Around The Web

We need a fair price for solar – and we need it now

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-12-21 13:06
ESCOSA decision to remove the minimum price for solar exports shows lack of understanding in the South Australian electricity market.
Categories: Around The Web

Will 2017 be last stand of clean energy technology deniers?

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-12-21 12:48
Two major forces stand opposed in 2017. One is the falling cost of solar, wind, storage and other smart controls – heralding an "unstoppable" energy transition away from centralised, polluting fossil fuel plants. The other is political.
Categories: Around The Web

Obama bans oil drilling 'permanently' in millions of acres of ocean

BBC - Wed, 2016-12-21 12:12
Barack Obama has permanently banned offshore drilling in the "vast majority" of northern US waters.
Categories: Around The Web

Why we can get over the 'yuck factor' when it comes to recycled water

The Conversation - Wed, 2016-12-21 11:58
If you can't taste the difference, why the backlash against recycled water? Water image from

In light of climate change and a growing population, water authorities around the world are looking at the treatment of recycled water to achieve water security and sustainability.

Recent authors on The Conversation have raised the possibility of expanding the use of water recycling in Australia, noting the potential benefits for domestic, agricultural and industrial water supply.

Some contributors have noted that the major roadblocks to water recycling, in places where it could be beneficial, are not technical issues, but public reluctance to use recycled water.

Emotional Responses

In the past, our aversion to recycled water has been explained by the “yuck factor”. Some people have an emotional response of disgust to using recycled water, even when they know it has been highly treated and is safe. There are large individual differences in the strength and type of different people’s disgust responses.

Psychologists have tried to understand why our thought processes can lead some people to think of recycled water as unclean. One explanation is contagion thinking, the idea that once water has been defiled it will always remain unclean, regardless of treatment, at least according to the mental models that underlie our emotional responses. What such approaches often neglect is that cognition does not occur in a cultural vacuum, but is affected by the associations and stigmas of society.

It is important to note that these emotional responses are often in conflict with our rational thinking. Some theorists, such as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, have argued that we make judgements using two contrasting systems. One of these systems is slow and operates according to a formal risk calculus. The other is fast, based on positive or negative emotional responses.

Because of this, how we feel about someone or something (positively or negatively) is often as important as what they are being judged on. In other words, the fact that a person understands that a highly treated sample of recycled water is safe to drink may not be enough to stop the emotional response, as we often tend to think intuitively, drawing on our social and cultural values.

The most important question, however, is whether the emotional responses some people have to recycled water can be changed. And what role do stigmas associated with cultural norms play in shaping these?

Sustainable communities and water recycling

In places where water recycling has been introduced, it has simply become a fact of life. In Singapore, citizens of the island nation have widely accepted NEWater (as the Public Utilities Board has branded it). It’s even celebrated at a visitors’ centre that has become a minor tourist attraction.

In Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, various forms of drinkable recycled water have been in use for almost 50 years, with no significant impact.

If these communities can accept recycled water, perhaps our aversion is simply a passing phase, which will disappear when people get used to it? If so, then cultural norms must also play a role, with acceptance building with increased familiarity.

Culture change and recycled water

Cultural cognition is an approach that suggests that our beliefs and judgements about risk and cleanliness are determined by social norms, as well as more innate processes of cognition. As cultural norms, peer pressure, stigmas and the public scientific consensus all affect our beliefs and judgements, then emotional responses to recycled water are strongly linked to our cultural classifications.

The anthropologist Mary Douglas coined the term “matter out of place” to refer to things that do not easily fit into our known systems of classification, and thus often come to be thought of as dangerous. Recycled water fits into this category, as it straddles our conceptions of both clean and polluted. As water recycling is a fairly new concept and most people have no direct experience with it, they revert to inferring from the categories that they do know about.

Thus our emotional responses to water recycling are associated with uncertainty, even though our rational scientific understanding tells us it is no different to any other treated water.

It is our cultural beliefs that determine whether we see recycled water as clean or dirty, and these categories are not fixed but are a reflection of our society at that point.

Looking to the future

If we are to understand how to use new water technologies effectively for social and environmental benefit, we need not only to understand the scientific case for these technologies, but also to change the social and cultural values that inform our attitudes to them.

Culture is dynamic. Our acceptance of any particular new technology is based on norms that are current at a particular time. The “yuck factor”, which has been the focus of so much research over the years, may well change with increasing exposure to recycled water.

The Conversation

Daniel Ooi has received research grants from the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence (AWRCoE) and the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia (NCEDA). Both the AWRCoE and NCEDA were funded by the Federal Government as part of the Water for the Future program.

Categories: Around The Web

Petition calls for Barack Obama to fulfil Green Climate Fund pledge

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-12-21 11:13

US promised US$3bn towards fund, which was part of historic Paris agreement, but so far has transferred only $500m

More than 100 climate and development organisations, along with 70,000 people, have called on Barack Obama to help secure the future of the Paris agreement by transferring the remaining $2.5bn committed by the US.

The Green Climate Fund was a key aspect of the historic Paris agreement signed in 2015, which aims to keep global warming “well below” 2C and aspires to keep warming to 1.5C.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Best bird breeding in the Booligal Wetlands and beyond

Department of the Environment - Wed, 2016-12-21 10:33
Around 200,000 birds are now filling the skies over the Booligal Wetlands north of Hay in a major bird breeding event not seen for 20 years.
Categories: Around The Web

Tesla, Trump and South Australia: The top clean energy and climate stories of 2016

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-12-21 10:25
Tesla was the dominant news force in 2016. The other big themes were battery storage, the price falls in wind and solar, the big shift from centralised energy, and politics, politics, politics.
Categories: Around The Web

Eavesdropping reveals hidden marine mammal populations in the ocean

The Conversation - Wed, 2016-12-21 05:08

Acoustic monitoring of the calls of marine animals, such as whales and seals, could be the key to identifying new species, finding new population groups and mapping migration routes.

We recently used custom-designed detection algorithms to run through 57,000 hours of underwater ocean noise to find the songs of endangered blue whales, rather than listening for each whale call. This detection program saved us an enormous amount of processing time and will be critical in future acoustic monitoring research.

Some endangered marine animals, including several whale and seal species, are “cryptic species”: they’re genetically different but look alike. This means that they are often mistaken for one another when identified visually, making conservation plans difficult to implement.

However, most animals produce species-specific calls. Eavesdropping on their calls therefore provides a unique way to monitor them. This is completely rewriting our understanding of their population recovery.

Recovery of the blue whale

We recently discovered two new blue whale populations migrating off the east coast of Australia using this technology. This is important news as the blue whale has been slow to recover after being hunted to the brink of extinction. How can the largest animal that has ever lived, the Antarctic blue whale, swim undetected just off the coast of Sydney?

It is remarkable that we have only now discovered them there. It is possible that they only started using this route recently, or perhaps they have been there all along and we have missed them.

Fortunately for us, blue whales sing, allowing us to detect them using arrays of listening devices spanning sites across the Indian and Pacific oceans. However, the frequency of their song is so low that humans can’t hear it.

Blue whales produce different calls and these calls possibly reflect different subspecies. Their different songs help the International Whaling Commission manage the recovery of these subspecies.

Blue whales speak with different dialects

Globally, there are at least nine separate blue whale acoustic populations, and Australia’s waters are home to at least three.

The west coast of Australia is a well-known blue whale feeding ground and both the Australian pygmy and Antarctic blue whales are common there.

Another popular blue whale feeding ground is in Southern Australia. Until recently the blue whales there were thought to be all pygmy blue whales, but it was discovered that the Antarctic blue whale is also found there.

We were further surprised to find that the Antarctic blue whales remained all year off southern Australia. In some years, they did not return to their krill-rich Antarctic feeding grounds in the summer, as we’d expect.

The east coast of Australia is not known as a blue whale site, so we were delighted to find two different acoustic populations in the Tasman Sea, all the way up to Samoa. We found the critically endangered Antarctic blue whale and, to the delight of our New Zealand colleagues, pygmy blue whales with a New Zealand accent.

Tasmania now looks like the boundary point separating the Kiwi and Aussie speaking pygmy blue whales.

What about seals?

Similar to whales, seals are also returning to our shoreline. Fur seals are an example of a marine cryptic species, and while some species are thriving, others are not.

The different fur seal species look similar. In fact, unless you are a seal expert, or a seal, it can be difficult to tell them apart. But we can easily recognise the different species because they have very different calls.

The seals can recognise further subtle differences in calls between one another. To maintain their breeding territories the male seals fight and bark incessantly. Each male has a distinctly different call.

A male can recognise and respond differently to the voices of his neighbours, whose territory boundary lines have been established by weeks of confrontations, from the voices of unknown males that are potentially a threat to his territory.

Fur seal mum and pup. Pixabay

The female fur seals and their pups also have individually unique voices. When a female returns from sea after days of hunting, she needs to find her pup from the hundreds of other pups on the island. The mum and pup call to find one another in the busy, noisy colony. The female recognises her pup’s unique call and scent as part of the reunion.

Spying on animal songs gives new insights into undiscovered populations and new migratory routes, completely rewriting our understanding of these marine giants. Accurately evaluating the population status and trends of cryptic marine species is critical in developing conservation management strategies.

The Conversation

Joy Tripovich receives funding from the Winifred Violet Scott Trust and is affiliated with the E&ERC at UNSW Australia.

Tracey Rogers receives funding from ARC. She is affiliated with the E&ERC at UNSW Australia

Categories: Around The Web

Tourism puts dolphins at risk in Southeast Asia – here's what to look for on your next holiday

The Conversation - Wed, 2016-12-21 05:07
A rare glimpse of a river dolphin in Cambodia. Erwan Deverre/Flickr, CC BY-NC

It’s hot, and you’re sitting sweating in a small wooden boat. Your cold bottle of water is dripping, and the pink polyester roof does nothing to shade the glare of the setting sun. The young man at the back of the boat smiles and points at the water, and there you see it: one of Cambodia’s most magnificent spectacles.

Angkor Wat? No, it’s a critically endangered dolphin rising from the brown waters of the Mekong River, breathing, looking at you, and then disappearing below.

Our recent research suggests that while dolphin and whale tourism in Southeast Asia can be great for communities, it can also come at a cost to the environment.

So what should you look for if you’re going on tour?

Tourism boom

Dolphin- and whale-watching tourism is a booming industry worldwide, and it’s growing apace in developing parts of Asia. Many tourists flock to see spinner dolphins in Bali or Bohol; blue whales off Sri Lanka; Chinese white dolphins in Hong Kong; or Irrawaddy dolphins in great rivers like the Mekong and Ayeyarwaddy (as the Irrawaddy is now known).

Tourist boats looking for dolphins in the Mekong River, Cambodia. G E Ryan

This interest in seeing wildlife is a boon: it provides jobs for local people driving boats, selling souvenirs, or staffing restaurants and hotels. It also gives a growing Asian middle class the chance to get close to wildlife that many people are increasingly separated from in day-to-day life.

By providing jobs and building compassion for the species it targets, dolphin-watching tourism can thus provide an incentive to protect threatened species such as critically endangered river dolphins. But it has a cost.

Boat traffic can stress dolphins. What can seem like insignificant short-term stresses are known to have long-term costs on whole populations if they are repeated over a long time.

Tourist boats visiting dolphins several times a day can cause exactly this sort of problem, especially if they harass and chase animals. This happens in many places where regulation is absent or poorly enforced. We have seen large numbers of boats swarming groups of dolphins in many places.

Often such tourism is limited only by the numbers of boats and crews willing to conduct it. Understanding the long-term ecological effects of tourism activities on dolphin populations is difficult; it needs long-term data, which can be expensive and slow to collect.

This kind of work is rarely done, especially in developing Asia. So we don’t really know how tourism affects dolphins and whales in this area.

With colleagues, we recently developed a rapid risk-assessment method to understand the risk tourism poses to wildlife. We applied it to seven sites in six countries in developing Asia, including sites on the Mekong River in Cambodia, on the coasts of Bohol in the Philippines, Bali, Malaysian Borneo and Thailand, and in India’s Chilika Lagoon.

We found the highest risk from tourism was to Irrawaddy dolphins at Chilika Lagoon, and to spinner and other dolphins at Lovina Beach in Bali. Both of these sites have no regulation of the number of boats visiting dolphins, or how boats are operated around the animals. This leaves large numbers of boats free to chase dolphins around – hardly ideal.

Spinner dolphins and tourist boats in Indonesia. Putu L Mustika How to travel lightly

The sites we assessed are just a drop in a sea full of opportunities to view wild whales and dolphins. So next time you’re heading out on holiday and considering going to see some of the water’s most charismatic inhabitants, how do you know if you should go?

Here’s a few things to consider:

  • Is there a land-based alternative to see the animals without disturbing them?

  • Is there a code of practice for boat operators to prevent stressing animals? This may not be obvious. Talk to other tourists about how boat drivers operate around animals. Avoid operators who chase, cut off, or otherwise harass animals.

  • Ask your driver not to chase animals, and reward them with thanks or tips for driving carefully around the animals.

  • Ask yourself how you can meaningfully contribute to the protection of these species in other ways.

Watching wild animals in their natural environment is one of life’s great experiences. Few things in this world are as uplifting as the sight of a dolphin breaking the water’s surface, and it’s a sight we hope everyone can enjoy for countless generations.

We’re sure we will be able to if we encourage responsible dolphin-watching tourism. And that can start with you on your next getaway into the wild!

The Conversation

Putu Liza Mustika is also affiliated with Cetacean Sirenian Indonesia, an environmental NGO in Indonesia.

Gerry Ryan and Riccardo Welters 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.

Categories: Around The Web

Norway reprieves 32 of 47 wolves earmarked for cull

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-12-21 02:56

Under Norway’s endangered predator laws, only 15 lone wolves proved to pose a threat to livestock

The Norwegian government has issued a last-minute reprieve for 32 of the 47 wolves that had been earmarked for a cull to protect sheep flocks.

The plans to kill two-thirds of the country’s wolves caused outrage among conservationists at home and abroad when they were announced by local predator management boards in September, with warnings the cull would be disastrous for the species.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Brain's party noise filter revealed by recordings

BBC - Wed, 2016-12-21 02:40
Direct recordings have revealed what happens in our brains as we make sense of speech in a noisy environment, scientists say.
Categories: Around The Web

Ministers explore applying microbead ban to household products

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-12-21 01:18

Officials have asked for more proof of microbead damage to marine life in move to extend cosmetics ban to all products washed down drain

The government is exploring whether its ban on tiny pieces of plastic in cosmetics should be extended to other household products, to protect fish and other marine life.

Ministers promised earlier this year to ban microbeads in personal care products such as toothpaste and face scrubs by the end of 2017, but stopped short of pledging to ban them in other products.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Republicans and Democrats alike want more clean energy | John Abraham

The Guardian - Tue, 2016-12-20 21:00

A new report finds strong support for clean energy, international climate agreements, and cutting carbon pollution - across the political spectrum

It’s almost an accepted dogma that in the United States (and in several other countries), liberals are much more in favor of taking actions to curb climate change whereas conservatives block such actions. That’s certainly true within the halls of power. For instance, in the United States, it has become a litmus test for Republication candidates to deny humans are causing climate change, to try to claim that it isn’t important, in many cases to demonize the messengers (the scientists), and to work to halt climate science so we won’t know how bad the problem is.

Conventional wisdom – and in fact the seemingly obvious message from this past election – is that this denial is good politics. If you want to get elected as a conservative, you have got to be anti-science.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Fracking to go ahead in North Yorkshire after high court ruling

The Guardian - Tue, 2016-12-20 20:15

Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale lose bid to stop fracking in village of Kirby Misperton

Fracking will go ahead at a North Yorkshire site after environmentalists lost a legal challenge they had brought on climate change grounds.

On Tuesday, the high court ruled against Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Ryedale, who had argued that North Yorkshire county council had failed to properly consider the environmental impact of burning gas when it approved the fracking this year.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

European commission guilty of 'negligence' over diesel defeat devices, says draft report

The Guardian - Tue, 2016-12-20 19:31

European parliament draft inquiry into dieselgate has found EC ignored evidence of emissions test cheating

A draft European parliament inquiry into the dieselgate scandal has found the European commission guilty of maladministration for failing to act quickly enough on evidence that defeat devices were being used to game emissions tests.

The commission ignored evidence of emissions test cheating from its own science body, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), partly out of a desire to “avoid placing burdens on industry”, according to the draft report seen by the Guardian.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

A third of Brits throw away Christmas turkey and sprouts

The Guardian - Tue, 2016-12-20 17:01

New research finds householders more likely to bin food over festive season due to lack of culinary knowhow

One in three UK consumers admit to binning turkey and sprouts for their Christmas dinner before it even reaches the table because of their lack of culinary knowhow, a new report has revealed.

Official figures show that UK households throw away 7m tonnes of food every year, but the new research from supermarket chain Sainsbury’s shows householders are more likely to bin food over the festive season because they don’t know how to prepare and cook it.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

This is the polar bear capital of the world, but the snow has gone

The Guardian - Tue, 2016-12-20 17:00

Canada’s Hudson Bay is as ice-free in November as on a summer’s day and polar bears could be extinct here by mid-century. If the bears are in trouble, so are we

Churchill, on the banks of the Hudson Bay in Canada, is known as the polar bear capital of the world. Hundreds of bears gather there each year before the sea freezes over in October and November so they can hunt seals again from the ice for the first time since the summer.

I first went there 12 years ago at this time of year. The place was white, the temperature was -20C, and the bears were out feeding.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Banksia Woodlands of the Swan Coastal Plain

Department of the Environment - Tue, 2016-12-20 15:50
A guide is now available for this nationally listed endangered ecological community.
Categories: Around The Web

The endless joy of logs

The Guardian - Tue, 2016-12-20 15:30

Claxton, Norfolk I recall the circumstances of the cut, how it was stored and then the moment it was sectioned to fit the fire

The garden task that gives me greatest satisfaction is the cutting of our winter wood stack. I like to joke that our logburner consumes only hand-prepared organic “food”, and there is even a sense in which each piece is an individual.

Over the years I’ve learned that the secret to preparing logs is not some fancy axe or equipment. It is time. I have thus worked out a four-stage process that spans two years, beginning with the moment when the live trees are felled.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

You are 16, going on 17 – part 1

RenewEconomy - Tue, 2016-12-20 13:56
The year that was: Donald Trump, soaring temperatures, mass-market EVs, and price parity - even in NSW - for solar and storage.
Categories: Around The Web


Subscribe to Sustainable Engineering Society aggregator - Around The Web