Inbox and environment news: Issue 534

April  10 - 23, 2022: Issue 534

Barrenjoey Headland Amenities Concept Plan

The Barrenjoey Headland is a 34-hectare area located within Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and is a popular destination with approximately 200,000 visitors each year. The lack of public amenities in the headland impacts the visitor experience and has led to environmental and operational issues particularly the prevalence of litter and waste. In 2019, National Parks and Wildlife Service installed transportable toilets as a temporary solution while planning for a permanent amenity was underway.

They have now secured funding to progress the provision of permanent toilets and water refill station at Barrenjoey. Aileen Sage Architects have been engaged to design suitable amenities which considered heritage constraints, visual impacts, environmental impact, visitor and access requirements, construction constraints and services provision.

This project is being delivered as part of the largest visitor infrastructure program in national park history.

Release of Barrenjoey Headland amenities concept plans
National Parks and Wildlife Service are pleased to release concept designs for the new amenity building at Barrenjoey. This will provide much-needed facilities for visitors, including those with personal/health requirements, young families and others.

National Parks and Wildlife Service worked with Aileen Sage Architects to design the amenities that considered heritage constraints, visual impacts, environmental impact, visitor and access requirements, construction constraints, and services provision.

The proposed amenities include the following features:
  • the building will be set into the landscape, concealed by the landform and native heath
  • screened walls to the front of the building will allow for natural light and ventilation
  • timber screens will be left to grey with alternating painted battens to reference the colours of the surrounding natural landscape and heritage buildings
  • unisex cubicles will be provided, including baby change facilities and a water refill station
  • water supply and sewer infrastructure to service these amenities are already in place.
The concept designs for the new amenity building are available for download.

Your feedback
National Parks and Wildlife Service  welcome your feedback on these concepts by 2 May 2022.

If you have any questions or comments on the concept designs, please complete the online form here.
Approvals are expected to take approximately 3 months.
Construction is scheduled to commence in Spring 2022, subject to approvals.

Image: Architects' Drawing of placement/style of new amenities. Image: NPWS

Duck Holes: McCarrs Creek

photos by Joe Mills, April 4, 2022
McCarr’s Creek has been a place for smugglers to hide their casks of rum and a place of illegal stills, a proposed depot and runway for air mail services via seaplanes, part of where was searched when a Stinson went down in 1937 on its ways from Brisbane to Sydney, a camp for soldiers at the duck ponds in 1942, a sand mining operation from 1950 up until the 1970’s as well as a favoured place for swimming, picnicking, fishing and orcharding since Pittwater’s earliest settlement by Europeans.

The water channel was originally named Pitt Inlet by Gov. Phillip and appeared on maps in the 1830s as South West Arm. Some sources state the origin of the current name is not known but it has been appearing as such alongside ‘South West Arm’ spelt "MacAa's Creek". Opinions stated the person in question may be John Macarthur of The Rum Rebellion fame. He owned a farm at Pennant Hills from which naturalist George Caley embarked in 1805 to explore a ridge from Thornleigh to Fox Valley, Warrawee and Turramurra and then on to Cowan Creek. 

Shelagh and George Champion inform us that George Caley did not go to Cowan Creek. He was following the ridge now known as Mona Vale Road, and yes, the water did drain northward, followed by southward into Middle Harbour around Belrose, where the grevillea caleyi still grows. He went on to Narrabeen Lagoon, going on the north side and returning on the south side. The name in fact comes from a James McCarr or McGrath, who was living with Ann Haynes near McCarr’s Creek in 1820. 

Ann Haynes came to the settlement in 1806 aboard the William Pitt. In 1821 she was convicted of stealing 28 sheaves of wheat from John Williams, who also was District Constable and Pound Keeper, appointed 1820. (HAYNES Ann Alias: FOSS, Ann Ship: William Pitt 1806; 20 Nov 1837, Recommended Absolute Pardon  [4/4489; Reel 800 Page 007] Ann Haynes; Stealing 28 sheaves of wheat from John Williams at Broken Bay, 1821, Reel 1975 2703 [SZ794] 60, 97Appendix J: Schedule of case papers, 1821 - Court of Criminal Jurisdiction: Informations, depositions and related papers, 1796-1824; Session: Jul-Aug 1821. NSW State Records). 

McCarrs Creek’s source is in a recreation reserve near Mona Vale Road, Tumbledown Dick not far from the head of Wirreanda Creek. The upper section is shallow before it drops to a ten metre wide pool at Upper Gledhill Falls. (named after Percy Walter Gledhill, 1890-1962, of the Manly Warringah and Pittwater  Historical Society). The main site starts as a six metre wide pool at then becomes very narrow, ending at a lower pool at Lower Gledhill Falls. McCarrs Creek Reserve, around 5 hectares, is located at the junction of McCarrs Creek and Cicada Creek in Church Point.  Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is adjacent . The plant systems here range from Mangroves and Saltmarsh on the shoreline, planted Swamp Oak and a small remnant strip of Narrabeen slopes forest along the edge of the Road Reserve. Tall spotted gums shelter an understorey of sandstone escarpment and native grasslands, bushflowers and many grass trees. Many tales of this deep water tidal creek being a haven for sharks have also accompanied its history.

The tributaries of Mc Carrs Creek are Wirrenanda Creek which runs from north of Mona Vale Road down to the main creek, Cicada Glen Creek (apparently while camping beside the creek, early explorers found the sound of cicadas deafening, hence its name) which begins near Mona Vale Road then flows through Ingleside and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park before flowing into McCarrs Creek at McCarrs Creek Reserve in Church Point and Crystal Creek. Crystal creek begins as a shallow six metre pool then drops twenty metres down a waterfall into another shallow pool and runs as many smaller rock pools which are home to Freshwater Crayfish. Lying wholly within the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park it remains pristine and relatively undisturbed. 

The Pittwater Environmental Foundation have been involved in McCarrs Creek Foreshore Restoration at Bothams Beach. Their Project's Description: The forest here is Pittwater Spotted Gum forest, an endangered ecological community. The project provides bush regeneration and community education and engagement. Work funded by a second grant will be completed late May 2012. Bush regeneration restores habitat for native fauna and to assist this, the grant has provided six boxes for Sugar or Squirrel Gliders, which are likely to live in the area.

McCarrs Creek has always been noted for its beauty and the amount of local fauna that flourishes there:

McCarr's Creek, Pittwater.
 (BY J. S. N. WHEELER.) 
The upper part of McCarr's Creek, Pittwater, which may be reached by rowing-boat, is a veritable bird sanctuary. The sylvan retreat at the limit of tidal water is one mile from Church Point, and is called the Silent Pool on account of the serenity of the spot.  It is enclosed by steep hills covered with the vegetation of Kuring-gai Chase on one side. Livistona palms grow here to perfection. While you glide quietly along there comes the swishing sound of the coachwhip bird from forest brakes, with a final crack like the stockman's whip. At eventide the dominant notes of the bell-magpie or "currawong" ring out a valediction to the visitor.

This spot is only approachable on the floodtide, and the creek should be dredged to keep the channel open (as has been done at Narrabeen lagoon and Curl Curl Creek, near Manly), in order that this bird sanctuary maybe rendered more accessible.

To those who seek adventure and exercise a climb up the rugged, picturesque gully is recommended. Through dense bracken and vines, over logs and boulders and waterfalls, a climb of one hour and twenty minutes will lead to the "Duckhole," which is a sequestered pond at the confluence of two mountain brooks, the right-hand branch and the mainstream of the upper reaches of the creek. The calls of magpies, peewees, crows, and currawongs will be heard in this quarter. Coming down the gully again, one hears the melodious fluting of bush birds to the accompanying song of small cascades. Further down an exquisite glimpse of the greenish water of the Silent Pool Is obtained from the seclusion of the forest. A BIRD SANCTUARY. (1930, December 20). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from

More in An Illicit Still At McCarr’s Creek by Shelagh Champion OAM, 2012, Botham Beach by Barbara Davies, 2011 and McCarr’s Creek: Some History

Since the above was run research by the Champions found that there was no one in the Pittwater area named McCarr and they believe the name is a corruption of McGrath.  A photograph dated circa 1902 held by the Warringah Library is captioned “McGrats Creek, Pitt Water”. From this it would seem the person who scratched the caption into the emulsion on the back of the glass negative from which the photo was printed accidentally omitted the “h” in McGrath.

This hidden gem is just off McCarr's Creek Rd in the National Park which has a pretty little waterfall and a deep swimming hole. Travel up McCarr's Creek Rd from Pittwater end and park opposite the Duck Holes walking track and its a very short walk of about 100m down to the swimming hole. There is a bit of climbing to do to get in and out, so this is not suitable for very young children and can be very slippery after rains. Ensure the location of rocks under the water before jumping in, or take the easier sandy route into the water. Do not go in the water after we have had torrential rains, it is very fats flowing and prone to flooding. Also bear in mind that this is the home of wildlife and you are just a visitor.

Ban The Release Of Balloons In NSW Petition

Balloons cause serious issues for our marine reptiles and seabirds. When helium balloons are released, they burst, fall into our oceans and resemble food for these animals. Unfortunately, balloons can easily become trapped in the digestive system resulting in death. There is currently a petition in the NSW Legislative Council for NSW to follow other states and ban the release of helium balloons. If you have a spare moment please sign the petition below. Closes April 25, 2022:

Ella: Green Turtle Rescued From Manly

Ella was discovered at Shelly Beach in Manly looking extremely unwell and was rescued by Australian Seabird Rescue Central Coast on April 18th, 2020. The rescue at Shelley Beach was by ASRCC volunteers Silke and Paul who brought this sick turtle in for care after a photo was seen on a diving page. 

Under water photo credit - Ian Donato

Ella was examined and it was discovered that she is suffering from a severe case of pneumonia and septicaemia. She was placed in care with Australian Seabird Rescue where it was found a balloon and attached streamers were the problem

Ella is lucky to actually still be alive - imagine being only 47cm long and having a balloon with 2.5mtrs of streamer attached but also a plastic bag in your stomach! Ella excreted the plastic bag on April 28th, while the balloon and tie attached was passed on April 25th. 

Balloons are in the top three most harmful waste items to wildlife. Birds and turtles not only ingest balloons, they actively select them as food. This is because a burst balloon often resembles a jellyfish, the natural food sources of many marine species like turtles.

Ingesting balloons, and the clips and strings attached to them, can cause intestinal blockages and results in a slow painful death through starvation. Marine animals don’t have the gastrointestinal pH levels to breakdown a balloon and for turtles, it may also cause floating syndrome. Trapped gases in the gut can cause a turtle to become buoyant, unable to dive for food—making them vulnerable to boat strikes and leading to starvation and severe dehydration.

Wildlife, both terrestrial and marine, can also become entangled in balloon ribbons or strings, causing injury or death through drowning, suffocation, or an inability to feed and avoid predators.
Even if balloons are disposed of "safely" they go to landfill where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaching potentially toxic substances into the soil and water.

Extra photos by and courtesy Australian Seabird and Turtle Rescue Central Coast

Local Wildlife Rescuers And Carers State That Ongoing Heavy Rains Are Tough For Us But Can Be Tougher For Our Wildlife:

  • Birds and possums can be washed out of trees, or the tree comes down, nests can disintegrate or hollows fill with water
  • Ground dwelling animals can be flooded out of their burrows or hiding places and they need to seek higher ground
  • They are at risk crossing roads as people can't see them and sudden braking causes accidents
  • The food may disappear - insects, seeds and pollens are washed away, nectar is diluted and animals can be starving
  • They are vulnerable in open areas to predators, including our pets
  • They can't dry out and may get hypothermia or pneumonia
  • Animals may seek shelter in your home or garage. 

You can help by:

  • Keeping your pets indoors
  • Assessing for wounds or parasites
  • Putting out towels or shelters like boxes to provide a place to hide
  • Drive to conditions and call a rescue group if you see an animal hit (or do a pouch check or get to a vet if you can stop)
  • If you are concerned take a photo and talk to a rescue group or wildlife carer

There are 2 rescue groups in the Northern Beaches:

Sydney Wildlife: 9413 4300

WIRES: 1300 094 737

Please be patient as there could be a few enquiries regarding the wildlife. 

Generally Sydney Wildlife do not recommend offering food but it may help in some cases. Please ensure you know what they generally eat and any offerings will not make them sick. You can read more on feeding wildlife here 

Information courtesy Ed Laginestra, Sydney Wildlife volunteer. Photo: Warriewood Wetlands Wallaby by Kevin Murray, March 2022.

Long Reef Fishcare Free Guided Walks

Our next (and final walk for this season) will be held on Easter Sunday - 17 April 2022.

DPI Fishcare volunteers will lead a FREE, guided walk/wander onto the rock-platform where marine life in the rockpools, bird life & geology will be discussed & displayed. This is a great family activity & suitable for most ages. Duration – approximately 2 hours.

Bookings are essential and places are limited. Attendees are to wear appropriate attire and footwear, no bare feet or thongs permitted.

Each booking must be made by a responsible parent, one booking per person. Please note group bookings are not available.

As COVID-19 restrictions will still apply, attendees agree to comply with the requirements of the current NSW public health orders and venue COVID safety plans. Hand sanitiser will be available for you to use at entry and exit points. Please do not attend if you are sick or displaying any cold or flu symptoms.

NSW DPI Long Reef Guided Walks are run with the assistance of Fishcare Volunteers and are proudly supported using funds from the Recreational Fishing Trust 

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Forum: May 2022 - Speaker - Prof. Dennis Foley On The Aboriginal Heritage Of The Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

Visit: to find out more and book a space at this forum

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) Autumn 2022 Newsletter

Our PNHA Newsletter 91 is now on our website. We've been busy! 
Below: Pastel Flower Pseuderanthemum variabile flowers can be white, pink or mauve, about as big as a violet. It is a tiny herb of shady rainforest or wet eucalyptus forest, north of Bega in NSW. It spreads by seed and rhizomes. More: in: 
This one is in Spotted Gum forest at Newport.

Photo: PNHA

Cassia Flowering Now: Dispose Of This Weed To Stop The Spread

Cassia (Senna pendula). Also known as Senna and Arsenic Bush. Originating in South American, Cassia is a perennial sprawling multi-stemmed shrub or tree up to 5m tall. 

This weed replaces native vegetation and establishes in a wide range of native plant communities, including coastal heath and scrubland, hind dunes and riparian corridors. The large seed pods are eaten by birds and other animals. You may be seeing this bright burst of yellow everywhere as it is currently flowering - please pull out and get rid of if you have in your garden.

Aviaries + Possum Release Sites Needed

Pittwater Online News has interviewed Lynette Millett OAM (WIRES Northern Beaches Branch) needs more bird cages of all sizes for keeping the current huge amount of baby wildlife in care safe or 'homed' while they are healed/allowed to grow bigger to the point where they may be released back into their own home. 

If you have an aviary or large bird cage you are getting rid of or don't need anymore, please email via the link provided above. There is also a pressing need for release sites for brushtail possums - a species that is very territorial and where release into a site already lived in by one possum can result in serious problems and injury. 

If you have a decent backyard and can help out, Lyn and husband Dave can supply you with a simple drey for a nest and food for their first weeks of adjustment.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

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

Rule Change For Emissions Reduction Fund: To Prevent Native Forest Regeneration Projects

The Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Amendment (Regeneration Projects) Rule 2022 takes effect on 8 April 20221. It allows the Agriculture Minister to prevent native forest regeneration projects from going ahead if they will have an adverse impact on agricultural production or regional communities.

The new rule allows the Agriculture Minister from 8 April 2022 to prevent native forest regeneration projects from going ahead if they will have an adverse impact on agricultural production or regional communitiesIt applies to proposed new projects, and expansions of existing projects, under 2 ERF methods:
  • human-induced regeneration
  • native forest from managed regrowth.
The new rule will apply to native forest regeneration projects covering more than 15 hectares.

All native forest regeneration projects will also be required to report on their compliance with state, territory and local government laws on managing pests and weeds.

The announcement was made by The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction on April 1, 2022.

From Friday, 8 April 2022, the Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, will have a power of veto to prevent native forest regeneration projects from going ahead.

Proposed Changes To Rules For Generator Closures

April 7, 2022 Media Release by The Hon Angus Taylor MP , Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions
The Morrison Government is taking action to safeguard the delivery of affordable, reliable power for consumers through a proposed change to energy laws to require energy companies to give a longer period of notice for the closure of electricity generators.

Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor has written to the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) to ask for a change to the National Electricity Rules to extend the notice period from 3.5 years to a minimum of five years. 

This is a critical reform to ensure that the energy sector has enough time to build new projects to replace exiting capacity, with the lead time required to construct most forms of new generation far exceeding the current 3.5 year notice period.

“The Morrison Government is committed to ensuring ongoing reliable and affordable energy. This means it is critical to ensure there is a pipeline of projects that can be delivered to replace existing capacity, keep the system reliable and secure, and keep power prices down for Australian households, businesses and industry,” Minister Taylor said. 

“If accepted, the rule change will increase notice of closure requirements to 5 years to allow adequate lead time for new capacity to be built to replace exiting generation, and to prevent potential gaming of notice of closure requirements by market participants.

“This is a sensible change, and necessary to ensure the National Electricity Market (NEM) remains reliable and secure.

“Without this rule change, there is a risk that retiring capacity is not replaced in time or is only able to be replaced with inadequate or inefficient options that are available in short timeframes, risking the reliability, affordability and security of the system.

“This is about putting the interests of energy consumers first, which is at the heart of the Morrison Government’s energy policy.” 

The proposed new rule also includes a new definition of ‘longer term mothballing’, within notice of closure arrangements. A longer term mothballed plant will be defined as a generator that will be unable able to dispatch for 9 months or longer over a 12 month period.

These generators would be subject to the same notice period that applies to permanent closures, to avoid potential gaming where generators could mothball a plant indefinitely without providing any notice or date of an intended closure.

Seasonal mothballing, defined as a generator not being available to dispatch electricity into the NEM for less than 9 months over any 12 month period, would not be subject to notice of closure requirements. 

The new rule would also prohibit speculative notices of closure when the generator has no actual intention to close the plant on the specified date. 

“This rule is intended to prevent generators from engaging in behaviour that could create uncertainty in the market and act as a deterrent to new investment,” Minister Taylor said.

Under the proposed rule, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) would investigate any notice that it suspects to be speculative, using its existing investigative and information gathering powers.

Federal Coal Closure Changes No Substitute For Real Roadmap

April 7, 2022
Australia Institute: Statement in response to Federal Government announcement it seeks to delay coal fired power plant closures by introducing new rules that five years’ notice must be provided before closing power stations.

“What we are seeing is another knee-jerk reaction from Minister Taylor because Australia’s Energy Minister was left out of key negotiations on Australia’s largest coal plant closure in the country,” said Richie Merzian, climate & energy program director at the Australia Institute.

“Minister Taylor must be suffering from a bit of FOMO with plant closure deals being stitched up behind his back.

“It raises eyebrows that a government so resistant to planning a roadmap for Australia’s coal closures is now apparently so keen for longer plant closure notice periods.

“It is abundantly clear that coal plants are going to accelerate their closures, closing faster than their official retirement dates. If this Government was genuine about providing certainty to coal communities, it would develop a national coal closure roadmap rather than attempting to strong-arm coal plants one by one.

“Failure to develop a coal closure roadmap leaves workers and communities without support or a plan for the future.”

Air Pollution Inches Lower As Clean Energy Begins To Replace Coal Power In NSW

April 6, 2022
New National Pollutant Inventory data show toxic air emissions from the state’s coal-fired power stations fell by 4% in the year to June 2021, but they are still the most polluting industrial facilities in NSW. [1]  

During the 2021 financial year, coal-fired power stations at Lithgow, on the Central Coast and in the Hunter Valley released more than 260,000 tonnes of toxic air pollution including: 
  • 101,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides;  
  • 147,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide; 
  • 543 tonnes of fine particles (PM2.5); and 
  • 184 kg of mercury. 
 “This data shows that coal-fired power stations are still among the most polluting industrial facilities in NSW,” Nature Conservation Council Policy Director Dr Brad Smith said.  

 “All these pollutants have a huge impact on people’s health so these facilities must clean up their operations and shut as soon as possible.  

 “These facilities are still a major source of dangerous airborne toxins, including oxides of nitrogen and sulphur and fine particles, which all cause serious respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.  

 “On the Central Coast alone, pollution from coal-fired power stations causes asthma in 650 children.  

 “The total health impact of this industry on families is colossal, especially in the Hunter, on the Central Coast and across western Sydney where many of these emissions end up.”  

 Climate pollution from NSW coal power stations fell by 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 in the reporting period, equivalent to replacing 600,000 petrol cars with electric vehicles.     

Fine Particles (PM2.5) 

AGL’s Liddell coal fired power station was single the biggest source of PM2.5 this year, after its emissions increased by 139% on the previous year.  The spike in fine particle emissions raises concerns that AGL may have stopped adequately maintaining the fabric filters which are designed to catch 99% of fine particles.  AGL closed one unit at Liddell on 1 April 2022, with the final three units to close on 1 April 2023.   

The air in Muswellbrook, the town closest to the Liddell and Bayswater coal-fired power stations, has breached the limits for fine particle pollution every year since the limit was introduced, meaning residents are forced to breathe unhealthy air.   

Vales Point generated the least electricity out of the five power stations, a reduction of 8% on last year. Despite this, fine particle pollution from the power station tripled this year from 31,000 kg  to 96,000 kg.  


This year, mercury released from NSW coal-fired power stations increased sharply. Bayswater reported an increase from 60 kg to 108 kg, Eraring doubled its mercury pollution from 14 kg to 27 kg, and Vales Point doubled mercury emissions from 7.5 kg to 15 kg, while the Mount Piper power station near Lithgow increased from 7 kg to 17 kg. Internationally, scrubbers are used to reduce mercury, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions, however these technologies are not used in NSW.    

Nitrogen Oxide 

The Eraring power station continues to emit NOx at half the rate of other NSW coal fired power stations, due to low-NOx burners installed in 2012. The NSW EPA granted Liddell and Vales Point continued exemptions in late 2021 to continue emitting NOx at rates above the limits in the NSW Clean Air Regulation, despite calls from health and environment groups for low-NOx burners to be required at Vales Point. NOx emissions fell by 1% across the board, with an 11% reduction at Vales Point in line with an 8% reduction in electricity generation at the plant.  

Sulphur Dioxide  

SO2 emissions from coal power reduced by 4% last year, in line with a 5% drop in coal-fired electricity generation as more rooftop solar, and wind and solar farms connected to the electricity grid.  

For more details, see NCC’s report: NSW Air Pollution Insights 2022 

Government Loan Enables Development Of Australia’s Rare Earths Refinery

April 4, 2022
The Morrison Government today approved a $1.25 billion loan through the Critical Minerals Facility to Australian company Iluka Resources, to develop Australia’s first integrated rare earths refinery in Western Australia.

The refinery will produce separated rare earth oxide products (Praseodymium, Dysprosium, Neodymium and Terbium), which are used in permanent magnets in a wide range of technologies, including electric vehicles, clean energy generation and defence.

The Eneabba Refinery Project strongly aligns with the objectives of the Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy. It will capture more value on-shore from our critical minerals, strengthen Australia’s position as a trusted supplier of critical minerals, and create regional jobs crucial for the new energy economy.

This loan builds on our Government’s support for the critical minerals sector to help realise our vision of becoming a global critical minerals powerhouse by 2030.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the announcement represented a decisive step forward in rare earths production and processing in Australia.

“Australia has the best resource industry in the world and we have an unrivalled competitive-edge when it comes to being a reliable, sustainable provider of critical minerals and rare earths,” the Prime Minister said.

“Our support for this project will capitalise on our advantages, helping to strengthen Australia’s critical minerals supply chain while also creating huge job and economic opportunities for Australians for generations to come.

“Australia’s critical minerals are in demand because they are the key input for everything from mobile phones to fighter jets, not to mention the technologies of the future that haven’t even been realised yet.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the project would help secure Australia’s manufacturing capability, unlocking a new generation of high-wage, high-skill, high tech jobs.

“Building a modern manufacturing sector and securing our sovereign capability is a key part of our plans for a stronger economy and a stronger future for Australia,” the Treasurer said.

“Australia’s critical minerals sector and the job-creating industries that rely on it are being supercharged under the Morrison Government’s $2.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy.”

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said the project would promote Australia as a reliable and trusted supplier of oxides.

“The Morrison Government is advancing Australia’s position as a world leader in the critical minerals sector,” Minister Tehan said.

“Our Government is supporting businesses to invest in projects in regional Australia, create jobs and meet the global appetite for critical minerals.

“We are working with our trading partners to help facilitate partnerships between Australian critical mineral project proponents and potential sources of offtake and investment.”

Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said the project would help Australia increase its sovereign critical minerals processing capacity, potentially underpinning new industries and applications.

“The facility could supply up to nine per cent of the global rare earth oxide market when it comes online.

"It will initially use the Eneabba Stockpile – one of the highest-grade sources of rare earth elements in the world,” Minister Pitt said.

“The refinery is also designed to process concentrate from many other deposits across Australia, making it a natural hub and reducing the capital required to bring other projects online.”

This loan will be administered by Export Finance Australia and is the third project under the Government’s Critical Minerals Facility to be announced.

The government’s $1.25 billion loan will enable Iluka to establish the Eneabba Rare Earths Refinery in Western Australia. It will create jobs and economic opportunity for regional communities and link them to supply chains for the markets and technologies of the future.

The project is the latest of critical minerals projects to receive financial support from the government, including:
  • $239 million in loans to EcoGraf Ltd and Renascor Resources through the Critical Minerals Facility
  • $243 million in grant funding to four critical minerals projects under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative
  • the $200 million Accelerator Initiative grants program
  • a $140 million loan to Hastings Technology Metals Ltd under the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility
  • $50 million for the establishment of a virtual National Critical Minerals Research and Development Centre.

Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative Guidelines: Have Your Say

April 6, 2022
The federal government is consulting on draft grant guidelines for the Critical Minerals Accelerator Initiative.

The Australian Government is investing $200 million in the initiative over 5 years. It will help early and mid-stage critical minerals projects overcome market and technical barriers to growth. 

Your feedback on the design of the program will help ensure the successful projects support Australia’s critical minerals industry.

Have your say on the Consultation Hub

Submissions close at 5 pm AEST on 6 May 2022.

ARENA Board Appointments

April 8, 2022: Media Release by The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction
The Morrison Government has reappointed Mr Justin Punch as Chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) board and reappointed Ms Anna Matysek and Mr John Hirjee as members of the board for a further two-year term concluding in July 2024.

The Government has also appointed Ms Elizabeth O’Leary to the ARENA board. Ms O’Leary is a Senior Managing Director at Macquarie Asset Management and head of MAM Agriculture & Natural Assets, one of the world’s largest private land managers. She is an experienced board and investment committee member, including on Macquarie’s Energy, Emissions and Efficiency Advisory Committee, the CSIRO Agriculture and Food Advisory Group, agricultural companies and not-for-profits. Ms O’Leary will replace Mr Justin Butcher, whose term on the Board will conclude on 22 July.

Minister Taylor congratulated Ms O’Leary on her appointment to the Board, and thanked Mr Butcher for his contribution over the past two years.

Approvals Another Significant Step In Woodside's Scarborough Joint Venture

April 6, 2022: Media Release by The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources and Water
Minister for Resources and Water, Keith Pitt, has welcomed the announcement from Woodside that it has received key primary state and federal approvals for its Scarborough Joint Venture off Western Australia.

Minister Pitt said the approvals are another important step forward for the vitally important project.

“The approval for a pipeline licence through state and Commonwealth waters along with the Scarborough Field Development Plan are significant for the US$12 billion project, which will provide a huge jobs and economic boost for WA and the nation,” Minister Pitt said.

“Apart from unlocking enormous gas reserves, it’s estimated the project will have a peak construction workforce of over 3,000 and 600 jobs once it’s operational, including around 230 in the Pilbara.

“Given the current uncertainty around the world, and an energy crisis throughout Europe, it’s projects like this that build Australia’s capacity to ensure long-term energy and national security,” Minister Pitt said.

“It will also support our international neighbours to secure their own energy needs.

It’s a key reason the Coalition Government is such a strong supporter of our oil and gas sector, which will continue to contribute to jobs and economic growth across the country for decades to come.”

Production Licence Moves Santos Dorado Oil Project Forward  

April 5, 2022: Media Release by The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources and Water
Minister for Resources and Water, Keith Pitt, today welcomed a significant step towards the development of a major new Australian oil project off Western Australia.

Minister Pitt said Santos and its partner Carnarvon Energy have accepted a production licence offer covering the Dorado oil field in the Bedout Sub-Basin in Commonwealth waters, about 150 kilometres north of Port Hedland.

“At a time when Australia needs energy security more than ever, it’s great to see a new Australian oil project, discovered by Australian companies Santos and Carnarvon Energy, moving closer to being production ready,” Minister Pitt said.

“The original Dorado-1 discovery made in 2018 represented the most significant new oil play offshore Western Australia in the last decade and opened up the Bedout and Beagle sub-basins as a major new oil and gas province for Australia.”

This was followed up in February 2022 by the successful Pavo-1 exploration well, drilled 46 kilometres east of the Dorado field. 

With that success and now the acceptance of the production licence offer, the Dorado project is moving towards a final investment decision and production. Initially the project will concentrate on oil production and reinjection of the associated gas. 

Later production will recover natural gas for use in Western Australia. Dorado is a low emissions intensity development.

Santos Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Gallagher said the Production Licence was an important step on the path towards a final investment decision on the Dorado Project.

“The Production Licence builds on recent momentum for the Dorado Project following the significant Pavo-1 discovery last month that has the potential to add further material value to the development,” Mr Gallagher said. 

“Global oil and gas markets are seeing increased volatility and western countries are looking to diversify their supply sources away from Russia which, according to the International Energy Agency, currently produces 18 per cent of the world’s gas and 12 per cent of its oil. 

“In this environment, Dorado and Pavo have the potential to bolster Australia’s national energy security while Australian LNG projects help to meet the energy needs of our allies.”

Minister Pitt said given current uncertainty around the world we must maintain our focus on developing our traditional oil and gas along with new energy metals and materials.

“I want to congratulate Santos and Carnarvon on their success with Dorado. This multi-billion dollar project will enhance our oil security for the future,” Minister Pitt said.

“There is no doubt Australia needs new oil projects if we are to maintain our energy security and ensure our long-term national security. These projects bring new jobs and new investment into our oil and gas sector. 

“Australia’s security and that of our friends, allies and trading partners will be founded on our ability to continue to attract new energy and resources investment, and our success in bringing on new projects like Dorado.”
*Santos' Dorado oil project off WA would result in 165 million tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to 46 years of operation of Collie's Muja power station, according to an environmental approval submission released on August 20, 2021. The $US2 billion ($2.8 billion) Dorado project off WA could produce up to 350 million barrels of oil over 20 years from 2025.

Gippsland Area Announced As Priority For Australia’s First Offshore Wind Assessment

April 7, 2022
The federal government has announced the Bass Strait off Gippsland will be the nation’s first priority area to be assessed for suitability for offshore wind developments. The focus will be on identifying existing users of the marine area that will need to be taken into account when considering any future offshore renewable energy infrastructure activities, particularly offshore wind projects.

Important users include:
  • the environment, such as marine life and migratory birds
  • existing maritime infrastructure and industries such as fishing shipping
  • other marine stakeholders and local communities. 
The announcement states this is the first step to developing a strong Australian offshore wind industry that:
  • serves to secure affordable energy
  • creates jobs and investment
  • increases economic growth of regional and coastal economies.
''A strong offshore energy industry can provide clean and affordable power to households, businesses and industrial consumers. Supporting this industry will help Australia achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.'' the statement reads

''Other priority areas for offshore wind will continue to be identified and announced. We will provide details of the Gippsland area assessment once the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act 2021 commences in June 2022.

The government is also developing detailed regulations to support the Act. The regulations will set out operational arrangements.''

Read more

Tidal Wave Of Alarm For Tassie Oceans Amid Landmark Marine Law Review: Research

April 7, 2022
An overwhelming majority of Tasmanians (76%) are concerned about the dire state of Tasmania’s coastal waters and oceans amid a landmark law review aimed at protecting the marine environment and economy, according to new research from the Australia Institute Tasmania.

The new polling supports the Australia Institute Tasmania’s call for a marine law overhaul, contained in its submission to the Living Marine Resource Management Act 1995 Review – the first of its kind in 26 years.

Key Polling Findings:
  • More than three in four Braddon voters (76%) are concerned that Tasmania’s ocean is under pressure from climate change, pollution, and fishing and support the government taking action to make sure it stays healthy for future generations
  • Majority of Braddon voters (63%) agree that the expansion of salmon farms around Tasmania should be suspended until current government inquiries are completed and their recommendations implemented
  • Almost 7 in 10 (67%) agree the Federal Government should match Tasmania by setting a net-zero by 2030 emissions target
  • Federal seat of Braddon 2PP: Labor 53%, Liberal 47%
“Our research shows overwhelming community concern for the health of Tasmania’s coastal waters. It is clear Tasmania’s current marine laws are failing to protect the environment and the marine economy for the long-term,” said Eloise Carr, Director the Australia Institute Tasmania.

“Tasmania’s coastal waters are globally significant, but are suffering from depleted fish stocks, threatened species, and poor habitat protection. Pollution and climate change are only exacerbating the problem.

“Tasmanian marine law needs to be urgently overhauled to ensure our environment and marine economy can continue to thrive.

“This is the first review of its kind in over 26 years. We cannot waste this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform our ocean management.

“Short-term thinking and vested interests are wrecking our waterways, and it is all Tasmanians who will pay the price,” Ms Carr said.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment will release a Summary Report in June 2022 on issues identified by Government and stakeholders. The Review is scheduled to take 18 months, culminating in an Options Paper. The Government will then consider and decide whether to adopt changes to the existing Act or prepare new legislation.

Key submission findings:
  • Eight out of 19 (42%) of Tasmania’s assessed commercial fish stocks are classified as having depleted or currently depleting stocks.
  • Overfishing of rock lobsters allowed historic lows of less than 10% of natural levels in 2011-12. Stocks are now rebuilding and assessed as sustainable, despite some areas with less than 20% of their natural population levels at the latest stock assessment.
  • The Act does not address climate change or include the precautionary principle, which prevents scientific uncertainty being used to delay environmental protection measures.
  • Centrostephanus urchin barrens, which decimate rocky reefs, now cover over 15% of east coast reefs, impacting commercially and recreationally important habitats.
Key recommendations in the Australia Institute Tasmania submission include:
  • Establishing an overarching legal framework for coordinated management that takes into account the needs of the environment to remain healthy. This includes consideration of current and future uses of Tasmania’s coastal waters for all uses, users and values.
  • Use multi-sector marine spatial planning to implement this approach.
  • Appropriate recognition of the rights of First Nations Tasmanians should be developed through direct engagement.
  • An economic return should be paid to the community for the private use of public resources.
  • Set precautionary fish stock targets to retain 48% of natural populations for Tasmanian fisheries.

National Koala Recovery Plan Released

April 7, 2022
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley has established the first National Koala Recovery Plan, stating the Koala Plan is setting clear strategies to support protection and population recovery, reduce disease impacts, and coordinate programs across multiple levels of government.

In releasing the plan today, Minister Ley said that she would also form a National koala recovery team which will guide the implementation of the plan and monitor outcomes.

“This plan coordinates action across all levels of government and the community and will produce significant improvements for endangered populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory,” Minister Ley said. 

“Actions under the plan include the identification of nationally important populations, national monitoring, restoration of habitat, and community education in urban and peri-urban areas.

“In providing a national framework, the plan also considers the importance of the management of healthy populations in Victoria and South Australia.

“The plan is already supported by $74 million of Commonwealth koala funding for genomic research, disease prevention, a national koala census and extensive habitat restoration.”

The recovery plan has been jointly made with the New South Wales Minister for Environment and Heritage, the Hon James Griffin MP and supported by ACT Minister for the Environment, the Hon Rebecca Vasarotti.

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia has welcomed the release of a national recovery plan to stop the decline of endangered koala populations in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.

“We’re pleased to see the government taking the decline of koalas seriously and committing to a recovery plan and national recovery team to monitor its implementation,” said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Stuart Blanch.

“The plan contains goals to stabilise and increase koala numbers and the area of koala habitat on the east coast by 2032. This is the right sentiment, but we’d like to see greater ambition and a goal of doubling koala numbers by 2050.”

The national recovery plan is supported by $74 million in (already announced) funding for genomic research, disease prevention, a national koala census and extensive habitat restoration.

Dr Blanch said this funding was important, but more would be needed to save east coast koalas from extinction.

“There’s no new money attached to this recovery plan. This is business as usual and not funding at the scale we need to save koalas,” he said.

Dr Blanch said the plan also lacked adequate commitments to address the two biggest drivers of koala declines - deforestation and climate change.

“It’s great that we finally have a recovery plan. But without strong laws to protect koala habitat and a koala safe climate target consistent with the Paris agreement, koala homes will continue to be bulldozed, logged and burned,” he said.

“With the right actions we can give koalas the chance to thrive, not just survive.”

Australian Conservation Foundation  national nature campaigner Jess Abrahams said, “ACF welcomes the release of the long overdue national koala recovery plan.

“This iconic and once ubiquitous species was recently listed as endangered – an idea that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago, but is a sad reflection on the accelerating destruction of nature we are now experiencing. 

“The overarching goal of the plan – to stop the decline in koala numbers and increase their habitat – is sound, but the goal must also be to recover koala populations if our grandchildren are to see these lovable creatures in the wild.

“The Morrison government has committed $74m to koalas recently, which is great, but our research shows in the decade since the koala was listed as vulnerable to extinction, the government has approved the destruction of 50,000 hectares of this species’ habitat.

“Previous research by ACF showed the size of koala habitat actually cleared in a five-year period was almost 95% greater than the size that was approved.

A recent audit office report found the federal government had failed to monitor the effectiveness of species recovery plans. Let’s hope the government has learnt this lesson when it comes to the implementation and monitoring of this plan.

The two biggest threats to the koala are habitat destruction and climate change and while this plan acknowledges this, it does not adequately address those threats.

“If we want our kids and grandkids to see koalas in the wild, governments must stop approving the bulldozing of their homes for mines and new housing estates.

“Australia needs strong national environment laws and an independent regulator to enforce them,” he said.

Koalas were listed as an endangered species on Australia’s east coast in February. The decision came following a joint nomination by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI) and WWF-Australia, which included evidence showing Queensland’s koala population has crashed by an estimated 50% since 2001, and up to 62% of the NSW koala population has been lost over the same period.

$5 Million In Community Grants To Help Koalas

April 4, 2022
Local communities will have the opportunity to play a hands-on role in koala protection and recovery under new Koala Conservation and Protection Community Grants. Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley today released guidelines for the first round of grants supporting on-ground community projects and local activities that aid the protection and recovery of nationally listed Koala populations across Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. 

“This will be the first of two $5 million grant rounds to help give communities the tools they need to make a difference for local populations,” Minister Ley said.

“Individual grants of up to $200,000 will be made available to improve Koala habitat, health and our knowledge of populations.

“The funding is part of the $50 million Koala package announced in 2022, which has taken the Morrison Government’s overall spending on koalas to more than $74 million.

“I encourage people to look at the guidelines and prepare their ideas ahead of the grant round opening later this year.”

Grant guidelines are available on the Australian Government’s Business Grants Hub website, with the first round anticipated to open in May 2022.

The guidelines highlight 3 key goals:
  • improve the extent, quality and connectivity of Koala habitat and reduce local threats
  • increase understanding and management of disease and injury affecting Koala health and lift capability in on-ground care, treatment and triage of koalas, and
  • improve data and knowledge of Koala populations and health across their range, to support effective decision making and conservation action. 

Devastating Floods Reinforce Need For Urgent Action On Climate Change AMA States

April 5, 2022
Recent floods have tragically highlighted climate change dangers and added urgency for more to be done to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, the AMA said today.

“Direct and indirect health impacts of floods in NSW and Queensland include community mental impacts, risks of gastrointestinal infections from tainted and unsafe drinking water, drownings, rising risks of contracting COVID-19, and of course the impacts of a lack of access to medications and medical services experienced by displaced communities,” Dr Khorshid said.

The IPCC this week released its sixth assessment report on climate change, highlighting slow responses or the inability of governments and institutions to effectively respond to climate change impacts and events.

“More needs to be done to meet the challenges of climate change. There are practical and tangible things Australia must do to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Comprehensive short and long-term planning is needed and preventative and anticipatory action is required over a reactive approach to climate change events.

“As doctors we see and understand health threats posed by climate change and Australians are experiencing these impacts on an increasingly regular basis.”

Dr Khorshid said the AMA has called for immediate practical action, across the economy and including the healthcare sector, to start tackling climate change while graphic images of the devastating floods are demanding public attention.

“Events such as these devastating floods demonstrate that there is a real human cost to a changing climate. It should not be left to communities to respond to these events alone. We need a unified national approach to mitigation, preparedness and response to climate change events,” Dr Khorshid said.
Doctors Health Service has a telehealth service specifically for doctors and medical students who are struggling with their mental health during crises. This is a 24/7, free and confidential service - call 1300 374377.

Another day, another flood: preparing for more climate disasters means taking more personal responsibility for risk

Celeste YoungVictoria University and Roger JonesVictoria University

Sydney is bracing for flash floods and landslides as the city yet again endures a disastrous downpour, with a month’s worth of rain falling in just 24 hours and evacuation orders issued. The rain is forecast to continue all week.

Communities in New South Wales have endured one disaster after another. As exhausted residents in Lismore began cleaning up from the record-breaking flood in late February, a second flood inundated the city. Indeed, some flood-damaged towns this year were previously in the path of the Black Summer bushfires.

Climate change is making disasters more frequent and severe, so how should we be preparing for these inevitable events?

As our latest research shows, a key aspect of pre-disaster preparation is that people accept and understand what risks they face and how they’ll be impacted. Stocking up on toilet paper in preparation for COVID lockdowns is an example of what happens when they don’t.

Meeting New Challenges

One of the lasting mantras in disaster risk management is “hope for the best, anticipate the worst”. But what happens when the worst-case scenario is realised – or even exceeded?

During the Black Summer bushfires in 2019, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said:

We cannot guarantee a fire truck at every home. We cannot guarantee an aircraft will be overhead every time a fire is impacting on your property. We cannot guarantee that someone will knock on the door and give you a warning that there’s fires nearby.

What’s more, the recent NSW floods saw local communities instigate their own rescue operations, with boat or a jet ski owners pulling stranded survivors from inundated homes.

Being prepared at the individual, household and local community level is essential. Emergency management and support agencies such as hospitals are becoming overwhelmed by the unprecedented scales of recent disasters.

First, this is because many emergency workers who respond to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, fires, and storms are volunteers. Second, some events such as the pandemic are unbudgeted and exceptional, so agencies need additional resources.

Third, a disaster is, by definition, an event that exceeds the capacity to respond, making “disaster response” a paradox.

It is unreasonable to expect people to cope with all disasters – but it is reasonable to expect people to manage a certain level of risk. So how much responsibility should fall on the individual, and how much needs to be shared across governments, industry, agencies, and throughout the community?

72 Hours Are Crucial

For those directly affected, the 72 hours surrounding the event can be the most important. This spans the time between early warning, onset, and the immediate responses that may involve defence, evacuation or rescue.

In the United States, you’re encouraged to be prepared to cope for 72 hours in a disaster. We are beginning to see this encouraged in Australia along with greater acknowledgement of personal responsibility for risk.

Local disaster agencies in Australia are promoting lists of essentials to keep on hand, including first-aid kits, medications, and enough food and water for three days.

People are also encouraged to prepare psychologically, and rehearsing survival plans has been found to be especially useful with children. And emergency management agencies and community groups provide guidance for those with a disability, non-English speakers, and people with pets and other domestic animals.

Still, information does not always guarantee preparation. Our research surveyed bushfire-hit residents in East Gippsland following the Black Summer fires. We found people new to an area were less likely to be prepared or understand how to respond to risks.

They were also more likely to have unrealistic expectations about how long and demanding the recovery process was. Some people from non-English speaking backgrounds were isolated within their communities and did not know where to access information.

Burnt road sign & bushland
Black summer bushfires burnt more than 1.5 million hectares and destroyed more 300 homes in Victoria. Shutterstock

Owning Your Risk

Our Risk Ownership Framework allows communities and the public and private sector to unpack the complex connections of shared risk ownership. We explore the questions “who owns a risk?” and “how do they own it?”

We learned that if one area is unable to manage their risk, then it can increase or transfer to another person or entity.

For example, a homeowner may be responsible for home and contents insurance, while a community is responsible for maintaining social connectivity. Likewise, local government may own and maintain flood levees, while state government regulates the planning for them.

We also explored the concept of “unowned” risks – where roles and responsibilities in disasters are unallocated or unfulfilled. These can impact important community values such as liveability, local businesses (such as tourism) and natural resources.

Unowned risks raises difficult questions such as:

  • will the forests and wildlife recover and if so, how long will this take?

  • will displaced residents return to their communities, or will housing availability and affordability force them out?

  • will communities, such as Lismore, remain viable in the face of future disasters under climate change?

These questions often get passed over in favour of more immediate needs.

The escalation and breadth of disasters these last two years has left communities with barely enough time to recover before the next one arrives. We need to start negotiating how to prepare for the unexpected and what follows.

The mantra of community resilience and empowerment is now a central narrative, but recent events show there’s a pivotal role for government that cannot be neglected if we’re to survive future disasters.

We need a national conversation on what risk ownership for disaster means – personally and politically. The Conversation

Celeste Young, Collaborative Research Fellow, Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities (ISILC), Victoria University and Roger Jones, Professorial Research Fellow, Victoria University

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

World-Class Herbarium Unveiled

By STEPHANIE BEDO, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
April 6, 2022
The new National Herbarium of New South Wales and its collection of over 1 million plant specimens has begun an exciting new era at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan in Western Sydney after being officially opened by the State Government.

To safeguard the growing collection, which also includes a significant amount of historical plant specimens collected in 1770, the State Government supported the construction of the new state-of-the-art Herbarium facility with a $60 million investment in 2018.

Previously located at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney for almost 170 years, the new Herbarium now joins the award-winning Australian PlantBank and extensive Living Collection of native plants at Mount Annan.

Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Chief Executive Denise Ora said it was fitting the Herbarium was opened on the one year anniversary of the Australian Institute of Botanical Science.

"This flagship campus of the Institute here at Mount Annan is key to ensuring it is one of the nation’s premier botanical research organisations, contributing to conservation, education and research on a global scale," she said.

With more than 8000 new plant specimens being added to the collection every year, the world-renowned collection underpins vital scientific research and is essential for informing decisions about the conservation of our natural environment.

Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes said the new Herbarium held one of the most significant and precious botanical resources in the Southern Hemisphere.

“This world class facility will play a crucial role in discovering, understanding and protecting specimens for future generations and reinforce the Australian Institute of Botanical Science as a global plant science leader,” Mr Stokes said.

Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Chief Executive Denise Ora, Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres and Member for Camden Peter Sidgreaves.

In the midst of climate change, habitat loss and the extinction crisis, Australian scientists are more motivated than ever to ensure plant species are conserved, which is vital to all life that depends on them - ROB STOKES, MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, CITIES AND ACTIVE TRANSPORT

A key feature of the facility are the six protective vaults with precisely controlled environmental conditions, which are assisted by the building’s elegant, long span “fly-roof” to shield the precious collection from bushfires and extreme weather conditions.
Over 100 leading scientists, researchers and staff will now be based at the ‘green’ facility which boasts sustainability benefits, from a large photovoltaic array on the roof that will generate electricity for the facility within and rainwater harvesting technology for irrigation.
The project has generated over 350 jobs for local New South Wales residents, with expectations to create more as the science hub continues to expand and gives the region an added boost to its to economy with plans to host public programs, helping to carve a new identity for South-West Sydney.

Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said the National Herbarium of New South Wales would become an important cultural and scientific asset and safeguard the Australian Institute of Botanical Science’s growing collection of important plant specimens.

“It is fitting that this world-class facility has found a new home in the growing Western Parkland City, made possible through a commitment of $60 million from the NSW Government as part of the Western Sydney City Deal (WSCD),” Mr Ayres said.

“This has brought an important cultural and scientific attraction to the west."

Dharawal man Uncle Ivan performs the Smoking Ceremony at the Herbarium.

Member for Camden Peter Sidgreaves said he was proud to welcome the Herbarium to Sydney’s south-west.

 As part of the monumental move to the new facility, the largest herbarium imaging project in the southern hemisphere took place to capture each specimen as a high-resolution image to create a new tech-enabled era of management which helps to reduce the physical handling of the fragile specimens and provide unlimited access to scientists, across the globe that will allow faster and more extensive research outcomes.

Find out more
To discover more information about the Herbarium or access its collection, visit the website.
Dr Brett Summerall, Chief Botanist Australian Institute of Botanical Science explains some of the work undertaken at the Herbarium

Australia Has A Critical Role In Tackling Climate Change

April 5, 2022
The world has every chance to cut emissions deeply and Australia is critical to the global effort, say leading authors from The Australian National University (ANU) of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report on climate change mitigation.  

The report, which is the world's definitive stocktake on climate change action, makes clear that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is increasing around the globe. All governments endorse the report's key findings.

Professor Frank Jotzo, Distinguished Professor Xuemei Bai and Professor Mark Howden are among 10 Australians who have been involved in leading roles.

Professor Jotzo, a lead author on the report and based at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, said there were "clear lessons for Australia".

"This report shows strong climate action can keep global warming below two degrees," Professor Jotzo said.  "The IPCC assessment finds that the world's emissions could be cut in half by 2030 at affordable costs if action is taken right across the board.

"The energy and land sectors are key, while industry, transport, buildings and shifts in consumption habits are also key parts of the puzzle. It means rapid reductions in demand for fossil fuels, especially coal.

"The opportunities to cut emissions cost-effectively have increased dramatically in recent years, as a result of climate policies already in place and cheaper clean technologies. There is greater urgency to act, but also greater options to do so.

"We have the tools to guide and incentivise climate action. This includes regulation, carbon pricing and other instruments including various ways to support low emissions technologies.

"All of these are effective, they work in tandem, and practical experience has shown how they can be economically efficient. Through clever climate policy design, adverse effects on low-income earners can be avoided.

"Getting on a net zero emissions trajectory can even benefit sustainable development, which is key for developing countries. Cutting emissions goes hand-in-hand with other benefits to society."

According to Professor Jotzo, there are options to cut emissions across all sectors in Australia and this would have major benefit for both the nation's and the global economy.

Lead author Distinguished Professor Xuemei Bai, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, said the latest IPCC report also had important lessons for climate action in Australia's cities and urban centres.

"Cities are critical in combatting climate change," Professor Bai said.  "Cities and urban areas already generate about 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, with wealthy cities having the highest per capita emissions.

"Continuing rapid urbanisation across the globe could mean an extra 226 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 if we are to provide the same per capita level of infrastructure to everyone as those living in today's developed country cities and in a 'business as usual' way.

"Cities are complex systems with intrinsically linked elements and processes. This means our greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets need to work with broader social, economic, environmental and human wellbeing.

"When it comes to climate mitigation in our cities we need an 'all hands on deck' approach, recognising the role of local governments, but also engaging other stakeholders including businesses and citizens.

"All of us can work together to decarbonise energy provision in cities, shift to low carbon transportation, adopt sustainable, healthy and low greenhouse gas emission diets, and reduce waste generation."

Professor Mark Howden, IPCC Working Group 2 Vice Chair and Director of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, said the latest IPCC report rounds out the key information needed to make informed, rapid and large changes.

"The IPCC climate science and the impacts and adaptation assessments show observed climate changes are unequivocally being driven by human activity," Professor Howden said.

"The impacts of these changes are happening on every continent, every island, every ocean and every sector of our economy. These impacts are overall net negative even allowing for adaptation responses.

"Importantly, the higher the future greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the scale and cost of climate impacts and the less effective adaptation responses are.

"This most recent IPCC report on emission-reduction shows that we have the technology and governance options to cost-effectively reduce our emissions at the required scale and speed. It is even clearer than before that taking strong action on climate change is much less costly than inaction."  

Distinguished Professor Xuemei Bai. Photo: ANU

On top of drastic emissions cuts, IPCC finds large-scale CO₂ removal from air will be “essential” to meeting targets

Sam WengerUniversity of Sydney and Deanna D'AlessandroUniversity of Sydney

Large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods is now “unavoidable” if the world is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, according to this week’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, released on Monday, finds that in addition to rapid and deep reductions in greenhouse emissions, CO₂ removal is “an essential element of scenarios that limit warming to 1.5℃ or likely below 2℃ by 2100”.

CDR refers to a suite of activities that lower the concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere. This is done by removing CO₂ molecules and storing the carbon in plants, trees, soil, geological reservoirs, ocean reservoirs or products derived from CO₂.

As the IPCC notes, each mechanism is complex, and has advantages and pitfalls. Much work is needed to ensure CDR projects are rolled out responsibly.

How Does CDR Work?

CDR is distinct from “carbon capture”, which involves catching CO₂ at the source, such as a coal-fired power plant or steel mill, before it reaches the atmosphere.

There are several ways to remove CO₂ from the air. They include:

  • terrestrial solutions, such as planting trees and adopting regenerative soil practices, such as low or no-till agriculture and cover cropping, which limit soil disturbances that can oxidise soil carbon and release CO₂.

  • geochemical approaches that store CO₂ as a solid mineral carbonate in rocks. In a process known as “enhanced mineral weathering”, rocks such as limestone and olivine can be finely ground to increase their surface area and enhance a naturally occurring process whereby minerals rich in calcium and magnesium react with CO₂ to form a stable mineral carbonate.

  • chemical solutions such as direct air capture that use engineered filters to remove CO₂ molecules from air. The captured CO₂ can then be injected deep underground into saline aquifers and basaltic rock formations for durable sequestration.

  • ocean-based solutions, such as enhanced alkalinity. This involves directly adding alkaline materials to the environment, or electrochemically processing seawater. But these methods need to be further researched before being deployed.

Where Is It Being Used Right Now?

To date, US-based company Charm Industrial has delivered 5,000 tonnes of CDR, which is the the largest volume thus far. This is equivalent to the emissions produced by about 1,000 cars in a year.

There are also several plans for larger-scale direct air capture facilities. In September, 2021, Climeworks opened a facility in Iceland with a 4,000 tonne per annum capacity for CO₂ removal. And in the US, the Biden Administration has allocated US$3.5 billion to build four separate direct air capture hubs, each with the capacity to remove at least one million tonnes of CO₂ per year.

However, a previous IPCC report estimated that to limit global warming to 1.5℃, between 100 billion and one trillion tonnes of CO₂ must be removed from the atmosphere this century. So while these projects represent a massive scale-up, they are still a drop in the ocean compared with what is required.

In Australia, Southern Green Gas and Corporate Carbon are developing one of the country’s first direct air capture projects. This is being done in conjunction with University of Sydney researchers, ourselves included.

In this system, fans push atmospheric air over finely tuned filters made from molecular adsorbents, which can remove CO₂ molecules from the air. The captured CO₂ can then be injected deep underground, where it can remain for thousands of years.


It is important to stress CDR is not a replacement for emissions reductions. However, it can supplement these efforts. The IPCC has outlined three ways this might be done.

In the short term, CDR could help reduce net CO₂ emissions. This is crucial if we are to limit warming below critical temperature thresholds.

In the medium term, it could help balance out emissions from sectors such as agriculture, aviation, shipping and industrial manufacturing, where straightforward zero-emission alternatives don’t yet exist.

In the long term, CDR could potentially remove large amounts of historical emissions, stabilising atmospheric CO₂ and eventually bringing it back down to pre-industrial levels.

The IPCC’s latest report has estimated the technological readiness levels, costs, scale-up potential, risk and impacts, co-benefits and trade-offs for 12 different forms of CDR. This provides an updated perspective on several forms of CDR that were lesser explored in previous reports.

It estimates each tonne of CO₂ retrieved through direct air capture will cost US$84–386, and that there is the feasible potential to remove between 5 billion and 40 billion tonnes annually.

Concerns And Challenges

Each CDR method is complex and unique, and no solution is perfect. As deployment grows, a number of concerns must be addressed.

First, the IPCC notes scaling up CDR must not detract from efforts to dramatically reduce emissions. They write that “CDR cannot serve as a substitute for deep emissions reductions but can fulfil multiple complementary roles”.

If not done properly, CDR projects could potentially compete with agriculture for land or introduce non-native plants and trees. As the IPCC notes, care must be taken to ensure the technology does not negatively affect biodiversity, land-use or food security.

The IPCC also notes some CDR methods are energy-intensive, or could consume renewable energy needed to decarbonise other activities.

It expressed concern CDR might also exacerbate water scarcity and make Earth reflect less sunlight, such as in cases of large-scale reforestation.

An established forest is seen in the background, with smaller newly-planted trees in the front
Forestry projects at high latitudes or in regions with high reflectivity can cover light-colored surfaces, and increase infrared radiation and warming. Shutterstock

Given the portfolio of required solutions, each form of CDR might work best in different locations. So being thoughtful about placement can ensure crops and trees are planted where they won’t dramatically alter the Earth’s reflectivity, or use too much water.

Direct air capture systems can be placed in remote locations that have easy access to off-grid renewable energy, and where they won’t compete with agriculture or forests.

Finally, deploying long-duration CDR solutions can be quite expensive – far more so than short-duration solutions such as planting trees and altering soil. This has hampered CDR’s commercial viability thus far.

But costs are likely to decline, as they have for many other technologies including solar, wind and lithium-ion batteries. The trajectory at which CDR costs decline will vary between the technologies.

Future Efforts

Looking forward, the IPCC recommends accelerated research, development and demonstration, and targeted incentives to increase the scale of CDR projects. It also emphasises the need for improved measurement, reporting and verification methods for carbon storage.

More work is needed to ensure CDR projects are deployed responsibly. CDR deployment must involve communities, policymakers, scientists and entrepreneurs to ensure it’s done in an environmentally, ethically and socially responsible way.The Conversation

Sam Wenger, PhD Student, University of Sydney and Deanna D'Alessandro, Professor & ARC Future Fellow, University of Sydney

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

Time’s up: why Australia has to quit stalling and wean itself off fossil fuels

John QuigginThe University of Queensland

If the world acts now, we can avoid the worst outcomes of climate change without any significant effect on standards of living. That’s a key message from the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The key phrase here is “acts now”. Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC working group behind the report, said it’s “now or never” to keep global warming to 1.5℃. Action means cutting emissions from fossil fuel use rapidly and hard. Global emissions must peak within three years to have any chance of keeping warming below 1.5℃.

Unfortunately, Australia is not behaving as if the largest issue facing us is urgent – in fact, we’re doubling down on fossil fuels.

In recent years, Australia overtook Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). We’re still the second-largest exporter of thermal coal, and the largest for metallurgical coal.

Time’s up, Australia. We have to talk about weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and exporting our wealth of clean alternatives.

LNG carrier
Australia’s LNG exports have soared even as climate change has intensified. Shutterstock

Why Can’t Australia Keep Selling Fossil Fuels During The Transition?

You might think: “Sure, Australia needs to transition. But it will take decades for the world to rid itself of fossil fuels. Why can’t we keep selling gas and coal in the meantime?”

Because we’re out of time. As the report states, “if existing fossil fuel infrastructure … continue to be operated as historically, they would entail CO₂ emissions exceeding the carbon budget for 1.5°℃”.

And US climatologist Michael Mann recently pointed out, if you were going to pick the worst continent to live on as the climate changes, it would be Australia. We are “a poster child for what the rest of the world will be dealing with,” he said.

Urgent action is needed to avoid the devastation and vast expense of unchecked climate change, recently estimated at close to 40% of global GDP by 2100.

We need to accelerate the shift, with much faster greening of electricity supply, electrification of transport, improvement of industrial processes and management of land use and food production. Luckily, the technologies needed to achieve this goal have already been developed and are mostly already competitive with carbon-emitting alternatives.

The economic costs of the transition would be marginal. The required investment in clean energy would be around 2.5% of GDP. That’s far less than the costs of allowing global heating to continue, with costs further offset by clean energy’s zero fuel costs and lower operating costs.

What Are Australia’s Prospects For Weaning Off The Fossil Fuel Teat?

Are we seeing signs of the urgency of the situation? If you look at the election platforms of Australia’s major political parties, we are still falling far short.

After nine years in office, the Liberal government has reluctantly set a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, but has offered little more than wishful thinking as a policy response.

Last week’s budget projected funding cuts of as much as 35% for Australia’s clean energy finance and renewable energy initiatives.

By far the biggest shortcoming is the failure to plan for the transition. Despite calls for coal and gas workers to be given an honest assessment of their position, both Liberal and Labor sustain the illusion that coal and gas have a long-term future.

Labor has put forward worthwhile initiatives such as the Rewiring the Nation program aimed at supporting private investment to modernise the grid and make it ready for high levels of renewable energy.

But the opposition’s main concern has been to avoid any policy that leaves it open to attack from the Coalition and the Murdoch press. You can see this in Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s repeated declaration that “the climate wars are over”.

That means, in 2022, we are facing an election campaign in which neither major party has put up serious ideas to cut emissions. There’s no mention of a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme, no real action on land clearing, and no expansion of the government’s safeguard mechanism, meant to provide incentives for large industries to cut emissions relative to a baseline.

Coal mining truck
Australia’s coal and gas workers want clarity about their industry’s future. Shutterstock

Lagging On Transport

The plunging cost of renewable energy is one of the bright spots in the fight against climate change. Cost alone is driving out coal and gas from the power sector.

The pace of transition is much slower in areas such as transport, which the IPCC report notes had excellent prospects of cutting emissions.

“Electric vehicles powered by low-emissions electricity offer the largest decarbonisation potential for land-based transport,” the report says.

In Australia, our failures on transport are palpable. To reach net zero by 2050, we have to move to an all-electric vehicle fleet. Given cars last 20 years on average, almost all new vehicles must be electric by 2030.

By contrast to almost all developed countries, Australia doesn’t have a fuel efficiency target, or plans to end new sales of petrol vehicles. The government has no proposal to address this, while Labor offers a minor tax concession on electric vehicles and a fuel efficiency information website.

Bizarrely, these baby steps sit in stark contrast to the bipartisan rush to shield petrol users from rising prices in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Electric car charging
Electric vehicles offer the best way to get fossil fuels out of transport, the report says. Shutterstock

We’ve Stalled Long Enough

We’ve run out of time to deal with the problem of global heating. We cannot afford another three years of inaction.

What would it look like if Australia’s next government realises the urgency? It would begin by ending all new investment in fossil fuel production and electricity generation, as well as fossil-fuel reliant industrial plants such as blast furnaces for steel mills. It would accelerate investment in carbon-free replacements, and create pathways for fossil fuel workers to work in the green economy.

And our leaders would talk openly and clearly about the huge threat climate change poses to all of us here, and the benefits we stand to gain by quitting fossil fuels. We would go from laggards to leaders. Imagine that.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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

IPCC says the tools to stop catastrophic climate change are in our hands. Here’s how to use them

Frank JotzoAustralian National UniversityAnnette CowieUniversity of New EnglandJake WhiteheadThe University of Queensland, and Peter NewmanCurtin University

Humanity still has time to arrest catastrophic global warming – and has the tools to do so quickly and cheaply, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found.

The latest IPCC assessment report, the world’s definitive stocktake of action to minimise climate change, shows a viable path to halving global emissions by 2030.

This outlook is much more favourable than in earlier assessments, made possible by tremendous reductions in the cost of clean energy technologies. But broad policy action is needed to make steep emissions reductions happen.

We each contributed expertise to the report. In this article, we highlight how the world can best reduce emissions this decade and discuss the potential implications for Australia.

letters on blocks reading climate change/chance
Humanity still has time to arrest catastrophic global warming. Shutterstock

All-In, Right Now

  • Frank Jotzo, lead author on policies and institutions

The IPCC identifies clean electricity and agriculture/forestry/land use as the sectors where the greatest emissions reductions can be achieved, followed by industry and transport.

Further low-emissions opportunities exist in other areas of production, buildings and the urban sector, as well as shifts in consumer demand. Overall, half the options to cut emissions by 50% cost less than US$20 a tonne.

While the IPCC does not provide a country-level assessment, it is clear Australia has all these opportunities.

The transition to zero-emissions electricity is well underway. Decarbonising industry and transport is a next step. Emerging technologies such as green steel and hydrogen offer Australia new, clean export industries. Fossil fuel use in turn is destined to fall, with coal dropping off particularly quickly.

And Australia’s large land mass provides massive opportunities to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere through plants – and in future, perhaps also through chemical methods.

The IPCC says comprehensive policy packages are needed to make deep emissions cuts happen.

It finds carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes have been effective, alongside targeted regulation and other instruments – such as support for research and development, uptake of advanced technologies and removing fossil fuel subsidies.

The report also emphasises the need for continued technological innovation, and to greatly scale up finance for climate action.

It puts weight on the importance of equity, sustainable development and comprehensive engagement across society to avert unmanageable climate change.

That requires climate action to take centre stage in society, involving all manner of groups. Independent institutions such as Australia’s Climate Change Authority have a strong role to play, and business should be actively involved.

So what’s the IPCC’s overriding message? The world’s governments must go all-in on addressing climate change. The opportunities are there and the toolkit is ready.

industrial scene at sunset
Comprehensive policy is needed to produce deep emissions cuts. J. David Ake/AP

Food For Thought

  • Annette Cowie, lead author on cross-sectoral perspectives

To have our best shot at holding warming to 1.5℃, the world must hit net-zero emissions by mid-century.

Agriculture is a big contributor to global emissions. But the IPCC confirms the land also has a central role in getting to net-zero through measures that remove CO₂ from the atmosphere and store it, such as tree planting, soil carbon management and the use of biochar.

Benefits returned to farmers include improved soil fertility and income from carbon trading.

The way we produce and distribute food accounts for more than one-third of global emissions.

The report says one of the biggest individual contributions we can make to reducing emissions is adopting a sustainable, healthy diet and reducing food waste. Such a diet is rich in plant-based food, with moderate intake of meat and dairy.

We can also tackle direct emissions from food production. Manure can be made into biogas and feed additives offer promising ways to reduce livestock methane.

hand holding biochar
Biochar offers a way to store carbon and improve the soil. Shutterstock

Moving The Dial On Transport

  • Peter Newman, coordinating lead author on transport

  • Jake Whitehead, lead author on transport

A set of technological solutions now exist to reduce emissions across energy, buildings, cities, transport and to a large extent, industry.

They include solar and wind-based power – now the cheapest form of electricity. They also include batteries and storage, electrified transport and “smart” technology that integrates these measures into zero-emissions solutions.

The IPCC report shows in the past decade, unit costs for solar have fallen by 85%, wind by 55% and batteries by 85%. Never before has the world had such an opportunity to decarbonise.

In recent decades, transport has been the laggard in emissions reduction. But, as the IPCC finds, technologies now exist to change the trajectory. Solar-powered electrification is rolling out for cars, bikes, scooters, buses and trucks.

Continuing advances in battery and charging technologies could enable the electrification of long-haul trucks, including electrified highways.

The IPCC assessed 60 actions individuals can take to reduce emissions. The largest contributions come from walking and cycling, using electrified transport, reducing air travel, as well as shifting towards plant-based diets.

This highlights how our individual choices matter.

Technology alone is not enough to reduce transport emissions. Cities must become more oriented toward public transport, walking and cycling. Effective new ways of doing this include on-demand shuttlestrackless trams and high speed rail.

Governments should provide incentives to supply and use electric scooters, bikes, cars, trucks and buses. This would ensure individuals and businesses who want to reduce their emissions have ways to do so.

The IPCC says cheap green hydrogen will be important to decarbonise aviation, shipping and parts of industry and agriculture. Much work is required in the next decade to bring this solution to fruition.

While government funding is vital to decarbonise transport, this transition also presents significant economic opportunities.

Australia could support transport decarbonisation globally through the mining of critical minerals, as well as the manufacturingreuse and recycling of electric vehicles.

people cycling and walking
Cities must pivot toward public transport, walking and cycling. Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AAP

It’s Time To Act

Huge untapped potential exists to reduce global emissions quickly.

But the window of opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels is closing at an alarming rate. As the IPCC shows, fundamental change to both production and demand is required.

Clearly, business-as-usual is no longer tenable. The IPCC makes one thing patently evident: the time for action is well and truly upon us.

Arunima Malik, Glen Peters, Jacqueline Peel, Thomas Wiedmann and Xuemei Bai contributed to this article. See part one of the article here.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy and Head of Energy, Institute for Climate Energy and Disaster Solutions, Australian National UniversityAnnette Cowie, Adjunct Professor, University of New EnglandJake Whitehead, E-Mobility Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, and Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University

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

IPCC finds the world has its best chance yet to slash emissions – if it seizes the opportunity

Thomas WiedmannUNSW SydneyArunima MalikUniversity of SydneyGlen PetersCenter for International Climate and Environment Research - OsloJacqueline PeelThe University of Melbourne, and Xuemei BaiAustralian National University

The world has its best chance yet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly, but hard and fast cuts are needed across all sectors and nations to hold warming to safe levels, the global authority on climate change says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today, says opportunities to affordably cut global emissions have risen sharply since the last assessment of this kind in 2014. But the need to act has also become far more urgent.

The report is the definitive assessment of how well the world is doing in finding solutions to rising temperatures. We each contributed expertise to the report.

Here, we explain key aspects of the findings and what it means for the world, including Australia.

solar farm in rural setting
Opportunities to affordably cut global emissions have greatly increased. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Earth Remains On Red Alert

  • Glen Peters, lead author on mitigation pathways compatible with long-term goals

The report finds the world has made progress on emissions reduction over the last decade. Growth in greenhouse gas emissions slowed to 1.3% per year in the 2010s, compared to 2.1% in the 2000s.

But global emissions remain at record highs. If policy ambition does not ramp up immediately, warming will shoot past 1.5℃ and be well on the way to 2℃ – failing to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

Alarmingly, the world’s current policies put us on track for global warming of between 2.2℃ and 3.5℃ within 80 years. It’s far better than the 4℃ or more feared about a decade ago, but still far from consistent with the Paris Agreement.

To have a 50% chance of keeping global warming to 1.5℃ by century’s end, global CO₂ emissions must halve in a decade, reach net zero in the 2050s and go net negative thereafter.

Methane emissions would also have to halve by 2050 in these scenarios.

Halving global emissions by 2030 is viable and achievable, the IPCC says. But it requires an immediate step change in climate policy across all sectors, countries and levels of government.

Rich nations must make the most rapid emissions reductions. This includes Australia, where a plan for net zero emissions by 2050 falls short of the ambition needed and is not yet backed by policy.

man between two TV screens displaying men's faces
Rich nations must take the greatest climate action. EPA

More Than Technology

  • Tommy Wiedmann, lead author on emissions trends and drivers

The report is a comprehensive catalogue of what can be done – but has mostly not yet been done – to avert devastating climate change.

Some trends are encouraging. Some 36 countries have successfully cut greenhouse gas emissions over more than a decade.

And opportunities to cut emissions affordably and cheaply have multiplied enormously since 2014, the report finds.

This is largely due to the plunging costs of renewables, which promises emissions reduction beyond the energy sector in areas such as manufacturing and heavy transport. We expand on the options here.

But change is not coming fast enough. The report confirms all energy efficiency gains in the last decade have been more than outpaced by economic and population growth.

Technology is not a silver bullet. To have a chance of halving global emissions by 2030, we must use fewer high-carbon products and adopt less emissions-intensive lifestyles. Like all other changes required, these cannot be incremental, the IPCC says.

Australia is blessed with a bounty of renewable energy resources. Used wisely, it could slash domestic emissions and help reduce other countries’ emissions, in the form of zero-emissions energy exports.

ship at dock with cranes
Australia can capitalise on zero-emissions energy exports. Pictured: a ship which is part of a hydrogen pilot project between Australia and Japan. AP

No-One Gets Left Behind

  • Arunima Malik, lead author on introduction and framing

In 2016, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – an action plan for people, planet and prosperity – came into effect.

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations. And as the latest IPCC report emphasises, it cannot be achieved without effective climate action.

One Sustainable Development Goal explicitly focuses on tackling climate change. But climate action is linked to all other goals, including those relating to energy, cities, industry, land, water and people.

Emissions reduction policies must be inclusive and avoid unintended consequences such as exacerbating existing poverty and hunger. The transition to a low-carbon world should be equitable and leave no-one behind.

The IPCC report calls for both accelerated climate action and a just transition. This requires well-designed policies at all levels of government, and across all sectors. International co-operation is key.

woman looks at phone, man looks on
Sustainable development must treat all people equitably. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Is The Paris Agreement Working?

  • Jacqueline Peel, lead author on international cooperation

This report is the first to assess the Paris Agreement, which took effect from 2020. Under the agreement, countries submit and update pledges on emissions reduction and adapting to the changing climate.

For these pledges to be achieved globally, high-income countries must help other nations by providing finance, access to clean energy technologies, and other assistance and know-how.

The IPCC identified a shortfall in global climate finance. In particular, high-income countries missed their 2020 target to mobilise $US100 billion per year.

The Paris Agreement is a treaty but the pledges are voluntary. Countries set their own targets and can’t be forced to meet them. So, is it working?

According to this new report, it largely is – albeit slowly. For instance, it has encouraged nations such as Australia to make more ambitious emissions pledges.

It has also enhanced transparency, enabling outside groups, such as those in civil society, to assess countries’ progress.

Other international mechanisms, such as global business partnerships and youth climate protests, are also driving change.

But more must be done to halve emissions this decade.

School strikes are giving momentum to climate action. Julian MeehanCC BY-SA

Cities Are Central

  • Xuemei Bai, lead author on urban systems and other settlements

The IPCC report found around 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced in cities and urban areas. This offers both challenges and opportunities for emissions reduction.

To date, more than 1,000 cities worldwide have signed up to net-zero emission goals, including many in Australia.

To fulfil the Paris Agreement, more cities must step up and work towards goals such as 100% renewable energy, zero-carbon transport, decarbonising construction and improving waste management.

Developing countries are rapidly urbanising, which requires new housing and infrastructure. But doing so in a business-as-usual way could lead to substantial new emissions, the IPCC warns.

City leaders must embrace integrated planning and management to meet the climate challenge. This must be achieved while cities continue their important roles in maintaining social, economic and environmental well-being.

We need all hands on deck: businesses, communities, researchers and citizens.

Hotel with plants down face
We need greener cities with lower emissions. Shutterstock

Seize The Opportunity

This latest report shows how the choices we make now will determine the fate of generations to come – and all life on this planet.

Humanity has already missed so many opportunities to stabilise Earth’s climate. We now have the chance to right some of those past wrongs.

Only an urgent, concerted effort across all sectors and nations, starting today, will deliver the change needed.

Annette Cowie, Frank Jotzo, Jake Whitehead and Peter Newman contributed to this article. See part two of the article here.The Conversation

Thomas Wiedmann, Professor of Sustainability Research, UNSW SydneyArunima Malik, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability, University of SydneyGlen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research - OsloJacqueline Peel, Director, Melbourne Climate Futures, The University of Melbourne, and Xuemei Bai, Distinguished Professor, Australian National University

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

The Morrison government’s $50 million gas handout undermines climate targets and does nothing to improve energy security

Samantha HepburnDeakin University

Tuesday night’s federal budget confirmed the Morrison government will spend A$50.3 million on gas projects in the Northern Territory, South Australia and the east coast.

This decision, it says, will support the completion of seven new “priority” gas projects. Energy Minister Angus Taylor says the government strongly backs natural gas and accused the opposition of being “willing to risk Australia’s energy security and investment in regional Australia to appease gas activists.”

However, the development of new fossil fuel projects is completely inconsistent with the broader goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 – and will not improve energy security.

Gas Extraction Drives Climate Change And Extreme Weather

Gas is a fossil fuel and a greenhouse gas. Emissions from the extraction, processing and export of gas contribute significantly to Australia’s carbon emissions.

Globally, there is growing recognition the energy sector must change. An International Energy Agency report last year made clear there can be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world is to have any chance of reaching net zero by 2050.

The methane found in natural gas is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Funding new gas projects undermines Australia’s efforts to achieve an already unambitious climate target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Failing our climate target would breach the global goals of the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels.

The consequences of global warming are catastrophic. Australia has had recent and profound experience of extreme climate events in the form of devastating bushfires and floods.

But What About Energy Security And Russian Gas?

The European Commission is phasing down two-thirds of Russian gas exports by the end of the year, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This will create a gas shortfall.

Russia supplies nearly 40% of the EU’s gas consumption via a fixed pipeline infrastructure.

To phase this supply out, the EU will this year require 500 terrawatt hours of additional imports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

This will be difficult. Global markets are tight and LNG tends to be sold on long-term contracts. Alleviating the EU shortfall will require record imports of LNG over the European spring and summer period and a rapid upgrade of gas infrastructure.

In a recent pact between Europe and the US, the EU will receive an additional 11 million tons of LNG by the end of 2022.

It’s unclear where this LNG will come from. Much may be sourced from non-contracted stock destined for Asia.

However it’s acquired, the price of LNG exports will continue to rise. Indeed, the delivered price for LNG in Northwest Europe rose 29% in a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his special military operation. And spot prices for LNG in Asia are trading at near record levels.

Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of LNG, with most going to China, Japan and South Korea.

Given the lock-in contracts, Australia has little existing capacity to assist the EU. Australian gas producers are, however, benefiting from the higher global prices for LNG exports caused by the EU shortfall.

Woodside, Santos and Oil Search have all registering significant gains in their share prices.

Complete Nonsense

Taylor says spending $50.3 million of public money for new gas projects will:

accelerate priority projects and ensure Australia does not experience the devastating impacts of a gas supply shortfall as seen in Europe.

This is complete nonsense.

Australia will never face a shortfall like Europe because it’s not import-dependent. We have plenty of gas.

The issue for Australia is regulating the export of gas to ensure a sufficient domestic supply.

If the federal government wanted to improve Australia’s energy security, it would force gas producers in the east coast market to reserve a percentage for domestic consumption.

And it would actually use the Australian Domestic Gas Security mechanism. The measure was introduced to ensure gas supplies meet forecast energy needs, but has never been triggered.

An Uncertain Future

Funding seven gas priority projects is also inconsistent with the conclusions of the 2022 Gas Statement of Opportunities, recently released by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

This statement argues the future path for the gas sector in Australia is uncertain because the pace and impact of a transforming energy sector upon the gas system remains unclear.

In the short term, this statement suggests funding new infrastructure will not alleviate domestic supply concerns because it won’t be running in time.

In the longer term, the statement forecasts a gradual decline in domestic gas demand as consumers inevitably shift from gas to electricity or zero-emission fuels.

Contrary To Australia’s Climate Targets

Funding seven new fossil fuel projects is fundamentally contrary to Australia’s climate targets.

These projects will not improve Australia’s energy security or assist the EU with its supply difficulties.

Nor do they cohere with AEMO’s longer term conclusions about the future of the gas sector.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued gas projects are needed to generate new dispatchable electricity which can be ramped up quickly when needed, making new gas projects integral to a national pandemic recovery plan.

But Kerry Schott, the former head of the Energy Security Board, disagrees. She’s made it clear there is an abundance of cheaper, cleaner alternatives.

Schott is right. This is where public money should be directed – to projects that represent the future, not the polluting past.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

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

New research shows planting trees and shrubs brings woodland birds back to farms, from superb fairy wrens to spotted pardalotes

Rohan ClarkeAuthor provided
Andrew BennettLa Trobe UniversityAngie HaslemLa Trobe UniversityGreg HollandLa Trobe UniversityJim RadfordLa Trobe University, and Rohan ClarkeMonash University

Rural landscapes are changing in southern Australia. Thanks to landholders, community volunteers and Landcare groups, farms are increasingly home to corridors of trees and shrubs along creeks, and paddocks bordered by trees.

Our research, published today, shows these efforts to revegetate farmland has made an important difference for woodland birds.

We surveyed and compared bird communities in farm landscapes with differing amounts of tree cover. We found when the amount of revegetation in open farmland increased, the number of woodland bird species did, too. For example, an increase in revegetation from 1% to 10% of the landscape doubled the number of woodland bird species.

This is important, because populations of woodland birds have been steeply declining in southern Australia, with species such as the southern whiteface, brown treecreeper and white-browed babbler now of conservation concern. The collective efforts of landholders can help reverse these declines by attracting species back into otherwise-cleared farmland.

Patches of vegetation, such as shrubs along creeks, are important habitats in farmland. Shutterstock

Restoring Habitat For Woodland Birds

Look closely among native vegetation on farmland and you’ll find an array of birdlife, such as flame robins and superb fairy-wrens foraging for insects on the ground, and striated pardalotes and yellow thornbills feeding in canopy foliage.

Yet extensive habitat destruction, replaced by vast areas of intensive farmland, have caused the number of once-abundant woodland birds to decline greatly. Indeed, in many rural districts, such as in western and northern Victoria, more than 90% of native wooded vegetation has been cleared.

To help address this issue, the Morrison government last year announced an additional A$32.1 million for biodiversity stewardship on agricultural land.

A key activity under the stewardship scheme is revegetation. Our research clarifies how revegetation can help in the recovery of woodland birds.

Revegetating farms can help boost the number of bird species present. Rohan ClarkeAuthor provided

How Does Revegetation Benefit Birds?

Most research on the value of revegetation looks at individual “patches”. Our approach differed, as we sampled entire landscapes. Each landscape was 8 square kilometres in size, spanning one to three farms in south-western Victoria.

We identified three groups of landscapes, each having 1-18% tree cover. In one group, the tree cover was from revegetation. A second group comprised remnant native vegetation (natural vegetation that remains after the land was cleared). And a third had a mix of both revegetation and remnants.

We investigated important questions such as:

  1. does the number of woodland species increase if more of the landscape is revegetated?

  2. does revegetation attract new species back into the landscape, or simply provide more habitat for common species already present?

  3. is the bird community in revegetated landscapes similar to that in remnant landscapes?

In answer to the first two questions, we found the number of bird species in a landscape did increase with increasing wooded cover.

For example, in landscapes with only 1% revegetation cover, most birds were open-country species such as galah, red-rumped parrot and willie wagtail, with only 11 woodland species on average. On the other hand, landscapes with 15% revegetation cover had 25 woodland species, on average, as part of the bird community.

New Holland honeyeater. Rohan ClarkeAuthor provided

In response to the third question, we found that revegetated landscapes and those with remnant native vegetation don’t offer the same benefits. For a given amount of wooded vegetation, revegetated landscapes had fewer species in total and supported different types of woodland species.

For example, revegetation favours birds that forage in shrubby areas, such as the New Holland honeyeater and brown thornbill.

In contrast, those that depend on older trees were less likely to be found in revegetated landscapes. This includes the white-throated treecreeper and varied sitella which forage on tree trunks and large branches, and the spotted pardalote and white-naped honeyeater that feed within canopy foliage.

White throated treecreeper. Rohan ClarkeAuthor provided

Where Will Revegetation Be Most Effective?

Our research shows revegetation has greatest value when it’s interspersed among remnant vegetation.

These mixed landscapes have similar numbers and types of woodland birds to the remnant landscapes, and provide complementary resources for feeding, nesting and refuge.

We also found individual patches of revegetation have the greatest value for birds when they include a diverse range of trees and shrubs, are close to or connected with native vegetation, and are older (meaning the plants have had longer to grow).

Another valuable feature for birds is scattered trees. These veteran trees act as stepping stones that help birds move, and provide foraging and nesting habitat for species such as the brown treecreeper, laughing kookaburra and eastern rosella.

Scattered trees act as stepping stones between habitats for birds. Rohan ClarkAuthor provided

Working Together

These results are encouraging, but there’s a long way to go to restore farmland environments. At least 11 of the 60 woodland species recorded in the study weren’t detected in revegetated landscapes, such as sacred kingfisher and black-chinned honeyeater. Others, such as jacky winter and eastern yellow robin were rare.

Increasing wooded vegetation to cover at least 10-30% of farmland is an important long-term goal to ensure sufficient habitat to sustain healthy populations of many species.

Of course, it’s not just for woodland birds – revegetating farms has a number of benefits. Planting along creeks helps stabilise stream banks and improve aquatic environments, trees store more carbon as they grow and age, and tree lines (shelterbelts) and shade benefit livestock and farm production.

In this United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, the actions we take now will benefit the lives of future generations.The Conversation

Andrew Bennett, Professor of Ecology, La Trobe UniversityAngie Haslem, Research Fellow, La Trobe UniversityGreg Holland, Associate Research Fellow, La Trobe UniversityJim Radford, Principal Research Fellow, Research Centre for Future Landscapes, La Trobe University, and Rohan Clarke, Director, Monash Drone Discovery Platform, and Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Monash University

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

Climate change, mental health services, a better education system: what marginalised young people told us needs to be fixed

Peter KellyDeakin UniversityJames GoringDeakin University, and Seth BrownRMIT University

In youth policy and service delivery the idea of youth voice and participation is an uncontested “good thing”. But which youth voices? Who is heard and who is left out?

Our recent research in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs and in the Geelong region has grappled with this question.

We have interviewed more than 80 young people since the start of the pandemic, in an effort to better understand the concerns of many disengaged, marginalised and disadvantaged young people in these areas.

We wanted to find out:

  • what challenges have they faced?

  • why do some young people seem to be able to get a say, while others don’t?

  • how can these young people become active stakeholders in their own futures?

  • what might change these dynamics?

Crucially, we asked young people to share their views in a format they felt comfortable with – by speaking directly to their webcams or phone cameras. Common themes that emerged included:

  • the need for secure work now and in the future

  • the need for better mental health services

  • a sense of pressure around school

  • a sense of not being heard

  • concern about climate change and the future of the planet.

Young people in Geelong speak powerfully to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, and the toll it has taken on their well-being.

What We Did

Many of the young people we heard from live with health and well-being challenges, neuro-diversity, and disengagement from traditional education, training and employment pathways. Financial struggles were common.

We asked young people to speak directly to their communities, and to a wider audience by filming their contribution on their camera phone or on a webcam. This allowed for a more natural flow of ideas from our interviewees. We published many of the videos on YouTube and Instagram.

Our generous interviewees spoke openly about the connections between their health and well-being, and the hopes, aspirations and anxieties they feel about the future – around education, work, relationships, and the planet.

Young people in Geelong speak powerfully about their aspirations.

What Young People Told Us

Take, for example, Ruby, aged 16. She lives with her family in Geelong, is looking for work, and studies Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (an alternative to Year 11 and 12 at school) at her local TAFE. She told us:

[…] they kind of like just say, to people that have anxiety or depression, to like, ‘just breathe’. And I think for a lot of us that just doesn’t work. I think we just need some better listeners and I think we need some people who genuinely care.

Emilie, aged 24, lives in a sharehouse in Geelong. She studies social work and is uncertain about the future.

I want to be hopeful for the future, but honestly, I don’t know if I exactly am. In some ways, I feel that the government focuses on what the voters are gonna want to get them in for the next election.

Ruth, who was in Year 12 and living in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, spoke about her life and her hopes for the future:

Dickheads in politics – less of them please.

I’d like to be in a relationship with someone who makes me really happy. Who treats me in a really genuinely wonderful way. And who brings me joy. And maybe cake as well.

During 2020, Astrid, now 20 years old, was living in social housing in Fitzroy with her mum and her kitten. She faces a number of challenges due to her dyslexia. She told us:

I hope, my biggest hope is that they figure out how to deal with climate change. Oh, no, I take that back. They know how to deal with climate change. I hope that they do it.

I also hope that the people who are running the community make note of the fact that young people want more involvement in it. And a place where they feel that they can be themselves.

Young people in Geelong speak about their experiences and needs.

Why Do Some Young People Seem To Be On The Margins?

Too often, the youth voices highlighted in public discourse and media narratives are the well-heeled, often privately educated beneficiaries of a system that serves wealthy people well while excluding those living with poverty or disability.

In an essay titled Can the Subaltern Speak? Indian scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explores the legacies of colonialism in “postcolonial” states (such as India) and “settler colonies” (such as Australia), as well as the forms of disadvantage experienced by indigeneous peoples in these contexts.

The “subaltern” groups are those people facing often multiple forms of disadvantage, who are denied access to processes that shape their oppression. They have no voice.

Our discussion with these young, marginalised people harks back to these ideas, and calls for close consideration of what young people from the margins demand: “better listeners” among the adults who shape their lives, and a reason to hope for the future.

As young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg put it:

We can no longer let the people in power decide what hope is. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.The Conversation

Peter Kelly, Professor of Education, Deakin UniversityJames Goring, Research Fellow, Deakin University, and Seth Brown, Lecturer in Education, RMIT University

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

Do you toss biodegradable plastic in the compost bin? Here’s why it might not break down

Bronwyn LaycockThe University of QueenslandPaul LantThe University of Queensland, and Steven PrattThe University of Queensland

Over one-fifth of all plastic produced worldwide is tossed into uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or leaked into the environment. In Australia, 1.1 million tonnes of plastic is placed in the market, yet just 16% (179,000 tonnes) is recovered.

To deal with this mounting issue, the Morrison government last week announced A$60 million to fund plastic recycling technologies. The goal is to boost plastic packaging recycling from 16% to 70% by 2025.

It comes after 176 countries, including Australia, last month endorsed a United Nation’s resolution to establish a legally binding treaty by 2024 to end plastic pollution.

This is a good start – more effective recycling and recovery of plastics will go a long way to solve the problem.

But some plastics, particularly agricultural plastics and heavily contaminated packaging, will remain difficult to recycle despite these new efforts. These plastics will end up being burnt or in landfill, or worse, leaking into the environment.

“Biodegradable” plastic is often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative. But depending on the type of plastic, this label can be very misleading and can lead environmentally conscious consumers astray.

Shovelling backyard compost
Don’t expect everything labelled ‘biodegradable plastic’ to break down in your backyard compost bin. Shutterstock

What Are Biodegradable Plastics?

Biodegradable plastics are those that can completely break down in the environment, and are a source of carbon for microbes (such as bacteria).

These microbes degrade plastics into much smaller fragments before consuming them, which makes new biomass (cell growth), and releases water, carbon dioxide and, when oxygen is limited, methane.

However, this blanket description encompasses a wide range of products that biodegrade at very different rates and in different environments.

For example, some – such as the bacterially produced “polyhydroxyalkanoates”, used in, for instance, single-use cutlery – will fully biodegrade in natural environments such as seawater, soil and landfill within a few months to years.

Others, like polylactic acid used in coffee cup lids, require more engineered environments to break down, such as an industrial composting environment which has higher temperatures and is rich in microbes.

Some biodegradable plastics only break down in industrial compost facilities. Shutterstock

So while consumers may expect that “compostable” plastics will degrade quickly in their backyard compost bins, this may not be the case.

To add to this confusion, biodegradable plastics actually don’t have to be “bio-based”. This means they don’t have to be derived from renewable carbon sources such as plants.

Some, such as polycaprolactone used in controlled release drug delivery, are synthesised from petroleum-derived materials.

What’s more, bio-based plastics may not always be biodegradable. One example is polyethylene – the largest family of polymers produced globally, widely used in flexible film packaging such as plastic bags. It can be produced from ethanol that comes from cane sugar.

In all material respects, a plastic like this is identical to petroleum-derived polyethylene, including its inability to break down.

Confusion And Greenwashing

In 2018, we conducted a survey of 2,518 Australians, representative of the Australian population, with all demographics collected closely matching census data.

We found while there’s a lot of enthusiasm for biodegradable alternatives, there’s also a great deal of confusion over what constitutes a biodegradable plastic.

Consumers have also become increasingly concerned over the practice of “greenwashing” – marketing a product as biodegradable when, in reality, its rate of degradation and the environment in which it will decompose don’t match what the label implies.

So-called “oxo-degradable plastics” are an excellent example of why the issue is so complex and confusing. These plastics are commonly used in films, such as agricultural mulches, packaging and wrapping materials.

Chemically speaking, oxo-degradable plastics are often made from polyethylene or polypropylene, mixed with molecules that initiate degradation such as “metal stearates”.

These initiators cause these plastics to oxidise and break down under the influence of ultraviolet light, and/or heat and oxygen, eventually fragmenting into smaller pieces.

There is, however, some controversy surrounding their fate. Research indicates they can remain as microplastics for long periods, particularly if they’re buried or otherwise protected from the sun.

Indeed, evidence suggests oxo-degradable plastics aren’t suited for long-term reuse, recycling or even composting. For these reasons, oxo-degradable plastics have now been banned by the European Commission, through the European Single-Use Plastics Directive.

Plastic bags are often made from polyethylene, which can come from cane sugar. Shutterstock

We Need Better Standards And Labels

The new government funding for plastic recycling technologies targets waste that’s notoriously difficult to deal with, such as bread bags and chip packets.

However, this still leaves a substantial stream of waste that’s even more challenging to address. This includes agricultural waste dispersed in the environment such as mulch films, which can be difficult to collect for recycling.

Biodegradable and bio-based plastics have great potential to replace such problematic plastics. But, as they continue to gain market share, the confusion and complexity around biodegradable plastics must be addressed.

For starters, a better understanding of how they impact the environment is needed. It’s also crucial to align consumer expectations with those of manufacturers and producers, and to ensure these plastics are appropriately disposed of and managed at the end of their life.

This is what we’re investigating as part of a new training centre for bioplastics and biocomposites. Our goal over the next five years is to improve knowledge for developing better standards and regulations for certifying, labelling and marketing “green” plastic products.

And with that comes greater opportunity for better education so both plastic producers and people who throw them away really understand these materials. We should be familiar with their strengths, weaknesses and how to dispose of them so we can minimise the damage they inflict on the environment.The Conversation

Bronwyn Laycock, Professor of Chemical Engineering, The University of QueenslandPaul Lant, Professor of Chemical Engineering, The University of Queensland, and Steven Pratt, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland

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

Australia plans to be a big green hydrogen exporter to Asian markets – but they don’t need it

Andrew BlakersAustralian National University and Cheng ChengAustralian National University

In its latest budget, the federal government has promised hundreds of millions of dollars to expand Australia’s green hydrogen capabilities.

Green hydrogen is made by electrolysis of water, powered by solar and wind electricity, and it’s key to the government’s “technology not taxes” approach to meeting its climate target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The government aims to create a major green hydrogen export industry, particularly to Japan, for which Australia signed an export deal in January. But as our latest research suggests, the likely scale may well be overstated.

We show Japan has more than enough solar and wind energy to be self-sufficient in energy, and does not need to import either fossil fuels or Australian green hydrogen. Indeed, Australia as a “renewable energy superpower” is far from a sure thing.

Japan Has Plenty Of Sun And Wind

“Green” hydrogen could be used to generate electricity and also to form chemicals such as ammonia and synthetic jet fuel.

In the federal budget, hydrogen fuel is among the low-emissions technologies that will share over A$1 billion. This includes $300 million for producing clean hydrogen, along with liquefied natural gas, in Darwin.

Australia plans to be a top-three exporter of hydrogen to Asian markets by 2030. The idea is that green hydrogen will help replace Australia’s declining coal and gas exports as countries make good on their promises to bring national greenhouse gas emissions down to zero.

Underlying much of this discussion is the notion that crowded jurisdictions such as Japan and Europe have insufficient solar and wind resources of their own, which is wrong.

Our recent study investigated the future role of renewable energy in Japan, and we modelled a hypothetical scenario where Japan had a 100% renewable electricity system.

We found Japan has 14 times more solar and offshore wind energy potential than needed to supply all its current electricity demand.

Electrifying nearly everything – transport, heating, industry and aviation – doubles or triples demand for electricity, but this still leaves Japan with five to seven times more solar and offshore wind energy potential than it needs.

After building enough solar and wind farms, Japan can get rid of fossil fuel imports without increasing energy costs. This removes three quarters of its greenhouse gas emissions and eliminates the security risks of depending on foreign energy suppliers.

Japanese Energy Is Cheaper, Too

Our study comprised an hourly energy balance model, using representative demand data and 40 years of historical hourly solar and wind meteorological data.

We found that the levelized cost of electricity from an energy system in Japan dominated by solar and wind is US$86-110 (A$115-147) per megawatt hour. Levelized cost is the standard method of costing electricity generation over a generator’s lifetime.

This is similar to Japan’s 2020 average spot market prices (US$102 per megawatt hour) – and it’s about half the cost of electricity generated in Japan using imported green hydrogen from Australia.

So why is it much more expensive to produce electricity from imported Australian hydrogen, compared to local solar and wind?

Essentially, it’s because 70% of the energy is lost by converting Australian solar and wind energy into hydrogen compounds, shipping it to Japan, and converting the hydrogen back into electricity or into motive power in cars.

Thus, hydrogen as an energy source is unlikely to develop into a major export industry.

What about exporting sustainable chemicals? Hydrogen atoms are required to produce synthetic aviation fuel, ammonia, plastics and other chemicals.

The main elements needed for such products are hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, all of which are available everywhere in unlimited quantities from water and air. Japan can readily make its own sustainable chemicals rather than importing hydrogen or finished chemicals.

However, the Japanese cost advantage is smaller for sustainable chemicals than energy, and so there may be export opportunities here.

What About Other Countries?

While large-scale fossil fuel deposits are found in only a few countries, most countries have plenty of solar and/or wind. The future decarbonised world will have far less trade in energy, because most countries can harvest it from their own resources.

Solar and wind comprise three quarters of the new power stations installed around the world each year because they produce cheaper energy than fossil fuels. About 250 gigawatts per annum of solar and wind is being installed globally, doubling every three to four years

Densely populated coastal areas – including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and northern Europe – have vast offshore wind resources to complement onshore solar and wind.

What’s more, densely populated Indonesia has sufficient calm tropical seas to power the entire world using floating solar panels.

Will international markets need Australian energy for when the sun isn’t shining, nor the wind blowing? Probably not. Most countries have the resources to reliably and continuously meet energy demand without importing Australian products.

This is because most countries, including Japan (and, for that matter, Australia) have vast capacity for off-river pumped hydro, which can store energy to balance out solar and wind at times when they’re not available. Batteries and stronger internal transmission networks also help.

Australia’s Prospects

Getting rid of fossil fuels and electrifying nearly everything with renewables reduces greenhouse emissions by three quarters, and lowers the threat of extreme climate change. It eliminates security risks from relying on other countries for energy, as illustrated by Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

It will also bring down energy costs, and eliminates oil-related warfare, oil spills, cooling water use, open cut coal mines, ash dumps, coal mine fires, gas fracking and urban air pollution.

Australia’s coal and gas exports must decline to zero before mid-century to meet the global climate target, and solar and wind are doing most of the heavy lifting through renewable electrification of nearly everything.

But as our research makes clear, while Australian solar and wind is better than most, it may not be enough to overcome the extra costs and losses from exporting hydrogen for energy supply or chemical production.

One really large prospect for export of Australian renewable energy is export of iron, in which hydrogen produced from solar and wind might replace coking coal.

This allows Australia to export iron rather than iron ore. In this case the raw material (iron ore), solar and wind are all found in the same place: in the Pilbara.

While hydrogen will certainly be important in the future global clean economy, it will primarily be for chemicals rather than energy production. It’s important to keep perspective: electricity from solar and wind will continue to be far more important.The Conversation

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University and Cheng Cheng, Research Officer, Australian National University

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

Dolphins, turtles and birds don’t have to die in fishing gear – skilled fishers can avoid it

Leslie RobersonThe University of Queensland and Chris WilcoxCSIRO

In 1987, a biologist went undercover on a commercial tuna fishing vessel. One video he took made headlines around the world: hundreds of dolphins encircled in purse seine nets, drowning in distress.

Before that, few people had given much thought to bycatch – the fish and marine animals caught when trying to catch something else. It was out of sight, out of mind. But now, everyone could see the shocking footage.

In the decades since, some of the most confronting bycatch issues have been solved. Even so, bycatch remains one of the most difficult obstacles to making the world’s seafood more sustainable.

So if better nets and better rules aren’t the full answer, what is? Our new research suggests part of it is the human factor. The more skilled fishers are, the more likely they are to avoid accidental bycatch.

Dolphin stuck in net
Videos of dolphins like this one stuck in nets drew world attention to bycatch. Getty Images

We Need More Than Technology And Top-Down Solutions

So far, the solutions for bycatch have tended to be technical or regulatory. Think of modified fishing gear so non-target animals can escape, or closing high bycatch areas to fishing during certain seasons or when bycatch exceeds a threshold.

While they can work, these approaches are often expensive, especially for small or lower-value fisheries. They also require increased monitoring and enforcement to ensure fishing fleets follow the rules.

Top-down regulatory approaches are often met with stubborn resistance from fishers. Commercial fishing boat operators may feel they’re being targeted by experts who don’t understand the challenges they face.

Technology and regulation have so far failed to tackle the most challenging bycatch problems.

It’s proven very difficult, for instance, for trawlers to stop catching endangered sharks, rays and sea snakes at unsustainable rates – even though the same trawlers now sport clever turtle excluder devices which have slashed sea turtle deaths in northern Australia’s prawn fishery.

prawn trawler Australia
Australia’s prawn trawlers have adopted turtle excluding devices. Shutterstock

Or consider gillnets, which in Australia continue to catch and kill endangered sawfishdugongs, and sharks. When fishers change techniques to avoid catching one type of bycatch, they often find bycatch of other species increases.

Every now and again, bycatch will resurface in the public mind. You might see grotesque images of lovable sea animals mangled in nets spreading through social media channels as part of a new bycatch campaign.

Progress does exist – but it’s slow, expensive and risks pushback. The prevailing industry attitude is that bycatch should be reduced where possible, but some is inevitable.

How Boosting Fishers’ Skills Could Cut Bycatch Further

Many fisheries managers intuitively understand the importance of the human factor in managing environmental issues, such as bycatch. They know the vessels and captains in their fleet. And they know most compliance issues can usually be traced back to a small number of problem vessels.

We put these assumptions to the test in our new research into Australian fisheries, and found it was true.

We found a clear pattern across different locations and types of fishing gear, where specific fishers were able to maintain high target species catch with lower rates of bycatch. In short, skilled fishers can avoid catching dolphins, seabirds, sharks, and other bycatch species.

Bycatch shark
Sharks can still be caught as bycatch. Getty Images

It was surprisingly difficult to test the managers’ assumptions with data. So how did we show this?

It’s well known that fishing skill varies. As a result, some fishers and boats are consistently more profitable. If fishers have variable skill in catching their target species, it follows they would have variable skill at avoiding bycatch species.

The pattern of varying skill had never been tested against bycatch rates. In part, that’s because we need a lot of data to isolate individual behaviour and skill from many other factors affecting bycatch. For instance, fishers often link high bycatch numbers to environmental factors, such as specific fishing grounds or breeding seasons.

While these factors do affect bycatch levels, we were able to draw out the effect of individual vessels by using robust data sets collected by scientific observers in five major commercial fishing sectors in Australia.

We found a clear signal in the data. Overall, individual vessels drove differences in bycatch rates more than fishing location, season, or year. In each of the five fisheries, we found high performance operators able to consistently achieve a high catch of target species and low bycatch, as well as low performers, who did the opposite. This holds even across fishing gear known for high bycatch globally, such as bottom trawls and gillnets.

We don’t know exactly what fishers are doing to avoid bycatch. Fishing “skill” is likely a mix of experience and knowledge of the environment, ability to effectively manage a crew, operate and maintain gear, and quickly respond to changing conditions at sea. These nuanced behaviours are not recorded in logbooks and are difficult to describe, which means we’ll have to work directly with fishers to really untangle the vessel effect.

Could We Upskill Our Fishers?

Now we know the skill of our fishers matters so much, we have an opportunity to drive bycatch even lower than thought possible. We can challenge the belief bycatch is an unavoidable part of fishing.

Harnessing the skills and knowledge of high-performance fishers can motivate behaviour change in ways more likely to succeed than top-down regulations or new technologies.

We can look at incentives to encourage skilled and experienced fishers to spread their knowledge and abilities. This would raise the bar for low-performing fishers, and help the industry avoid punishments from the actions of a few highly damaging boats.

If we work closely with high-performance fishers, we could see even more innovation in cutting bycatch, as well as other longstanding issues such as waste management and abandoned “ghost nets” which can keep killing for years.The Conversation

Leslie Roberson, Postdoctoral research fellow, The University of Queensland and Chris Wilcox, Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO

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

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: Histories + Notes + Others

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Boathouse In Governor Phillip Park  Part Of Our Community For 75 Years: Photos From The Collection Of Russell Walton, Son Of Victor Walton
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers 
Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham Beach by Barbara Davies
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Iluka Park, Woorak Park, Pittwater Park, Sand Point Reserve, Snapperman Beach Reserve - Palm Beach: Some History
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
Lucinda Park, Palm Beach: Some History + 2022 Pictures
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

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 -

Strategic Plan For Children And Young People 2022-2024

The Advocate for Children and Young People, Ms Zoë Robinson, has launched a new Strategic Plan for Children and Young People that aims to ensure that all children and young people have the supports they need from government, business and community to thrive.

“This is a bold and hopeful Plan, it is a commitment to all children and young people in NSW that we will work together to build a state where they can thrive,” Ms Robinson said. 

“Informed by the voices of more than 41,000 children and young people, the Plan highlights the key issues that children and young people have articulated and provides a clear roadmap that responds to their stated needs by identifying relevant Government priorities and initiatives,” Ms Robinson added.

Chair of the NSW Youth Advisory Council, Lua Pellegrini, said that the Plan indicates the growing importance that the NSW Government are placing on listening and responding to children and young people.
“I am proud of this Plan and proud to say I was involved in the consultations that have underpinned its development. It recognises that children and young people are the here and now and that by improving policies, programs and services to support children and young people we build a better NSW for everyone,” 20 year-old Ms Pellegrini from Western Sydney said.

The NSW Strategic Plan for Children and Young People 2022-2024 will be implemented over a three year period, with annual tracking reports and a review process at the end of the three-year phase.
“This isn’t just a Plan for government to commit to, we can all commit to doing better for the children and young people in our lives. We want to build a society where every child is heard, seen and has everything they need to thrive,” Ms Robinson said.

The core commitments of the Plan are to build a future where every child has, hope for the future, love connection and safety, health and wellbeing, respect and acceptance, a good standard of living and environments for joy and fun. 

To read the Plan visit

Joel Parkinson To Be Inducted In Hall Of Fame At 2022 Australian Surfing Awards

Following on from good mate Mick Fanning's induction in 2021, 2012 World Surf League (WSL) World Champion Joel Parkinson will become the 44th Inductee in the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame as part of the 2022 Australian Surfing Awards at QT Gold Coast on Saturday May 7th. 

Australian Surfing Awards Curator Nick Carroll said: "Joel has been one of the most influential Australian surfers of the past quarter century. His world professional surfing championship in 2012, along with four world runners-up placings and numerous event wins, is enough testimony to that. Maybe even more compelling is Joel’s classical surfing style, which blended all the elements of power and precision so evident in prior generations of great Australian surfers, along with a very modern flair. It made him one of those rare surfers who is instantly recognisable on a wave.

Joel was born in 1981 in Nambour, Queensland, and spent his early grommet years on the Sunshine Coast, before moving to the Gold Coast at 13. He quickly formed a bond with other young surfers in the area, including Mick Fanning and Dean Morrison. By the end of the 1990s these three surfers had become the nucleus of “Coolie Kids’ Seven”, a group who would go on to re-establish Australia as the major force in men’s world professional surfing. Joel has been best known for his performances at the great right-breaking waves of the world like Sunset Beach in Hawaii, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, and Bells Beach in Victoria, but he also won the majors at the hollow left-breaking spots of Teahupoo and Pipeline during his pro career.

Joel retired from pro competition three years ago and now lives on Queensland's southern Gold Coast with wife Monica and three children.

Surfing Australia CEO, Chris Mater said: “Parko’s impact on Australian Surfing is immense. He’s paved the way for more than one generation of Aussie surfers, inspired us all with his beautiful style and proved himself as an ultimate competitor coming second in the world title race four times, he finally bagged the World Title in 2012. There’s no one more deserving than Joel when it comes to Hall of Fame Induction. Congrats mate and we look forward to honouring you at the Australian Surfing Awards come May seventh!”

Joel Parkinson Career Highlights 
  • 1999 WSL World Junior Champion
  • 2000 WSL World Junior Champion
  • 1999    Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay WINNER  
  • 2002    Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast WINNER
  • 2002    Rip Curl Cup Sunset Beach WINNER
  • 2002 WORLD NUMBER 2
  • 2004    Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach WINNER
  • 2004    Boost Mobile Pro Trestles WINNER
  • 2004 WORLD NUMBER 2
  • 2006    Quiksilver Pro France  WINNER 
  • 2008    Vans Triple Crown of Surfing WINNER 
  • 2008     Perfect Heat (20 out of 20 points) Billabong Pipeline Masters 
  • 2009    Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast WINNER
  • 2009    Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach WINNER
  • 2009    Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay  WINNER
  • 2009 WORLD NUMBER 2
  •  2011    Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach WINNER
  • 2011 WORLD NUMBER 2
  • 2012    Billabong Pipeline Masters   WINNER
  • 2013    Oakley Pro Bali  WINNER
  • 2020   RIVALS Season One WINNER
 The 2022 Australian Surfing Awards is proudly supported by the Queensland Government, through Tourism and Events Queensland, and features on the It’s Live! in Queensland events calendar.
The Australian Surfing Awards incorporating the Hall of Fame is proudly supported by Tourism and Events Queensland, QT Gold Coast,  Griffith University, Reeftip, Zambrero, Acciona, Andrew Peace Wines and OnStone.

Parko at Cloudbreak. Image: Surfing Australia

Guide to classics: the Tibetan Book of the Dead

Wheel of life and death. Wikimedia commons
Pema DüddulUniversity of Southern Queensland

Since it was first published in English in 1927, The Tibetan Book of the Dead has proved to be the most popular book on Tibetan Buddhism in the Western world. At present, there are at least 21 translations in multiple languages and formats. There are also multiple expert commentaries, ranging from scholarly discussions to Buddhist practice guides.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an exemplar of Tibetan literary prose and a compelling commentary on the universal experience of death and dying from a Buddhist perspective. A classic of medieval Buddhist literature, it contains vivid descriptions of the bardos or intermediary states between death and rebirth that are, like other medieval texts, often illustrated.

The most important thing to understand about The Tibetan Book of the Dead is that it is meant to be read aloud. This is not surprising when we consider that ancient texts from many cultures were meant to be recited. Reading silently was uncommon in the ancient world.

Not only is The Tibetan Book of the Dead meant to be read aloud, it is meant to be read to the dead. In other words, corpses are the intended audience for the work, which makes it unique among the world’s literary classics. Its opening lines speak directly to the deceased:

O, Alas! Alas! Fortunate Child of Buddha Nature,
Do not be oppressed by the forces of ignorance and delusion!
But rise up now with resolve and courage!
Entranced by ignorance from beginningless time until now,
You have had more than enough time to sleep.
So do not slumber any longer, but strive after virtue with body, speech and mind!

In this opening passage, we encounter the book’s fundamental messages. The first and perhaps most important message is that all beings are, in their fundamental nature, no different to the Buddha – sublime and perfect. This means that we can all become enlightened, just as the Buddha was enlightened. The next message is that a subtle, pared-back form of consciousness remains alert in the corpse for some time after death, existing in what is known as a bardo, an intermediate state of existence between death and rebirth.

bardo is a mind-state rather than a place, a transitional state that is neither here nor there, not of this life but also not of the next. Etymologically, the word bardo breaks down into “bar”, which translates as movement or flow, like a stream, and “do” which translates as a stepping stone or island in the stream.

The idea of an island of stillness within a stream of movement is profoundly important in the Buddhist teachings, because it points to the hidden profundity of present experience, to the immediacy that is being in the now, which can open us to a direct and intimate experience of what Tibetan Buddhists call our true nature, or Buddha Nature.

An island of stillness within a stream of movement. Shutterstock

The Cycle Of Life

The final message of the lines quoted above is that physical death is not an ultimate end or oblivion. Indeed, it may be an opportunity. Even in the disembodied, post-mortem state of the bardo, there is still a chance for what Buddhists call Nirvana or liberation, which is freedom from the tyranny of cyclic existence.

Cyclic existence is birth, suffering, death, then rebirth into another life of suffering and death, on and on without end. Buddhists believe that we have all been trapped in this cycle of misery since the beginning of time and will remain trapped forever unless we do something about it.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead tells us what to do about it. It tells us how to achieve liberation in the moment of death and fulfil our potential as spiritually awakened beings, as Buddhas. This profoundly appealing promise is at the heart of Tibetan Buddhist beliefs about life and death.


As a book, The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a mystical origin story and a publication history unlike any other. According to Tibetan tradition it was created in the 8th century (around 750 CE) by Padmasambhava, a mystic and prophet from Oddiyana, in what is now far northern Pakistan, who established tantric Buddhism in the Tibetan Empire.

Padmasambhava did not write or compose the text, but rather spontaneously dictated it to Yeshe Tsogyal, a Tibetan princess, who was his most important disciple and the first Tibetan to achieve enlightenment. Yeshe Tsogyal is one of the few women in recorded history to be venerated as a fully awakened Buddha.

Padmasambhava told his exceptional disciple that the book’s message was not for that time, but for some future time, so Yeshe Tsogyal hid the text in a cave high on a mountain in central Tibet. Padmasambhava then prophesised that the text would be rediscovered more than 500 years later, when it would be needed by the people of Tibet and the world.

Exactly as prophesised, around 1341, when the bubonic plague was cutting down millions in Europe and Asia, a spiritually precocious 15-year-old boy, following instructions he had received in dreams and visions, climbed the mountain, entered the cave, and found the text.

The boy was Karma Lingpa, from then on renowned as a saint and visionary and the prophesied terton, or “treasure-revealer”, of the spiritual treasure that is The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The text was copied and distributed throughout Tibet and the lands where tantric Buddhism flourished – Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh, Sikkim, Mongolia and China. It became one of the most treasured texts of Tibetan Buddhism.

If we accept the traditional version of events, The Tibetan Book of the Dead was created centuries before the epic poem Beowulf was composed in England, but was not made public or widely distributed until around the time when Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. This has to be one of the longest publishing schedules in history, spanning nearly 600 years. True or not, the origin story adds to the book’s mystique.

The Universality Of Death

The publication date for The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 1341 CE or thereabouts, gives us the historical context for the work’s appeal. The perilous time in which it was disseminated, at the height of the Black Death in Asia and Europe, meant that its unique vision of death as an opportunity for enlightenment resonated with a terrified population.

Its emergence or rediscovery at the time of the bubonic plague, and the Buddhist promise it holds of liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, made it the most sought after text in the medieval Buddhist world. Its depiction of death and dying offered guidance in a time when human beings felt under siege by plague and conflict.

Of course, death is not just a medieval concern. All beings die and all beings grieve, human and non-human animals alike, so death both fascinates and terrifies. Although the Black Death no longer stalks the world, other plagues and pandemics have emerged with unsettling frequency: cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, tuberculosis, influenza, AIDS and COVID 19.

There are always wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, accidents and other calamities. Death is our shadow. It darkens our steps from the minute we are born and endures after our life is lost, casting a pall of grief over those we have left behind. The Tibetan Book of the Dead became and remains the most well-known book about Buddhism in the Western world because it deals with the only topic common to us all: the inevitability of death and our need to psychologically or spiritually process that truth.

Translation And Reception In The West

The story behind The Tibetan Book of the Dead’s translation and publication in the West is almost as unusual as its origin story. The book was first published in English in 1927. In Tibetan the title is Bardo Thodol, which does not translate as The Tibetan Book of the Dead at all, but as “Liberation through Hearing during the Intermediate State”.

The English title was thought up by Walter Evans-Wentz (1878–1965) as a nod to The Egyptian Book of the Dead, a popular book among spiritualists at the time. Wentz, a theosophist determined to link the Tibetan text to his own fanciful spiritualist philosophy, was credited as the translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, but he did not actually do the translating. The translation was done by Kazi Dawa Samdup (1868–1922), the headmaster of a boarding school in the Sikkimese capital of Gangtok and a one-time interpreter for the British Raj.

Wentz not only took credit for the translation; he altered it in such fundamental ways that it was no longer a translation at all, but a kind of literary fabrication that distorted the book’s Buddhist messages to conform to his own cooked-up spiritualist ideas. As a result, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in that first edition produced by Wentz, was a kind of psychedelic travelogue of an afterlife that Buddhists do not believe in.

The spiritualist and quasi-psychedelic threads Wentz introduced are among the main reasons the book became popular among Western spiritualists of the 1930s and 1940s, some of whom later introduced it into the American counterculture of the 1960s.

Timothy Leary. Getty Images

In 1964, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead was published, solidifying the link between the text and altered or psychedelic states of consciousness. Authored by notorious psychologists and psychedelics “researchers” Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (later the Hindu guru Ram Dass), the work takes Wentz’s fabrications and runs wild with them.

The link to psychedelic drugs and spooky spiritualism contributes to The Tibetan Book of the Dead’s ongoing appeal to a certain alternative Western non-Buddhist reader. However, this does not wholly explain its enduring popularity. More recent translations are true translations, rather than spiritualist fabrications or psychedelic imaginings. This has done nothing to reduce the book’s popularity. And it brings us to the real reason it is still one of the bestselling books about Tibetan Buddhism – its vision of what happens to us after death.

This vision resonates with Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, because it provides a philosophy about life and death that addresses both our fascination with and fear of death. It treats death not as a final end, but as an opportunity to become more than we are, to become what we are in our fundamental nature, which, according to Buddhism, is perfect and at one with everything.

This satisfies two very human needs: the need to process the truth of death, and the need for our short and often limited lives to have meaning beyond mere survival or biological reproduction.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or rather the Bardo Thodol, shows us how to achieve both. Whether we believe in Buddhist notions of rebirth and cyclic existence or not, the message this text contains is unique, which is why it has become a classic of world literature and will likely remain one.The Conversation

Pema Düddul, Associate Professor in Writing, Editing and Publishing, University of Southern Queensland

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

Australian writing and publishing faces ‘grinding austerity’ as funding continues to decline

Tom Hermans/UnsplashCC BY
Ben ElthamMonash University

It was a grim federal budget for arts and culture on Tuesday night.

With the end of the Morrison government’s pandemic stimulus program for culture, the RISE fund, there will be a rapid withdrawal of federal support for cultural production.

The arts portfolio budget line will contract by 19%, or around A$190 million, this year. A number of funding programs and cultural institutions also have their funding cut in the budget’s forward projections. There are cuts to programs for regional arts, community broadcasting, contemporary music, Screen Australia and the National Library of Australia.

No Love For Literature

In such an austere environment, it should be no surprise there was no love for publishing or literature in the budget. There were no new announcements to support writing. Funding is slightly increasing for the Australia Council for the Arts and the crucial public lending right subsidy, which supports authors and publishers whose work is borrowed in libraries and schools. However, these small increases are well below inflation, forecast to run at 4.25% this year, so they amount to cuts in real terms.

The cuts to the National Library of Australia in the 2022 budget are quite significant. The Library goes from $61 million funding this year to just $47 million in 2025-26. The National Library is a critical foundation stone of Australia’s public sphere. It holds priceless artefacts, letters and records. It is required by law to collect every book published in Australia. It also supports valuable research infrastructure, such as its award-winning Trove database, which served 18 million browsers in 2021. These cuts will inevitably erode the Library’s capacity, and will probably result in job losses for librarians in future years.

A light projection across the National Library walls at night, with people looking on
National Library of Australia at Enlighten, 2018. Graemec/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

But the treatment of the National Library is consistent with a history of ongoing neglect for written culture in Australia. When it comes to public funding, literature has long been the poor cousin of the arts.

Unlike the performing arts, which benefit from a dedicated funding stream inside the Australia Council, literature has enjoys very little federal support. In 2020-21, the Australia Council gave out just $4.7 million in grant funding to literature – 2.4% of the total funding pool last year. In contrast, the major performing arts organisations received $120 million.

Declining Funds For Writing And Publishing

Funding for writing and publishing is not just low: it’s also declining. In 2014, Australia Council funding for literature was $8.9 million, nearly double what it is this year. In that year, Get Reading!, a $1.6 million program (originally named Books Alive!) dedicated to promoting reading, especially among children, was abandoned. Industry observers point to the demise of the artform boards of the Australia Council after Gillard government reforms in 2013, which saw the agency’s specialist Literature Board wound up. There was no dedicated funding program for literature to replace it.

The federal lending rights schemes are important. They will distribute $23 million this year, a valuable subsidy for authors and publishers. But the program is slowly losing relevance as – astonishingly – it doesn’t cover electronic lending or e-book borrowing. The Australian Society of Authors and publishers want the scheme expanded to digital lending.

While federal lending rights subsidies are important, astonishingly, they don’t cover electronic lending or e-book borrowing. Pictured: State Library of Victoria, La Trobe Reading Room. Peter Gawthrop/FlickrCC BY

Policy neglect like this is a long-running problem for the literature sector. During the Coalition’s first term of government, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised to set up a special body to support and fund Australian publishing, to be called the Book Council of Australia and given an initial budget of $6 million annually. But the new agency was never created. With the Book Council killed off in proposal stage, the promised funding for publishing never eventuated either, vanishing in a puff of smoke in the 2015 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

In 2018, as part of the Turnbull government’s media reforms, Senate cross-benchers struck a deal to secure $60 million funding for regional publishers and media organisations. Of this, $16 million went to small regional media organisations under the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund. Just like Get Reading, that fund has also finished up, and there has been no analogous program for Australian literary and non-fiction publishers.

Writers In Dire Difficulty

Arts Minister Paul Fletcher’s RISE fund has provided some assistance. There was some funding to publishers and booksellers, such as an innovative voucher scheme for Australian books. But RISE too will be wound up at the end of this financial year.

The result is a writing sector that faces grinding austerity. A recent survey of authors by the Australian Society of Authors found understandable pessimism among its members, which include some of Australia’s best known novelists, poets and non-fiction writers. “Our members feel very flat about funding,” ASA’s Olivia Lanchester told me in a message. “We are the lowest funded of the major art forms through the Australia Council despite high participation rates in reading.”

Christos Tsiolkas says writers face ‘real life desperate situations’. Photo: John Tsiavis

The penurious circumstances of Australian writers was graphically highlighted in late 2020, in testimony to the House of Representatives from prominent Australian novelists Charlotte Wood and Christos Tsiolkas.

Wood told a House of Representatives inquiry into Australia’s cultural sector that “writers themselves are in absolutely dire economic difficulty”. She cited figures that literary writers’ annual income from their books was just $4,000 a year. “That work is piecemeal, freelance, poorly paid and very unstable.” Wood pointed out that “COVID is destroying the livelihoods of writers in many ways” and explained that the pandemic was “eviscerating three major income streams for writers outside their books, which are public speaking, university teaching and freelance writing.”

Tsiolkas told the inquiry that younger writers he had recently spent time with faced “real life desperate situations – how they’ll pay their rent and how they’re going to look after their young children”.

Australia doesn’t need to treat its readers and writers like this. We are a rich nation with a half-trillion dollar federal budget. Even a dramatic increase in funding, for all aspects of Australian culture, would be a rounding error in the context of other budget priorities, like nuclear submarines or the “stage 3” income tax cuts coming in 2024.

Australian writing is tremendously popular. Australian stories are central to the way we understand ourselves as citizens and a nation. Books by Australian authors sell well, as anyone who has been to a Trent Dalton bookstore event can attest. Australia Council data tells us that 72% of the population reads regularly for pleasure. More than four million Australians visited a writers festival or literary event in 2019.

Like other artforms in this country, literature has struggled to make itself heard among the cacophony of special interests in Canberra. But literature is not a special interest: it is a constituent component of our national identity, and a deep source of enjoyment for millions of citizens. Storytelling is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human. If anyone should be able to understand that, it is our politicians.The Conversation

Ben Eltham, Lecturer, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

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

How do planets form? A ‘baby Jupiter’ hundreds of light-years away offers new clues

Artist’s impression of a giant planet forming. NASA, ESA, STScI, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)
Peter TuthillUniversity of Sydney and Barnaby NorrisUniversity of Sydney

How do planets form? For many years scientists thought they understood this process by studying the one example we had access to: our own Solar System.

However, the discovery of planets around distant stars in the 1990s made it clear that the picture was much more complicated than we knew.

In new research, we have spotted a hot, Jupiter-like gas giant in the process of forming around a star about 500 light-years from Earth.

This rare babysnap of a planet actually in the process of forming, drawing down matter from a vast disk of dust and gas swirling around its also-infant sun, has opened a window on mysteries that have puzzled astronomers for years.

A Scientific Triumph?

Scientific inquiry into the origins of Earth and the other planets of our Solar System began in the mid 1700s.

Building on the work of Swedish thinker Emanuel Swedenborg, the famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed that the Sun and its little planetary family all grew from a large rotating primordial cloud; Kant labelled this an “Urnebel”, German for nebula.

This idea was later refined by the French polymath Pierre Laplace, and it has since had many more additions and revisions, but modern scientists think it was basically on the right track. The modern descendent of Kant’s hypothesis, now filled out with detailed physics, can explain most of the observed features of our solar system.

‘Primordial clouds’ of dust and gas that form planets, in the Orion Nebula. C.R. O'Dell/Rice University; NASA

We can now run computer simulations with all the right settings, and a beautiful digital replica of our solar system will emerge. It will have the right kinds of planets in the right orbits ticking around in clockwork order, just like the real thing.

This model is a triumphant synthesis of threads from geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy, and it seemed to have the bases covered. Until, that is, astronomers confronted it with planets from outside our solar system.

Beyond The Solar System

When the first systems of planets orbiting distant stars were discovered in the mid 1990s, there was immediate controversy and consternation. The new planets didn’t fit the model at all: the rest of the cosmos, it turned out, didn’t care so much what happened here around our little sun.

Since then, there has been a dawning realisation that there may be different pathways to form a planetary system. Among the thousands of planets orbiting other stars that now populate our catalogues, our Sun’s family of planets is even beginning to look a bit unusual.

Despite this, one of the most basic physical components of the planet-building machinery we believe is responsible for forming giant gassy planets like Jupiter and Saturn has stood the test of time: the idea of “core accretion”.

Core accretion starts with the gases and microscopic dust grains thought to comprise Kant’s typical primordial cloud (which is shaped like a flattened spinning disk with the infant star at the center). Dust grains clump together into successively bigger grains, then pebbles, rocks and on up in a cascade to baby planets or “planetesimals”.

When such a clump gets big enough, it reaches a tipping point. Gravitational attraction now helps the embryonic planet rapidly draw in gas, dust and other clumps, clearing its orbital path and carving a circular gap in the disk.

It is one of the signature triumphs for modern astronomy that exactly the kinds of “disk gaps” predicted by theory are now seen and studied out in the cosmos.

A Big Crunch

However, there are some things core accretion can’t explain. Massive planets have been spotted orbiting far from their host stars, out in the cold distant reaches.

According to the core accretion theory, such planets should not exist. They are too far out, where orbits move too slowly to run the business of planet-building.

A new “gravitational collapse” model was formulated to explain these unexpected massive distant planets. The basic idea is that if the primordial disk itself has enough mass, the whole thing can become unstable and collapse to form planets quickly in a big crunch.

This new picture seemed like it could explain the outlier planets, but since all known examples were very old (usually billions of years) this theory has remained just that – a theory. Until now.

A Planet Is Born

Last year, we and our colleagues spotted a massive planet, still in the process of formation, around a star some 500 light-years from Earth.

This star, named AB Aurigae, has become famous in astronomy circles for the beautiful, intricate, spiral disk that surrounds it.

The clumps and waves seen in this disk (and in others like it) are consistent with what one might see if gravitational collapse were occurring. But until now, evidence of a forming planet was missing.

The disk around AB Aurigae. The forming planet is the bright blob at the bottom. Currie et al. / Nature AstronomyAuthor provided

This newly discovered planet – dubbed AB Aurigae b – is embedded within a thick, swirling halo of dust and gas, amid the tell-tale spirals and waves signifying gravitational collapse. The planet is around 93 times as far from its star as Earth is from the Sun, well outside the region in which the traditional core-accretion theory could explain its formation.

This discovery thus provides strong evidence for the alternative theory of gravitational collapse.

The discovery was made using observations from the Subaru Telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaiʻi, as well as from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Stoked by energy from the violent, rapid formation process, the planet is hot enough to glow (around 2000 ℃). It is this glow that gives away the presence of the planet. At the same time, the swirling gas and dust around the forming planet is seen illuminated by the blueish light of AB Aurigae’s central star.

Bigger And Better Telescopes

This new discovery provides a critical piece of the planet formation puzzle, but the case is by no means closed.

As our telescopes get bigger and our observational methods get more advanced, we expect to see many more forming planets caught at all stages of their development, as well as fully-formed mature planets like Earth.

And eventually, we can hope to answer the big questions: how did such a weird and diverse range of planetary systems form across the galaxy, what are the conditions like on these new worlds, and how does our own little Solar System fit in among them?The Conversation

Peter Tuthill, Astrophysicist, University of Sydney and Barnaby Norris, Research fellow, University of Sydney

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

How r/place – a massive and chaotic collaborative art project on Reddit – showcased the best and worst of online spaces

ScreenshotAuthor provided
Andrew ChildsGriffith University

Many would be familiar with Reddit as one of the largest social networking sites, with a large group of forums (“subreddits”) catering to almost any interest.

Since the beginning of April, Reddit has played host to a massive collaborative art project called r/place that simultaneously shows us some of the best and worst attributes of cybercultures.

Originally launched in 2017, r/place ran for 72 hours. The lifespan of the new r/place was also short – ultimately lasting for just five days. Beginning initially as a blank canvas, r/place allows users to place one coloured pixel every five minutes (or 20 minutes for unverified accounts) as they attempt to build a collective art piece.

Traversing through r/place takes you for a journey through time, memes and cultures.

At any one moment you might be looking at a Nine Inch Nails logo, the flags of various countries, a QR code linking you to a YouTube video titled The Most Logical Arguments AGAINST Veganism (In 10 Minutes), and a homage to Zyzz – a popular bodybuilding figure who passed away in 2011.

Some artworks on r/place don’t seem to represent anything at all. The sole mission of The Blue Corner is (you guessed it) to have a blue corner depicted on the final art piece.

The artwork constantly changes over its short lifetime. But even if the drawings of some communities may not go the distance, the time lapse videos depicting the ongoing mutation of the canvas has become a key part of this art piece, ensuring all contributions play a vital part in the lifecycle of r/place.

Collaboration – And Opposition

r/place shows us the collaborative nature of humans in online spaces. After its emergence in 2017 it was hailed as “the internet’s best experiment yet” and praised for capturing “the internet, in all its wonderful glory”.

This collaborative online art project allows people to express their individuality as well as collective identities formed through interactions with online spaces.

This year’s iteration of r/place, in contrast to the previous version, demonstrates the interconnectivity of communities in digital spaces. No longer is r/place solely reserved for Reddit users. Now, there is clear power in drawing on communities distributed across Twitch, Discord and Twitter.

This influx of communities from all over the internet has not been well-received by all.

There is a belief Twitch streamers are ruining the work of smaller communities and are attempting to sabotage the project.

Instead of being a democratic representation of online communities and their art, the argument goes, Twitch streamers are encouraging their fans, numbered in the hundreds of thousands, to capture hotly contested territory.

Text reads: Dominating r/place watch as nerds lose their marbles over pixels.
Twitch’s xQc has up to 200,000 viewers on his streams where he is encouraging a take-over of r/place. Screenshot

Factions – such as those formed between Spanish streamers and BTS fans – have become the primary way to ensure power and influence over the art project.

Smaller communities are driven out at the expense of larger influencers with more bargaining power in this pixel warfare.

It is not just individuals taking part in this art project. Many believe “bots” are running rampant, performing automated tasks in a way that is antithetical to the idea of this artwork as a representation of human achievement as opposed to technical prowess.

These examples are just a fraction of the chaos over the internet in the last few days: 4chan operated coordinated attacks on the Trans flag and LGBTQ+ panels, and streamers are receiving an influx of death threats.

The Best And Worst Of Us

At its best, r/place is a powerful illustration of strangers coming together about their passions online and the collaborative nature of the internet.

At its worst, it represents everything we have come to dislike about the internet: the exclusion of smaller voices at the expense of influencer cultures, factions between communities, and the toxicity of some cybercultures.

A white screen
The end of r/place. Screenshot

Whatever the case, this project has been great for boosting Reddit’s publicity as the company goes public.

In its final moments earlier today, users could only place white tiles and watch the spectacle of a once vibrantly coloured collaborative art piece that caused so much chaos among online communities simply transform back into a blank canvas. The Conversation

Andrew Childs, Lecturer, Griffith University

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

Friday essay: empathy or division? On the science and politics of storytelling

Why don’t chimpanzees rule the world? Is storytelling - the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively - the answer? Shutterstock
Claire CorbettUniversity of Technology Sydney

Writers can’t always be trusted when they talk about the power and importance of story. We have a vested interest and can get sentimental, promoting the immense power of story, of narrative, as inherently benign.

Even when a writer is famously sceptical of narrative, such as Joan Didion, the sentimentalists overrule her. As Zadie Smith pointed out recently in The New Yorker, one of Didion’s most famous lines – “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” – is now quoted as if Didion is celebrating story rather than warning about delusion.

“It is a peculiarity of Joan Didion’s work that her most ironic formulations are now read as sincere,” Smith says of this line. “A sentence meant as an indictment has transformed into personal credo.”

Joan Didion pictured in 2005. Kathy Willens/AP

It is illuminating, then, to consider fascinating developments in thinking and research on the effects of story from other disciplines, such as philosophy, history and, most recently and surprisingly, perhaps even counter-intuitively, neuroscience.

In discussing story and its effects, I don’t mean only fiction or even prose. Poetry and song are likely our first forms of storytelling. These forms have traditionally included science and history, which are also transmitted as storytelling. First Nations’ science and history, for example, are encoded in stories and songs and visual art.

What we might cautiously call Western culture didn’t used to be so finicky about genre. Science poetry used to be a big deal.

Erasmus Darwin, for example, now most famous as Charles Darwin’s grandfather, was a physician and member of the Royal Society, who also wrote science poetry. He wrote an entire volume of erotic verses praising Carl Linnaeus’ taxonomic botanical system called The Loves of the Plants (1791). With footnotes. His science poetry was strikingly illustrated by William Blake and Henry Fuseli. And he made a lot of money from it; the volume was reprinted many times. Of one species of fern he wrote:

E'en round the pole the flames of Love aspire,
And icy bosoms feel the secret fire!

In 1608, the great astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote Somnium  or “The Dream”, a novel in which an Icelandic boy and his witch mother learn of an island named Levania (our Moon) from a demon. Somnium presents a detailed imaginative description of how the Earth might look when viewed from the Moon. It is considered the first serious scientific treatise on lunar astronomy.

Kepler understood very well the importance not just of narrative, but of controlling the narrative, which he did very well, as he spent years saving his mother from a charge of witchcraft.

Oh No, Someone’s Cat Is Missing!

One of the main reasons missing pet stories are so distressing is that we almost never get to know the outcome. Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia commons

Now, in classic writer fashion, I will introduce another aspect of this topic with a personal anecdote, complete with physical details.

As I was thinking about writing this essay, I was drinking a coffee at the Café de la Fontaine in King’s Cross. Just outside the window stood a streetlight. On the pole was taped a missing cat notice that had not been there the day before.

I hate missing pet notices. I feel so worried for both pet and owner. But there was something else there, I realised at that moment, in the convergence of my thinking about story and then seeing the missing cat poster. It has to do with the power of narrative and the ways in which stories work on our brains.

A few days earlier, something happened that I had never experienced before: NSW Police had sent a text message to my phone about a missing child, a teenage boy, in the Blue Mountains. For the first time, they used the available technology to send a text message to all the phones in the area. Of course, no one was prepared for this. The text suddenly appears on your phone, no warning. I am glad they can do that and I hope it helped, but it is a shock to get a missing person notice out of the blue on your phone. It feels very personal, very close to you.

Now I am going to jump to one of the points about story and how it works from the literature of psychology and neuroscience.

Bluma Zeigarnik (1901-1988). Wikimedia commons

Some readers are probably wondering: hey, but what happened to the missing child? Did they find him? This tension – and retention of information – is related to something called the Zeigarnik effect.

Bluma Zeigarnik was a Lithuanian psychologist, who in 1927 published a paper titled “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks”. She found that study participants were able to recall details of tasks about 90% better when they were interrupted during the task than when they were able to complete them. These findings have, to some extent, been replicated in subsequent studies.

The study had been inspired by Zeigarnik’s professor observing that waiters in a café seemed much better at remembering details of incomplete tabs or orders than completed ones. That is, it seems the brain opens a file on a task and that file stays open until the task is finished. Once the task is complete, the file disappears.

The link to the effectiveness of serial dramas and the way cliffhangers operate in narrative is clear and has been drawn a number of times. A story also opens a file in your brain and it remains open, this networked pattern, like an unfinished tapestry, until the story is resolved.

Stories are the best technology we have for remembering vast amounts of information and detail, so long as all these elements are related in some consequential and important and emotional way – think of bards being able to recite epic tales that go on for days, or Scheherezade’s 1001 nights, or Indigenous songlines, filled with story, that include important information about history and creatures and the motions of stars and details of place.

So some readers may now have a file open in their brains. It sits there, waiting, until we know what happened to the missing boy. He was found, though I don’t know any other details of his story: why he went missing, what went wrong – all of the details that, say, a novel might fill in.

Lorrie Moore. Andy Manis/AP

In that café, I realised that one of the main reasons missing pet stories are so distressing is that, unlike most missing-person stories, we almost never get to know the outcome. We never know whether that cat or dog or parrot was found. And there’s another problem: even if the pet is rescued, what happened to it can never be narrativised. We can never really know what happened or how it felt for that creature.

This always makes me think of a line from a brilliant Lorrie Moore short story I often teach in Creative Writing classes titled “People Like That are the Only People Here”, about a writer whose baby has cancer. It is a very funny story. No, really. Something that tortures the mother is that her baby cannot narrate his suffering – she will never know that story. Moore writes:

Who can say what babies do with their agony and shock? Not they themselves … They put it all no place anyone can see. They are like a different race, a different species …

It is one of the great human mysteries. And we don’t know where animals put their suffering either. This seems almost a greater injustice than the suffering itself, and in a way it is. If the suffering is no place anyone can see, then there is little incentive to alleviate it.

Dreaming The World

From the never-to-be-known stories of missing pets to the fate of humanity: I want to draw here on the work of historian Yuval Noah Harari, who set out to tell the story of the human species in his book Sapiens (2011).

In Sapiens, Harari notes that our closest relatives are the several species of chimpanzees; we share 99% of our DNA with them. Harari asks: why, when we are so similar, do Sapiens rule the planet, not chimpanzees? Why are the chimps stuck in labs and cages where we study them and do what we like with them?

Harari’s answer is that Sapiens rule the world because we are the only animal that can co-operate flexibly in large numbers. We can cooperate not just at street level or village level or city level; we can create mass co-operation networks, in which thousands and even millions of complete strangers work together towards common goals.

One-on-one, even ten-on-ten, we humans are very similar to chimpanzees and physically much less powerful. Any attempt to understand our unique role in the world by studying our brains, our bodies, or even our family relations, is doomed to failure. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.

This mysterious glue, Harari concludes, is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in invisible concepts such as gods, nations, money and human rights. None of these things exist outside the stories that people invent and tell one another.

There is no such thing in the universe as a nation or money or human rights – except in the common imagination of human beings. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana, Harari notes, by promising him that after he dies he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens believe such things.

At the heart of our mass cooperation networks, you find stories that exist only in the collective imagination. Catholics who don’t know each other can launch an Inquisition or pool funds to build a hospital because they share very specific sets of beliefs, images, and stories about the nature of God. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives for one another because they both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine their efforts to defend a complete stranger because they believe in the existence of laws, justice and human rights.

This is what Margaret Atwood meant when she said you can’t stop people believing in invisible things: it could be God, but it could also be the stock market.

Margaret Atwood: you can’t stop people believing in invisible things: it could be God or the stock market. Jordan Strauss/AP

Look around you. Almost everything you see once existed only in someone’s mind: the phone in your pocket; the laptop on your desk; the car, bus or train you travel on; the food you eat; the building you live in. Your town, city, nation. The world we live in, day to day, has mostly been created by other people. Of course, the natural world imposes limits on us and will do so ever more stringently and urgently. As my father once said to me, nature always bats last.

But even our understanding of what the natural world is has been invented. It is all created knowledge: the Big Bang, Newton’s laws of motion, orbital mechanics, evolution, dark energy and dark matter, human psychology, ecology, and so on. All of these things may well be real, but our ways of understanding them, formulating them, talking about them are all invented, all created.

It makes a difference whether you believe that mental illness is an imbalance in the brain caused by trauma or genetics, or that it is caused by demonic possession. The stories we tell ourselves matter. In a sense, they are almost the only things that matter, because from them all else flows: how we raise our children, how we do politics, whether we invade that country or fly to the Moon.

The result is that, in contrast to other animals, we Sapiens live in a dual reality. On the one hand, there is the objective reality of oceans, trees and lions; on the other, there is our created and shared reality of gods, nations and companies.

As history has unfolded, the created reality has become ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of oceans, trees and lions depends on the grace of invented entities such as corporations law, the stock market, the European Union and Google.

This is a powerful argument for the importance of diversity in writers’ voices, diversity in the stories we pay attention to. It is important because we need as broad a range of stories to choose from as possible. We can only know our own worldview as part of a story if we can contrast it with other coherent beliefs and worldviews. Just as the ability to tell stories can doom us, it is also now the only thing that can save us.

The survival of of oceans and trees depends on the grace of invented entities such as stock markets. Mary Altaffer/AP

The Philosophers Have Their Say

Now I want to bring in our philosophers. The first is an attractive figure: that master of 18th-century empiricism, our canny Scotsman, David Hume, one of the most important figures in the Western philosophical tradition. Hume was a man of wit and charm, popular in the salons of his day, and reasons for this may be evident in the generosity and inclusivity of his ideas around morality.

David Hume - Alan Ramsay (1766) Public domain

In An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Hume offers what he considers to be a scientific theory of morality. In this work, described by historian Professor Darren Staloff as “a transition point in the history of Anglo-American moral philosophy”, Hume argues that philosophy keeps trying to come up with abstract principles about what constitutes virtue and the good life.

Not surprisingly, philosophy has generally considered itself the pinnacle of the intellectual tradition. Not so, says Hume. Virtue, he says, is not the result of either self-sacrifice or self-interest.

Hume argues that moral progress consists in including more people – and different kinds of people – in our sense of community, thus extending our moral concern to encompass increasingly large domains. He specifically argues this with regard to women and Native Americans. Women and Indigenous peoples were shabbily and unjustly treated; therefore, progress consists of entering imaginatively into what life is like for people who are not you, who are in fact unlike you.

In other words, Hume reverses the Western philosophical tradition since Plato, who had attempted to wrest moral authority from the poets. Hume gives it back, arguing that literature is vital for moral progress.


It is refreshing, after reading about thousands of years of abstract writing that treats theology and philosophy as the pinnacles of human wisdom, to hear Hume saying no, all this theorising is useless; it is literature we need to pay attention to. And this tradition has been continued by neo-pragmatist philosophers, notably Richard Rorty, who also rejected Plato.

Philosopher Richard Rorty (1931-2007) argued for the importance of literature. Getty Images

“Rorty argues that philosophers have traditionally sought to escape from history by searching for truth,” notes Staloff. “He believes truth can never be found embedded in language. A ‘true’ statement is merely one that we approve of.”

Even more crucially, Rorty argues that language is not merely descriptive, not a kind of analogous system indicating reality, but rather it is itself part of reality. It is causal, not representational.

Rorty reaches the same conclusion as Hume: cruelty is to be ameliorated through cultural edification. The moral education needed to sensitise us to the suffering of others, of those who have to put their suffering “no place anyone can see”, is most effectively absorbed through fiction.

The Dangers Of Narrative

To be fair to Plato, in proposing to ban the poets from his republic, he was recognising the real danger that the power of narrative can be misused to tell lies, which he blamed for the execution of his beloved teacher Socrates. His reservations must be taken seriously, along with the scepticism of writers such as Didion. Like a very sharp knife, the power of story is neither good nor evil; it cuts both ways.

We see this dilemma enacted every day now. Is Joe Rogan “just” a storyteller and therefore free to spread conspiracy theories and lies about vaccines, resonant as they are, in theme and tone, with the medieval “blood libel” against the Jews? Or should he be expelled from the republic, denied his paid public platform to spread dangerous misinformation?

Joe Rogan pictured in 2007: ‘just’ a storyteller? Gregory Payan/AP

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, antisemitic propaganda about supposed Jewish plans for world domination, was first published in Russia in 1903. It is considered an early example of a conspiracy theory. It was thoroughly debunked by The Times in 1921. But it is still spreading its poison around the world.

In that shapeshifting way of totalising lies (almost analogous to the way viruses mutate and adapt), it is now linked to conspiracy theories around the Covid 19 pandemic.

Plato (c.370 BCE) Public domain

So on the one hand we have philosophers, such as Hume and Rorty, arguing for the critical role of literature, of story, in building empathy, expanding the realm of those whose suffering we are sensitised to. If one of the greatest injustices is that beings are forced to put their suffering “no place anyone can see”, then, according to Hume and Rorty (and many creative writers), the proper use and study of literature is one of the few ways we can illuminate such places.

On the other hand, there is the long tradition of Plato and many other philosophers who have argued for the importance of transcendent objective truth.

In our current emergencies over the acceptance of vaccines and the imperative for action on climate, we can see that the need to find a way to agree on what constitutes an objective truth is more urgent than ever.

Language As Virtual Reality

What underlying mechanisms or processes in human beings could underpin the critical role of story? What is the power of language that allows shared realities to be created by large numbers of people across space and time? It may be that neuroscience is starting to provide some fascinating clues.

It seems that language and storytelling operate as the original and very powerful forms of virtual reality. fMRI technology, which can show us mental processes in real time, is starting to illuminate the physical processes that drive this.

Our brains exist in silence and darkness, with sense data presented by electrical signals. The brain builds its picture of the world from these electrical signals. It is not surprising that the electrical signals triggered by reading are as real to the brain as any other kind of electrical signal.

A study by professor of psychology Jeff Zacks has shown that reading about an action triggers the same areas of the brain as actually performing that action.

“We’re used to thinking that virtual reality is something that involves fancy computers and helmets and gadgets,” notes Zacks.

But what these kind of data suggest is that language itself is a powerful form of virtual reality, that there’s an important sense in which when we tell each other stories that we can control the perceptional processes that are happening in each other’s brains.

Research has found reading about an action triggers the same areas of the brain as actually performing the action. Shutterstock

These kinds of studies can now show us some of the variables that influence the effectiveness of the stories we tell and the influence they can have over the processes in each other’s brains.

As the science writer Annie Murphy Paul has noted, precise words can stimulate specific areas. Words such as “grasp” and “kick” light up not just the motor cortex, but the part of it responsible for those movements. Read a sentence such as “the baking cookies smelled sweet” and the language processing areas of your brain will work, but the part dealing with smells remains dark. When you read “the cookies smelled of cinnamon” that area lights up too.

Hearts Beat As One

We now have a very recent finding on how deep this entrainment goes. The power of stories extends not just from controlling the brains of readers or listeners, but their hearts too.

Professor Andrew D. Huberman PhD. Wikimedia commons

Professor Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist who directs a research lab at the Stanford University School of Medicine that investigates, among other things, the neurology of anxiety and stress, cognition and performance.

He hosts a popular podcast, in which he draws from recent scientific literature to empower listeners to take practical steps to improve sleep, say, or diet. In a recent episode, he reported a remarkable finding in terms that for him were unusually dramatic:

This is a paper that came out in the journal Cell Reports – very reputable scientific journal. The study involved having subjects listen to a story. The subjects are all listening to the same story but those subjects are not listening to it together. They are in separate rooms or even entirely separate locations on the planet, or they are brought into the laboratory on separate days – so these subjects are separated by time and space.

What this study found is that different subjects listening to the same story undergo the same variation in heart rate. In other words the gaps between their heartbeats start to resemble one another in response to the same story.

This is absolutely remarkable – just think about that for a minute – this is a coordination of the physiology of the body in response to a narrative, a story, in different people. And yet when they line up the heart rates of these different people listening to the story at different times and in different places, they find that those heart rates map onto one another almost identically.

Huberman explains why this is so remarkable and notes that more broadly this means coordination between neural circuits in the brain and body, coordination with the lungs and other organs.

“I think these results are just beautiful,” Huberman says.

In the sense that they really show that our brain and body are highly coordinated because people are listening to the story and the heart rate is changing in response to the story, but that there is what we call a stereotyped response to a given story. In my mind there was no reason the results had to be this way. You know, two people listen to the same story, why should their heart rates be almost identical? Very very interesting and points to the power of narrative and story in coordinating our physiology.

The Causal Quality Of Language

Rorty’s contention that language is causal, not just descriptive, seems to be borne out by current studies in neuroscience.

If Hume and Rorty are correct that story is the best technology we have for expanding empathy and solidarity (and the neuroscience seems increasingly to show that there are physiological mechanisms capable of driving such a process), then this clarifies why intolerant regimes and neoliberal governments so consistently attack, interfere with and defund the humanities and the arts.

Political systems that rely on division and intolerance try to dissolve or at least narrow solidarity, even as they attempt to intensify it within more tightly defined boundaries. Solidarity is the quality, according to Rorty, that holds postmodern bourgeois “liberal” society together.

But as we have seen, story itself can be used to drive division as much as to cement solidarity. Narratives can enlarge the scope of our concerns; they can illuminate the sufferings of others. But they can also reinforce fear and intolerance, and they do this through processes grounded in the deepest physiological fibres of our being.

Despite Didion’s warning, we will continue to tell stories, because they are one of the primary ways we have of understanding and then shaping the world. This makes storytelling inherently political, because politics is the practical expression of morality.

This also illuminates why politics (and indeed any politician) grounded in any grand master-narrative, such as religion or a doctrinaire version of a political theory, is so dangerous. Such master narratives, the very ones deconstructed by postmodernism, claim not to be stories at all, but transcendent truths, which therefore cannot be critiqued or changed.

The pluralism embraced by postmodernism and deconstruction actually brings us closer to the truth, because it allows us to understand things in comparative ways and is thus the very precondition of beginning to think meaningfully about them.

Writing on Rorty and postmodernism, Patricia Waugh notes:

What makes Rorty “strong” in his postmodernism, despite his defence of consensus as the basis of democracy, is the textualist insistence that society can only be transformed without violence through an aesthetic version of genetic engineering where it is vocabularies and not genes which determine the kind of life we shall lead.

This claim illuminates why the battle over issues such as pronouns is so important and why the right resists so fiercely the idea of calling trans people by their proper pronouns, all the while claiming such issues are trivial. But if we don’t agree to alter our reality with words then we are left with guns, and we can see how well that is working out just now.

Rebecca Solnit brings many of these questions and concerns together in her 2019 essay Whose Story Is This?

Who gets to be the subject of the story is an immensely political question, and feminism has given us a host of books that shift the focus from the original protagonist — from Jane Eyre to Mr. Rochester’s Caribbean first wife, from Dorothy to the Wicked Witch, and so forth. But in the news and political life, we’re still struggling over whose story it is, who matters, and who our compassion and interest should be directed at.

The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It’s white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing.

The sharing that Solnit alludes to here links to Rorty’s ideas about the importance of solidarity and consensus for democracy. Consensus can’t be imposed and solidarity should not be manufactured by indulging in fantasies of a homogenous, unified society (and narrative) that never really existed. The only way forward, as Solnit puts it, is “sharing”.

This brings us back to the unique power of story. It has one killer feature, an extra feature that not even real life has. As Annie Murphy Paul notes:

novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

This killer feature is one aspect of the power that Plato, Didion and many others wisely fear, and Hume and Rorty rightly celebrate. It is not a power we can or will stop using, so one of the great battles of our time, as Solnit says, is “who the story is about, who matters and who decides”.The Conversation

Claire Corbett, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

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

A damning review of e-cigarettes shows vaping leads to smoking, the opposite of what supporters claim

Paul GroganUniversity of Sydney and Guy MarksUNSW Sydney

A major review on the health effects of e-cigarettes reflects what public health advocates have feared – escalating use of e-cigarettes in school-aged children, early warning signs of increased smoking rates in young Australians, and direct health harms of vaping in all ages.

The review, which was released today, was commissioned by the federal health department and conducted by researchers at the Australian National University.

Overall, it found the health risks from e-cigarettes significantly outweighed any potential benefits.

The review should silence lobbyists, who have long used data selectively to promote the sale of e-cigarettes. This is despite the fact previous , none as comprehensive and rigorous as this latest review, have delivered similar findings.

What Does The Review Tell Us?

The review looked at the evidence behind the health impacts of e-cigarettes or “vapes” – a diverse group of devices that aerosolise a liquid for inhalation. These are touted as a safer alternative to cigarettes and an aid to quit smoking.

The review found conclusive clinical evidence e-cigarettes cause acute (short-term) lung injury, poisoning, burns, seizures, and their use leads to addiction. They also cause less serious harms, such as throat irritation and nausea.

Evidence e-cigarettes produce airborne particles in indoor environments (potentially harming non-users) was also conclusive.

Among evidence ranked as strong, the review confirms what has worried tobacco control experts since patterns of e-cigarette use first emerged.

People who have never smoked or are non-smokers are three times as likely to smoke if they use e-cigarettes, compared with people who have never used e-cigarettes.

This is a dream for tobacco companies and their retail allies.

Weighing Up The Harms And The Benefits

The review found limited evidence e-cigarettes assist individuals to stop smoking. But this is no stronger than evidence showing e-cigarette use might also cause former smokers to relapse and revert to tobacco.

There is no conclusive or strong evidence in the review for any beneficial outcome from e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes might help some individuals stop smoking. So they should only be available via a prescription from authorised medical professionals trained in helping people to quit. Any access beyond this risks serious harm for no benefit.

Young People Are Vaping

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data show the age group most likely to use e-cigarettes in their lifetime are 18 to 24-year-olds. This has risen from 19.2% in 2016 to 26.1% in 2019.

Of e-cigarette users who identify as smokers, the second largest user group is 14 to 17-year-olds. Dual use is starting young, from the limited Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data we have.

Teenage girl smoking cigarette
E-cigarette use is most common in people who also smoke. Shutterstock

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data precedes increasingly visible use of e-cigarettes in Australian schools, reported in the media.

The review also shows young males are the leading e-cigarette user group by age and sex. Australian males aged 18-24 are also the only age group which, on the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, are smoking at greater rates than they were three years earlier.

We Need To Limit Access

Whatever benefits might be delivered by e-cigarettes, such as helping people to quit smoking, would, according to the review, be modest compared with the harms they are likely to cause.

Unfortunately, public policy on the regulation of e-cigarettes is at risk of influence from powerful commercial interests. In the interests of public health, these forces must be resisted.

What Should Governments Do?

Federal, state and territory governments have enacted policies aimed at providing e-cigarette access to individuals who might benefit from them to quit smoking, while protecting everyone else.

But the evidence on how widely e-cigarettes are used shows these policies need to be more tightly enforced.

It’s still easy to buy e-cigarettes online, they are available without prescription from petrol stations, tobacconists, specialty “vape” stores and are on-sold by entrepreneurs – all of them acting unlawfully. Heavy fines will end their cash incentive.

The review shows the risks to public health posed by e-cigarettes will only grow unless governments enforce their laws.

This is to protect young Australians from becoming the first generation since trend data was collected to smoke and use nicotine at higher rates than their predecessors.The Conversation

Paul Grogan, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, The Daffodil Centre, University of Sydney and Guy Marks, Professor of Respiratory Medicine, South Western Sydney Clinical School, UNSW Sydney

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

Policy Alert No 19 Federal Budget 2022

April 8, 2022: COTA Australia
Many of the headline measures in this Budget have focused on emergency response and addressing short term issues. While the issues are real these measures can also be seen in the context of a looming Federal election. It is understandable that the Budget ’spin’ focused on current short term crises (e.g. COVID, floods, cost of living pressures) it is important and welcome that long term reform measures are also outlined in Budget papers.

Short term measures designed to assist with issues like the pressure of the increasing cost of living need to be balanced with longer term measures to improve the lives of older people and Australians generally. Examples of the latter that are in the Budget are the continued commitment and additional funding for the Aged Care Reform Package, and the additional $633 million for the 10-year Primary Health Care Plan.

As usual COTA is pleased by a number of both short and longer term measures, but disappointed that some other measures we strongly recommended as essential to older people’s welfare were not included.
The Policy Alert includes policy analysis from the perspective of:
  • Retirement Incomes
  • Income Support Measures
  • Aged Care
  • COIVID-19 Response Package – Ageing and Aged Care
  • Health
  • Housing

COTA Welcomes Labor’s Tough Stance On Poor Performing Residential Aged Care Providers; Looks Forward To Home Care Announcements

April 4, 2022
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, the peak body for older Australians, welcomes announcements today by the Labor Opposition that will increase funding transparency, establish a General Duty of Care to protect residents and workers, and put bad providers in jail if they deliberately breach it.

In addition, Labor announced it would appoint a dedicated Aged Care Complaints Commissioner within the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and give the Commission new investigative powers and the ability to apply civil penalties for any aged care provider who punishes residents, families or workers that complain.

COTA Australia Chief Executive, Ian Yates, said he was pleased Labor was supporting COTA’s long standing call for a tough cop on the beat in aged care, with increased powers and penalties.“Civil penalties if providers punish someone for complaining and criminal penalties for breaching a General Duty of Care demonstrates that Labor is taking seriously the neglect reported by the Royal Commission,” said Mr Yates.

“This industry needs to get rid of its far too many bad eggs and lift the standards for all – something its peak bodies have consistently failed to do, so we welcome the industry regulator having the strongest powers.”

“We have also long argued that beyond penalties, whoever is in government must ensure that the consistently poorest performing  providers are taken out of the industry. The extra powers for the Quality and Safety Commission should be extended to include that, and we look forward to discussing this with Labor.

Mr Yates said that some of the announced measures announced by Labor match the Government’s response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations, which we welcome, while others indicate that the ALP is working through the Royal Commission’s recommendations and signalling its own priorities.

“We are pleased to see Labor set out a clear and forceful response to the neglect reported by the Royal Commission over two and a half years ago, and its Final Report over a year ago,” Mr Yates said.

“Reforming aged care is not an easy task – there are few silver bullets and there are still too many poorer quality providers. We look forward to more details of the Opposition’s plans and to working with Labor on the measures they have foreshadowed.

Mr Yates also again called on Labor, and all parties, to commit to the implementation of the Royal Commission recommendations and timeline, which now include the Government’s response, and the detailed planning and consultation already well underway.

“In particular, we look forward to hearing the Opposition’s policies to support the more than one million older Australians receiving care and support in their home, including Home Care Package recipients, who due to the accelerated rollout of packages by the Government, now exceed the number of people in residential care. Planning of the new Support at Home program is well advanced and is a high priority for older people and their families.

“COTA again welcomes Labor putting aged care front and centre in the forthcoming election. We have come a long way since 2007 when neither party released an aged care policy.

“In this election we need comprehensive policies from all parties that really deliver for older Australians.”

Seniors Card Goes Digital For 30th Anniversary

While pearl is the traditional gift for a thirtieth anniversary, the NSW Government is celebrating 30 years of the Seniors Card by making it digital via the Service NSW app.

Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello said the digital Seniors and Seniors Savers Cards will make life easier for seniors by taking the hassle out of everyday transactions.

“Seniors have already embraced the Service NSW app through programs like Dine & Discover NSW and the Digital Driver Licence, and this digital option provides them with greater choice and flexibility,” Mr Dominello said.

“The Service NSW app is secure and convenient, and digital cards and credentials mean there is one less thing for customers to carry around with them.

“The rollout follows a successful pilot with 4,000 participants, with the vast majority giving it the thumbs up.”

Minister for Seniors Mark Coure said the program has been providing savings since its inception in 1992, including on gas and electricity.

“We have brought this service, which has been beneficial for easing the cost of living for seniors, into the twenty-first century,” Mr Coure said.

“When this initiative was first introduced by the then Premier of NSW, John Fahey, 250,000 seniors had access to discounts and rebates from 320 goods and service providers.

“Now, it is one of the largest programs of its kind in Australia, with 1.8 million seniors able to access discounts and rebates at more than 6,500 shops, travel, entertainment and professional services.”

The digital cards will be opt-in only and customers will continue to receive a physical card.

To find instructions on how to add a digital Seniors or Senior Savers Card to the Service NSW app or to learn more visit  

Top 10 Sydney postcodes for Seniors Card holders:
Postcode  Area Card Holders
2170 Liverpool 16,607
2560 Campbelltown 15,656
2145 Greystanes 15,429
2153 Baulkham Hills 14,491
2148 Blacktown 12,724
2750 Penrith 11,120
2770 Mount Druitt 10,337
2166 Cabramatta 10,088
2176 Bossley Park 9,785
2099 Dee Why 9,731

PCYC 85th Anniversary - NSW Police Force

Published by The NSW Police
“When you bring young kids into a space where they feel safe, they actually transform”  - Dom Teakle, PCYC CEO.

Since its founding in 1937, PCYC has been making meaningful change in the lives of young people. Happy 85th anniversary!

The budget super giveaway that allows the already wealthy to amass even more tax-free

Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

One of the strangest, certainly one of the hardest to justify, measures in last week’s budget was called “supporting retirees”.

A better title would have been “supercharging the wealth of those retirees who already have more than enough to live on”.

It flies in the face of the findings of the government’s own retirement income review and legislation it introduced partly in response earlier this year.

It happens not to support the living standards of retirees at all. It will enable some to spend less on themselves than they would have, while enabling those with serious wealth to accelerate the accumulation of even more, tax-free.

What the measure does is extend a temporary COVID relaxation of the rules requiring retirees to actually withdraw a minimum amount from their super each year, introduced in March 2020 when financial markets were in free-fall.

All retirees are required to withdraw a minimum amount from super each year in order to ensure it isn’t simply used as a vehicle to accumulate tax-free savings that aren’t used.

Retirees Have To Withdraw A Minimum Per Year

For retirees aged 65-74 the regulated minimum is 5% per year, for those aged 75-79 it is 6% per year and so on, up to retirees aged 95 and over, who are required to withdraw at least 14% per year.

Nothing stops retirees withdrawing more than the regulated minimum, but the review found that in practice the typical withdrawal rate is just above the minimum, because people use it as an “anchor” or guide to what to do.

It identifies the most common misconception about super being that

“the minimum drawdown rate is what the government recommends”

It says another is: “I should only draw down the income earned on my assets, not the capital”. Both set up retirees for a much lower standard of living than they could get.

The review finds that if a middle earner drew down an optimum amount rather than the minimum required, his or her super income would be 20% higher.

Instead, most retirees “die with the bulk of their wealth intact”. One fund told the review its members who died left 90% of the balance they had at retirement.

Most Die With Most Intact

It’s at odds with the purpose of super, defined by the government as to provide “income in retirement”. In February the government legislated to help make sure this is what funds did. From July they will be required to present to their members with an income strategy, for which bequests “should not be an aim”.

Things changed when the Australian share market collapsed 30% between mid-February and mid-March 2020 as coronavirus took hold.

As a “temporary” measure, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg halved the drawdown requirements, in order to enable retirees to better build up their balances after the storm passed. A similar measure was introduced during the global financial crisis.

The storm passed quickly. Markets began climbing back the day the treasurer made the announcement, and then kept climbing. SuperRatings says in the past year the median balanced super fund has grown 13.4%.

Yet oddly, the government extended the measure in May last year when the market was soaring to new heights, in order to “make life easier for our retirees” and then extended it again on budget night in order to “recognise the valuable contribution self-funded retirees make to the Australian economy”.

It is as if the government has junked the idea that super should actually be used to provide income to the people who accumulate it.

As it happens there is nothing in the drawdown requirements that forces retirees to spend on themselves (and nor could there be). All they do is force retirees to withdraw a minimum amount from the generally tax-free environment that is retiree super, and have it treated like other people’s investments and savings.

Earnings In Retiree Super Untaxed

If retirees aren’t forced to withdraw a minimum, in the words of the retirement income report to the treasurer, large amounts will be held in super “mainly as a tax minimisation strategy, separate to any retirement income goals”.

The only justification offered in budget papers (a weak one) refers to “ongoing volatility” and the need to “allow retirees to avoid selling assets”.

But markets are generally volatile, and it is usually super funds that sell assets, not retirees. It’s as if the measure is directed at self-managed super funds, some of which are rich beyond most of our wildest dreams, certainly far too rich to need to pay out anything but a tiny percentage of their holdings to their members.

A freedom of information request by the Australian Financial Review has revealed that 27 such funds hold more than A$100 million each. Its best guess is they are owned by Australia’s wealthiest families.

Of course, most retirees have much lower balances, and are reluctant to withdraw funds for another reason. Perhaps surprisingly, studies examined by the review find that main reason isn’t a desire to pass on an inheritance to their children.

Overwhelmingly, retirees are concerned about “outliving their savings”.

Frightened Of Outliving Savings

The prospect of inferior aged care or a late health emergency compels most retirees to save far more than they are likely to need, just in case.

Many are unaware of how little end-of-life aged and health care can cost (“especially given the complexity of aged care means-testing arrangements”) and many more want to buy their way out of standard care because of the awful things they have heard, some of it in the aged care royal commission.

It makes Labor’s budget reply promise of more money for aged care and a nurse on each site 24/7 doubly attractive. It might stop us hanging on to absurd amounts of our super out of fear.

It might allow us to relax and enjoy what could be the best decades of our lives.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Straight to the pool room: a love letter to The Castle on its 25th anniversary

Daryl SparkesUniversity of Southern Queensland

The phrases “Tell him he’s dreamin’”, “That’s going straight to the pool room”, “How’s the serenity?” and “It’s the vibe” have become Aussie staples. These now-classic quotes all come from The Castle - voted the best Australian film ever in a recent poll.

The Castle was released in Australia 25 years go. It charmed the socks off us on its release and its reputation and influence as the quintessential Australian film have grown since.

Centred on an ordinary working class family, the Kerrigans, the film tells of their legal fight against greedy developers and the government when their house and land are threatened with a plan to extend an airport runway.

When his neighbours’ properties are also targeted, Darryl Kerrigan, the father, organises a protest committee. It hires perhaps the most inept suburban solicitor, Dennis Denuto (Tiriel Mora), to dispute the case in court - and fails. Dennis’s main defence is that

It’s the constitution. It’s Mabo. It’s justice. It’s law. It’s the vibe … no, that’s it, it’s the vibe.

It’s The Vibe

Reputedly filmed over 11 days on a very small budget, it stars mostly television actors, or those who were at that time just emerging, such as Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Eric Bana and Wayne Hope. It’s true the production values are ordinary at best and the visuals are uninspiring, but who cares? This all adds to the feeling of the familiar and very real world of the Kerrigans.

The best parts of the film are the characters, the exploration of family and most importantly, the naive and gentle humour expressed through the character’s dialogue.

The film is full of dad jokes that you just know Darryl tells over and over. From telling opposing lawyers to “suffer in their jocks”, or saying every cheap knick-knack they find is “going straight to the pool-room”, the humour is comprised of bad puns, repetitive gags and parochial sayings.

Darryl’s repetitive, good-natured bits, such as being amazed at every dinner that his wife makes, regardless of whether it’s just rissoles or chicken, is clearly meant to be humorous - but we don’t laugh at the Kerrigans, we laugh with them.

This is because the humour is all expressed through their glass half full view of the world. All of the Kerrigans have this eternal positivity and optimism. After losing the court case and facing eviction, they look for the good in it. Most people would be happy not to live next to a busy airport but Dale Kerrigan only sees the benefits, “It will be very convenient if we ever have to fly one day”.

Straight To The Pool Room

The Kerrigan values are similar to many working class Australians: anti-authoritarianism, the Aussie battler ethos, a sense of political antipathy, and a belief in common sense and that natural justice will prevail. This is why this film has endured over so many years - Australians recognise themselves in the characters.

The Kerrigans are just ordinary people who find delight in their ordinariness. Darryl works the tow-truck, they have little money, their house is built on a landfill site and their eldest son is in prison. They go on holiday - not to Bali or Hawaii, but to Bonnie Doon, a little country town with a small lake and a shack that Darryl built amongst towering electricity pylons. A place many people would run a mile from.

Again, the family don’t see this as a negative. As Dale says wisely, “Dad, he reckons power-lines are a reminder of man’s ability to generate electricity”.

The Castle embraces an A Current Affair mentality - that someone, somewhere in business or in government is always trying to rip-off the honest little guy. Darryl Kerrigan represents all the honest, hard working Australian battlers who have been done over by forces greater than them. We all want to see the tables turned and the little guy win - this is why underdog stories such as this are so popular.

Dale Has Dug A Hole

But The Castle goes beyond such simple classifications. The events portrayed are just a sideline to the family dynamics - the bond of family and community in every situation, good and bad, is paramount to the film.

Every Kerrigan supports each other and celebrates their achievements no matter how small, such as the pride they have in Dale having dug a hole. Even if the Kerrigans aren’t like your family, you secretly wish they were.

How deeply embedded the characters and dialogue are in the Australian psyche can be demonstrated is one anecdote?. The real Bonnie Doon was listed for sale in 2011. The estate agent was inundated with people calling asking for the price. When told, they universally replied, “Tell him he’s dreamin’”.The Conversation

Daryl Sparkes, Senior Lecturer (Media Studies and Production), University of Southern Queensland

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

Scammers Targeting Victims Again Through Money Recovery Scams

April 5, 2022
Scamwatch is warning people to be aware of uninvited offers of help to recover money for an up-front payment, following a spike in reports of money recovery scams.

These scams target people who have already lost money to a previous scam by promising to help victims recover their losses after paying a fee in advance. Australians have lost over $270,000 to these scams so far this year, an increase of 301 per cent.

“Scammers will ask for money and personal information before offering to ‘help’ the victim and will then disappear and stop all contact,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“Money recovery scams are particularly nasty as they target scam victims again. These scams can lead to significant psychological distress as many of the people have already lost money or identity information.”

This year Scamwatch has received 66 reports of money recovery scams, a 725 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2021.

Scammers target previous scam victims, contacting them out of the blue, and pose as a trusted organisation such as a law firm, fraud taskforce or government agency. They may have official looking websites and use fake testimonials from other victims they have ‘helped’.

As well as an up-front payment they often ask victims to fill out fake paperwork or provide identity documents. Scammers may request remote access to computers or smart phones, enabling them to scam their unsuspecting victims.

Another tactic scammers use is to contact people by phone or email who haven’t actually been a victim of a scam and convince them that they’ve unknowingly been involved in one and are entitled to a settlement refund.

“If you get contacted out of the blue by someone offering to help recover scam losses for a fee, it is a scam. Hang up the phone, delete the email and ignore any further contacts,” Ms Rickard said.

“Don’t give financial details or copies of identity documents to anyone who you’ve never met in person and never give strangers remote access to your devices.”

“Scammers can be very convincing and one way to spot them is to search online for the name of the organisation who contacted you with words like ‘complaint’, ‘scam’ or ‘review’,” Ms Rickard said.

People who have lost money to a scam should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible. If they are not happy with the financial institutions response, victims can make a complaint to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority which is a free and independent dispute resolution service. Financial institutions may be able to find where the money was sent, block the scam accounts and help others to avoid sending money to scammers.

People who are a victim of a scam or identity theft should act quickly to reduce the risk of financial loss or other damages. IDCARE is a free government-funded service which will help to develop a specific response plan. They will never contact you out of the blue.

For more advice on how to avoid scams and what to do if you or someone you know is a victim of a scam, visit the Scamwatch website. You can also follow @scamwatch_gov on Twitter and subscribe to Scamwatch radar alerts.

Have You Heard Of Walking Netball?

To celebrate Seniors Week, we encourage you to give it a try! Programs are running in Ballina, Penrith, Manly Warringah, South West Rocks, Illawarra, Newcastle & Sutherland Shire.
For more information go to
Local Walking Netball dates (March 30 to July 2022) at:

Bill Haley And The Comets: Razzle Dazzle

Bill Haley and His Comets originally recorded Razzle-Dazzle, written by Jesse Stone, on May 10, 1955 for a June 1955 release.

Mark Foy's Fashions - Mash Up

From The Film Australia Collection; mash up from the Mark Foy's Fashion Collection (1940s to 1950s).  This collection of 16mm film was donated to Film Australia over 20 years ago and is now part of the NFSA collection.  Recently scanned to HD digital files it represents a unique insight into the high-end fashion world of Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s.  The collection showcases three events held at Mark Foy's department store over ten years where French designers and models brought Paris haute couture to the streets of Sydney.  These films are originally silent and the collection contains over two hours of material.  It is presented here with contemporary audio and effects.

Serving up choice and dignity in aged care – how meals are enjoyed is about more than what’s on the plate

Unsplash/CDCCC BY
Jade CartwrightUniversity of TasmaniaAnne WhitworthUniversity of Tasmania, and Elizabeth OliverCurtin University

Meals are rituals built around pleasures and choices. While what is served at mealtimes in aged care homes has received recent attention and Labor has pledged to improve the food offered, new research highlights that how meals are offered is just as important.

More than 50% of aged care residents live with dementia, and outside of mealtimes, spend the majority of their days alone. Mealtimes are the time of the day when people come together, providing opportunities for social connection, celebration, and honouring individual preferences and culture.

And yet, staffing shortages and insufficient time to help residents eat and drink means mealtimes are frequently highly structured and depersonalised, with the focus being on food intake rather than the dining experience.

Further, current aged care funding does not incentivise quality in food, or mealtime autonomy.

Innovation in mealtime care is needed to turn this around and give aged care residents back their basic rights. One proven approach draws on Montessori principles traditionally used within the early childhood field.

Careful Planning Allows More Freedom

The revolutionary thinking of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori has been increasingly applied to dementia care – introduced to the field by psychologist Cameron Camp in the 1990s. The Montessori approach respects the abilities and preferences of the person – young or old – engaging people at their own pace and rhythm.

Montessori methods focus on a carefully prepared environment and work with the retained strengths of a person with dementia to enable engagement and involvement in everyday life. This helps people with dementia reclaim skills, such as the ability to eat independently.

The approach can change people’s expectations of what a person with dementia is capable of and promote a sense of community.

Older woman chooses cutlery
Residents can play an active role in mealtimes. AuthorAuthor provided

Our study looked at how applying Montessori strategies changed mealtimes for staff and residents in a residential aged care setting. We periodically filmed mealtimes, starting before any changes were made and ending with new practices in place.

Routines, materials, and external aids were established to support memory loss and independence. For example, signage invited residents to help themselves to snacks, and a buffet encouraged residents to serve their own meals.

Extending the duration of the breakfast service enabled residents to eat at their own pace, while the preparation of additional food ensured residents had the opportunity for second or third helpings.

Staff across all levels of the organisation were trained and mentored in the Montessori approach. For example, the Montessori mantra “Everything you do for me; you take away from me” was introduced to staff – transforming the way they thought about empowering residents and their own caring roles.

Care staff were encouraged to involve residents in mealtime routines and create meaningful roles, such as setting the table, filling water jugs or writing up the daily menu.

women at table eating
Meals are about sharing food and coming together. Shutterstock

What We Saw

Our observational research evaluated mealtime routines before and after the Montessori model of care was introduced and the findings were promising for everyone involved – residents, families, and staff. We can see this by examining the experience of a resident we’ll call “Marjory”.

Before Montessori, Marjory’s meal was chosen by a staff member and there were no second options should she not like the selection. Marjory’s main meal and dessert were placed together on the bare table, with no explanation as to what they were. She did not choose who she sat with, or which drink was served with her meal. Marjory ate her meal in silence.

We noted this as a familiar pattern, highlighted in previous research, that featured very little social interaction between care staff and residents.

Since Montessori strategies were introduced, Marjory selects what and how much she would like from the labelled buffet. She eats at a table that is beautifully set with a tablecloth, cutlery, and condiments. Marjory can help herself to a second helping if she likes and she socialises during her meal. Afterwards, she helps staff by taking her dishes to the sink.

We watched on as opportunities for choice significantly increased, as did social interaction between staff and residents. Mealtime care had become more respectful and centred around people.

Transforming Care

Examples of positive innovation in aged care need to be shared if we are to change public perceptions of dementia and show how more humanistic models of care are possible.

The Montessori approach is an innovative way to transform care – helping aged care staff rethink their role in enabling people with dementia. With mealtimes occurring several times each day, improved mealtime experiences can provide a pathway to person-centred care.

Cultural change isn’t easy and creative strategies and commitment are needed. Care staff require quality training and ongoing support.

The aged care sector must place greater emphasis on quality outcomes for residents, rewarding providers who enable residents to live well – engaged, involved, and connected.The Conversation

Jade Cartwright, Associate Professor, University of TasmaniaAnne Whitworth, Professor, University of Tasmania, and Elizabeth Oliver, Sessional Academic, Curtin University

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

Where you live affects your dementia risk

Yen Ying LimMonash University and Emily RosenichMonash University

Socioeconomic status is a key indicator of health outcomes, including access to, and quality of health care.

In 4,656 adults across metro, regional and rural Australia, new research from the Healthy Brain Project showed those living in more disadvantaged areas have poorer memory and a greater risk of developing dementia.

Health Inequalities In Dementia Risk

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia. Our rapidly ageing population means without a substantial medical breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia in Australia is expected to double from 487,600 in 2022 to 1.1 million by 2058.

There has been a concerted effort to understand and identify risk factors for dementia. These include risk factors we can’t change (such as age or genetics), and others that are more modifiable (such as diet or physical activity).

However, dementia and its risk factors don’t affect all communities equally. Educational, racial/ethnic, and geographical disparities can influence who develops dementia, including within Australia and the United States.

Socioecononmic status is a major determinant of health. Paul Hanaoka via Unsplash.

Our study assessed geographic inequality at a neighbourhood level. We measured neighbourhood-level socioeconomic status by matching participants’ postcodes with the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage.

This index integrates information related to multiple factors, such as average household income, education, unemployment rates, occupational skills, disability, vehicle ownership, internet connection, family structures, and housing arrangements. Lower scores suggest greater socioeconomic disadvantage.

What Did We Find?

We found lower neighbourhood-level socioeconomic status was associated with worse memory performance and higher dementia risk.

This was especially the case for older adults (55 years old and above). Older adults living in neighbourhoods with low socioeconomic status had poorer memory and higher dementia risk.

This is in line with a US-based study that found adults living in the lowest 20% of disadvantaged neighbourhoods had smaller brains.

Confused elderly man being helped by his wife.
Lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods have a higher dementia risk. Shutterstock

What Do These Findings Mean?

The first thing to note is this was an observational study, which involves following a group of people, and investigating how potential risk factors are associated with dementia risk. The results do not mean living in a more disadvantaged area causes memory loss or dementia. The results only indicate there is a relationship or association between neighbourhood disadvantage and dementia risk.

Second, neighbourhood-level socioeconomic status measures many complexities and nuances of where people live. This captures a range of information likely to influence health outcomes and disease risk. Some of these factors include the prevalence of crime and safetylocal resources including access to health care and education, opportunity and space for physical activity and leisure, social disorder, access to greenery, as well as air and noise pollution.

These economic, psychosocial, and environmental factors can not only influence health outcomes, but also influence the way we behave. For example, the lack of green space or community sporting facilities may discourage physical activity, which is a known risk factor for both poor heart and brain health. Similarly, libraries and leisure centres provide important avenues for social engagement and mental development, the lack of which are also risk factors for dementia.

Additionally, due to affordability, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may also live in areas with fewer services that enable a healthy lifestyle. They are also more likely to experience poorer health outcomes as a result of entrenched disadvantage and lower health literacy. This cyclical nature of inequality may also explain why we observed higher dementia risk in individuals from low socioeconomic neighbourhoods.

It will be critical for future work to understand whether neighbourhood socioeconomic status influences memory decline over time, and actual dementia diagnosis.

What Should Be Done?

Targeting neighbourhood socioeconomic status will take enormous investment and collective effort at a local, state, and national level. As a starting point, increasing the availability and accessibility of green spaces and community facilities, such as leisure and sporting clubs, in every postcode will enable greater opportunity for healthy, active lifestyles into older age.

On an individual level, positive health behaviours have been identified that can help to prevent or delay memory loss and dementia risk. These include eating a balanced diet, learning new skills or languages, regular physical activity, staying socially connected, and getting a good night’s sleep.

If you are interested in learning how to reduce your dementia risk by changing health behaviours, please consider signing up to the BetterBrains Trial. We are actively recruiting Australians aged 40-70 years old with a family history of dementia.The Conversation

Yen Ying Lim, Associate Professor, Monash University and Emily Rosenich, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Neuropsychology), Monash University

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

Fatigue after COVID is way more than just feeling tired. 5 tips on what to do about it

Mel Elias/Unsplash
Natasha YatesBond University

People are often surprised by how fatigued they are during a COVID infection.

Fatigue is more than being worn out or sleepy. It’s an excessive tiredness that persists despite resting or good sleep. It’s likely a result of our body’s strong immune response to the virus.

But in some people the fatigue drags on even when the infection is gone. This can be debilitating and frustrating. Simply resting more makes no difference.

Here’s what we know about post-COVID fatigue, and what can help.

Fatigue Or Tiredness? What’s The Difference?

The term fatigue can mean different things to different people. Some people mean their muscles are easily weakened. Walking to the mailbox feels like they have run a marathon. Others describe a generalised exhaustion, whether they are moving or not. People can experience physical, mental or emotional fatigue, or any combination of these.

The difference between tiredness and fatigue is this: tiredness can get better with enough rest, while fatigue persists even if someone is sleeping and resting more than ever.

How Big A Problem Is This?

Because there is no agreed definition of post-COVID fatigue, it is impossible to give exact numbers of how many people experience it.

Estimates vary considerably worldwide. One review of 21 studies found 13-33% of people were fatigued 16-20 weeks after their symptoms started. This is a worryingly widespread problem.

When Should I See My GP?

There are many potential causes of fatigue. Even before the pandemic, fatigue was one of the most common reasons to see a GP.

Most serious causes can be ruled out when your GP asks about your symptoms and examines you. Sometimes your GP will investigate further, perhaps by ordering blood tests.

Symptoms that should raise particular concern include fevers, unexplained weight loss, unusual bleeding or bruising, pain (anywhere) that wakes you from sleep, or drenching night sweats.

If your fatigue is getting worse rather than better, or you cannot care for yourself properly, you really should seek medical care.

Is It Like Long COVID?

Early in the pandemic, we realised some patients had a cluster of debilitating symptoms that dragged on for months, which we now call long COVID.

Some 85% of long COVID patients experience fatigue, making it one of the most common long COVID symptoms.

However, people with long COVID have a range of other symptoms, such as “brain fog”, headaches and muscle aches. Patients with long COVID therefore experience more than fatigue, and sometimes don’t have fatigue at all.

Is This Like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

We knew about chronic fatigue syndrome, otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, well before COVID.

This often develops after a viral infection (for instance after infection with Epstein-Barr virus). So, understandably, there has been concern around the coronavirus potentially triggering chronic fatigue syndrome.

There are striking similarities between chronic fatigue syndrome and long COVID. Both involve debilitating fatigue, brain fog and/or muscle aches.

But at this stage, researchers are still untangling any link between post-COVID fatigue, long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome.

For now, we know many people will have post-COVID fatigue but thankfully do not go on to develop long COVID or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Fatigued woman lying on sofa clutching her head
Many people will have post-COVID fatigue but do not not develop long COVID or chronic fatigue syndrome. Shutterstock

What Helps Me Manage My Fatigue?

Expect you or a loved one may develop post-COVID fatigue, regardless of how unwell you or they were during the actual infection.

Vaccines help reduce the risk of post-COVID fatigue by lowering the chance of catching COVID in the first place. Vaccinated people who do catch COVID are less likely to report fatigue and are less likely to develop long COVID.

However, vaccination is not 100% protective and there are plenty of fully vaccinated people who go on to develop longer term fatigue.

The evidence for what helps you recover from post-COVID fatigue is in its infancy. However, a few things do help:

1. pace yourself: adjust the return to normal activities to your energy levels. Choose your priorities and focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t

2. return to exercise gradually: a gradual return to exercise may help your recovery, but you may need some support about how to manage or avoid fatigue afterwards. Some therapists – occupational therapists, physiotherapists and exercise physiologists – specialise in this. So ask your GP for a recommendation

3. prioritise sleep: rather than feeling guilty about sleeping so much, remind yourself that while you sleep, your body conserves energy and heals. Disrupted sleep patterns are an unfortunate COVID symptom. Having a strict bedtime, while also resting when you feel tired during the day, is important

4. eat a range of nutritious foods: loss of smell, taste and appetite from COVID can make this tricky. However, try to view food as a way of fuelling your body with both energy and the micronutrients it needs to heal. Be careful not to spend a fortune on unproven “remedies” that often look good in small studies, but more robust research finds make little difference

5. monitor your fatigue: keep a diary to monitor your fatigue, and look for a gradual improvement. You will have good days and bad days, but overall there should be a slow trajectory towards recovery. If you are going backwards, get input from a health professional, such as your GP.The Conversation

Natasha Yates, Assistant Professor, General Practice, Bond University

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

Ozone May Be Heating The Planet More Than We Realise: Southern Ocean

Ozone may be weakening one of the Earth's most important cooling mechanisms, making it a more significant greenhouse gas than previously thought, research has found. A new study has revealed that changes to ozone levels in the upper and lower atmosphere were responsible for almost a third of the warming seen in ocean waters bordering Antarctica in the second half of the 20th century.

The deep and rapid warming in the Southern Ocean affects its role as one of the main regions for soaking up excess heat as the planet warms.

The majority of this warming was the result of ozone increases in the lower atmosphere. Ozone -- one of the main components of smog -- is already hazardous as a pollutant, but the research shows it may also play a significant role in driving climate change in the coming years.

Dr Michaela Hegglin, an Associate Professor in atmospheric chemistry and one of the study's authors, said: "Ozone close to Earth's surface is harmful to people and the environment, but this study reveals it also has a big impact on the ocean's ability to absorb excess heat from the atmosphere.

"These findings are an eye-opener and hammer home the importance of regulating air pollution to prevent increased ozone levels and global temperatures rising further still."

The new research by an international team of scientists, and led by the University of California Riverside, is published in Nature Climate Change.

The team used models to simulate changes in ozone levels in the upper and lower atmosphere between 1955 and 2000, to isolate them from other influences and increase the currently poor understanding of their impact on the Southern Ocean heat uptake.

These simulations showed that a decrease in ozone in the upper atmosphere and increase in the lower atmosphere both contributed to warming seen in the upper 2km of the ocean waters in the high latitudes by overall greenhouse gas increases.

They revealed that the increased ozone in the lower atmosphere caused 60% of the overall ozone-induced warming seen in the Southern Ocean over the period studied -- far more than previously thought. This was surprising because tropospheric ozone increases are mainly thought of as a climate forcing in the Northern hemisphere since that is where the main pollution occurs.

Ozone hit the headlines in the 1980s when a hole was discovered in the ozone layer high in the atmosphere over the South Pole, due to damage caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a gas used in industry and consumer products.

The ozone layer is vital as it filters dangerous ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth's surface. This discovery led to the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to halt the production of CFCs.

Dr Hegglin said: "We have known for a while that ozone depletion high in the atmosphere has affected surface climate in the Southern Hemisphere. Our research has shown that ozone increases in the lower atmosphere due to air pollution, which occurs primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and 'leaks' into the Southern Hemisphere, is a serious problem as well.

"There is hope to find solutions, and the success of the Montreal Protocol at cutting CFC use shows that international action is possible to prevent damage to the planet."

Ozone is created in the upper atmosphere by interaction between oxygen molecules and UV radiation from the sun. In the lower atmosphere, it forms due to chemical reactions between pollutants like vehicle exhaust fumes and other emissions.

Changes in ozone concentrations in the atmosphere affect westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere as well as causing contrasting levels of salt and temperature close to the surface in the Southern Ocean. Both affect ocean currents in distinct ways, thereby affecting ocean heat uptake.

Wei Liu, Michaela I. Hegglin, Ramiro Checa-Garcia, Shouwei Li, Nathan P. Gillett, Kewei Lyu, Xuebin Zhang, Neil C. Swart. Stratospheric ozone depletion and tropospheric ozone increases drive Southern Ocean interior warming. Nature Climate Change, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-022-01320-w

How To Track A Shark

April 5, 2022
An international team of researchers, led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has compiled a massive dataset that overlays years' worth of information on the position, migration and interaction of sharks and game fish. This research has immediate relevance for anglers, who have been reporting increased contact with sharks over the years. The research, recently published in Ecological Applications and which relies on an innovative use of acoustic telemetry and machine learning, gives us the clearest window yet into complex ecological relationships and promises to be a useful tool in ongoing conservation efforts.

"It's so rare to observe multi-species interaction in the ocean," says Lucas Griffin, the paper's co-lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in environmental conservation at UMass Amherst. That's because species such as the ones the researchers focused on -- great hammerhead and bull sharks, permit and Atlantic tarpon -- can range over hundreds of square miles of open ocean. There has long been anecdotal evidence from the game-fishing community that instances of depredation -- when a shark eats a fish that has been hooked -- are on the rise, but to date there's been no hard data to support whether or not such encounters are indeed increasing and, if so, why.

For this study, the researchers focused on the coastal regions of the Florida Keys. Over a three-year period, the collaborative team deployed nearly 300 acoustic receivers and tagged 257 fish (including 73 sharks) with transmitters. Every time one of the tagged sharks or fish swam within range of the receiver, its presence was recorded and tagged with the date and time. This approach, called acoustic telemetry, gave the team unprecedented access to the migratory, reproductive and feeding patterns of sharks and gamefish. The team then ran their raw data through a cutting-edge machine-learning algorithm to model the incredibly complex interplay of environmental factors, such as time of year, lunar cycle and water depth and temperature.

"Combining acoustic telemetry and machine learning helped us to answer a host of questions about predators and prey," says Grace Casselberry, the paper's other co-lead author and a graduate student in the program in marine sciences and technology in UMass Amherst's Department of Environmental Conservation. It turns out that tarpon and permit are returning to the same spawning grounds, at the same times of year, every year. Sharks know this: "they seem to remember where and when the tarpon and permit aggregate," says Casselberry. So do anglers who, through years of word-of-mouth reporting on when the fish are biting where, wind up trying to hook the same fish that sharks feed on. Knowing this, fisheries managers can tailor their management strategies to best protect the interests of sharks, game fish and anglers.

Finally, the team's research is innovative not just for its methods, but for its cooperation. A wide range of institutions shared data from tagged fish, including research institutions, like the University of Miami and the Bimini Biological Field Station in The Bahamas, to state agencies, like the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the non-profit environmental groups, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. 
"We also worked extensively with the local fishing-guide community to help tag game fish and sharks, and figure out where to place the receivers," says Griffin. 

"Our lab very much embraces a collaborative and cooperative spirit," says Andy Danylchuk, professor of fish conservation at UMass Amherst and one of the paper's senior authors. "We are grateful for our research partners and hope our science will help to hone conservation and management strategies for both game fish and sharks."

Lucas P. Griffin, Grace A. Casselberry, Susan K. Lowerre‐Barbieri, Alejandro Acosta, Aaron J. Adams, Steven J. Cooke, Alex Filous, Claudia Friess, Tristan L. Guttridge, Neil Hammerschlag, Vital Heim, Danielle Morley, Mitchell J. Rider, Gregory B. Skomal, Matthew J. Smukall, Andy J. Danylchuk, Jacob W. Brownscombe. Predator–prey landscapes of large sharks and game fishes in the Florida Keys. Ecological Applications, 2022; DOI: 10.1002/eap.2584

Engineers Point The Way To More Affordable And Sustainable Urban Neighbourhoods

April 5, 2022
A Stanford University analysis could help policymakers across the U.S. spend billions of dollars in new federal infrastructure funding more wisely. The study, published March 31 in Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, presents a first-of-its-kind framework to design the most efficient building mix for an urban district along with systems that supply wastewater treatment, cooling, heating and electricity. The approach optimizes hourly demand and supply of power and water with integrated neighbourhood-based power and water plants, significantly reducing costs and pollution compared to traditional systems that serve larger areas. This, in turn, could lead to more walkable, liveable and affordable cities.

"Instead of building blindly, we can use this framework to look at the longer-term, forecast development effects and put numbers behind plans," said study lead author Pouya Rezazadeh Kalehbasti, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford's School of Engineering at the time of the research.

Cities as problem and solution
Urban areas account for more than two-thirds of global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, according to UN estimates. Their water sources are increasingly stressed by global warming and burgeoning populations. A solution lies in coordinating the design of systems that supply power, water and wastewater treatment. Unlike traditionally large, centralized plants with segregated functions, this local, integrated arrangement can make it possible to achieve a variety of efficiencies, such as directing unused electricity or heat from a power system to running a wastewater system or using wastewater to cool a power generating system.

Using advanced technologies, integrated power and water plants can be relatively compact -- about the size of two or three low-rise buildings -- highly efficient and capable of recycling wastewater into potable water. They emit no odours, can run on renewable power sources, such as solar energy, and emit low or no emissions. Each plant can serve between 100 and 1,000 buildings, depending on the buildings' sizes and resident populations. More than 4,000 integrated power and water systems already exist in the U.S., China and other countries, especially Europe and Canada. Private corporations and universities, such as Stanford, have seen significant energy efficiency gains after adopting some form of the approach.

Optimizing systems
With an eye toward optimizing the approach, the researchers modelled two scenarios over 20 years of simulated operation. The first scenario was a building mix and energy system designed together along a conventional central wastewater treatment plant powered by the grid. The second scenario integrated advanced wastewater treatment systems -- forward osmosis-reverse osmosis and forward osmosis-membrane distillation -- into the building and energy design.

The analysis found that fully integrating power and water systems with building mixes resulted in a 75% reduction in social, environmental and economic damage from carbon emissions, and a 20% reduction in lifecycle equipment costs compared to traditional segregated systems. The reductions were due primarily to the reuse of wasted heat and electricity in treating wastewater, and powering the wastewater treatment system with a low- to zero-emission local energy system, rather than the regional electric grid.

The approach proposed in this study is expected to inform urban planners and infrastructure designers of a range of optimal configurations for designing a neighbourhood. This way, they could coordinate design of integrated power and water plants with zoning rules, such as imposing limits on industrial buildings, to lead to more environmentally and economically sustainable urban neighbourhoods.

"It is exciting to see that by integrating existing infrastructure with new urban technologies, and optimizing their performance in unison, we can discover new, substantial pathways toward global carbon reduction," said study co-author Michael Lepech, a professor of civil & environmental engineering.

The researchers hope that urban planners will someday use an expanded version of the framework to design a range of other systems, including garbage removal and traffic control. As technologies advance, the framework could also incorporate new efficiencies, such as using power plant heat to dry wastewater biosolids, thereby reducing disposal needs and creating a source of renewable biofuels.

Pouya Rezazadeh Kalehbasti, Michael D. Lepech, Craig S. Criddle. Integrated Design and Optimization of Water-Energy Nexus: Combining Wastewater Treatment and Energy System. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, 2022; 4 DOI: 10.3389/frsc.2022.856996

Aerial view of Songdo, Korea, a city collaboratively designed by architects and urban planners as a model for sustainable, high-tech urban living. Photo: Michael Lepech

DNA Discovery Reveals A Critical 'Accordion Effect' For Switching Off Genes

April 5, 2022
WEHI researchers have revealed how an 'accordion effect' is critical to switching off genes, in a study that transforms the fundamentals of what we know about gene silencing. The finding expands our understanding of how we switch genes on and off to make the different cell types in our bodies, as we develop in the womb.

It also offers a new way to potentially harness gene silencing in the future, to treat or reverse the progression of a broad range of diseases including cancer, congenital and infectious diseases.

Gene silencing is regulated by how tightly DNA is packed into a cell. The findings from a team led by Dr Andrew Keniry and Professor Marnie Blewitt reveal a new accordion-like trigger that is crucial to the process.

The research is published in Nature Communications.

All in the DNA

The DNA that makes up our genetic material is wrapped tightly around proteins, like thread wraps around a spool. When it is loosely packaged the genes can be switched on; when it is tightly compacted, genes are switched off.

In the new study, the researchers found that to switch a gene off, the DNA packaging must initially loosen up, before then being tightly compressed.

Professor Marnie Blewitt said discovering the accordion-style trigger took the team by surprise, changing their fundamental understanding to date of this critical process.

"We were amazed to learn that the DNA first needs to relax, to trigger this process," she said.

"Similar to how an accordion needs to open up before it is compressed to elicit a musical note, we found our DNA needs to be opened up first, before it can be compressed and the gene is silenced."

Silencing power

Dr Andrew Keniry said gene silencing had amazing therapeutic potential.

"If we could learn exactly how to switch genes off, we may one day be able to switch off detrimental genes in a variety of diseases," Dr Keniry said.

"If you could switch off the oncogenes that drive cancer, for example, you potentially could have a new treatment.

"To be able to realise this dream, we first need to know how the process happens so it can be mimicked with medicines, and our discovery is one more vital piece of this puzzle."

The fundamental mechanistic study was focused on efficiently searching for new factors involved in the gene silencing process.

To enable this, the team created a system they called 'Xmas', based on red and green tags that are normally switched off during development. The system reported gene activity from each X chromosome through the expression of a red and green fluorescent protein, to reveal if the gene silencing process was occurring normally.

The study uncovered a new molecular mechanism of gene silencing, with the researchers pinpointing the protein complex required for this process, known as the BAF complex.

The next steps for the research will investigate why the accordion effect is required for gene silencing and the relevance of the process for genes on other chromosomes, such as the autosomes.

This research was supported by the Dyson Bequest, the DHB Foundation, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Victorian State Government and a Bellberry-Viertel Senior Medical Research fellowship. The work also involved collaborations with other Australian researchers at Monash BioMedical Discovery Institute and The University of Tasmania.

Andrew Keniry, Natasha Jansz, Linden J. Gearing, Iromi Wanigasuriya, Joseph Chen, Christian M. Nefzger, Peter F. Hickey, Quentin Gouil, Joy Liu, Kelsey A. Breslin, Megan Iminitoff, Tamara Beck, Andres Tapia del Fierro, Lachlan Whitehead, Andrew Jarratt, Sarah A. Kinkel, Phillippa C. Taberlay, Tracy Willson, Miha Pakusch, Matthew E. Ritchie, Douglas J. Hilton, Jose M. Polo, Marnie E. Blewitt. BAF complex-mediated chromatin relaxation is required for establishment of X chromosome inactivation. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29333-1

Half Of Older Adults Now Die With A Dementia Diagnosis; Up Sharply

April 2, 2022
Nearly half of all older adults now die with a diagnosis of dementia listed on their medical record, up 36% from two decades ago, a new study shows.

But that sharp rise may have more to do with better public awareness, more detailed medical records and Medicare billing practices than an actual rise in the condition, the researchers say.

Even so, they note, this offers a chance for more older adults to talk in advance with their families and health care providers about the kind of care they want at the end of life if they do develop Alzheimer's disease or another form of cognitive decline.

The study, published in JAMA Health Forum by a University of Michigan team, uses data from 3.5 million people over the age of 67 who died between 2004 and 2017. It focuses on the bills their providers submitted to the traditional Medicare system in the last two years of the patients' lives.

In 2004, about 35% of these end-of-life billing claims contained at least one mention of dementia, but by 2017 it had risen to more than 47%. Even when the researchers narrowed it down to the patients who had at least two medical claims mentioning dementia, 39% of the patients qualified, up from 25% in 2004.

The biggest jump in the percentage of people dying with a dementia diagnosis happened around the time Medicare allowed hospitals, hospices and doctors' offices to list more diagnoses on their requests for payment.

But around this same time, the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease also went into effect, with a focus on public awareness, quality of care and more support for patients and their caregivers.

The end-of-life care that patients with dementia received changed somewhat overtime, including a drop in the percentage who died in a regular hospital bed or a ICU bed, or who had a feeding tube in their last six months. The percentage who received hospice services rose dramatically, from 36% to nearly 63%, though the authors note this is in line with a national trend toward more hospice care by the late 2010s.

"This shows we have far to go in addressing end-of-life care preferences proactively with those who are recently diagnosed, and their families," said Julie Bynum, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and a professor of geriatric medicine at Michigan Medicine. "Where once the concern may have been under diagnosis, now we can focus on how we use dementia diagnosis rates in everything from national budget planning to adjusting how Medicare reimburses Medicare Advantage plans."

Matthew A. Davis, Chiang-Hua Chang, Sharon Simonton, Julie P. W. Bynum. Trends in US Medicare Decedents’ Diagnosis of Dementia From 2004 to 2017. JAMA Health Forum, 2022; 3 (4): e220346 DOI: 10.1001/jamahealthforum.2022.0346

People Around The World Like The Same Kinds Of Smell

April 4, 2022
What smells we like or dislike is primarily determined by the structure of the particular odour molecule. A collaborative study involving researchers from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and the University of Oxford, UK, shows that people share odour preferences regardless of cultural background. The study is published in the journal Current Biology.

"We wanted to examine if people around the world have the same smell perception and like the same types of odour, or whether this is something that is culturally learned," says Artin Arshamian, researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. "Traditionally it has been seen as cultural, but we can show that culture has very little to do with it."

The present study shows that the structure of the odour molecule determines whether a smell is considered pleasant or not. The researchers found that certain smells were liked more than others regardless of the cultural affiliation of participants.

"Cultures around the world rank different odours in a similar way no matter where they come from, but odour preferences have a personal -- although not cultural -- component," says Dr Arshamian.

Studied indigenous populations
The study was made possible through an international network of researchers that collaborated in a unique combination of experimental methods and field studies. The network comprised researchers from Karolinska Institutet, Lund University and Stockholm University (Sweden), University of Oxford and University College London (UK), Arizona State University, Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of Pennsylvania (USA), Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador), University of Melbourne (Australia) and National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Many of the researchers are field workers working with indigenous populations. For this present study, the researchers selected nine communities representing different lifestyles: four hunter-gatherer groups and five groups with different forms of farming and fishing. Some of these groups have very little contact with Western foodstuffs or household articles.

Disparate odiferous environments
"Since these groups live in such disparate odiferous environments, like rainforest, coast, mountain and city, we capture many different types of 'odour experiences'," says Dr Arshamian.

The study included a total of 235 individuals, who were asked to rank smells on a scale of pleasant to unpleasant. The results show variation between individuals within each group, but global correspondence on which odours are pleasant and unpleasant. The researchers show that the variation is largely explained by molecular structure (41 per cent) and by personal preference (54 per cent).

"Personal preference can be due to learning but could also be a result of our genetic makeup," says Dr Arshamian.

Vanilla was considered most pleasant
The odours the participants were asked to rank included vanilla, which smelled best then followed by ethyl butyrate, which smells like peaches. The smell that most participants considered the least pleasant was isovaleric acid, which can be found in many foods, such as cheese, soy milk and apple juice, but also in foot sweat.

According to Dr Arshamian, a possible reason why people consider some smells more pleasant than others regardless of culture is that such odours increased the chances of survival during human evolution.

"Now we know that there's universal odour perception that is driven by molecular structure and that explains why we like or dislike a certain smell," Dr Arshamian continues. "The next step is to study why this is so by linking this knowledge to what happens in the brain when we smell a particular odour."

The field work behind the study was financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the general study by the Swedish Research Council and the USA's National Institutes of Health (NIH). The researchers have reported that there are no conflicts of interest.

Artin Arshamian, Richard C. Gerkin, Nicole Kruspe, Ewelina Wnuk, Simeon Floyd, Carolyn O’Meara, Gabriela Garrido Rodriguez, Johan N. Lundström, Joel D. Mainland, Asifa Majid. The perception of odour pleasantness is shared across cultures. Current Biology, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.02.062

Scientists Connect The Dots Between Galilean Moon, Auroral Emissions On Jupiter

April 5, 2022
On November 8, 2020, NASA's Juno spacecraft flew through an intense beam of electrons traveling from Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon, to its auroral footprint on the gas giant. Southwest Research Institute scientists used data from Juno's payload to study the particle population traveling along the magnetic field line connecting Ganymede to Jupiter while, at the same time, remotely sensing the associated auroral emissions to unveil the mysterious processes creating the shimmering lights.

"Jupiter's most massive moons each create their own auroras on Jupiter's north and south poles," said Dr. Vincent Hue, lead author of a paper outlining the results of this research. "Each auroral footprint, as we call them, is magnetically connected to their respective moon, kind of like a magnetic leash connected to the moon glowing on Jupiter itself."

Like the Earth, Jupiter experiences auroral light around the polar regions as particles from its massive magnetosphere interact with molecules in the Jovian atmosphere. However, Jupiter's auroras are significantly more intense than Earth's, and unlike Earth, Jupiter's largest moons also create auroral spots. The Juno mission, led by SwRI's Dr. Scott Bolton, is circling Jupiter in a polar orbit and flew through the electron "thread" connecting Ganymede with its associated auroral footprint.

"Prior to Juno, we knew that these emissions can be quite complex, ranging from a single auroral spot to multiple spots, which sometimes trail an auroral curtain that we called the footprint tail," said Dr. Jamey Szalay, a co-author from Princeton University. "Juno, flying extremely close to Jupiter, revealed these auroral spots to be even more complex than previously thought."

Ganymede is the only moon in our solar system that has its own magnetic field. Its mini-magnetosphere interacts with Jupiter's massive magnetosphere, creating waves that accelerate electrons along the gas giant's magnetic field lines, which can be directly measured by Juno.

Two SwRI-led instruments on Juno, the Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) and the Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS) provided key data for this study, which was also supported by Juno's magnetic field sensor built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"JADE measured the electrons traveling along the magnetic field lines, while UVS imaged the related auroral footprint spot," said SwRI's Dr. Thomas Greathouse, a co-author on this study.

In this way, Juno is both able to measure the electron "rain" and immediately observe the UV light it creates when it crashes into Jupiter. Previous Juno measurements showed that large magnetic perturbations accompanied the electron beams causing the auroral footprint. However, this time, Juno did not observe similar perturbations with the electron beam.

"If our interpretation is correct, this a confirmation of a decade-old theory that we put together to explain the morphology of the auroral footprints," said Dr. Bertrand Bonfond, a co-author of the study from the Liège University in Belgium. The theory suggests that electrons accelerated in both directions create the multi-spot dance of auroral footprints.

"The Jupiter-Ganymede relationship will be further explored by Juno's extended mission, as well as the forthcoming JUICE mission from the European Space Agency," Hue said. "SwRI is building the next generation of UVS instrumentation for the mission."

V. Hue, J. R. Szalay, T. K. Greathouse, B. Bonfond, S. Kotsiaros, C. K. Louis, A. H. Sulaiman, G. Clark, F. Allegrini, G. R. Gladstone, C. Paranicas, M. H. Versteeg, A. Mura, A. Moirano, D. J. Gershman, S. J. Bolton, J. E. P. Connerney, M. W. Davis, R. W. Ebert, J.‐C. Gérard, R. S. Giles, D. C. Grodent, M. Imai, J. A. Kammer, W. S. Kurth, L. Lamy, B. H. Mauk. A Comprehensive Set of Juno In Situ and Remote Sensing Observations of the Ganymede Auroral Footprint. Geophysical Research Letters, 2022; 49 (7) DOI: 10.1029/2021GL096994

Honey Holds Potential For Making Brain-Like Computer Chips

April 5, 2022
Honey might be a sweet solution for developing environmentally friendly components for neuromorphic computers, systems designed to mimic the neurons and synapses found in the human brain. Hailed by some as the future of computing, neuromorphic systems are much faster and use much less power than traditional computers. Engineers have demonstrated one way to make them more organic too by using honey to make a memristor, a component similar to a transistor that can not only process but also store data in memory. 

Hailed by some as the future of computing, neuromorphic systems are much faster and use much less power than traditional computers. Washington State University engineers have demonstrated one way to make them more organic too. In a study published in Journal of Physics D, the researchers show that honey can be used to make a memristor, a component similar to a transistor that can not only process but also store data in memory.

"This is a very small device with a simple structure, but it has very similar functionalities to a human neuron," said Feng Zhao, associate professor of WSU's School of Engineering and Computer Science and corresponding author on the study."This means if we can integrate millions or billions of these honey memristors together, then they can be made into a neuromorphic system that functions much like a human brain."

For the study, Zhao and first author Brandon Sueoka, a WSU graduate student in Zhao's lab, created memristors by processing honey into a solid form and sandwiching it between two metal electrodes, making a structure similar to a human synapse. They then tested the honey memristors' ability to mimic the work of synapses with high switching on and off speeds of 100 and 500 nanoseconds respectively. The memristors also emulated the synapse functions known as spike-timing dependent plasticity and spike-rate dependent plasticity, which are responsible for learning processes in human brains and retaining new information in neurons.

The WSU engineers created the honey memristors on a micro-scale, so they are about the size of a human hair. The research team led by Zhao plans to develop them on a nanoscale, about 1/1000 of a human hair, and bundle many millions or even billions together to make a full neuromorphic computing system.

Currently, conventional computer systems are based on what's called the von Neumann architecture. Named after its creator, this architecture involves an input, usually from a keyboard and mouse, and an output, such as the monitor. It also has a CPU, or central processing unit, and RAM, or memory storage. Transferring data through all these mechanisms from input to processing to memory to output takes a lot of power at least compared to the human brain, Zhao said. For instance, the Fugaku supercomputer uses upwards of 28 megawatts, roughly equivalent to 28 million watts, to run while the brain uses only around 10 to 20 watts.

The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons with more than 1,000 trillion synapses, or connections, among them. Each neuron can both process and store data, which makes the brain much more efficient than a traditional computer, and developers of neuromorphic computing systems aim to mimic that structure.

Several companies, including Intel and IBM, have released neuromorphic chips which have the equivalent of more than 100 million "neurons" per chip, but this is not yet near the number in the brain. Many developers are also still using the same nonrenewable and toxic materials that are currently used in conventional computer chips.

Many researchers, including Zhao's team, are searching for biodegradable and renewable solutions for use in this promising new type of computing. Zhao is also leading investigations into using proteins and other sugars such as those found in Aloe vera leaves in this capacity, but he sees strong potential in honey.

"Honey does not spoil," he said. "It has a very low moisture concentration, so bacteria cannot survive in it. This means these computer chips will be very stable and reliable for a very long time."

The honey memristor chips developed at WSU should tolerate the lower levels of heat generated by neuromorphic systems which do not get as hot as traditional computers. The honey memristors will also cut down on electronic waste.

"When we want to dispose of devices using computer chips made of honey, we can easily dissolve them in water," he said. "Because of these special properties, honey is very useful for creating renewable and biodegradable neuromorphic systems."

This also means, Zhao cautioned, that just like conventional computers, users will still have to avoid spilling their coffee on them.

Brandon Sueoka, Feng Zhao. Memristive synaptic device based on a natural organic material—honey for spiking neural network in biodegradable neuromorphic systems. Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, 2022; 55 (22): 225105 DOI: 10.1088/1361-6463/ac585b

Solar Cell Keeps Working Long After Sun Sets

April 5, 2022
About 750 million people in the world do not have access to electricity at night. Solar cells provide power during the day, but saving energy for later use requires substantial battery storage.

In Applied Physics Letters, by AIP Publishing, researchers from Stanford University constructed a photovoltaic cell that harvests energy from the environment during the day and night, avoiding the need for batteries altogether. The device makes use of the heat leaking from Earth back into space -- energy that is on the same order of magnitude as incoming solar radiation.

The device generates electricity at night from the temperature difference between the solar cell and its surroundings. Image Credit: Sid Assawaworrarit

At night, solar cells radiate and lose heat to the sky, reaching temperatures a few degrees below the ambient air. The device under development uses a thermoelectric module to generate voltage and current from the temperature gradient between the cell and the air. This process depends on the thermal design of the system, which includes a hot side and a cold side.

"You want the thermoelectric to have very good contact with both the cold side, which is the solar cell, and the hot side, which is the ambient environment," said author Sid Assawaworrarit. "If you don't have that, you're not going to get much power out of it."

The team demonstrated power generation in their device during the day, when it runs in reverse and contributes additional power to the conventional solar cell, and at night.

The setup is inexpensive and, in principle, could be incorporated within existing solar cells. It is also simple, so construction in remote locations with limited resources is feasible.

"What we managed to do here is build the whole thing from off-the-shelf components, have a very good thermal contact, and the most expensive thing in the whole setup was the thermoelectric itself," said author Zunaid Omair.

Using electricity at night for lighting requires a few watts of power. The current device generates 50 milliwatts per square meter, which means lighting would require about 20 square meters of photovoltaic area.

"None of these components were specifically engineered for this purpose," said author Shanhui Fan. "So, I think there's room for improvement, in the sense that, if one really engineered each of these components for our purpose, I think the performance could be better."

The team aims to optimize the thermal insulation and thermoelectric components of the device. They are exploring engineering improvements to the solar cell itself to enhance the radiative cooling performance without influencing its solar energy harvesting capability.

Sid Assawaworrarit, Zunaid Omair, Shanhui Fan. Nighttime electric power generation at a density of 50 mW/m2 via radiative cooling of a photovoltaic cell. Applied Physics Letters, 2022; 120 (14): 143901 DOI: 10.1063/5.0085205

The Secret To Better Coffee?; The Birds And The Bees

April 4, 2022
A groundbreaking new study finds that coffee beans are bigger and more plentiful when birds and bees team up to protect and pollinate coffee plants. Without these winged helpers, some traveling thousands of miles, coffee farmers would see a 25% drop in crop yields, a loss of roughly $1,066 per hectare of coffee.

That's important for the $26 billion coffee industry -- including consumers, farmers, and corporations who depend on nature's unpaid labor for their morning buzz -- but the research has even broader implications.

The forthcoming study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to show, using real-world experiments at 30 coffee farms, that the contributions of nature -- in this case, bee pollination and pest control by birds -- are larger combined than their individual contributions.

"Until now, researchers have typically calculated the benefits of nature separately, and then simply added them up," says lead author Alejandra Martínez-Salinas of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE). "But nature is an interacting system, full of important synergies and trade-offs. We show the ecological and economic importance of these interactions, in one of the first experiments at realistic scales in actual farms."

"These results suggest that past assessments of individual ecological services -- including major global efforts like IPBES -- may actually underestimate the benefits biodiversity provides to agriculture and human wellbeing," says Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment. "These positive interactions mean ecosystem services are more valuable together than separately."

For the experiment, researchers from Latin America and the U.S. manipulated coffee plants across 30 farms, excluding birds and bees with a combination of large nets and small lace bags. They tested for four key scenarios: bird activity alone (pest control), bee activity alone (pollination), no bird and bee activity at all, and finally, a natural environment, where bees and birds were free to pollinate and eat insects like the coffee berry borer, one of the most damaging pests affecting coffee production worldwide.

The combined positive effects of birds and bees on fruit set, fruit weight, and fruit uniformity -- key factors in quality and price -- were greater than their individual effects, the study shows. Without birds and bees, the average yield declined nearly 25%, valued at roughly $1,066 per hectare.

"One important reason we measure these contributions is to help protect and conserve the many species that we depend on, and sometimes take for granted," says Natalia Aristizábal, a PhD candidate at UVM's Gund Institute for Environment and Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. "Birds, bees, and millions of other species support our lives and livelihoods, but face threats like habitat destruction and climate change."

One of the most surprising aspects of the study was that many birds providing pest control to coffee plants in Costa Rica had migrated thousands of miles from Canada and the U.S., including Vermont, where the UVM team is based. The team is also studying how changing farm landscapes impact birds' and bees' ability to deliver benefits to coffee production. They are supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

In addition to Martínez-Salinas (Nicaragua), Ricketts (USA), Aristizábal (Colombia), the international research team from CATIE included Adina Chain-Guadarrama (México), Sergio Vilchez Mendoza (Nicaragua), and Rolando Cerda (Bolivia).

Alejandra Martínez-Salinas, Adina Chain-Guadarrama, Natalia Aristizábal, Sergio Vilchez-Mendoza, Rolando Cerda, Taylor H. Ricketts. Interacting pest control and pollination services in coffee systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; 119 (15) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2119959119

Without pest control and pollination by the birds and the bees, coffee farmers would see a 25 per cent drop in crop yields — a loss of roughly $1,066 per hectare. Composite image by Mary Kueser. Photos (L to R): Coffee plant (Camila Zanzanini); Euglossa viriabilis bee (CATIE); Rufous-capped warbler (John van Dort).

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.