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Is there evidence the Tasmanian tiger still exists? – video report

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 23:12

The last Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, is said to have died in 1936 and was declared extinct in 1986. The Thylacine Awareness Group claims there have been 5,000 reported sightings of thylacines in the past 80 years, however, they do acknowledge video evidence is ambiguous

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Great Barrier Reef progress report: We have to do better on water quality, says Australia

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 23:01

Efforts to curb tree clearing have failed, the government admits in its update to Unesco on work to save the world heritage site

Australia needs to work faster on lifting water quality to save the Great Barrier Reef, according to its first progress report to Unesco since the world heritage site was spared an “in-danger” listing.

The report admitted that a key plank of Australia’s conservation plan – land-clearing reforms in Queensland to staunch water pollution – had failed. It also highlighted climate change, which is the biggest threat to the reef and led to the worst recorded coral bleaching in its history this year, but which the plan makes no attempt to address.

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Christmas deliveries go green as major retailers embrace renewable lorry fuel

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 22:09

Waitrose, John Lewis and Argos among the first users of a new biomethane fuel for gas-powered trucks, reports BusinessGreen

Gas-powered lorries laden with Christmas parcels are set to have a lighter carbon impact this season thanks to the launch today of a new renewable fuel from CNG Fuels.

Retailers including John Lewis, Argos and Waitrose have already confirmed some of their long-distance lorries will run on the green gas – a renewable biomethane fuel derived from food waste – which is up to 40% cheaper than diesel and emits 70% less carbon dioxide, CNG Fuel says.

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Obama's dirty secret: the fossil fuel projects the US littered around the world

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 22:00

Through the Export-Import Bank, the Obama administration has spent nearly $34bn on dirty energy plants in countries from India to Australia to South Africa

Seemingly little connects a community in India plagued by toxic water, a looming air pollution crisis in South Africa and a new fracking boom that is pockmarking Australia. And yet there is a common thread: American taxpayer money.

Through the US Export-Import Bank, Barack Obama’s administration has spent nearly $34bn supporting 70 fossil fuel projects around the world, work by Columbia Journalism School’s Energy and Environment Reporting Project and the Guardian has revealed.

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Trees may increase air pollution on city streets

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 16:01

Leaves and branches can slow air currents and cause pollutants to settle, says health watchdog

City trees, popularly thought to remove pollutants and improve urban life, may also increase the amount of foul air that people breathe, says the UK body which gives independent health guidance to national and local government.

“Leaves and branches slow air currents, causing pollutants to settle. They may also act as sinks for particulates and chemicals that may have direct or indirect effects in air quality. Air quality [under trees] may deteriorate at street level near vehicles,” says the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in new draft guidance for local government to combat air pollution.

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Climate change will stir 'unimaginable' refugee crisis, says military

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 16:00

Unchecked global warming is greatest threat to 21st-century security where mass migration could be ‘new normal’, say senior military

Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the “new normal”.

The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency.

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Frosted sloes escape both bottle and beak

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 15:30

Wolsingham, Weardale Most hedgerow blackthorns are brutally trimmed but these small trees, unpruned and unharvested by birds, are laden with fruit

In early May, this blackthorn thicket had been smothered in the most spectacular display of blossom that I had ever seen and I made a mental note to return in autumn, to see if it had fulfilled its promise.

I’d intended to return sooner. Now it felt like the first real day of winter, and my breath turned to steam in the icy wind. In the shade of the trees beside the beck, where deep shadows would linger all day, fallen leaves were fringed with frost crystals.

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Western Power sale: microgrid opportunities, structural challenges

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 14:31
If Western Power shares drop as distributed solar and storage leave grid assets stranded, mums and dads could be left footing the bill.
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Another rooftop solar boom – this time with warnings

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 14:26
Record low solar panel prices, and the ratcheting-down or removal of policy levers, are sparking a boom in Australia’s residential and commercial rooftop solar markets – but also prompting warnings to consumers to avoid the lure of cheap and nasty products, and installers.
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Shark net exemption granted in 'national interest', Josh Frydenberg says

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 14:16

Start to tourism season prompts environment minister to override federal law and allow the nets in NSW

Josh Frydenberg overrode federal law to give the go-ahead to lethal shark nets in northern New South Wales to save the local tourist industry and nipper clubs.

The environment minister has argued that there was a “national interest” in installing the controversial nets because, with the tourism season about to start, surf shops were experiencing decreased sales and nipper clubs had fewer registrations.

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Are these the last coal power plants to be built in Europe?

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 14:10
Investment in new coal-fired power plants appears off the agenda in Western Europe after experience of three new Dutch plants.
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A tale of two energy ministers

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 14:07
A tale of two energy ministers is emerging in Canberra. The community is looking for politicians to champion renewables in the face of fossil fuel sector attacks on South Australia.
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How microplastics make their way up the ocean food chain into fish

The Conversation - Thu, 2016-12-01 13:55
Microplastics can carry other pollutants. Oregon State University/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Up to 236,000 tonnes of microplastics – tiny pieces of broken-down plastic smaller than your little fingernail – enter our oceans each year. This has researchers around the world worried, as wildlife can be harmed by eating the plastic or by toxins attached to it.

Another concern is that these plastics and toxins could accumulate in food chains, eventually making their way into animals that eat ocean creatures – such as ourselves.

In two recent studies (one in Marine Biology and the other in Animal Behaviour) we found that microplastics can indeed be passed up the food chain to fish. But we also found some good news: the microplastics appeared to have no effect on their behaviour.

Sweat the small stuff

Microplastics are defined as particles less than 5mm across. A range of animals throughout the marine environment, including corals and zooplankton, consume these particles.

Once in the ocean, persistent toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPAs) and pesticides stick to and accumulate on plastic particles, adding extra layers of contamination.

It is possible that the contaminants on microplastics are absorbed by animals and enter the food chain. If they don’t kill the animals, these toxic chemicals may affect the animals’ behaviour and hormone levels.

The way an animal behaves in its environment is crucial. Sometimes pollutants don’t cause obvious health issues but may alter the way an animal feeds, moves or socialises. Exposure to some chemicals, for example, causes feminisation in males, resulting in reduced breeding activity and ultimately affecting a population’s stability.

Even minor changes in behaviour can affect how an animal performs and may have longer-term implications for survival and reproduction. These changes in behaviour can be an early warning that something is going on, like the canary in the coal mine.

Hop to it

We wanted to know whether microplastics pass through the food web. Microplastics accumulate on beaches, so we assessed how coastal animals respond when they ingest microplastics.

We contaminated microplastics by immersing them in Sydney Harbour for two months and then fed them directly to beach hoppers, small jumping crustaceans at the bottom of the coastal food web.

We then fed the plastic-contaminated beach hoppers to gobies – small fish that commonly eat crustaceans like beach hoppers.

The beach hoppers readily ate microplastics as part of their diet. We found that after just three days the microplastics had accumulated in the beach hoppers. After five days microplastics had caused weight gain, a reduction in the hoppers’ ability to hop, and in some cases death.

But the fish, which we fed with contaminated beach hoppers for four weeks, showed no difference in behaviour compared to fish who weren’t fed plastic-filled hoppers. This was a surprising result, given that hormones (important drivers of behaviour) are so sensitive to pollutants.

Sink or swim

It is vital we understand how animals that are exposed to microplastics are affected.

Beach hoppers are primary consumers, crucial to decomposing seaweed. They play a key role in cycling nutrients back into the beach. They are also an important food source for birds, insects and fish, which makes the hoppers essential in moving energy up the food chain.

If microplastics harm beach hoppers, then the processes carried out by the hoppers may also be affected. This in turn could mean a change in essential coastal processes.

If beach hoppers can’t hop as far or as high, they may not not able to find shelter as quickly, putting them at risk of being eaten or of drying out in the exposed environments of sandy beaches. Fewer beach hoppers could mean less decomposition and nutrient recycling, as well as less food available for animals higher in the food chain.

Gobies are middle-sized predators that live in shallow waters and are important in the connectivity between coastal environments and the deeper ocean. Gobies are themselves eaten by larger fish and sea birds.

We know that fish behaviour can change following exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide and pharmaceuticals, but our study suggests that munching on beach hoppers full of microplastics has little effect.

These results challenge the paradigm that microplastics help contaminants accumulate in the food chain. A recent study suggests that contaminants obtained from the natural environment and prey far outweigh what is absorbed from ingested microplastics, which explains our result.

While this study suggests that microplastics may not be increasing contamination in an obvious manner, there is little doubt about their impact on animals that directly consume them. Perhaps impacts on behaviour will be more apparent with longer exposure times to contaminated food sources than those in our study.

After all, it can’t be a good thing that microplastics are so abundant in the oceans that they will leave an undeniable signature in the fossil record.

The Conversation

Jane Williamson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. She has previously received funding from the Australian Research Council for other projects.

Culum Brown and Louise Tosetto do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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Energy prices in NSW, Qld twice as high as South Australia

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 13:41
Electricity prices in NSW and Qld jump to nearly $13,000/MWh after gas plant fails, with coal-dependent Queensland to rely on rooftop solar and imports from NSW to meet heatwave demand.
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From warm to swarm: why insect activity increases in summer

The Conversation - Thu, 2016-12-01 12:20

While the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting an increase in the average temperature this summer, entomologists are forecasting an increase in insect activity.

It might seem that insects choose to annoy us over the summer, however, the real reason for their population boom is a complex interaction of winter rainfall, availability of food sources and increasing temperatures.

Insects are ectothermic, or “cold-blooded”, meaning their body temperature depends on the external environment. So in summer an increase in temperature typically correlates with an increase in insect activity.

Many insect species emerge from a winter resting phase in spring and summer to begin their winged adult life stages. These highly mobile, hungry, sex-obsessed young adults are the ones that interact with us over summer. Imagine schoolies’ week for insects, lasting an entire three months.

Rain leads to aphids

We all know that a decent rain can be great for our gardens. Last winter was the second wettest on record and rainfall was above average for most of Australia. This means not only did our backyard foliage and flowering plants do well, but so did common varieties of weeds. Common garden weeds around much of eastern and southern Australia include dandelions and sowthistle.

An increase in vegetation over the winter increases the breeding environment for aphids, and the population explodes. Aphids are sap-sucking true bugs (insect order Hemiptera) that can stunt tree growth, destroy flower buds and reduce the quality of fruit.

Most species, including the peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae), lay eggs on plant stems, leaves and under bark during winter. These eggs hatch in spring or summer as temperatures and day lengths increase. Female aphids can produce 50 to 100 offspring in a very short period.

Natural pest management

Luckily our gardens already have a built-in defence system against aphid attack – flower flies. Flower flies, sometimes called hover flies, are a group of harmless wasp-mimicking flies (order Diptera, family Syrphidae) that you’ve probably noticed in your garden hovering above flowers, giving the flies their common name. They are found all over the world and include more than 6,000 species, 165 of which are unique to Australia.

While some flies, such as mosquitoes, bushflies and blowflies, will try and crash your summer party, most species, such as the flower flies, are busy eating pests in your garden for free. The natural food source of many flower fly larvae (also known as maggots) are nymph and adult aphids. Flower fly larvae eat a staggering number of aphids, potentially clearing a plant of these pests within a matter of hours.

Flower fly larvae eat aphids and are part of your gardens natural pest management.

Aphids spend their days sapping a plant of its fluids, including plant sugars. Consequently their excrement, known as honeydew, is quite sweet. Adult flower flies will seek out aphid honeydew to feed on and lay their eggs close by to ensure that their larvae will have a viable food source.

If you have ever noticed a swarm of adult hover flies resting on your car’s windshield or bonnet, you may have parked under a tree raining aphid honeydew. These flies are feeding on the honeydew stuck to your car.

Flies feeding on honeydew from a car parked under an aphid infested tree. CSIRO

Many other insect predators, such as ladybird larvae and adults, and lacewing larvae (known as aphid lions) are also feasting on the abundance of aphids in our gardens, competing with the flower fly larvae.

So there is quite a lot going on in your garden at this time of year. All of these predators are quite susceptible to insecticides and will be knocked out if you resort to spraying your aphids.

Insects gardening Australia

There are many benefits to having more insects in your garden and community. Many native Australian plants rely on insects for pollination, including a medley of hard working ants, bees, flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies, and moths.

Recent studies have shown that blowflies can carry twice as much pollen and have potential to out-pollinate the European honey bee. Soldier flies also do a fantastic job of turning your organic waste into compost.

So celebrate this summer by firing up the barbecue in the garden and embrace the Aussie salute! Live and let live is a good way to ensure that our natural pest control agents remain intact, although, keep some repellent on hand, just in case.

The Conversation

Bryan Lessard receives funding from the CSIRO and the Australian Biological Resources Study.

David Yeates receives funding from the CSIRO, the Australian Biological Resources Study, the US National Science Foundation, and holds the Schlinger endowed research position at the Australian National Insect Collection.

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Direct Action review could bring changes to renewable targets, says PM

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-01 11:51

Malcolm Turnbull says ‘mechanisms’ to meet 2030 Paris emission reduction targets may need to be examined

Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged the looming review of the Direct Action climate policy in 2017 “may result in some changes” to the federal renewable energy target.

The prime minister’s hedged observation on Thursday morning comes ahead of the release of the preliminary findings of the Finkel energy security review determining whether the national electricity market can deliver reliable base load power while meeting Australia’s climate change commitments.

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Europe space ministers meet to decide Mars rover plan

BBC - Thu, 2016-12-01 11:44
Europe’s research ministers are meeting to decide whether to try to land a robot rover on Mars.
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Graph Of The Day – Powerwall 2 warranty is under 9 years for most households if cycled once per day

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 11:39
For many households, the Powerwall 2 warranty is likely to last for under 9 years, rather than the full 10 years I was expecting.
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Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen Group, & Ford Sign superfast charging MoU in Europe

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 11:38
A new joint venture has formed that will develop a high-power, EV fast-charging network in Europe has been signed by BMW, Daimler, Ford, VW.
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Australia will suffer if Turnbull returns to hard right on energy policy

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-12-01 11:37
Australia is now pretty much the only major advanced economy where carbon pollution levels are growing.
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