Inbox and environment news: Issue 501

July 11 - 17, 2021: Issue 501

More Time To Have Your Say On Ingleside Housing Development Proposal

The exhibition of the draft Ingleside Place Strategy has been extended until Friday 23 July 2021.
The NSW Dept. of Planning states it knows the community wants more time to provide feedback on the place strategy, which is why they have extended the exhibition to now run more than twice as long as the standard four-week exhibition period.
If you missed attending any of their previous online and face-to-face information sessions, you can now see the online presentation and read an updated frequently asked questions
The draft Ingleside Place Strategy is on public exhibition until Friday 23 July 2021.   
The draft place strategy outlines a plan for the development of Ingleside. It proposes a bushfire-safe community with up to 980 new dwellings and a new neighbourhood centre as well as welcoming public areas and attractive green spaces for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors. 
For more information on how to have your say and to view the precinct plans, visit the Ingleside webpage:

Photo: Waratah Rd Ingleside: this government owned bush is proposed to be cleared for housing. The Heath-leafed Banksia, Banksia ericifolia, on that site. PNHA photo

Sydney Man Sentenced For Waste Offences On The Hawkesbury River

July 1, 2021
The Land and Environment Court has fined a Sydney man $100,000 after he pleaded guilty to three environmental offences at a property on the banks of the Hawkesbury River near the small town of Spencer, NSW.

The man was prosecuted by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for dumping about 21,000 tonnes of concrete, car parts, timber, plastic and asbestos. The EPA charged the man with offences of land pollution, unlawfully transporting waste and using the property as a waste facility.

The EPA alleged the offences occurred over the course of approximately 15 months between February 2015 and May 2016.

Sam Abbas pleaded guilty to three environmental offences at a property near the small Central Coast town of Spencer.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority charged the father-of-five with land pollution, unlawfully transporting waste and using the property as a waste facility between February 2015 and May 2016.

Mr Abbas said in his affidavit that he noticed a "large amount of waste material" on the property when it was purchased by his sister.

He thought the fill material he bought to cover the waste and make the property more level was "clean" and made of clay, shale and dirt.

Mr Abbas claimed when he realised some of it contained "demolition material" he directed it to be covered up, "in the belief that such covering would bury the material and ensure it did not enter the river".

He said he did not know the material deposited on the property could cause environmental harm until he read a report from the illegal dump squad.

"In hindsight, I should have been diligent and ensured that all fill placed on the property was clean," he said.

"I am deeply regretful that my actions have led to this result and without reservation apologise to both the court and the community for my actions and those who brought the material to the property at my request."

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said the EPA, in coordination with Gosford Council, were responsible for the individual being investigated and prosecuted.

“Following a thorough investigation by the EPA, the perpetrator has been brought to account for his actions”, Ms Dwyer said.

In addition to the $100,000 in fines, the Defendant was ordered to pay the EPA’s investigation costs of $80,000 and its legal costs.

The EPA has also issued the Sydney man with a clean-up notice which requires him to take steps to remediate the Property to remove the risk of ongoing harm to the environment.

Ms Dwyer said the consequences of committing waste offences such as these were abundantly clear.

“Rules and regulations around how to manage waste materials are clear and designed to reduce risks associated to the environment and the community.

“If you don’t dispose of waste correctly, there will be consequences.”

Prosecutions are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions. For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at

EPA Fines Power Station Operator $15,000  For Alleged Water Pollution

July 2, 2021
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined AGL Macquarie Pty Limited $15,000 for an alleged water pollution offence at its Bayswater Power Station.

The offence was for a discharge of fly ash slurry into Bayswater Creek from a leak in a pipeline at the power station.

Contractors monitoring the pumping of fly ash noticed a drop in flow rate on April 5th 2021 and immediately ceased pumping fly ash.

Their investigation identified that a hole had developed in the ash transfer pipeline, causing the discharge of the slurry overland and into the creek.

Power station staff notified the EPA of the incident and cleaned the material up.

EPA Director Regulatory Operations North Adam Gilligan said the incident had the potential to cause environmental harm.

“Fly ash slurry deposited over vegetation and settled out in Bayswater Creek which was running at the time following rain.

“This incident was similar, but smaller in scale, to an event in 2019 for which AGL Macquarie has entered into an enforceable undertaking.

“Under the enforceable undertaking, AGL Macquarie is continuing to assess and monitor the condition of the pipeline and has committed to replacing the aging pipeline,” Mr Gilligan said.

“AGL Macquarie has applied for development consent to replace the pipeline. The EPA is continuing to work with the company to identify ways to better manage the pipeline and prevent further incidents.”

Penalty notices are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy on the EPA website.

150 Hectares Of Habitat Lost Each Day In NSW

June 29, 2021
Latest land clearing data shows 150 hectares of wildlife habitat is bulldozed or logged every day in NSW, almost twice the average annual rate recorded before the Coalition overhauled nature laws in 2016. [1] 

The annual Statewide Land and Tree Study (SLATS) data shows 54,500 hectares of native forest were destroyed for farming, forestry and development in 2019. 

“This astounding rate of deforestation is a disaster for wildlife and the climate. We call on the government to take urgent action to reverse the trend,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.   

“In just one year we have lost an area of forest four times the size of Royal National Park. It is simply unsustainable. 

“Using widely accepted data on wildlife population densities, clearing on that scale would have killed up to 9 million animals - mammals, birds and reptiles – in just 12 months.  

“After the government weakened land clearing laws in 2016, deforestation rates doubled and have remained at these dangerously high levels ever since. 

“The Coalition promised its new laws would enhance protections for bushland and wildlife.  

“These figures, and the rising number of threatened species, shows the laws completely fail to deliver on that promise. 

More than 1,020 plants and animals are now threatened with extinction in NSW, about 20 more than when the scheme was introduced. 

“The 74% of clearing is designated as ‘unexplained’ in this report shows the government has lost control of deforestation in NSW.  

“We welcomed the government establishing new national parks over the past year, but the national parks system covers less than 10% of the state.

“The government must stop uncontrolled deforestation on private land and in state forests if it is going to tackle the extinction crisis.” 

Community Workshop Sheds Light On Microplastics In Hawkesbury-Nepean River 

June 29, 2021
Western Sydney University researchers and students, in collaboration with Streamwatch and Greater Sydney Landcare, have joined community volunteers as part of a hands-on workshop to assess the number of microplastics present in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River.

The first ‘Hawkesbury-Nepean Riverkeeper Community Day’ saw the group come together on World Environment Day, 5 June, at Windsor Beach – a popular recreational area in the Hawkesbury region that was recently impacted by significant flooding.

Dr Michelle Ryan from the Western Sydney University’s School of Science led the workshop and explained as much of current research into microplastics is focused on the oceans, there is a need to explore the impacts of this emerging pollutant on freshwater systems, including the Hawkesbury-Nepean.

“We were delighted to see a number of community members from a variety of backgrounds attend the workshop. Some volunteer regularly and others were just interested community members who care about improving the health of the waterway,” said Dr Ryan.

“On the day, we split into four groups and ran transects on the high tide line. We then sifted for microplastics by putting sediment and sand through different size sieves into trays which we took back to the lab to examine under the microscope.”

“The community also had the opportunity to look at samples from Yarramundi and Sackville, in addition to Windsor Beach, which had been collected and dried a few days previously.”

The data collected will be formally analysed by Dr Ryan and her team at lab facilities at the University’s Hawkesbury campus. The findings will inform the first ‘report card’ on the waterway to be released later this year.

“Indicative results show the community found up to six pieces of microplastic per gram of riverbank – this number is less than previous counts – and we believe the difference could be due to the recent flooding which resulted in a sand dump from upstream,” commented Dr Ryan.

Catherine Welsh was one of the students on hand to support the day. Catherine is studying the Master of Philosophy at Western Sydney University's Hawkesbury campus and aspires to work in conservation.

“It was a great experience to be back in the field and the lab and to help guide members of the community through sampling.  It also was lovely to connect with other students on the day that were helping out who were passionate about conserving the waterway,” said Catherine.

“The Hawkesbury River is such an important river, it is used for agriculture, drinking water, recreation, and has cultural significance.”

“It’s vital to engage with the community and educate them on why we should protect our waterways, not only for us but for the biodiversity that live within the river, like the platypus.”

Serene White studies the Master of Research and travelled from Gosford to help out on the day and contribute her research expertise.

“I helped set up the equipment at Windsor beach in the morning and then guided a group to collect four samples of sand. Later in the day at the lab, I helped the community members identify any microplastics they found under the microscope,” explained Serene.

“These types of events are a great way to enrich my experience as a student as it shows research beyond a classroom setting. It really puts research in a practical sense, and it is a great experience for a young researcher like me.”

“Citizen science is such a fundamental aspect of conservation as most research would not take place if it were not for community support. Holding community days is a great way to develop a sense of pride in the community to look after their local environment which in turn helps to carry on the legacy of research.”

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Riverkeeper Community Day is an initiative of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Riverkeepers: A Waterkeeper Alliance. This original initiative is currently under renewal, with a new collaborative working group from Western Sydney University (comprising RCE Greater Western Sydney), Greater Sydney Local Land Services, Greater Sydney Landcare Network (GLSN) with Streamwatch and GLSN member groups: Cattai Hills Environment Network, Hawkesbury Nepean Landcare Network and Hawkesbury Environment Network.

Photo credit: Josh Newman

Draft National Recovery Plan For The Koala (Combined Populations Of Queensland, New South Wales And The Australian Capital Territory)

AWE have drafted a National Recovery Plan for the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory). It is proposed that this plan be made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). They invite you to comment on this draft national recovery plan by 24 September 2021.

What is the Draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory)?
The combined population of Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act. The Koala populations of Victoria and South Australia are not listed as threatened under the EPBC Act and therefore are not covered by this recovery plan. The National Recovery Plan for the Koala identifies national-level strategic actions to support recovery of the EPBC Act listed Koala. It aligns with relevant state and territory planning, programs and strategies to ensure we are all working together to save the Koala.

What is the purpose of this consultation?
The 3-month public consultation process gives Australians the chance to have their say on the draft plan that sets out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of the nation’s threatened Koalas.

All comments received during the public consultation period will be considered by the Minister for the Environment in making the final recovery plan.

Provide your feedback
We invite you to comment on this draft national recovery plan.

Who can respond to the consultation?
Everybody can have their say and we encourage feedback from members of the general public as well as representative organisations, land managers, community groups and the scientific community.

How long is the consultation open for?
Submit your feedback by 24 September 2021.

How can I provide my comments on the recovery plan?
To have your say, use our survey portal below to answer questions, upload a submission, or both.

Alternatively, you can send your submission via:

Post: Attn Koala Recovery Plan team

Protected Species and Communities Branch
Biodiversity Conservation Division
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601

Or email: link) with "Recovery Plan" in the subject heading.

What next
We provide your feedback to the:

Threatened Species Scientific Committee
Minister for the Environment.
The Minister will consider the feedback received in making the final recovery plan, on advice of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Conservation advice and listing assessment
The National Recovery Plan is not the only koala document out for public consultation. The draft conservation advice and listing assessment for the koala has been released for public consultation as well. The public consultation period closes on 30 July 2021. Information on how you can provide comment can be found at

Any relevant information arising from the listing assessment will be considered in the final version of the draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala.

Federal Consultation On Endangered Listing For The Koala Now Open - Closes July 30, 2021

Consultation on Species Listing Eligibility and Conservation Actions: Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala)
You are invited to provide your views and supporting reasons related to:

1) the eligibility of Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) for inclusion on the EPBC Act
threatened species list in the Endangered category; and
2) the necessary conservation actions for the above species.

The purpose of this consultation document is to elicit additional information to better understand the status of the species and help inform on conservation actions and further planning. As such, the draft assessment should be considered to be tentative as it may change following responses to this consultation process.

Evidence provided by experts, stakeholders and the general public are welcome. Responses can be provided by any interested person.

Anyone may nominate a native species, ecological community or threatening process for listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) or for a transfer of an item already on the list to a new listing category. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the Committee) undertakes the assessment of species to determine eligibility for inclusion in the list of threatened species and provides its recommendation to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment.

Responses are to be provided in writing by email to: please include “Koala-Listing” in Subject field.
or by mail to:
The Director
Bushfire Affected Species Assessments Section
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
John Gorton Building, King Edward Terrace
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601
Responses are required to be submitted by 30 July 2021.


Koala Listing Strengthens Call For An Independent Environmental Compliance Agency

June 18, 2021
The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia today welcomed the recommendation to uplist koalas in eastern Australia from vulnerable to endangered, but said this could have been avoided.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which advises the federal government, has made a tentative assessment (on page 51) that “the Committee considers that the Koala is eligible for listing as Endangered” in eastern Australia because of population declines.

There will now be a public inquiry to confirm that assessment. It follows WWF-Australia, IFAW and HSI nominating the koala to be listed as endangered last year.

“Had Australia put in place an independent compliance agency in 2012 when the koala in eastern Australia was first listed as vulnerable, we could have avoided this day. But we didn’t, we kept on with business as usual,” said Stuart Blanch, WWF-Australia Senior Manager, Towards Two Billion Trees.

In fact last year WWF-Australia revealed that destruction of koala habitat actually increased after the iconic marsupial was listed as “vulnerable” in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT.

“There was little to no consequence for those who didn’t follow our nature laws.

“If we don’t instate an independent environmental compliance agency, then we’ll keep marching our koalas to the extinction line across eastern Australia.

“This sad milestone could be a turning point for the Regeneration of Australia, but it requires reform and a commitment to a nature positive way forward.

“The decline of our Australian icon also shines the spotlight on why Australia needs to rise to meet the global ask of securing 30% of Australia’s landscape under protection.

“While the government recently celebrated meeting ocean protection targets, it is failing to meet the 30% land protection targets being called for globally.

“Australia also needs to commit to a target at the climate COP that is koala safe, because climate change is causing extreme drought and bushfire conditions – major extinction threats to koalas alongside clearing.

“WWF is confident that Australia can not only turn around the sad decline of Australia’s icon, but actually double the number of Koala’s across Eastern Australia by 2050.

Gas-Fired Recovery Measures: Have Your Say - Closes August 2nd

July 5, 2021: Federal Government Dept. of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. 
The Australian Government’s Gas-Fired Recovery Plan was announced on 15 September 2020. It is being delivered through actions that work to:
  • unlock supply
  • deliver an efficient pipeline and transportation network
  • empower gas customers.
As part of our ongoing engagement with stakeholders, we are undertaking further consultation to inform two key gas-fired recovery measures:
  • the National Gas Infrastructure Plan (NGIP)
  • the Future Gas Infrastructure Investment Framework.
This consultation builds on the previous consultations the Department undertook from 1 December 2020 to 31 March 2021. This is an additional targeted opportunity to provide your views.

Your feedback will help us better understand issues to consider before finalising the NGIP and designing the Investment Framework.

Submissions close on 2 August 2021.

Australia’s threatened species plan has failed on several counts. Without change, more extinctions are assured

Euan RitchieDeakin University and Ayesha TullochUniversity of Sydney

Australia is globally renowned for its abysmal conservation record – in roughly 230 years we’ve overseen the extinction of more mammal species than any other nation. The federal government’s Threatened Species Strategy was meant to address this confronting situation.

The final report on the five-year strategy has just been published. In it, Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box acknowledges while the plan had some important wins, it fell short in several areas, writing:

…there is much more work to do to ensure our native plants and animals thrive into the future, and this will require an ongoing collective effort.

Clearly, Australia must urgently chart a course towards better environmental and biodiversity outcomes. That means reflecting honestly on our successes and failures so far.

How Did The Strategy Perform?

The strategy, announced in 2015, set 13 targets linked to three focus areas:

  • feral cat management
  • improving the population trajectories of 20 mammal, 21 bird and 30 plant species
  • improving practices to recover threatened species populations.

Given the scale of the problem, five years was never enough time to turn things around. Indeed, as the chart below shows, the report card indicates five “red lights” (targets not met) and three “orange lights” (targets only partially met). It gave just five “green lights” for targets met.

Year Five - Final Report
Summary of the Threatened Species Strategy’s targets and outcomes. Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

Falling Short On Feral Cats

Feral cats were arguably the most prominent focus of the strategy, despite other threats requiring as much or more attention, such as habitat destruction via land clearing.

However, the strategy did help start a national conversation about the damage cats wreak on wildlife and ecosystems, and how this can be better managed.

In the five years to the end of 2020, an estimated 1.5 million feral cats were killed under the strategy – 500,000 short of the 2 million goal. But this estimate is uncertain due to a lack of systematic data collection. In particular, the number of cats culled by farmers, amateur hunters and shooters is under-reported. And more broadly, information is scattered across local councils, non-government conservation agencies and other sources.

Read more: One cat, one year, 110 native animals: lock up your pet, it's a killing machine

Australia’s feral cat population fluctuates according to rainfall, which determines the availability of prey – numbering between 2.1 million and 6.3 million. Limited investment in monitoring makes it impossible to know whether the average of 300,000 cats killed each year over the past five years will be enough for native wildlife to recover.

The government also failed in its goal to eradicate cats from five islands, only achieving this on Dirk Hartog Island off Western Australia. Importantly, that effort began in 2014, before the strategy was launched. And it was primarily funded by the WA government and an industry offset scheme, so the federal government can’t really claim this success.

On a positive note, ten mainland areas excluding feral cats have been established or are nearly complete. Such areas are a vital lifeline for some wildlife species and can enable native species reintroductions in the future.

feral cat holds dead bird
Feral cats were eradicated from just one island under the strategy. Mark Marathon/Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Priority Species: How Did We Do?

The strategy met its target of ensuring recovery actions were underway for at least 50 threatened plant species and 60 ecological communities. It also made good headway into storing all Australia’s 1,400 threatened plant species in seed banks. This is good news.

The bad news is that, even with recovery actions, the population trajectories of most priority species failed to improve. For the 24 out of about 70 priority species where population numbers were deemed to have “improved” over five years, about 30% simply got worse at a slower rate than in the decade prior. This can hardly be deemed a success.

Mala with baby in pouch
Populations of the mala, or Rufous Hare-wallaby, were improving before the strategy. Wayne Lawler/Australian Wildlife Conservancy

What’s more, the populations of at least eight priority species, including the eastern barred bandicoot, eastern bettong, Gilbert’s potoroo, mala, woylie, numbat and helmeted honeyeater, were increasing before the strategy began – and five of these deteriorated under the strategy.

The finding that more priority species recovery efforts failed than succeeded means either:

  • the wrong actions were implemented
  • the right actions were implemented but insufficient effort and funding were dedicated to recovery
  • the trajectories of the species selected for action simply couldn’t be improved in a 5-year window.

All these problems are alarming but can be rectified. For example, the government’s new Threatened Species Strategy, released in May, contains a more evidence-based process for determining priority species.

For some species, it’s unclear whether success can be attributed to the strategy. Some species with improved trajectories, such as the helmeted honeyeater, would likely have improved regardless, thanks to many years of community and other organisation’s conservation efforts before the strategy began.

Conservation worker releases woylie
The improved outlook for some species is due to conservation efforts before the federal strategy. WA Department of Environment and Conservation

Read more: Australia-first research reveals staggering loss of threatened plants over 20 years

What Must Change

According to the report, habitat loss is a key threat to more than half the 71 priority species in the strategy. But the strategy does not directly address habitat loss or climate change, saying other government policies are addressing those threats.

We believe habitat loss and climate change must be addressed immediately.

Of the priority bird species threatened by land clearing and fragmentation, the trajectory of most – including the swift parrot and malleefowl – did not improve under the five years of the strategy. For several, such as the Australasian bittern and regent honeyeater, the trajectory worsened.

Preventing and reversing habitat loss will take years of dedicated restoration, stronger legislation and enforcement. It also requires community engagement, because much threatened species habitat is on private properties.

Effective conservation also requires raising public awareness of the dire predicament of Australia’s 1,900-plus threatened species and ecological communities. But successive governments have sought to sugarcoat our failings over many decades.

Bushfires and other extreme events hampered the strategy’s recovery efforts. But climate change means such events are likely to worsen. The risks of failure should form part of conservation planning – and of course, Australia requires an effective plan for emissions reduction.

The strategy helped increase awareness of the plight our unique species face. Dedicated community groups had already spent years volunteering to monitor and recover populations, and the strategy helped fund some of these actions.

However, proper investment in conservation – such as actions to reduce threats, and establish and maintain protected areas – is urgently needed. The strategy is merely one step on the long and challenging road to conserving Australia’s precious species and ecosystems.

Read more: 'Existential threat to our survival': see the 19 Australian ecosystems already collapsing The Conversation

Euan Ritchie, Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University and Ayesha Tulloch, DECRA Research Fellow, University of Sydney

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

NAIF Money For Central Queensland Coal Project

1 July 2021: The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources and Water, Joint media release with Assistant Minister for Northern Australia, the Hon Michelle Landry MP.

The Coalition Government is supporting mining jobs and exports in central Queensland through a Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan to the Olive Downs metallurgical coal project.

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the $900 million project in the Bowen Basin will support up to 700 jobs during construction and more than 500 new jobs for the region when fully operational.

“NAIF has approved a loan of $175 million to support the mine’s first stage of development which includes rail, and transmission lines, water pipelines, access roads and a coal handling preparation plant,” Minister Pitt said.

“Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs project will create jobs and opportunities for central Queensland and the nearby town of Moranbah, and will generate royalties and export income for Queensland and Australia for many years to come.

“Metallurgical coal is crucial for steelmaking, and is an important commodity for Australia’s trading partners to help support their economic development.”

“The NAIF investment will be an important contribution to a project which is expected to return more than $10 billion to the Australian economy over the mine’s lifetime, and provide jobs for people in Moranbah, Dysart and Mackay.”

The coal will be taken by rail to the coal terminal at Dalrymple Bay for export to key markets in Asia.

Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry said the investment was great news for the local economy and underlined the Australian Government’s support for jobs and economic development in northern Australia.

“NAIF has committed more than $3 billion to 26 projects across northern Australia creating new opportunities and supporting thousands of jobs for people across the north,” Assistant Minister Landry said.

“In Queensland, NAIF has approved $1.2 billion in loans to 11 projects, supporting jobs across the state.

“The Olive Downs project will create a jobs boom in Central Queensland, generate economic growth and reinforce the benefits of living and working in Australia’s north.”

When Will Politicians Heed Farmers' Concerns About Climate Change?

July 7, 2021
by Kelly O’Shanassy, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation
Farming communities are helping to drive Australia’s sustainable future, but they continue to be abandoned by parts of a federal government seduced by the dollar signs of big mining.

With a federal election looming, farmers across Australia can rightly ask: Who’s going to help us fight the impacts of climate change on our productive land – and on our hip pocket – as the threat of carbon tariffs continues to sound from our key trading partners? 

Aussie farming communities know what climate damage looks like: from the droughts of 2018 and 2019, to more frequent and catastrophic bushfire seasons like those experienced in 2020, to widespread flooding across the eastern states in 2021. 

As recently as 2017, the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences noted climate change had a significant impact on Australia’s cropping farm productivity, with a 2–20% decrease in yield across south-eastern, eastern and south-western agricultural regions.

Most farmers also understand and back the science calling for dramatic cuts to carbon pollution this decade – supported by the world’s top agriculture and energy agencies – despite the feet-dragging of national governments in many countries, including Australia. 

The real story on climate change never has been (nor should be) about pitting city against country, producers against consumers, environment against business. But some irresponsible politicians continue to pitch everyday Australians against each other in an ideological proxy battle.

The shared interests of farmers and the environment movement have a long history.

The shared interests of farmers and the environment movement have a long history. Nowhere is it more evident than in Landcare. In the 1980s the Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers Federation identified the need for community-based sustainable land management practices and created a new organisation to make it happen.

Last year the NFF voiced its support for a whole-of-economy target of net zero emissions by 2050. Broadly, the industry has started pursuing carbon neutral targets in the short-to-medium term for livestock, cropping and dairy.

Another body, Farmers for Climate Change, was created by producers who decided to take the lead in driving the climate conversation in response to largely absent governments.

As farmers deal with climate damage, many have taken mitigating action by improving their practices in favour of more efficient land management.

In Gippsland, locals recently met with federal Liberal MP Russell Broadbent to show the value and power of their work adapting their practices to meet the challenges of climate change.  

Farmers are powerful advocates for climate action.

As a well-respected community that sees firsthand the impact of climate damage, farmers are powerful advocates for action.

But there is a ceiling to what individual communities and industries can achieve. 

Australia and Scott Morrison’s Liberal/National Coalition finds itself at a fork in the road, and at the moment of choice.

It’s a choice between positive climate action with long-term benefits for our environment, people and international strategic and trading relationships, or continuing along the road of inaction, of land-destroying mining and short-term cash for long-term environmental and economic penalties.

Stubbornly, the Prime Minister hasn’t moved from his desire to reach net-zero ‘preferably’ by 2050. This failure to commit has left Australia isolated from key allies and export markets, which are now threatening to impose ‘carbon tariffs’ on our products.

Many individual government MPs want stronger climate action and a concrete net-zero target.

And not just metropolitan representatives like Jason Falinski, Katie Allen and Trent Zimmerman. Regional members like Darren Chester in Victoria and Warren Entsch in far north Queensland have seen the risks that ‘an increasingly warmer climate will mean for Australian agriculture in years to come.’

Fellow regional MP Russell Broadbent told his electorate billions of dollars in food exports would suffer if Europe, the UK or US imposed carbon tariffs on Australia.

If we take the path to a clean energy future, Australia effectively says ‘yes’ to supporting farming and agriculture. But it is the Prime Minister and his party room who must take the lead. 

Pursuing a clean energy future and strong carbon reduction targets in 2030 and 2050 means more regional jobs through new infrastructure to capture, store and disseminate Australia’s abundant wind and solar energy. 

The flow-on benefits to agriculture are obvious: fewer severe droughts, floods and fires.

Such action also avoids the threat of two-thirds of the nation’s agricultural output – the proportion that is exported – being slammed by border taxes from the US, UK and Europe, while Australia copes with an already strained trade relationship with China.

A positive climate agenda represents a vote of confidence in agriculture and our regions.

The alternative is the road we’re on, where the Morrison Government refuses effective climate policy in the face of calls from a majority of Australians, entire industries, local councils, state government and international allies. 

We cannot afford to continue down a road that neglects our farming communities and squanders the tremendous potential of our regions.

Kelly O’Shanassy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation

Public Money For Olive Downs Coal Mine Is Deeply Irresponsible

July 1, 2021
In response to Resources Minister Keith Pitt’s announcement that the Morrison government will give $175 million from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) to support the Olive Downs coal project in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Suzanne Harter said:

“While investors around the world are getting out of fossil fuels, and Australia’s banks are becoming increasingly unwilling to finance coal projects due to their clear climate risks, the Morrison government is using public money to support coal.

“It seems investment in Olive Downs would not hold up for other investors, yet the Minister and the NAIF board have decided it is an acceptable use of public money.

“Recent amendments to the NAIF Act intentionally gave the federal resources and finance ministers greater powers to direct NAIF investments.

“It is deeply irresponsible to use public money to support a coal project in 2021 – flying in the face of overwhelming advice by scientists and even the International Energy Agency that a global pathway to net zero pollution by mid-century cannot include new coal or gas.

“Investing public money in coal defies Australia’s own economic regulators, which see climate change as one of the greatest threats to our economic system and have determined that climate risk is a material risk.

“Australia’s prudential regulator has advised all regulated entities it will assess the financial industry’s exposure to climate change in an effort to improve resilience. 

“Today’s announcement follows Minister Pitt’s use of regulation to provide uncompetitive, non-merit-based grants to companies that want to drill for gas in the Beetaloo Basin – against the wishes of many Traditional Owners and counter to global efforts to avoid catastrophic global warming.”

Keith Pitt's Fracked Gas Cash Splash With Public Money

July 7, 2021
Protect Country Alliance states recently demoted Morrison Government Resources Minister Keith Pitt is “counting his dinosaur eggs before they hatch” after he announced $21 million for fracking gas wells at a project that has not even received Territory environment approval.

Mr Pitt states the $21M, from the previously announced $50M taxpayer-funded donation to fracking companies, will be used for three new fracking exploration wells at Empire Energy’s EP187 exploration zone near the community of Borroloola.

Empire Energy, via its wholly owned subsidiary Imperial Oil and Gas, has already benefited substantially from taxpayer handouts, with the company the sole beneficiary of the Morrison Government’s “gasroads” $174M subsidy as it progresses its takeover of Pangea, announced earlier this year.

Empire Energy is also a prolific political donor, having given $25,000 to both the Country Liberal Party and Territory Labor in the lead up to the last election (Source here. Follow Political Parties > Gifts received over the threshold > Aust Labor/Country Liberals).

The decision to throw more money at a gas project comes on the same day as AGL announced it would mothball one of four units at South Australia’s biggest gas-fired power station in response to the influx of large-scale renewable energy and rooftop solar power alternatives which are pricing fossil fuels out of the market.

It also comes as a Senate Inquiry prepares to get underway into the regulation under which this grant has been made, with notice of a disallowance motion for it having been lodged. 

“The Auditor General slammed the Federal Government just last week for flawed carpark grants made without merit, but here it is today throwing $21M in corporate handouts to a political donor - it stinks,” said Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer.

“The gas and fracking industry is an expensive, polluting dinosaur and the renewables energy industry is an asteroid that’s going to wipe it from the face of the earth, yet Keith Pitt fails to see it on the horizon.

“Not only is he blind to cheaper, less polluting and reliable renewable energy alternatives, but he has gifted a fracking company $21 million in public money when the Territory Government has not finished assessing Empire’s environmental management plan.

“There is also so much that we still don’t know about how fracking would impact the Territory’s fragile environment and underground water network because the research hasn’t been done, despite it being one of the key recommendations of the Pepper Inquiry.

“Keith Pitt needs to get his head out of the cretaceous period and, if he wants to throw public money at energy infrastructure, throw it at technology that hasn’t already been superseded.”

New NAIF Board To Steer The Next Phase Of Northern Investment

July 1, 2021: Media release - The Hon Keith Pitt MP,  Minister for Resources and Water
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt has announced a new Chair and board members for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).

Minister Pitt said the new Chair and board members had the credentials to lead the $5 billion NAIF through its next phase after Parliament approved reforms which widen the facility’s investment options to support projects across northern Australia.

Minister Pitt said businesswoman and corporate leader Tracey Hayes from the Northern Territory has been appointed Chair of the NAIF Board for a three-year term.

Ms Hayes has extensive corporate and governance experience. A former Chair of the Darwin Waterfront Corporation and CEO of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, Ms Hayes also serves on the Australia Indonesia Institute Board and the National Drought and Flood Response and Recovery Agency Advisory Board.

Ms Hayes takes over from Justin Mannolini (WA), who has been acting Chair since March. Mr Mannolini, who has extensive experience in investment banking and corporate governance, has been re-appointed to the Board for another three years.

Indigenous investment and community development specialist Kate George (WA) has also been reappointed to the NAIF board for three more years.

The new board member is project management specialist Stephen Margetic from the Northern Territory who will serve for three years from July 1.

“The appointments ensure the NAIF has the breadth of skills and leadership experience needed to lead the organisation through its next phase, with its mandate extended until July 2026 and a series of reforms which give NAIF more financial options to support opportunities, jobs and development in northern Australia,” Minister Pitt said.

“I thank outgoing board members Belinda Murphy, Karla Way-McPhail and Bill Shannon for their work and contribution to NAIF, and for building NAIF into a key source of funding for development projects across the north.”

Announcements will soon be made on two further NAIF board appointments and will include Queensland representation.

Since it started operations in 2016, NAIF has committed $2.9 billion in finance for projects which are forecast to generate $9.4 billion in economic benefit and support around 9,000 jobs.

Santos Decision Shows What’s In Store For Farmers If Barilaro Refuses To Slay Zombies

July 6, 2021
A shocking lack of federal scrutiny over the Santos Narrabri gasfield revealed in new freedom of information documents serves as a warning for communities covered by zombie petroleum licences, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.

The Morrison Government’s decision brief for the Santos Narrabri Gasfield reveals the company was able to water down a number of conditions made by the Environment Minister, leaving a federal approval which essentially mirrors that of the state approval.

The brief also shows many other ministers, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Angus Taylor, and Keith Pitt, unsurprisingly submitted comments enthusiastically welcoming the Santos proposal, and requesting that Minister Ley limit conditions.

The revelations come as a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry gets underway today into a Bill put forward by Independent MLC Justin Field, which, if passed, would permanently extinguish the petroleum licences that cover more than 4.5 million hectares of north west NSW.

They also come amid reports that Deputy Premier John Barilaro has refused to confirm which and how many expired petroleum licences would be extinguished in his soon to be released “Strategic Statement on Gas”.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said all the zombie PELs should be extinguished.

“Allowing some PELs to remain while removing others would leave rural communities under the shadow of coal seam gas, just as they are working hard to emerge from intense drought and the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic," she said.

“To be resilient, rural communities must be freed from the scourge and uncertainty of coal seam gas.

“These licenses should have been extinguished long ago under the government’s own “use it or lose it” policy. Santos has undertaken no work on them for more than six years. 

“The Deputy Premier must not reward Santos and its corporate partners for sitting greedily on these unused gas licenses and threatening farming communities for so long.”

Ms Woods said the Morrison Government’s decision brief for the Santos Narrabri project revealed what would happen if zombie PELs were raised from the dead and gas companies were allowed to drill more wells.

“The Morrison Government appears to have simply ticked off the approval for Santos’ destructive project with little further investigation, and after also allowing Santos itself to water down its few scant recommendations,” she said.

“Blind support for this project from senior ministers is disturbing. Who can the public rely on to actually defend water resources and the fabric of rural life?

“The communities, farmers, forest and water that are harmed by gasfields deserve more than ham-fisted cheerleading from our most senior elected politicians. 

“Environment Minister Sussan Ley should have referred Santos’ project to the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on water, she should have requested the biodiversity plan. We still don’t even know where Santos plans to drill its 850 gaswells. 

“Instead, it appears other senior ministers egged her on to give a blank cheque to Santos, which will ultimately cost communities, the Great Artesian Basin, and the largest intact temperate woodland in eastern Australia, the Pilliga Forest.”

Santos’ requests which were approved include:
  • Removing a condition limiting indirect impacts to 181 hectares. Santos said indirect impacts, such as increased dust, weeds, and feral animal intrusion, “would be extensive across the project area”, but had already been addressed by offsets.
  • Removal of specific reference to clearing limits and offset credit requirements for each protected matter.
  • Revised groundwater conditions.
  • Revised reporting requirements and definitions for the framework to categorise drilling fluid chemicals. 

Be suspicious of claims the mining industry creates non-mining jobs

Ketut Subiyanto/PexelsCC BY
John HawkinsUniversity of Canberra

Emblematic of the sort of claims that put the “con” into economics was an assertion by the Queensland Resources Council last year that “the resources sector employs 372,000 Queenslanders”.

The number employed in mining was 66,000, but the council claimed to have used input-output tables in the Australian National Accounts to add to that a much larger of “indirect” jobs created by mining.

It led to the awkward conclusion that mining contributed almost 46,000 full-time jobs to the electorate of McConnel, which had 40,000 enrolled voters.

The credulous way some of the media report such claims partly explains why the public has an inflated idea of the importance of the mining sector.

Surveyed Australians think coal mining makes up 9.4% of the workforce. The true figure at the time was 0.4% — or around 48,200 workers nationally as of May 2020.

The claims derive from a lesser known part of the Australian National Accounts, the ones that tell us each quarter whether or the economy has grown or whether we are in recession.

It comes out once a year, almost two full years after the calender year to which it refers.

Drilling down. ABS Input Output tables

How Much Value Is Baked In?

Known as the input-output tables, it’s a honeypot for consultants because it paints an incredibly detailed picture of the ways in which each part of the economy interacts with each other.

As an example, the most recent (which came out last month) tells us the value of bakery products manufactured was A$8.2 billion.

To make these baked goods, the industry used $900 million of grains and cereals, $700 million of meat (fillings for pies), and $500 million of sugar and confectionery (icing for cakes).

It paid $200 million to transport the goods, $100 million to clean the factories and so on.

This added up to $5.2 billion in payments to other industries.

The difference between the $8.2 billion and the $5.2 billion represents the “value added” by baking manufacturers.

Employees in the industry were paid $2.6 billion and there were $200 million in profits for the investors.

Australia also imported another $1.9 billion of bakery products.

The Input-Output Tables Reveal A Lot

The tables also show what happened to all these bakery products. $1 billion went to restaurants and $1.5 billion to other industries. $6.8 billion were bought by households, $800 million were exported.

Importantly, the input-output tables enable comparisons. The industries providing the most full-time equivalent jobs are retailing, professional services and health. The industries making the largest profits are finance and iron ore and oil and gas extraction.

In mining, the profits paid out are ten times what’s paid out in wages. In most manufacturing and service industries more is paid out in wages than profits.

What the tables cannot do is tell us how many jobs an industry has “created” outside of the industry itself.

Listen To The Statistician

A few years back, a senior treasury official called out this practice, as the following extract from a Senate committee hearing shows:

If you add up all the jobs “created” by all the industries, you will find that we have many more jobs than there are in Australia […] In a well functioning economy any given industry that is creating jobs is doing that only to the extent that other industries are employing fewer people.

That official was David Gruen.

Senate Economics Legislation Committee, February 16, 2012

David Gruen is now head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Not only does the bureau no longer publish “multipliers” that allow spurious claims to jobs created to be easily calculated, under his leadership it now publishes a very prominent warning:

The most significant limitation of economic impact analysis using multipliers is the implicit assumption that the economy has no supply–side constraints. That is, it is assumed that extra output can be produced in one area without taking resources away from other activities, thus overstating economic impacts.

It concedes that users “can compile their own multipliers as they see fit”.

They shouldn’t, and we should be suspicious when they do.The Conversation

John Hawkins, Senior Lecturer, Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society and NATSEM, University of Canberra

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

The North American heatwave shows we need to know how climate change will change our weather

Christian JakobMonash University and Michael ReederMonash University

Eight days ago, it rained over the western Pacific Ocean near Japan. There was nothing especially remarkable about this rain event, yet it made big waves twice.

First, it disturbed the atmosphere in just the right way to set off an undulation in the jet stream - a river of very strong winds in the upper atmosphere - that atmospheric scientists call a Rossby wave (or a planetary wave). Then the wave was guided eastwards by the jet stream towards North America.

Along the way the wave amplified, until it broke just like an ocean wave does when it approaches the shore. When the wave broke it created a region of high pressure that has remained stationary over the North American northwest for the past week.

This is where our innocuous rain event made waves again: the locked region of high pressure air set off one of the most extraordinary heatwaves we have ever seen, smashing temperature records in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and in Western Canada as far north as the Arctic. Lytton in British Columbia hit 49.6℃ this week before suffering a devastating wildfire.

What Makes A Heatwave?

While this heatwave has been extraordinary in many ways, its birth and evolution followed a well-known sequence of events that generate heatwaves.

Heatwaves occur when there is high air pressure at ground level. The high pressure is a result of air sinking through the atmosphere. As the air descends, the pressure increases, compressing the air and heating it up, just like in a bike pump.

Sinking air has a big warming effect: the temperature increases by 1 degree for every 100 metres the air is pushed downwards.

The North American heatwave has seen fires spread across the landscape. NASA

High-pressure systems are an intrinsic part of an atmospheric Rossby wave, and they travel along with the wave. Heatwaves occur when the high-pressure systems stop moving and affect a particular region for a considerable time.

When this happens, the warming of the air by sinking alone can be further intensified by the ground heating the air – which is especially powerful if the ground was already dry. In the northwestern US and western Canada, heatwaves are compounded by the warming produced by air sinking after it crosses the Rocky Mountains.

How Rossby Waves Drive Weather

This leaves two questions: what makes a high-pressure system, and why does it stop moving?

As we mentioned above, a high-pressure system is usually part of a specific type of wave in the atmosphere – a Rossby wave. These waves are very common, and they form when air is displaced north or south by mountains, other weather systems or large areas of rain.

Read more: We've learned a lot about heatwaves, but we're still just warming up

Rossby waves are the main drivers of weather outside the tropics, including the changeable weather in the southern half of Australia. Occasionally, the waves grow so large that they overturn on themselves and break. The breaking of the waves is intimately involved in making them stationary.

Importantly, just as for the recent event, the seeds for the Rossby waves that trigger heatwaves are located several thousands of kilometres to the west of their location. So for northwestern America, that’s the western Pacific. Australian heatwaves are typically triggered by events in the Atlantic to the west of Africa.

Another important feature of heatwaves is that they are often accompanied by high rainfall closer to the Equator. When southeast Australia experiences heatwaves, northern Australia often experiences rain. These rain events are not just side effects, but they actively enhance and prolong heatwaves.

What Will Climate Change Mean For Heatwaves?

Understanding the mechanics of what causes heatwaves is very important if we want to know how they might change as the planet gets hotter.

We know increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing Earth’s average surface temperature. However, while this average warming is the background for heatwaves, the extremely high temperatures are produced by the movements of the atmosphere we talked about earlier.

So to know how heatwaves will change as our planet warms, we need to know how the changing climate affects the weather events that produce them. This is a much more difficult question than knowing the change in global average temperature.

How will events that seed Rossby waves change? How will the jet streams change? Will more waves get big enough to break? Will high-pressure systems stay in one place for longer? Will the associated rainfall become more intense, and how might that affect the heatwaves themselves?

Read more: Explainer: climate modelling

Our answers to these questions are so far somewhat rudimentary. This is largely because some of the key processes involved are too detailed to be explicitly included in current large-scale climate models.

Climate models agree that global warming will change the position and strength of the jet streams. However, the models disagree about what will happen to Rossby waves.

From Climate Change To Weather Change

There is one thing we do know for sure: we need to up our game in understanding how the weather is changing as our planet warms, because weather is what has the biggest impact on humans and natural systems.

To do this, we will need to build computer models of the world’s climate that explicitly include some of the fine detail of weather. (By fine detail, we mean anything about a kilometre in size.) This in turn will require investment in huge amounts of computing power for tools such as our national climate model, the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS), and the computing and modelling infrastructure projects of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) that support it.

We will also need to break down the artificial boundaries between weather and climate which exist in our research, our education and our public conversation.The Conversation

Christian Jakob, Professor in Atmospheric Science, Monash University and Michael Reeder, Professor, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University

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

The government is clamping down on charities — and it could have a chilling effect on peaceful protest

Krystian SeibertSwinburne University of Technology

The Australian government introduced new regulations last week that could have a major chilling effect across Australia’s diverse charities sector.

The government’s aim was clear: the regulations are intended to target “activist organisations”, and specifically crack down on “unlawful behaviour”.

Despite this rhetoric, there is no evidence unlawful behaviour by charities is a problem of any significance. By clamping down on charities in this way, the government is not only curtailing their ability to organise peaceful protests, it is imposing more unnecessary red tape on an already highly-regulated sector.

What Would The Regulations Do?

The regulations would give the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) new powers to take action against a charity if it commits, or fails to adequately ensure its resources aren’t used to commit, certain types of “summary offences”.

These are generally a less serious type of criminal offence, and can include acts such as trespassing, unlawful entry, malicious damage or vandalism.

If the ACNC commissioner believes a charity is not complying with the regulations, they would be able to take enforcement action, which may include deregistering the charity. This would lead to the charity losing tax concessions — one of the incentives for people to donate to them.

In effect, the regulations mean that if a charity organised a protest in front of a government department and initially refused to leave, this could be considered trespassing. And this could then be grounds to have the charity deregistered.

Are These Regulations Necessary?

There is little, if any, evidence of a need for the regulations.

First, a comprehensive review of the ACNC legislation commissioned by the government in 2018 did not identify any issues with unlawful behaviour by charities.

In fact, the review recommended removing the ACNC’s existing power to take action against charities that commit serious breaches of the law. It pointed out that charities must already comply with all laws that they are subject to, and it is not the ACNC’s responsibility to monitor compliance or impose sanctions for breaches.

Despite this, the new regulations would extend the reach of the ACNC and expand its existing powers even further.

Read more: Animal rights activists in Melbourne: green-collar criminals or civil 'disobedients'?

And importantly, there is no evidence charities — or their staffs or volunteers — are engaging in widespread unlawful activity. When questioned at a recent Senate Estimates hearing, ACNC Commissioner Gary Johns said the commission’s data did not indicate this was a problem.

Even the government’s own regulatory impact assessment asserts only a “small number” of charities have engaged in unlawful behaviour. However, even this claim is not backed up by solid evidence, with the assessment saying it is based on

media coverage in recent years in relation to protests on forestry, mining and farming lands.

Charities Are Already Highly Regulated

Charities in Australia are already highly regulated and subject to a broad range of obligations. They must also abide by any number of laws, for example, occupational health and safety and criminal laws.

And the ACNC already has extensive investigation and compliance powers. If charities breach any of the laws they are subject to, they can be sanctioned just like other organisations — and the same applies to their staff.

In addition, charities are already required to take steps to ensure their directors comply with duties, such as acting with reasonable care and diligence. This includes monitoring and managing risks arising from a charity’s activities.

Drafted In A Vague Way

Perhaps most concerningly, the proposed regulations are worded in a very vague manner, and although improvements were made in response to public consultation on a draft version, major problems remain.

First, they require a charity to “maintain reasonable internal control procedures” to prevent its resources from being used to promote unlawful activities.

According to the regulations, this could cover things such as who can access or use a charity’s funds, premises or social media accounts, and what kind of training charity directors and employees must undertake.

What is “reasonable” in this context involves making very subjective judgements. While the ACNC will provide guidance to charities on this, many organisations will still face considerable uncertainty.

Read more: Australian charities are well regulated, but changes are needed to cut red tape

Further, the regulations would not require a conviction, the laying of charges, or even a formal allegation of an offence being committed before the ACNC can take action. The wording only refers to “acts or omissions that may be dealt with” as a summary offence.

This is very open-ended language, but the crux of it is that a charity could be deregistered because it did something the ACNC commissioner thinks is a summary offence. The action itself, however, may not actually meet the criteria for a summary offence because that’s something only a court can determine.

The ACNC commissioner is the ultimate decision maker on these matters. The regulations do not include any factors or criteria that need to be considered when making a decision, other than saying the ACNC “may” (there’s that word again) consult with law enforcement or other relevant authorities.

The Chilling Effect Of The Regulations

Even if a charity is deregistered but then successfully appeals a decision, it may no longer have access to tax concessions, it may lose its donors and other supporters, and it may have its reputation tarnished within the community.

The ACNC seeks to implement the law as it understands it. Its focus is on providing guidance to charities rather than using strong enforcement powers straight away. But the vagueness and breadth of the regulations may lead to misunderstandings or regulatory overreach, and create a more uncertain environment for charities.

They will also impose yet another requirement that charity boards and management must consider. Given charities are already well-regulated, if anything, they need unnecessary red tape removed rather than having more of it imposed on them.

And the regulations will likely have a chilling effect. Charities will be more cautious when it comes to organising public advocacy activities such as peaceful protests — or steer clear of them altogether — in order to avoid falling afoul of the regulations. Such activities are an important part of Australia’s democracy.

Protesters with the environmental group Friends of the Earth take to the water in an attempt to blockade a coal ship in Brisbane. Six Degrees/PR Handout Image/AAP

Can The Regulations Be Stopped?

Although the regulations have been made, they cannot come into force until they have been tabled in both chambers of parliament, and the disallowance period has passed.

If a disallowance motion is successful in the House or Senate, then the regulations will be invalid and will not take effect. Given the government does not have a majority in the Senate, this is a possibility.

Much is riding on the crossbenchers — not just the impact the regulations would have on individual charities, but also the kind of society we want Australia to be.The Conversation

Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Meet the broad-toothed rat: a chubby-cheeked and inquisitive Australian rodent that needs our help

Christine WackerAuthor provided
Chris WackerUniversity of New England

Am I not pretty enough? This is the first article in The Conversation’s series introducing you to the unloved Australian animals that need our help

When people think of rodents, they usually think of introduced species such as the black rat and house mouse. But Australia actually has around 54 native rodent species, which live in a vast range of habitats across the continent, from the ocean to spinifex-dotted deserts.

My research focuses on the broad-toothed rat, a vulnerable, chubby-cheeked rodent that lives in parts of Tasmania and pockets of southern Victoria. It even thrives beneath the snow in the Australian Alps and in Barrington Tops in New South Wales.

You may have already heard of the broad-toothed rat from articles about the damage feral horses do in Kosciuszko National Park, or as one of the species living near the highly photogenic mountain pygmy possum.

But I don’t want to turn this into a debate about feral horses or a popularity contest with the pygmy possum. As the broad-toothed rat rarely, if ever, gets its own story, I want to introduce you properly to this fascinating, unique, and beautiful species, focusing on those that live in Kosciuszko National Park.

A Very Special Rodent

The broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus) is often referred to by wildlife scientists as Australia’s guinea pig. However, it belongs to a very different group of rodents.

Weighing approximately 150 grams — about the same size as the introduced black rat — the broad-toothed rat looks like any typical rodent at first glance.

The broad-toothed rat has a trusting and inquisitive nature. Rhi WilsonAuthor provided

But with its chocolate coloured coat, long, soft, almost luxurious fur, little to no musky smell, chubby face, and calm and inquisitive nature, it bears little resemblance to any introduced species.

The broad-toothed rat gets its name from its wider-than-usual molar teeth, which help it chew the stalks of sedges and grasses. It also nests in these grasses, and moves unseen through an elaborate network of tunnel-like runways. The broad-toothed rat shares these runways with other small mammal species, such as the bush rat and the dusky antechinus.

In winter, low shrubs hold the snow off the ground, creating a subnivean space (the area between snow and terrain). This creates a relatively cosy environment, keeping the temperature of the runways above zero, even when the air above this space is much colder.

When most of the snow has melted in October, the broad-toothed rat’s breeding season is triggered and generally lasts until March the next year. They have on average only two to three young, and these are unusual because they’re partially furry at birth.

Tunnels in tufts of grass
Broad-toothed rat runways, shared by other small mammals. Chris WackerAuthor provided

Why Native Rodents Matter

Native rodents are essential in many ecosystems. They disperse seeds by forming seed caches. This is when rats keep seeds in storage to eat, and when they vacate their burrow, the uneaten seeds can germinate.

They often have the role of ecosystem engineers, providing burrows and runways for small mammals that cannot dig their own. This is particularly common for desert rodent species that dig burrows, which are then used by small marsupials.

Native rodents may also be early indicators of local environmental change, like furry canaries in a coal mine. When their populations decline, populations of other native species, such as small marsupials, also decline soon after because whatever affects the rodents, will affect other small mammals.

But Broad-Toothed Rats Are In Danger

Of the 54 species of native rodent, 16 are vulnerable or endangered. Their biggest threats include introduced rodents who compete for resources, predation by cats and foxes, and general human activity such as land clearing.

While the damage feral horses do to the vegetation in the Australian Alps is a well-known problem, the broad-toothed rat also has many other threats.

It’s currently classified as vulnerable or near threatened in much of its range. While the exact number of individuals is difficult to determine, it’s clear the rat’s range is getting smaller, in part due to climate change-induced reduction in snow cover.

The typical habitat of the broad-toothed rat habitat in the Australian Alps. Chris WackerAuthor provided

Since their reproductive behaviours are triggered by the environment, changes in temperature and snow cover can be catastrophic. Reduced snow cover also means less protection during the colder months.

Another reason these rats are unusual among native Australian rodents is they’re entirely herbivorous. Any variation in temperature, rainfall, snow melt, or drainage alters the types of vegetation that grows. And changes in available grasses reduce the food and nesting material the rats have access to.

Read more: Victoria’s new feral horse plan could actually protect the high country. NSW's method remains cruel and ineffective

In the Australian Alps, broad-toothed rats have very few native predators. But a 2002 study found foxes, and perhaps feral cats, prefer eating broad-toothed rats over other small mammal species. Whether this is due to the rats being easier to catch or because they’re tastier is unclear.

Because the broad-toothed rat lives in Kosciuszko National Park, it also lives side-by-side with the ski industry, and will even inhabit the disturbed areas alongside ski runs. But ski resorts change drainage patterns, groundwater and surface water, changing the type of vegetation that grows.

The ski industry in the Australian Alps threatens the broad-toothed rat. Shutterstock

With the continued reduction in natural snow from climate change, and heavier reliance on artificial snow for tourism, the impact on the fragile alpine ecosystem will need to be closely monitored so we can protect the broad-toothed rat.

Three Ways You Can Help

Unfortunately, just having “rat” in its name can turn people away from caring about this species, as rats are typically seen as destructive and diseased.

But does an animal have to be cute and endearing to gain public and political sympathy? Well, unfortunately, yes.

Research from 2016 shows native rodents are the least cared about and researched of all animals, and they gain the least amount of funding.

So, what can the average person do?

First and foremost, learn about what species live where you live, and make sure you can correctly identify a native rodent from an introduced species.

Second, when you hear people complain about all rodents, tell them about our natives, and even show them a photo. Most people have a change of heart once they see one.

Finally, appreciate that our native rodents are just as important as our marsupials, monotremes, bats, amphibians, reptiles and birds, and are just as affected by our activities as any other animal group.

Read more: This adorable mouse was considered extinct for over 100 years — until we found it hiding in plain sight The Conversation

Chris Wacker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow - School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England

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

NSW State Government's Plans To Open Western NSW To Coal Mining Open For Feedback

Public consultation is now underway into the proposed release of land known as Hawkins and Rumker 160km north west of Sydney, with consultation over a third parcel - known as Ganguddy-Kelgoola still to come. The three mooted coal release parcels cover 60,369 hectares in a region where the economy is currently built around sustainable agriculture and nature-focused tourism. There are also large areas of public land and more than 84% native vegetation cover. 

A report, ''Western Coalfields Strategic Release Mapping and Analysis'', based on spatial analysis conducted by Earthscapes Consulting, shows the risks the community, existing industries, and the environment face if coal mining is allowed to proceed in the region.

Within the three “strategic coal release areas”, the consultants found:
  • Forty-five recorded Aboriginal heritage sites and an additional 13 sites that are restricted and location data not supplied in the proposed coal release areas. 
  • Twenty-two threatened fauna species and six threatened flora species including the koala, the critically endangered regent honeyeater and the endangered spotted-tailed quoll, as well as four plant species endemic to the Rylstone/western Wollemi area.
  • One thousand, eight hundred and fifty-four hectares of groundwater dependant ecosystems. 
  • Six thousand, six hundred and thirty-four hectares  of potential threatened ecological communities. 
  • Thirty-six water bores.
  • One hundred and twenty kilometres of stream channels in good condition and 118 kilometres of stream channels classed as a high level of fragility. 
The report also showed the potential coal release areas adjoin the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, stretching more than 100km along the western edge of the WHA.

The World Heritage Commission has asked the NSW Government for a cumulative impact assessment of mining impacts on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. This assessment appears not to be complete, even though it was due by the end of 2020.

University of NSW environmental scientist, local, and writer, Dr Haydn Washington said, “The coal release areas are full of diverse and significant natural and cultural heritage. 

“The Coricudgy and Nullo State Forests have already been recommended for addition to the World Heritage Area by the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Committee.

The proposal is open for feedback until July 28, 2021 at:

New Plan To Revitalise NSW's Oldest Park By Installing Mountain Bike Trails

One of Sydney's most loved natural destinations, the spectacular Royal National Park is set for a major revitalisation. Greater Sydney Branch Director Deon van Rensburg said the draft Plan of Management (PoM) maps out how the Park will be protected and showcased as one of the nation's most important natural areas.

"With around 6 million visits per year Royal National Park is one of Australia's most popular parks. It is also on Australia's National Heritage List as a place of outstanding significance to the nation," Mr van Rensburg said.

"Royal National Park together with nearby Heathcote National Park and Garrawarra State Conservation Area, protect one of the most biodiverse areas in Australia, supporting more than 1000 plant and 350 animal species, including some of the most significant vegetation remaining in the Sydney Basin.

"Management priorities include freshwater wetlands, heathlands, rainforest, shorelines and grassy woodlands that support the Parks' rich animal biodiversity.

"The world's second oldest national park, Royal is a stunning place and one of our most visited parks where sites like Wattamolla and Audley attract thousands of visitors every weekend.

"The Plan will guide the future management and protection of the natural and cultural values, while providing opportunities for people of all ages, cultures and abilities to enjoy these much-loved places.

"This includes improvements and restoration at popular visitor precincts including upgrades to the historic 82-year-old Audley Boatshed, providing undercover space for picnics and a new open pavilion so that visitors can continue to enjoy the beautiful Port Hacking River.

"At Wattamolla, another popular visitor precinct, new amenities include better picnic areas, access improvements and a new walking track to the beach.

"To manage sustainable mountain biking in these areas a Royal Parks Mountain Biking Plan is also available for public comment.

"This is a great way for the millions of people who love and use these Parks to have a say in how these precious natural assets are managed into the future," Mr van Rensburg said.

The Plan now on exhibition has been prepared with extensive consultation from key stakeholders and your views are important.
You can have your say until 2 August 2021 at Royal parks Draft Plan of Management: public consultation.

Nature is a public good. A plan to save it using private markets doesn’t pass muster

Philippa EnglandGriffith University

As the health of Australia’s environment continues to decline, the federal government is wagering on the ability of private markets to help solve the problem. So is this a wise move? The evidence is not at all encouraging.

This year’s federal budget included A$32.1 million to promote so-called “biodiversity stewardship”, in which farmers who adopt more sustainable practices can earn money on private markets. The funding will be used to trial new programs to protect existing native vegetation, implement a certification scheme and set up a trading platform.

It all sounds very promising. But sadly, the experience of environmental markets and certification schemes to date suggests farmers may not embrace the opportunities. In fact, preliminary research funded by the government suggests the odds are well and truly stacked against this approach succeeding.

Environmental markets cannot adequately compensate for decades of diminished government funding for long term, reliable measures to promote better land management.

hands with coins sprouting seedlings
Environmental markets are not a replacement for sustained public funding of environmental protection. Shutterstock

What’s The Plan All About?

Agriculture covers 58% of Australia’s land mass. This means farmers are crucial to maintaining a healthy environment upon which production, communities and the economy depend.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the new funding means farmers will be paid to undertake biodiversity projects – “a win-win for farmers and the environment”. In an interview with the ABC, Littleproud said “we want the market to come and pay our farmers for this, not the Australian taxpayer”.

The new funding will pay for:

  • a “carbon + biodiversity” pilot project to develop a market-based mechanism to reward farmers for increasing biodiversity

  • an “enhanced remnant vegetation” pilot that will pay farmers to protect remnant native vegetation with high conservation value

  • a proposed “Australian Farm Biodiversity Certification Scheme” to identify best-practice ways to sustain and build biodiversity.

So how do these markets work? Farmers and other land managers undertake environmental projects such as protecting endangered native species, increasing tree cover or reducing competition from invasive pest species. These projects have been assessed and accredited – usually by a government entity or independent third party – to ensure their integrity.

Farmers earn “credits” in exchange for the activity they undertake, which are then sold to “funders” such as corporations that want to improve their environmental credentials, philanthropic organisations and others.

The government has previously committed A$34 million to develop and trial biodiversity stewardship approaches. This included A$4 million to the National Farmers Federation (NFF) to start developing a certification scheme.

Read more: A lone tree makes it easier for birds and bees to navigate farmland, like a stepping stone between habitats

cows graze among trees
Biodiversity stewardship schemes reward farmers who change their practices, such as retaining existing native vegetation. Shutterstock

‘Workability’ Problems

In 2020, the NFF engaged the Australian Farm Institute (AFI) to evaluate the literature on existing certification schemes and to gauge landholders’ views. The report identified myriad problems.

The AFI noted several issues surrounding data collection and reporting. Certification schemes are data-hungry: they require baseline data (information collected before a project starts), measurable outcomes and a way to monitor progress and verify results. But diminished public spending means such data are often not readily available.

Also, biodiversity conservation can take decades. This can conflict with the interests of farmers, and of project funders that often operate within shorter planning horizons. This may limit the type, credibility and longevity of projects accredited for funding.

And many existing schemes are yet to demonstrate, on a cost-benefit analysis, any appreciable economic advantage to farmers. Under the Queensland Land Restoration Fund scheme, for example, the AFI said “farmers generally want more money than is offered for the carbon credits produced”. If that remains the case, widespread uptake seems unlikely.

gloved hand takes soil sample with bottles in background
Certification schemes require solid environmental data and ongoing monitoring, which is often lacking in Australia. Shutterstock

Barriers To Participation

The time, energy and costs of applying to participate in a biodiversity stewardship scheme can limit participation. For instance, the AFI’s review of stakeholder views noted it took one Queensland farmer 18 months to navigate the application process under the state’s Land Restoration Fund. And the fund involves hefty startup costs, including A$15,000-20,000 for a baseline biodiversity report and A$10,000 for initial certification.

Some schemes have attempted to get around this. For example, the Land Restoration Fund now offers to pay the costs of third-party agents employed to prepare applications. But overall administrative costs remain substantial and are likely to remain a deterrent to smaller operators.

Rules governing certification schemes can also penalise early adopters of sustainable farming methods. The schemes often require “additionality”, which means farmers cannot be rewarded for undertaking activity that would have occurred had the scheme not existed. So those already using best-practice methods – such as minimum tillage, organic farming or retaining native vegetation – often cannot take part. This is a particularly sore point for many farmers.

And almost inevitably in environmental stewardship schemes, ongoing funding to farmers is premised on progress against pre-determined benchmarks, such as storing a specified amount of carbon in landscapes by planting trees. Unfortunately, life in the bush is far from pre-determined. Disruptive events – such as drought, fire, falling commodity prices or new trade barriers - are run of the mill.

It’s a big stretch for corporate funders and contract negotiators to accommodate these unknown variables in their benchmarks. This means farmers must insure themselves against natural events (to the extent available) adding again to the costs of participation.

Read more: US scheme used by Australian farmers reveals the dangers of trading soil carbon to tackle climate change

gate in rural landscape
Time, energy and cost burdens can act as a barrier for some farmers to participate in stewardship schemes.

Nature Belongs To All Of Us

Land managers are the primary stewards of Australia’s unique environment. Yet they receive the least government funding of any OECD country aside from New Zealand.

The environment needs immediate and sustained support. Whatever the lure and potential of environmental markets and certification schemes, the evidence strongly suggests private funding should not be relied on to preserve, restore and sustain our natural landscapes.

The environment is a public good, and requires adequate and substantial public funding.

Read more: Australia’s threatened species plan has failed on several counts. Without change, more extinctions are assured The Conversation

Philippa England, Senior Lecturer, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

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

Almost 60 coral species around Lizard Island are ‘missing’ – and a Great Barrier Reef extinction crisis could be next

Michael Emslie
Zoe RichardsCurtin University

The federal government has opposed a recommendation by a United Nations body that the Great Barrier Reef be listed as “in danger”. But there’s no doubt the natural wonder is in dire trouble. In new research, my colleagues and I provide fresh insight into the plight of many coral species.

Worsening climate change, and subsequent marine heatwaves, have led to mass coral deaths on tropical reefs. However, there are few estimates of how reduced overall coral cover is linked to declines in particular coral species.

Our research examined 44 years of coral distribution records around Lizard Island, at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. We found 16% of coral species have not been seen for many years and are at risk of either local extinction, or disappearing from parts of their local range.

This is alarming, because local extinctions often signal wider regional – and ultimately global – species extinction events.

Healthy coral near Lizard Island in 2011, top, then six years later after two bleaching events, bottom.
Healthy coral near Lizard Island in 2011, top, then six years later after two bleaching events, bottom. Zoe Richards

Sobering Findings

The Lizard Island reef system is 270 kilometres north of Cairns. It has suffered major disturbances over the past four decades: repeated outbreaks of crown-of-thorns seastars, category 4 cyclones in 2014 and 2015, and coral bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and 2020.

Our research focused on “hermatypic” corals around Lizard Island. These corals deposit calcium carbonate and form the hard framework of the reef.

We undertook hard coral biodiversity surveys four times between 2011 and 2020, across 14 sites. We combined the results with published and photographic species records from 1976 to 2020.

red fleshy coral with blue spots
Micromussa lordhowensis is popular in the aquarium trade. Zoe Richards

Of 368 hard coral species recorded around Lizard Island, 28 (7.6%) have not been reliably recorded since before 2011 and may be at risk of local extinction. A further 31 species (8.4%) have not been recorded since 2015 and may be at risk of range reduction (disappearance from parts of its local range).

The “missing” coral species include:

  • Acropora abrotanoides, a robust branching shallow water coral that lives on the reef crest and reef flat has not been since since 2009

  • Micromussa lordhowensis, a low-growing coral with colourful fleshy polyps. Popular in the aquarium trade, it often grows on reef slopes but has not been seen since 2005

  • Acropora aspera, a branching coral which prefers very shallow water and has been recorded just once, at a single site, since 2011.

The finding that 59 coral species are at risk of local extinction or range reduction is significant. Local range reductions are often precursors to local species extinctions. And local species extinctions are often precursors to regional, and ultimately global, extinction events.

Each coral species on the reef has numerous vital functions. It might provide habitat or food to other reef species, or biochemicals which may benefit human health. One thing is clear: every coral species matters.

Read more: The outlook for coral reefs remains grim unless we cut emissions fast — new research

reddish coral underwater
Acropa abrotanoides, one of the corals ‘missing’ from around Lizard Island. Zoe Richards

A Broader Extinction Crisis?

As human impacts and climate threats mount, there is growing concern about the resilience of coral biodiversity. Our research suggests such concerns are well-founded at Lizard Island.

Coral reef communities are dynamic, and so detecting species loss can be difficult. Our research found around Lizard Island, the diversity of coral species fluctuated over the past decade. Significant declines were recorded from 2011 to 2017, but diversity recovered somewhat in the three following years.

Local extinctions often happen incrementally and can therefore be “invisible”. To detect them, and to account for natural variability in coral communities, long-term biodiversity monitoring across multiple locations and time frames is needed.

Green coral
Acropora aspera has been recorded just once, at a single location, since 2011. Anne Hoggett

In most locations however, data on the distribution and abundance of all coral species in a community is lacking. This means it can be hard to assess changes, and to understand the damage that climate change and other human-caused stressors are having on each species.

Only with this extra information can scientists conclusively say if the level of local extinction risk at Lizard Island indicates a risk that coral species may become extinct elsewhere – across the Great Barrier Reef and beyond.

Read more: Is Australia really doing enough for the Great Barrier Reef? Why criticisms of UNESCO’s 'in danger' recommendation don’t stack up The Conversation

Zoe Richards, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University

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

It takes more than words and ambition: here’s why your city isn’t a lush, green oasis yet

The Cheonggyecheon stream in the heart of Seoul, which used to be a major highway. Shutterstock
Thami CroeserRMIT UniversityGeorgia GarrardThe University of Melbourne, and Sarah BekessyRMIT University

The idea of transforming cities from concrete jungles to urban forests is a popular one, and there have been some truly inspiringexemplar projects in recent years. The transformation of a Seoul freeway to Cheonggyecheon parkland, exposing the historical river that once flowed there, is one celebrated example (pictured above).

Projects like this are commendable, as urban nature has considerable benefits including, for instance, improving mental health and boosting urban biodiversity.

But has your city actually turned into a lush oasis yet? No, neither has ours.

Our new research looked at what’s holding back greening in our cities. And we found the issue is often internal — cities just aren’t really set up to deliver their plans. Fortunately, this is a very fixable problem.

Cities Are Falling Short

The global experience is that greening a grey city isn’t as simple as setting a bold target and writing a glossy strategy. All over the world, we’re seeing that urban greening projects and plans run into significant barriers.

Results are slow, successful pilot projects aren’t scaled up, and in some cases the work simply doesn’t happen.

Read more: Thousands of city trees have been lost to development, when we need them more than ever

Many cities are still losing green infrastructure, especially trees on streets. A recent report commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation found canopy cover in all major Australian cities except for Hobart and Canberra had declined in the last decade.

So, what’s going on? Well, the simple answer is that, despite being ambitious and well-intentioned, cities rarely have the full set of skills and capabilities required to successfully implement their plans.

The One Central Park building in Sydney is a global case study in vertical greening, with 350 different plant species blanketing the structure. Shutterstock

Here’s What It Takes

Dozens of studies of barriers to urban greening from across the planet have shown us where things go wrong.

One way to think about these barriers simply and constructively is to instead see them as a set of “success factors” cities need in place to avoid typical stumbling blocks. Here are a few that cities should keep in mind:

First, urban greening projects need strong leadership and support at the political and executive level, alongside a well-resourced project team.

Often greening teams assigned to deliver major plans have only one or two staff members, an inadequate budget, and unrealistic timeframes that don’t correspond to the project’s ambition.

Read more: People's odds of loneliness could fall by up to half if cities hit 30% green space targets

A positive, supportive organisational culture is also necessary, recognising new projects often have inherent risks and trade-offs.

Delivering major urban greening projects often means reclaiming road space, procuring private property, or replacing trees and plants that struggle to establish. These are normal teething difficulties, but they can lead to projects being labelled “failures” when organisations don’t have a healthy attitude to risk.

This rooftop of a building in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University is a great example of urban greening done right. Shutterstock

Access to skilled, supportive teams is key. Greening urban spaces requires smooth technical collaboration between engineers, designers, horticulturists and maintenance crews.

One of the classic problems is that one or more key collaborators isn’t on board, and as a result is either unhelpful or actively obstructive.

Finally, effective community engagement is needed. Many urban greening projects need public support or consent from property owners to be successful.

This can be as direct as forming a legal agreement with a major property owner to establish a green roof, or something broader like involving the public in selecting what tree species are planted in their street.

A stunning vertical forest in Milan, Italy. Shutterstock

Testing The Success Factors

In our research paper, we built a simple self-assessment tool (you can download here) based on the above success factors. This tool can help cities identify whether they’re capable to “walk the talk”, and where to improve.

We used it to explore urban greening in a range of cities participating in Urban GreenUP — a research project aimed at re-naturing cities in the European Union to reduce heat and flooding impacts, improve air and water quality, and create urban habitat.

Through Urban GreenUP, we’ve seen a range of innovative nature-based projects begin. This includes a major streambank restoration project in Izmir, Turkey that delivered 26.5 hectares of new parkland, and floating gardens in Liverpool to enhance water quality and biodiversity.

But across the cities we studied, many struggled with the same three issues, even as some delivered strong results: not enough staff, no clear processes for actually delivering the greening, and risk-averse organisational culture that made doing new things difficult.

When we spoke to staff in these cities about their results, they often already knew these were barriers, but they didn’t have the power to really resolve them. The issues tend to be well above the pay grade of officers in greening teams.

Read more: Spending time in nature has always been important, but now it's an essential part of coping with the pandemic

Greening Depends On Leaders

These findings highlight the reforms required to get urban greening out of the starting blocks, at least in the cities we studied.

Many local governments are likely already familiar with the issues we observed, but our study suggested that, in addition to some of the big headline problems we listed above, individual cities will each face their own particular challenges.

Fixing these problems largely depends on getting executive and political leaders with clout involved to assign resources, streamline processes and modernise attitudes to risk. It’ll be a hard sell — these fiddly organisational reforms aren’t as fun as giving bold speeches or cutting ribbons.

Read more: 3 ways nature in the city can do you good, even in self-isolation

Still, if these these powerful leaders can roll up their sleeves and ensure their organisations have all the success factors in place, the rewards are clear.

Delivering urban greening at large scale will leave our cities not only more pleasant and attractive, but also healthier, and more resilient to heatwaves and flooding.

Correction: a previous version of this article said canopy cover in all major Australian cities except for Hobart had declined. This has been updated to include Canberra.The Conversation

Thami Croeser, Research Officer, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT UniversityGeorgia Garrard, Senior lecturer, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne, The University of Melbourne, and Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University

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

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

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Pittwater Reserves

Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit:

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 -

Canopy Keepers Art Challenge For Pittwater's Youngsters

Did you know that trees communicate using underground fungal networks? Or that, like us, they survive best in communities? 

There's lots to find out about the hidden life of trees and so Canopy Keepers are inviting Pittwater primary students to create an image that reveals an aspect of the hidden life of trees. Drawings, diagrams, painting, mixed media and photos are all welcome. Chosen artworks will be made into a calendar for 2022 for sale (to cover costs) in the local community. 

Get busy youngsters! Now is a great time to engage in a fun art challenge exploring our beautiful trees.

Email your work to by September 6th.

Curious Kids: Why are leaves green?

The leaves of most plants are green because the leaves are full of green chemicals. Marcella Cheng/The ConversationCC BY-ND
Gregory MooreThe University of Melbourne

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky!

Why are leaves green? – Indigo, age 6, Elwood.

The leaves of most plants are green, because the leaves are full of chemicals that are green.

The most important of these chemicals is called “chlorophyll” and it allows plants to make food so they can grow using water, air and light from the sun.

This way that a plant makes food for itself is called “photosynthesis” and it is one of the most important processes taking place on the whole planet.

One of the most important chemicals on Earth is called chlorophyll. It’s green and it allows plants to make food so they can grow. Marcella Cheng/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Without photosynthesis there would be no plants or people on Earth. Dinosaurs would not have been able to breathe and the air and oceans would be very different from those we have today. So the green chemical chlorophyll is really important.

All leaves contain chlorophyll, but sometimes not all of the leaf has chlorophyll in it. Some leaves have green and white or green and yellow stripes or spots. Only the green bits have chlorophyll and only those bits can make food by photosynthesis.

All leaves contain chlorophyll, but sometimes not all of the leaf has chlorophyll in it. Marcella Cheng/The ConversationCC BY-ND

If you’re really good at noticing things, you might have seen plants and trees with red or purple leaves – and the leaves are that colour all year round, not just in autumn.

These leaves are still full of our important green chemical, chlorophyll, just like any other ordinary green leaf. However, they also have lots of other chemicals that are red or purple – so much of them that they no longer look green. But deep down inside the leaves the chlorophyll is still there and it’s still green.

Even leaves that don’t look green have chlorophyll. However, they also have lots of other chemicals that are red or purple. Marcella Cheng/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. You can:

* Email your question to
* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or
* Tell us on Facebook


Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

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

Curious Kids: Why are fern leaves shaped the way they are, and are all ferns identical?

Ferns are a very old group of plants that came along more than 200 million years before the dinosaurs walked the earth. Marcella Cheng/The ConversationCC BY-ND
Gregory MooreThe University of Melbourne

Curious Kids, is a series for children where kids send in questions and we ask an expert to answer them.

Dear Conversation, I am a curious kid and while I was bush walking I noticed these ferns. I wanted to know why fern leaves are shaped they way they are, and if they don’t have flowers does that mean all ferns are identical? Thank you for your help – Heather, age 8, Brisbane

You’ve asked two great questions, which I’ll answer one by one.

Read more: Curious Kids: Are zombies real?

Why Are Fern Leaves Shaped The Way They Are?

Ferns are a very old group of plants that came along more than 200 million years before the dinosaurs walked the Earth. They were food for the plant-eating dinosaurs and they’re really great survivors.

Fern leaves are shaped the way they are because each species has adapted or changed over time to better suit its particular environment. That’s all thanks to evolution.

Some ferns are small and grow on other plants in wet places, while others are tall and tough. There are thousands of types of ferns, which grow in different environments all over the world.

The leaves of ferns are called fronds and they all have different sizes, shapes and textures. There are the tiny, soft fronds of maidenhair ferns.

The soft fronds of maidenhair ferns are suited to wet environments. Flickr/Anika MaloneCC BY

Then there are the tough, leathery fronds of bracken and the large fronds of tree ferns that may be more than 2 metres long.

The fronds of many ferns begin as small, curled balls. As they grow, they change shape and start to look like the neck of a violin. That’s why they’re called fiddleheads.

The fronds of many ferns begin as small, curled balls. As they grow, they change shape and start to look like the neck of a violin. Marcella Cheng/ The ConversationCC BY-ND

Many people think different tree ferns look the same, but if you look closely the various species are very different in size, shape and texture.

If They Don’t Have Flowers Does That Mean All Ferns Are Identical?

Since ferns are such an old group of plants, they don’t have flowers or cones. Ferns were around for about 200 million years before plants with flowers came along, so they make new ferns in a different way.

Most ferns use things called spores, which are tiny and look like pepper. They can travel long distances on the wind or by getting a lift from a passing animal.

During some times of the year, if you look underneath the fronds, you can see the sporangium (that’s the part of the leaf where the spores are made).

You can see the sporangium on the underside of this fern. Flickr/Richard DrokerCC BY

Some look like tiny bunches of grapes, some look like a little brown purse, and others like a dome. Often the sporangium starts out light green and as it ripens, turns dark brown.

Ferns spores develop into what scientists call “gametophytes”, which usually look flat, green and spongy. These gametophytes produce eggs and sperm.

You can see here the gametophyte of a Sword Fern – it is the flattish, spongy-looking bit. Flickr/Richard DrokerCC BY

The egg or sperm from one gametophyte can join up with the egg or sperm from a different gametophyte.

When that happens, the baby ferns produced this way are not genetically identical to the parent or to each other. It only works properly if there’s enough water around so that the sperm can swim to the eggs. You can read more about it here.

Some ferns, however, can sprout ferns from their underground stems or from special bulb-shaped bits on their fronts called “bulbils”. When that happens, the baby fern is genetically identical to its parent.

If you want to grow your own ferns, follow the instructions below. It is great fun to watch them grow.

How to grow your own ferns. Marcella Cheng/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Read more: Curious Kids: what started the Big Bang?

Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. You can:

* Email your question to
* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or
* Tell us on Facebook


Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

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

The Lighthouse Keeper

Published July 9, 2021 by NFSA
From the Film Australia Collection.  Made by the National Film Board 1949.  Directed by Lionel Trainor. The life of the lighthouse keeper is a lonely one, but his work is vital to the safeguard of shipping. His first duty is to care for the light which must be kept working accurately at all times. A six months supply of food must be kept in store. His children are taught by correspondence. The transmission of messages and warnings to ships in storms and back to the authorities on the mainland is a vital part of his work. The arrival of the supply ship brings a welcome break to the loneliness and monotony of his life. This film illustrates the life of the keeper on remote and barren Maatsuyker Island off the coast of Tasmania.

NSW State Archives Webinar - A Festival Of Film

NSW State Archives: published June 30, 2021
Did you know that we hold films in the NSW State Archives Collection? We are working hard to preserve and digitise our films. We take you through some of the films you can find here.

Phoenix Program Seeking Expressions Of Interest At Manly Warringah Kayak Club

Applications are invited for the second year of the MWKC Phoenix Programme on Narrabeen Lake. This Programme is designed to deliver athletes into State and National Pathway Programs. 

At this stage the Club has set target dates for athlete testing as Wednesday 28 July and Sunday 01 August, but it may be subject to change (such as weather events) so please contact us to confirm. 

If you are interested in applying for the Programme, please send an email to our Head Coach, Brett Worth at and provide the following details

Athlete Name 

Athlete DOB 

Brief summary of paddling experience (if any) 

Brief summary of other sporting interests / achievements. 

If you would like to speak with someone prior to applying you can contact; 

Brett Worth, MWKC Head Coach 0466 599 423 Peter Grimes, MWKC President 0418 221 042 

Details are available at this link:

Setting 'Personal Best' Goals Helps Students - Especially Those Academically At-Risk

July 5, 2021
Setting personal best goals – what educational researchers call ‘growth goal setting’ – improves educational outcomes, according to new collaborative research by UNSW and the NSW Department of Education.

The researchers found growth goal setting was associated with significant gains in high school students’ academic engagement: they reported improved perseverance, aspirations, attendance, and positive homework behaviour. The approach was particularly beneficial for previously low-achieving students and those from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds.

The NSW Department of Education-funded study – an analysis of a survey involving more than 60,000 students – has implications for educational policy and practice.

UNSW Scientia Professor Andrew Martin, Associate Professor Rebecca Collie, and Dr Keiko Bostwick from the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture were co-authors of the study, along with Dr Emma Burns from Macquarie University. Prof. Martin, the lead author, says growth goal setting is all about outperforming one’s previous best efforts or performance.

“It is fundamentally focused on self-improvement, such as investing more time or effort in a task or striving to achieve a higher result in the next test,” Prof. Martin says.

“Goals can be related to process, such as studying for an exam over the weekend when previously a student wouldn’t do study at weekends, or asking a teacher for help if the student usually wouldn’t seek help.

“Or they can be outcome growth goals, so things like correctly spelling more words in this week’s spelling quiz than last week’s quiz, or doing better on the yearly science lab report than on the half-yearly report.”

Does growth goal setting help everyone?
Prof. Martin says students’ growth in education had been a topic of increasing interest and research in recent years.

“Research over the past decade has shown these approaches can have many benefits, such as improved engagement, learning, and achievement,” Prof. Martin says.

“But we didn’t know if focusing on growth would just help academically advantaged students and increase existing inequities, or if it may actually be beneficial for struggling students too, and therefore narrow the gaps instead.”

That’s one of the key questions the researchers sought to answer in their study, published recently in the international Journal of Educational Psychology and further discussed in The Conversation.

Prof. Martin’s prior research among students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) already demonstrated growth goal setting was linked to increased engagement and achievement, particularly for students with ADHD.

“Our new study focused on other groups of students who may be academically at risk: students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds and those low in prior achievement,” Prof. Martin says.

Growth goal setting beneficial across the board - and especially for disadvantaged learners
The researchers analysed data involving 61,879 high school students from 290 government schools across NSW. They looked at data collected in Term 1, 2018 and again in Term 1, 2019 by the NSW Department of Education’s annual “Tell Them from Me” student survey. Students were in years 7-10 in 2018 and years 8-11 in 2019.

They analysed four sets of survey questions – student reports of growth goal setting, teachers’ instructional support, academic engagement (perseverance, aspirations, attendance, and positive homework behaviour), and personal background attributes (such as SES and language background).

“For the sample as a whole, we found that growth goal setting was associated with significant gains in students’ perseverance, aspirations, and positive homework behaviour,” Prof. Martin says.

Crucially, growth goal setting was linked to particular benefits for groups of academically at-risk students.

“Aspirations to complete school and school attendance both improved for students with low prior achievement and students from low-SES backgrounds who participated in growth goal setting,” Prof. Martin says.

Growth goal setting also reduced some existing gaps between advantaged students and those academically at risk.

“For example, growth goal setting had a significant bolstering effect for lower achieving students – helping to reduce the aspiration gap between low and high achieving students,” Prof. Martin says.

“And it minimised differences in attendance between students from low- and high-SES backgrounds – in fact, low-SES students who had high striving for growth goals were among the highest school attenders,” Prof. Martin says.

Ian McCarthy is a co-Director of Strategic Analysis and Research in the Department’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) and also co-authored the study.

“We were also able to identify that explicit teaching practice, use of feedback, and being clear and organised in class are key teaching practices that support growth goal setting and student engagement,” says Mr McCarthy.

Challenging and specific – and not in competition with others
The researchers say students can be taught how to set and strive for growth goals.

“To support students’ growth goal setting, teachers should encourage them to set goals that are specific (so the student knows exactly what they are working towards), challenging (so the student pushes themselves to the next level), and focused on competing with themselves more than competing with other students,” Prof. Martin says.

The researchers say they need to conduct further research to fully understand the causal mechanisms at play.

“One potential explanation is that a focus on personal progress and self-improvement can be motivating and inspiring,” Prof. Martin says.

“If struggling students compare themselves to most other students, it is quite possible they will see academic success as something that’s not achievable for them, which could make them feel inferior or disengaged.

“But when they are encouraged to focus on improving themselves first and foremost, academic success is suddenly within reach – it can seem a lot more realistic to exceed your own prior effort or previous test result than to outperform others.”

According to Mr McCarthy at CESE, “With this evidence-base the department has developed further resources to support teachers and schools in implementing growth goal setting in the classroom.” 

The NSW Department of Education has published a comprehensive guide to growth goal setting that complements a broader analysis of What Works Best in terms of quality teaching practices that are known to support school improvement and enhance the learning outcomes of students.

How Learning Another Language Shapes The New You

July 9, 2021
Report by Ben Knight, UNSW

If you’ve ever found yourself lost in a city overseas and needing directions or looking to spice up your bland resume, there are probably many times you wished you could call upon another language. In any case, there’s never been a better time to start learning another language than now, and there could be some unexpected upsides.

Language educator Associate Professor Andy Gao, UNSW School of Education, says there are many benefits to language learning. But aside from being a great hobby or addition to your resume, perhaps the most important is that it opens our perspectives. In his words, it fundamentally changes who we are.

“Learning languages is an enriching and rewarding experience, and there are many tangible benefits in terms of opening up different career options,” A/Prof. Gao says. “But more importantly, learning a different language is an opportunity to expand your understanding of other people and their culture, including your own people and culture, and create a more enriching life.”

Associate Professor Mira Kim, UNSW School of Humanities & Languages, agrees. The translation and interpreting studies expert says language learning can expand your horizons and your worldview. For example, reading a novel in its original language rather than the translation can give the reader a greater appreciation of linguistic and cultural diversity.

“If you can understand the language, then you have more intimate access to the knowledge that is constructed in the language,” A/Prof. Kim says. “You can feel something you can’t necessarily feel through translation…because language is not just about grammar or words, but it also expresses a lifestyle and a way of thinking.”

“It can be a really humbling experience to learn another language because you will find it’s not really easy to learn another language,” she says. “It’s really the best way to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”

Practice makes perfect
When it comes to learning languages, A/Prof. Gao says, having the right motivation is essential. He says the key is making the language personally applicable.

“From second language acquisition research, we know that people who have personally relevant goals are more motivated to learn the language and put more effort into learning it,” he says. 

“So if we want to learn another language, then we shouldn’t just think about it in material terms or academic pursuits. It should be relevant to life, and that way, we will find opportunities to learn the language by using it in a personally relevant way.”

“It can be a really humbling experience to learn another language because you will find it’s not really easy to learn another language.”

A/Prof. Gao says we shouldn’t fall into the trap of pursuing a language we don’t actually want to learn. We also shouldn’t be disheartened by a lack of progress in the beginning.

“Sometimes people will tell you that learning some languages will be more influential than the others. But if you don’t enjoy it, then you’re less likely to stick with it anyway.

“Instead, I would encourage people to start learning the language they think they’re likely to find the most personal meaning in, whether that’s the language relevant to their family history, or hobbies, or for travel.”

While fluency may be the ultimate goal, perfection shouldn’t get in the way of the joy of learning languages. 

“It takes an enormous amount of time and effort for us to learn, let alone master. Just think about how much time we spend our learning the first language,” he says. “So, we shouldn’t let the challenge of gaining full language skills hurt the joy that comes from learning languages.”

Developing global citizens
A/Prof. Gao says one of the challenges of learning languages is finding the space to practice in everyday life.

“If you’re not in a multilingual country, then exposure can be difficult,” he says.

“I think we see this play out here in terms of migration. With first-generation migration, you have people more likely to be bilingual. But [after that] usually becomes English speaking only because that’s the language you use every day. So, I think we should look to find ways to encourage the learning of heritage languages a bit more.”

As a primarily monolingual country, we should provide more practical incentives in our education system for language learning to help promote diversity, says A/Prof. Kim.

“Promoting bilingualism, or multilingualism for Australia will help us appreciate our cultural and linguistic diversity that we value so much. So, we need to encourage more people to learn another language not just as a hobby, but as a focus in the curriculum,” she says.

“We might be able to provide practical incentives for the kids to continue to learn and maintain their heritage language or learn a foreign language through bonus points or exchange program opportunities for them, for instance.”

“But we also need to fund strong language programs and departments to deliver quality language education from primary school right through to university.”

Language education and encouraging learning another language can be a judicious way to help younger generations develop into engaged global citizens, she says.

“The more we engage with other languages, the more we may find that we are all human beings regardless of the different languages we speak.”

“In the 21st century, you don’t just belong to just one nation or one country. Identity is more about who you are and knowing your place in the world as a global citizen,” she says.

“If we encourage an expectation that everyone learns another language, then some barriers that need breaking down will break down on their own.”

Language education for life
A/Prof. Gao also says he would like to see a renewed focus on language education in schools, where students have more opportunities to pursue languages together with other studies.

“I think the language curriculum should allow students or schools to have choices about what they want to achieve in learning a language. Because the pursuit of learning language is very personalised, it’s not something that is served well with measured outcomes or standardised testing,” he says.

While learning in school can be a great introduction to languages, A/Prof. Gao says anyone can learn a new language at any time. In fact, practising a second language can also be a handy skill to have as we age.

“We see many examples of people learning languages at a later age, so we know that you can learn a language in any context,” A/Prof. Gao says. “And when we grow older, we need to retain our active brains, and so being able to use different languages can help keep our brains active.”

“I would encourage people to start learning the language they think they’re likely to find the most personal meaning in, whether that’s the language relevant to their family history, or hobbies, or for travel.”

He also says that being aware of the language learning process can help us learn any subsequent languages.

“Much research evidence points to this direction because you’ve been through the process of learning a second language,” he says. “So, you might develop some shortcuts that might make learning new languages less time-consuming.”

The more languages we can learn, the more different lives we can experience, or at least appreciate, he says.

“The more we engage with other languages, the more we may find that we are all human beings regardless of the different languages we speak.”

Curious Kids: is light a wave or a particle?

Sam BaronAustralian Catholic University

Is light a wave or particle? — Ishan, age 15, Dubai

Hi Ishan! Thanks for your great question.

Light can be described both as a wave and as a particle. There are two experiments in particular that have revealed the dual nature of light.

When we’re thinking of light as being made of of particles, these particles are called “photons”. Photons have no mass, and each one carries a specific amount of energy. Meanwhile, when we think about light propagating as waves, these are waves of electromagnetic radiation. Other examples of electromagnetic radiation include X-rays and ultraviolet radiation.

It’s worth remembering light — regardless of whether it’s behaving like a wave or particles — will always travel at roughly 300,000 kilometres per second. The speed of light as it travels through space (or another vacuum) is the fastest phenomenon in the universe, as far as we know.

The Double-Slit Experiment

Imagine you have a bucket of tennis balls. Two metres in front of you is a solid panel with two holes in it. A metre behind that panel is a wall. You dip each ball in red paint and throw it at one hole, and then the other. A successful throw will leave a red mark on the wall behind, leaving a specific pattern of roundish dots.

Throw balls at a wall and, if your aim is good, you’ll get a pattern of dots. Provided by author

Now, suppose you shoot a single beam of light at the same panel with holes in it, on the same trajectory as the tennis balls. If light is a beam of particles, or in other words a beam of photons, you would expect to see a similar pattern to that made by the tennis balls where the light particles strike the wall.

That, however, isn’t what you see. Instead, you see a complex pattern of stripes. Why?

This is because light, in this situation, acts like a wave. When we shoot a beam of light through the holes, it breaks into two beams. The two resulting waves then interfere with each other to become either stronger (constructive interference) or weaker (destructive interference).

A single wave of light breaks into two, generating what’s called an ‘interference pattern’. Provided by author

The waves create a lattice pattern, which results in a series of stripes on the wall. In the above image, the stripes are larger and brighter at places where the waves join. The gaps between the stripes are the result of destructive interference, and the stripes are the result of constructive interference.

The Photoelectric Effect

The above experiment shows light behaving as a wave. But Albert Einstein showed us we can also describe light as being made up of individual particles of energy: photons. This is necessary to account for something called the “photoelectric effect”.

When you shoot light at a sheet of metal, the metal emits electrons: particles that are electrically charged. This is the photoelectric effect.

Prior to Einstein, scientists tried to explain the photoelectric effect by assuming light only takes the form of a wave. To understand their reasoning, imagine ripples in a pond. The ripples have peaks where the wave rises up, and troughs where it dips down.

Read more: Curious Kids: how do ripples form and why do they spread out across the water?

Now imagine there’s also a boat in the pond with Lego soldiers aboard. As the ripples reach the boat, they have the potential to throw the soldiers off. The more energy the ripples carry, the greater the force with which the soldiers will be thrown off.

And since each ripple can potentially throw off a soldier, the more ripples that reach the boat within a certain time limit, the more soldiers we can expect will be thrown off during that time.

Light waves also have peaks and troughs and therefore ripple in a similar manner. In the wave theory of light, these oscillations are linked to two properties of light: intensity and frequency.

Simply put, the frequency of a light wave is the number of peaks that pass a point in space in a given period (like when a certain number of ripples strike the boat within a specific time). The intensity corresponds to the energy of the wave (like the energy carried by each ripple in our pond).

Scientists in the 19th century pictured electrons on a sheet of metal as behaving similarly to the Lego soldiers on our raft. When light strikes the metal, the ripples should throw the electrons off.

The greater the intensity (the energy of the ripples) the faster the electrons will fly off, they thought. The higher the frequency within a specific time period, the greater the number of electrons that will get thrown off during that time — right?

What we actually see is the complete opposite! It’s the frequency of the light hitting the metal which determines the speed of the electrons as they shoot off. Meanwhile the intensity of the light, or how much energy it carries, actually determines the number of electrons flying away.

Einstein’s Explanation

Einstein had a great explanation for this peculiar observation. He hypothesised light is made of particles, and is in fact not a wave. He then linked the intensity of light to the number of photons in a beam, and the frequency of light to how much energy each photon carries.

When more photons are shot at the metal (greater intensity), there are more collisions between the photons and electrons, so a greater number of electrons are emitted. Thus, the intensity of the light determines the number of electrons emitted, rather than the speed with which they fly off.

Increase the intensity of light, and therefore the number of photons bombarding a sheet of metal, and you’ll also see a greater number of electrons being shot off. Provided by author

When light’s frequency is increased and each photon carries more energy, then each electron also takes more energy from the collision — and will therefore fly off with more speed.

This explanation earned Einstein a Nobel Prize in 1921.

Wave Or Particle?

Considering all of the above, one question remains: is light a wave that sometimes looks like a particle, or a particle that sometimes looks like a wave? There is disagreement about this.

My money is on light being a wave that displays particle-like properties under certain conditions. But this remains a controversial issue — one that takes us into the exciting realm of quantum mechanics. I encourage you to dig deeper and make up your own mind!

Read more: Curious Kids: Why is the sky blue and where does it start? The Conversation

Sam Baron, Associate professor, Australian Catholic University

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

Neanderthal Artists? Bones Decorated Over 50,000 Years Ago

July 6, 2021
Since the discovery of the first fossil remains in the 19th century, the image of the Neanderthal has been one of a primitive hominin. People have known for a long time that Neanderthals were able to effectively fashion tools and weapons. But could they also make ornaments, jewellery or even art? 

A research team led by the University of Göttingen and the Lower Saxony State Office for Heritage has analysed a new find from the Unicorn Cave (Einhornhöhle) in the Harz Mountains. The researchers conclude that, in fact, Neanderthals, genetically the closest relative to modern humans, had remarkable cognitive abilities. The results of the study were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Working with the Unicornu Fossile society, the scientists have been carrying out new excavations at the Unicorn Cave in the Harz Mountains since 2019. For the first time, they succeeded in uncovering well-preserved layers of cultural artefacts from the Neanderthal period in the cave's ruined entrance area. Among the preserved remains from a hunt, an inconspicuous foot bone turned out to be a sensational discovery. After removing the soil sticking to the bone, an angular pattern of six notches was revealed. "We quickly realised that these were not marks made from butchering the animal but were clearly decorative," says the excavation leader Dr Dirk Leder of the Lower Saxony State Office for Heritage. The carved notches could then be analysed with 3D microscopy at the Department of Wood Biology and Wood Products at Göttingen University.

To make a scientific comparison, the team carried out experiments with the foot bones of today's cattle. They showed that the bone probably had to be boiled first in order to carve the pattern into the softened bone surface with stone tools and the work would take about 1.5 hours. The small ancient foot bone that had been discovered was identified as coming from a giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus). "It is probably no coincidence that the Neanderthal chose the bone of an impressive animal with huge antlers for his or her carving," says Professor Antje Schwalb from the Technical University of Braunschweig, who is involved in the project.

The team of Leibniz laboratory at Kiel University dated the carved bone at over 51,000 years using radiocarbon dating technology. This is the first time that anyone has successfully directly dated an object that must have been carved by Neanderthals. Until now, a few ornamental objects from the time of the last Neanderthals in France were known. However, these finds, which are about 40,000 years old, are considered by many to be copies of pendants made by anatomically modern humans because by this time they had already spread to parts of Europe. Decorative objects and small ivory sculptures have survived from cave sites of modern humans on the Swabian Alb in Baden-Württemberg and these were found at about the same time.

"The fact that the new find from the Unicorn Cave dates from so long ago shows that Neanderthals were already able to independently produce patterns on bones and probably also communicate using symbols thousands of years before the arrival of modern humans in Europe," says project leader Professor Thomas Terberger from Göttingen University's Department for Prehistory and Early History, and the Lower Saxony State Office for Heritage. "This means that the creative talents of the Neanderthals must have developed independently. The bone from the Unicorn Cave thus represents the oldest decorated object in Lower Saxony and one of the most important finds from the Neanderthal period in Central Europe."

The carved bone – a foot bone from a giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus) – found in the Unicorn Cave (inventory no. 46999448-423). Photo: V. Minkus, © NLD

Lower Saxony's Minister of Science Björn Thümler says: "Lower Saxony's archaeologists are always making discoveries that rewrite the history books. Now, research in the Unicorn Cave has revealed that the Neanderthals produced elaborate designs even before the arrival of modern humans -- yet another important new finding that completely revises our picture of prehistory."

Dirk Leder, Raphael Hermann, Matthias Hüls, Gabriele Russo, Philipp Hoelzmann, Ralf Nielbock, Utz Böhner, Jens Lehmann, Michael Meier, Antje Schwalb, Andrea Tröller-Reimer, Tim Koddenberg, Thomas Terberger. A 51,000-year-old engraved bone reveals Neanderthals’ capacity for symbolic behaviour. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01487-z

Sardines for breakfast, hypothermia rescues: the story of the cash-strappedpost-pandemic 1920 Olympics

British runner Albert Hill winning the 800-meter run at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, EI-13 (727)
Keith RathboneMacquarie University

Since the global pandemic began, debate has raged over whether Tokyo should go ahead with the Olympic Games, now set to open on July 23.

The same heated debates were heard the last time an Olympic Games were staged following a global pandemic — the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) strongly believed the Olympics would help bring the world back together — not just after the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic that killed at least 50 million people, but also the tumult of the first world war.

Only six months after the armistice that ended the conflict — and in the midst of the pandemic — Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics and president of the IOC, called an extraordinary IOC session to award the 1920 Olympics to Antwerp in recognition of Belgium’s suffering.

Newspapers around the world agreed. In France’s premier sports paper, L’Auto, journalists asked “Belgium – didn’t they earn the Games?”.

Despite the IOC’s enthusiasm, worries about the resurgence of the Spanish Flu stalked the competition. Although the last wave hit Europe in the spring of 1920, newspapers still reported on rumours of new outbreaks in the weeks leading up to the games.

Though a number of Olympic athletes died from the flu in the years leading up to the games, historical records show the virus had no direct impact on the event itself. Nonetheless, planning an Olympics in the aftermath of both a war and pandemic was far from easy for the under-resourced and overstretched Belgians.

Spanish flu outbreak in Boden, Sweden, taken in 1918. Wikimedia Commons

An Olympic Farce?

The Antwerp Games followed closely after the Inter-Allied Games, held in Paris in 1919, which brought together soldiers from the Allied powers who were stationed in France and Belgium and had yet to be demobilised.

The popular event saw large crowds, despite concerns about the flu, and provided greater impetus to move ahead with the even more ambitious Olympics. British Olympic officials said in a letter to The Referee newspaper in Sydney,

By renewing her claim to this Olympiad, she [the city of Antwerp] says to her tyrants of yesterday, ‘You thought you had broken my spirit and ruined my fortunes. You have failed.’

The Belgian Olympic Committee refused to invite athletes from the Central Powers who fought in the war — Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. The newly created Soviet Union also declined to attend.

The British-winning tug of war team at the 1920 Games. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, EI-13 (727)

This intrusion of politics on the games proved challenging for the IOC. During the first world war, de Coubertin had avowed Olympic neutrality, and was quoted in the Italian newspaper La Stampa in 1915 as being open to Germany hosting the games the following year. (The 1916 Berlin Olympics were ultimately cancelled due to the war.)

The IOC also made every effort to sell the 1920 Olympics as a celebration of peace. Antwerp was the first Olympics, for example, to feature the famed five interlocking rings designed to represent “the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world”.

1920 Olympics poster. Wikimedia Commons

But not everyone was supportive of the idea that “Olympism” could promote peace in the wake of the war. The UK assistant under-secretary for foreign affairs, Eyre Crowe, decried the Olympics as “an international farce” and joined a chorus of government officials arguing against funding a British Olympic team.

The Belgian Olympic Committee, and the athletes themselves, explicitly connected the games to the war, as well.

At the opening ceremonies, the organisers released doves into the air, but also held a religious service in memory of the Allied athletes who had been killed. Military officials also played a key role in organising and staging events: the American team only arrived in Europe, for instance, thanks to a last-minute military transport.

Few Fans And A Financial Failure

Just like the Tokyo Games, De Coubertin and the IOC were under considerable pressure to ensure the Antwerp Olympics went ahead, despite the challenging circumstances.

After an eight-year break following the 1912 Olympics, de Coubertin realised that hosting Olympics in 1920 was essential to defending their position as the world’s premier international sporting competition.

He was aware that alternative games were being organised, including the 1921 Women’s Olympiad in Monte Carlo, which was planned, in part, because of the unwillingness of the Olympics to allow a full range of women’s events.

On August 14, 1920, the Antwerp Games opened with more than 2,600 competing athletes. Several achieved remarkable success, including the Hawaiian-American swimmer, Duke Kahanamokuwho won gold and set a world record in the 100-metre freestyle. But overall, the quality of competition had dipped significantly.

Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920. Wikimedia Commons

The war was the cause: many star athletes died or returned injured and unable to compete. The British team, for instance, lost several track and field stars — Gerald Anderson, Kenneth Powell and Henry Ashington — all from Oxbridge sporting clubs.

Other athletes had died from the flu, including nine-time Olympic medallist Martin Sheridan.

The number of fans were also lower than organisers expected: many locals were unable to afford the high cost of tickets. The low local interest resulted in a loss of 600 million francs for Belgium, and within three years, the Belgian Olympic Committee had gone bankrupt.

The rush to host the games could only partially explain its financial failure. The Belgian government set aside 4 million francs to fund the competition, but quickly ran out of money and was forced to scrape up money through local fund-raising drives and by selling memorabilia.

American, British, and French Olympic committees similarly faced difficulty raising funds to send athletes to Belgium. In the wake of the war, amid a global economic recession, few governments had money to spend on sport.

The opening of the 1920 Olympics. Wikimedia Commons

‘We Were Heartsick When We Saw It’

Cash-strapped Belgium was hardly ready to welcome athletes, let alone large numbers of fans. Walker Smith, an American track and field athlete, described sleeping on cots “without mattresses” in dormitories housing 10 to 15 men per room.

Aileen Riggin during the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Wikimedia Commons

The food situation was similarly bleak, with athletes given only a roll, coffee and “one little sardine” for breakfast. They were forced to buy their own food — Belgium was still receiving aid because of food shortages.

Sporting facilities, too, were in shambles. The Olympic Stadium was barely finished when the games began — the track was incomplete and many of the races were conducted in muddy conditions.

Swimmers faced even tougher circumstances: the Belgians had not built a pool but instead constructed a wooden frame in an existing waterway.

Aileen Riggin, the gold medallist in the women’s three-meter springboard event, remembers diving into a canal, part of the city’s ancient defences, and into water being shared by all the nautical sports.

We were heartsick when we saw it. […] A 50-meter pool was not asking too much, but of course Belgium did the very best they could. This was right after the war.

It was so cold that many swimmers had to be rescued from hypothermia. They were unconscious, and some of them were really in a bad way and had to be dragged out.

Swimming competition in a canal at the Antwerp Olympics. (Duke Kahanamoku is in lane 5). Wikimedia Commons

Antwerp’s Legacy

Despite these hardships, Belgians reported a successful Olympiad. The IOC’s report called the games a noble cause, but admitted that “for Belgians the success was relative”.

According to the IOC, one of the lessons they learned was

how expensive it was to host the games [and] that it is imprudent to undertake them without having the necessary capital in hand.

In the rush to host the 1920 games, the IOC, local organisers, and other national committees made avoidable and costly mistakes.

Unfortunately, as the long history of politicised and costly Olympics has shown, some of these mistakes were doomed to be repeated.

Read more: The Tokyo Olympics are going ahead, but they will be a much compromised and watered-down event The Conversation

Keith Rathbone, Lecturer, Modern European History and Sports History, Macquarie University

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

If I could go anywhere: the ‘cathedral’ at Blythburgh that rises from the marshes

Miles PattendenAustralian Catholic University

In this series we pay tribute to the art we wish could visit — and hope to see once travel restrictions are lifted.

A church, an ancient heap of flints, rises up, cavernous, through mist and marshes. The “Cathedral of the Marshes”, they call it. This is Blythburgh on England’s windswept Suffolk coast.

The landscape here is oppressive, bleak. And what man once made is quickly being lost to nature: sea erodes land.

Nearby, the parish at Easton Bavents almost completely perished centuries ago beneath the waves. Bare traces remain of the great medieval port of Dunwich five miles south.

Yet Blythburgh’s Holy Trinity stands tall, majestic even, a near-perfect expression of the mature perpendicular style of English Gothic architecture.

East Anglia is dotted with such archaic oratories, which exercise a remarkable hold over the English psyche. These churches are our public monuments, as Simon Jenkins has noted. But they are also memory palaces that enshrine a thousand years or more of history.

Names, dates, materials, shapes: they link us to lives, tastes, communities and faiths of the long forgotten. To visit such a place is to do more than admire. It is to commune with the past, marvelling in its reinvention as a foreign country and at how far we ourselves have come.

Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh Suffolk England UK known as the ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’. WikipediaCC BY

Read more: If I could go anywhere: the dizzying spectacle of Gaudí's Basílica de la Sagrada Família

Far From The Madding Crowd

I used to visit Blythburgh as a kid. My Dad liked it here: the lonely desolation a tonic for the hustle and bustle of Cambridge’s university life.

His love of churches inspired me. In Ely and St Edmundsbury we went to cathedrals together. At Orford and Long Melford he showed me the brasses and stained glasses.

But Blythburgh’s impression on me was always greatest. It had atmosphere — that intangible je ne sais quoi that comes from time and place and feeling.

The view from above and within the church.

Blythburgh’s mein is wistful and melancholy, the result of centuries of diminishing relevance and (mostly) benign neglect.

This sort of place inspired Benjamin Britten to opera and M. R. James to ghost stories. After all, the set of Peter Grimes and A warning to the curious is just a hearty walk away along the coast.

The magic here is that you are never quite sure you are truly alone, however drab or empty the space might seem. Another James story, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad tells of an encounter on one of the beaches round about. The protagonist, a young professor, finds a little bronze object which he blows. The rest is all chasing and shadows: pure Gothic horror.

As a kid, the tale terrified me.

The darkest of M. R. James stories hints at the dangers of intellectual pride and the failure to acknowledge forces we can’t understand.

Read more: Cathedrals of light, cathedrals of ice, cathedrals of glass, cathedrals of bones

Watched Over By Angels

A church first stood in Blythburgh before 654 CE. That was the year King Penda of Mercia slaughtered King Anna of East Anglia and his son in battle. Anna’s followers brought their bodies here for burial.

The present building is mostly 15th-century. In this part of England those days were what Evelyn Waugh called the fat days of wool shearing and the wide corn lands.

wooden angel
Weathered and watching angels inside the roof. WikipediaCC BY

Nearly all the current plan was laid out then: the languid nave, the capacious chancel, memorial chapels in the aisles, benches, monuments, font and the immense hammerbeam roof.

That roof: it protects the congregation from more than just the elements. A throng of angels, their faces serene but their wings aflutter, stand guard over those who sit on pews below.

The pews themselves are works of art, with carved poppy heads parading saints and seasons, works of mercy and sins personified.

wooden carving
A poppy head carving at the end of a pew depicts the sin of Slander. WikipediaCC BY

Here, Slander brandishes his tongue, Gluttony his paunch, Hypocrisy his false piety and Sloth his bedgown. There, a man comforts the sick, another visits a prisoner, a third buries his dead.

This kind of delicate, intricate carving demanded the highest levels of skill possessed of medieval craftsmen.

Other churches have their own sacramentals, but Blythburgh’s are amongst the most beautiful and haunting. Spartan white walls and a clear, clean glass clerestory — the bandages of Reformation trauma? — only enhance the effect.

Read more: The Dig's romanticisation of an Anglo-Saxon past reveals it is a film for post-Brexit UK

An Elegy To Time

Blythburgh’s decline has been a long time in coming. The Reformation, an early blow, destroyed the priory which abutted the church.

The tower’s steeple fell in 1577 and its lack of resurrection somehow seems to symbolise this part of Suffolk’s gentle retreat thereafter into bucolic backwater.

In the 1640s, “Smasher Dowsing” and his men attacked the church’s art and icons, stripping the roof of half its angels. A parochial itch to shoot at jackdaws nesting in the rafters may have caused further damage in the 18th century.

church statue
Jack keeps time, if only for himself. Wikipedia/Chris GunnsCC BY

Victorian antiquaries restored the place to something of its former glory. But today, few come to worship in Blythburgh’s paludal “cathedral”.

The village itself houses just 300 souls and the locality, in the hinterland of a bird sanctuary, is best known as a haven for sailboats and as a twitchers’ paradise.

Inside the tower, a sombre armoured Jack-o-the-Clock from 1682 still keeps time. His baleful inscription: “As the hours pass away, So doth the life of man decay”.

The church, which has borne silent witness to countless other plagues, disasters, and wars, endures even now in its gloomy spot.

I glimpse it still from half a world away, an eerie greyness cloaking it with a salt wind from the sea.The Conversation

Miles Pattenden, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry/Gender and Women's History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University

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

Australians are embracing ‘mindful drinking’ — and the alcohol industry is also getting sober curious

Justin Aikin/Unsplash
Tamara BucherUniversity of Newcastle and Melanie PirinenUniversity of Newcastle

In 2020, Australia’s first non-alcoholic bar opened in Brunswick. Sydney quickly followed suit. Major liquor retailers are dedicating more and more shelf space for the growing range of no-alcohol and low-alcohol drinks.

Alcohol-free wines, beers and spirits are increasingly sophisticated, driven by consumers taking more care in what they drink — and how they choose to drink.

Over the past 15 years, alcohol consumption has decreased in Australia, from 10.8 litres per capita per year down to 9.4 litres, the lowest seen in 50 years. Similar trends have been seen globally.

The reduction has been particularly stark for the younger age groups: the number of people in their 20s abstaining from alcohol increased from 8.9% in 2001 to 22% in 2019.

Saying no to excessive drinking is the new act of youth rebellion.

‘Sober Curious’ And ‘Mindful Drinking’

Drinking or not drinking was once seen as binary: you were a drinker, or you were sober. But recent years has seen a rise of the “sober curious”, or the “mindful drinking” movement.

This might mean pausing to consider your need to drink, or how much you will drink. Maybe replacing your midweek glass of wine or beers with a non-alcoholic alternative. It’s about stopping to ask yourself why you want to have a drink, and if each and every drink needs to be alcoholic.

This moves away from the extremes of teetotallers vs binge drinkers and opens up the idea of drinking – or not – on any given occasion.

We could also call these people moderate drinkers: they embrace mindful drinking as a lifestyle, using social media hashtags such as #soberissexy #sobercurious and #hangoverfree. These hashtags show images of health, happiness, empowerment, and success — people living life to the full.

Read more: #WineMom: Humour and empowerment or binge drinking and mental health challenges?

This idea of conscious or controlled drinking has generated a new culture of consumers who celebrate, share and hashtag their non- or low-alcohol drinking.

It’s Not Grape Juice

This shift in consumer attitudes has driven product innovation. Global alcohol brands are exploring alternatives, and several new brands have emerged with a focus on producing high-quality alcohol-free drinks that feel at home on any fashionable cocktail list.

Alcohol-free wine isn’t grape juice. To be classified as wine in Australia, a product must be made from fermentation of fresh grapes. During fermentation, yeast converts fruit sugars to alcohol.

Fermentable sugars can be reduced by harvesting fruits early, creating wines naturally lower in alcohol, or alcohol can be removed from a finished wine product after fermentation.

Alcohol-free wines have been around for a while — the first non-alcoholic wines were produced more than 100 years ago, but the technological methods for “dealcoholisation” have seen drastic improvements.

Dealcholisation once resulted in drinks lacking aroma, flavour quality and the characteristics we associate with drinking a glass of wine. But alcohol can now be removed without destroying the flavour compounds of the wine — and in a cost-effective way at large scale.

Even with the rise of the sober curious, consumers think these drinks are of lower value. There is a belief because these drinks do not contain alcohol they should cost less. In practice, the production of high-quality alcohol-free wine and beer is more expensive and the potential savings on alcohol taxes are not making up for the increased costs.

Non-alcoholic wines are reported to be one of Australia’s fastest growing drink categories, valued at more than A$4.5 million last year, predicted to be worth $15 million by the end of this year. Despite the growth, they still account for less than 1% of Australia’s total wine consumption.

But … What Is The Point?

So, why not just drink water, or a soft drink? Drinking is not just about quenching your thirst, or just about intoxication. Drinking is a social event, a ritual, a reward and an experience. Drinks are paired with food and are to be enjoyed.

Wine drinkers know it is more than just a drink or source of alcohol. A particular pour may be chosen for reasons such as health (think resveratrol in red wine), food pairings (a dry Chardonnay with crispy-skinned Barramundi), style (sipping an award-winning wine), intellectual challenge (sampling different grape varieties and regions) or tradition and fun (popping the cork of a sparkling white).

Many of these needs can be fulfilled by non-alcoholic wine.

Alcohol does contribute to the flavour profile of alcoholic drinks, and removing alcohol does change the taste. But today’s makers are creative.

Wine does contain antioxidants, and moderate consumption has been linked with good health. But alcohol removal can give consumers the benefits of the antioxidants without risking adverse effects.

Read more: Non-alcoholic drinks: how healthy are they?

And while you’re unlikely to think of beer as a sports drink, savvy marketers are thinking differently: Australians can now buy non-alcoholic “sports beers”. ZERO+ Sports Beer claims these beers contain similar minerals and isotonic properties as sports drinks.

The Future Is Mindful

Drinking alcohol is seen as a way to relax, socialise and gain a sense of pleasure.

But the mindful drinker gains their sense of pleasure and enjoyment through abstaining or moderating their drinking.

Embracing mindful drinking has been shown to generate positive feelings such as a sense of self-determination, building self-esteem, and feeling comfortable with one’s social identity.

Consumers want alternatives and are excited by new products and innovation.

Some dealcoholised beers and wines have even won awards against standard strength wines — so the mindful drinker may be getting the pick of the shelf.The Conversation

Tamara Bucher, Senior Researcher, University of Newcastle and Melanie Pirinen, PhD Candidate (Food Science & Nutrition), University of Newcastle

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

Julia Banks’ new book is part of a 50-year tradition of female MPs using memoirs to fight for equality

James Ross/AAP
Joshua BlackAustralian National University

Political memoirs in Australia often create splashy headlines and controversy. But we should not dismiss the publication of former Liberal MP Julia Banks’ book, Power Play, as just the latest in a genre full of scandals and secrets.

There is a long tradition of female parliamentarians using memoirs to reshape the culture around them. Banks — whose book includes claims of bullying, sexism and harassment — is the latest to push for equality and understanding of what life is like for women in Canberra.

The Power Of A Memoir

There are many ways to tell your story — from social media posts to podcasts and speeches to parliament.

But there is something enduring about memoir. Sales figures aside, the political memoir can be a significant event. The inevitable round of media interviews, book tours and literary festivals can allow an author to stamp their broader ideas onto the public debate and shed light on the culture of our institutions.

Read more: The 'madness' of Julia Banks — why narratives about 'hysterical' women are so toxic

They also have the advantage of usually being written when women have left parliament, and no longer need to place their party’s interests ahead of all others. Indeed, Banks tells us that her story is that of “an insider who’s now out”.

It Started With Enid Lyons

In 1972, Dame Enid Lyons (the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and wife of former prime minister Joe Lyons) published Among the Carrion Crows.

In her memoir, she offered a compelling insight into how she dealt with the male-dominated environment of parliament house. She recalled feeling like a “risky political experiment”, as if the very “value of women in politics would be judged” by the virtue of her conduct. She joyfully described how her maiden speech had moved men to tears.

In that place of endless speaking … no one ever made men weep. Apparently I had done so.

She also recorded key moments when she had vigorously presented her views in the party room and the parliament. She asserted the right of women to stand — and more importantly, to be heard — in parliament.

Encouraging Women, Challenging Men

Since Lyons, women have continued to use autobiographies to promote women’s participation in politics and challenge the masculine histories of political parties.

When the ALP celebrated its centenary in 1991, it was the male history that was celebrated. Senator Margaret Reynolds (Queensland’s first female senator) “decided that the record had to be corrected”.

Former Labor minister Susan Ryan.
Former education minister Susan Ryan wanted to encourage other women to go into politics. Lukas Coch/AAP

Reynolds’ writings on Labor women occurred alongside the ALP’s moves toward affirmative action quotas in the early 1990s. As well as a memoir, she wrote a series of newsletters called Some of Them Sheilas, and a book about Labor’s women called The Last Bastion. In it, she recorded the experiences and achievements of ALP women over the past 100 years.

In her 1999 book, Catching the Waves, Labor’s first female cabinet minister Susan Ryan acknowledged there was “a lot of bad male behaviour in parliament”. But she argued this should not “dissuade women from seeking parliamentary careers”. Importantly, Ryan saw her autobiography as a collective story about the women’s movement and its “breakthrough into parliamentary politics” in the 1970s and 1980s.

Read more: Why is it taking so long to achieve gender equality in parliament?

While Labor women like Reynolds, Ryan and Cheryl Kernot were publishing their memoirs, few Liberal women put their stories on the public record. Former NSW Liberal leader Kerry Chikarovski’s 2004 memoir, Chika, was billed as the story of a woman who

learnt to cope with some of the toughest and nastiest politics any female has ever encountered in Australia’s political history.

In 2007 Pauline Hanson published an autobiography called Untamed and Unashamed, telling journalists, “I wanted to set the record straight”. But these were exceptions to the rule.

Julia Gillard’s Story

Following the sexism and misogyny that disfigured her prime ministership, Julia Gillard’s 2014 memoir My Story helped revitalise the national conversation about women and power. Hoping to help Australia “work patiently and carefully through” the question of gender and politics, Gillard promised to “describe how I lived it and felt it” as prime minister.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard at the Sydney Writers' Festival
Julia Gillard released her memoir in 2014, the year after she lost the prime ministership. David Moir/AAP

Importantly, she held not only her opponents but also the media to account for their gender bias. Critics like journalist Paul Kelly derided Gillard’s version of history as “nonsense”, but the success of her account suggests otherwise. My Story sold 72,000 copies in just three years.

In her 2020 book, Women and Leadership co-authored with former Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gillard interviewed eight women leaders from around the world, further showing how gender continues to shape political lives.

The Risks Of Writing

A political memoir can be fraught, however. After a decade in parliament, Democract-turned-Labor MP Cheryl Kernot published her memoir Speaking for Myself Again in 2002. She had hoped it would argue the case for Australian women “participating fully” in politics to promote “their own values and interests and shift the underlying male agenda”.

Former MP Cheryl Kernot
Former MP Cheryl Kernot’s memoir release was overshadowed by controversy. Julian Ross/AAP

But the release was quickly overshadowed by revelations of an extra-marital affair with Labor’s Gareth Evans (which were not in the book). Her book tour was halted amid the fallout. Kernot later despaired journalist Laurie Oakes — who broke the story — had managed to “sabotage people’s interest in the book”.

Others, such as Labor’s Ros Kelly, have told their stories in private or semi-private ways. Kelly’s autobiography was privately published as a gift to her granddaughter, but she also gives copies to women in politics, many of whom “have read it, and sent me really nice notes”.

Power In Numbers

In the past five years, several women from across the political spectrum have published life stories.

In her memoir, An Activist Life, former Greens leader Christine Milne argued that women should perform feminist leadership rather than being “co-opted into being one of the boys”. In Finding My Place, Labor MP Anne Aly, showed women of non-Anglo, non-Christian backgrounds belong in parliament too. Independents Jacqui Lambie and Cathy McGowan used their memoirs to show female MPs can thrive without the backing of the major parties.

Read more: Politics with Michelle Grattan: Former MP Kate Ellis on the culture in parliament house

Most recently, former Labor MP Kate Ellis published Sex, Lies and Question Time, which includes reflections on the experiences of nearly a dozen other women in parliament.

For fifty years, Australia’s female politicians have used their memoirs to assert the equal rights of women in parliament, party rooms, and the media. Drawing on that lineage, Banks is the latest to help reveal and disrupt the sexism and misogyny in political life.The Conversation

Joshua Black, PhD Candidate, School of History, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

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

We found a new type of stellar explosion that could explain a 13-billion-year-old mystery of the Milky Way’s elements

David YongAustralian National University and Gary Da CostaAustralian National University

Until recently it was thought neutron star mergers were the only way heavy elements (heavier than Zinc) could be produced. These mergers involve the mashup of the remnants of two massive stars in a binary system.

But we know heavy elements were first produced not long after the Big Bang, when the universe was really young. Back then, not enough time had passed for neutron star mergers to have even occurred. Thus, another source was needed to explain the presence of early heavy elements in the Milky Way.

The discovery of an ancient star SMSS J2003-1142 in the Milky Way’s halo — which is the roughly spherical region that surrounds the galaxy — is providing the first evidence for another source for heavy elements, including uranium and possibly gold.

Around our galaxy, the Milky Way, there is a ‘halo’ made up of hot gases which is continually being supplied with material ejected by birthing or dying stars. Only 1% of stars in the galaxy are found in the halo. NASA

In our research published today in Nature, we show the heavy elements detected in SMSS J2003-1142 were likely produced, not by a neutron star merger, but through the collapse and explosion of a rapidly spinning star with a strong magnetic field and a mass about 25 times that of the Sun.

We call this explosion event a “magnetorotational hypernova”.

Stellar Alchemy

It was recently confirmed that neutron star mergers are indeed one source of the heavy elements in our galaxy. As the name suggests, this is when two neutron stars in a binary system merge together in an energetic event called a “kilonova”. This process produces heavy elements.

Binary star systems have two stars orbiting around a common centre of mass. A neutron star merger is a type of stellar collision that happens between two neutron stars in a binary system. This process can produce heavy elements. NASA

However, existing models of the chemical evolution of our galaxy indicate that neutron star mergers alone could not have produced the specific patterns of elements we see in multiple ancient stars, including SMSS J2003-1142.

Read more: Signals from a spectacular neutron star merger that made gravitational waves are slowly fading away

A Relic From The Early Universe

SMSS J2003-1142 was first observed in 2016 from Australia, and then again in September 2019 using a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

From these observations, we studied the star’s chemical composition. Our analysis revealed an iron content roughly 3,000 times lower than the Sun’s. In other words, SMSS J2003-1142 is chemically primitive.

The elements we observed in it were likely produced by a single parent star, just after the Big Bang.

Signatures Of A Collapsed Rapidly Spinning Star

The chemical composition of SMSS J2003-1142 can reveal the nature and properties of its parent star. Particularly important are its unusually high amounts of nitrogen, zinc and heavy elements including europium and uranium.

The high nitrogen levels in SMSS J2003-1142 indicate the parent star had rapid rotation, while high zinc levels indicate the energy of the explosion was about ten times that of a “normal” supernova — which means it would have been a hypernova. Also, large amounts of uranium would have required the presence of lots of neutrons.

The heavy elements we can observe in SMSS J2003-1142 today are all evidence that this star was produced as a result of an early magnetorotational hypernova explosion.

And our work has therefore provided the first evidence that magnetorotational hypernova events are a source of heavy elements in our galaxy (alongside neutron star mergers).

What About Neutron Star Mergers?

But how do we know it wasn’t just neutron star mergers that led to the particular elements we find in SMSS J2003-1142? There’s a few reasons for this.

In our hypothesis, a single parent star would have made all the elements observed in SMSS J2003-1142. On the other hand, it would have taken much, much longer for the same elements to have been made only through neutron star mergers. But this time wouldn’t have even existed this early in the galaxy’s formation when these elements were made.

Also, neutron star mergers make only heavy elements, so additional sources such as regular supernova would had to have occurred to explain other heavy elements, such as calcium, observed in SMSS J2003-1142. This scenario, while possible, is more complicated and therefore less likely.

The magnetorotational hypernovae model not only provides a better fit to the data, it can also explain the composition of SMSS J2003-1142 through a single event. It could be neutron star mergers, together with magnetorotational supernovae, could in unison explain how all the heavy elements in the Milky Way were created.

Read more: The race to find even more new elements to add to the periodic table The Conversation

David Yong, Academic, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University and Gary Da Costa, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy, Australian National University

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

Branson vs Bezos: as the billionaires get ready to blast into space, who’s got the better plan?

Blue Origin
Chris JamesThe University of Queensland

Over the next fortnight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson will take off into space, because they can, on spaceships designed by their respective companies.

It’s a big moment for the private space industry. But the question comes to mind: who has the smarter plan?

A Billionaire’s Space Race

On May 5 Blue Origin, owned by former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, announced it would fly its first crew of astronauts into space on July 20 — the Apollo 11 Moon landing’s 52nd anniversary.

After 15 successful test flights, this will be the first crewed flight for Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship. One seat will be occupied by an undisclosed winner of a charity auction, who reportedly paid US$28 million for the privilege. Two more seats will be taken up by Bezos and his brother Mark.

A fourth seat will go to Wally Funk. The 82-year-old pilot was a promising candidate in the 1960s Mercury 13 women’s astronaut training programme, but wasn’t able to go to space because of her gender.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule. Blue Origin

It wasn’t long after Bezos announced his plans that Sir Richard Branson also joined in, setting a launch date of July 11 — nine days before Bezos’s departure.

Branson will travel as part of a six person crew on Virgin Galactic spaceplane VSS Unity. It will be the fourth time the VSS Unity, the specific SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, has been flown to space, but the first with a full crew.

Read more: Want to become a space tourist? You finally can — if you have $250,000 and a will to sign your life away

Tailored Plans

Both flights will be short, and based on different definitions of where “space” begins.

Bezos’s Blue Origin has chosen to define this as the internationally recognised Kármán line at 100 kilometres altitude. The peak of the New Shepard’s trajectory will be just past this limit.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has chosen the US Air Force’s definition of space at about 80km altitude. Their SpaceShipTwo generally reaches a peak altitude of around 90km during flight.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a fully autonomous rocket (with no pilots) which takes off almost fully vertically from its launch site in remote West Texas.

It is powered by a BE-3 liquid-fuelled rocket motor, which burns for around two and a half minutes until the spacecraft reaches 55km of altitude, at a speed of 900 metres per second. With its almost vertical trajectory, this is enough altitude and momentum to reach space.

Once the rocket motor stops burning, the booster holding the rocket motor and fuel separates from the crew capsule and returns to Earth.

New Shepard Booster landing after an uncrewed test flight. Blue Origin

The whole flight will only last ten minutes, with astronauts experiencing weightlessness near the peak altitude, before their capsule re-enters the atmosphere and drifts back down to Earth. Parachutes will help with deceleration.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spaceplane will be carried up to 15km altitude by a carrier aircraft, the WhiteKnightTwo. At this point it will launch itself into space, starting above the thick lower atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo shown attached to its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, outside Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first commercial spaceport. Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo will detach from WhiteKnightTwo and start its hybrid rocket motor engine which burns for a minute, giving the spaceplane enough momentum to reach its 90km peak altitude.

Similar to the New Shepard, passengers will experience several minutes of weightlessness before re-entering the atmosphere.

Due to its low speed upon re-entry, SpaceShipTwo will perform a “feathered re-entry”, where it will rotate its wings up and use them to keep stable, like a shuttlecock, as it falls down to 15km altitude.

It will then once again become a spaceplane and glide back to the ground under the control of pilots, ready for re-use.

Virgin Galactic’s planned flight path based on earlier test flights. Virgin Galactic

A Rocket Versus A Spaceplane

There are several differences and similarities in the companies’ approaches.

Both will have short flights, allowing them to make use of suborbital launch trajectories. This means they will achieve the right altitude to reach space, but won’t go into orbit. This approach requires much less fuel than an orbital flight.

Suborbital trajectories also make re-entry significantly slower, so the heavy heat shielding that would be required when returning from orbit won’t be needed. Also, both aim to re-use their spaceships to lower the costs of operation over time.

View from space during one of Blue Origin’s uncrewed New Shepard test flights. Blue Origin

Beyond that, however, their approaches are quite different.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard is essentially a large “sounding rocket” These are small research rockets which perform suborbital hops so science experiments can be performed during brief trips to space.

It also uses a liquid rocket motor which, while harder to design, is generally safer since it can be throttled during operation (and even shut off if required).

New Shepard, which has performed 15 successful uncrewed test flights, is overall a simple spacecraft. This will likely make it cheaper and safer in the long run.

In contrast, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is much more advanced. It is launched mid-air and is rocket-powered — an approach that hasn’t been properly explored since NASA and the US Air Force’s X-15 program in the 1960s.

For a successful flight, SpaceShipTwo must be launched while being carried by a carrier aircraft, must ignite its rocket motor in the air, stow its wings for re-entry and then un-stow them again to glide home. This complicated procedure has already come unstuck multiple times.

A recent SpaceShipTwo flight was aborted due to a computer malfunction after its rocket motor ignited. It landed safely but didn’t reach space.

And in 2014, the accidental activation of the feathered re-entry system during ascent to space led to destruction of the first SpaceShipTwo model, the VSS Enterprise, tragically killing the co-pilot.

VSS Unity in space during a test flight, with its wings stowed away in preparation for feathered re-entry. This specific model has completed 21 successful test flights, with three reaching space.

Diversity Versus Simplicity

While the costs of a seat on both spaceships will be eye watering, only Virgin Atlantic have announced an official price tag: US$250,000 per seat on a SpaceShipTwo flight. It’s expected Blue Origin’s New Shepard will be priced similarly.

The simplicity of Blue Origin’s system means it will probably be better equipped to reduce costs over time. But simplicity may also be its downfall. Meanwhile, SpaceShipTwo is a more complex spacecraft with pilots. This could prove more attractive to customers.The Conversation

The rocket-powered ascent to the edge of space during Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo test flight.

Chris James, ARC DECRA Fellow, Centre for Hypersonics, School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, The University of Queensland

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

Decoding the music masterpieces: Liszt’s Consolation in D flat — serene sweetness and melancholy

Henri Lehmann, portrait of Franz Liszt, 1839. Wikimedia Commons
Stephanie MccallumUniversity of Sydney

Dreamy, slow-moving and gentle, the D flat Consolation is far from our accepted picture of Liszt, which is often taken from caricatures of his solo recitals: wild hair and eyes, hands flying off the keyboard.

It was written at a crucial turning point for the composer. Liszt’s colourful early life was chronicled, in a one-sided way, by his first mistress, and mother of his three children, Marie d’Agoult, under her nom de plume, Daniel Stern, in a novella later used as a basis for the 1975 film, Lisztomania.

His extraordinary life to this point, breaking class barriers and performing and composing with the status of a superstar, was stranger than fiction. So it is perhaps unsurprising that in mid-life, Liszt took a new direction towards privacy, orchestral conducting and composition. Later, he freely gave of his experience as a teacher to an international audience of young, aspiring pianists.

Born in Hungary in 1811, Liszt developed from being a child prodigy to building a legendary touring career as a virtuoso pianist based in Paris. Still aged in his 30s, internationally famous and revered, he left this behind, settling with his later partner Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, to a quiet life in Weimar in 1848.

Read more: Decoding the music masterpieces: Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor

There, he embarked on an incredibly prolific decade of composition. He produced many piano works: both large, like the great B Minor sonata of 1853, and small, like the piece which is our topic today, Consolation No.3 in D flat.

Novelist George Eliot mentions in her letters that Liszt was “the first really inspired man I ever saw.”

She visited him in 1854 and wrote:

Genius, benevolence and tenderness beam from his whole countenance, and his manners are in perfect harmony with it.

A Poetic Source?

The title, Consolations, was unusual for a suite of piano pieces and is more often connected with poetry. The philosopher and composer Jean-Jaques Rousseau had published a set of songs with chamber accompaniment called Les Consolations in 1781 but otherwise there seems no precedent in music.

Still, poetry and religious contemplation inspired Liszt’s composition Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses as well as the Consolations. The poetic source for the Consolations may have been an 1830 poetry collection of the same name by Sainte-Beuve. It has also been suggested the title may have the same source as the inspiration for another of Liszt’s pieces, Andante lagrimoso: a poem by Lamartine called A Tear (or Consolation).

We feel that your tender word
to others cannot be absorbed,
Lord! and that it consoles
only those who have otherwise been unconsolable.

One wonders if this poem was in the mind of Kazuo Ishiguro when he wrote his strange, dreamlike novel about a concert pianist, The Unconsoled (1995).

Read more: Decoding the Music Masterpieces: Debussy's Clair de Lune

Franz Liszt at the piano, circa 1869. Wikimedia Commons

The six Consolations were composed between 1849 and 1850 and the ten pieces of Harmonies were worked on from 1847 to 1852, the two sets linked by similar expressive content and literary inspiration. Like Beethoven, Liszt reworked and revised constantly.

For his piano compositions, he often simplified or refined their textures. The 1850 Breitkopf & Härtel edition of the Consolations was preceded by an earlier version composed between 1844 and 1849 (published by Henle in 1992). The most famous element of the set, the D flat Consolation No.3 Lento placido (slowly, placidly) was not yet present in the earlier one.

The six pieces of the Consolations sandwich two D flat major pieces between pairs of pieces in E major:

  1. Andante con moto in E major
  2. Un poco più mosso in E major
  3. Lento placido in D♭ major
  4. Quasi Adagio in D♭ major (based on a theme by the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Weimar).
  5. Andantino in E major
  6. Allegretto sempre cantabile in E major

After Chopin’s death in 1849 Liszt worked on a book about him over several years. This preoccupation spilled over into his writing several piano pieces with similar titles to Chopin though all of them were in Liszt’s individual style.

Chopin was famous for his Nocturnes and it has often been noted that in Liszt’s D flat Consolation No.3, the opening texture and first singing note, as well as the key, recall Chopin’s Nocturne Op 27 No.2.

Its composition coincides with Chopin’s death so, consciously or subconsciously, it is possibly a tribute to him.

Song-Like Narrative

Liszt’s Consolation No.3 opens with repeating, long, low D flats held in the pedal. More than 20 years later, Steinway piano manufacturers presented Liszt with a new piano with a third or middle pedal (or sostenuto) capable of allowing one or more strings to vibrate while other strings were stopped from vibrating by the damper mechanism. (Dampers bring down a piece of felt on the string.)

Liszt noted that this pedal could assist in the opening bars and peaceful passages of this piece. He wrote in 1883:

In relation to the use of your welcome tone-sustaining pedal I inclose (sic) two examples: Danse des Sylphes, by Berlioz, and No. 3 of my Consolations. I have today noted down only the introductory bars of both pieces, with this proviso, that, if you desire it, I shall gladly complete the whole transcription, with exact adaptation of your tone-sustaining pedal.

One of Liszt’s pianos. Wikimedia Commons

The piece however was certainly composed with the normal two pedals in mind. Both would be applied in the opening, marked pianississimo (as soft as possible) and sempre legatissimo (always as smoothly linked as possible).

For the pianist, as harmonies change above the low D flat, it is necessary to silently retake the low note as the pedal is changed, or else try a “half pedal” where lower reverberative notes survive a partial manipulation of the pedal while light upper notes do not.

This type of pedal use is necessary in much of Liszt’s piano writing where many decorative notes are spun above a low, pedal-held bass note. The indication, cantando (singing), in the third bar marks the beginning of the eloquent solo line or songlike narrative.

One of the charming characteristics here is the way each phrase fades out with an ornamental upward broken chord. While the accompanying harmonies are in groups of three notes (or triplets), the melodic line uses groups of two and sometimes four notes in each beat, giving a freely fluid quality, independent of the accompaniment.

When the lower accompanying harmonies sometimes briefly cease, the melody is left alone, creating an expressive soliloquy that seems to be almost speaking rather than singing.

The texture then changes to the lightness of the higher register of the piano and the phrase endings reach further upwards creating more complex patterns of rhythm.

The long bass notes shift, taking us to a new, more melancholy key.

With our new key, the texture is louder, enriched with more notes, and gives a series of magical alternations between serene sweetness and melancholy.

A final crescendo leads us to a strong return of our opening with its long D flat bass note.

We now hear the opening melody again but subtly transformed, lower down the keyboard.

An ethereal moment is captured by an unexpected chord which sparks a floating shimmer of notes. As quietly as we began, we depart and are left suspended, freely descending.

The enigmatic quality of this final gesture contributes to our sense of having glimpsed a fleeting, special moment.

This beautiful and sophisticated work is well within reach of the amateur pianist. Its simplicity of structure, along with the charm and depth of its musical thoughts have made it a well-loved and enduring piece in piano repertoire.The Conversation

Stephanie Mccallum, Associate Professor Piano Division, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney

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

Vast Majority Of Australians Prefer Funds For War Memorial Expansion To Be Spent Elsewhere

July 5, 2021
New research from the Australia Institute finds that one in two Australians would prefer the funds budgeted for the expansion of the Australian War Memorial to be spent on services such as health and education, a further one quarter (26%) of Australians would prefer the money to be spent on veterans’ support services. Just 13% of Australians prefer the funds to be spent on the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial.

The Australia Institute surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,006 Australians about the proposed $500 million redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The Memorial’s redevelopment will include a southern entrance refurbishment of the main building, a new Anzac Hall connected to the main building, an extension to the Bean Building to establish a research centre, and public space improvements.

Key Findings:

Respondents were asked what they would prefer the money to be spent on:
  • One in two (49%) Australians would prefer the money to be spent on services like health and education, including 41% of Coalition and 56% of Labor voters.
  • A further one in four (26%) Australians would prefer the money to be spent on veterans’ support services.
  • Just 13% of Australians would prefer the funds to be spent on the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial.
Admiral (Ret’d) Chris Barrie – former Chief of Defence Force 1998-2002 said: 

“This research by The Australia Institute confirms that the Australian public would prefer to see this money spent on support for veterans.

“The Australian War Memorial in its current form encourages reflection and tribute.

“As Chief of the Defence Force, I saw the solemn impact that the memorial had on foreign military visitors. It is, and should remain, a commemoration of those who lost their lives and those who survived but were deeply affected by war.

“This proposed expansion would see it become a place of cheap tourist entertainment. It is unconscionable.

“I urge the Government to reconsider the project, and to spend the money on services to assist veterans, such as support for people suffering from PTSD.”

Brendon Kelson – Australian War Memorial Director 1990-94 said: 

“The Federal Parliament and the Australian War Memorial are unique national symbols. They are central to our history and their integrity should be beyond the ambitions, vanities and whims of a passing few.

“The AWM project has created a historic crisis in the national capital – and its story. If it proceeds Australia and its people will have lost a national treasure.

“Once its purpose is lost sight of it will never recover and future generations will be the poorer for this shameful distortion of our history.”

Major General (Ret’d) Steve Gower – Australian War Memorial Director 1996-2012: 

“This survey by The Australia Institute confirms that there is widespread opposition to spending half a billion dollars on this project.

“The redevelopment, including the bulldozing of ANZAC Hall, is an act of vandalism.

“The project is only going ahead because the government has succumbed to pressure. The doubling of size for a display area in no way compensates for the heritage damage caused by the project.

“Given the lack of support and the damage to heritage, there is no excuse to go ahead with the project under the guise of supporting veterans. We should not be building a Khaki Disneyland.”

Stewart Mitchell – former Head of Buildings and Services at Australian War Memorial said: 

“The $500M development of the Australian War Memorial is a gross overreach and will have serious adverse impact on the heritage listed site.

“It’s simply tragic to know that excellent concepts for development exist which provide the additional space required without destroying the site’s National and Commonwealth Heritage listed attributes, and at considerably less cost.

This ‘bigger is better’ museum approach is a simplistic and narrow view of what is needed there, and does not value or understand the commemorative power of the existing site.

“The EPBC Act has failed to protect the Australian War Memorial from overdevelopment. Despite statements to the contrary, little attention has been paid to any recommendations for design amendment, including those from the government’s own advisor on heritage matters, the Australian Heritage Council.

“All the identified impacts to the listed heritage values of the site remain in this development; and we are about to lose something which is extraordinary and unique.”

Dr Sue Wareham – President of Medical Association for Prevention of War said: 

“The poll from The Australia Institute is absolutely consistent with every other bit of evidence of strong opposition to the AWM redevelopment, including public submissions to formal processes and media comment.

“It’s a national disgrace that the AWM’s surveys, which they use to claim strong support for the project, had highly leading questions and biased information which was clearly intended to deliver the desired results. They should have engaged in more listening and less spruiking from the outset.”

Shannon Battisson – National President-elect of Australian Institute of Architects said: 

“This polling exposes yet again the Australian War Memorial’s repeated attempts to mislead the people – and the parliament – about the level of public support for their redevelopment proposal in its current form.

“With only 13% of Australians surveyed supporting the expenditure and an overwhelming majority of submissions to both the NCA and Public Works Committee opposed, we call again for a rethink.

“The tremendous service of our current and former defence personnel can be better recognised without going down this destructive and deeply unpopular path.”

Dr David Stephens  – Convenor of Heritage Guardians said: 

“It is good to have reliable polling data that supports Heritage Guardians’ long-held feeling that the Memorial project is not wanted by most Australians. By contrast, the Memorial’s own “surveys” have been notable for their leading questions, lack of context, and dishonest reporting. A project based on spin and misrepresentation should never have got this far.”

Defamation Reforms To Become Law In NSW

June 30, 2021
The NSW Government is heralding a new era in national defamation law beginning tomorrow in jurisdictions covering over 85% of Australia’s population. NSW last year became the first state or territory to pass nationally agreed defamation reforms designed to unclog courts from trivial claims and support public interest journalism.

Attorney General Mark Speakman praised Victoria, Queensland and South Australia for also commencing the reforms on 1 July 2021. The Australian Capital Territory is expected to bring the reforms into force tomorrow as well.

“Tomorrow will mark a turning point for defamation law that will strike a better balance between protecting reputations and freedom of expression,” Mr Speakman said.

“I urge remaining jurisdictions to implement the agreed legislation so Australia can have consistent and modern defamation laws."

In July 2020, the then Council of Attorneys-General agreed that each jurisdiction would act as quickly as possible to introduce the Model Defamation Amendment Provisions in their respective parliaments. Mr Speakman introduced the NSW legislation the following day.

At the March 2021 Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) it was agreed that all remaining jurisdictions would act to have the provisions commence as soon as possible after 1 July.

The MAG also decided to release a discussion paperopens in new window for the second stage of the project focused on reviewing online defamation.

NSW is leading an examination of how liable platforms such as search engines and social media sites should be for reputation-damaging material published by third parties online.

The discussion paper also asked whether defamation law discourages reporting alleged crimes and unlawful conduct to police, disciplinary bodies and employers. Work on this issue will be led by Victoria.

Submissions made in response to the Stage 2 Discussion Paper of the reforms are now being reviewed.

Australian Black Summer Bushfires Changes Songbird Plumage & Testosterone

June 30, 2021
Fire can put a tropical songbird's sex life on ice. Following habitat-destroying wildfires in Australia, researchers found that many male red-backed fairywrens failed to moult into their red-and-black ornamental plumage, making them less attractive to potential mates. They also had lowered circulating testosterone, which has been associated with their showy feathers.

For the study published in the Journal of Avian Biology, the researchers also measured the birds' fat stores and the stress hormone corticosterone but found those remained at normal levels.

"Really, it ended up all coming down to testosterone," said Jordan Boersma, Washington State University doctoral student and lead author on the study. "There's no evidence that the birds were actually stressed. Wildfire was just interfering with their normal, temporal pattern of elevating testosterone and then producing that colourful plumage."

While the findings are specific to this tropical songbird, they may have implications for other species that don special coloration for mating, Boersma added.

"It could be a good way to gauge how healthy a population is if you know their normal level of ornamentation," he said. "If you see that there are very few males undergoing that transition, then there is probably something in their environment that's not ideal."

Without the elevated testosterone, male red-backed fairywrens are not so red. Instead they have drab, brown feathers much like their female counterparts. Ornamental feathers can make them stand out to predators and cause conflict with competing males. As Boersma puts it, the flashy feathers are "costly." Their only advantage is in attracting female fairywrens.

"The females prefer to mate with a male fairywren who is prettier," Boersma said. "Testosterone is just one of the mechanisms that they use to get their ornamentation."

A male red-backed fairywren with its ornamental plumage. Photo: Doug Barron, WSU

In an earlier study, Boersma and his colleagues showed that testosterone helps the fairywren process pigments in their diet called carotenoids to create their colourful feathers. This study adds further evidence of that connection as well as the birds' response to wildfire.

While other research has looked at how wildfire impacts long-term survival of birds and other animals, this is one of the few studies that look at how wildfire may affect the birds' physiology.

Red-backed fairywrens are used to living with periodic wildfires, and the researchers suspect that the suppression of testosterone is an evolved response. Wildfires can destroy the birds' grassland nesting habitat, so it is a signal that it might not good time to raise their young. The male birds then may inhibit or delay breeding by remaining brown and unattractive to mates.

For this study, the researchers observed and took blood samples from the fairywrens for five years at two different sites in the tropical northeast part of Queensland state in Australia. This allowed them to compare birds living at times and places that experienced wildfire with those that did not.

The male red-backed fairywrens typically wait for the monsoon season to moult into their bright colours when the rains bring more of the insects they eat out into the open. The researchers wanted to be sure it was the wildfire and not a dry season that was affecting their testosterone levels and feather colour. During the study period, there was an unusually dry season, and the researchers observed minimal breeding among the birds, but yet the males were still producing ornamentation at a normal level. It was only post-fire that the many of the male birds stayed brown.

The researchers not only found that more males remained brown immediately following the wildfire event but also that the testosterone was lower in the brown males -- and lower in the population at large relative to previous years without fires.
Jordan Boersma, Douglas G. Barron, Daniel T. Baldassarre, Michael S. Webster, Hubert Schwabl. Wildfire affects expression of male sexual plumage through suppressed testosterone circulation in a tropical songbird. Journal of Avian Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/jav.02757

Conservation Concern As Alien Aphid Detected On Kangaroo Island

July 1, 2021
An invasive species of aphid could put some threatened plant species on Kangaroo Island at risk as researchers from the University of South Australia confirm Australia's first sighting of Aphis lugentis on the Island's Dudley Peninsula.

It is another blow for Kangaroo Island's environment, especially following the Black Summer bushfires that decimated more than half the island and 96 per cent of Flinders Chase National Park.

Collected by wildlife ecologist Associate Professor Topa Petit and identified by colleagues from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the black aphids were found feeding on seedlings of Senecio odoratus, a native species of daisy, commonly known as the scented groundsel.

Of 16 native Senecio species on the island, at least ten are of conservation concern.

Originating from North America, the sap-sucking black aphids have spread across multiple continents over the past 20 years. This first record of the pest in Australia.

Assoc Prof Petit says the alien aphid species could threaten plants in the Compositae (daisy) family.

"Aphids were tended by several species of native ants that were feeding on their honeydew, showing easy integration for the pest in its new environment," Dr Petit says.

"The presence of Aphis lugentis on Kangaroo Island could have serious consequences on seedling survival of Senecio and related species -- as well as unknown ones for native ant communities."

Photograph by S. Kakko & S. Petit

Currently, 1,257 of Australia's threatened and endangered species are directly affected by 207 invasive plants, 57 animals and three pathogens. The most recent estimates found the cost of controlling invasive species and economic losses to farmers in 2011-12 was A$13.6 billion.

Once established across Australia, invasive species can be very difficult to eradicate.

Entomology diagnostician Cameron Brumley from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in Western Australia, and geneticists Monica Kehoe and Cuiping Wang, examined the aphid and found matching DNA in a collection from Hurstville, NSW, indicating the greater spread of aphid across Australia. Authorities have been alerted.

"It is still unclear how some fragile species of Kangaroo Island are coping following last year's bushfires, so I recommend that attention be paid to aphids present on plants related to daisies, on the island, but also on the mainland considering the likely presence of the aphid in other states. Its distribution needs to be mapped," Dr Petit says.

"This aphid was probably introduced to Australia on ornamental plants. Locally native plants and native gardens offer better habitats for native wildlife and lower invasion risks. We need to learn to appreciate our remarkable native flora."

Sophie Petit, John J. Weyland, Cameron Brumley, Monica A. Kehoe, Cuiping Wang. First record of Aphis lugentis in Australia, tended by native ants on Senecio odoratus. Austral Ecology, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/aec.13056

Australia has a long history of invasive species, with more than 3000 species introduced to Australia since 1770. Some of the most notorious examples of invasive species include:

  • The CANE TOAD - Introduced to Australia in the 1930s as a biological control for sugar cane beetles, its population has grown from 102 to more than 200 million, wreaking havoc on the Australian ecosystem at a rate of 50km every year.
  • PATERSON’S CURSE (or Salvation Jane) - This purple-flowering plant was introduced to Australian gardens in the 1880s, but quickly became a rampant weed. Now a target for biological control, it costs the Australian economy more than $250 million annually through lost productivity in pastures, control costs, and wool contamination.
  • European rabbits – Introduced for hunting and food in the 1850s, Australia’s new rabbit population exploded, destroying crops, native flora, and land. Biological controls including the Myxoma Virus and the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus have helped control populations.
  • RED FIRE ANTS – Native to South America, these are highly invasive, aggressive ants that have a venomous and repetitive sting that can cause painful pustules, and anaphylaxis. The Federal Government now has a ten-year, $411 million plan to eradicate red fire ants from Southeast Queensland.

Sunflower Peptide As 'Template' For Potential Analgesic

June 28, 2021
A naturally occurring peptide in sunflower seeds was synthetically optimised and has now been identified as a potential drug for treating abdominal pain or inflammation (in the gastrointestinal tract, abdominal area and/or internal organs). That is the finding of an international study led by Christian Gruber from MedUni Vienna's Institute of Pharmacology (Center for Physiology and Pharmacology), which was conducted jointly with the University of Queensland and Flinders University in Australia and has now been published.

The scientific aim of the study is to find analgesics that are only active in the periphery and do not cross the blood-brain barrier, as an alternative to commonly used synthetic opioids. Gruber explains the background: "Morphine was one of the first plant-based medicines and was isolated from the dried latex of poppies more than 200 years ago. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain and is still regarded as the main pillar of pain therapy. However, there is a high risk of opioid addiction, and an overdose -- as a result of this strong dependency -- inhibits the breathing centre in the brain, which can result in respiratory depression and, in the worst case, in death." For this reason, researchers throughout the world are trying to make analgesics safer and to find active drug molecules that do not have the typical opioid side-effects.

Sunflower extracts were to some extent used in traditional medicine for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. In the current study, the scientists from Austria and Australia, primarily PhD student Edin Muratspahic, isolated the plant molecule that may be responsible for this effect. Medicinal chemistry methods were then used to optimise the so-called sunflower trypsin inhibitor-1 (SFTI-1), one of the smallest naturally occurring cyclic peptides, by 'grafting' an endogenous opioid peptide into its scaffold.

A total of 19 peptides were chemically synthesized based on the original SFTI-1 blueprint and pharmacologically tested. "One of these variants turned out to be our lead candidate for as potential innovative analgesic molecule, especially for pain in the gastrointestinal tract or in the peripheral organs. This peptide is extremely stable, highly potent and its action is restricted to the body's periphery. Its use is therefore expected to produce fewer of the typical side-effects associated with opioids," point out Gruber and Muratspahic.

The mode-of-action of the peptide is via the so-called kappa opioid receptor; this cellular protein is a drug target for pain relief, but is often associated with mood disorders and depression. The sunflower peptide does not act in the brain, hence there is much less risk of dependency or addiction. Furthermore, it selectively activates only the molecular signalling pathway that influences pain transmission but does not cause the typical opioid side-effects. The data of the animal model in the current study are very promising: the scientists see great potential for using this peptide in the future to develop a safe medication -- which could be administered orally in tablet form -- to treat pain in the gastrointestinal tract, and this drug could potentially also be used for related painful conditions, e.g. for inflammatory bowel disease.

Using Nature's blueprint
The research of this MedUni Vienna laboratory led by Christian Gruber exploits the concept of using Nature's blueprint to develop optimised drugs. "We are searching through large databases containing genetic information of plants and animals, decoding new types of peptide molecules and studying their structure, with a view to testing them pharmacologically on enzymes or membrane receptors and ultimately utilizing them in the disease model," explains Gruber. Finally, potential drug candidates are chemically synthesised in a slightly modified form based on the natural blueprint, to obtain optimised pharmacological properties.

Edin Muratspahić, Nataša Tomašević, Johannes Koehbach, Leopold Duerrauer, Seid Hadžić, Joel Castro, Gudrun Schober, Spyridon Sideromenos, Richard J. Clark, Stuart M. Brierley, David J. Craik, Christian W. Gruber. Design of a Stable Cyclic Peptide Analgesic Derived from Sunflower Seeds that Targets the κ-Opioid Receptor for the Treatment of Chronic Abdominal Pain. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 2021; DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.1c00158

Food For Thought: Are Organic Foods Really Pesticide Free?

July 6, 2021
When you buy organic food, you don’t always get food free from pesticides, a UNSW expert says.
As consumers, we’ve been conditioned to believe that organic foods are free from hormones and pesticides. Walk into any supermarket, you will find fresh produce, canned foods, poultry, and even personal hygiene products labelled as ‘organic’.

But what does buying organic produce really mean?

Food and health expert, Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot from UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, says organic farms are only certified after they have been operating under organic principles for three years, and must pass an audit and review process. 

“As consumers, we know that generally, organic foods are grown and processed without synthetic chemicals. Animals are raised without growth hormones or antibiotics on a 100 per cent organic diet,” she says.

“However, what the consumers see labelled as organically grown food may not be organic, unless it has been certified.

“In the market, there are pesticides approved for organic agriculture – these are supposed to be low in toxicity compared to pesticides used in conventional farming.

“So just because you sell it as organic, it doesn’t really mean it’s pesticide free.”

The proof is in the soil
Unlike conventional farming practices, organic farming does not use synthetic chemical intervention. Instead, it focuses on sustaining the natural state of the soil, often implementing practices such as crop rotation which involves changing the crop after every harvest.

This traditional agriculture method maintains the biodiversity of the soil. For crops to flourish in an organic environment, A/Prof. Arcot says, the soil needs to undergo nitrogen fixation and farmers can achieve this by first growing pulse crops.

“Pulse crops, such as any type of legumes, are highly nitrogen-dense so they effectively feed the soil the nutrients it needs,” she says.

“After harvest, the soil is nourished with nitrogen, and this provides natural nutrition for the next crop to grow.”

In Australia, the levels of agricultural and chemical residues that are allowed in domestic and imported foods are set by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

A/Prof. Arcot says even though pesticides are used in conventional farming, the levels in our fresh produce are considered safe and are not high enough to be detrimental to our health.

“Australian fruits and veggies have very low levels of pesticides, in fact, even much lower than the minimum levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US,” she says.

“It’s been shown that the levels of pesticides found in the produce we eat is actually a hundred times lower than the smallest dose that could be harmful to lab animals.

“So, people should not be alarmed if they do not purchase organic products.”

Check the label
Food labelling should help consumers make an informed decision, but it can often leave them even more confused.

In Australia, there is no mandatory certification requirement for organic produce sold domestically to consumers. Despite this, many organic businesses and farmers opt for organic certification anyway to boost consumer confidence.

While Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for any issues concerning organic policy matters, organic certification is owned and managed by private organisations approved by Australian Biosecurity and Inspection.

So where does that leave consumers?

“Many products carry a symbol or logo to show that they are certified organic but that is not always the case,” says A/Prof Arcot.

 “Unless it’s certified by one of these organisations, there is no way of guaranteeing the authenticity of organic produce sold to consumers.

“The onus is on us, as consumers, to do our research before buying.”

Out with the old, in with the new
If a non-organic farm decides they want to transition to organic farming, even though they may pass the certification requirements, it can still take a long time for the soil to transition, A/Prof. Arcot says.

“It takes longer to convert a conventional farm into an organic farm as the soil will reflect non-organic material in the conventional plots for many years,” she says.

“Even if you stop today, it doesn’t mean that your crops would magically turn into pesticide-free produce the next year – these processes can take years.

“The certification process needs to continue auditing even after farmers meet the National Standard of Organic and Biodynamic Produce.”

Benefits outweigh the costs
If organic foods can still contain pesticides, why are consumers still paying a premium?

“Organic foods are generally more expensive because organic farming is labour intensive and there are much higher input costs,” says A/Prof. Arcot.

“If you’re not using pesticides or herbicides to ward off pests, then farmers need to do everything manually – that increases cost.”

But A/Prof. Arcot says despite the low risks that pesticides pose, there are still good reasons for buying organic foods.

“A recent review on the effect of consumption of organic foods on health shows that there may be a reduced risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity,” she says.

“But the study was ultimately inconclusive as consumers of organic foods tend to generally have healthier lifestyles which could confound the evidence.

“However, I believe the biggest winner is our environment. While organic farming typically has lesser yields, it has a smaller carbon footprint compared to conventional agriculture which is a large emitter of greenhouse gases.

“So, long-term there are health benefits to people if we reduce any emissions in our atmosphere.”

Saturated Fatty Acid Levels Increase When Making Memories

June 27, 2021
Saturated fatty acid levels unexpectedly rise in the brain during memory formation, according to research, opening a new avenue of investigation into how memories are made. Dr Tristan Wallis, from Professor Frederic Meunier's laboratory at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), said traditionally, polyunsaturated fatty acids were considered important to health and memory, but this study highlighted the unexpected role of saturated fatty acids.

"We tested the most common fatty acids to see how their levels changed as new memories were formed in the brain," Dr Wallis said.

"Unexpectedly, the changes of saturated fat levels in the brain cells were the most marked, especially that of myristic acid, which is found in coconut oil and butter.

"In the kitchen, saturated fats are those which are solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are normally liquid.

"The brain is the fattiest organ in the body, being 60 per cent fat, which provides energy, structure and assists in passing messages between brain cells.

"Fatty acids are the building blocks of lipids or fats and are vital for communication between nerve cells, because they help synaptic vesicles -- microscopic sacs containing neurotransmitters -- to fuse with the cell membrane and pass messages between the cells.

"We have previously shown that when brain cells communicate with each other in a dish, the levels of saturated fatty acids increase."

Researchers have found that fatty acid levels in the rat brain, particularly saturated fatty acids, increase as memories are formed, but when they used a drug to block learning and memory formation in rats, the fatty acid levels did not change.

The highest concentration of saturated fatty acids was found in the amygdala -- the part of the brain involved in forming new memories specifically related to fear and strong emotions.

Study contributor and QBI Director Professor Pankaj Sah said the work opened a new avenue on how memory was formed.

"This research has huge implications on our understanding of synaptic plasticity -- the change that occurs at the junctions between neurons that allow them to communicate, learn and build memories," Professor Sah said.

Tristan P. Wallis, Bharat G. Venkatesh, Vinod K. Narayana, David Kvaskoff, Alan Ho, Robert K. Sullivan, François Windels, Pankaj Sah, Frédéric A. Meunier. Saturated free fatty acids and association with memory formation. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23840-3

Thermal Imaging Offers Early Alert For Chronic Wound Care

June 30, 2021
New research shows thermal imaging techniques can predict whether a wound needs extra management, offering an early alert system to improve chronic wound care. It is estimated that 1-2% of the population will experience a chronic wound during their lifetime in developed countries -- in the US, chronic wounds affect about 6.5 million patients with more than US$25 billion each year spent by the healthcare system on treating related complications.*

The Australian study shows textural analysis of thermal images of venous leg ulcers (VLUs) can detect whether a wound needs extra management as early as week two for clients receiving treatment at home.

The clinical study by RMIT University and Bolton Clarke, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, is the first to investigate textural analysis on VLUs using thermal images that do not require physical contact with the wound.

Researchers found the method, which provides information on spatial heat distribution in a wound, could accurately predict whether VLUs would heal in 12 weeks by the second week after baseline assessment.

This is because wounds change significantly over the healing trajectory, with higher temperatures signalling potential inflammation or infection while lower temperatures can indicate a slower healing rate due to decreased oxygen in the region.

Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Rajna Ogrin said the current gold standard for predicting healing of VLUs -- conventional digital planimetry -- requires physical contact.

"A non-contact method like thermal imaging would be ideal to use when managing wounds in the home setting to minimise physical contact and therefore reduce infection risk," Ogrin said.

After showing that traditional thermal imaging methods do not give reliable results, the research team developed a new method for the analysis and used this in the clinical trial.

The new study, which involved 60 participants with VLUs, found thermal imaging offers an improvement on the current guidance for using digital imagery or planimetry wound tracings to detect the healing wounds by week four.

"The significance of this work is that there is now a method for detecting wounds that do not heal in the normal trajectory by week two using a non-contact, quick, objective and simple method," Ogrin said.

RMIT University Professor Dinesh Kumar said regular wound photography could not easily be used for accurate measurement of changes in wound size and other physiological parameters over time in the home care environment.

"This is because there are large variations between images due to changes in the lighting conditions, image quality and differences in camera angle across specific points in time," said Kumar, who leads the Biosignals for Affordable Healthcare group in RMIT's School of Engineering.

"Textural analysis of thermal images is resilient to these variations and is a time-efficient and cost-effective method to identify delayed healing of VLUs and improve patient outcomes."

* Source: Prevalence and incidence of chronic wounds and related complications: a protocol for a systematic review.

Mahta Monshipouri, Behzad Aliahmad, Rajna Ogrin, Kylie Elder, Jacinta Anderson, Barbara Polus, Dinesh Kumar. Thermal imaging potential and limitations to predict healing of venous leg ulcers. Scientific Reports, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-92828-2

Same Dance, Different Species: How Natural Selection Drives Common Behaviour Of Lizards

July 2, 2021
A surprising study by UNSW on the behaviour of unrelated lizards in very different parts of the world has demonstrated how evolution can lead to different species learning the same skills. The study in Ecology Letters documents how the Anolis lizard species in the Caribbean, and the Draco lizard species in Southeast Asia, have solved the challenge of communicating with one another to defend territories and attract mates.

It found males from both species perform elaborate head bob and push up displays, and rapidly extend and retract their often large and conspicuously coloured dewlap, or throat fan, specifically in habitats with lots of wind-blown vegetation or low light.

The lizards occupy the same range of rainforest and grassland habitats, and therefore face the same problems when it comes to communicating to a potential mate or enemy in visually 'noisy' environments.

Remarkably, they have evolved the same strategy to cope with the same selection problems, lead author Dr Terry Ord from the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences says.

According to his research, this scenario of two unrelated lizards displaying similar behaviour shows that natural selection directs evolution towards the same common set of adaptive outcomes over and over again.

"The surprise is that lizards in both groups have evolved remarkably similar displays for communication, but they also tailor the production of those displays according to the prevailing conditions experienced at the time of display," Dr Ord says.

"That is, increasing the speed or the length of time they spend displaying the movements as the viewing conditions deteriorate.

"Really there should be essentially innumerable ways these lizards could have adapted their displays to remain effective, and there is strong evolutionary predictions that would lead us to expect this as well."

Dr Ord says what this study shows is that natural selection driving similarities between different species.

Formally, this is known as convergent evolution -- the independent origin of similar adaptations, he says.

"It seemed that these types of convergent, common adaptations are outcomes that would only really occur among species that are closely-related in some capacity," he says.

"The reason for this is a bit complicated and it rests on the fact that adaptations build on characteristics that a species already possesses."

"So, the longer species have evolved independently of each other, the less likely they would evolve the same adaptive solutions if they were exposed to the same change in the environment."

But what this study highlights, he says, is what many evolutionary ecologists have argued -- that natural selection is an extremely powerful process that can override the "baggage" of past history to produce the same adaptations.

"So if arm-waving is the most effective solution to some change in the environment, then natural selection would ultimately lead to its evolution rather than a more subtle (less effective) modification to an existing vocal call," he says.

"Evolutionary biologists are excited about convergent evolution because it gives us multiple examples of the same adaptation evolving time and time again in very different animals.?

"So it tells us what the challenges are faced by these animals and how they have solved it in terms of evolutionary adaptation."

The study documents this independent evolution of common communication strategies amongst groups that have evolved separately from each other for hundreds of millions of years.

Dr Ord says the striking similarities in communication strategies for maintaining an effective communication system in noisy conditions has evolved in various forms in many insects, fish, frogs, birds and mammals.

"For example, increasing the volume of calls when there's lots of acoustic background noise, or extending the length of those calls or even vibrational signals by spiders and such," Dr Ord says .

"The fact that many other groups of animals have also evolved thesesame adaptive strategies is even more extraordinary."

Terry J. Ord, Danielle A. Klomp, Thomas C. Summers, Arvin Diesmos, Norhayati Ahmad, Indraneil Das. Deep‐time convergent evolution in animal communication presented by shared adaptations for coping with noise in lizards and other animals. Ecology Letters, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/ele.13773

Anolis (pictured) lizards retract their dewlaps (throat fans) for the same reason as Draco lizards, which are unrelated to the species and live thousands of kilometres away. Photo: Shutterstock.

Report Sounds Alarm On Efficacy, Safety, Ethics Of Embryo Selection With Polygenic Scores

June 30, 2021
A special report published today in the New England Journal of Medicine raises serious questions about the benefits, risks and ethics of a new service -- which the authors call "embryo selection based on polygenic scores," or ESPS -- that allows in vitro fertilisation patients to select embryos with the goal of choosing healthier and even smarter children.

The multinational team of researchers describes the limitations of ESPS and warns of the risk that patients and even in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinicians may form the impression that ESPS is more effective and less risky than it is. The authors highlight that since the same gene often influences many different traits, ESPS designed to select for one trait can lead to the unintentional selection of adverse traits. They also warn about the potential of ESPS to alter population demographics, exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities and devalue certain traits.

If ESPS continues to be available to IVF patients, the researchers call on the Federal Trade Commission to develop and enforce standards for responsible communication about the service. The authors also call for a society-wide conversation about the ethical use of the technology and whether it should be regulated.

Polygenic scores are predictions of individual health and other outcomes derived from genome-wide association studies. Polygenic scores have been shown, in adults, to partially predict those outcomes. As the authors explain, however, their predictive power is significantly reduced when comparing embryos to one another.

"Polygenic scores are already only weak predictors for most individual adult outcomes, especially for social and behavioural traits, and there are several factors that lower their predictive power even more in the context of embryo selection," said Patrick Turley, assistant research professor of economics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and co-first author of the paper. "Polygenic scores are designed to work in a different setting than an IVF clinic. These weak predictors will perform even worse when used to select embryos."

Turley and colleagues modelled, for several diseases, the expected difference in the future individual's risk for the disease between using ESPS to select an embryo versus choosing an embryo at random among 10 viable embryos. In most cases, the absolute risk reduction from ESPS is very small. Moreover, these estimates are extremely uncertain, so much so that the effect of ESPS is swamped by background variation.

Multiple companies are now working with IVF clinics to offer ESPS to patients who want to select an embryo with a lower chance than other embryos of developing, as an adult, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. One company also offers ESPS for selecting embryos according to their predicted educational attainment, household income and cognitive ability. The founder of another company has not ruled out someday offering ESPS in some countries for skin color or above-average cognitive ability.

Drawbacks to ESPS
For ESPS to work, polygenic scores need to give at least moderately accurate predictions of whether the resulting individuals will have a certain trait or not. The genome-wide association studies that generate the polygenic scores sometimes suggest moderate or even large differences in actual outcomes between people with high versus low polygenic scores, but those differences are based on a sample of people from different families. However, as Turley and colleagues note, ESPS usually involves comparing members of the same family, which significantly lowers the predictive power of polygenic scores.

Additionally, for statistical reasons, genomewide association studies are conducted with people with similar ancestries. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, existing studies have disproportionately included people with European ancestries. As a result, most polygenic scores constructed today will be less predictive for people of other ancestries.

Finally, assessments of the predictive power of polygenic scores typically assume very similar environments for the generation that was enrolled in the original genome-wide association study and the generation that will be born as a result of ESPS. But by the time an embryo selected by ESPS is an adult, they may face a very different environment, which will lower predictive power.

Even if the limited effectiveness of ESPS is accurately communicated to patients, widespread use of ESPS raises other risks. For instance, the researchers warn that use of ESPS could exacerbate existing health and other disparities, as ESPS is largely only accessible to the relatively wealthy and currently best predicts outcomes among those with European ancestries. ESPS might also amplify prejudice and discrimination by signalling that existing people with traits that parents select against are less valuable.

"Some countries have authorities that decide which traits embryos can be tested for," said Michelle N. Meyer, assistant professor of bioethics and a legal scholar at Geisinger Health System and co-first author of the special report. "But in the U.S., there is a strong legal and ethical tradition of viewing reproductive decisions as matters of private individual choice. In the short term, the FTC should help establish what counts as adequate evidence to support claims about the expected benefits of ESPS and what counts as adequate information disclosure in this context."

The researchers also call for professional medical societies to develop policies and guidance in this space and for companies themselves to demonstrate that the information they provide to diverse customers is complete, accurate and well-understood.

They also say there needs to be a society-wide conversation about whether using existing legal frameworks to ensure accurate information about ESPS is sufficient, along with if limits on the use of ESPS should be adopted.

"Many individual reproductive decisions, aggregated over generations, can have profound societal consequences," said Daniel J. Benjamin, corresponding author and a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and David Geffen School of Medicine. "Collectively, these decisions could alter population demographics, exacerbate inequalities and devalue traits that are selected against."

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Open Philanthropy, the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, the Pershing Square Fund for Research on the Foundations of Human Behaviour, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Stanley Family Foundation and the Australian Research Council.

Patrick Turley, Michelle N. Meyer, Nancy Wang, David Cesarini, Evelynn Hammonds, Alicia R. Martin, Benjamin M. Neale, Heidi L. Rehm, Louise Wilkins-Haug, Daniel J. Benjamin, Steven Hyman, David Laibson, Peter M. Visscher. Problems with Using Polygenic Scores to Select Embryos. New England Journal of Medicine, 2021; 385 (1): 78 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsr2105065

National plan to allow battery cages until 2036 favours cheap eggs over animal welfare

Christine ParkerThe University of Melbourne and Lev BrombergThe University of Melbourne

Eggs laid by battery hens would be phased out within 15 years under a plan to improve poultry welfare in Australia. The proposal signals some relief for the 10 million or so egg-laying hens still kept in battery cages in Australia. But it doesn’t go far enough.

Among the recommendations of an independent panel were to phase out battery cages between 2032 and 2036. Egg producers will have the option of transitioning to larger furnished cages, or may decide to move straight to cage-free systems, such as barn-laid and free-range eggs.

Such recommendations may seem like a happy compromise – balancing the interests of farmers, consumers and the hens themselves.

But developing welfare standards for farmed animals involves more than just practical, scientific and economic considerations. Such decisions also have an ethical dimension: what level of animal welfare should society provide? On that measure, we believe the standards fall short.

two cartons of eggs - one free-range, one caged
Under the draft standards, from 2036 no battery hens would be allowed in Australia. Alan Porritt/AAP

An Appetite For Change

An independent panel drafted the proposal after consulting state and territory governments, industry, animal welfare groups and the public.

The draft standards cover poultry including chickens, ducks, emus, geese, quail and turkeys. Confining hens in battery cages is by far the industry’s most controversial practice, and we focus on those recommendations here.

Research has found hens are intelligent, social animals. But confined to battery cages – often a space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper – they cannot stretch their wings or perform basic natural behaviours such as roost, nest, forage and dust-bathe.

Battery hens can also suffer severe health problems such as feather loss, fractured bones and haemorrhagic fatty liver syndrome. They can also experience more pain than those in cage-free systems.

Industry figures show Australia produces around 17 million eggs each day. Of about 75% sold at supermarkets, 39% are from caged hens. Free-range (50%), barn-laid (10%) and specialty eggs (1%) make up the remainder.

Read more: Not just activists, 9 out of 10 people are concerned about animal welfare in Australian farming

Of the other 25%, much is used in processed foods and catering, where the proportion of cage eggs is thought to be higher than those sold in supermarkets.

Cage-free eggs are generally more expensive than cage eggs. Nonetheless, major supermarkets and other food companies have also vowed to phase out caged eggs, or already use cage-free eggs in their products.

2018 report prepared for the federal government found 95% of Australians view the welfare of farmed animals as a concern and 91% want law reform to address it.

It found Australians want regulation that prevents the suffering of farmed animals, which are increasingly seen as sentient beings with capabilities, rights and freedoms.

Keeping hens in cages is not consistent with these views. An unprecedented 170,000-odd public submissions were made on the draft poultry standards, reflecting the huge public interest in the issue. The vast majority supported a ban on battery cages.

free range hens feeding
Under the proposal, hens would be free-range or kept in barns or larger cages. Shutterstock

How Did We Get Here?

State and territory agriculture ministers must now endorse the standards and enact regulations to bring them into effect.

If enacted, the standards will replace the outdated 2002 code of practice. The independent panel was appointed to help re-draft those standards after previous attempts were mired in controversy, including allegations of collusion between farmers and the NSW government.

Scientistsanimal welfare organisations and two state governments also raised concern about the integrity of the process.

The panel’s appointment was a positive step. Importantly, it was made up of independent experts, rather than dominated by industry and agriculture department representatives.

hens in cage with feathers missing
Most submissions supported a ban on keeping hens in battery cages, which can cause serious health problems. Emma Hanswell/AAP

Where The Proposal Falls Short

The proposed standards give egg producers ten to 15 years to transition away from battery cages. Animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA say this timeline is too slow and cages should be phased out sooner – and we agree.

The use of battery cages in Australia is certainly out of step internationally. Most OECD nations have banned battery cages or are in the process of doing so.

The lengthy period of transition prioritises the continued availability of cheap battery cage eggs, and the interests of cage-egg producers, over the welfare of millions of animals.

The standards will still allow the use of furnished cages: larger cages with features such as perches and scratch pads.

Furnished cages are better than battery cages. And some researchers say furnished cages, if well managed, are better than poorly run free-range and barn systems. But the behavioural needs of hens are not fully satisfied in furnished cages. And if lifetime confinement represents a “better” animal welfare outcome than many cage-free facilities, this reflects very poorly on the regulation of cage-free systems.

A more humane approach would keep hens in well-managed free-range or barn systems. In fact, the European Parliament last month voted overwhelmingly (but non-bindingly) in favour of phasing out all cages in farming.

And enacting new standards is not enough. To ensure standards are maintained and enforced, an independent animal welfare regulator is needed, as recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2017.

three hens in field
An independent regulator should enforce poultry standards. Shutterstock

A Fundamental Moral Question

The draft standards represent an important first step in freeing Australian hens from cages. While not perfect, they will bring Australian agriculture closer to international scientific consensus and public opinion on the issue.

However, developing animal welfare standards involves considering the practical, the economic, the scientific and the ethical. Deciding whether and when to ban cage production systems touches on fundamental moral questions, such as whether non-human animals deserve a “good life” and what this means in practice.

At the most fundamental level, Australians must ask themselves: should sentient, intelligent creatures have the freedom to access the outdoors? Or should they spend their lives in a barren cage so we can have the option of cheaper eggs?

Read more: Australians care about animals – but we don't buy ethical meat The Conversation

Christine Parker, Professor of Law, The University of Melbourne and Lev Bromberg, PhD Candidate, The University of Melbourne

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

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.