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…

Biofuels: could agave, hemp and saltbush be the fuels of the future?

From The Guardian, May 10, 2017 (Image: Sergio Niebla via Flickr)

Biofuels have long been touted as a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, doing for the world’s planes, ships and automobiles what windfarms and solar panels are doing for its electricity grids. With the transport sector accounting for almost one fifth of Australia’s total carbon emissions, green biofuels could be an important ingredient of the zero emissions future envisioned by the Paris climate agreement.

On paper, biofuels seem the ideal replacement for fossil fuels, which drive global warming by spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that would otherwise be locked away in geological deposits. With biofuels, the plants and algae used to produce the raw material inhale carbon as they grow, offsetting the carbon released when they are burned.

But the past decade has seen the biofuel industry face tough economic conditions and niggling questions over its green credentials. The fledgling industry is now turning to a raft of innovative crop and processing technologies to overcome its challenges. Read more…

Cool roofs: beating the midday sun with a slap of white paint

From the Guardian, April 14, 2017 (Image: Alberto d’Argenio via Flickr)

There’s no shortage of measures that homeowners and businesses can take to lessen their environmental footprint – from better insulation and double glazing, to easing up on air-con usage and swapping in LED lights.

One part of the house that seems to be attracting more than its fair share of attention is the roof. Replacing a standard roof with a lovingly cultivated green roof of plants or adorning it with increasingly trendy solar panels can do wonders for reducing a building’s carbon footprint. 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… 

Silverton windfarm’s output will be equal to taking 192,000 cars off the road

From The Guardian, February 10, 2017 (Image: @PaulDCocker via Flickr)

After years in planning, construction on the Silverton windfarm in western New South Wales is finally set to begin after the sale of the project from AGL to its Powering Australian Renewables Fund (PARF).

The deal will see AGL pay just $65 a megawatt hour for the first five years of the windfarm’s operation, effectively undercutting current prices for coal-generated electricity.

“It’s a very low price, which demonstrates the amazing innovation and cost curve that renewable energy is on,” says Alicia Webb, director of large-scale energy at the Clean Energy Council, the clean energy industry’s peak body. Read more…