populations has shown the devastating impact on this species.

The spread and persistence of chytrid fungus in the population is facilitated by a species living alongside the Corroboree Frog, the Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signfera).

This species appears to sustain high infection levels, but doesn’t develop the disease. As a result, it acts as a reservoir host, sustaining the disease in the ecosystem and allowing transmission to other species.

An additional threat to the Southern Corroboree Frog is climate change. Reduced precipitation and warmer temperatures are likely to eventually affect breeding pools and vegetation around them.

Droughts already result in egg and tadpole deaths, and as the frequency of droughts increases with climate change, the capacity for the Southern Corroboree Frog to recovery greatly reduces.


The goal of the Corroboree Frog conservation strategy, co-ordinated by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, is to ensure the frogs survive in the wild, but it is clear that without human intervention the species will become extinct.

To make sure that doesn’t happen a captive population has been established for research and for re-establishing wild populations.

These populations are based at Taronga Zoo, the Amphibian Research Centre, Melbourne Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary. All the populations are held in climate-controlled, quarantine facilities that can mimic cold winter temperatures to simulate natural climate conditions.

Over recent years, captive breeding has been very successful. Earlier this year, Taronga and Melbourne Zoos alone produced over 1400 live, fertile eggs.

Back in the wild the focus is on translocating captive-bred eggs into Kosciuszko National Park. The eggs are released into a series of artificial pools designed to be fungus and drought proof.

Survival of the eggs so far has been relatively high. But, it takes four to five years for the frogs to mature, so whether the eggs will survive to adulthood and breed isn’t known yet.

In 2013, the program further expanded with the construction of a large disease-free enclosure in Kosciuszko. The enclosure was designed with frog-proof fences to prevent frogs from climbing in or out of the enclosure.

This colony will produce offspring for other recovery efforts at relatively low cost. To date, 120 frogs from the Amphibian Research Centre and 120 eggs from Taronga Zoo have been released within it.

James Cook University are researching the immunity of frogs to chytrid fungus. The work has been investigating whether there are differences in resistance between individuals and between sites. Genetic differences may pave the way for selectively breeding for disease resistance.


The Southern Corroboree Frog is a species at the very brink of extinction. Due to a dedicated recovery team it still exists, and a large insurance colony has been established to ensure its persistence.

There are many research efforts worldwide investigating potential strategies for threatened amphibians to survive chytrid fungus. Although there is no clear answer yet, our knowledge of the disease has expanded enormously in recent years.

There is hope that future developments might allow critically endangered species such as the Southern Corroboree Frog to once again survive in the wild.

This article was co-authored by David Hunter, threatened species officer for the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage.

The Conversation is running a series on Australian endangered species. See it here

Michael McFadden is supervisor of Herpetofauna at Taronga Conservation Society Australia
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Saving the Environment: How Six Women Climbed the Shard to Save the Arctic from Shell


Since the six of us climbed the Shard, many people have asked: how did we do it? How much training did it take? How did we go to the toilet? 

Watch the video

Now I can show you. Watch the behind-the-scenes film of our climb.

It captures the planning, training and (I’m not afraid to admit it) nerves, but also the determination all of us felt. There’s nothing about going to the toilet though. We kept that out for modesty’s sake!

I was overwhelmed by the support we got during the climb, but it’s going to take much more than six women climbing a skyscraper to stop Shell.

We know that in order to keep the Arctic out of the hands of Shell, we need to build the biggest movement of people the world has ever seen - and you are part of that.

I need your to help inspire others to join the movement. By sharing this video and telling others why you felt inspired to join, you can make it bigger and stronger.

Like climbing the Shard, saving the Arctic is going to be an immense struggle. It will take every bit of strength and dedication we have, and we will be exhausted by the end.

But when we win - and we will win - we will have achieved something incredible.

Thanks for being part of the movement,

Victo x

PS We don’t have the slick, multi-million dollar PR machine that Shell has. But we have something I think is far more powerful: you and more than 3 million of the most dedicated activists on the planet. It’s time to show Shell that people mean more than money. Watch and share the video, and build the movement.

Bioenergy a Burning Question for Tasmania's Forests

by Stewart Williams, University of Tasmania and Russell Warman, University of Tasmania


With Australia trying to meet renewable energy targets and reduce emissions wherever possible, we should be considering bioenergy.

Bioenergy can be made by burning biomass in a variety of forms, including agricultural by-products such as rice husks, poppy seeds, sugarcane waste and manure. It can also be made from forestry by-products such as sawmill and wood wastes.

Tasmania is a prime candidate for such developments. Visiting international researcher Professor Andreas Rothe of the University of Applied Sciences, Weihenstephan, has recently released findings of a six-month study he conducted for Forestry Tasmania.

He suggests that energy produced from wood “could lift Tasmania’s bioenergy contribution beyond 30%”.

There seem to good reasons for Australia to transition towards greater use of bioenergy. It is a renewable and relatively secure energy source that can reduce CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels.

It seems a relatively straightforward proposal, especially given Prof Rothe’s experience in Europe.

People of forested parts of Europe - such as Prof Rothe’s home state of Bavaria in Germany, and Scandinavia - have longstanding cultural practises and economies based on forest resources, with considerable uptake of bioenergy produced from wood.

But people in Australia have a different relationship with forests. Unlike much of Europe, Australia has forests with little or no history of industrial resource extraction. Australian people have different values and perceptions about how those resources should be used.

These differences are reflected in bitter conflicts over native forests in most of the states, not least in Tasmania.

Recent efforts to forge peace in the Tasmanian forests signal progress. Professor Rothe takes some of these issues into consideration, and excludes the use of old-growth forest from his research.

Tasmania’s bioenergy aspirations aren’t new. In 2002 Forestry Tasmania planned for a 30 megawatt bioenergy plant at a site south of Hobart, meant to burn wood residue and provide electricity to run the site and a surplus to the grid.

It now includes a modern regrowth sawmill, log yard and rotary peel veneer mill. But the power plant has never been built. The proposal was submitted to the State’s planning authority but it failed to attract investment.

This financial hesitation reflects uncertainties around the benefits of bioenergy. Can bioenergy substitute fossil fuels?

Should we put new pressure on resources such as forests, clean air and water, which are already critically scarce (and key to other services including biodiversity conservation and food production)?

Early on environmentalists and some industry sectors supported bioenergy in North America and Europe - backed by significant subsidies.

But recently this support has started to unravel as mainstream economists question the logic of the subsidies, investors move away, courts intervene, and environmental organisations question the cost of the growth in biomass demand.

Even before these doubts were raised in the Northern Hemisphere, there was a wariness in Australia about claims to make use of “waste” or “residue” wood in biomass.

The experience of the rise of the wood-chip industry, initially slated as an industry sideline for waste logs, into a driver of native forest logging, is still fresh in the memories of many Australians.

Tasmania is a prime candidate for any developments in bioenergy. Local and rural communities across the state are undergoing major changes. Bioenergy could be part of innovations as the forestry industry is restructured.

But a lot more work will be required if the use of bioenergy from wood is to have any chance of going ahead with widespread community support, especially if native forests are involved.

This issue, towards which the Tasmanian Forest Agreement is perhaps making some fragile first steps, concerns the need to forge a broader social consensus on how native forests are used and valued.

It might be some time before Australia is ready for bioenergy. By then, ironically enough, Europe and North America might be winding back from their initial enthusiasm.

Stewart Williams teaches and researches at the University of Tasmania. He receives funding from AHURI and NCCARF.

Russell Warman has previously worked as a policy analyst with ENGOs involved in Tasmania's forest negotiations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trees the Answer to Carbon Capture

by Ross Hampton, Online Opinion: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15272

When the Government recently announced the switch from carbon tax to carbon trading, it also quietly deferred $200 million which was supposed to help industry develop ‘carbon capture and storage’ technology.

There has been little outcry because, by all accounts, innovations in this area are coming at a slow pace.

Coincidentally $200 million is exactly the figure which the forest industry has put before government for an alternate ‘carbon capture and storage’ scheme which is not only a sure bet but, ‘shovel ready’.

I am talking about trees. Consider this. Trees ‘capture’ carbon as they grow. When they are harvested for products, like furniture and house frames, they continue to ‘store’ the carbon for many decades.

Following harvest, the forest regenerates (or plantations are replanted), with the new trees ‘capturing’ even more carbon from the atmosphere for storage in yet more products. It is the most perfectly virtuous of carbon cycles.

The scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who set the international carbon accounting rules, have long been unequivocally in favour of the ‘harvest and regrow’ scenario.

In 2007 they pronounced, “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustainable yield of timber, fibre, or energy from the forest will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefits.”

At home, our scientists have replicated international studies. They have proven that a well-managed, production forest is up to 240 per cent better at storing carbon over the long term than if the same area is locked away.

So why haven’t state and federal government programs turbo-charged best practice forestry as a given for a carbon constrained economy?

The answer is as simple as it is challenging - trees take time. Trees are a long term investment with long term benefits. However, in Australia, much about climate change programs has been geared to the short term as we have focused on quick wins.

The big winners have been the ‘off the shelf’ solutions, which, courtesy taxpayer subsidies, deliver a compelling and fast ‘return on investment’ for company accountants.

The most striking example is the exponential growth of wind turbines. Thousands now dot our landscapes and, according to energy forecasts, they will soon be joined by tens of thousands more as we relentlessly track towards our bipartisan ‘20 per cent renewable energy by 2020’ target.

Expect to hear and see many more protests as that happens. Industrial scale wind farms have some strident critics who point to their impact on the landscape, health and communities. But there is a very large irony here if you stop to think about it.

By attempting to address an uncoated ‘externality’ in carbon emissions we are, with wind installations, arguably creating a raft of other negative externalities.

If we turned to trees to help solve our carbon conundrum, the externalities would all be positive. They include erosion and salinity prevention, biodiversity, picnic areas, walking tracks, not to mention jobs and growth for our regions.

In Europe these ‘value adds’ are often captured under the umbrella of ‘eco-system services’. Governments are now turning attention to developing the methodologies to appropriately ‘price’ them.

It is a belated recognition that trees really do deliver the ‘resource par excellence’ for a more enlightened twenty first century of development.

Back home, trees also give Australian policy makers the opportunity to turn the policy dial to these longer term, and net positive, settings. All it takes is an agreement to bring forward payment to the time of planting for the carbon stocks which will accumulate in the trees.

In effect the Government would be hedging a future, and growing, market. This is a vital change to counteract the main disincentive to investment in new tree planting - the long wait for a return on high establishment costs. It would be a win-win for government and forest communities.

The government would ‘bank’ the carbon credits to sell in carbon markets. The trees, harvested and re-planted in rotation, would sustain the forest industry into the future.

Based on modest carbon price estimates, an initial investment of $200 million per year, over the first three years, would eventually become cost neutral, even paying back the ‘seeding’ funds.

And that result doesn’t even start to calculate the additional carbon which we would be putting in the bank in terms of the timber products made from trees.

Or the massive energy benefits available if we were to use the forest process residues (smaller branches and mill off-cuts) to fire up generators replacing other less environmentally friendly power.

At present Australia’s plantations provide a carbon emissions offset of 4 per cent against our national carbon emissions target. This policy would allow this to surge to 10 per cent by 2050. Great for our carbon constrained future economy and great for our forestry communities.

Ross Hampton was appointed CEO of the Australian Forest Products Association in May 2013. He is a veteran of the policy and political scene having worked, at various times, as a reporter, adviser and policy advocate for the last twenty-five years in Australia and overseas.

He has a long exposure and association with the issues confronting the Forest and Forest Products sector including water policy, climate change policy, trade policy, industrial relations policy and environment protection.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

There Are No Time-Travelling Climatologists: Why We Use Climate Models

by Sophie Lewis, University of Melbourne and Sarah Perkins, University of New South Wales

The first climate models were built on fundamental laws of physics and chemistry and designed to study the climate system. Now, the use of climate models is heated ground in the public discussion of our changing climate.

Climate models represent the physical world using a series of equations based on these known physical laws. These models are virtual laboratories; these are the tools that allow us to perform experiments that we can’t conduct in the real world.

Like any scientific equipment, climate models are carefully developed and checked. We base our confidence in a model on its ability to reproduce the current climate and observed changes and also key time periods of the past.

Getting it right

Climate models reliably capture many aspects of our climate system. Models reproduce many important natural climate processes, including the seasonal and daily temperature cycles that we experience in the real world.

Climate models also accurately respond to disturbances external to the climate system itself. In 1992 NASA scientists used the Mt Pinatubo volcanic eruption as a test for their model.

They accurately predicted the observed climate cooling that played out in the real world in the early 1990s in response to these volcanic aerosols.

Comparison of predicted climate model response to Mt Pinatubo volcanic eruption and observed cooling. Modified from The Mount Pinatubo Eruption: Effects on the Atmosphere and Climate (1996)
Models also capture the observed 20th century warming in global temperatures in response to increasing greenhouse gases.

In fact, scientists made accurate climate model predictions of global-scale warming as early as 1975, even before strong warming became evident in observational records.

Climate model predictions made in 1975, compared to observations. Modified from Skeptical Science (www.skepticalscience.com/lessons-from-past-climate-predictions-broecker.html)

Experimenting in the virtual world

These virtual laboratories also help us understand the nature of interactions between the interconnected components of the earth. We can see how changes in the land surface from deforestation and agriculture have significant effects on the climate.

We can also examine the response of the climate system to large disturbances, or “forcings”. Previous studies show that large-scale disruptions can occur in the ocean currents and air temperatures in response to idealised ice sheet melting in the North Atlantic.

Models also allow us to investigate future changes. Models project a substantial warming in temperature extremes over the next century, which helps us to assess the potential for future impacts on vulnerable systems.

Looking at the big picture

Despite these modelling successes, we can never perfectly describe our complex, chaotic physical world with a series of equations.

Small changes can affect the climate system in complicated ways and we are still developing our theoretical understanding of the most complex aspects of the climate system.

For example, accurately modelling clouds remains a challenge. We don’t know exactly how clouds form, which means we don’t necessarily know how best to represent cloud processes in a climate model.

The necessary approximations we make in modelling cloud formation can led to differences between models and the real world, such as too much persistent drizzle in the models.

Our confidence in model results is closely linked to spatial and temporal scales. For global-scale models, more robust results are obtained investigating longer-term, broader-scale changes, than at particular locations, at particular times.

For all these studies, there is no single best climate model but a collection of models to use together. Meanwhile, we have one in a single set of available observations of the real world climate, with all its inherent chaotic variability.

To account for this chaotic element, we assess how the average and the range of a group of models compares to observations.

When we use this approach and we consider large-scale changes over decades or more, climate models are powerful tools that allow us to address questions about past, present and future climatic change.

The state-of-the-art

The IPCC’s fifth assessment report is due soon and includes evaluations of the latest generation of climate models.

It seems counter-intuitive, but early results suggest that significant model improvements may have resulted in wider, rather than smaller, uncertainties in future climate projections.

Remaining uncertainties do not indicate the models are getting worse or that our understanding of climate change is becoming less clear. In fact, climate models have improved in simulating much of the observed climate.

These future uncertainties partly derive from the newer models now incorporating a greater range of important but complex processes. For example, models may now include small particles of industrial pollution and interactions between the climate, vegetation and the land-surface.

We can liken the development of climate models to natural selection. Successful models and their components thrive, while less effective ones eventually drop off and become extinct.

Scientific, not political, tools

Despite recent improvements, climate models have become a lightning rod of contention. Models are increasingly politicised and model-based studies often elicit heated responses that climate models are flawed and cannot be trusted.

These expectations of model perfection are misplaced; while model certainty is never attainable, we are confident in our use of climate models.

Meteorologists Knutson and Tuleya note that “if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time”.

In the absence of time-travelling climatologists, models are unrivalled tools for understanding our changing climate system. That is, climate models are scientific tools. We should recognise them as such and consider them with rigorous scientific, not political, scepticism.

Sophie Lewis is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.
Sarah Perkins is a research fellow at the ARC Centre of excellence for Climate System Science, at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Seeds of Destruction: The Diabolical World of Genetic Manipulation

F. William Engdahl is a leading analyst of the New World Order, author of the best-selling book on oil and geopolitics, A Century of War: Anglo-American Politics and the New World Order. His writings have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Control the oil, and you control nations. Control the food, and you control the people.”* - Henry Kissenger.
Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation” by F. William Engdahl is a skillfully researched book that focuses on how a small socio-political American elite seeks to establish control over the very basis of human survival: the provision of our daily bread.

This is no ordinary book about the perils of GMO. Engdahl takes the reader inside the corridors of power, into the backrooms of the science labs, behind closed doors in the corporate boardrooms.

The author cogently reveals a diabolical world of profit-driven political intrigue, government corruption and coercion, where genetic manipulation and the patenting of life forms are used to gain worldwide control over food production. 

If the book often reads as a crime story, that should come as no surprise. For that is what it is.

Engdahl’s carefully argued critique goes far beyond the familiar controversies surrounding the practice of genetic modification as a scientific technique. The book is an eye-opener, a must-read for all those committed to the causes of social justice and world peace.

What follows is the Preface to ”Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation” by F. William Engdahl (available through Global Research):

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so,we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives.We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction” - George Kennan, US State Department senior planning official, 194.
This book is about a project undertaken by a small socio-political elite, centered, after the Second World War, not in London, but in Washington. 

It is the untold story of how this self-anointed elite set out, in Kennan’s words, to “maintain this position of disparity.” It is the story of how a tiny few dominated the resources and levers of power in the postwar world.

It’s above all a history of the evolution of power in the control of a select few, in which even science was put in the service of that minority. As Kennan recommended in his 1948 internal memorandum, they pursued their policy relentlessly, and without the “luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”

Yet, unlike their predecessors within leading circles of the British Empire, this emerging American elite, who proclaimed proudly at war’s end the dawn of their American Century, were masterful in their use of the rhetoric of altruism and world-benefaction to advance their goals. 

Their American Century paraded as a softer empire, a “kinder, gentler” one in which, under the banner of colonial liberation, freedom, democracy and economic development, those elite circles built a network of power the likes of which the world had not seen since the time of Alexander the Great some three centuries before Christ - a global empire unified under the military control of a sole superpower, able to decide on a whim, the fate of entire nations.

This book is the sequel to a first volume, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order. It traces a second thin red line of power. This one is about the control over the very basis of human survival, our daily provision of bread. 

The man who served the interests of the postwar American-based elite during the 1970’s, and came to symbolize its raw realpolitik, was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. 

Sometime in the mid-1970’s, Kissinger, a life-long practitioner of “Balance of Power” geopolitics and a man with more than a fair share of conspiracies under his belt, allegedly declared his blueprint for world domination: “Control the oil and you control nations. Control the food, and you control the people.”

The strategic goal to control global food security had its roots decades earlier, well before the outbreak of war in the late 1930’s. 

It was funded, often with little notice, by select private foundations, which had been created to preserve the wealth and power of a handful of American families.

Originally the families centered their wealth and power in New York and along the East Coast of the United States, from Boston to New York to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. 

For that reason, popular media accounts often referred to them, sometimes with derision but more often with praise, as the East Coast Establishment. The center of gravity of American power shifted in the decades following the War. 

The East Coast Establishment was overshadowed by new centers of power which evolved from Seattle to Southern California on the Pacific Coast, as well as in Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Miami, just as the tentacles of American power spread to Asia and Japan, and south, to the nations of Latin America.

In the several decades before and immediately following World War II, one family came to symbolize the hubris and arrogance of this emerging American Century more than any other. 

And the vast fortune of that family had been built on the blood of many wars, and on their control of a new “black gold,” oil.

What was unusual about this family was that early on in the building of their fortune, the patriarchs and advisors they cultivated to safeguard their wealth decided to expand their influence over many very different fields. 

They sought control not merely over oil, the emerging new energy source for world economic advance. 

They also expanded their influence over the education of youth, medicine and psychology, foreign policy of the United States, and, significant for our story, over the very science of life itself, biology, and its applications in the world of plants and agriculture.

For the most part, their work passed unnoticed by the larger population, especially in the United States. Few Americans were aware how their lives were being subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, influenced by one or another project financed by the immense wealth of this family.

In the course of researching for this book, a work nominally on the subject of genetically modified organisms or GMO, it soon became clear that the history of GMO was inseparable from the political history of this one very powerful family, the Rockefeller family, and the four brothers - David, Nelson, Laurence and John D. III - who, in the three decades following American victory in World War II, the dawn of the much-heralded American Century, shaped the evolution of power George Kennan referred to in 1948.

In actual fact, the story of GMO is that of the evolution of power in the hands of an elite, determined at all costs to bring the entire world under their sway.

Three decades ago, that power was based around the Rockefeller family. Today, three of the four brothers are long-since deceased, several under peculiar circumstances. 

However, as was their will, their project of global domination - “full spectrum dominance” as the Pentagon later called it - had spread, often through a rhetoric of “democracy,” and was aided from time to time by the raw military power of that empire when deemed necessary. 

Their project evolved to the point where one small power group, nominally headquartered in Washington in the early years of the new century, stood determined to control future and present life on this planet to a degree never before dreamed of.

The story of the genetic engineering and patenting of plants and other living organisms cannot be understood without looking at the history of the global spread of American power in the decades following World War II. 

George Kennan, Henry Luce, Averell Harriman and, above all, the four Rockefeller brothers, created the very concept of multinational “agribusiness”. 

They financed the “Green Revolution” in the agriculture sector of developing countries in order, among other things, to create new markets for petro-chemical fertilizers and petroleum products, as well as to expand dependency on energy products. 

Their actions are an inseparable part of the story of genetically modified crops today.

By the early years of the new century, it was clear that no more than four giant chemical multinational companies had emerged as global players in the game to control patents on the very basic food products that most people in the world depend on for their daily nutrition - corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, even vegetables and fruits and cotton - as well as new strains of disease-resistant poultry, genetically-modified to allegedly resist the deadly H5N1 Bird Flu virus, or even gene altered pigs and cattle. 

Three of the four private companies had decades-long ties to Pentagon chemical warfare research. The fourth, nominally Swiss, was in reality Anglo-dominated. As with oil, so was GMO agribusiness very much an Anglo-American global project.

In May 2003, before the dust from the relentless US bombing and destruction of Baghdad had cleared, the President of the United States chose to make GMO a strategic issue, a priority in his postwar US foreign policy. 

The stubborn resistance of the world’s second largest agricultural producer, the European Union, stood as a formidable barrier to the global success of the GMO Project. 

As long as Germany, France, Austria, Greece and other countries of the European Union steadfastly refused to permit GMO planting for health and scientific reasons, the rest of the world’s nations would remain skeptical and hesitant. 

By early 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) had forced open the door of the European Union to the mass proliferation of GMO. It appeared that global success was near at hand for the GMO Project.

In the wake of the US and British military occupation of Iraq, Washington proceeded to bring the agriculture of Iraq under the domain of patented genetically-engineered seeds, initially supplied through the generosity of the US State Department and Department of Agriculture.

The first mass experiment with GMO crops, however, took place back in the early 1990’s in a country whose elite had long since been corrupted by the Rockefeller family and associated New York banks: Argentina.

The following pages trace the spread and proliferation of GMO, often through political coercion, governmental pressure, fraud, lies, and even murder. 

If it reads often like a crime story, that should not be surprising. The crime being perpetrated in the name of agricultural efficiency, environmental friendliness and solving the world hunger problem, carries stakes which are vastly more important to this small elite. 

Their actions are not solely for money or for profit. After all, these powerful private families decide who controls the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and even the European Central Bank. Money is in their hands to destroy or create.

Their aim is rather, the ultimate control over future life on this planet, a supremacy earlier dictators and despots only ever dreamt of. Left unchecked, the present group behind the GMO Project is between one and two decades away from total dominance of the planet’s food capacities. 

This aspect of the GMO story needs telling. I therefore invite the reader to a careful reading and independent verification or reasoned refutation of what follows.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why Has Nature Become a Niche Issue?

by Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University

It will be no surprise that a recent analysis of biodiversity funding round the world found that Australia was among the 40 countries spending least in comparison to our global legacy of species.

Now, thanks to the axing of the Biodiversity Fund to compensate for lost income from shifting to a floating carbon price, we may join countries like Iraq and the Congo at the very bottom of that list.

The tragedy for Australia’s animals and plants, and for those who value their persistence, is that this is seen as politically possible.

How is it that a country in which stopping the damming of the Franklin River and the logging of Queensland’s rainforests were once seen as winning political causes, can now cut A$213 million for biodiversity conservation as an act of political expediency?

There certainly seems to be little resistance from the conservative parties. To do so would confuse an image that is increasingly anti-environment. The Opposition cannot wait to return control of environmental decision-making to the states, regardless of the consequences.

Similarly one cannot imagine their colleagues in Queensland, NSW or Victoria would greatly mourn the loss of a program that could possibly impinge on their aspirations for resource development and the primacy of grazing over other environmental values.

So will there be any backlash for the cuts? Where are today’s Liberals for the Forests who brought down the Court government in Western Australia? Has the rump of a green Labor faction any traction under the new Rudd hegemony? One suspects not.

Biodiversity, at its cost, has gone from being a mainstream issue for which all parties felt a need to pay at least a token interest to one now seen as increasingly the province of the Greens. And the Greens, naturally, are happy to represent it as strongly as they can.

Ironically, however, I suspect the very strength of the Greens has weakened the political voice for environmental issues further along the political spectrum.

Branch meetings of the National party may hear even less often from farmers concerned about rare species on their properties. Unionists who once led campaigns for green space must now get short shrift in Sussex Street.

Over-egging of the pudding by conservation advocates has not helped. Claims of impending environmental catastrophe have often failed to eventuate in a political timeframe.

Climate change is coming but we are not going to cook or drown tomorrow. Peak oil seems perpetually postponed. These are desperate, real issues, but they are not The Day after Tomorrow.

In the same vein some groups unhelpfully exaggerate to get money. A recent TV advertisement claimed orang-utans will be extinct in the wild by 2015. This is untrue and those giving money to the appeal will have done so under false pretences.

Exaggeration detracts from real environmental tragedies, like the first extinction of an Australian mammal in 40 years.

Loss of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle was predicted, preventable and on land managed by the Commonwealth for conservation. When it went there was no coronial inquiry, no heads rolled, extinction became politically possible.

At the same time the conservation movement rarely leavens warnings with messages of hope. Understandably, school children dread their gloomy environmental classes. Conservation is in danger of replacing economics as the dismal science.

Yet Australia has been extraordinarily successful in some areas of conservation. For instance the rescue of Macquarie Island from feral animals by the Tasmanian Parks service has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Politicians, of whatever stripe, need praise and reinforcement for their achievements.

Scientists have also contributed. Conservation biologists tend to paint the bleakest picture of the future. And we alienate with our language. We talk of biodiversity when the public worries about koalas and animals and plants they can see and touch and imbue with human qualities.

Most of the political strength of animals and plants comes from a feeling of moral outrage at the impending loss of something loved. A “Biodiversity” Fund is evidently expendable. I wonder if a fund that reflects society’s real affection for nature would have been less so.

Finally I think our primary piece of environmental legislation, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, has been letting down conservation by heavily enforcing the trivial at the expense of the important.

Certainly recent moves to expand strategic assessments should lead to more sensible planning, and the Act has proved critical to constraining some potentially disastrous developments.

Nevertheless a history of irritating and expensive conditions placed on localised developments has created incentives for companies to lobby for far weaker environmental laws.

The Greens will fight hard to recover the lost Biodiversity Fund. However the Greens do not own the environment, and their vote may have peaked. For me at least, protecting animals and plants is fundamental to civilization, a unique privilege and responsibility of humanity.

Like the empowerment of minorities and the expression of creativity through the arts, it should be an ideal above party politics, and an aspiration of all political parties.

A fund for preventing extinctions and keeping precious common species common should be a core responsibility for government, an appropriate locked-in use of our taxes, and a mechanism to leave a healthy diverse landscape to our descendants.

Stephen Garnett receives funding from the Australian Research Council and has consulted to or worked closely with government, industry and conservation NGOs
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fixing Air Pollution is Like Walking: Easy Until the Ground Starts Moving

Corinna A. Carlson
by Rob MacKenzie, University of Birmingham

There is something of a sensory dissonance in modern cities. Glamorous as they are, the breath of contemporary cities stinks.

A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that two million premature deaths worldwide are associated with outdoor air pollution.

In June, the Mayor of London published a report showing that air pollution, even in rich countries, is not a thing of the past.

Using a different arithmetic to Silva and co-workers, the The UK government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution estimated in 2010 that reducing the average concentration of these microscopic particles by one unit (out of an atmospheric load of roughly 20 units) would save approximately four million life-years for those born in 2008.

The simplest and most effective way to improve the situation with urban air quality is to reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Emission controls have been effectively implemented for large industrial complexes but there is still much to do, particularly in those places with economies reliant on power from coal.

The most problematic pollution is that from traffic, especially traffic congestion in narrow streets. Improvements to engine design have led to fewer emissions per vehicle, but improvements in UK urban air pollution, for example, have stalled for almost a decade.

Apparently, as a society, we have managed to undo the good work of the automotive engineers by driving bigger cars, more often.

Policymakers talk of the “linear roll-back” of pollution that should result from control of emissions. Collectively, we have been asked to follow that straight line, but nobody told us that the ground - the complicated social-economic-ecological system of cities - was moving under our feet.

One way to intervene to make city systems more sustainable is to use vegetation as “green infrastructure”.

Vegetation in cities can provide many and varied benefits: decreased urban heat island effects, improve air quality, increase biodiversity, improve water quality, provide resilience to flooding and improve well-being.

Realising these benefits requires careful planning and proactive engineering: “the right tree in the right place”. Get it wrong and trees - street trees in particular - can even make things worse, by preventing air pollution from mixing away from the roadside, for instance.

Get it right and cities could have better air quality and more biodiversity than the agricultural prairies surrounding them, leading to increased wellbeing, happiness and productivity.

And best of all, much of this planning can be “bottom up”, with locals, rather than bureaucrats, deciding how they want their streets to be.

In all likelihood this planet will have to carry a few more billion people sometime this century.

Cities are our best hope for accommodating so many people, but cities will fail ultimately if we don’t investigate how these super-systems work, if we don’t value the services provided to us by the non-human part of the living city, and if we don’t recognise the vulnerability of all human and non-human complex systems.

Cities should not just exploit the potential that people and finite natural resources offer, but should enhance the experience of all those who live in them.

Rob MacKenzie receives funding from the Natural; Environment Research Council (relevant grants GST/02/2236 (URGENT programme); NE/D002117/1 (OP3 project); and and NE/E011179/1 (ACES project)) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (relevant grant (EP/F007426/1 (Sustainable Urban Environments 2 programme). 

He is affiliated with the University of Birmingham and contributes to the Trees and Design Action Group (http://www.tdag.org.uk/) in a personal capacity.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Save The Great Barrier Reef

Dear friends,

Australia is about to build one of the biggest coal complexes in the world, damaging the Great Barrier Reef and threatening our climate. But the company planning the project is deep in debt, and if we can convince a crucial investor to walk away, the whole polluting plan will be derailed. Sign this urgent petition now and help Save the Great Barrier Reef:
Australia is about to build some of the biggest coal mines in history, then destructively dredge the Great Barrier Reef to ship hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal to the world.

But tomorrow there’s a major chance to stop the project in its tracks and take a stand for our climate!

The emissions from new mines proposed in the Galilee Basin would be greater than the 2009 emissions of Canada or the UK!

But the company planning the project is drowning in debt and desperate for a major investor to keep it afloat.

Australian rail company Aurizon has expressed interest in a crucial coal rail-line, but after months of deliberation, they're still on the fence -- and a massive outcry could convince them to stay away from this environmentally disastrous and financially risky project.

Tomorrow they’re holding a key meeting with stakeholders. Let’s hit the phone to let them know what we think about this disastrous project and what it'd do to their reputation.

Click to call, and help save our climate and the Great Barrier Reef:

Australia is already the #2 coal exporter in world - and there are enough new mines proposed in the Galilee Basin to roughly triple the amount they produce!

If all the coal from the proposed mines were burned, it would be three times Australia's current climate pollution. Let’s stall this new Australian coal rush before it sets us back years in the fight against climate change.

Around the world the smart money is moving away from coal. Some of Australia’s biggest mining companies are even backing away from these projects, but the Indian company leading this project - GVK - is bucking the trend.

They plan to build a massive port right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and dredge deep into the seafloor dumping the material at an unknown destination. It’s an ecological disaster that would damage the reef directly before killing it with climate change.

The Australian rail company Aurizon has been in talks with GVK to invest in the crucial rail link from mines to the ports, but unlike GVK, Aurizon’s own investors don’t like risk - one even makes major donations to support climate activism!

Even Macquarie Bank has come out saying the likelihood of returns is "extremely poor". Their decision could come any day - a big, public reminder on the day their top investors meet in Brisbane could be just the thing to stop this plan.

Sign this urgent petition and share it with everyone you know to stop the Great Barrier Reef Train Wreck:

The Avaaz community has been fighting to save the unparalleled beauty of the reef for years. Last year, Avaaz members threatened a public US Bank when they were set to invest in Reef destruction.

Hundreds of thousands of Avaaz members sent messages to the Australian Environment Minister to help win the largest marine reserve in the world. Let’s do it again and put the reef out of reach of these profiteering plunderers.

With hope and determination,

Oliver, David, Emily, Luca, Rewan, Vilde, Will and the whole Avaaz team.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Using National Pride to Protect our Environment

Photo by Shawn Smith
by Nadine Marshall, CSIRO and Jeremy Goldberg, James Cook University

Australia’s natural resources are reaching a crisis point as they struggle to support and sustain our lifestyles.

But while degradation of these systems continues, research suggests the level of concern for the environment is falling.

So could encouraging some national pride in our natural resources help improve the environment’s outlook?

Not our concern

Australia’s environment is under stress from increased salinity, erosion, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and climate change.

While in 2007, 78% of Australians were seriously concerned about environmental problems such as these, by March 2013, only 59% of Australians reported similar unease.

It is not just concern that is wavering. Australians are exerting less personal effort in their daily lives in order to protect the environment. Indeed, in 2007 about 25% of Australians made effectively no effort to purchase “green” products. In March 2013 this figure rose dramatically to 41%.

These findings do not only pertain to Australia. Concern for the environment has decreased markedly across the globe during the last two decades.

Polls continue to reveal widespread denial of environmental problems as well as resistance to adopting behaviours to sustain natural resources.

This recent decline in environmental concern could have a critical impact on public policy. With an indifferent population, governments are likely to face substantial difficulty securing public support for implementing environmental protection measures.

If we cannot rely on individuals to strategically manage private or public natural resources themselves, then there may be a need for increased regulation.

But with regulation comes intense conflict; proposed policies are often opposed, goals are frequently contested, public dissatisfaction spills over, people refuse to participate or comply, animosity and distrust toward the government grows, appeals and litigation increase, and occasionally even physical threats and violence occur.

We know the decline in environmental concern is lower in countries with improving economic conditions, suggesting that economic growth helps to maintain higher levels of environmental concern.

We also know that people with a poor understanding of environmental realities are less committed to environmental action.

Poor environmental education and developing economies may explain environmental attitudes in other parts of the world but in Australia the reasons for the decline in concern are harder to pinpoint.

In America, conservation behaviour among young people has declined, as they appear to attribute responsibility for the environment to the government and to consumer behaviour rather than to themselves. The findings are similar in Australia, particularly in relation to climate change.

But recent studies suggest the public do not think that the government is acting adequately to protect natural resources. As a case in point, only 2% of Australians think that the Great Barrier Reef is looked after well enough to give a 10 out of 10 score for reef management.

Pride in our environment

Imagine if Australians believed that the greatness of our country depended on the condition of its environment.

Recent research suggests that people who identify strongly with their country and are more invested in its success, are likely to accept the socioeconomic system of that country and recognise when things aren’t quite right.

This may be important when we consider how environmental realities are perceived. If people can recognise the actual state of our natural resources, then they may be more interested in their management.

Perhaps a focus where the environment is associated with patriotic qualities could motivate those who are inclined to dismiss environmental problems.

Through tying together national identity and environmental condition we might encourage Australians to recognise the realities of the state of our natural resources and how this reflects who we are as a nation.

Our research shows Australians still have a connection with many of our natural places. In particular, almost 90% of Australians recognise the Great Barrier Reef as integral to their identity and the majority believe it to be Australia’s most inspiring national icon.

In fact, 53% of Australians believe they would be personally affected if the health of the Great Barrier Reef declined.

Perhaps these are the sorts of relationships we ought to be encouraging government to focus upon, as a way to generate support for environmental policies. When weighed against the shorter term economic benefits that our resources provide, surely our national identity needs to be considered?

Australians might be losing interest in the condition of the environment - but not in the environment itself. It is important to remember that our environment is a part of who we are, and to show concern.

Concern for the environment and the constructive conservation action that accompanies it may be able to save our natural resources - reinforcing their integral value to our nation.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.