Turtle deaths highlight precarious environmental situation

social media - 27 march 2018_3(Image: Jarrad Prangell from Symbio Wildlife Park holds a Bellinger River Snapping Turtle)

Four summers ago, death swept through the small population of Bellinger River Snapping Turtles. Thankfully, the species wasn’t wiped out completely. But the virus that wrought devastation was aided and abetted by drought and diminishing food supply — the hallmarks of climate change. It’s a common story. Efforts are now underway to safeguard the turtle population against extinction. Here’s the story, from the Summer 2019 issue of Cosmos:

It was a warm February evening in 2015 and Sydney’s Taronga Zoo had emptied of visitors for the day. But behind closed gates, Karrie Rose and her team were gearing up for a long night. Their task: to find out what was killing the rare Bellinger River snapping turtle (Myuchelys georgesi).

Two days earlier, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) had launched an investigation following reports from kayakers of sick and dead turtles. Whatever had turned their home, five hours’ drive north of Sydney, into a killing field looked like it could push the species to extinction in a matter of weeks.

Read more…

Salt, silicon or graphite: energy storage goes beyond lithium ion batteries

From The Guardian, April 6, 2017 (Image: Solar thermal plant in Spain, Beyond Zero Emissions via Flickr)

Between the political bickering following a spate of blackouts in South Australia and the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeting that he had a fix, and then the South Australian government announcing that it will build a grid-connected battery storage facility, interest in renewable energy storage has never been higher.

While lithium ion batteries sold by Tesla and others are perhaps the most widely known storage technology, several other energy storage options are either already on the market, or are fast making their way there.

All are hoping to claim a slice of what, by all indications, will be a very large pie. Read more…

How an Indigenous renewable energy alliance aims to cut power costs and disadvantage

From the Guardian, March 17, 2017 (Image: Rusty Stewart via Flickr)

Like so many of the Indigenous communities dotted across the Australian continent, the remote communities in north-west New South Wales are struggling. “These are not happy places,” says the Euahlayi elder Ghillar Michael Anderson.

Many of the 300 or so residents of Anderson’s hometown of Goodooga rely on welfare, he says. Exorbitant electricity bills – up to $3,000 a quarter for some households – further exacerbate the poverty. “We’re always at the end of the power line, so the service that is there is quite extraordinary in terms of cost.”

Many other communities rely on expensive, emissions-intensive diesel-powered generators to meet their electricity demands. “It’s a real problem and we need to make sure that we fix this,” Anderson says.

To that end, Anderson and 24 other Indigenous leaders have formed the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance, which aims to tackle high power costs and entrenched disadvantage – along with climate change – by pushing for renewable energy in Indigenous communities. Read more…

While governments dither, companies step up with environmental targets

From The Guardian, March 10, 2017 (Image: reynermedia via Flickr)

Each year, Investa Office Management releases its corporate sustainability report. In 2016, it announced that electricity use was down by 43% since 2004, gas use had fallen 38% over the same time, and water use had also being curtailed.

This sounds impressive but how meaningful are those proclamations? And what difference do they make in the wider context? Now an international movement is urging businesses to take an evidence-based approach to their green strategies, by setting emissions reduction goals in line with climate science. The goal is to encourage the business sector to close the emissions gap left by shortfalls in country-level commitments to the Paris climate agreement. Read more…

Energy positive: how Denmark’s Samsø island switched to zero carbon

From The Guardian, February 24, 2017 (Image: Marcelo Medeiros via Flickr)

Anyone doubting the potential of renewable energy need look no further than the Danish island of Samsø. The 4,000-inhabitant island nestled in the Kattegat Sea has been energy-positive for the past decade, producing more energy from wind and biomass than it consumes.

Samsø’s transformation from a carbon-dependent importer of oil and coal-fuelled electricity to a paragon of renewables started in 1998. That year, the island won a competition sponsored by the Danish ministry of environment and energy that was looking for a showcase community – one that could prove the country’s freshly announced Kyoto target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21% was, in fact, achievable.

The contest didn’t bring with it funds to bankroll the energy transition. But it did pay for the salary of one person tasked with making the island’s 10-year renewables master plan a reality.

That person was Søren Hermansen, a Samsø native vegetable farmer–turned–environmental teacher. Hermansen has wielded his pragmatic, roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to great effect over the past two decades, turning his own rural community into a green powerhouse, and evangelising to communities around the world that they, too, can make the transition. Read more… 

Extreme fire weather forecast for Australia and the Mediterranean

From Cosmos Magazine, February 7, 2017 (Image: bertknot via Flickr)

Extreme wildfires are set to surge as the number of days that foster these catastrophic events climbs from 20% to 50% in disaster-prone regions, a new study warns.

David Bowman, a fire ecologist from the University of Tasmania in Australia, and colleagues examined temperature data recorded by instruments onboard NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites and found population distribution also affected the development of disastrous wildfires.

The work, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, presents a “real wake-up call”, Bowman says. Read more…

“Climate change is about to smash us in the face.”

Assisted colonisation of Australian tortoise sets controversial precedent

From ScienceInsider, August 11, 2016 (Photo credit: Gerald Kuchling)

As long as it has been known to science, the diminutive western swamp tortoise has been in peril. By the time it was formally named in 1901—using a decades-old museum specimen—Pseudemydura umbrina was presumed extinct. And since it was rediscovered in the 1950s, biologists have struggled to protect it from the twin threats of habitat loss and introduced predators, which drove its numbers to bottom out at just 30 individuals in the 1980s. Now that climate change poses an even more urgent threat to the endangered tortoise, biologists have a controversial plan to safeguard its future—by moving it to new sites outside of its known historical range. The translocation, which took place today, makes the tortoise the first vertebrate to be deliberately relocated because of climate change. Read more…