Inbox and Environment News: Issue 430

November 24 - 30, 2019: Issue 430

Spring Becomes Summer In Pittwater

Save Grevillea Caleyi With PNHA's Baha'i Bushcare This Monday: November 25th

What have you got on this Monday morning? How about: Saving Grevillea caleyi with PNHA's Baha'i Bushcare. Join us for the final morning of bush regeneration for 2019 at the Baha'i Temple on Monday, November 25, starting at 8.30 am. We'll be planting some tubestock as well as our usual weeding.

Please meet in the Picnic Shelter on site.
New volunteers welcome - training will be provided.
Wear long trousers, a long sleeved shirt and boots or closed in shoes.
The session will be cancelled in the event of rain.(if only!) 
For more information contact David Palmer on 0404 171940.
In the Baha'i bushland Native Iris flowers on sunny spring days - PNHA photo
Grevillea caleyi growing with boronia and wattle in the Baha'i bushland - PNHA photo
Blueberry Ash Elaeocarpus reticulatus flowers every November. The local Sydney colour is white but a pink version is routine on the NSW south coast and can be obtained from nurseries. The enamel blue berries are favourites of Currawongs, despite there being little edible flesh between the blue skin and the large seed, so it forms a major component of their castings. PNHA photo

First Christmas Beetle Spotted At Elanora Heights/ Ingleside

Photo by Selena Griffith

On Hot Days Please Keep Your Bird Baths Topped Up Or Put Out Dishes Of Water For Local Fauna

Photo by AJG
The sun sent pink by bushfire smoke over Pittwater on Thursday this week - AJG photo.

PNHA Christmas Cards Of Local Beauties

PNHA Christmas Cards with local trees, flowers, insects, birds, scenery are now ready - write your own message. $2.00 each. Contact us on to select from our big range. A few of the images available on their covers sampled here:

NSW Christmas Bush

Sleepy Eastern Pygmy Possum

Christmas Bells

Native Fuchsia

Male Variegated Wren, one of Pittwater's two Fairy Wrens. Image: Neil Fifer

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday+3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Affordable Reliable Power For NSW

November 22nd, 2019: NSW Government
Households across NSW are expected to save $40 per year on their electricity bills and the State will have one of the highest reliability targets in the world under the NSW Electricity Strategy, released today.

Energy Minister Matt Kean said the Strategy will ensure reliable and affordable electricity supply for the people of NSW, particularly in peak summer periods.

“We want to create a competitive, low-cost market that delivers resilient energy supply while putting downward pressure on electricity prices,” Mr Kean said.

“Not only does this Strategy help us achieve that, it will attract $8 billion in investment for emerging energy technologies in NSW, diversifying our energy supply and creating jobs for the future.”

The Strategy includes a new Energy Security Safeguard to drive the roll-out of energy efficiency technologies and smart appliances that use electricity when it is cheap and off-peak, and an Energy Security Target to ensure there is enough capacity in the electricity grid on the hottest days, even with the two largest generating units offline.

It will also include a plan to deliver Australia’s first coordinated Renewable Energy Zone in the Central-West to support the the new generation needed to get energy bills down.

“We are the first State in Australia with an electricity strategy, and this strategy sends a strong signal to market that NSW is the number one place for investment in reliable and sustainable generation,” Mr Kean said.

“As our existing power generators approach the end of their lives, we need to ensure low-cost alternatives are coming online which can deliver reliable electricity supply.

“While there will always be extreme events which impact the grid’s reliability, our Electricity Security Target will mean that changes to the State’s energy mix do not come at the expense of our system’s reliability.”

Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers

Modern fire managers can learn much from Aboriginal fire practice. Matthew Newton/RUMMIN Productions
David BowmanUniversity of Tasmania and Ben J. FrenchUniversity of Tasmania

Last week’s catastrophic fires on Australia’s east coast – and warnings of more soon to come – will become all too common as climate change gathers pace. And as the challenges of modern hazard reduction become clear, there is much to learn from the ancient Aboriginal practice of burning country.

Indigenous people learnt to use fire skillfully and to their advantage, including to moderate bushfires. Most of the fires were small and set at dry times of the year, resulting in a fine-scale mosaic of different vegetation types and fuel ages. This made intense bushfires uncommon and made plant and animal foods more abundant.

Read more: A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire

Contemporary fire managers also attempt to lower bushfire risk by reducing fuel loads through hazard reduction burning. To minimise costs, this is often achieved by dropping incendiaries from aircraft.

Concern is growing that such methods exacerbate biodiversity declines and often do not prevent a subsequent bushfire. As climate change makes bushfires more ferocious and extreme, now is the time to better understand how our First Peoples used fire.

Patch burning in the Midlands region of Tasmania. The technique draws on traditional Aboriginal knowledge and can help in modern fire management. Alan McFetridge

A Slow, Ancient Craft

Traditional Aboriginal fire practices are based on local knowledge and spiritual connection to country.

Before white settlement, Aboriginal people were a constant presence in the landscape, and traditionally burnt country by walking the land. This meant they could control the timing and spread of fire, as well as its ecological effects.

By contrast, most modern fire programs are far less flexible and responsive. They usually take place on weekdays in specific seasons and weather conditions. Many fires are ignited from the air – especially those in remote areas where vast areas of burning is desired. This technique results in bigger, more intense fires than those conducted by Aboriginal people.

Read more: Grattan on Friday: When the firies call him out on climate change, Scott Morrison should listen

Contemporary fire managers do reduce fuel in small areas, through ground crews working on foot. These crews often work in specific weather windows such as fog, and at cooler times of day such as the evening, to keep fires controlled and protect sensitive areas.

This method is reminiscent of Aboriginal fire practice and leads to smaller, less intense fires than aerial ignition. But it also differs from traditional techniques. Modern ground crews use “drip torches” – hand-held devices filled with fuel – and burn in a box pattern. By contrast, Indigenous people use a slower technique such as dragging a smouldering stick through the bush, and burn in spiral or strip patterns to achieve a mosaic effect.

A hazard reduction operation conducted by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services in the Blue Mountains. About 120 hectares were burnt. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Taking Lessons From The Past

Aboriginal fire practice across Australia was severely disrupted by European invasion. The practice is being reinvigorated through initiatives such as the Firesticks Alliance, an Indigenous-led network involving training, on-ground works and scientific monitoring to better understand the ecological effects of cultural burning.

But there is a huge opportunity to further develop traditional fire management alongside western science. Our project on a farm in Tasmania offers a good example. Since 2017, University of Tasmania scientists have worked with a farmer and the Aboriginal community to reintroduce Indigenous burning to native grasslands (see video below).

This project began as straightforward research into fire management in an endangered eucalypt woodland community. It took a novel turn when the landowner asked that the Tasmanian Aboriginal community be involved. We then employed Aboriginal rangers to burn experimental plots.

Importantly, this research does not take the old-school anthropological approach of solely studying Aboriginal burning practices. Instead, it is a true collaboration where all parties learn from each other.

As a consequence, the project design changed in the course of the experiment. For example its original “efficient” approach involved burning predetermined units of a set size. But in the second year, Aboriginal rangers selected the areas burnt, resulting in a patchy and varied burning pattern.

Read more: Bushfires can make kids scared and anxious: here are 5 steps to help them cope

The project is still being monitored and results are not finalised. However it has already achieved an important goal: stronger cross-cultural partnerships.

Such initiatives should not be rushed. Genuine engagement of the Aboriginal community requires time, allowing trust to build between groups that don’t have a long history of working together.

The project took place on private property, at the request of a landowner who took responsibility for approvals and compliance. Such small-scale projects are excellent for building skills and allowing Aboriginal people to reconnect with country. Upscaling such projects to public lands such as national parks requires more complex negotiation and agreement, but this will be easier if a record of successful smaller programs exists.

Indigenous-led burning at a project site in Tasmania. Matthew Newton/RUMMIN Productions

Looking To The Future

There are profound cultural differences between traditional and modern fire management, stemming from different understanding of belonging, place, history, values and metaphysics.

The growing fire crisis means it’s vital western science and Aboriginal knowledge are brought together to make communities as fire-safe as possible.

This includes a sustainable funding model for Indigenous-led fire management programs, as well as cross-cultural training for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fire managers to better work together.The Conversation

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania and Ben J. French, PhD student in Environmental Change Biology, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grants Available To Reduce Climate Change Impacts

NSW Government
NSW communities are invited to apply for grants that will assist them reduce climate change impacts such as heatwaves, bush fires or floods.

The Increasing Resilience to Climate Change (IRCC) community grants program is providing $600,000 in the first round of grants. Grants between $10,000 and $30,000 are available for individual projects.

Community groups can partner with local councils in their applications for funding under the IRCC.

The grants are funded through the Climate Change Fund, which allows the NSW Government to better support the community in its response to the effects of climate change.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said these grants will help local communities plan, coordinate and take action to increase their resilience and adapt.

“IRCC grant funding has already benefited Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils for a cool suburbs rating tool and Bega Valley Shire Council to upgrade community halls to be more climate-resilient during extreme heat events,” Mr Kean said.

Apply for round one funding by 31 January 2020 HERE

New report shows the world is awash with fossil fuels. It's time to cut off supply

Australia’s coal production is expected to jump by 34% to 2030, undercutting our climate efforts. Nikki Short/AAP
Peter ChristoffUniversity of Melbourne

A new United Nations report shows the world’s major fossil fuel producing countries, including Australia, plan to dig up far more coal, oil and gas than can be burned if the world is to prevent serious harm from climate change.

The report found fossil fuel production in 2030 is on track to be 50% more than is consistent with the 2℃ warming limit agreed under the Paris climate agreement. Production is set to be 120% more than is consistent with holding warming to 1.5℃ – the ambitious end of the Paris goals.

Australia is strongly implicated in these findings. In the same decade we are supposed to be cutting emissions under the Paris goals, our coal production is set to increase by 34%. This trend is undercutting our success in renewables deployment and mitigation elsewhere.

Mind The Production Gap

The United Nations Environment Program’s Production Gap report, to which I contributed, is the first to assess whether current and projected fossil fuel extraction is consistent with meeting the Paris goals.

It reviewed seven top fossil fuel producers (China, the United States, Russia, India, Australia, Indonesia, and Canada) and three significant producers with strong climate ambitions (Germany, Norway, and the UK).

Read more: Drought and climate change were the kindling, and now the east coast is ablaze

The production gap is largest for coal, of which Australia is the world’s biggest exporter. By 2030, countries plan to produce 150% more coal than is consistent with a 2℃ pathway, and 280% more than is consistent with a 1.5℃ pathway.

The gap is also substantial for oil and gas. Countries are projected to produce 43% more oil and 47% more gas by 2040 than is consistent with a 2℃ pathway.

Keeping Bad Company

Nine countries, including Australia, are responsible for more than two-thirds of fossil fuel carbon emissions – a calculation based on how much fuel nations extract, regardless of where it is burned.

China is the world’s largest coal producer, accounting for nearly half of global production in 2017. The US produces more oil and gas than any other country and is the second-largest producer of coal.

Australia is the sixth-largest extractor of fossil fuels , the world’s leading exporter of coal, and the second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Read more: The good, the bad and the ugly: the nations leading and failing on climate action

Prospects for improvement are poor. As countries continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure, this “locks in” future coal, oil and gas use.

US oil and gas production are each projected to increase by 30% to 2030, as is Canada’s oil production.

Australia’s coal production is projected to jump by 34%, the report says. Proposed large coal mines and ports, if completed, would represent one of the world’s largest fossil fuel expansions - around 300 megatonnes of extra coal capacity each year.

The expansion is underpinned by a combination of ambitious national plans, government subsidies to producers and other public finance.

In Australia, tax-based fossil fuel subsidies total more than A$12 billion each year. Governments also encourage coal production by fast-tracking approvals, constructing roads and reducing royalty requirements, such as for Adani’s recently approved Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin.

Ongoing global production loads the energy market with cheap fossil fuels – often artificially cheapened by government subsidies. This greatly slows the transition to renewables by distorting markets, locking in investment and deepening community dependency on related employment.

In Australia, this policy failure is driven by deliberate political avoidance of our national responsibilities for the harm caused by our exports. There are good grounds for arguing this breaches our moral and legal obligations under the United Nations climate treaty.

Protestors locked themselves to heavy machinery to protest the Adani coal mine in central Queensland. Frontline Action on Coal

Cutting Off Supply

So what to do about it? As our report states, governments frequently recognise that simultaneously tackling supply and demand for a product is the best way to limit its use.

For decades, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have focused almost solely on decreasing demand for fossil fuels, and their consumption – through energy efficiency, deployment of renewable technologies and carbon pricing – rather than slowing supply.

While the emphasis on demand is important, policies and actions to reduce fossil fuels use have not been sufficient.

It is now essential we address supply, by introducing measures to avoid carbon lock-in, limit financial risks to lenders and governments, promote policy coherence and end government dependency on fossil fuel-related revenues.

Policy options include ending fossil fuel subsidies and taxing production and export. Government can use regulation to limit extraction and set goals to wind it down, while offering support for workers and communities in the transition.

Read more: Australia could fall apart under climate change. But there's a way to avoid it

Several governments have already restricted fossil fuel production. France, Denmark and New Zealand have partially or totally banned or suspended oil and gas exploration and extraction, and Germany and Spain are phasing out coal mining.

Australia is clearly a major contributor in the world’s fossil fuel supply problem. We must urgently set targets, and take actions, that align our future fossil fuel production with global climate goals.The Conversation

Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -

Rain Cloak

When I draw my rain cloak around me
Soak the land
Until the earth is drenched
Wash all the stones clean
Bask the koala, the kangaroo and kookaburra in the sup of wet light
Bare toes among the thin puddles
Growing deeper in the boles of trees and fields

When I draw my rain cloak about me
Lift that docile grey-white wing to east and west
Blow, with shift ‘neath and simple up then down and closer, across and through all the valleys, plains, creeks
Kissing, melding

When I draw the rain with and to me, from northern flows running south in these Spring-Summer verges, and from south flowing north during that same seasonal verge too
Drawn through the air and surface crevices
Drawn by the scent of trees
When I draw my trees about me
Tend their roots
Their creatures
Their tall
It adds song cycles to drawing my rain cloak about and around them

When I draw my rain cloak about thee
And all the gutters start to flow
With clean, fresh, cold water
Even you will know.
AJG - 22.11.2019

Transpiration Is How Plants Help Make Rain

Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts, such as leaves, stems and flowers. Water is necessary for plants but only a small amount of water taken up by the roots is used for growth and metabolism. The remaining 97–99.5% is lost by transpiration and guttation.

Leaf surfaces are dotted with pores called stomata, and in most plants they are more numerous on the undersides of the foliage. The stomata are bordered by guard cells and their stomatal accessory cells (together known as stomatal complex) that open and close the pore. Transpiration occurs through the stomatal apertures, and can be thought of as a necessary "cost" associated with the opening of the stomata to allow the diffusion of carbon dioxide gas from the air for photosynthesis. Transpiration also cools plants, changes osmotic pressure of cells, and enables mass flow of mineral nutrients and water from roots to shoots. Two major factors influence the rate of water flow from the soil to the roots: the hydraulic conductivity of the soil and the magnitude of the pressure gradient through the soil. Both of these factors influence the rate of bulk flow of water moving from the roots to the stomatal pores in the leaves via the xylem.

Mass flow of liquid water from the roots to the leaves is driven in part by capillary action, but primarily driven by water potential differences. If the water potential in the ambient air is lower than the water potential in the leaf airspace of the stomatal pore, water vapor will travel down the gradient and move from the leaf airspace to the atmosphere. This movement lowers the water potential in the leaf airspace and causes evaporation of liquid water from the mesophyll cell walls. 

This evaporation increases the tension on the water menisci in the cell walls and decrease their radius and thus the tension that is exerted on the water in the cells. Because of the cohesive properties of water, the tension travels through the leaf cells to the leaf and stem xylem where a momentary negative pressure is created as water is pulled up the xylem from the roots. As evaporation occurs at the leaf surface, the properties of adhesion and cohesion work in tandem to pull water molecules from the roots, through xylem tissue, and out of the plant through stomata. 

In taller plants and trees, the force of gravity can only be overcome by the decrease in hydrostatic (water) pressure in the upper parts of the plants due to the diffusion of water out of stomata into the atmosphere. Water is absorbed at the roots by osmosis, and any dissolved mineral nutrients travel with it through the xylem.

Plants regulate the rate of transpiration by controlling the size of the stomatal apertures. The rate of transpiration is also influenced by the evaporative demand of the atmosphere surrounding the leaf such as boundary layer conductance, humidity, temperature, wind and incident sunlight. Soil water supply and soil temperature can influence stomatal opening[citation needed], and thus transpiration rate. The amount of water lost by a plant also depends on its size and the amount of water absorbed at the roots. Transpiration accounts for most of the water loss by a plant by the leaves and young stems. Transpiration serves to evaporatively cool plants, as the evaporating water carries away heat energy.

During a growing season, a leaf will transpire many times more water than its own weight. An acre of corn gives off about 3,000–4,000 gallons  or 11,400–15,100 liters, of water each day. A large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons, or 151,000 liters, per year. That's a lot of water going back into the air and earth!

Growing trees taking water from the soil and releasing it into the atmosphere accelerates the air getting saturated and so brings in rain. Scientists have studied this process and shown that in places where there are tall trees and thick forests the trees are actually creating their own rain.

Tree leaves also act as interceptors, catching falling rain, which then evaporates causing rain precipitation elsewhere — a process known as evapo-transpiration.

Greedy Wild Hamster Stuffs In More Than He Can Chew! 

Published November 21st, 2019 by BBC Earth
If it fits in my cheeks, I eats! Wild hamsters roam Vienna in search of fresh flowers and candle-wax, sometimes with hilarious consequences!

Students Join Lions In Protecting Koalas

November 20, 2019
Students from 25 Hastings-Macleay region schools have displayed plans to support the local Lions Club’s Koala Smart conservation project.

Port Macquarie Public School students coming up with urgently-needed new ideas to conserve koalas on the bushfire ravaged NSW north coast.

Entries from schools taking part in the Port Macquarie - Tacking Point Lions Club’s Koala Smart conservation project have taken on a new importance since bushfires ravaged hectares of prime koala habitat the week after the 25 schools presented their ideas.

Organiser Janice McGilchrist said the tragedy has given fresh urgency to selecting and implementing the best entries as soon as possible, given that more than 300 koalas are estimated to have perished in the fires which burnt two-thirds of the Lake Innes Nature Reserve.

“With the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie now treating around 20 koalas, and many new admissions expected, it’s doubly important that practical ideas come into play to protect the local koala habitat and the animals themselves in the long term,” Janice said.

Students from 25 primary and secondary schools across the Hastings-Macleay region presented their ideas and solutions to raise awareness of – and help arrest – the decline in local koala populations.

The presentations included interactive picture books, videos and paintings. The schools also displayed the half-metre tall koala models the Lions Club had provided each school with to be painted.

Professionals in koala health and conservation, general and environmental education evaluated the entries which were displayed at Settlement City and Wauchope CWA hall in the last week of October.

Kate Connolly, a teacher at one of the participating schools, Telegraph Point Public School, said the project has given true local, practical meaning to the students’ environment studies.

“Having the opportunity to go into a serious local issue in such depth, guided by the expert partners in the project, has given the students deeper insights into what conservation’s about at a practical level,” Kate said.

“We are really looking forward to what the professionals’ opinions of the different projects are, and which may be taken further, but it has been a wonderful learning experience for all the students involved.”

The judges were from the Hastings-Macleay Koala Recovery Partnership, Koala Conservation Australia Inc., the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, the NSW Department of Education and Charles Sturt University.

A selection of the ideas and presentations is being considered for implementation early next year by the Lions Club’s partners in the project, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and the Koala Recovery Partnership.

Why do teachers make us read old stories?

Teachers often assign older books. vovidzha/
Elisabeth GrunerUniversity of Richmond

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to

Why do teachers make us read old stories? Nathan, 12, Chicago, Illinois

There are probably as many reasons to read old stories as there are teachers.

Old stories are sometimes strange. They display beliefs, values and ways of life that the reader may not recognize.

As an English professor, I believe that there is value in reading stories from decades or even centuries ago.

Teachers have their students read old stories to connect with the past and to learn about the present. They also have their students read old stories because they build students’ brains, help them develop empathy and are true, strange, delightful or fun.

Connecting With The Past And Present

William Shakespeare wrote plays in the 1600s that are still read today. Martin Droeshout/Yale UniversityCC BY

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” for example, teenagers speak a language that’s almost completely unfamiliar to modern readers. They fight duels. They get married. So that might seem to be really different from today.

And yet, Romeo and Juliet fall in love and make their parents mad, very much like many teens today. Ultimately, they commit suicide, something that far too many teens do today. So Shakespeare’s play may be more relevant than it first seems.

Additionally, many modern stories are based on older stories. To name only one, Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” has turned up in so many novels since its original publication in 1848 that there are entire articles and book chapters about its influence and importance.

For example, I found references to “Jane Eyre” lurking in “The Princess Diaries,” the “Twilight” series and a variety of other novels. So reading the old story can enrich the experience of the new.

Building Brain And Empathy

Reading specialist Maryanne Wolf writes about the “special vocabulary in books that doesn’t appear in spoken language” in “Proust and the Squid.” This vocabulary – often more complex in older books – is a big part of what helps build brains.

The sentence structure of older books can also make them difficult. Consider the opening of almost any fairy tale: “Once upon a time, in a very far-off country, there lived …”

None of us would actually speak like that, but older stories put the words in a different order, which makes the brain work harder. That kind of exercise builds brain capacity.

Stories also make us feel. Indeed, they teach us empathy. Readers get scared when they realize Harry Potter is in danger, excited when he learns to fly and happy, relieved or delighted when Harry and his friends defeat Voldemort.

Older stories, then, can provide a rich depth of feeling, by exposing readers to a broad range of experiences. Stories featuring characters from a diverse range of backgrounds or set in unfamiliar places can have a similar effect.

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ has been retold many times. John Tenniel/Wikimedia Commons

Reading Can Be Fun

Old stories are sometimes just so weird that you can’t help but enjoy them. Or I can’t, anyway.

In Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” there’s a character whose last name is “Pumblechook.” Can you say it without smiling?

In Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a cat disappears bit by bit, eventually leaving only its smile hanging in the air. Again, new stories are also lots of fun, but the fun in the older stories may turn up in those new stories.

For example, that cat returns in many newer tales that aren’t even related to Alice in Wonderland, so knowing the cat’s history can make reading that new story more pleasurable.

I won’t deny that some old stories contain offensive language or reflect attitudes that we may not want to embrace. But even those stories can teach readers to think critically.

Not every old story is good, but when your teacher asks you to read one, consider the possibility that you might build your brain, grow your feelings or have some fun. It’s worth a try, at least.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.

You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]The Conversation

Elisabeth Gruner, Associate Professor of English, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Queen's Album: The NSW State Archives And The State Archives Collection 

Published by NSW State Archives
Executive Director, Adam Lindsay, provides an introduction to NSW State Archives and the State Archives Collection. Hear about the different ways that NSW State Archives engages with the public and the Collection, including through exhibitions such as ‘The Queen’s Album’. Find out about the Western Sydney Records Centre, home of the State Archives Collection.

UNSW Law Student Named As A Finalist For Human Rights Award

November 20, 2019: Adam Phelan, UNSW
'This recognition is not for me, it’s for the ancestors who have been fighting much bigger battles before me.'
Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts’ voice echoes across the town square. In front of her, hundreds of people wave placards. The Bundjalung woman stands proudly, traditional body paint smeared across her face. The crowd fall silent as she speaks.

She then punches the air, her fist clenched tightly above her head. Her eyes pan across the hundreds of demonstrators, as they too raise their fists in solidarity.

“Let’s raise our voice for justice,” she yells.

The crowd erupt in cheers and they stamp their feet. Flags sway above the large knot of people, flickering in the golden sunset. Turnbull-Roberts starts to chant; she holds the microphone out to the crowd. Their response is deafening.

This is not a typical evening for most 22-year-olds. Yet, for Turnbull-Roberts, being on the front line in the fight against the injustices that affect First Nations people has become her daily existence.

Recognition for the whole community
This month, the UNSW Law student and writer was named as a finalist for the 2019 Young People’s Human Rights Medal. The Human Rights Award nomination highlighted Turnbull-Roberts’ advocacy in drawing attention to the prejudice faced by Indigenous peoples in statutory-care and in the criminal system. 

A recognition that, she says, is due to a whole community movement rather than just herself.

“The nomination came as a shock,” she says.

“I am really fortunate to be surrounded by staunch matriarchs, truth-tellers, healers and people who are forever advocating for the resistance and fight for First Nations people.”

“However, the work is not done, and whilst it is an immense privilege (to have this recognition), there are too many of our children, sisters and brothers in places where their voices are not heard, and their rights are not being met.”

It is these unheard voices, she says, that need to be at the front of the national conversation.

Turnbull-Roberts is completing her honours thesis at UNSW, highlighting the recent amendments to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. Her research examines how these amendments disproportionately impact Aboriginal children already over-represented in statutory care.

The law, she says, also plays a big role in the over-representation of Indigenous people in incarceration. Particularly when discretionary powers “are abused and Aboriginal children and young people are targeted”.

“The real change comes from shifting power imbalances,” she says.

“We have a system that is seeing our children go from statutory care through to the criminal justice system…If we are to create real change, we need to undertake an institutional abolition approach.”

Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts speaks at a march for Kumanjayi Walker. Image: John Janson-Moore

UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, Professor Megan Davis says the award nomination highlights the power of young Aboriginal voices.

“Vanessa is an extraordinary young woman. She is intelligent and erudite and energetic. She is also courageous. It is not easy to step up and speak out on matters such as child protection or criminal justice,” Professor Davis says.

Professor Davis also highlighted how Indigenous students like Turnbull-Roberts have a role in giving back to their communities.

“At UNSW we promote the ethic of ‘Give back’ – where students and graduates use their knowledge and education to help our community,” she says.

“In law reform, particularly on child protection laws and the criminal justice system, Venessa is giving back; using her position and energy to lead reform initiatives for the community. She is leading the next generation of Aboriginal thinkers and activists. We are very proud to have her at UNSW and UNSW Law.”

For Turnbull-Roberts, the award is recognition for the broader First Nations community and for all those who continue to advocate for change.

“(Being named as a finalist for the award is) for all the people who show up every day, show love and never forget where we come from as First Nations individuals and groups,” Turnbull-Roberts says.

“I am honoured to have been recognised, but this recognition is collective.”

The Human Rights Awards ceremony will be held on 13 December at the Fullerton Hotel Sydney.

Four Ways To Curb Light Pollution And Save Insects

November 18, 2019: Washington University in St. Louis
Artificial light at night negatively impacts thousands of species: beetles, moths, wasps and other insects that have evolved to use light levels as cues for courtship, foraging and navigation.

Writing in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, Brett Seymoure, the Grossman Family Postdoctoral Fellow of the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis, and his collaborators reviewed 229 studies to document the myriad ways that light alters the living environment such that insects are unable to carry out crucial biological functions.

"Artificial light at night is human-caused lighting -- ranging from streetlights to gas flares from oil extraction," Seymoure said. "It can affect insects in pretty much every imaginable part of their lives."

Insects and spiders have experienced global declines in abundance over the past few decades -- and it's only going to get worse. Some researchers have even coined a term for it: the insect apocalypse.

"Most of our crops -- and crops that feed the animals that we eat -- need to be pollinated, and most pollinators are insects," Seymoure said. "So as insects continue to decline, this should be a huge red flag. As a society of over 7 billion people, we are in trouble for our food supply."

Unlike other drivers of insect declines, artificial light at night is relatively straightforward to reverse. To address this problem, here are four things that Seymoure recommends:

1. Turn off lights that aren't needed

The evidence on this one is clear.

"Light pollution is relatively easy to solve, as once you turn off a light, it is gone. You don't have to go and clean up light like you do with most pollutants," Seymoure said.

"Obviously, we aren't going to turn off all lights at night," he said. "However, we can and must have better lighting practices. Right now, our lighting policy is not managed in a way to reduce energy use and have minimal impacts on ecosystem and human health. This is not OK, and there are simple solutions that can remedy the problem."

Four characteristics of electrical light matter the most for insects: intensity (or overall brightness); spectral composition (how colourful and what colour it is); polarisation; and flicker.

"Depending on the insect species, its sex, its behavior and the timing of its activity, all four of these light characteristics can be very important," Seymoure said.

"For example, overall intensity can be harmful for attracting insects to light. Or many insects rely upon polarisation to find water bodies, as water polarises light. So polarised light can indicate water, and many insects will crash into hoods of cars, plastic sheeting, etc., as they believe they are landing on water."

Because it is impossible to narrow down one component that is most harmful, the best solution is often to just shut off lights when they are not needed, he said.

2. Make lights motion-activated

This is related to the first recommendation: If a light is only necessary on occasion, then put it on a sensor instead of always keeping it on.

3. Put fixtures on lights to cover up bulbs and direct light where it is needed

"A big contributor to attraction of light sources for most animals is seeing the actual bulb, as this could be mistaken as the moon or sun," Seymoure said. "We can use full cut-off filters that cover the actual bulb and direct light to where it is needed and nowhere else.

"When you see a lightbulb outside, that is problematic, as that means animals also see that light bulb," he said. "More importantly, that light bulb is illuminating in directions all over the place, including up toward the sky, where the atmosphere will scatter that light up to hundreds of miles away resulting in skyglow. So the easiest solution is to simply put fixtures on light to cover the light bulb and direct the light where it is needed -- such as on the sidewalk and not up toward the sky."

4. Use different colors of lights

"The general rule is that blue and white light are the most attractive to insects," Seymoure said. "However, there are hundreds of species that are attracted to yellows, oranges and reds."

Seymoure has previously studied how different colours of light sources -- including the blue-white colour of LEDs and the amber colour of high pressure sodium lamps -- affect predation rates on moths in an urban setting.

"Right now, I suggest people stick with amber lights near their houses, as we know that blue lights can have greater health consequences for humans and ecosystems," Seymoure said. "We may learn more about the consequences of amber lights. And make sure these lights are properly enclosed in a full cut-off fixture."

Avalon C.S. Owens, Précillia Cochard, Joanna Durrant, Bridgette Farnworth, Elizabeth K. Perkin, Brett Seymoure. Light pollution is a driver of insect declines. Biological Conservation, 2019; 108259 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108259

Uncovering The Pathway To Wine's Acidity

November 19, 2019: University of Adelaide
University of Adelaide wine researchers say their latest discovery may one day lead to winemakers being able to manipulate the acidity of wines without the costly addition of tartaric acid.

The team of researchers has uncovered a key step in the synthesis of natural tartaric acid in wine grapes -- identifying and determining the structure of an enzyme that helps make tartaric acid in the grapes.

"Tartaric acid is important in all wines -- red, white and sparkling -- providing the finished wine with the vital acid taste to balance the sweetness of alcohol," says project leader Associate Professor Chris Ford, Interim Head of the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

"For example, in white wines such as a dry Riesling from the Eden Valley, the liveliness of the wine on the palate and the delicate balance of fruit flavours is due to careful management of acid levels in the grapes and during winemaking.

"However, it is often the case that natural levels of acidity in grapes are not enough for winemakers' requirements, requiring the addition of more tartaric acid."

Estimates have suggested that this costs over $10 million to the Australian wine industry each vintage, so understanding what controls the natural levels of acids like tartaric in the grape berry has the potential to save the industry significant sums of money.

"For this to become a reality, we need first to understand the details of the biochemical pathway that produces tartaric acid in the grape," says Associate Professor Ford.

This recent discovery follows an earlier collaboration with University of California Davis, when in 2006 the first enzyme in the six-step pathway that leads from vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to tartaric acid was discovered. Now a second enzyme has been identified and its structure determined and results published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Associate Professor Chris Ford and Dr John Bruning, a protein crystallographer and enzymologist from the School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, worked with researchers at Flinders University, the James Hutton Institute, Dundee, and postgraduate students Crista Burbidge, Emi Schutz and Yong Jia. They identified the enzyme based on its similarity to a bacterial enzyme with the same properties.

The enzyme was confirmed on the basis of its biochemical activity, and crystals of the enzyme grown so that its structure could be determined to atomic resolution using high-powered X-rays.

"Now that we understanding the 3D structure of this enzyme we can define its function and therefore its chemical mechanism and how it carries out its job in the grape," says Dr Bruning.

"That means we can modify the structure for biotechnological purposes down the line, such as altering the protein to change tartaric acid levels in the plant, instead of directly adding the acid at huge cost to winemakers."

Associate Professor Ford says: "As each piece of this intriguing puzzle falls in to place, our understanding of the metabolism of this critical grape acid increases. We now need to get to grips with the genetic, environmental and viticultural factors we may be able to manipulate to modulate the natural levels of tartaric acid in the grape."

Yong Jia, Crista A. Burbidge, Crystal Sweetman, Emi Schutz, Kathy Soole, Colin Jenkins, Robert D. Hancock, John B. Bruning, Christopher M. Ford. An aldo-keto reductase with 2-keto-l-gulonate reductase activity functions in l-tartaric acid biosynthesis from vitamin C in Vitis vinifera. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2019; 294 (44): 15932 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010196

Early Season Heatwave Alert

November 19, 2019
NSW Health is again reminding people to take necessary precautions in periods of hot weather and poor air quality to reduce their risk of illness, with heatwave conditions forecast for parts of the state this week.

The forecast heat will potentially break November records, while health risks will be compounded by smoke from bushfires which continue to affect large parts of NSW.

NSW Health Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome, urged people to avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day, to minimise physical activity and to keep well hydrated.

“We’re expecting temperatures over 40 for some rural areas of NSW and the high 30s for western Sydney. This is the first really hot period of summer and I’d encourage everyone to take the risk of heat related illness seriously,” Dr Broome said.

“We know that heatwaves cause severe illness, hospital admission and even deaths, and that people are more sensitive to heatwaves early in the season. The combination of heat and poor air quality adds to the risk.”

“Hot weather puts a lot of strain on the body, causes dehydration and can make underlying health conditions worse. It also causes heat stress and heat stroke. People over 75, people with chronic medical conditions and people who live alone are particularly vulnerable.”

“Simple precautions can reduce the risk of heat-related illness,” said Dr Broome.

“It’s best to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, which is generally from about 11am to 4pm. Staying indoors also protects you from bushfire smoke. If you don’t have air conditioning, using a fan can cool you down and keeping curtains shut helps to keep the heat out of your home. It’s also important to minimise physical activity and to drink plenty of water.

“It’s also really important to stay in regular contact with elderly neighbours, friends and relatives because they may be more vulnerable to the heat.

“Signs of heat-related illness include dizziness, tiredness, irritability, thirst, fainting, muscle pains or cramps, headache, changes in skin colour, rapid pulse, shallow breathing, vomiting and confusion,” he said.

Dr Broome said it’s important to get to a cool place quickly if symptoms occur. People showing severe signs of heat-related illness should seek urgent medical attention, in an emergency situation call Triple Zero (000).

More information can be found at the NSW Health website:

AUSTRAC Applies For Civil Penalty Orders Against Westpac

November 20, 2019
AUSTRAC, Australia’s anti money-laundering and terrorism financing regulator, has today applied to the Federal Court of Australia for civil penalty orders against Westpac Banking Corporation (Westpac).

The civil penalty orders relate to systemic non-compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (AML/CTF Act). AUSTRAC alleges Westpac contravened the AML/CTF Act on over 23 million occasions.

AUSTRAC Chief Executive Officer, Nicole Rose, says that AUSTRAC’s decision to commence civil penalty proceedings was made following a detailed investigation into Westpac’s non-compliance.

It is alleged that Westpac’s oversight of the banking and designated services provided through its correspondent banking relationships was deficient. Westpac’s oversight of its AML/CTF Program, intended to identify, mitigate and manage the money laundering and terrorism financing risks of its designated services, was also deficient. These failures in oversight resulted in serious and systemic non-compliance with the AML/CTF Act.

Westpac failed to: 
  1. appropriately assess and monitor the ongoing money laundering and terrorism financing risks associated with the movement of money into and out of Australia through correspondent banking relationships. Westpac has allowed correspondent banks to access its banking environment and the Australian Payments System without conducting appropriate due diligence on those correspondent banks and without appropriate risk assessments and controls on the products and channels offered as part of that relationship.
  2. report over 19.5 million International Funds Transfer Instructions (IFTIs) to AUSTRAC over nearly five years for transfers both into and out of Australia. The late incoming IFTIs received from four correspondent banks alone represent over 72% of all incoming IFTIs received by Westpac in the period November 2013 to September 2018 and amounts to over $11 billion dollars. IFTIs are a key source of information from the financial services sector that provides vital information into AUSTRAC’s financial intelligence to protect Australia’s financial system and the community from harm.
  3. pass on information about the source of funds to other banks in the transfer chain. This conduct deprived the other banks of information they needed to understand the source of funds to manage their own AML/CTF risks.
  4. keep records relating to the origin of some of these international funds transfers.
  5. carry out appropriate customer due diligence on transactions to the Philippines and South East Asia that have known financial indicators relating to potential child exploitation risks. Westpac failed to introduce appropriate detection scenarios to detect known child exploitation typologies, consistent with AUSTRAC guidance and their own risk assessments.
“These AML/CTF laws are in place to protect Australia’s financial system, businesses and the community from criminal exploitation. Serious and systemic non-compliance leaves our financial system open to being exploited by criminals,” Ms Rose said.

“The failure to pass on information about IFTIs to AUSTRAC undermines the integrity of Australia’s financial system and hinders AUSTRAC’s ability to track down the origins of financial transactions, when required to support police investigations.”

AUSTRAC’s approach to regulation is based on building resilience in the financial system and on educating the financial services sector to ensure they understand, and are able to comply with, their compliance and reporting obligations. Businesses are the first line of defence in protecting the financial system from abuse.

“We have been, and will continue to work with Westpac during these proceedings to strengthen their AML/CTF processes and frameworks,” Ms Rose said.

“Westpac disclosed issues with its IFTI reporting, has cooperated with AUSTRAC’s investigation and has commenced the process of uplifting its AML/CTF controls.”

Westpac is a member of the Fintel Alliance. The Fintel Alliance is a private-public partnership established by AUSTRAC to tackle serious financial crime, including money laundering and terrorism financing.

Differences In Sensory Brainwaves Of Autistic Teenagers Could Assist In Earlier Diagnosis And Support

November 19, 2019: Macquarie University
Variances have been found in the brainwaves responsible for visual perception between autistic teenagers and those teens not on the autism spectrum. Researchers believe this could assist in earlier diagnosis and help inform how support is given to young people with autism.

Cognitive neuroscience post-doctoral researcher at Macquarie University, Dr Robert Seymour, worked alongside researchers at the Aston Neuroscience Institute (ANI), located at Aston University in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

The researchers focused on sensory areas of the brain because a substantial number of people with autism report issues with processing incoming sensory information, often suffering from hypersensitivity, meaning that bright lights, loud sounds or crowded situations can be overwhelming.

The findings, which have been published in the journal BRAIN, found that different patterns of brain-wave activity were triggered in teenagers diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) compared to neuro-typical teenagers, when performing the same simple visual task.

“The results suggest that even during very basic sensory processing, there are differences in the pattern of brain waves between autistic individuals and their peers who do not have ASD. This is important, given that sensory symptoms were recently added to the condition’s diagnostic criteria,” says Dr Seymour.

“Our results might also explain why over 90 per cent of autistic individuals report atypical sensory responses to visual stimuli,” he says. “These experiences are often described in terms of hyper-sensitivities, with more pronounced responses to certain stimuli which result in overwhelming and unpleasant sensations.”

At the Aston Brain Centre, the research team used Magnetoencephalography (MEG), an imaging technique that measures the small magnetic fields produced by neuronal activity in the brain, to look at brain activity within the visual system of 18 teenagers with a diagnosis of ASD and 18 teenagers without the diagnosis (aged between 14-20 years). They specifically measured brainwave activity in the visual cortex.

It was found that so-called ‘alpha’ brain waves were less connected from higher level to lower level brain regions in the autistic visual system. In addition, brainwaves across a broader range of frequencies (gamma range) were ‘dysregulated’ in the autistic group, meaning they were not organised as efficiently over time and in synchrony with alpha waves.

In Australia, the latest government figures suggest at least 164,000 people have autism, representing about 1 in 150 Australians. Of those who were estimated to have autism in 2015, 143,900 were identified as also having a disability (physical or intellectual), i.e. 88 per cent. In the UK, there are around 700,000 autistic people – that’s more than 1 in 100 people – with approximately 33 per cent estimated to have a learning disability, as well as there being three-million carers and families (National Autistic Society).

The findings of this study, titled Dysregulated Oscillatory Connectivity in the Visual System in Autism Spectrum Disorder, could in future allow for an alternative approach to early diagnosis of autism, offering a new perspective on the current understanding of how circuitry in the brain of an individual with ASD functions.

The project’s lead, Professor Klaus Kessler, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, at the ANI says the research is just the beginning.

“We found an interesting link between brain connectivity and autistic symptoms, as measured via a questionnaire. This finding suggests that in the future, MEG brain scanning could potentially aid clinicians as a tool for earlier ASD diagnosis. Our research could also lead to interventions aimed at managing sensory issues in ASD. These might include brain stimulation techniques; and neuro-feedback training.”

The next stage of the research will be to broaden out the MEG scan tests to younger children under the age of 12 years old.

“This is the first step in a long process of understanding autism, improving diagnosis and implementing interventions,” says Dr Seymour. “In future we might be able to look at using a combination of MEG scanning and formal clinical assessments.”

Watch Out For 'Feather Duvet Lung' Caution Doctors

November 18, 2019
Watch out for 'feather duvet lung' doctors have warned in the journal BMJ Case Reports after treating a middle aged man with severe lung inflammation that developed soon after he bought feather-filled bedding.

The 43 year old was referred to respiratory specialists after 3 months of malaise, fatigue and increasing breathlessness which affected the simplest of activities, such as going from room to room and walking up the stairs at home.

His symptoms worsened to the point where he could only stand or walk for a few minutes without feeling as if he were about to pass out. He was signed off work and managed to do little more than sleep all day.

He was quizzed about possible triggers for his symptoms: there was a small amount of mould in the bathroom, and he owned a cat and a dog, but no birds, so the doctors concluded that these factors were unlikely to be responsible.

But he had recently swapped a synthetic duvet and pillows for feather filled bedding, he said.

Blood tests revealed antibodies to bird feather dust, and his chest x-ray was consistent with hypersensitivity pneumonitis -- a condition in which the air sacs and airways in the lungs become severely inflamed as a result of the body's exaggerated immune response to a particular trigger.

The man was diagnosed with a variant of hypersensitivity pneumonitis -- feather duvet lung -- which is caused by breathing in organic dust from the duck or goose feathers found in duvets and pillows.

He was given a course of steroids to quell the inflammation and told to revert to synthetic bedding. After 12 months his symptoms had cleared up and his life had returned to normal.

This is just one case, and it's not known how common feather duvet lung is, say the authors, precisely because it is often missed as doctors rarely ask patients about feather bedding.

But in the first four months of 2015 alone, 7 million duvets were sold in the UK, they point out. And repeated exposure to the culprit trigger in hypersensitivity pneumonitis can lead to irreversible scarring of the lung tissue, so it's important to identify this promptly, they say.

Patrick Liu-Shiu-Cheong, Chris RuiWen Kuo, Struan WA Wilkie, Owen Dempsey. Feather duvet lung. BMJ Case Reports, 2019; 12 (11): e231237 DOI: 10.1136/bcr-2019-231237

Beyond The Green Revolution

November 19, 2019

There has been a substantial increase in food production over the last 50 years, but it has been accompanied by a narrowing in the diversity of cultivated crops. New research shows that diversifying crop production can make food supply more nutritious, reduce resource demand and greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance climate resilience without reducing calorie production or requiring more land.

The Green Revolution -- or Third Agricultural Revolution -- entailed a set of research technology transfer initiatives introduced between 1950 and the late 1960s. This markedly increased agricultural production across the globe, and particularly in the developing world, and promoted the use of high-yielding seed varieties, irrigation, fertilizers, and machinery, while emphasising maximising food calorie production, often at the expense of nutritional and environmental considerations. Since then, the diversity of cultivated crops has narrowed considerably, with many producers opting to shift away from more nutritious cereals to high-yielding crops like rice. This has in turn led to a triple burden of malnutrition, in which one in nine people in the world are undernourished, one in eight adults are obese, and one in five people are affected by some kind of micronutrient deficiency. According to the authors of a new study, strategies to enhance the sustainability of food systems require the quantification and assessment of tradeoffs and benefits across multiple dimensions.

In their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers from IIASA, and several institutions across the US and India, quantitatively assessed the outcomes of alternative production decisions across multiple objectives using India's rice dominated monsoon cereal production as an example, as India was one of the major beneficiaries of Green Revolution technologies.

Using a series of optimisations to maximise nutrient production (i.e., protein and iron), minimise greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and resource use (i.e., water and energy), or maximise resilience to climate extremes, the researchers found that diversifying crop production in India would make the nation's food supply more nutritious, while reducing irrigation demand, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The authors specifically recommend replacing some of the rice crops that is currently being cultivated in the country with nutritious coarse cereals like millets and sorghum, and argue that such diversification would also enhance the country's climate resilience without reducing calorie production or requiring more land. Researchers from IIASA contributed the design of the optimisation model and the energy and GHG intensity assessments.

"To make agriculture more sustainable, it's important that we think beyond just increasing food supply and also find solutions that can benefit nutrition, farmers, and the environment. This study shows that there are real opportunities to do just that. India can sustainably enhance its food supply if farmers plant less rice and more nutritious and environmentally friendly crops such as finger millet, pearl millet, and sorghum," explains study lead author Kyle Davis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Data Science Institute at Columbia University, New York.

The authors found that planting more coarse cereals could on average increase available protein by 1% to 5%; increase iron supply by between 5% and 49%; increase climate resilience (1% to 13% fewer calories would be lost during times of drought); and reduce GHG emissions by 2% to 13%. The diversification of crops would also decrease the demand for irrigation water by 3% to 21% and reduce energy use by 2% to 12%, while maintaining calorie production and using the same amount of cropland.

"One key insight from this study was that despite coarse grains having lower yields on average, there are enough regions where this is not the case. A non-trivial shift away from rice can therefore occur without reducing overall production," says study coauthor Narasimha Rao, a researcher in the IIASA Energy Program, who is also on the faculty of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

The authors point out that the Indian Government is currently promoting the increased production and consumption of these nutri-cereals -- efforts that they say will be important to protect farmers' livelihoods and increase the cultural acceptability of these grains. With nearly 200 million undernourished people in India, alongside widespread groundwater depletion and the need to adapt to climate change, increasing the supply of nutri-cereals may be an important part of improving the country's food security.

Davis K, Chhatre A, Rao N, Singh D, Ghosh-Jerath S, Mriduli A, Poblete-Cazenave M, Pradhan N, & DeFries R. Beyond the Green Revolution: Balancing multiple objectives for sustainable cereal production. PNAS, 2019 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1910935116

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.