Around The Web

Arctic oil rush: Nenets' livelihood and habitat at risk from oil spills

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 17:00

An oil terminal to be built in northern Russia where the river Yenisei meets the Arctic Ocean lacks the technology to deal with oil spills, say environmentalists

The livelihood of the Nenets people who live along the northern stretches of the Yenisei, Russia’s longest river, depends on two pursuits: fishing and reindeer herding.

But locals have said both of those activities are under threat from an oil terminal due to be built on the Tanalau cape, near where the river empties into the Arctic Ocean. Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have protested against the high risk of an oil spill in difficult Arctic conditions. More than 40 people have signed a letter of protest to the company building the terminal, the Independent Petroleum Company (IPC).

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

The country set to cash in on climate change

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 17:00

Record temperatures threaten traditional ways of life in Greenland but as the sea ice retreats, new mining, fishing and tourism opportunities are helping communities to adapt

Asked if he is fearful about the impact of climate change, Tønnes “Kaka” Berthelsen’s response is typical of many Greenlanders. “We are more concerned about the Maldives,” he said bluntly.

Greenland has lived with extreme environmental changes for a decade or more. Sea ice is forming two months later and melting one month earlier. Rivers fed by retreating glaciers are at record levels. And temperature records were smashed twice this year, with stunned meteorologists rechecking their measurements after 24C was recorded in the capital, Nuuk, in June.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

A 10 from Len: Strictly special to drive biggest TV power spike this Christmas

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 16:00

National Grid expect Len Goodman’s show to create a ‘TV pickup’ as people across the country boil kettles, flush toilets and switch on lights after the show

Len Goodman will follow in the footsteps of David Jason, Pauline Collins and an extraterrestrial as one of Christmas TV’s top challenges for the people tasked with keeping the lights on.

When the judge finishes reminiscing over 12 years of Strictly Come Dancing on Friday night, kettles will be boiled, lights switched on and water company pumps powered up as toilets are flushed across the UK.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

The snap of a twig, the running of the deer

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 15:30

Fermyn Woods, Northamptonshire I watch them through thickets of interwoven hazel and birch as they make their getaway

Crack! A stick snaps a little distance to my right. Too big a snap for a small animal. Probably deer-sized, I estimate. I wonder how close I can get to the originator before being detected in the wood’s growing afternoon gloom. I creep away from the muddy path, through snagging brambles and naked hazel. I have advanced 15 meters towards the target when I feel a stick give under my foot and an inevitable, and similar, “crack” resonates through the still hush. Instantly, three young roe deer start from cover 20 meters away; I watch them through, and between, thickets of interwoven hazel and birch as they make their unswerving getaway with a stiff, springing gallop.

My tracking skills are good enough to know how rudimentary they are. As a young lad I would, entranced, read Jim Corbett’s accounts of years spent pursuing man-eating leopards and tigers in the forests of India. Marvelling at how his corporeal self was absorbed into the forest. The meaning of every rustle, crack, bird call and grunt so familiar and significant that they keyed directly into his nervous system, and into that of the cat that was sometimes his quarry, sometimes his hunter, often both.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Some young dinosaurs shed teeth, say experts

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-23 13:47
Some dinosaurs shed their teeth as they grew up, according to fossil evidence.
Categories: Around The Web

Sighting of uncontacted Amazonian tribe – in pictures

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 09:07

Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert captured amazing close-up photographs of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe after his helicopter flight took a detour to avoid a rainstorm and happened to fly over their longhouse

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Fuel efficiency standards could help curb Australia's persistently growing emissions

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-12-23 08:30

This week, the Australian government announced plans that will ultimately require cars sold in Australia to match international fuel efficiency standards.

The resulting savings over the life of a typical vehicle would more than offset higher initial costs. The saving on fuel costs is estimated at up to A$28 billion a year by 2040.

Not coincidentally, this measure would also help to cut carbon dioxide emissions, which are currently growing at a rate that makes achievement of the government’s commitments for 2030 virtually impossible.

Up to speed

Putting Australia’s vehicle standards on a par with other developed nations sounds like such an obvious idea that we might ask why it hasn’t been done already. There are several reasons, although none of them can justify the years of inaction to date.

First, until quite recently, politicians were overridingly concerned with the fate of Australia’s domestic car manufacturing industry, which focused primarily on the production of large cars like the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon. While fuel efficiency standards are designed to take account of a vehicle’s “footprint”, the domestic industry naturally saw the idea as an extra burden.

With the end of domestic production in sight, this issue becomes irrelevant. Indeed, you might think, given that Australia is now set to rely solely on imported cars, that we would automatically gain the benefits of international standards without needing to upgrade our own. But it turns out that imported cars sold in Australia are generally less fuel-efficient than cars of the same make and model sold in markets with more demanding standards.

There are several reasons for this. The most immediate is that it’s cheaper to make a less efficient car. New car buyers, particularly fleet buyers, are sensitive to the sticker price of the car but much less so to the running costs, most of which will be paid by others, including subsequent owners. So even though fuel savings outweigh the increased purchase price over the life of the car, it’s easier to sell a cheaper, less efficient version.

Another problem is that Australia also has lower standards for fuel quality, particularly sulfur content, which creates problems for more efficient vehicles. These standards will have to be revised soon for public health reasons, but until now the task of coordinating fuel efficiency and fuel quality standards has proved too difficult.

The government is now proposing to address both issues at the same time. The options are to reduce sulfur content for all kinds of petrol, or to phase out “regular” 91-octane fuel in favour of the more efficient, but more expensive, 95-octane.

Unsurprisingly, this measure is facing resistance from the Australian Institute of Petroleum, which is warning of the costs to Australian refineries. The institute can at least claim consistency here: it fought the removal of lead from petrol in the 1980s. More disappointing is the negative response of the Australian Automobile Association, which purports to champion sustainability but evidently thinks cheap petrol is more important than clean air or a stable climate.

The final problem is that there is a trade-off between fuel efficiency and perceived performance. This has led some manufacturers to “game” the regulations by producing vehicles that are fuel-efficient in lab testing but less efficient and more responsive on the road.

The most notorious case was that of Volkswagen, which installed special software to detect, and cheat, lab testing equipment. The resulting scandal cost chief executive Martin Winterkorn his job and has left the company flirting with bankruptcy.

Play by the rules

Of course, regulations of all kinds can be evaded. But the catastrophic consequences of being caught, as shown by the Volkswagen case, mean that manufacturers who want to stay in business will be more cautious in future.

Any policy to tackle climate change has costs as well as benefits. But there are few cases in which the balance is so clearly weighted to benefits. And with its 2030 climate targets in serious doubt, Australia needs to pick every piece of low-hanging fruit it can.

The only remaining issue is politics. The influential right wing of the Coalition government is dogmatically committed to climate science denial, and will oppose any measure to address the problem. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already collapsed spectacularly on the issue of an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector. That policy, like the fuel standards upgrade, came recommended by the Climate Change Authority (of which I am a member).

If Turnbull is to salvage any credibility, he needs to face down the opposition of ideologues and vested interests on this question. Whether he will do so remains to be seen.

The Conversation

John Quiggin is a Member of the Climate Change Authority. This article represents his personal views.

Categories: Around The Web

Trillions of high-flying migratory insects cross over UK

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-23 05:46
For the first time scientists have been able to track the high-flying insects that migrate across the skies of Southern England every year.
Categories: Around The Web

How to tackle the rising tide of poaching in Australia's tropical seas

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-12-23 05:10
Giant clam shells seized by authorities in waters off Australia's north. NT government

High-value marine species in waters off northern Australia are at increasing risk of poaching by foreign fishing crews, according to figures from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. The number of foreign fishing boats caught in Australian waters increased from six in 2014–15 to 20 in 2015–16.

These fishers have evidently come to poach species that fetch high prices and have been overfished elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. They seek “lootable resources” – species that are attractive to the black market because they are expensive, easy to catch and weakly regulated.

Among the species being targeted are sea cucumbers, giant clams, turtles and sharks (specifically their fins).

Many of these species are listed as vulnerable or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some are even protected from trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

A long history of poaching

The apprehended vessels have been primarily from Vietnam and Indonesia. Last month, a Vietnamese fishing vessel stopped inside the Conservation Park Zone of the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve was found to be carrying 3 tonnes of partially processed sea cucumbers. Dried sea cucumber, called bêche-de-mer, can fetch more than A$300 per kg when sold in China.

The Timor and Arafura Seas have long histories of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing due to regional fishery expansion and displacement. Some scientists believe the tensions in the South China Sea are pushing Southeast Asian fishermen into Australian waters. It is also possible that Indonesia’s stricter fisheries policy is shifting fishing patterns in the region.

But apart from economic loss as resources are poached from Australian waters, what are the impacts? A new review shows that species such as sea cucumber can play crucial roles in boosting the health of coral reef systems. This is important at a time when reefs are facing intense stress from climate change and coastal development.

Nine species of sea cucumbers from Australian waters were recently declared threatened with extinction globally by the IUCN. Removal of some marine fauna might degrade the resilience of coral reef ecosystems to broad-scale stressors.

What can be done?

In June, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said: “Preventing illegal fishers from plundering Australia’s well-managed fisheries is every bit as important as stopping the people smugglers and illegal arrivals.”

Although the Australian Border Force has the capacity to apprehend illegal fishing boats, much of the poaching happens on distant coral reefs. One problem is that illegal fishing boats can plunder lootable resources and get out of Australian waters before Border Force can reach them. So while regulation might be well enforced on reefs within the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, offshore reefs are comparably weakly regulated.

But stronger monitoring and enforcement might not be the only solution anyway. My team’s research, which involved interviewing sea cucumber fishers from Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga and New Caledonia, suggests that they see themselves as having few other livelihood options besides fishing. This means that even if their fishery collapsed or was closed down by authorities, they would simply move elsewhere or fish a different species.

Many fishers from Southeast Asia have doubtless been lured to poaching in Australian waters by similar issues. Curbing the rise in poaching therefore requires not only continued enforcement but also, crucially, foreign aid investment that can help these fishers to diversify their livelihoods.

Australia recently reshaped its foreign aid policy to focus predominantly on delivering “economic growth and poverty reduction”. Organisations such as the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) are investing in overseas research and development projects to provide more income-generating opportunities in fisheries and aquaculture. Support to Southeast Asian countries makes up 49% of the budget for fisheries and aquaculture projects.

Australia’s approach to reducing poaching of threatened resources should therefore be multifaceted. Helping foreign fishers deal with their own problems of overfishing by giving them more options to earn a living will ultimately help to tackle the root cause of marine poaching.

The Conversation

Steven Purcell receives funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

Hampus Eriksson participates in projects funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

Categories: Around The Web

Baby orangutans rescued from Thai taxi

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-23 04:54
Two baby orangutans have been rescued from the back of a taxi in Thailand.
Categories: Around The Web

UK hits clean energy milestone: 50% of electricity from low carbon sources

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 01:06

New wind and solar farms, alongside wood burning and nuclear reactors, helped to push low carbon power to a new high in the third quarter of 2016

Half of the UK’s electricity came from wind turbines, solar panels, wood burning and nuclear reactors between July and September, in a milestone first.

Official figures published on Thursday show low carbon power, which has been supported by the government to meet climate change targets, accounted for 50% of electricity generation in the UK in the third quarter, up from 45.3% the year before.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

World's first solar panel road opens in Normandy village

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-23 00:08

Route in Tourouvre-au-Perche cost €5m to construct and will be used by about 2,000 motorists a day during two-year test period

France has opened what it claims to be the world’s first solar panel road, in a Normandy village.

A 1km (0.6-mile) route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche covered with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels, was inaugurated on Thursday by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

After El Niño: a trail of scorched earth and arid land – in pictures

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 23:35

The strongest El Niño on record reached its peak in the final months of 2015, but its devastating impact on global food and water supplies continues to be felt

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

What can a Medieval climate crisis teach us about modern-day warming? | Andrew Simms

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 22:05

In Europe’s ‘bleak midwinter’ of 1430-1440, medieval society made dramatic changes in response to food shortages and famine caused by exceptional cold. What lessons can we learn from history?

Sat in the centrally heated school Christmas concert, I sang, like countless others, In the Bleak Midwinter, not knowing the half of it. Christina Rossetti’s mournful, yearning poem, later set to music by Gustav Holst, was written in 1872, but speaks of a “bleak midwinter, long ago”, relocating the nativity to a chill northern landscape where, “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Russian email hackers keep playing us for fools | Dana Nuccitelli

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 21:00

The 2016 US presidential election wasn’t the first case of a successful email hacking faux scandal

A batch of stolen emails was released to the public, with evidence pointing towards Russian hackers. The media ran through the formerly private correspondence with a fine-toothed comb, looking for dirt. Although little if any damning information was found, public trust in the hacking victims was severely eroded. The volume of media coverage created the perception that where there’s smoke, there must be fire, and a general presumption of guilt resulted.

The year was 2009, and the victims were climate scientists working for and communicating with the University of East Anglia. The story was repeated in 2016 with the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Arctic 360: take a tour without doing damage

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 20:00

After years of record temperatures, the Arctic is melting. The Northwest passage had an ice-free summer in 2016, allowing cruise ships into one of the world’s most remote places. Join our environmentally friendly Arctic tour, and witness the consequences of human behaviour

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Murmansk's silver lining: Arctic city expects renaissance with ice melt

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 16:00

The largest city in the Russian Arctic expects global warming to change its trading fortunes with the revival of the northern sea route

It’s noon in Murmansk, but the sky is dark. Chunky silhouettes can just be made out scurrying along Lenin Street, swaddled in furs. This is a polar night, and it will be more than a month before anyone here sees the sun again.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, this city – by far the world’s largest settlement within the Arctic Circle – went into steep decline, its population tumbling from nearly half a million to barely 300,000.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Adani coalmine 'covertly funded' by World Bank, says report

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 15:33

The bank’s private sector arm is accused of subsidising loans that funded the Indian firm’s Queensland exploration bid

Adani’s Carmichael mine has been “covertly funded” by the World Bank through a private arm that is supposed to back “sustainable development”, according to a US-based human rights organisation.

Adani Enterprises acquired exploration rights for Australia’s largest proposed coalmine in 2010 with a US$250m loan from banks including India’s ICICI, which was in turn bankrolled by the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, a report by Inclusive Development International says.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Logging a change in the landscape

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 15:30

Aberystwyth, Wales The larch added welcome colour, but single species planting has brought an almost industrial look to the Welsh hills

My first indication that the local landscape was about to change dramatically came after dark. In an area with only a scattering of houses and a solitary street lamp, the sudden appearance of an extra light is a significant event – and a flickering source moving through the trees certainly makes a rural observer stop and take note.

In daylight the explanation became clear. Across the valley, on the shoulder of a hill forming a buttress at the westward limit of the Cambrian mountains, a stand of mature larches was being felled. Working outwards from the old track that loops sinuously across the hillside, heavy machinery was quickly and efficiently removing the trees, leaving the profile of the hill oddly rebalanced. Within a week or so the familiar dull orange of autumn foliage was gone, leaving a briefly scarred residue from which the woodland will regenerate or be replanted.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are rising and forecast to miss 2030 target

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-12-22 13:28

Official data quietly released before Christmas shows emissions rose 0.8% in the year to June and will miss 2030 goal based on current policies

Australia’s emissions are rising, and projected to keep doing so to 2030, meaning Australia will fail to meet its 2030 emissions targets, according to government figures.

The official quarterly figures, showing growth in year-on-year emisssions, confirms independent projections from NDEVR Environmental, released earlier this month by Guardian Australia, which predicted Australia’s emissions would be rising.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web


Subscribe to Sustainable Engineering Society aggregator - Around The Web