inbox and environment news: Issue 540

May 29 - June 4, 2022: Issue 540

Plastic Bag Ban Commences From June 1st In NSW

Marking a major pivot away from single-use plastics, the NSW Government’s ban on lightweight plastic bags will come into force on Wednesday this week.
Minister for Environment James Griffin said the lightweight plastic bag ban is the first of many plastic items being banned in New South Wales this year.

'I think all of us can see the impact plastic pollution is having on our environment, which is why we’re making major changes in New South Wales this year,' Mr Griffin said.

'The ban on lightweight single-use bags comes into place from 1 June, and then from November, we’re banning more problematic plastics, such as cutlery and plates.

'Single-use plastic is used by many of us for just a few convenient minutes, but it remains in our environment for many years, eventually breaking into microplastics.

'Single-use plastic items and packaging make up 60% of all litter in New South Wales. By stopping the supply of problematic plastic in the first place, we’re helping prevent it from entering our environment as litter, or going into landfill.

'We each have the power to make positive environmental change at an individual level, and I encourage everyone to choose to go plastic-free as often as they can.'

The NSW Government passed the Plastic Reduction and Circular Economy Act 2021 in November, and introduced the Plastics Action Plan last year.

The ban will prevent almost 2.7 billion items of plastic litter from entering the environment in New South Wales over the next 20 years.

In addition to the June 1st lightweight plastic bag ban, from November 1st the NSW Government is banning:
  • single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates, bowls and cotton buds
  • expanded polystyrene food ware and cups
  • rinse-off personal care products containing plastic microbeads.
So-called 'compostable' and 'bioplastic' alternatives to the above items are also being banned. That’s because they don’t biodegrade unless they’re treated in an industrial composting facility, creating just as much of a problem as conventional plastic.

To ensure small businesses are ready for the changes this year, the NSW Government engaged the National Retail Association (NRA) to deliver a comprehensive retailer education campaign.

Minister for Small Business Eleni Petinos said the NSW Government is supporting more than 40,000 businesses across New South Wales to phase-out single-use plastics.

'The NSW Government has worked with stakeholders to support small businesses to understand how they will be affected, how to comply with new laws and what alternatives they can use to single-use plastics,' Ms Petinos said.

'Through the NRA, we’re running a retailer education campaign, conducting store visits, and providing online webinars and resources to help businesses make the adjustment away from single-use plastics.'

The NRA has launched a free hotline (1800 844 946) to offer businesses, community organisations and consumers advice on the single-use plastic bans.

For more information about the NSW plastics ban, visit Department of Planning and Environment's Plastics ban website

Reminder: Avalon Boomerang Bags workshops happen at the Avalon Recreational Centre on Tuesdays from 11.30am - 3pm. Helpers welcome - you don't need to know how to sew, there are other things you can do. Stay and have a chat. Boomerang Bags is a grassroots community movement that aims to tackle plastic pollution at its source.

Photo: MP for Manly and Minister for Environment James Griffin with an aquatic friend who will be finding less plastic in their home shortly. Follow the link on this poster to find out more, At: HERE

Launch of Boomerang Bags - June 2016: Picture (l to r): Hon. Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater and NSW Minister for Planning, Former Deputy Mayor of Pittwater, Kylie Ferguson, and Laurel Wood and Kirsty Giles: the ladies then heading up Avalon Boomerang Bags - A J Guesdon photo

Northern Beaches Surfrider Foundation members Brendan Donohoe (middle) with Jesse and Rowan Hanley - who organise Beach Clean Upsand have campaigned for a plastics ban in NSW. A J Guesdon photo.

Bush Regeneration Field Day On North Narrabeen Headland

When: Sunday May 29, between 8am and 12 noon.
Where: meet at the end of Peal Place, Warriewood ( see map) where track enters the reserve.

Calling bush lovers!
The Council received a $25300 grant from the Crown Reserves Improvement Fund for contract bush regeneration on the Crown Land area of the headland. 
Several volunteer field days will contribute to the project.
Can you lend a hand? 

Wear/Bring: long sleeves, long pants, enclosed shoes, bring light gardening gloves. 
Tools and morning tea provided. 

If in doubt about the weather please contact Karin Nippard, Bushland Management Officer, m. 0417 040 945
PNHA was delighted to provide community support for the grant application because this is such an important area, in need of weeding. Come and see for yourself!

Photos: where to meet + Turimetta Beach from North Narrabeen headland. Photo: Joe Mills
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Long Billed Corella mates - cleaning each other's scalps, Careel Bay, May 24, 2022. Photo: A J Guesdon

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

Annual Whale Migration Makes A Splash

The first sightings of whales off the NSW east coast have been recorded as the annual migration from Antarctica to warmer northern waters begins.
Minister for Environment James Griffin said the first of about 40,000 humpback whales have started their long swim towards tropical waters.

'The whale migration is one of the longest journeys of any animal species and we are so lucky to be able to witness it right on our doorstep,' Mr Griffin said.

'We have more than 880 national parks and reserves in New South Wales, many of which are on the coast and provide excellent viewing opportunities for these oceanic giants.

'After declining to an estimated few hundred whales in the early 1960s, the recovery of the humpback whale population is a great conservation success story and one we can all be proud of as we enjoy watching these majestic creatures make their way up the coast.'

Whales cover about 10,000 kilometres during their annual round trip from Antarctic waters, at a migratory speed of about six kilometres per hour.

Most of the whales that travel past the NSW coast are humpback whales; however, other whale species include southern right whales, dwarf minke whales, tropical whales and even blue whales.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) marine fauna expert Shona Lorigan said humpback whales are easily recognisable and their behaviours, like breaching and rolling, always put on a show for whale watchers.

'Later in the year, we’ll be able to see theses whales heading south again, many with their newborn calves,' Ms Lorigan said.

Regulations require all vessels to remain at least 100 metres away from whales, aircraft can fly no closer than 300 metres, and drones must not be operated closer than 100 metres.

Whales in distress can be reported to the NSW NPWS on 13000 PARKS or ORRCA Whale and Dolphin Rescue’s 24 hour hotline on (02) 9415 3333.

Photos: A J Guesdon

Residents Warned Of Barmah Forest Virus Risk

Council is advising residents to take extra precautions against mosquitos after Barmah Forest Virus was detected in mosquitos trapped at Narrabeen Lagoon.

Council partners with NSW Health to trap mosquitoes at key locations on the Beaches, to monitor the numbers and types of mosquitoes present and determine if they are carrying viral infections. Traps are set at Warriewood Wetlands and Deep Creek near the Narrabeen Lagoon trail.

Higher than average rainfall due to La Niña has created the perfect conditions for mosquitos to multiply and have meant numbers are up on previous years.

Barmah Forest Virus is spread by the bite of infected female mosquitoes. Many people who are infected will not develop symptoms; however, some people may have flu-like symptoms that include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, stiffness and pain, especially in the mornings. A rash may also develop or a feeling of tiredness or weakness.

Symptoms usually develop about 7-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

There is currently no vaccine against Barmah Forest Virus. However, you can protect yourself and your family from getting bitten by taking the following steps:
  • Always wear long, loose-fitting clothing to minimise skin exposure
  • Choose and apply a repellent that contains either Diethyl Toluamide (DEET), Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Be aware of peak mosquito times at dawn and dusk
  • Keep your yard free of standing water like containers, birdbaths, kids toys and pot plant trays where the mosquitos can breed.
Visit NSW Health for more tips on how to control mosquitoes around the home.

For more information on what Council is doing to reduce the risk of mosquitoes you can view the Northern Beaches Council Mosquito Management Plan.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue And Care Course: June 2022

The next Sydney Wildlife Rescue and Care Course starts on 4 June 2022, so you can learn how to rescue, rehabilitate and release our sick, injured and orphaned native birds and animals – just like these Pacific Black Ducklings which were saved by our volunteer Tracey.

The course involves two parts:

Part 1 is a self-paced online course over 3 weeks which should take about 12 hours to complete.

Part 2 is a practical hands-on, in person, instructional training session conducted over a half-day on a weekend.

We urgently need volunteers across the Sydney metropolitan area, so if you’re wildlife-loving and would like to meet like-minded people to help our native birds and animals, please consider enrolling. More information is available on this link:

And you can read how our volunteer Tracey saved these ducklings on our website:

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.

State's First Hydrogen Bus To Hit Central Coast Streets

May 25, 2022
The state’s first trial of a hydrogen-powered electric bus will begin on the Central Coast later this year, as the NSW Government transitions its fleet to zero emission technology.
The Government is partnering with local and national industry suppliers to test the future fuel source.

Treasurer and Minister for Energy Matt Kean said the project would help create a thriving green hydrogen industry in NSW.

“Unlocking hydrogen use in the heavy transport sector is key to creating new industries and achieving the economic prosperity that comes with it,” Mr Kean said.

“A green hydrogen industry will encourage NSW investment in clean technology, grow our economy, boost our exports and support regional jobs.”

The project is a partnership with the Department of Planning and Environment, local bus manufacturer ARCC, Central Coast operator Red Bus, and Origin Energy.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Sam Farraway said industry is partnering with bus operators to develop trials, to understand how the technology could be implemented across regional NSW.

“Hydrogen buses have a greater range than battery electric buses, which could make them better suited for use in regional and outer metropolitan areas of the state,” Mr Farraway said.

“This trial is the first step towards us getting a better understanding of how hydrogen buses perform in local conditions, as well as the infrastructure needed to support them.

“The results of the battery electric bus trial on the Central Coast will be compared against the hydrogen bus to understand any key differences, including fuel economy and refuelling times.

“In some regional areas buses need to travel greater distances before they refuel which is why trials like this are important.”

Managing Director and founder of ARCC Peter Murley said the Australian-owned business was committed to a sustainable, zero-emission transport future.

“Our focus is on helping local and state governments reach zero-emission targets with turnkey transport options that are 100 per cent Australian designed, built and supported,” Mr Murley said.

On-road testing will take place on roads surrounding the development facility at Smithfield before the trial begins.

The first hydrogen fuel cell electric bus is expected to arrive on the Central Coast later this year before starting a local trial of the technology.

Hydrogen-powered electric bus Credit: DPE


Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Sets Energy Price Cap To Protect Consumers

May 26, 2022
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has released its final determination for the 2022–23 Default Market Offer (DMO). The DMO is the safety-net price cap that ensures consumers are protected from unjustifiably high prices.

From 1 July 2022, the DMO prices in New South Wales, south-east Queensland and South Australia will increase for households (between 1.7% and 8.2% above inflation) and small businesses (0.2% and 13.5% above inflation), largely due to significant rises in wholesale electricity costs over the past year.

Since DMO 2021, wholesale costs for retailers have risen by 41.4% in New South Wales, by 49.5% in Queensland, and by 11.8% in South Australia, due to reductions in thermal generation resulting from unplanned outages and higher coal and gas prices, slowing of investment in new capacity, and increasingly ‘peaky’ demand (sharp highs and lows) driving up the cost of wholesale electricity contracts for retailers.

These wholesale market conditions have persisted since the AER’s draft determination in February and have been compounded by the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has led to significant pressure on coal and gas prices globally; extreme weather in NSW and Queensland which has affected coal supplies and electricity demand; and further unplanned outages at multiple generators.

In New South Wales, increases in network costs for Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy have also pushed up retail prices in these distribution areas.

AER Chair Ms Clare Savage said this year’s DMO determination was a particularly difficult decision as the regulator sought to balance the additional cost pressures on consumers with ensuring retailers could recover their rising wholesale and network costs.

“In setting these new DMO prices, we understand the significant impact they will have on some consumers who may already be struggling with cost of living pressures,” Ms Savage said.

“We have given scrutiny to all factors affecting the DMO calculation and have set safety-net prices that reflect the current conditions and underlying costs to retailers.

“Setting the DMO is not about setting the lowest price. We are required to set a price that will allow retailers to recover their costs, earn a reasonable margin and support retailers to compete and offer better deals and products in a competitive retail environment. If a large number of retailers are unable to recover their costs and are forced to exit the market – as we have seen recently in the United Kingdom – that will add more cost to consumers,” she said.

“Our safety net DMO price will continue to protect consumers from unjustifiably high prices and will continue to provide the reference point from which consumers can shop around for a better deal.”

Reach out for support from your retailer
A default energy contract is usually referred to as a ‘standing offer’ contract. It has basic terms and conditions and is generally more expensive than the competitive deals retailers offer, known as a ‘market offer’.
Ms Savage said with cost-of-living pressures increasing, it is especially important that customers engage with their retailers to ensure they are on the best energy plan for their individual circumstances.

The AER’s dedicated price comparison website Energy Made Easy is designed to make it easier for consumers to take control of their power bills. By entering in a few basic details or uploading their bill, the site allows customers to see what other retailers are offering and find the best plan for them.

“Residential customers can currently save around $443 or 24% off their bill, and small businesses can save around $1,308 or 29% by switching,” Ms Savage said.

And she urged any consumers in financial difficulty to reach out for support through payment plans and hardship programs that retailers must provide, and the AER enforces, under national energy retail rules.
“Any Australians struggling with their power bills should contact their energy provider as soon as possible to get help. Don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Contact your retailer to ensure you are getting any concessions or rebates you may be entitled to and agree a payment plan you can afford.”

Residential customers on DMO by region

About the DMO
The DMO price cap is set each year by the AER to protect customers from unjustifiably high prices, while allowing retailers a sufficient margin to enable them to recover costs and offer new products and customer innovations to the market.

Households on the DMO make up around 10% of the total market, about 550,000 customers, as set out below in absolute and percentage terms by region:
New South Wales – 331,070 (9.8%)
South-east Queensland – 158,113 (10.7%)
South Australia – 62,198 (7.8%)

Small businesses on the DMO make up around 18%, about 90,000 customers:
New South Wales – 57,411 (17.8%)
South-east Queensland – 21,686 (19.8%)
South Australia – 13,631 (15.7%)

The DMO acts as a reference price on bills so all customers can easily compare plans with other retailers. It is designed to protect those customers who haven’t negotiated a better deal from unjustifiably high prices.

Renewal Of Final “Zombie” Coal Seam Gas Licence On Eve Of Federal Election Another Cruel Blow To NSW Farmers

May 20, 2022

The decision to quietly raise from the dead 90,000 hectares of the final “zombie” petroleum exploration licence on the eve of the Federal Election exposes the NSW Perrottet Government’s disdain for farmers and desperate attempts to avoid scrutiny, NSW Environment groups state.

Part of the renewed part of PEL 427 sits within Adam Marshall’s electorate and the Moree Plains Shire. Mr Marshall is on the public record opposing coal seam gas in his electorate.

The renewed part of the tenement is owned jointly by Santos and Comet Ridge, and borders Santos’ existing tenement which contains the company’s Pilliga (Narrabri) gas project.

The decision follows the renewal of three other expired petroleum exploration licences (PEL 1, PEL 12, and PEL 238) for coal seam gas in the days before Easter earlier this year.

While the renewal of the 90,000ha has not yet been gazetted, its status has been updated on the NSW Government’s Common Ground website to show it now expires in 2028. It’s believed this change was made in the past 24 hours or less.

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Georgina Woods said the renewal of the final zombie PEL put farms and groundwater at risk at a time when politicians should be doing everything in their power to protect Australia’s food growing capabilities.

“It’s shocking to see the Perrottet Government continuing to permit coal seam gas exploration on some of the state’s best farmland,” she said.

“In less than a month, the Perrottet Government has put more than one million hectares of NSW land and the groundwater beneath it at the mercy of the polluting coal seam gas industry.

“Coal seam gas is incompatible with a thriving agriculture industry and resilient rural communities. 

“The Perrottet Government has given gas companies the green light to pockmark farmland with gas wells and further fuel dangerous climate change, which is in turn making it harder for farmers to grow food and fibre.

“As recent community meetings have shown, locals will not passively accept the renewal of these licences. The Perrottet Government now has one hell of a fight on its hands.”

Koala Endangered Listing In NSW Must Push NSW Government To Protect Habitat

May 20, 2022

Today’s announcement that koalas will be finally listed as Endangered under the Biodiversity Conservation Act is a huge wake up call for protecting koala habitat in New South Wales.   

“The devastating endangered listing of koalas comes as no surprise in a state where the government refuses to protect habitat. Koala numbers have been in freefall for years and the NSW Government must act immediately to protect their habitat” Nature Conservation Council Deputy Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said.  

"The reality is koalas are dwindling across New South Wales and we don’t have a proper mechanism to protect their habitat.”  

“If you want to save koalas you have to protect their trees. It is not complex. But koala habitat continues to be destroyed because of weak government policy that prioritises land clearance for grazing, agriculture, urbanisation, timber harvesting and mining.”  

“The recently released NSW Koala Strategy was inadequate for protecting the species and we are seriously lacking a state-wide mechanism to bring this iconic species back to a healthy population. Any party looking to lead NSW into the future needs to have this as a commitment.” 

“We are calling on the NSW Government to immediately:  

  • Ban the destruction of koala habitat, on both public and private land;  
  • End native forest logging; and   
  • Expand the National Parks estate to protect high quality koala habitat including the proposed Great Koala National Park”   

The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee found: 

“Human activities including deforestation and land clearance for grazing, agriculture, urbanisation, timber harvesting, mining and other activities have resulted in loss, fragmentation and degradation of koala habitats” (page 3) 

“Large areas of forest and woodland within the koala’s range were cleared between 2000 and 2017 (Ward et al. 2019) with clearing for grazing accounting for most of this loss of koala habitat”. “Land clearing continues to impact habitat across the koala’s range” (page 3) 

“Clearing of native vegetation’ is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Act.” (page 4) 

“Modelled climatic suitability from 2010 to 2030 indicates a 38-52% reduction in available habitat for the koala and a 62% reduction in koala habitat by 2070 has been forecast” (page 4) 

“... it is facing a very high risk of extinction in the near future...” (page 5) 

Koalas Exposed To Double Whammy Health Threat

May 25, 2022

An AIDS-like virus plaguing Australia’s koala population is leaving them more vulnerable to chlamydia and other threatening health conditions, University of Queensland research has found.

One of UQ’s leading COVID-19 vaccine researchers, Associate Professor Keith Chappell, has discovered that the chlamydia epidemic plaguing endangered koala populations in Queensland and NSW is linked to a common virus that likely supresses koalas’ immune systems.

Dr Chappell and Dr Michaela Blyton, from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, made this discovery after studying more than 150 koalas admitted to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital.

Dr Chappell said this study could have far reaching impacts and lead to better protective measures like breeding programs and new anti-viral medications.

“We know Queensland and NSW koala populations are heavily impacted by chlamydia infections and a retrovirus, but until now a clear link between the two has not been conclusively established,” Professor Chappell said.

“Our research has found that the amount of retrovirus circulating within an animal’s blood was strongly associated with chlamydia and symptoms like cystitis and conjunctivitis, as well as overall poor health.

“It’s a double whammy for already-endangered koalas.”

Dr Chappell said they found high levels of the virus increased a koala’s risk of chlamydia by over 200% per cent.

“There is no question that koala retrovirus and chlamydia are connected, and we believe the retrovirus suppresses the koala’s immune system, making them more vulnerable to disease.”

It was previously assumed that a particular subtype of koala retrovirus may be more capable of causing disease, but this research has found that all the subtypes increase disease and has further highlighted the urgent need to stop the virus circulating within koala populations.

Dr Blyton said while these findings highlighted another threat facing endangered koalas, it could also lead to new ways to treat populations and reduce the risk of extinction.

“It is deeply concerning that koalas are facing environmental pressures at the same time as biological threats from a retrovirus and diseases,” Dr Blyton said.

“The findings from this study are important for conservation, especially as the koala is now listed as endangered and wild populations continue to decline in Queensland and NSW.

“Research like this helps us understand how the threats facing koalas are interlinked, so we can help find ways to protect the species going forward and closely examine the success of anti-viral medications and breeding programs.”

The UQ team now intends to study how environmental factors influence the amount of circulating retrovirus and disease in koalas.

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Senior Veterinarian Michael Pyne said this was an important project and he was excited to have been working alongside the University of Queensland for so many years.

“This is a major step forward in understanding how retroviruses can affect koalas and the link with other disease, and is a perfect example of the importance of research when saving endangered species.”

This study has been published in PLOS Pathogens.

KOALAS - The Hard Truths

Published May 18, 2022 by Simon Reeve

With this story, I set out to speak to the people who are coping with the trauma and the consequences of our collective apathy around koalas. I don't place myself above the crowd at all, I've been ignorant of what we've been doing to koalas for a very long time. 

That is, driving them to extinction in the wild. Not a case of if, but when. These quiet, compassionate people, pick up injured and dead koalas off the roads. They watch trees disappear in their area on private property, for residential and commercial developments and forest logging. If it's fair game pretty much, in time, those trees will disappear.

There are some bright spots out there, but too few. Local, State and Federal Governments come and go, policies chop and change. Koalas meanwhile, go without a voice.

They're held up when we need them ... a visiting dignitary, a Commonwealth or Olympic Games, but backstage the destruction of habitat goes on apace.

So it's left to a handful of organisations and extraordinary, tireless volunteers for the most part, to deal with the fallout. 

This takes a huge toll on their lives, physically and emotionally. You feel it when you sit with them. 

They're dealing with tremendous loss, week to week. Animals they endeavour not to become attached to, but It's impossible with koalas, with their distinctive personalities and quirks. 

Dendrobium Mine Extension Project: Have Your Say (Again)

Plans for the extension of the Dendrobium longwall mine in the Illawarra are now being publicly exhibited. The NSW government has relisted this as a “State Significant Development” - despite the Independent Planning Commission refusing permission because it would cause damage to our water.
It’s right underneath the Greater Sydney water catchment.

This will involve Longwall mining which is known to damage reservoirs, cracks rock beds and increases the presence of heavy metals in our water. That’s why nowhere else in the world allows longwall mining underneath their publicly owned water catchments.

The expansion will also damage local biodiversity and threatened ecological communities, and cause irreversible damage to 58 identified Aboriginal cultural artefacts.

The Project proposes to extend the mine life at the Dendrobium Mine to the end of 2041.

Political Stitch Up Over Dendrobium Abandons Community, Climate, And Water, Favours Coal Mining Company Residents State

May 4, 2022
Illawarra residents opposed to coal mining beneath the drinking water catchment and their supporters have labelled the revised Dendrobium coal mine expansion a “political stitch up” after the Independent Planning Commission’s earlier rejection of the project was overruled.

In response to the IPC’s rejection of the destructive project, the NSW Government took the unprecedented step of declaring the coal mine “state significant infrastructure”.

South32 has today released a revised Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which claims the mine’s direct impacts will be reduced, but shows the project would still threaten nationally significant upland swamps and the drinking water catchment relied on by Illawarra and Sydney residents.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Nic Clyde said a decision about the project would go straight to NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts without the transparent scrutiny that would occur if it were to return to the IPC for consideration.

“South32 could write that magical fairies will protect our drinking water and it wouldn’t matter because the assessment of this project is now a political decision, rather than assessment that undergoes a considered and transparent process by independent commissioners,” he said.

“This is the only coal mine in the state’s history that has been declared state significant infrastructure. This is a mine being assessed on a political basis, not a scientific one, and Sydney’s drinking water is not safe as a result. 

“The NSW Government’s political intervention has removed the community’s objection rights and that’s outrageous and undemocratic.

“The IPC previously rejected South32’s claim that coal from Dendrobium was needed for the continuation of the Bluescope steelworks. This erroneous claim was the justification the NSW Government used to declare it state significant infrastructure, and is contrary to the findings made by the IPC.

“South32 still refuses to consider the less damaging bord and pillar method of mining, despite the IPC, NSW Government, and Wollongong Coal considering it an acceptable method just eight kilometres north at Russell Vale.

“As the saying goes, you can roll a turd in glitter, but it’s still a turd. South32’s revised Dendrobium proposal puts the security of Sydney’s drinking water catchment at risk and that stinks.”

Deidre Stuart, from Illawarra grass roots network fighting the Dendrobium extension Protect Our Water Catchment Incorporated, said, “Our group is already in the NSW Land and Environment Court defending the IPC refusal decision of the original expansion proposal.  And now at the same time, the NSW Government has introduced a new, fast-track process for South32 to have its new proposal assessed, side lining the IPC.

“We in the community operate in good faith and we feel utterly betrayed by our government over its handling of a coal mine expansion that was rightfully rejected by the IPC. 

“What’s undeniable is that this proposal will still trash Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, drain upland swamps that are recognised as nationally significant, and threaten our drinking water. 

“The Perrottet Government must not risk all this just so a private company can continue to mine coal in our drinking water catchment area.

“The Dendrobium expansion will be responsible for more than 87 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the world cannot afford to burn any more fossil fuels if humanity wants to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

“Our drinking water must be protected at all costs. It is more important than coal, and must be protected from any expansion of Dendrobium, particularly one that is not subject to the same degree of scrutiny as the former, already rejected proposal.”

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

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.

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

BOM Special Climate Statement 76 - Extreme Rainfall And Flooding In South-East Queensland And Eastern New South Wales, February-March 2022

May 25, 2022

The Bureau of Meteorology has released a formal record of the extreme rainfall and flooding that occurred in south-east Queensland and eastern New South Wales in February and March this year.

Special Climate Statement 76 outlines that several rainfall records were broken between 22 February and 9 March 2022, with more than 50 sites recording more than one metre of rainfall in one week.

In the last week of February, parts of south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales had rainfall 2.5 times their monthly average with some regions recording more than five times their monthly average.

After two years of La Niña conditions, the rain fell on saturated catchments leading to flash and riverine flooding extending from Maryborough in Queensland to Grafton in New South Wales.

For many areas, this was the wettest week since at least 1900. Some areas of south-eastern Queensland had their highest flood peaks since 1893, though the lower Brisbane and Bremer rivers and Lockyer Creek peaked below the levels of both January 1974 and January 2011 floods.

In parts of northern New South Wales, flood levels broke previous records. Wilsons River in Lismore peaked at a record high level, estimated to be 14.4 m on 28 February. The previous record was 12.27 m in February 1954.

The rainfall was the result of a combination of weather systems over eastern Australia and the Tasman Sea, where a large volume of humid tropical air moving onshore over eastern Australia was lifted in the atmosphere to produce heavy rain and thunderstorms.

As the climate warms, heavy rainfall events are expected to continue to become more intense. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour than a cooler atmosphere, and this relationship alone can increase moisture in the atmosphere by 7 per cent per 1 degree Celsius of global warming. This can cause an increased likelihood of heavy rainfall events. Increased atmospheric moisture can also provide more energy for some processes that generate extreme rainfall events, which further increases the likelihood of heavy rainfall (State of the Climate 2020).

In recent decades, there has been a trend towards a greater proportion of high-intensity, short-duration rainfall events, especially across northern Australia.

The Special Climate Statement 76 states, of Sydney, NSW Central and southern coastal regions:

Persistent intense rainfall in Sydney and along the central New South Wales coast caused widespread flash flooding and major riverine flooding, particularly in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley. The already saturated soils, full reservoirs and swollen rivers meant that the severe thunderstorms and persistent rain in the week of 3 to 9 March quickly led to flash flooding. The widespread intense rainfall quickly overwhelmed local stormwater and drainage systems, resulting in significant flash flooding across regional and metropolitan Sydney as well as along the New South Wales coast. Severe weather and major flood warnings were issued, and thousands of people were evacuated from the affected areas.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley was impacted by two periods of consecutive heavy rainfall between 27 February and 9 March, with the heaviest falls observed in the Upper Nepean catchment. Moderate to major flooding was recorded along the Upper Nepean, driven by the first period of rain. A second period of heavy rain followed, resulting in renewed increases of already elevated water levels, and higher second peaks at all locations.

Figure 3: Map of 7-day rainfall totals for south-eastern Queensland and eastern New South Wales for the week ending 9 March 2022. Black outlines show river catchments where 7-day catchment-average records were exceeded during the 22 February – 9 March period (Table 11). More details of river catchment regions are available at

The Hawkesbury River reached major flood levels from North Richmond downstream to the Wisemans Ferry gauge (Table 12). Warragamba Dam, the largest water storage in the region at over 2 million megalitres, sits at the headwaters of the Hawkesbury River system and was already at 98% of capacity on 22 February. The water in the Hawkesbury River in late February and early March came from heavy rainfall in the catchment, the spilling of Warragamba Dam and from the Nepean River, which also reached major flood levels at both Menangle Bridge and Wallacia Weir (Figure 11). The Nepean River at Menangle Bridge reached a height of 15.92 metres on 8 March, surpassing the March 2021 flood levels by more than 3 metres. The Hawkesbury River also surpassed the flood level reached in March 2021 at Windsor, Sackville, Lower Portland and Wisemans Ferry (Table 12). At Windsor, levels peaked on 9 March at 13.8 metres, nearly 1 metre above the March 2021 floods. At Lower Portland, river levels peaked at 8.64 metres on 9 March, almost 1 metre above the 2021, 1978, and 1964 flood levels (Table 12).

There was significant flooding from the central to north coast of New South Wales along the Manning, Macleay and Hunter rivers. Moderate to major flooding occurred in the Hunter River catchment. At Bulga on Wollombi Brook, prolonged major flooding occurred from 7 to 11 March and a major flood peak of 7.37 metres was recorded on 9 March, with levels exceeding the March 2021 floods by over 0.7 metres (Table 13). At Singleton on the Hunter River, a major flood peak of 13.15 metres was recorded around 6pm on 9 March, caused by the floodwaters coming from Wollombi Brook. This was just above the major flood level (13 metres) and exceeded levels during March 2021 floods by nearly 1 metre. 

On May 24, 2022 he BOM issued a Climate Driver statement which anticipates more rain in coming months but an easing of this during Winter 2022. 

The Climate Driver Statement reads:

Models indicate increased chance of negative Indian Ocean Dipole for winter

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is currently neutral. However, the IOD index has become more negative over the past fortnight. All climate model outlooks surveyed suggest a negative IOD may develop in the coming months. While model outlooks have low accuracy at this time of year and some caution should be taken with IOD outlooks, there is strong forecast consistency across international models. Outlook accuracy for the IOD begins to significantly improve during June. A negative IOD increases the chances of above average winter–spring rainfall for much of Australia. It also increases the chances of warmer days and nights for northern Australia.

The 2021–22 La Niña event continues in the tropical Pacific. Some indicators of La Niña, including tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures and equatorial cloudiness near the Date Line, have seen little change over the past fortnight. However, beneath the surface of the tropical Pacific, waters have continued their gradual warming away from La Niña levels. The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is easing slowly from its recent very high positive values, while trade winds have been close to average over the past fortnight.

Most climate models surveyed by the Bureau indicate a return to neutral ENSO during the southern hemisphere winter. Two of the seven models maintain La Niña conditions through the southern winter. Even if La Niña eases, the forecast sea surface temperature pattern in the tropical Pacific still favours average to above average winter rainfall for eastern Australia.

The Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) has recently weakened. Most climate models indicate the MJO will briefly re-strengthen in just over a week's time over the western Pacific region. This would increase the chance of westerly wind anomalies in the western Pacific, which typically weakens La Niña events.

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) index is currently neutral and is forecast to remain neutral for the coming two weeks, and neutral-to-positive for early June. During autumn SAM typically has a weaker influence on Australian rainfall, but as we approach winter, positive SAM often has a drying influence for parts of south-west and south-east Australia.

Climate change continues to influence Australian and global climate. Australia's climate has warmed by around 1.47 °C for the 1910–2020 period. Southern Australia has seen a reduction of 10–20% in cool season (April–October) rainfall in recent decades. There has also been a trend towards a greater proportion of rainfall from high intensity short duration rainfall events, especially across northern Australia.

The next Climate Driver update will be issued on June 7.

The Bureau's special climate statements provide detailed summaries of significant weather and climate events that impact Australians. This Special Climate Statement has been added to an archive of Special Climate Statements dating back more than 15 years, providing easy access to data and information. Special Climate Statement 76 can be found here:

Irrawong Reserve Flooded Track; March 7, 2022 - Photo by Joe Mills

The Road To Success When It Comes To Mitigating Flood Disasters In Australia: Permeable Pavements And Roads

May 25, 2022
Australia has experienced one of the worst flood disasters on record in the eastern states this year, with 23 people killed, thousands left homeless, and a damage bill expected to top $1.5 billion.

Climate change aside, increasing urban development is escalating the potential flood risks and adding to the likelihood of a projected $10 billion hole in the economy by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

University of South Australia engineers have proposed one flood control measure in a new study that recommends designing permeable pavements to specifically suit local rainfall and soil conditions and reduce flood impacts.

Permeable pavements are used on many driveways, carparks and roads (excluding main arterial roads and motorways) and typically consist of permeable pavers laid on an upper bedding layer of between 2-6 millimetres of gravel under which lies a base course layer above natural soil.

They are designed to allow rainfall to infiltrate through their surface, storing water in the base course for later reuse, and reducing urban flooding by up to 50 per cent. However, their success is variable, depending on rainfall intensity, soil type and pavement thickness.

UniSA engineers collected data from 107 towns and cities across Australia, designing an optimal permeable pavement system based on a five per cent probability of excess rainfall and a storm duration of 30 minutes.

They built an algorithm to determine the dominant soil types (clay, silt, sand or gravel) for each locality, which infiltrate water at different rates. Sand and gravel are highly permeable, for instance, whereas clay soil has a low permeability.

UniSA Professor in Geotechnical Engineering, Mizanur Rahman, says the design proposal is based on pavements storing 70 per cent of the water in the base course layer, with only 30 per cent released as stormwater runoff.

"Our study shows that this is possible if the base course layer in permeable pavements is suitable for local conditions, taking into account the soil type and rainfall intensity," Prof Rahman says.

"The pavement needs to be thicker if the rainfall intensity is higher or the soil is less permeable. For highly permeable soils, the amount of rainfall is less significant.

"Likewise, a region like Adelaide is characterised by clayey soils, but low rainfall, so the permeable pavement often only needs a minimum base course thickness."

At least one third of Australian towns and cities fall in low to moderate rainfall areas, requiring no more than a 100mm base course layer on most of their road surfaces. However, the north-east of the country has both clayey soils and intense rainfall, requiring much thicker permeable pavements to reduce the stormwater runoff.

Many councils across Australia are already installing permeable footpaths, significantly reducing stormwater runoff to the roads, as well as storing water to support roadside watering of trees.

Prof Rahman says by integrating permeable surfaces on both roads and footpaths, it would markedly reduce stormwater loads and mitigate flooding.

"We are hoping to extend our design to commercial and industrial pavements, and to continue our work harvesting water using permeable pavements for watering roadside gardens.

"Our preliminary research shows that the carbon footprint generated in a car park could potentially be neutralised in 15 years by growing trees with harvested water. Our next step is to improve water quality using permeable pavements."

The study is published in the journal Sustainability.

Asif Iqbal, Md Mizanur Rahman, Simon Beecham. Permeable Pavements for Flood Control in Australia: Spatial Analysis of Pavement Design Considering Rainfall and Soil Data. Sustainability, 2022; 14 (9): 4970 DOI: 10.3390/su14094970

Figure 1: Permeable pavements allow rainfall and surface runoff to infiltrate through their surface, and this reduces urban flooding by increasing water management efficiency. The design of permeable pavements depends heavily on rainfall and soil conditions for a particular area. This study investigates the required base course thickness in different areas across Australia that can effectively reduce flood intensities. A detailed hydraulic analysis was conducted, considering the pavement materials, soil characteristics and rainfall intensities across Australia. The research also developed a relationship between base course thickness, rainfall intensity and soil classification, which can facilitate reasonable predictions of required design thickness for any location. The results showed a strong relationship between soil characteristics and pavement thickness, with clay soils requiring increased pavement thickness correlated with rainfall intensity. A spatial analysis was conducted, producing a tool for initial screening on the design requirements, before proceeding with a detailed design. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited

Fin Whale Songs Shed Light On Migration Patterns

May 25, 2022
A Curtin University-led research team has uncovered valuable information on the migration patterns of the fin whale, as well as where they breed and feed, which will help aid in the monitoring and protection of the species.

Published in Frontiers in Marine Science, the research team monitored 285,000 hours of underwater sound recordings from 15 locations off Antarctica and Australia between 2002 and 2019 and identified two migratory pathways used by the species – from the Indian sector of Antarctica to the west coast of Australia and from the Pacific sector of Antarctica to the east coast of Australia.

Lead researcher PhD student Meghan Aulich, from the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) at Curtin University, said the fin whale, known as the ‘greyhound of the sea’, was globally vulnerable due to a history of whaling, and ongoing risks of climate change and habitat disturbance.

“Our study identifies the long-term, seasonal vocal presence of the fin whale in Antarctic waters from late summer to early winter (February to June) and in Australian waters from autumn to mid-spring (May to October),” Ms Aulich said.

“We were able to determine that the whales spent more time in specific regions due to their ecological needs and not because they were ‘residents’ of that area. For example, we found that the fin whale had a late seasonal presence in colder, Antarctic waters in the winter and may be breeding at the Pacific Antarctic Ridge during this time.

“Further research is needed to fully understand their behaviour and migratory patterns, but by tracking this species and listening to their underwater conversations we were able to learn about where they breed and feed, which will help us monitor and protect this vulnerable species to ensure it thrives in its natural habitat.”

Professor Christine Erbe, also from Curtin’s CMST, said using the passive acoustic monitoring method allowed the research team to follow the fin whales without being intrusive.

“The Southern Hemisphere fin whale is a vulnerable sub-species and this method of tracking, whereby microphones are deployed in the deep sea, allows us to observe and map their movements with little disruption,” Professor Erbe said.

“Acousticians from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) were instrumental in helping us conduct this research, recording almost a million calls at frequencies of 20Hz, which is too low for humans to hear.

“This collaboration and expertise allows researchers to listen in to where the whales are going and why, better informing us so we can help protect their populations in the future.”

The international team involved researchers from Curtin University, AAD, Ensta Bretagne (France), and NIWA (New Zealand).

Balaenoptera physalus. Photo: Aqqa Rosing-Asvid

The full paper is titled ‘Seasonal distribution of the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) in Antarctic and Australian waters based on passive acoustics,’ and can be found online here.

NSW’s World Class Climate Science Research Expands To WA

May 24, 2022
NSW’s gold standard climate projection modelling has been adopted interstate, ensuring a consistent approach to climate science and information.
The newly named NSW and Australian Regional Climate Modelling project (NARCliM) now reaches from Sydney to Perth.

The world class project, led by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), includes the ACT, South Australia and Western Australia and contributions from Murdoch University and the University of NSW.

NARCliM uses the expertise of data specialists, climate scientists, modellers and science communicators to help governments, business, scientists and the community to better anticipate, manage and act on climate risks.

“The NARCliM partnership expands on the existing NSW and ACT Regional Climate Modelling Project which began in 2011 to develop high-resolution regional climate projections,” said Matthew Riley, NSW DPE Director Climate and Atmospheric Science.

“This important work helps NSW prepare for and build resilience to climate change. It allows us to better understand climate risks and natural hazards in NSW both now and into the future. NARCliM is helping NSW to address overall climate change risks through the NSW Intergenerational Report and strategic plans such as the State Infrastructure Strategy.

“Through our work we are also leading national efforts to ensure a consistent approach to developing regional climate projections.

“The interstate partnerships recognise the importance of collaboration across states and research bodies and NSW DPE’s leadership, expertise and experience in climate science.

“By working together we can ensure our stakeholders have the best available climate science and information for estimating likely impacts posed by a changing climate and opportunities to adapt.”

Mr Riley said the international best-practice work of DPE’s highly-regarded climate scientists and their cross-jurisdictional partners provide critical information for regional decision-making.

“The Department’s climate scientists are already working on the next generation of regional climate projections for south-eastern Australia,” Mr Riley said.

“NARCliM2.0 will incorporate the latest Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 global climate models as used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and will capture climate change at finer resolutions.

“The NARCliM2.0 projections, which will use first-of-its-kind scientific methods to extrapolate data from global climate models, are expected to be available in 2023.”

Previous generations of NARCliM data are publicly available via the NSW Climate Data Portal and the AdaptNSW website.

$10 Million To Boost Hardwood Timber Supplies

May 24, 2022
Timber producers impacted by hardwood shortages from flood-affected parts of state will receive support from the NSW Government to secure supplies from outside the region, thanks to a $10 million support package.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole said the industry, which generates hundreds of local jobs, will continue to play a crucial role in rebuilding impacted communities right along the Mid Coast and North Coast.

“The $10 million Hardwood Timber Haulage Subsidy Program will cover the cost for businesses to transport materials from outside their existing supply areas and get them into processing facilities,” Mr Toole said.

“This funding boost keeps locals in jobs while supplying high-quality timber for the construction industry as we continue to rebuild our flood-affected communities.”

Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Dugald Saunders said the persistent wet weather has cut off access to state forests where timber is sustainably harvested.

“The damaged access to forests in NSW may take many months to repair, resulting in low or no harvesting activity and a critical lack of supply of hardwood resources that timber processing facilities would normally rely on,” Mr Saunders said.

“Our hardwood processors need urgent help to haul in good quality wood from outside the region.

“This investment will mean that eligible processing plants can claim $30 per tonne for the transport of construction grade timber sourced from alternate harvest sites.

“Those businesses can claim up to $500,000, which will help them continue to operate, keep their workers and ensure builders can push on and rebuild the homes that were destroyed and damaged by floods.

“This assistance will allow us to support the long-term recovery of our flood-impacted regions and will bridge the gap of diminished hardwood resources.”

The Hardwood Timber Haulage Subsidy Program is co-funded by the NSW and Australian Governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. Further information about the Hardwood Timber Haulage Subsidy Program and the application process will be available towards the end of this week.

I am a climate scientist – and this is my plea to our newly elected politicians

Nerilie AbramAuthor provided
Nerilie AbramAustralian National University

The 2022 federal election will go down in history as Australia’s climate change election.

Australians resoundingly voted for ambition on climate action, something which has been missing for a decade under a Coalition government, along with integrity and gender equality.

I am a climate scientist who has spent the last two decades studying how our climate is changing and sharing our increasingly urgent and frightening findings with the world.

This is my plea to our newly elected politicians.

Nerilie Abram working at Mount Brown South in Antarctica. Ali CriscitielloAuthor provided

Dear Mr Albanese,

Congratulations on becoming the 31st Prime Minister of Australia.

If you wanted a clear mandate that the people are ready for ambitious and immediate climate action, then Australian voters certainly delivered that last Saturday. And how could they not?

Climate change is already impacting every inhabited part of our planet. Over the past few years Australians have suffered devastating bushfires and killer heat, catastrophic off-the-charts flooding, damage along our coasts from relentlessly rising seas, and the drawn-out hardship of droughts.

I spend every day looking at the data that tells us each of those climate extremes will keep getting worse.

Every tonne of carbon dioxide that we emit adds to global warming. And every fraction of a degree of further warming will cause climate impacts to become more frequent and more intense.

So I implore you and the Labor Party to govern like every decision, and every year, matters. Because it really, really does.

You’ll have a chance to prove on the world stage that the Australian Government is serious about climate action at the international climate conference, COP27, in Egypt later this year. You’ve got some work to do, because COP26 last year was an embarrassment for our nation.

We took little more than a three-word slogan to the conference in Glasgow, and came away from those negotiations as a climate villain. The world is waiting for Australia to increase our 2030 commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at COP27.

Labor’s plan to reduce Australia’s emissions by 43% by 2030 is a good start. Though it will still put us on track to contribute to more than 2℃ of global warming (roughly twice the warming level we’re currently at).

Fortunately, the international climate negotiations framework is designed for ratcheting up ambition over time. This means Australia can still increase our 2030 ambition further and do our fair share to limit warming to 1.5℃, which would be a much safer pathway.

Made with Flourish

To The Greens,

Well done on your record-high vote. Yours was a campaign with a climate policy aligned to the science of what’s needed from Australia to keep the 1.5℃ warming goal alive. I hope you’re able to push from inside the house and the senate to make that a reality.

The strength of the Greens vote in Queensland perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. Nowhere else in Australia would the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃ of warming be more apparent.

Earlier this year I wrote the saddest research proposal I ever have. A decade ago I could not have imagined having to pen anything like it, but here we are.

I study climate change and its impacts using corals that have grown in the ocean for centuries. These ancient corals faithfully record natural and human-caused changes in the environment around them.

But now those very coral records I use to study the climate are being destroyed by climate change. My proposal is to call for an urgent international effort to recover valuable scientific samples from coral reefs before they’re lost forever.

Corals are one of the many ways that scientists study climate change.

Amid all of the bluster of this election campaign, the Great Barrier Reef quietly bleached for the fourth time in the last seven years. As scientists we knew to expect this – at 1.5℃ of warming 90% of reefs will have been lost, and at 2℃ the wondrous Great Barrier Reef as we know it today will no longer exist.

This most recent bleaching event hits me hard. Maybe it hit Queensland voters hard this time too?

I wish the elected Greens well as they work inside Parliament to do what’s needed to give the reef a fighting chance.

Global temperature change since 1850 (black) and various IPCC projections for future warming (colours). Crosses indicate the six mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef, including 4 in the last 7 years. Temperature data from Berkeley Earth and CMIP6 future climate experiments.

To The Teal Independents,

Thank you for putting yourselves forward. For seeing the political status quo was not working for the people, and having the courage and conviction to provide Australians with an alternative.

It is well recognised that women need to be at the heart of climate action and solutions. Globally, female representation in politics has been shown to lead to stronger climate policies and better conservation outcomes.

It makes me proud and hopeful to see the Australian people have elected so many strong, talented, independent women to our parliament.

To Every Member Of Our New Parliament,

Its time to get to work. The federal government has squandered the last decade and made the job harder.

But fortunately, Australia’s state governments have made a start while federal government dallied. Australia’s states and territories adopted net-zero targets before the federal government, and together those commitments are estimated to represent defacto national emission reductions of around 37-42% by 2030.

Tackling the climate crisis is going to take a scale of ambition unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. But we have many solutions for decarbonising our energy and transport sectors ready to go. We will have to deploy these as quickly as possible to make the significant cuts to emissions needed this decade.

Scientists working in an ice core drilling trench in East Antarctica. Nerilie AbramAuthor provided

In future decades we will also need solutions that don’t yet exist. This includes technologies and enhanced nature-based solutions that will help us to draw carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. These need to be underpinned by an investment in fundamental science today, so we can forge a pathway to those as-yet-unknown solutions.

People in Australia, and our neighbours in the Pacific, also need your help. Climate extremes are going to worsen and we need investment in the climate science and modelling capabilities to be able to improve adaptation decisions at the local scale.

To paraphrase our new Prime Minister, together you can end the climate wars and seize the abundant opportunities that Australia has to be a climate leader.

Good luck.The Conversation

Nerilie Abram, Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes; Deputy Director for the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, Australian National University

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

The election showed Australia’s huge appetite for stronger climate action. What levers can the new government pull?

John QuigginThe University of Queensland

As the polls closed on Saturday night, most election commentary focused on the dispiriting campaign where both major parties avoided any substantial division on policy issues and instead focused on negatively framing the opposing leader.

Even to many seasoned political minds, the most likely outcome seemed to be a reversal of the last parliament, with Labor winning enough seats to form a narrow majority, and one or two more seats falling to independents. As we all now know, the outcome was utterly different. The Liberals lost many of their crown jewels to climate challengers –  teal independents and the Greens.

This means the new Labor government now has a different challenge on climate. Rather than trying to keep check on concessions to the cross-bench, Labor must now find ways to pursue more ambitious climate policies. Labor can’t pull the most effective lever available – a carbon price – after the Liberals successfully poisoned the well. But there are other ways to accelerate Australia’s shift to cleaner and greener, such as through public investment in large-scale solar and wind.

The next three years will be challenging economically and politically. But the transformation wrought by the election has opened up the possibility of a similar transformation of climate policy. With bold action, a bright future awaits.

Solar farm by sea
Government backing for large scale renewables could be one lever Labor could pull. Shutterstock

Climate Proved Critical

Labor’s path to victory was unusual. The party taking government will do so despite its primary vote slumping to a postwar low, far below the level of routs seen in 1996 and 1975.

Outside Western Australia (where the result was driven largely by the success of the McGowan government’s Covid policy), Labor barely moved the dial. So far Labor has taken five seats from the Liberals (with some Labor-held seats still in doubt) while losing Fowler to an independent and Griffith to the Greens.

The big shock in this election was the loss of a string of formerly safe Liberal seats to Greens and “teal” independents. All of these candidates campaigned primarily on climate change, an issue the major parties, and most of the mainstream media had agreed should be put to one side as too dangerous and divisive.

During the campaign, the possibility of a hung parliament drew attention. In response, both major parties vowed (not very credibly) that they would never do a deal with Greens or independents to secure office. Realistically, it seemed possible that Labor might offer a slightly more ambitious program on climate policy in order to make minority government easier.

In retrospect, it’s clear that this type of analysis assumed Australia’s long-standing political pattern would continue: a two-party system, with a handful of cross-benchers occasionally playing the role of kingmaker. All of the media commentary leading up to the election took this for granted. The “teal” independents were seen as a possible threat to two or three urban Liberals and the Greens were, for all practical purposes, ignored.

What we have instead is a shock to this system. Australia now has a radically changed political scene in which the assumptions of the two-party system no longer apply. Even if Labor scrapes in with a majority, it is unlikely to be sustained at the next election, given the challenging economic circumstances the incoming government will face. As for the LNP, unless they can regain some of the seats lost to independents and Greens, they have almost no chance of forming a majority government at the next election, even with a big win over Labor in traditionally competitive seats.

Power pylons
Labor’s proposed Rewiring the Nation corporation is aimed at making the grid renewable-ready. Shutterstock

Adapting To Political Change

Labor’s challenge now is to adapt to this new world. They will have to find ways of delivering what the electorate clearly wants on climate, after ruling out most of the obvious options in the course of the campaign. The new leader of the LNP will have the unenviable task of winning back lost Liberal heartlands while placating a party room dominated by climate denialists and coal fans.

Having ruled out a carbon price, Labor will need to be much more aggressive with the safeguard mechanism it inherits from the LNP. By itself, this won’t be nearly enough.

The real need is to promote rapid growth in large-scale solar and wind energy, and to push much harder on the transition to to electric vehicles. Some of this could be done through direct public investment, on the model of Queensland’s CleanCo, or through expanded use of concessional finance using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the new Rewiring the Nation Corporation. The great political appeal of this approach is that all of these agencies are off-budget and therefore won’t count in measures of public debt, which is bound to grow in coming years due to pandemic spending.

Democracy, however imperfect, works through the possibility of renewal and change. What this election has shown us that the political system can change. Now comes the task of applying politics – the art of the possible – to the challenge of switching our energy systems from fossil fuels to clean power. It’s our best chance yet.

Correction: A previous version of this article mentioned Cowper rather than Fowler as the Labor seat lost to an independent.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.

We identified the 63 animals most likely to go extinct by 2041. We can’t give up on them yet

Gilbert’s potoroo, a marsupial that may be extinct in 20 years. Shutterstock
Stephen GarnettCharles Darwin UniversityHayley GeyleCharles Darwin UniversityJohn WoinarskiCharles Darwin University, and Mark LintermansUniversity of Canberra

It feels a bit strange to publish a paper that we want proved wrong – we have identified the 63 Australian birds, mammals, fish, frogs and reptiles most likely to go extinct in the next 20 years.

Australia’s extinction record is abysmal, and we felt the best way to stop it was to identify the species at greatest risk, as they require the most urgent action.

Leading up to this paper, we worked with conservation biologists and managers from around the country to publish research on the species closest to extinction within each broad group of animals. Birds and mammals came first, followed by fishreptiles and frogs.

From these we identified the species that need immediate work. Our purpose is to try to ensure our predictions of extinction do not come true. But it won’t be easy.

The orange-bellied parrot is critically endangered. Shutterstock

Animals In Peril

The hardest to save will be five reptiles, four birds, four frogs, two mammals and one fish, for which there are no recent confirmed records of their continued existence.

Four are almost certainly extinct: the Christmas Island shrewKangaroo River Macquarie perchnorthern gastric brooding frog and Victorian grassland earless dragon. For example, there have only ever been four records of the Christmas Island shrew since it was found in the 1930s, with the most recent in the 1980s.

While some of the 16 species feared extinct may still persist as small, undiscovered populations, none have been found, despite searching. But even for species like the Buff-breasted button-quail, those searching still hold out hope. It is certainly too soon to give up on them entirely.

We know the other 47 highly imperilled animals we looked at still survive, and we ought to be able to save them. These are made up of 21 fish, 12 birds, six mammals, four frogs and four reptiles.

For a start, if all their ranges were combined, they would fit in an area of a little over 4,000 square kilometres – a circle just 74km across.

Nearly half this area is already managed for conservation with less than a quarter of the species living on private land with no conservation management.

Two researchers face a waterfall surounded by bushland.
This waterfall in NSW is all that protects the last population of the fish, stocky galaxias, from the predatory trout below. Mark Lintermans

More than one-third of the highly imperilled taxa are fish, particularly a group called galaxiids, many of which are now confined to tiny streams in the headwaters of mountain rivers in southeastern Australia.

Genetic research suggests the different galaxiid fish species have been isolated for more than a million years. Most have been gobbled up by introduced trout in little more than a century. They have only been saved from extinction by waterfall barriers the trout cannot jump.

The other highly imperilled animals are scattered around the country or on offshore islands. Their ranges never overlap – even the three highly threatened King Island birds – a thornbill, a scrubtit and the orange-bellied parrot – use different habitats.

Sadly, it is still legal to clear King Island brown thornbill habitat, even though there are hardly any left.

The King Island brown thornbill. GB BakerAuthor provided

It’s Not All Bad News

Thankfully, work has begun to save some of the species on our list. For a start, 17 are among the 100 species prioritised by the new national Threatened Species Strategy, with 15 of those, such as the Kroombit Tinkerfrog and the Bellinger River Turtle, recently getting new funding to support their conservation.

There is also action on the ground. After the devastating fires of 2019-20, big slugs of sediment were swept into streams when rain saturated the bare burnt hillsides, choking the habitats of freshwater fish.

In response, Victoria’s Snobs Creek hatchery is devoting resources to breeding some of the most affected native fish species in captivity. And in New South Wales, fences have been constructed to stop feral horses eroding the river banks.

Existing programs have also had wins, with more orange-bellied parrots returning from migration than ever. This species is one of seven we identified in our paper – three birds, two frogs and two turtles – to which captive breeding is contributing to conservation.

Ten species – six fish, one bird, one frog, one turtle and Gilbert’s potoroo – are also benefiting from being relocated to new habitats in safer locations.

For example, seven western ground parrots were moved from Cape Arid National Park to another site last April, and are doing so well that more will be moved there next month.

The wet seasons since the 2019-2020 fires have also helped some species. Regent honeyeaters, for example, are having their best year since 2017. Researcher Ross Crates, who has been studying the birds for years, says 100 birds have been found, there are 17 new fledglings and good flocks of wild and newly released captive birds being seen.

Regent honeyeater numbers are growing thanks to the recent rain. Shutterstock

In fact, in some places the weather may have been too favourable. While good streamflows helped some galaxiids breed, invasive trout have also benefited. Surveys are underway to check if flows have been large enough to breach trout barriers.

There’s Work Still To Do

The fish hatchery program is only funded for three years, and a shortage of funds and skilled staff mean attempts to ensure populations are safe from trout has been patchy. And one cannot afford to be patchy when species are on the edge.

Some legislation also needs changing. In NSW, for example, freshwater fish are not included under the Biodiversity Conservation Act so are not eligible for Save Our Species funding or in the otherwise laudable commitment to zero extinctions in national parks.

Elsewhere, land clearing continues in scrub-tit and brown thornbill habitat on King Island – none of it necessary given so little native vegetation remains on the island.

As many as 90 of around 315 native freshwater fishes may now meet criteria as threatened.

Swift parrot habitat in Tasmania continues to be logged. The key reserve of the western swamp tortoise near Perth is surrounded by burgeoning development.

Also, the story we tell here is about the fate of Australian vertebrates. Many more Australian invertebrates are likely to be equally or even more threatened – but so far have largely been neglected.

Nevertheless, our work shows that no more vertebrates should be lost from Australia. The new Labor government has promised funds for recovery plans, koalas and crazy ants. Hopefully, money can also be found to prevent extinctions. There is no excuse for our predictions to come true.The Conversation

Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin UniversityHayley Geyle, PhD candidate, Charles Darwin UniversityJohn Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University, and Mark Lintermans, Associate professor, University of Canberra

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

How did ancient moa survive the ice age – and what can they teach us about modern climate change?

Artist’s impression of an eastern moa in its podocarp forest habitat. Paul Martinson. Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of NZCC BY-NC-ND
Nic RawlenceUniversity of OtagoAlexander VerryUniversité de Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier, and Kieren MitchellUniversity of Otago

One species of iconic moa was almost wiped out during the last ice age, according to recently published research. But a small population survived in a modest patch of forest at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island, and rapidly spread back up its east coast once the climate began to warm.

What we’re learning about this remarkable survival story has implications for the way we can help living species adapt to climate change, and how we conserve and restore what may be important future habitats.

Growing to around 80kg and up to 1.8 metres tall, the eastern moa was one of the smaller of the nine extinct moa species. It got its name because its fossil bones have been found in sand dunes, swamps, caves and middens all along the eastern parts of the South Island – Southland, Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough.

Eastern moa became extinct from over-hunting and habitat destruction by humans, and possibly predation by kurī (dogs) and kiore (rats). But were eastern moa populations thriving when people arrived, or were they already in trouble due to ancient climate change?

Skull of an eastern moa. Genetic information can be obtained from moa bones even after thousands of years. Te Papa CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Refuge In The South

Between 29,000 and 19,000 years ago, New Zealand was in the grip of an ice age. Glaciers were much larger and more widespread than they are today, and the distribution of grasslands and forests changed as the climate became colder and drier.

Current climate change threatens the survival of many different species, and the same was true of climate change thousands of years ago. The fossil record hints that the ice age was bad news for eastern moa, as few eastern moa bones from this period have been discovered.

But a lack of fossils doesn’t necessarily mean a species was doing it tough. Perhaps they just avoided the caves and swamps where we might eventually discover their bones.

To find out more, we sequenced DNA from dozens of eastern moa bones to see how their genetic diversity and population size changed over the past 30,000 years.

Large and healthy animal populations tend to have high genetic diversity, while low genetic diversity can be a sign that a population is in decline. We found eastern moa had very low genetic diversity immediately after the last ice age.

So eastern moa didn’t cope well with the ice age climate – but how did they manage to escape extinction? Our study provides a clue: their genetic diversity was highest in the very south of the South Island.

Rimu were prominent in the podocarp forests that eastern moa preferred. The distribution of these forests changed dramatically during the ice age. Katja Schulz/Flickr CC-BY 2.0

Preserving Future Habitats

During the ice age, grassland replaced wet podocarp forests in many areas. Those forests were the favourite habitat of eastern moa, possibly explaining why they struggled to survive.

Luckily for eastern moa, however, small pockets of forest survived in southern New Zealand during this time. While eastern moa disappeared from most of the country, our study suggests they clung on in remnant forest at the very south of the South Island.

Scientists have a special name for pockets of habitat where species can shelter and endure climate change – “refugia”.

Once the climate began to return to pre-ice age conditions, eastern moa were able to return to parts of the country they had formerly occupied. They bounced back so well that they were the most common moa in some parts of New Zealand at the time of Polynesian arrival.

Ancient DNA from fossils across the world has shown that refugia play an important role in allowing species to adapt to climate change. The story of eastern moa shows this is equally true in New Zealand.

Importantly, though, the eastern moa was affected differently to other moa, showing not all species are affected by climate change in the same way. Our study emphasises the need to conserve and restore a diverse range of habitats for the future, given the places where species are found today may be unsuitable for them in the very near future.

By ensuring that species can continue to find appropriate refugia, we may reduce the number that become extinct as a result of our global impacts on the climate.The Conversation

Nic Rawlence, Senior Lecturer in Ancient DNA, University of OtagoAlexander Verry, Postdoctoral Researcher, Université de Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier, and Kieren Mitchell, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Otago

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

The teals and Greens will turn up the heat on Labor’s climate policy. Here’s what to expect

Mick Tsikas/AAP
Anna SkarbekClimateworks Centre and Anna MalosClimateworks Centre

Public concern over climate change was a clear factor in the election of Australia’s new Labor government. Incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has committed to action on the issue, declaring on Saturday night: “Together we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower”.

Following Labor’s win, frontbencher Richard Marles said the new government would stick to the climate policies it took to the election. But it’s not yet clear if Labor can form a majority in the lower house, or will rely on support from the teal independents and Greens MPs – all of whom campaigned heavily for stronger climate action.

Independent Monique Ryan, a pro-climate teal MP projected to win Kooyong, on Sunday declared she would work with a minority Labor government if it went further on climate policy – including ramping up its 2030 emissions target. Other crossbenchers are likely to take a similar stance.

Labor’s climate and energy policies provide an important foundation for progress. But there are some sectors of the economy that still need far more focus. So what might the next parliament bring on climate action?

group of people celebrating
Monique Ryan, centre, says she will pressure Labor to lift its 2030 emissions target if she wins Kooyong as expected. LUIS ASCUI/AAP

Towards Net-Zero

Saturday’s federal poll was the first where Australia had a national commitment to net-zero emissions. Whoever won government faced the task of normalising the target within government and across the economy, and accelerating rapid real-world emissions cuts.

Under the Morrison government, Australia pledged to reach net-zero by 2050. But our research, conducted with the CSIRO, has shown Australia could get there by 2035.

Such a target would be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5℃. It would also unlock our competitive advantage in a net-zero world – one where we can be a major player in exporting green energy and other low-emissions commodities.

Labor’s Powering Australia plan would reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

Analysis shows Labor’s proposed target, while far more ambitious than the previous government’s, is consistent with 2℃ of global warming. This is not yet in line with the Paris Agreement goal for “well below” 2℃ warming.

In minority government, Labor would come under pressure from the crossbench to adopt a stronger 2030 goal. Incumbent Warringah independent Zali Steggall, for example, is calling for at least 60% emissions reduction by 2030, and the Greens want even more.

Greens and teal independents are aligned with Labor on legislating Australia’s net-zero emissions target and reinvigorating institutions such as the Climate Change Authority.

A climate change bill, which Steggall and others championed in the last parliament, is more comprehensive. It would provide legislated timeframes for action on climate change, and implement a process ensuring targets are in line with the science.

The teals are likely to support Labor’s plans to standardise company reporting on matters such as climate risk and emissions. The move brings Australia in line with international best practice and will bring substantial benefits.

dog with election signs
Warringah independent MP Zali Steggall introduced a climate change bill in the last parliament. Mark Baker/AAP

So too will Labor’s commitment to net-zero emissions in the federal public service by 2030, which will stimulate demand for low-carbon goods and services.

A gap to be addressed by the Labor government is creating roadmaps to net-zero for sectors and key regions. These could be integrated into Labor’s proposed National Reconstruction Fund, and should be devised in collaboration with the states and industry, as well as communities and workers affected by the global shift to net-zero.

The electricity sector produces about one-third of Australia’s emissions. The teals and Labor both went to the election aiming for renewable energy to comprise 80% of the electricity mix by 2030, which is about the pace of change needed.

Two major new Labor policies will be the basis for this:

  • Rewiring the Nation: includes A$20 billion in new electricity transmission infrastructure. If designed sensibly, the investment will unlock further private investment

  • Powering the Regions: investment in ultra low-cost solar banks, community batteries and improving energy efficiency in existing industries.

Yet more must be done – for example, more planning and new energy market rules. These should ensure the future energy system is no bigger than it needs to be, and that zero-emissions energy by 2035 is produced at least cost.

Spotlight On Industry

The Greens and teals want to halve emissions from Australia’s industrial sector by 2030. Labor’s current plans for industry aren’t that specific – and a crossbench with the balance of power is likely to pressure Labor in this area.

Labor’s policies on industry emissions comprise two main building blocks:

  • National Reconstruction Fund: $3 billion from the fund will aid industry’s low-carbon transition, including for manufacturing of green metals such as steel and aluminium

  • a revised “safeguard mechanism” requiring big polluters to reduce emissions.

Australia’s energy-intensive industries are already planning their response to shifting global markets. Labor must help these industries manage the change at the scale and pace required.

two workers walk past furnace
Australia’s industry must cut its emissions. Daniel Munoz/AAP

A Broader Transport Plan

In transport, Labor has proposed removing taxes and duties on lower-cost electric vehicles – making them cheaper – and adopting Australia’s first electric vehicle strategy.

The party has already committed to 75% of all new Commonwealth fleet cars being low- or no-emissions by 2025. The teals want 76% of all new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030. The Greens would also push for a far stronger electric vehicle policy.

Labor will also take steps to establish high-speed rail on Australia’s east coast. But its transport policy essentially ends there. It could do more on public and active transport, as well as decarbonising freight and aviation.

A broader transport strategy – especially involving infrastructure planning and investment – would help the transport sector move towards net-zero.

three men stand with electric vehicle
Labor has room to expand its electric vehicle targets. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Strip Emissions From Buildings

Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund is rightly focused on building new social and affordable housing, but is silent on net-zero. All governments have agreed to a zero-carbon buildings trajectory - now it’s time the federal government worked proactively with the states to achieve this.

The forthcoming review of the National Construction Code is a chance to bring in higher energy performance standards for new buildings.

But existing homes and business premises also need attention. A package of funds and regulations to drive electrification and energy performance gains there would bring lower energy bills and better health outcomes to many Australians.

A Sustainable Land Sector

Labor policies will support innovation in agriculture, including reducing methane emissions from livestock and other carbon farming opportunities. There will also be crossbench support for increased tree planting and soil carbon storage, as well as more spending on low-carbon agriculture practices and technologies.

Under Australia’s carbon credit scheme, landholders are granted carbon credits for activities such as retaining and growing vegetation. Serious questions have been raised over the integrity of the scheme, and dealing with these issues should be a priority for the new government.

Many of Australia’s natural systems, such as rivers and other ecosystems, are stressed or near failure. The land sector both contributes to this alarming trend and can be part of the solution, and will be badly affected if the problems are not addressed.

Many farmers have shifted their practices in response to climate and environmental threats. But the new government should create a roadmap to place the land sector in a wider environmental context. This would ensure the sector seizes investment opportunities and plays its part in a sustainable future.

Such a plan would also help Australian agriculture shore up its share of global food exports in a world increasingly demanding low-emissions products.

dog and two men round up sheep in dusty lot
Labor must draw up a low-carbon roadmap for the land sector. Shutterstock

A Bigger, Bolder Vision Is Needed

The new Labor government has three years to steer Australia in a world that expects – and badly needs – every nation to take rapid climate action across the economy.

Australians have voted for a parliament with a stronger climate action agenda. More will be needed beyond the headline measures.

The onus is on all Australians help shape and implement these changes and ensure the nation not just survives, but thrives in a warmer world.The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO, Climateworks Centre and Anna Malos, Australia - Country Lead, Climateworks Centre

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

After many false dawns, Australians finally voted for stronger climate action. Here’s why this election was different

Matt McDonaldThe University of Queensland

Before the 2019 federal election, many people expected Australia would vote for faster climate action. That, of course, didn’t happen. But just three years later, the climate election arrived at last. The question is – what changed?

In short: Reality hit. Over the Morrison government’s term, the east coast was ravaged by the Black Summer of megafires. Then came the devastating floods. These disasters proved to us what scientists have long predicted: climate change isn’t a future threat, it’s here, now.

Since 2019, Australia has been under growing international pressure to do more on climate, given we have (correctly) been seen as a laggard. With Biden replacing Trump, our isolation became clear at the Glasgow summit. Polls showed the result: more and more Australians named climate change as an important issue.

Morrison shrugged off these concerns with a non-binding “goal” of net zero by 2050. As Saturday’s election showed, Australians saw through these half-hearted measures and voted accordingly.

Three Years Of Public Concern And International Pressure

Unexpected wins by the Greens in flood-affected seats along the Brisbane river gave a snapshot of voter sentiment. But earlier images of disaster – pensioners on rooftops in Lismore, overwhelmed firefighters and dying koalas – were hard to shake for many across the country.

In many ways, this election was a perfect storm for the Coalition. Since 2019, the impatience of the international community with Australian delay tactics was clear. Our Pacific neighbours had been consistently critical of Australia’s fossil fuel protectionism, regardless of promises of new funding for the region and the so-called Pacific step-up. Scott Morrison’s speech to a nearly empty room at the climate summit at Glasgow made our isolation clear.

Joe Biden’s victory in the US meant Australians increasingly saw our government as holdouts at the back of the international pack.

These changes came through in growing public concern. Polling in 2021 showed a substantial majority of Australians supported stronger emissions reduction commitments and a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Similarly, a YouGov poll in late 2021 found a majority of voters in every Australian seat wanted stronger action on climate change from the government. More than a quarter of voters rated climate change as the most important issue in determining their vote.

A Day Late, A Dollar Short

Despite the pressure and clear signals from voters, the Coalition went to the 2022 election with the emissions reduction targets announced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015. In addition, they had a non-binding ‘goal’ to reach net zero emissions by 2050, announced only after serious pressure and internal haggling.

The public was sceptical of this promise, due to efforts by segments of the Coalition to immediately walk this back. Outspoken Nationals senator Matt Canavan suggested on election eve the government would consider walking away from its own net zero commitment.

With Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce leading the internal opposition to net zero, there were concerns the Nationals could hold Australia to ransom on climate even after the election.

We Can’t Say It Was All Climate – But It Was A Key Factor

For the Coalition, navigating climate change during the election campaign proved far more challenging than in 2019.

Crucially, they found themselves fighting on multiple fronts. In blue ribbon seats in Sydney and Melbourne the Coalition was confronted and in many cases, beaten, by well-resourced ‘teal’ candidates. These independents appealed to a traditionally conservative electorate concerned about climate change but less likely to switch to a left-leaning party. Liberal candidates in these electorates promised more action on climate, but not much beyond that.

The Greens seemed an easier target for the government. Even so, the concentrated support for the third party in inner-city areas meant attacks by the government didn’t hurt.

Labor’s targets were more ambitious than the Coalition’s, which put them ahead for middle of the road voters concerned about climate change. But stung by their 2019 defeat, Labor actually went to the election with less ambitious emissions reductions targets than they had at the previous election: a 43% reduction by 2030. This made them a smaller target than in 2019 and able to avoid a Coalition scare campaign on costs to jobs and the economy. This might have cost them in inner-city seats like Brisbane’s Griffith with strong Greens campaigns. But it allowed them to hold seats with strong mining constituencies, like Hunter in NSW.

For the Coalition, the changing facts on the ground made it much harder to even run a scare campaign on the costs of climate action. The anticipated declining market for fossil fuels, significant and well-publicised government subsidies for the fossil fuel sector, the plummeting cost of renewables and the ballooning costs of climate change impacts all undermined the power of the narrative that Australia had to choose between economy and jobs or climate action.

Young voters registered to vote in record numbers, while we saw formidable ground campaigns from the Greens and teal independents.

Does This Spell The End Of Toxic Climate Politics?

If 2022 was the long-anticipated climate election, is it also the end of the toxic politics of climate change in Australia?

That depends on how the Coalition deals with the sting of this defeat. Will they seize the chance for a reset on climate? Or will we see a further shift to the right? Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has already signalled the possibility of abandoning net zero. With moderate Liberal MPs now thin on the ground, there’s no guarantee of bipartisanship.

If the Coalition doubles down on climate delaying tactics, it would ensure its electoral irrelevance and make genuine climate action easier to achieve in Australia, one of the world’s last holdouts.

The Conversation’s #Settheagenda poll of more than 10,000 readers found more than 60% rated climate change as the top concern for them this electionThe Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

Good timing and hard work: behind the election’s ‘Greenslide’

Kate CrowleyUniversity of Tasmania

During Saturday’s election, 31.5% of the voters deserted the major parties, with a swag of female teal independents tipping Liberal MPs out of their heartland urban seats.

By contrast, the underestimated Greens had a sensational election, surprising many pundits with the strength of their support.

Even though their lower house vote increased by just 1.5% overall, their concentrated support saw the Greens gain two, potentially three, seats in Brisbane. Their traditional strength in the Senate is set to grow, potentially to an all time high of 12 senators. That would give them the balance of power.

So, how did the Greens do it? A combination of good timing and hard work. The climate election arrived at last, Scott Morrison was deeply unpopular, and the third party of Australian politics harnessed support it had been quietly building for years, especially in conservative-leaning Queensland. The only surprise is that many of us weren’t paying attention.

How Did The Greens Do It?

The Greens have hit a new high-water mark in the lower house with 11.9% of the vote. While good, it’s barely better than their 2010 best of 11.76%. Even so, because of the concentration of their support, their leader Adam Bandt will likely be joined by two other Greens in the lower house and possibly one more.

If Labor is unable to secure a majority, the Greens will likely support minority government. Australia’s only other Greenslide election was in 2010, when the Greens shared the balance of power in the lower house, and held it in the Senate. They were on board then with Labor’s reformist agenda and smoothed the passage of its bills.

As a result, the minority government was our most productive government in recent years.

Playing To Party Strengths

Are these results a shock? Not really. The party has played to its strengths by targeting specific seats at least since 2010, when they had the biggest swings to their party across the country. That was when 85% of us wanted climate action, before the climate wars set us back a decade.

Every election since has been about growing the Green vote across the country whilst expanding their inner-city strongholds, with very specific targeting of seats like Melbourne (Adam Bandt’s safe seat), Kooyong, Goldstein, Sydney, MacKellar, Warringah, Brisbane, Curtin and Grayndler.

In March 2021, the Greens released their election strategy in a largely neglected but extremely clear press release. They identified nine priority lower house seats, three additional Senate seats, and the balance of power in both houses as party goals. Notably, their campaigning efforts only overlapped the teal independents in the seat of Kooyong.

It looks like they’ll win the three Queensland seats of Ryan, Griffith and Brisbane from, respectively, the Liberals, Liberal National Party and Labor. Adam Bandt is now confident the Greens are “on the march” in the sunshine state. That’s quite a turnaround from 2019, where Queensland proved critical to Morrison’s miracle victory.

From The Ground Up

Crucially, Green politics is built from the ground up, beginning with participation at local council level and in state parliaments.

In 2020, the party won two state seats, following their gain of a seat on Brisbane City Council, and have continued to build on that momentum into this election with sophisticated grass roots campaigning.

This is a long term effort. In the seat of Ryan, for example, which takes in much of Brisbane’s leafy west and hinterland, the Greens have been slowly building up strength since reaching just under 19% in 2010. On Saturday, Elizabeth Watson-Brown wrested Ryan from the LNP with a primary vote of 31.1% and a two-party-preferred vote of 53.2%.

Traditionally, the Greens have posed more of a threat to Labor. While they have done most damage to the Liberals this election, Labor knows that it is not immune to this rising third force. Adam Bandt’s seat was solidly Labor for over one hundred years.

A Green Mandate

Gaining the balance of power in either or both houses would give the Greens greater leverage to introduce parts of their agenda. The election result was clearly a mandate for strengthened climate action, and they will seek that immediately.

What could this look like? Think of the key achievements of the Gillard minority Labor government, which included Green initiatives such as clean energy legislation, carbon pricing and the establishment of the Climate Change Authority, Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

In 2022, Greens preferences to Labor across the country proved vital in unseating Liberal MPs. Despite Labor’s traditional discomfort with Green incursions into “their” seats, this trend is here to stay. Labor will have to deal with it. The Greens back much of the teal independents’ agenda of climate action and political integrity, making them collectively a powerful crossbench for change.

In his post election speech, Bandt made clear what he wants: a principled, stable Labor government, with an end to coal and gas, a just transition for displaced workers, and investment in climate resilience.

Greens leader Adam Bandt speaking after the 2022 federal election.

By neglecting environmental issues and failing to adequately tackle Australia’s growing inequality, both major parties have created the political space which Green politics fills.

Over the last decade, as climate-linked crises have intensified, public concern has soared. The economic cost of this neglect is already in the billions and climbing.

The Greens and teal independents will likely seek to end fossil fuel subsidies and to ban fossil industry donations to political parties. Had the political parties kept a distance from corrosive fossil fuel influence in the first place, they would not find Greens and teals replacing them.The Conversation

Kate Crowley, Adjunct Associate Professor, Public and Environmental Policy, University of Tasmania

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

Climate change is killing trees in Queensland’s tropical rainforests

Alexander SchenkinAuthor provided
Lucas CernusakJames Cook University and Susan LauranceJames Cook University

In recent years, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s northeast coast has seen multiple events of mass coral bleaching as human-caused global warming has driven sustained high temperatures in the ocean.

Alongside the Coral Sea is another spectacular natural wonder: the rainforests of the World Heritage-listed wet tropics of Queensland.

It turns out the same climate change forces contributing to coral bleaching have also taken a toll on the trees that inhabit these majestic tropical rainforests.

In new research, we and our co-authors found that mortality rates among these trees have doubled since the mid 1980s, most likely due to warmer air with greater drying power. Like coral reefs, these trees provide essential structure, energy and nutrients to their diverse and celebrated ecosystems.

A 50-Year Record

Our study was based on 20 plots of trees in rainforests in northeast Queensland, which were created and monitored in a project begun in 1971 by a forest scientist named Geoff Stocker.

These plots were later incorporated into the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area, and the monitoring has been carried on by CSIRO scientists based in Atherton, Queensland.

The plots are typically half a hectare (5,000m²) in size. In each plot the species and diameter of all trees larger than 10cm diameter at breast height were recorded.

A photograph showing a hilly landscape covered in forests.
A 50-year study revealed tree deaths are on the rise in the tropical forests of Queensland. Alexander SchenkinAuthor provided

The plots were revisited at intervals ranging from two to about five years. Tree diameters were recorded again, along with any new trees that had grown into the 10+cm size class, and any trees that had died.

Over the years, a few additional plots were initiated and contributed to our analyses. But these 20 provided a uniquely long record and formed the core of the dataset.

The Lifespan Of Trees

With many plots visited multiple times, and many tree species on each plot, we were able to estimate the average percentage of trees in each species that died in a given year (the “annual mortality rate”). We also examined how this rate has changed over time.

Until about the mid 1980s, the average annual mortality rate was around 1%. This means that any given year, each tree had about a one in 100 chance of dying.

This corresponds to an average tree lifespan of about 100 years.

However, beginning in the mid-1980s, the annual mortality rate began to increase. By the end of our dataset in 2019, the average annual mortality rate had doubled to 2%.

These results match a similar pattern in tree deaths in the Amazon rainforest at the same time, which suggests the increase in tropical tree mortality may be widespread.

A doubled annual mortality rate means that trees are only living half as long as they were, which means they are only storing carbon for half as long.

If the trend we observed is indicative of tropical forests in general, this could have big implications for the capacity of tropical forests to absorb and mitigate carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

Thirsty Air

What caused the increasing mortality rates of the tropical trees?

A first guess might be temperature stress: the average air temperature of the plots has increased in recent decades.

However, we did not find that temperature directly caused the increasing mortality rates. Instead the mortality rates correlated better with the drying power or “thirstiness” of the air, which scientists call the “air vapour pressure deficit”.

You’re probably familiar with the idea of relative humidity. It tells you how much water vapour there is in the air, as a percentage of the maximum amount the air can hold.

An aerial photograph looking down on a forest from above.
Climate change is making the air ‘thirstier’, taking more water from trees by evaporation. Alexander SchenkinAuthor provided

When temperatures rise, the air’s capacity to hold water vapour increases exponentially. Each degree of warming lets the air hold about 7% more water vapour.

So if the air temperature increases, and the relative humidity stays the same, the air will have a bigger capacity to take on more water vapour.

To a first approximation, this is what has happened with global warming. Air temperature has increased, relative humidity has remained approximately constant, and the air has become thirstier.

This means the drying power of the atmosphere (or “evaporative demand”) has increased. This is what we found best explained the increasing mortality rates in Australian tropical trees.

What’s Next

If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, both the air temperature and the air vapour pressure deficit will continue to increase. Our results suggest that in all likelihood this will cause a further acceleration in the increasing mortality rates of tropical rainforest trees.

Like coral reefs, tropical rainforests may then experience relatively rapid changes in species composition, biodiversity, and three-dimensional structure, threatening these prized Australian ecosystems as we know them. The best way to mitigate this threat is to urgently reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, in order to slow global warming and eventually stabilise the global climate system. The Conversation

Lucas Cernusak, Associate professor, James Cook University and Susan Laurance, Professor, James Cook University

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

Planetary waves, cut-off lows and blocking highs: what’s behind record floods across the Southern Hemisphere?

Tess ParkerMonash University and Michael BarnesMonash University

From February to May 2022, many places in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia have seen record-breaking daily and monthly rainfall. Repeated periods of persistent and intense rain have caused devastating and widespread floods.

In Queensland and New South Wales alone, the floods and storms caused an estimated AU$3.35 billion in insured losses, making these the costliest floods in Australia’s history and the fifth most costly natural disaster. More than 20 people lost their lives.

Similar events have occurred around the Southern Hemisphere. Brazil was hit with heavy rain, flash flooding and landslides in February and March, killing more than 200 people. In April and May it was South Africa’s turn, as torrential downpours destroyed homes and infrastructure, resulting in some 400 deaths and US$1.5 billion in property damage.

Behind most of these intense rain events lies a particular combination of weather conditions: a “cut-off low” over the coast, pinned in place by a “blocking high” out to sea. This configuration itself is not uncommon, but this year’s repeated events and their high impact have been unusual.

What Caused The Extreme Rainfall This Year?

Outside the tropics, weather is mainly driven by what are called “Rossby waves” or “planetary waves”. These are wiggles in the jet stream, which is a band of strong winds in the upper atmosphere that goes right around the globe.

When winds are displaced to the north or south by mountains or weather systems, they can push part of the jet stream out of its normal position. This undulation in the jet stream is a Rossby wave.

Rossby waves usually then move eastward, guided by the jet stream. Under the right conditions the waves can amplify and break, just like ocean waves at the shore.

When this happens, the breaking wave can form a region of high pressure air at ground level, which may stay in one place for some time. This high-pressure region can in turn cause other weather systems (such as low-pressure systems bearing rain) to stall over one location.

Stalled weather systems that stay put for a long time can lead to prolonged downpours, but also to lengthy heat waves.

During the flooding on the east coast of Australia, an amplifying Rossby wave formed a high-pressure system over the Tasman Sea, as well as a low-pressure region in the upper atmosphere known as a “cut-off low”.

Three weather maps showing Australia and surrounds.
Australia’s weather on 26 February 2022. A Rossby wave (in pink, left) forms a cut-off low (COL). A region of high pressure forms over the Tasman Sea (H, middle and right) and easterly winds (arrows, middle) around the high bring moisture to the coast (blue/green shading, middle). Heavy rainfall is evident over the east coast (colour shading, right). Michael BarnesAuthor provided

This setup provided the two ingredients required for rain: a supply of moisture, in the form of easterly winds around the high carrying moist air from the ocean to the land; and a mechanism to lift that moisture, provided by the presence of the cut-off low. As the low moved between southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, so did the rain.

The same fingerprint was also seen during the floods in South Africa and Brazil. For the flood events in south-west Western Australia, the moist onshore flow was boosted by a low between the coast and the high to the west over the Indian Ocean.

What Does Climate Change Mean For These Events?

One of the most difficult challenges for atmospheric scientists is understanding how global warming will change the weather at the regional scale.

Weather forecasts are a crucial tool for mitigating the effects of extreme weather, providing predictions of such events up to a week in advance. Accurate forecasts are vital to afford critical time for response mobilisation, such as warnings, evacuations and deployment of emergency services.

At present, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, a measure of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, is in the La Niña phase for the second year in a row. La Niña is associated with rainier-than-normal conditions over north-eastern Australia, south-eastern Africa and northern Brazil.

In addition, global warming is likely to lead to more intense rainfall because warmer air can hold more moisture. However, we still have a lot to learn about where that rain is likely to fall, and how frequent and intense the rainfall is likely to be.

To understand how extreme weather like this year’s Southern Hemisphere deluges will change as the climate warms, we must understand the underlying physical processes responsible for their development.

At present, different climate models show different things about what climate change means for Rossby waves and wave breaking. The models don’t yet have high enough resolution to explicitly include some of the detailed physical processes related to rainfall, jet streams and Rossby waves.

While the models agree that climate change will alter the position and speed of the jet stream winds, they disagree about what will happen to Rossby waves. Investment in the research necessary to answer these questions is therefore imperative.The Conversation

Tess Parker, Research Fellow, Monash University and Michael Barnes, Research Fellow, Monash University

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

The election shows the conservative culture war on climate change could be nearing its end

Matthew HornseyThe University of QueenslandCassandra ChapmanThe University of Queensland, and Jacquelyn HumphreyThe University of Queensland

Former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s shock loss to an independent running on a climate action platform wasn’t a fluke event. “Teal” independents have ousted five of Frydenberg’s colleagues, all harvesting votes from conservative heartland and all calling for more action on climate change.

Amid the wreckage, Frydenberg was asked whether the Liberals needed to rethink their policies on climate change. His response – that he didn’t believe Australia had been “well served by the culture wars on climate change” – deserves analysis.

Who started the culture war on climate change? And are we nearing its demise? Our research, published this month, provides some clues.

We found that approximately a third of Australians – predominantly conservatives – maintain that climate change is not caused by human activity, but rather by natural environmental fluctuations.

Crucially, however, we also found signs the conservative position against climate science has weakened over time. The election results reinforce this message, with a projection of six teal independents nationwide and two new Green seats in Queensland.

As such, this election may well be remembered as the first cracks in the dam wall of conservative-led climate scepticism.

How Climate Science Became Political

Historically, science has been excluded from “left” and “right” political culture wars. Science, it was agreed, was best left to the scientists.

For example, shortly after definitive evidence emerged that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were eroding the ozone layer, an international treaty committed to phasing them out. The response was swift and apolitical: in the 1980s you couldn’t tell how someone voted from knowing their stance on CFCs.

Unfortunately, this can’t be said for climate science. In 1965, there was enough scientific buzz about the dangers of carbon emissions that US President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a message to Congress sounding the alarm.

But the seeds of climate culture wars were sown soon after. With the ear of senior politicians – and supported by think tanks and private corporations – a campaign of misinformation was started that came straight from the Big Tobacco playbook: to convince people to do nothing in the face of impending danger, you need to convince them the science is not yet in.

The campaign to scramble the science on climate change was remarkably effective: in the 2000s, 97% of climate scientists agreed about anthropogenic climate change, but people incorrectly believed scientists were divided on the issue. A scientific conclusion had been effectively positioned as a “debate”.

John Oliver hosts a mathematically representative climate change debate in 2014 | Last Week Tonight.

Originally, this had little to do with conservatism. In the early 1990s, educated Republicans saw more scientific consensus around climate change than Democrats. But this pattern has since dramatically reversed.

Climate mitigation became perceived by conservative elites as ideologically toxic – a Big Government response designed to regulate industry and the freedoms of individuals. Among the Right, politicians, think tanks, and media all started to coach other conservatives how to think about climate change.

The consequence was that a scientific issue became a political issue. Researchers investigating the predictors of climate scepticism found political allegiance blew everything else out of the water: more important than people’s personal experience of extreme weather events, their levels of education, or even their science literacy.

Australia And The Climate Divide

In the early 2010s, the culture wars on climate science in Australia escalated dramatically.

It became routine for conservative politicians to question climate science (former Prime Minister Tony Abbott famously proclaimed climate science as “absolute crap” in 2009) and one-third of mainstream newspaper articles were climate sceptical.

We recently analysed 25 polls conducted by Essential Research over ten years, collecting representative data on Australians’ beliefs about climate change.

We found scepticism levels were staggeringly high by international standards. Over the last 10 years, about four in ten Australians either said climate change isn’t driven by human activities, or that they “don’t know” what’s causing it. Most of these people were conservatives.

But scepticism has tailed down from the high-water mark in 2013, and particularly among conservatives. Our data suggest the trigger for this change was the string of record-breaking annual global temperatures since 2015.

Climate Scepticism Isn’t Inherently Conservative

As the Liberal party and conservative voters ponder what happens next, it’s worth remembering that rejection of climate science is not an inherently conservative position. International data suggest the link between conservatism and climate scepticism is largely an issue for the US and Australia.

In most countries there is no reliable relationship. Indeed, in the UK it was the conservatives who led the phasing out of coal in their country.

Pro-climate conservative leaders around the world – such as Malcolm Turnbull, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kasich – remind us that mitigating climate change is something that dovetails with conservative values: protecting traditional ways of life, maintaining national security and independence, and catalysing green jobs and innovation.

The success of the teal independents highlights that many conservative Australians want climate action. The election result could pressure the Liberal party into deleting climate science from the culture wars.

This will not be easy. Australia is the world’s leading exporter of coal, and in the past inaction on climate change has been an effective wedge issue to harvest traditionally left-leaning, blue-collar votes.

But extracting climate policy from the culture wars would be game-changing in terms of our ability to unite in the face of the climate crisis, and conservatives are the ones most equipped to do so.

As the Liberals reflect on the loss of a generation of future leaders in blue ribbon seats, they may just decide that now is the time.The Conversation

Matthew Hornsey, Professor, University of Queensland Business School, The University of QueenslandCassandra Chapman, Lecturer in Marketing, The University of Queensland, and Jacquelyn Humphrey, , The University of Queensland

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

Pittwater Reserves: Histories + Notes + Pictorial Walks

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
Duck Holes: McCarrs Creek by Joe Mills
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
Resolute Track at West Head by Kevin Murray
Resolute Track Stroll by Joe Mills
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
Tranquil Turimetta Beach, April 2022 by Joe Mills
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
Wilshire Park Palm Beach: Some History + Photos From May 2022
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 -

Students To Tour Hiroshima And Pearl Harbor

May 27, 2022
Six high school students across NSW will have the chance to visit historic WWII sites in Japan and Hawaii as part of the ClubsNSW Premier’s WWII Memorial Tour.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said in order to secure this trip of a lifetime high school students can submit a 1000-word essay which answers the question ‘Are the lessons of WWII still relevant today?’

“Six students will be given the opportunity to visit the sites of some of the most defining moments in World War II history.” Mr Perrottet said.

“I’m encouraging Year 11 students aged 16 and 17 to submit a 1000-word essay detailing how the lessons of World War II are still relevant today.”

Minister for Transport and Veterans David Elliott said this initiative will see successful students embark on an 11-day tour of historic WWII sites in Hiroshima, Japan and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“The attack on Pearl Harbor and atomic bombing of Hiroshima are two of the most pivotal moments in the Second World War.” Mr Elliott said.

“The ClubsNSW Premier’s WWII Memorial Tour will provide opportunities for students to develop their knowledge and understanding of the history of World War II.”

ClubsNSW CEO Josh Landis welcomed the launch of the ClubsNSW Premier’s WWII Memorial Tour, and said ClubsNSW is proud to teach a new generation about significant moments in history.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for high school students to revisit a defining moment in our history and learn about the contributions and sacrifices made by those on the front line,” Mr Landis said.

“Clubs and the veteran community are intrinsically linked and ClubsNSW is incredibly proud to support this program. I call on all our member clubs to encourage their local students to submit an essay for a chance to be selected for this exclusive overseas experience.”

The group will depart Sydney on Thursday 21 July and return on Sunday 31 July. Year 11 students must be aged 16 or 17. 
Entries are open until 5pm on 13 June 2022.

2022 Red Bull Big Wave Award Nominees Announced, Sebastian Steudtner Sets New GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ Title For Men’s Largest Wave Surfed (Unlimited)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Today, the World Surf League (WSL) released the official list of nominees for the 2022 Red Bull Big Wave Awards. $350,000 in prize money will be awarded across three categories for men’s and women’s divisions: Ride of the Year, Biggest Tow, and Biggest Paddle. The winning photographers and videographers will also be awarded prize money. In addition to announcing the nominees, as part of the Red Bull Big Wave Awards, the WSL has officially announced the new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ Title for Men’s Largest Wave Surfed (Unlimited). 

Sebastian Steudtner Sets GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ Title for Men’s Largest Wave Surfed (Unlimited)

Sebastian Steudtner (GER) has set a new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the largest wave surfed (unlimited) – male. As part of the Red Bull Big Wave Awards, the WSL has officially analyzed, measured, and verified Sebastian Steudtner’s 2021 Big Wave Award-winning ride at Praia do Norte in Nazaré, Portugal on October 29, 2020 at 86 feet (26.21 meters) from trough to crest. 

Pictured: Sebastian Steudtner is presented with a certificate by an official Adjudicator of GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS at a special ceremony in Nazare, Portugal. Credit: © Mestre 

The ride won the Biggest Tow Award at the 2021 Red Bull Big Wave Awards making it eligible for World Record verification. Steudtner’s wave was analysed, measured, and confirmed as the new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the Largest Wave Surfed (Unlimited) - Male. 

The achievement was announced at a special ceremony upon the grounds of the famous lighthouse that stands watch over the waves of Praia do Norte. An official Adjudicator of GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS presented Steudtner with a certificate declaring him as the current record holder for men’s largest wave surfed. Steudtner’s record beat Rodrigo Koxa’s previous record by 6 feet, which was caught on November 8, 2017 at the same location of Praia do Norte, Nazaré.

Several frames from the video footage were extracted and corrected geometrically based on the camera position and inclination. Using known objects such as the jet ski and actual measurement of Steudtner’s body geometry, it was possible to calibrate the images for conversion from pixels to feet. The location of the trough and crest of the wave was determined from analysis of the video from two different angles.
2022 Red Bull Big Wave Nominees Announced

This year’s Red Bull Big Wave Awards received over 300 submissions with some of the heaviest and most amazing big waves ridden during the April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022 big wave awards season. All submitted waves were evaluated by a comprehensive judging panel formed by WSL judges, former pro surfers, and big wave specialists.

This year’s nominees spanned the globe, with surfers representing countries like Brazil, Australia, the United States, Hawaii, Portugal, and France. The majority of the nominated rides come from the infamous big wave breaks of Nazaré in Portugal and Pe’ahi (a.k.a. “Jaws”) in Hawaii, USA, but this year’s shortlist also sees rides from Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California, USA, Teahupo’o in Tahiti, Shipstern Bluff in Australia, Himalayas on Oahu’s North Shore, and Outer Reef Kahului, Maui, both in Hawaii.

The winners of the prestigious awards for some of the wildest rides of the year will be announced on July 7, 2022. 

Ride of the Year
The Ride of the Year is awarded to the male and female surfers who demonstrate the most advanced and committed level of big wave surfing during a successful ride, as judged by available video footage. While raw size is taken into consideration, it is ultimately the level of performance that is rewarded. 
Female Nominees
  • Annie Reickert at Outer Reef Kahului, Hawaii on December 5, 2021
  • Justine Dupont at Teahupo’o, Tahiti on October 6, 2021
  • Justine Dupont at Teahupo’o, Tahiti on August 13, 2021
  • Michelle des Bouillons at Nazaré, Portugal on February 10, 2022
  • Paige Alms at Jaws, Hawaii on January 9, 2022

Paige Alms
Male Nominees
  • Billy Kemper at Jaws, Hawaii on November 2, 2021
  • Francisco Porcella at Jaws, Hawaii on November 2, 2021
  • Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca at Nazaré, Portugal on February 25, 2022 
  • Mikey Brennan at Shipstern Bluff, Australia on March 26, 2022
  • Pedro Scooby at Nazaré, Portugal on December 13, 2021
Nominees in this category include Justine Dupont (FRA), with two separate rides at Teahupo’o, and Mikey Brennan at Shipstern Bluff, in addition to three nominations each from Jaws and Nazaré.

Biggest Tow
The Biggest Tow Award goes to the male and female surfers who, by any means available, catch and ride the biggest wave of the year. 

Female Nominees
  • Justine Dupont at Nazaré, Portugal on January 8, 2022
  • Justine Dupont at Nazaré, Portugal on January 8, 2022
  • Justine Dupont at Nazaré, Portugal on January 8, 2022
  • Michelle des Bouillons at Nazaré, Portugal on December 13, 2021
  • Michelle des Bouillons at Nazaré, Portugal on December 11, 2021
Male Nominees 
  • João Macedo at Nazaré, Portugal on February 25, 2022
  • Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca at Nazaré, Portugal on January 8, 2022
  • Mason Barnes at Nazaré, Portugal on February 26, 2022
  • Nic Von Rupp at Nazaré, Portugal on January 8, 2022
  • Pedro Scooby at Nazaré, Portugal on January 8, 2022

Nic Von Rupp at Nazaré

The tow category exclusively features nominations from Nazaré. The women’s side features two rides from Michelle des Bouillons (BRA) alongside world-renowned Big Wave charger Justine Dupont (FRA). Dupont is setting a high standard this year, with nominations in each of the three categories. 

The men's category includes the winner of this year’s TUDOR Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge presented by Jogos Santa Casa, Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca, along with his teammate at the event, Nic Von Rupp. Chianca showed how comfortable he is in the massive surf at Nazaré and continues to push the limit of what’s possible. One of the standout surfers at the famed Portuguese break, Pedro Scooby (BRA) also teamed up with Von Rupp during one of the first big swells of the year, and both earned a nomination for their respective rides.

Biggest Paddle
The Biggest Paddle Award goes to the male and female surfers who paddle into, and successfully ride, the biggest wave of the year. 

Female Nominees
  • Annie Reickert at Jaws, Hawaii on November 2, 2021
  • Justine Dupont at Nazaré, Portugal on November 19, 2021
  • Katie Mae McConnell at Himalayas, Hawaii on January 22, 2022
  • Paige Alms at Jaws, Hawaii on November 2, 2021
  • Raquel Heckert at Himalayas, Hawaii on January 22, 2022
Male Nominees 
  • Ben Andrews at Mavericks, California on January 11, 2022
  • Billy Kemper at Jaws, Hawaii on November 2, 2021
  • Jamie Mitchell at Nazaré, Portugal on February 9, 2022
  • Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca at Nazare, Portugal on January 12, 2022
  • Pedro Calado at Nazaré, Portugal on January 12, 2022
This year's nominees include big names like two-time WSL Big Wave World Champion Paige Alms and four-time Pe’ahi Challenge Champion Billy Kemper. Hailing from Hawaii, both Alms and Kemper have stamped their authority in big waves with previous Big Wave Award wins and they continue to produce excellent rides at Jaws. No stranger to Jaws either, Raquel Heckert (BRA) has been putting in the time in Hawaii and it’s showing as she earned a nomination for her ride at Himalayas on the North Shore.
The 2022 Red Bull Big Wave Awards winners will be announced on July 7, 2022 on The winning rides of the 2022 Red Bull Big Wave Awards will be eligible for World Record verification if the judging panel determines the wave(s) challenge the current World Records. World Record verifications will be announced on November 1, 2022. 
To watch all the nominated rides, please visit
For more information, please visit

Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards 2022: Entries Close June 30th

Details and more at:

There's also a special History page running this Issue for you - the Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar, after whom the Electorate of Mackellar is named, had a house here in Pittwater at Lovett Bay.

 “Our poets are encouraged to take inspiration from wherever they may find it, however if they are looking for some direction, competition participants are invited to use this year’s optional theme to inspire their entries.”

In 2022, the Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society has chosen the theme “In My Opinion.” 

As always, it is an optional theme. The Society encourages students to write about topics and experiences that spark their poetic genius (in whatever form they choose.)




Primary school and secondary school entries can be submitted anytime during the competition period. Visit:

Curious Kids: what would happen if someone moved at twice the speed of light?

Sam BaronAustralian Catholic University

I’m curious about what will happen if, hypothetically, someone moves with speed (that is) twice the speed of light? – Devanshi, age 13, Mumbai

Hi Devanshi! Thanks for this great question.

As far as we know, it’s not possible for a person to move at twice the speed of light. In fact, it’s not possible for any object with the kind of mass you or I have to move faster than the speed of light.

However, for certain strange particles, travelling at twice the speed of light might be possible – and it might send those particles back in time.

A Universal Speed Limit

One of our best physical theories at the moment is the theory of relativity, developed by Albert Einstein. According to this theory, the speed of light operates as a universal speed limit on anything with mass.

Specifically, relativity tells us that nothing with mass can accelerate past the speed of light.

To accelerate an object with mass, we have to add energy. The faster we want the object to go, the more energy we’ll need.

The equations of relativity tell us that anything with mass – regardless of how much mass it has – would require an infinite amount of energy to be accelerated to the speed of light.

But all of the sources of energy we know of are finite: they are limited in some respect.

Indeed, it’s plausible the Universe only contains a finite amount of energy. That would mean there isn’t enough energy in the Universe to accelerate something with mass up to the speed of light.

Since you and I have mass, don’t expect to be travelling at twice the speed of light anytime soon.

Blue beams of light rushing past signify a fast moving object going through space
According to Einstein, nothing bulky such as an object or human could accelerate faster than the speed of light. Shutterstock


This universal speed limit applies to anything with what we might call “ordinary mass”.

There are, however, hypothetical particles called tachyons with a special kind of mass called “imaginary mass”.

There is no evidence tachyons exist. But according to relativity, their possible existence can’t be ruled out.

If they do exist, tachyons must always be travelling faster than the speed of light. Just as something with ordinary mass can’t be accelerated past the speed of light, tachyons can’t be slowed down to below the speed of light.

Some physicists believe that if tachyons exist, they would constantly be travelling backwards in time. This is why tachyons are associated with time travel in many science fiction books and movies.

There are ideas that we might someday harness tachyons to build a time machine. But for now this remains a distant dream, as we don’t have the ability to detect potential tachyons.


It’s disappointing we can’t travel faster than the speed of light. The nearest star to us, other than the Sun, is 4.35 light years away. So, travelling at the speed of light, it would take more than four years to get there.

The farthest star we’ve ever detected is 28 billion light years away. So you can pretty much give up on charting the entire Universe.

That said, relativity does allow for the existence of “wormholes”.

A wormhole is a shortcut between any two points in space. While a star might be 4.5 light years away in normal terms, it might only be a few hours away via a wormhole.

If there are any actual wormholes, they would let us travel great distances in a very short period of time – allowing us to get to the farthest reaches of the universe within a single lifetime.

Unfortunately, like tachyons, wormholes remain entirely hypothetical.

Illustration showing a hypothetical wormhole open in space, bending spacetime around it.
You can think of a wormhole as a tunnel with two ends opening up to different points in spacetime. Shutterstock

Strange Possibilities

Despite the fact we can’t genuinely travel faster than light, we can still try to imagine what it would be like to do so.

By thinking in this way, we are engaging in “counterfactual thinking”. We are considering what things would, or might, be like if reality was different in some way.

There are many different possibilities we could consider, each with a different set of physical principles.

So we can’t say with any certainty what would happen if we were able to travel faster than light. At best, we can guess what might happen. Would we start to travel back in time, as some scientists think tachyons might do?

I’ll leave it to you and your imagination to come up with some ideas!The Conversation

Sam Baron, Associate professor, Australian Catholic University

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

Word Of The Week: Charisma

Word of the Week returns in 2022 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix.

the ability to attract the attention and admiration of others, and to be seen as a leader, a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure, a special magnetic charm or appeal

Word origin - Etymology; The English term charisma is from the Greek χάρισμα (khárisma), which means "favor freely given" or "gift of grace". The term and its plural χαρίσματα (charismata) derive from χάρις (charis), which means "grace" or indeed "charm" with which it shares the root. Some derivatives from that root (including "grace") have similar meanings to the modern sense of personality charisma, such as "filled with attractiveness or charm", "kindness", "to bestow a favour or service", or "to be favoured or blessed". Moreover, the ancient Greek dialect widely used in Roman times employed these terms without the connotations found in modern religious usage. Ancient Greeks applied personality charisma to their gods; for example, attributing charm, beauty, nature, human creativity or fertility to goddesses they called Charites.

Theologians and social scientists have expanded and modified the original Greek meaning into two distinct senses: personality charisma and divinely conferred charisma. Eastern Mediterranean Jews in the 1st century CE had notions of charis and charisma that embraced the range of meanings found in Greek culture and the spiritual meanings from the Hebrew Bible. From this linguistic legacy of fused cultures, in 1 Corinthians, Paul the Apostle introduced the meaning that the Holy Spirit bestowed charism and charismata, "the gift of God's grace," upon individuals or groups. For Paul, "[t]here is a clear distinction between charisma and charis; charisma is the direct result of divine charis or grace."

In Greek mythology, the Charites, singular Charis, or Graces, were three or more goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, goodwill, and fertility. Hesiod names three – Aglaea ("Shining"), Euphrosyne ("Joy"), and Thalia ("Blooming") – and names Aglaea as the youngest and the wife of Hephaestus. In Roman mythology they were known as the Gratiae, the "Graces". Some sources use the appellation "Charis" as the name of one of the Charites, and equate her with Aglaea, as she too is referred to as the wife of Hephaestus.

Hubble Reaches New Milestone In Mystery Of Universe's Expansion Rate

May 24, 2022
Completing a nearly 30-year marathon, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has calibrated more than 40 "milepost markers" of space and time to help scientists precisely measure the expansion rate of the universe -- a quest with a plot twist.

Pursuit of the universe's expansion rate began in the 1920s with measurements by astronomers Edwin P. Hubble and Georges Lemaître. In 1998, this led to the discovery of "dark energy," a mysterious repulsive force accelerating the universe's expansion. In recent years, thanks to data from Hubble and other telescopes, astronomers found another twist: a discrepancy between the expansion rate as measured in the local universe compared to independent observations from right after the big bang, which predict a different expansion value.

The cause of this discrepancy remains a mystery. But Hubble data, encompassing a variety of cosmic objects that serve as distance markers, support the idea that something weird is going on, possibly involving brand new physics.

"You are getting the most precise measure of the expansion rate for the universe from the gold standard of telescopes and cosmic mile markers," said Nobel Laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Riess leads a scientific collaboration investigating the universe's expansion rate called SH0ES, which stands for Supernova, H0, for the Equation of State of Dark Energy. "This is what the Hubble Space Telescope was built to do, using the best techniques we know to do it. This is likely Hubble's magnum opus, because it would take another 30 years of Hubble's life to even double this sample size," Riess said.

Riess's team's paper, to be published in the Special Focus issue of The Astrophysical Journal reports on completing the biggest and likely last major update on the Hubble constant. The new results more than double the prior sample of cosmic distance markers. His team also reanalyzed all of the prior data, with the whole dataset now including over 1,000 Hubble orbits.

When NASA conceived of a large space telescope in the 1970s, one of the primary justifications for the expense and extraordinary technical effort was to be able to resolve Cepheids, stars that brighten and dim periodically, seen inside our Milky Way and external galaxies. Cepheids have long been the gold standard of cosmic mile markers since their utility was discovered by astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt in 1912. To calculate much greater distances, astronomers use exploding stars called Type Ia supernovae.

Combined, these objects built a "cosmic distance ladder" across the universe and are essential to measuring the expansion rate of the universe, called the Hubble constant after Edwin Hubble. That value is critical to estimating the age of the universe and provides a basic test of our understanding of the universe.

Starting right after Hubble's launch in 1990, the first set of observations of Cepheid stars to refine the Hubble constant was undertaken by two teams: the HST Key Project led by Wendy Freedman, Robert Kennicutt, Jeremy Mould, and Marc Aaronson, and another by Allan Sandage and collaborators, that used Cepheids as milepost markers to refine the distance measurement to nearby galaxies. By the early 2000s the teams declared "mission accomplished" by reaching an accuracy of 10 percent for the Hubble constant, 72 plus or minus 8 kilometers per second per megaparsec.

In 2005 and again in 2009, the addition of powerful new cameras onboard the Hubble telescope launched "Generation 2" of the Hubble constant research as teams set out to refine the value to an accuracy of just one percent. This was inaugurated by the SH0ES program. Several teams of astronomers using Hubble, including SH0ES, have converged on a Hubble constant value of 73 plus or minus 1 kilometer per second per megaparsec. While other approaches have been used to investigate the Hubble constant question, different teams have come up with values close to the same number.

The SH0ES team includes long-time leaders Dr. Wenlong Yuan of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Lucas Macri of Texas A&M University, Dr. Stefano Casertano of STScI, and Dr. Dan Scolnic of Duke University. The project was designed to bracket the universe by matching the precision of the Hubble constant inferred from studying the cosmic microwave background radiation leftover from the dawn of the universe.

"The Hubble constant is a very special number. It can be used to thread a needle from the past to the present for an end-to-end test of our understanding of the universe. This took a phenomenal amount of detailed work," said Dr. Licia Verde, a cosmologist at ICREA and the ICC-University of Barcelona, speaking about the SH0ES team's work.

The team measured 42 of the supernova milepost markers with Hubble. Because they are seen exploding at a rate of about one per year, Hubble has, for all practical purposes, logged as many supernovae as possible for measuring the universe's expansion. Riess said, "We have a complete sample of all the supernovae accessible to the Hubble telescope seen in the last 40 years." Like the lyrics from the song "Kansas City," from the Broadway musical Oklahoma, Hubble has "gone about as fur as it c'n go!"

Weird Physics?
The expansion rate of the universe was predicted to be slower than what Hubble actually sees. By combining the Standard Cosmological Model of the Universe and measurements by the European Space Agency's Planck mission (which observed the relic cosmic microwave background from 13.8 billion years ago), astronomers predict a lower value for the Hubble constant: 67.5 plus or minus 0.5 kilometers per second per megaparsec, compared to the SH0ES team's estimate of 73.

Given the large Hubble sample size, there is only a one-in-a-million chance astronomers are wrong due to an unlucky draw, said Riess, a common threshold for taking a problem seriously in physics. This finding is untangling what was becoming a nice and tidy picture of the universe's dynamical evolution. Astronomers are at a loss for an explanation of the disconnect between the expansion rate of the local universe versus the primeval universe, but the answer might involve additional physics of the universe.

Such confounding findings have made life more exciting for cosmologists like Riess. Thirty years ago they started out to measure the Hubble constant to benchmark the universe, but now it has become something even more interesting. "Actually, I don't care what the expansion value is specifically, but I like to use it to learn about the universe," Riess added.

NASA's new Webb Space Telescope will extend on Hubble's work by showing these cosmic milepost markers at greater distances or sharper resolution than what Hubble can see.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Collection of 36 images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope features galaxies that are all hosts to both Cepheid variables and supernovae. The galaxies shown in this photo (from top row, left to bottom row, right) are: NGC 7541, NGC 3021, NGC 5643, NGC 3254, NGC 3147, NGC 105, NGC 2608, NGC 3583, NGC 3147, Mrk 1337, NGC 5861, NGC 2525, NGC 1015, UGC 9391, NGC 691, NGC 7678, NGC 2442, NGC 5468, NGC 5917, NGC 4639, NGC 3972, The Antennae Galaxies, NGC 5584, M106, NGC 7250, NGC 3370, NGC 5728, NGC 4424, NGC 1559, NGC 3982, NGC 1448, NGC 4680, M101, NGC 1365, NGC 7329, and NGC 3447. Credits: NASA, ESA, Adam G. Riess (STScI, JHU)

Adam G. Riess, Wenlong Yuan, Lucas M. Macri, Dan Scolnic, Dillon Brout, Stefano Casertano, David O. Jones, Yukei Murakami, Louise Breuval, Thomas G. Brink, Alexei V. Filippenko, Samantha Hoffmann, Saurabh W. Jha, W. D'arcy Kenworthy, John Mackenty, Benjamin E. Stahl, Weikang Zheng. A Comprehensive Measurement of the Local Value of the Hubble Constant with 1 km/s/Mpc Uncertainty from the Hubble Space Telescope and the SH0ES Team. Astrophysical Journal (submitted), 2022; DOI: 10.48550/arXiv.2112.04510

Crystal Palace dinosaurs: how we rediscovered five missing sculptures from the famous park

The iconic Iguanodon sculptures of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Witton and Michel (2022)CC BY-SA
Mark P. WittonUniversity of Portsmouth and Ellinor MichelNatural History Museum

This summer sees our love for dinosaurs manifest in two major releases: the David Attenborough documentary Prehistoric Planet, and Jurassic World: Dominion. Such multi-million dollar projects are a far cry from the first attempts to bring dinosaurs to life in people’s imagination.

Perhaps the most famous of these took place almost 170 years ago at Crystal Palace Park, in south-east London, where over 30 life-sized sculptures of prehistoric animals, including dinosaurs, revealed extinct life to the public for the first time.

Much like the unveiling of Jurassic Park’s computer generated dinosaurs in 1993, the Crystal Palace dinosaurs stunned visitors. This historic site still enjoys hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Our new book, The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, reveals that neglect of the site allowed seven – almost a fifth – of the original sculptures to disappear. It was thought the original park had 32 sculptures, of which only 29 originals (with one replica, making 30) stand today. We showed 37 once existed.

The lost statues include the tapir-like Palaeotherium magnum, three delicate llama-like Anoplotherium gracile, two Jurassic pterodactyls, and a female giant deer. It’s unknown when and how each vanished, but dereliction, site redevelopment and perhaps vandalism may be responsible.

Built as part of the Crystal Palace Park project, the dinosaurs were unveiled in 1854 and completed in 1855. Although books and magazines brought dinosaurs to the attention of the rich and educated in the early 1800s, fossils were an interest reserved for the upper tiers of society. The sculptures, crafted by a team led by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, aimed to introduce prehistoric life to the wider public.

Map of the Geographical Court as originally planned. Image by Mark P. Witton and Ellinor Michel.

Working with geologists David Thomas Ansted and Joseph Campbell, Hawkins created a learning experience one part spectacle and one part enlightenment: the “Geological Court”. This showcase of geological and palaeontological science allowed visitors to walk through geological time.

The largest of Hawkins’ sculptures were the dinosaurs, reaching over 10m long. Mock geological features contained hundreds of tonnes of rocks sourced from all over the UK. This was expensive blockbuster edutainment.

For all the mockery cast on the sculptures for their scientific inaccuracy today, at the time they were cutting edge representations of extinct species – and a major hit with the public. But budget issues saw the site fall into disrepair from 1870 onward. Degraded and patchy records mean the full extent of the original display is uncertain.

An 1853 image of the Crystal Palace palaeontological sculpture workshed. Several now missing models are indicated by red arrows: the Palaeotherium magnum (left) and three Anoplotherium gracile (right). The surviving A. gracile is marked with a blue arrow. Image in public domain, modified by Mark P. Witton and Ellinor Michel.

Virtually no physical remains of the missing sculptures exist. Only archive photographs, illustrations and texts prove their existence. For example, the image above shows several models that no longer exist.

From these sources, we also re-identified one sculpture at the park – an alleged giant deer fawn – as Anoplotherium gracile, which resembles a gazelle and is the sole surviving representative of what was once a group of four statues.

If we know almost 20% of this unique Victorian site was allowed to vanish so quietly, what else might be missing?

A History At Risk Of Extinction

While the Victorian artistry and creative engineering that went into creating the Geological Court is celebrated today, the site has long suffered from a lack of conservation.

The unchanging nature of the concrete displays, now numerous generations behind the latest palaeontological findings, gives a sense the they will always be here. But visit the site today and it’s obvious many of the displays are still crumbling.

Weathering, vandalism and redevelopment mean the Geological Court is a blend of originals and replicas of structures destroyed in the mid-20th century.

The state of the southern corner of the Geological Court as of 2021. This portion of the site has received some minor maintenance since this photo was taken. Photo by Mark P. Witton

There is hope. The Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs charity was established in 2013, and the entire site is now Grade 1 listed and on the official Heritage At Risk Register by Historic England.

But the Geological Court’s status is a precarious one. Without urgent conservation the sculptures face major deterioration.

As you enjoy the digital descendants of Hawkins’ dinosaurs when they hit our screens this summer, spare a thought for their Victorian ancestors. To lose what remains of these displays, that changed the way many people thought about life on Earth, would be tragic.The Conversation

Mark P. Witton, Research Fellow in Palaeontology, University of Portsmouth and Ellinor Michel, Scientific Associate, Natural History Museum

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

A flourishing ecology and a healthy economy? Henry David Thoreau thought you couldn’t have one without the other

Eleanor Phillips/Unsplash
Alda Balthrop-LewisAustralian Catholic University

Australians have just decided another “climate election”. What this meant, basically, was that we had to choose between two difficult futures. The result has yielded a new mandate for meaningful work on climate policy.

“Liberal democracies” are facing some of the deepest challenges they have yet encountered in their relatively short histories. Historic carbon emissions from the richest countries – especially the nation of my birth, the United States – warm our Earth, making life difficult for us and for all things. Many species have gone extinct. Many peoples have lost their homelands. Australia has endured droughts and fires and floods.

In democracies like ours, in elections like the one we have just witnessed, politicians often frame environmental questions as a competition between two values: ecology and economy.

On the one hand, they tell us, they know that ecological flourishing is vital to society. They do their best to contribute to sustainability. They nurture green cities and promote environmental reform. On the other hand, they say, we are also reliant on a flourishing economy. Without the economic system in which we all work and exchange goods, we would not eat or find shelter.

They are not wrong. Both a flourishing ecology and a healthy economy are required for liveable human society.

But in framing ecology and economy as competing values, and all environmental questions as requiring trade-offs between them, contemporary politicians depart from older, more holistic ways of thinking about the well-being of our communities. Some of these ways of thinking do not position economy and ecology as competitive.

In Australia, of course, some of those more holistic ways of thinking include vital Indigenous knowledges about living connected to Country. In addition, there are traditions of dissent from the competitive paradigm among some environmental thinkers within European and American culture.

In my recent book Thoreau’s Religion: Walden Woods, Social Justice, and the Politics of Asceticism (2021), about the 19th-century American author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), I argued that Henry David Thoreau’s commitment to ecology was driven by a hope for a just economy. In this, he offers a few key points of resistance to the contemporary vision of competition between ecology and economy.

Ecology As A Fuller Description Of Social Life

Thoreau was famous among his contemporaries for his love of animals. One early biographer was Edward Waldo Emerson, son of the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had known Thoreau when he was a child. Emerson observed that Thoreau “felt real respect for the personality and character of animals”.

This was true to the extent that he made friends with them. Frederick L.H. Willis visited Thoreau in Walden Woods in July 1847:

Thoreau said: “keep very still and I will show you my family”. Stepping quickly outside the cabin door, he gave a low curious whistle; immediately a woodchuck came running towards him […] With still another note several birds, including two crows, flew towards him, one of the crows nestling upon his shoulder […] He fed them all from his hand […] and then dismissed them by a different whistling, always strange and low and short, each little wild thing departing instantly at hearing its special signal.

Generalising from Thoreau’s love of animals, Edward Emerson also wrote:

For all life he had reverence, and just where the limits of conscious life began and ended he was too wise, and too hopeful, to say.

“Ecology” is a word that was invented after Thoreau, a word that points to the relationships among living organisms and the places they live. But the idea it describes – the concept of an interactive whole, the fabric of life itself – was intuitive to him.

Some strands of Western science have divorced humans from other living things in a dualistic, anthropocentric worldview. But in Thoreau’s vision, human and more-than-human sociality were integral to a full description of ecology.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), photographed in 1861. Public domain

Walden Woods is often thought of as a lonely wilderness. Many interpreters of Thoreau’s work have assumed that he went there in an individualist gesture of resistance to social life.

My research suggests Walden Woods was an alternative society. The 20th-century reception of Walden, indebted as it was to cultures of white supremacy, neglected the area’s wider communities and other forms of sociality.

A focus on white histories throughout the 20th century obscured a key fact about Walden Woods: it had been a site of human society before Thoreau arrived. In the generation before Thoreau, as he recounts in Walden, a group of formerly enslaved people made their lives independently on the shores of Walden Pond, establishing a community that endured for about four decades.

Elise Lemire has written the most in-depth account, Black Walden (2009). She suggests that those people chose the site for reasons that aligned with Thoreau’s: it was at some remove from Concord society, which protected them from harassment to a certain extent, and the forest gave them good access to the natural resources they required to live independently.

One of their number, Brister Freeman, cultivated a chestnut orchard, planning to grow old in Walden Woods and live on its produce.

Such acts of independence took their significance from the unjust economies that were their contexts. Members of the Walden community built admirable lives, claiming their freedom within a culture that had stolen their labour for too long.

Economy As A Moral Question

As Donald Worster has shown in Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (1994), the concepts “economy” and “ecology” have a deeply entangled history. Before ecology had a name (the first appearance of the term was in 1866), it was sometimes called “the economy of nature”.

Thoreau’s retreat to the woods was his way of joining an alternative economy, nature’s economy, in response to the dysfunctional economic forces – including slavery – that he saw pressing down on him, his townsmen, and his nation more broadly.

Thoreau’s map of Walden Pond. Wikimedia commons

He says as much in Walden. While Thoreau is well known as a committed naturalist, his most famous book begins with a very long chapter titled “Economy”. You wouldn’t know it from popular understandings of Walden, which imagine Thoreau as a crank avoiding his responsibilities, but the whole book was motivated by distress over the various ways that contemporary economies were bad for people.

It is not a surprise that readers miss this – the opening chapter is long and sometimes boring on purpose. It includes lists of costs that Stanley Cavell read as jokes, but are easy to take too seriously. One teacher I know tells students that they can just skip “Economy” for the second introduction, the less cranky and more succinct “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”.

Why did Thoreau care about economy?

Eight years before moving to Walden Woods, Thoreau graduated from Harvard College during a devastating economic depression. The panic of 1837 was the worst financial crisis the United States had yet encountered in its short life.

The settler colonial expansion of the young nation into the west had created a real estate bubble that burst in May, and property values collapsed. Factories closed; people were cold and hungry; there were riots in the streets.

Because Thoreau ranked 19th out of 41 students graduating that year, he was a speaker at commencement in June. His assigned topic, during this financial crash, was “The Commercial Spirit of Modern Times, considered in its Influence on the Moral Character of a Nation”. As Laura Dassow Walls writes in her beautiful biography, Thoreau argued that “commerce destroys moral freedom”. He suggested that the commercial spirit sprang from “an unmanly love of wealth”.

In the eight years following his graduation, Thoreau struggled to make a living. It was this economic context, and his personal experience of work and debt, that drove him to Walden Pond. He wanted to be an author. He had a longstanding unfulfilled ambition to write a book. He built the cheapest house he could knock together, on land that wasn’t his, in order to follow his dream, despite the punishing economic conditions.

Economy As A Form Of Ecological Flourishing

Thoreau thought that his example could set other people free. It might encourage them to resist an unjust economy and follow the promptings of their own genius. He wrote Walden to show readers that a tenderer economy might be better for us.

Title page of the first edition of Thoreau’s Walden (1854).

The promptings of this 19th-century Yankee provide an opportunity to ponder whether and how our own economy could be more ecological. There are creative economists and policy makers rethinking ways to bring ecology and economy back into sync. Such an effort will be required for any liveable future on our finite Earth.

Thoreau enacted this economic reform in a small way during the two years he spent living in Walden Woods. The first year, he had a fire in a hearth, but in the second year he got a stove to save wood. He did this, he said, for economic reasons and to protect the forest he loved. “The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy, since I did not own the forest.”

In this, Thoreau appealed to a radically different vision of economy from the politicians who pit economy against ecology. Their “economy” usually describes a system of financial gain for people who are already wealthy. Thoreau’s “economy” was about preserving something that he did not own, something that is valuable to all of us, on behalf of all of us. This is what the climate policy of a new period in Australian politics should aim at: a holistic, equitable vision of economy and ecology.

For Thoreau, as for us, “economy” was a word with many meanings. He sought to demonstrate that the “commercial spirit” he had criticised for its moral failings at his graduation was not the only possible form of economy. True economy, according to Thoreau, would lead to ecological and social flourishing among humans, and for all beings.The Conversation

Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Research Fellow, Australian Catholic University

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

All Creatures Great and Small at 50: why these stories about a country vet still charm today

Nicholas Ralph in the 2020 TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small. Playground Entertainment
Helen YoungDeakin University

When Mum was pregnant with me, Dad bought her a paperback copy of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small because it was an easy, pleasant read. I read my mother’s Pan paperback copy, with its cover image of sheep, farmers, and the vet’s vintage car, when I was growing up. We all watched the BBC adaptation when it was on television. And when my son is a bit older, I’m sure I’ll read the book to him or he’ll read it himself.

It is 50 years since All Creatures Great and Small was first published. In the time since, more than 60 million copies of the semi-autobiographical series of books about life as a vet in the 1930s and 40s Yorkshire Dales have been sold.

The books, eight in total were published in the UK, with some combined into omnibus versions making six American books.

There have been two film and three television series adaptations of them (the most recent British TV adaptation aired in Australia earlier this year). And the 1940s house in Thirsk, Yorkshire, where Herriot (real name James Alfred Wight) lived and worked is now a museum, attracting visitors from all over the world.

What is the key to the books’ success? I think it is the combination of humanity and humour in Herriot’s writing.

Very Human Characters

James Herriott was the pen name of Wight, a Yorkshire vet. He used a pseudonym because the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons did not allow vets to advertise. He also wanted to protect the privacy of the people on whom his characters were based.

Born in England in 1916, Wight grew up and graduated from veterinary school in Scotland before returning to England to practice. He first worked in urban Sunderland, but moved to Thirsk after just six months as he wanted to be a country vet. He was in the Royal Air Force in 1942-3, but was discharged after being deemed unfit to fly for health reasons. Following the end of the war, Wight worked as a vet in and around Thirsk until his retirement in 1989. He lived in Yorkshire until his death in 1996.

Wight kept diaries as a child and made copious professional notes, but began to write seriously in his 50s after his wife Joan encouraged him to do so. He analysed books by authors whose work he enjoyed, including the humourist P.G. Wodehouse. His first published book, If Only They Could Talk, was published in Britain in 1970. It had modest sales, as did the sequel It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet, published in 1972.

When the two books were combined into All Creatures Great and Small for US publication, also in 1972, the omnibus volume had huge success. From there, a franchise was born.

The Herriot Museum in Yorkshire. Shutterstock

The books are episodic, with vignettes bound together by the narrative of Jim’s life (the character Jim is clearly based on Wight himself). He slowly moves from being a newcomer to the fictional town of Darrowby to acceptance within the originally sceptical community, marrying and building his own family and professional life.

Animals are part of every story, but the human characters really shine. These include the brothers Siegfried and Tristan Farnon, with whom Jim shares the vet practice, the wealthy widow Mrs Pumphrey, and a series of dour Yorkshire farmers including Jim’s future father-in-law Mr Alderson.

Anna Madeley (Mrs Hall) and Samuel West (Siegfried Farnon) in the most recent TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small (2020). Playground Entertainment

Some like Siegfried, Tristan and Mrs Pumphrey were based on real people, others were combinations of real people; still others purely made up. This enabled Herriot to create characters that feel authentic.

Mrs Pumphrey, who pampers and fusses over her beloved Pekingese dog Tricki Woo, was one of the few characters recognisable to the real person on whom she was based: Miss Marjorie Warner (and her Pekingese Bambi).

The character is a figure of fun. She uses euphemistic phrases like “flop bott” to describe her dog’s various ailments and makes numerous calls to the vets for both real and imagined illnesses on behalf of Tricki Woo, and later, her pet pig Nugent. Still, she is painted as generous, kind and caring.

Diana Rigg plays Mrs Pumphrey. Playground Entertainment

Life is hard at times. In one story, the famously aggressive cattle on Mr Copfield’s farm crush Jim against the wall, charging, kicking and whipping him in the face with faeces and urine-sodden tails.

The farmer’s sons help him wrestle them into submission, all in “the spirit of a game with encouragement to the man in action”.

Jim’s work is physically demanding. Being woken by a phone call in the middle of the night to drive to a cold farm and tend to a sick animal is commonplace. Still his willingness to do it earns him respect and hospitality on the bleak farms, where farmers might invite Jim in “for a bit o’ dinner” or “slip half a dozen eggs into the car”. There are moments of joyful professional satisfaction, too, such as when Jim safely delivers a newborn lamb and its twin, which has been caught in the ewe’s birth canal.

Herriot laughs at himself as often as he does at the people around him.

Though picturesque, life on the Yorkshire Dales was tough. Shutterstock


Herriot’s books are set in the 30s, 40s and 50s, some years earlier than his real-life experiences. Nostalgia for what has been called a “fast-disappearing way of life” has unquestionably been part of the appeal of the franchise. They became best-sellers in the USA before they did in the UK.

The absence of story lines that might lead to “difficult” conversations around political or sensitive topics also make them comfortable, escapist entertainment. Even in Vet in Harness, set when Siegfried and Jim are in the Royal Air Force, the stories focus on the personal and human, balancing humour and hardship.

Wight’s children still receive letters from readers around the world telling how his books helped them cope with difficult times. One American man said the books were so uplifting they helped save his life during a bout of severe depression. According to his daugher, Rosie, Wight himself suffered from “melancholic episodes”.

With pet ownership on the rise animal stories will remain part of our culture. But it’s the vision of easy humanity in Herriot’s stories that has kept us coming back for more.The Conversation

Helen Young, Lecturer, Deakin University

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

Writing for our (digital) lives: war, social media and the urgent need to update how we teach English

Lucinda McKnightDeakin University

The war in Ukraine is being described as the first social media war, even as “the TikTok war”. Memes, tweets, videos and blog posts communicate both vital information and propaganda, potentially changing the course of history. This highlights the importance of agile and critical social media use.

English in schools, in contrast, still focuses on reading books and writing exam essays. Despite mentions of media in the Australian Curriculum for English, the study of digital writing via social media is not prioritised in senior assessment or national high-stakes testing. This approach seems increasingly out of touch with modern communication.

Meme-ification is a feature of media coverage of the Ukraine war. This new word describes the explosion of ordinary people creating shareable, and potentially influential, digital content.

Anyone with a smartphone and internet access can participate in a war that is being fought both on the ground and on digital platforms. And this content frequently references other popular digital culture. For example, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is portrayed as Captain Ukraine by photoshopping his head onto Marvel’s Captain America’s body and tweeting this image.

English Education For Our Age

This “writing” contributes to narratives and debates about heroism, military morale, fan fiction and US cultural imperialism. This kind of immediate, vibrant and global communication needs to be the basis of study in English.

The ability to critically consume and strategically create social media is vital to the health of democracies. Yet writing for social media posts and powerful platforms such as Twitter, TikTok and Facebook is not central to how we teach English.

Students need to be able to create memes, write rolling news blogs and produce digital news podcasts, all for networked audiences. They need to determine aims, invent concepts, manipulate images, combine different media, compose compelling text and respect copyright law. This is impactful and purposeful writing to achieve influence in the world.

Research initiatives such as the Digital Self Portrait project demonstrate how students can create vivid new forms of “writing” that explore tensions between their own digitally rich lives and traditional literacies.

Digital writing is often collaborative, and a recent Australian Education Research Organisation review recommends more collaborative writing in classrooms. Community organisations such as Write4Change are making this possible by connecting youth to write together using digital media via private, communal and moderated sites on mainstream platforms.

Our Approach Is Outdated

Yet education’s high-stakes assessment regimes don’t value these forms of writing. Sadly, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) has narrowed the kinds of writing taught in schools even further. One sample NAPLAN writing task says, basically, “Here is a picture of a box. Write a story about it.”

This approach needs to change so students are practising the forms of writing and communication that are meaningful in today’s world. This will support citizens of the future to participate fully in workplaces and, most importantly, in democracies.

The Australian government, through the Australian Research Council, has recognised this and funded a new study into the importance of contemporary writing in education. This is through a Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) titled Teaching digital writing in secondary English. This project will explore how teachers can conceptualise and enact the teaching of real-world writing.

It’s Not A Choice Of Classics Or Digital Writing

Of course, studying the classics remains important, as does mastering basic skills. Zelenskyy himself quoted Hamlet in a recent address to the British parliament. So this is not an either/or situation, but what digital writing expert Professor Troy Hicks calls “both/and”. We can study both Hamlet as a play and how other media quote its main character in powerful ways.

Students can themselves explore making strategic literary references in their own social media posts and interventions. The study of rhetoric (argument and persuasion) and aesthetics (cultural value) needs to include diverse media for contemporary relevance.

Human conflicts, projects, imaginings and achievements are now happening in new forms. The devastating theatre of war playing out in Ukraine and online has offered “a masterclass in message”.

If a key aim of Australia’s compulsory literacy education is to “create confident communicators, imaginative thinkers and informed citizens” then students need to learn to communicate in the modes of contemporary society. They need to enjoy the engagement and learning that comes from participating in genuinely important dialogues and situations, even if just in protected classroom and school-based versions of these.

Social media use potentially both threatens and supports democracy. Yet media education remains devalued in the English curriculum and classroom, largely in favour of reproducing print literature forms and essays.

It is time for English to join the 21st century and embrace all the diverse and digital means of communication that are part of our lives today. Our freedom and futures depend on it.The Conversation

Lucinda McKnight, Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy and Curriculum, Deakin University

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

Did NASA find a mysterious doorway on Mars? No, but that’s no reason to stop looking

Ray NorrisWestern Sydney University

For the past ten years, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been trundling around the surface of Mars, taking photos in its quest to understand the history and geology of the red planet and perhaps even find signs of life.

Last week it took a photo which appeared to show a doorway carved into the rock. It’s the sort of thing that on Earth might indicate an underground bunker, such as an air-raid shelter.

Seeing Is Not Always Believing

At first sight, the picture is totally convincing. At second sight, maybe not. The passage seems to go in only a short way before the steeply descending roof meets the floor.

And then those killjoys at NASA tell us its only about 45 cm high. Still, who said Martians had to be the same height as us? But then geologists point out several straight-line fractures can be seen in this site, and the “doorway” is where they happen to intersect.

Such a pity. It would have been so exciting if it had been a real doorway. Instead it joins the face on Mars, the spoon on Mars, the cube on the Moon, and all the other things seen in photos from space that turn out not to be as exciting as we thought.

The face on Mars, the spoon on Mars, and the cube on the Moon. On closer examination, each turned out to be a natural geological formation. NASA, NASA, CNSA

Faces In The Clouds

Worse, the “doorway” joins the even longer list of wacky images like the cornflake that looks like Australia, the cats that look like Hitler, and so on. And who hasn’t seen a face in the clouds?

The sad fact is that when presented with an unclear or unfamiliar image, humans try to turn it into a familiar-looking object. Scientists call our tendency to do this “pareidolia”.

It’s easy to understand why it happens. We likely evolved this tendency because spotting important things like predators or faces, even when the light is poor or they are partly obscured, gave us an advantage. And getting false positives – seeing a predator where there is none – is better than not seeing a predator who then eats you.

No Signs Of Life

Reasonable explanations won’t deter the conspiracy theorists who say the doorway really is evidence of life on Mars, and maintain that scientists are engaged in some sort of cover-up.

If I were trying to do a cover-up, I wouldn’t be releasing the photos! So a conspiracy doesn’t seem very likely.

But there’s also a lesson here for serious searchers for alien life. As astronomer Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Following this maxim, scientists seeking evidence of extra-terrestrial life demand much stronger evidence, than, say, someone looking for a geological formation. And despite decades of searching for evidence of life on Mars, we have found nothing.

It is still possible there may once have been life on Mars. We may yet find some fossilised relics of ancient cellular life. But suddenly finding an artefact such as a doorway, or a spoon, seems unlikely.

The Bigger Picture

There’s a similar story with the broader search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). For years, SETI scientists have been searching the skies for signals from other civilisations, but so far we have found nothing. But nearly all our searches have been on the nearest few stars, and so in a sense the search has barely started.

Meanwhile, we continue to be bombarded with photos purporting to show UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) or UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena).

The vast majority of these photos are probably fakes, or mistaken photos of familiar objects such as weather balloons. But as scientists, we must keep an open mind. In among the rubbish, perhaps there may be one or two photos or videos that really could stretch our current knowledge.

The problem is that if someone presents me with a photo purporting to show a flying saucer, I know that the odds overwhelmingly favour it being a fake, and so I’m likely to dismiss it rather than wasting my time examining it carefully. But supposing I’m wrong?

Similarly, when we see a doorway, or a face, or a spoon, on Mars, it’s all too easy to dismiss it out of hand. But we must remain alert to the possibility that one day we might find archaeological evidence of past life on Mars.

Admittedly, this seems very unlikely. But not impossible. It would be a terrible loss if, among all our careful searching through the data, we missed the thing we had been searching for because it was too easily dismissed as a trick of the light.The Conversation

Ray Norris, Professor, School of Science, Western Sydney University

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

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: class prejudices, the convict stain and a corpse-bride

Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham in a 2012 adaptation of Great Expectations. Image: IMDb
Sascha MorrellMonash University

In our Guide to the classics series, experts explain key works of literature.

In Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861), everything is connected. As plots and subplots converge and hidden relations are revealed, the novel elaborates a view of society in which no individual may be considered the master of his or her own fortunes – or “expectations” in the old-fashioned sense, meaning one’s future prospects.

Great Expectations blends literary styles and genres too. It fuses elements of the gothic with comic satire, realism, fairytale, crime fiction and melodrama. It can even be read as autobiographical, insofar as Dickens drew on aspects of his upbringing when depicting the deprived childhood of the young orphan Pip, the novel’s protagonist and narrator.

Though it is a myth he was paid by the word, Dickens is often accused of wordiness. Great Expectations is, however, one of his more compact novels, notwithstanding its complex plotting. His other first-person novel, David Copperfield (1849), is twice as long, with a far larger cast of characters.

The reclusive corpse-bride Miss Havisham is Great Expectations’ best-known figure. Miss Havisham stopped the clocks on the day she was jilted by her fiancé and still dresses in her old wedding gown. She lives shut up in a rotting mansion, where she trains her beautiful ward Estella to enact her revenge upon men.

The muscles in Miss Havisham’s thin arm swell with “vehemence” when she draws Pip close and commands him to love Estella, repeating the words “love her, love her, love her” until they sound “like a curse”.

Pip’s motivations are mixed. He confides in his childhood friend Biddy that Estella has made him feel “coarse and common”, adding “I admire her dreadfully and I want to be a gentleman on her account.” After a pause, Biddy asks, “Do you want to be a gentleman, to spite her or to gain her over?”

Pip is stumped, but his wish comes true when he is plucked from his low station as a blacksmith’s apprentice to be educated as a “London gentleman” by a mysterious benefactor.

More Real Than Reality

G.K. Chesterton wrote that Dickens was “always most accurate when he was most fantastic”. For the painter and Dickens fan Vincent Van Gogh, the novelist’s “strangely vivid” prose exemplified how fiction can seem “more real than reality”. Great Expectations delivers its social observations in a heightened, hybrid style that can only be called “Dickensian”.

The novel’s use of first-person narration also affords greater psychological depth than may be found in some earlier Dickens novels, where the emphasis tends to be on human variety more than human complexity. The gap between Pip’s youthful impressions and his mature judgement can be especially revealing. It sometimes highlights the unreliability of memory; at other times, it conjures past events with an immersive intensity that illustrates their hold upon the present.

The novel’s imagery and the characters’ motivations often make it difficult to separate past and present, life and death, dream and reality, conscious and unconscious, black and white — even love and hate.

But the first-person narration ensures that Dickens’ wordy descriptions are never gratuitous. The details Pip notices all contribute to our understanding of his state of mind. Complex patterns of imagery imbue seemingly trivial details with larger symbolic significance.

It might seem inconsequential that Wemmick, the lawyer’s clerk, has “glittering eyes, small, keen, and black”. But it deepens the impression of a pervasive blackness in the world Pip inhabits.

There is the “black Hulk” of a prison ship beyond the “black” Kent marshes. Pip blackens his hands at the blacksmith’s forge. There is the “great black dome of Saint Paul’s” in London and the “deadly black horsehair” of the lawyer Jaggers’s coffin-like chair.

The cold-blooded Jaggers serves as an intermediary between society’s lowest and uppermost orders, but his wealth derives primarily from a criminal underclass. The death masks of hanged former clients gaze down from his shelves. Jaggers allows Pip to believe that Miss Havisham is his secret benefactor. But in the most important of the novel’s many twists, Pip discovers that his sponsor is the “wretched” convict Magwitch, who has grown rich in New South Wales.

As a boy, Pip first encounters Magwitch as “a man started up from among the graves” on the Kent marshes. The escaped convict demands that the terrified child provide him with food and a file.

Magwitch is captured and transported for forgery, but he returns from his live burial down under as “a voice from the darkness beneath”. He risks death to come back and admire the gentleman he has “made”. When Magwitch tells Pip, “I lived rough, that you should live smooth”, his words evoke the structural dependence of the British ruling classes on the exploitation of oppressed groups at home and abroad.

Magwitch – J. Clayton Clarke (c.1900) Public domain

An Exposé Of Prejudice

Great Expectations is sometimes described as a Bildungsroman – literally a “novel of formation”, a coming of age story. But the story of Pip’s rise from humble origins to genteel affluence also brings into focus how class identity is formed. It exposes the material underpinnings of elevated social status. In turn, it exposes the arbitrariness of class prejudice.

Douglas Booth as Pip in Great Expectations (2011): a rise to genteel affluence. BBC, Masterpiece Theatre

At his forgery trial, Magwitch is made to feel like a “dunghill dog” when he sees how the system gives preferential treatment to his co-accused, Compeyson, thanks to the latter’s fine clothes and genteel deportment.

In “making a gentleman” of Pip, Magwitch hopes to infiltrate the ruling class and vicariously beat them at their own game. Pip recoils from his connection to Magwitch, which he believes bars him forever from courting Estella. This proves ironic when Estella’s own uncouth origins are revealed.

The novel links the convict stain to race, evoking the dispossession and exploitation of racially othered peoples in both Australia and America. As Magwitch tells Pip his Australian story, the smoke of the “Negro-head” tobacco in his “black pipe” threatens to “perplex the thread” of his tale.

References to Magwitch’s blackness and “savagery” evoke the racist discourse that served to legitimate white settlement in Australia. Magwitch also speaks of Compeyson having “made me his black slave”. His description of convict life is reminiscent of Dickens’ critique of U.S. slavery in his American Notes (1842) and in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1844).

Pip, in turn, feels “enslaved” by his dependency on Magwitch. Yet his crippling burden of guilt and debt has more to do with class and colonial entanglements than individual obligation. He comes to see himself not as a free agent, but a mere beam in a “vast engine”. He longs to have “the engine stopped, and [his] part in it hammered off.”

Dickens’ exposé of the intersections of race, class and colonialism remains limited. Edward Said noted that Pip’s dependence on the colonies, meaning Australia, is transferred to “the East” with a convenient lack of specificity. An 11-year period is covered in just two sentences.

The novel’s depiction of Australia has inspired postcolonial rewritings, notably from the Australian novelist Peter Carey, whose Jack Maggs (1997) takes Dickens to task for failing to envisage the possibility that Magwitch might have forged a meaningful life in New South Wales.

Nonetheless, Dickens promoted emigration to Australia, through the Urania Cottage project aimed at rehabilitating “fallen women”. His sons Alfred and Edward emigrated to Australia at their father’s urging.

Representations Of Women

Great Expectations’ representation of women has divided readers. Some critics see Pip as a masochist, whose brutal upbringing by a much older sister, who boasts of raising him “by hand”, leads him to associate a woman’s love with cruelty. Hence his predilection for the cold, mocking Estella over the caring Biddy.

The novel links its depiction of gender to its depictions of race and class. Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, calls herself a “negress slave”; Estella has a working-class “gypsy” mother.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham. BBC, Masterpiece Theatre

Pip’s interactions with Miss Havisham also carry a claustrophobic sexual charge, which has been played up or down in the book’s many screen adaptations. The punishments meted out to these women as the plot unfolds have been read as symbolic expressions of Pip’s repressed violent urges against women.

It is the blacksmith Joe who exhibits more traditional maternal qualities. He displays a tender affection for Pip. That Joe can seem childlike in relation to the better-educated boy provides some of the novel’s gentlest comic relief. When Pip tries to teach him to read, Joe proves a slow but enthusiastic pupil:

when you do come to a J and a O, and says you, “Here, at last, is a J-O, Joe,” how interesting reading is!

The pleasures of reading Great Expectations are somewhat more complicated. The novel affirms the sentimental ideal of Victorian domesticity that Dickens’s earlier novels had been instrumental in shaping. The marriage of Joe and Biddy is followed by the birth of their son, named in Pip’s honour, in whom Pip sees “myself again”.

But Pip’s romantic fate remains uncertain. The ending of Great Expectations does not satisfy readerly “expectations” of a romantic union between Pip and Estella.

Dickens did, however, revise his bleak original ending to keep the possibility of such a union open, if only as a faint shadow, taking the advice of fellow novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

The result is an ambiguous, thought-provoking final chapter that makes far more “interesting reading” than any neater conclusion would have provided, befitting an unsettling text that retains its haunting power more than 150 years on.The Conversation

Sascha Morrell, Lecturer in Literary Studies, Monash University

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

Book Of The Month - June 2022: Pride And Prejudice

By Jane Austen; R. W. (Robert William) Chapman

Pride and Prejudice is an 1813 novel of manners written by Jane Austen. The novel follows the character development of Elizabeth Bennet, the dynamic protagonist of the book who learns about the repercussions of hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between superficial goodness and actual goodness.

Mr. Bennet, owner of the Longbourn estate in Hertfordshire, has five daughters, but his property is entailed and can only be passed to a male heir. His wife also lacks an inheritance, so his family faces becoming very poor upon his death. Thus, it is imperative that at least one of the girls marry well to support the others, which is a motivation that drives the plot. This reflects the class distinctions of its time.

Many critics take the title as the start when analysing the themes of Pride and Prejudice but Robert Fox cautions against reading too much into the title (which was initially First Impressions), because commercial factors may have played a role in its selection. "After the success of Sense and Sensibility, nothing would have seemed more natural than to bring out another novel of the same author using again the formula of antithesis and alliteration for the title. The qualities of the title are not exclusively assigned to one or the other of the protagonists; both Elizabeth and Darcy display pride and prejudice."

The phrase "pride and prejudice" had been used over the preceding two centuries by Joseph Hall, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson. Austen probably took her title from a passage in Fanny Burney's Cecilia (1782), a popular novel she is known to have admired:

'The whole of this unfortunate business, said Dr Lyster, has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. […] if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination.' (capitalisation as in the original)

A theme in much of Austen's work is the importance of environment and upbringing in developing young people's character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world and a further theme common to Austen's work is ineffectual parents. In Pride and Prejudice, the failure of Mr and Mrs Bennet as parents is blamed for Lydia's lack of moral judgment. Darcy has been taught to be principled and scrupulously honourable but he is also proud and overbearing. Kitty, rescued from Lydia's bad influence and spending more time with her older sisters after they marry, is said to improve greatly in their superior society

Pride and Prejudice has consistently appeared near the top of lists of "most-loved books" among literary scholars and the reading public. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, with over 20 million copies sold, and has inspired many derivatives in modern literature. For more than a century, dramatic adaptations, reprints, unofficial sequels, films, and TV versions of Pride and Prejudice have portrayed the memorable characters and themes of the novel, reaching mass audiences.

Jane Austen (December 16 1775 – July 18 1817) was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism. Her use of biting irony, along with her realism and social commentary, have earned her acclaim among critics and scholars.
With the publication of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), she achieved modest success and little fame in her lifetime, as the books were published anonymously. She wrote two other novels—Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818—and began another, eventually titled Sanditon, but died before its completion. She also left behind: three volumes of juvenile writings in manuscript; the short epistolary novel Lady Susan; and another unfinished novel, The Watsons.

Austen gained far more status after her death, and her six full-length novels have rarely been out of print. A significant transition in her posthumous reputation occurred in 1833, when her novels were republished in Richard Bentley's Standard Novels series, illustrated by Ferdinand Pickering, and sold as a set. They gradually gained wider acclaim and popular readership. In 1869, fifty-two years after her death, her nephew's publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced a compelling version of her writing career and supposedly uneventful life to an eager audience.

NSW Records Its Second Death Of Person With Japanese Encephalitis

May 23, 2022
NSW Health has recorded a second death of a person with Japanese encephalitis.

Sadly, NSW Health can confirm the man in his 60s from the Corowa area, who was diagnosed with Japanese encephalitis virus in early March, died at Albury Base Hospital on Friday 20 May.

To date a total of 13 NSW residents have been infected with JE and two have died. While evidence shows mosquito numbers have declined, it remains important that people throughout the state continue to take steps to avoid mosquito bites.

Since the first notification of Japanese encephalitis in late February 2022, NSW Health has been working closely with local health districts and primary health networks in affected areas to coordinate vaccination efforts.

This includes working with GPs and other relevant stakeholders to ensure all those currently at highest risk of exposure to Japanese encephalitis are able to access government-funded vaccine.

People considered higher risk for exposure include workers in piggeries, animal transport, veterinarians and students working with pigs, laboratory workers handling Japanese encephalitis, entomologists and others engaging in animal and mosquito trapping for surveillance. NSW Health encourages people in these groups to talk to their GP about getting a JE vaccine.

The JE virus is spread by mosquitoes and can infect animals and humans. The virus cannot be transmitted between humans, and it cannot be caught by eating pork or other pig products.

There is no specific treatment for JE, which can cause severe neurological illness with headache, convulsions and reduced consciousness in some cases.

It's important to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. Simple actions you can take include:
  • Avoid going outdoors during peak mosquito times, especially at dawn and dusk, and close to wetland and bushland areas.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors (reduce skin exposure). Also wear shoes and socks where possible. There are insecticides (e.g. permethrin) available for treating clothing for those spending extended periods outdoors.
  • Apply repellent to all areas of exposed skin, especially those that contain DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus which are the most effective against mosquitoes. The strength of a repellent determines the duration of protection with the higher concentrations providing longer periods of protection. Always check the label for reapplication times.
  • Reapply repellent after swimming. The duration of protection from repellent is also reduced with perspiration, such as during strenuous activity or hot weather so it may need to be reapplied more frequently.
  • Apply the sunscreen first and then apply the repellent. Be aware that DEET-containing repellents may decrease the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens so you may need to re-apply the sunscreen more frequently.
  • For children in particular - most skin repellents are safe for use on children aged three months and older when used according to directions, although some formulations are only recommended for children aged 12 months and older - always check the product. Infants aged under three months can be protected from mosquitoes by using an infant carrier draped with mosquito netting that is secured along the edges.
  • If camping, ensure the tent has fly screens to prevent mosquitoes entering.
  • Mosquito coils and other devices that release insecticides can assist reducing mosquito bites but should be used in combination with topical insect repellents.
  • Reduce all water holding containers around the home where mosquitoes could breed. Mosquitoes only need a small amount of liquid to breed.
In line with national reporting structures, NSW Health reports any new cases and case locations on the NSW Health website.

For further information on mosquito-borne disease and ways to protect yourself go to:

First Australians Ate Giant Eggs Of Huge Flightless Birds, Ancient Proteins Confirm

May 25, 2022
Proteins extracted from fragments of prehistoric eggshell found in the Australian sands confirm that the continent’s earliest humans consumed the eggs of a two-metre tall bird that disappeared into extinction over 47,000 years ago. 

Burn marks discovered on scraps of ancient shell several years ago suggested the first Australians cooked and ate large eggs from a long-extinct bird – leading to fierce debate over the species that laid them. 

Now, an international team led by scientists from the universities of Cambridge and Turin have placed the animal on the evolutionary tree by comparing the protein sequences from powdered egg fossils to those encoded in the genomes of living avian species.  

“Time, temperature and the chemistry of a fossil all dictate how much information we can glean,” said senior co-author Prof Matthew Collins from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology. 

“Eggshells are made of mineral crystals that can tightly trap some proteins, preserving this biological data in the harshest of environments – potentially for millions of years.”     

According to findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the ancient eggs came from Genyornis: a huge flightless “mihirung” – or ‘Thunder Bird’ – with tiny wings and massive legs that roamed prehistoric Australia, possibly in flocks.  

Fossil records show that Genyornis stood over two metres tall, weighed between 220-240 kilograms, and laid melon-sized eggs of around 1.5 kg. It was among the Australian “mega-fauna” to vanish a few thousand years after humans arrived, suggesting people played a role in its extinction.  

Pencil sketch of a Genyornis by Nobu Tamura.

The earliest “robust” date for the arrival of humans to Australia is some 65,000 years ago. Burnt eggshells from the previously unconfirmed species all date to around 50 to 55 thousand years ago – not long before Genyornis is thought to have gone extinct – by which time humans had spread across most of the continent.  

“There is no evidence of Genyornis butchery in the archaeological record. However, eggshell fragments with unique burn patterns consistent with human activity have been found at different places across the continent,” said senior co-author Prof Gifford Miller from the University of Colorado.

“This implies that the first humans did not necessarily hunt these enormous birds, but did routinely raid nests and steal their giant eggs for food,” he said. “Overexploitation of the eggs by humans may well have contributed to Genyornis extinction.”

While Genyornis was always a contender for the mystery egg-layer, some scientists argued that – due to shell shape and thickness – a more likely candidate was the Progura or ‘giant malleefowl’: another extinct bird, much smaller, weighing around 5-7 kg and akin to a large turkey. 

The initial ambition was to put the debate to bed by pulling ancient DNA from pieces of shell, but genetic material had not sufficiently survived the hot Australian climate.

Miller turned to researchers at Cambridge and Turin to explore a relatively new technique for extracting a different type of “biomolecule”: protein.

While not as rich in hereditary data, the scientists were able to compare the sequences in ancient proteins to those of living species using a vast new database of biological material: the Bird 10,000 Genomes (B10K) project.    

“The Progura was related to today’s megapodes, a group of birds in the galliform lineage, which also contains ground-feeders such as chickens and turkeys,” said study first author Prof Beatrice Demarchi from the University of Turin.

“We found that the bird responsible for the mystery eggs emerged prior to the galliform lineage, enabling us to rule out the Progura hypothesis. This supports the implication that the eggs eaten by early Australians were laid by Genyornis.”

The 50,000-year-old eggshell tested for the study came from the archaeological site of Wood Point in South Australia, but Prof Miller has previously shown that similar burnt shells can be found at hundreds of sites on the far western Ningaloo coast. 

The researchers point out that the Genyornis egg exploitation behaviour of the first Australians likely mirrors that of early humans with ostrich eggs, the shells of which have been unearthed at archaeological sites across Africa dating back at least 100,000 years. 

Prof Collins added: “While ostriches and humans have co-existed throughout prehistory, the levels of exploitation of Genyornis eggs by early Australians may have ultimately proved more than the reproductive strategies of these extraordinary birds could bear.”   

Genyornis eggshell recently exposed by wind erosion of sand dune in which it was buried, South Australia. Credit: Gifford Miller

Beatrice Demarchi, Josefin Stiller, Alicia Grealy, Meaghan Mackie, Yuan Deng, Tom Gilbert, Julia Clarke, Lucas J. Legendre, Rosa Boano, Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, John Magee, Guojie Zhang, Michael Bunce, Matthew James Collins, Gifford Miller. Ancient proteins resolve controversy over the identity of Genyornis eggshell. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2109326119

Planets Of Binary Stars As Possible Homes For Alien Life

May 23, 2022
Nearly half of Sun-size stars are binary. According to University of Copenhagen research, planetary systems around binary stars may be very different from those around single stars. This points to new targets in the search for extra-terrestrial life forms.

Since the only known planet with life, the Earth, orbits the Sun, planetary systems around stars of similar size are obvious targets for astronomers trying to locate extraterrestrial life. Nearly every second star in that category is a binary star. A new result from research at University of Copenhagen indicate that planetary systems are formed in a very different way around binary stars than around single stars such as the Sun.

"The result is exciting since the search for extra-terrestrial life will be equipped with several new, extremely powerful instruments within the coming years. This enhances the significance of understanding how planets are formed around different types of stars. Such results may pinpoint places which would be especially interesting to probe for the existence of life," says Professor Jes Kristian Jørgensen, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, heading the project.

The results from the project, which also has participation of astronomers from Taiwan and USA, are published in the journal Nature.

Bursts shape the planetary system
The new discovery has been made based on observations made by the ALMA telescopes in Chile of a young binary star about 1,000 lightyears from Earth. The binary star system, NGC 1333-IRAS2A, is surrounded by a disc consisting of gas and dust. The observations can only provide researchers with a snapshot from a point in the evolution of the binary star system. However, the team has complemented the observations with computer simulations reaching both backwards and forwards in time.

"The observations allow us to zoom in on the stars and study how dust and gas move towards the disc. The simulations will tell us which physics are at play, and how the stars have evolved up till the snapshot we observe, and their future evolution," explains Postdoc Rajika L. Kuruwita, Niels Bohr Institute, second author of the Nature article.

Notably, the movement of gas and dust does not follow a continuous pattern. At some points in time -- typically for relatively shorts periods of ten to one hundred years every thousand years -- the movement becomes very strong. The binary star becomes ten to one hundred times brighter, until it returns to its regular state.

Presumably, the cyclic pattern can be explained by the duality of the binary star. The two stars encircle each other, and at given intervals their joint gravity will affect the surrounding gas and dust disc in a way which causes huge amounts of material to fall towards the star.

"The falling material will trigger a significant heating. The heat will make the star much brighter than usual," says Rajika L. Kuruwita, adding:

"These bursts will tear the gas and dust disc apart. While the disc will build up again, the bursts may still influence the structure of the later planetary system."

Comets carry building blocks for life
The observed stellar system is still too young for planets to have formed. The team hopes to obtain more observational time at ALMA, allowing to investigate the formation of planetary systems.

Not only planets but also comets will be in focus:

"Comets are likely to play a key role in creating possibilities for life to evolve. Comets often have a high content of ice with presence of organic molecules. It can well be imagined that the organic molecules are preserved in comets during epochs where a planet is barren, and that later comet impacts will introduce the molecules to the planet's surface," says Jes Kristian Jørgensen.

Understanding the role of the bursts is important in this context:

"The heating caused by the bursts will trigger evaporation of dust grains and the ice surrounding them. This may alter the chemical composition of the material from which planets are formed."

Thus, chemistry is a part of the research scope:

"The wavelengths covered by ALMA allow us to see quite complex organic molecules, so molecules with 9-12 atoms and containing carbon. Such molecules can be building blocks for more complex molecules which are key to life as we know it. For example, amino acids which have been fund in comets."

Powerful tools join the search for life in space
ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is not a single instrument but 66 telescopes operating in coordination. This allows for a much better resolution than could have been obtained by a single telescope.

Very soon the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will join the search for extra-terrestrial life. Near the end of the decade, JWST will be complemented by the ELT (European Large Telescope) and the extremely powerful SKA (Square Kilometer Array) both planned to begin observing in 2027. The ELT will with its 39-meter mirror be the biggest optical telescope in the world and will be poised to observe the atmospheric conditions of exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System, ed.). SKA will consist of thousands of telescopes in South Africa and in Australia working in coordination and will have longer wavelengths than ALMA.

"The SKA will allow for observing large organic molecules directly. The James Webb Space Telescope operates in the infrared which is especially well suited for observing molecules in ice. Finally, we continue to have ALMA which is especially well suited for observing molecules in gas form. Combining the different sources will provide a wealth of exciting results," Jes Kristian Jørgensen concludes.

The team has had observation time on the ALMA telescopes in Chile to observe the binary star system NGC 1333-IRAS2A in the Perseus molecular cloud. The distance from Earth to the binary star is about 1,000 lightyears which is a quite short distance in an astronomical context. Formed some 10,000 years ago, it is a very young star.

The two stars of the binary system are 200 astronomical units (AUs) apart. An AU equals the distance from Earth to the Sun. In comparison, the furthest planet of the Solar System, Neptune, is 30 AUs from the Sun.

The ALMA telescopes in Chile (credit: ESO/S. Guisard)

Jørgensen, J.K., Kuruwita, R.L., Harsono, D. et al. Binarity of a protostar affects the evolution of the disk and planets. Nature, 2022 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04659-4

Commercialisation Success As Curtin Mining Innovation Goes Global

May 23, 2022
A Curtin University-developed technology that enhances the gold extraction process has been recognised for its game-changing potential, making it to the global market after the sale of company Mining and Process Solutions (MPS).

Curtin researchers Professor Jacques Eksteen and Associate Professor Elsayed Oraby (Curtin researchers discover how to improve gold extraction process | News) worked with MPS to commercialise the leaching technology for extraction of minerals including gold, copper, cobalt and nickel, was bought by Czech multinational chemical supplier Draslovka.

The technology uses amino acids such as glycine to leach ores including gold and copper, as well as nickel and cobalt, which are increasingly relevant as critical minerals for the battery industry.

Curtin University Director of Commercialisation Rohan McDougall said it was pleasing the innovative new technology had received the necessary funding boost to bring it to market.

“Curtin researchers Professor Eksteen and Associate Professor Oraby spent years developing this improved leaching process, expanding the technology’s applications and making it more efficient for extracting gold and other valuable deposits,” Mr McDougall said.

“Now that it has made it to the global market, this technology will offer many benefits to resource industries, including being a much more efficient, safe and environmentally-friendly extraction method.

“It is fantastic that Curtin’s work over many years with minerals industry partner Mining and Process Solutions to commercialise the new process has culminated in the technology going global, thereby bringing its benefits to industry world-wide.”

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran said the achievement was down to both the successful commercialisation of the technology and the high calibre, real world-focussed research that led to its development.

“Leaching or separating gold and other precious metals from an ore deposit or other materials has long depended on cyanide as a key ingredient, which is a highly toxic chemical compound, which when mishandled can have a harmful effect on the environment and our health,” Professor Moran said.

“Curtin researchers developed a glycine leaching technology, which they have optimised to enable extraction of a range of base metals including critical battery minerals nickel and cobalt for renewable energy storage.

“That this research has translated into a fully commercialised and highly-prized technology now on the global market and set to bring benefits to industries around the world is exactly the kind of ‘big picture’ ambition frequently realised at Curtin.”

The research, published in Hydrometallurgy and led by Professor Jacques Eksteen and Dr Elsayed Oraby both from the WA School of Mines: Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering, found that adding potassium permanganate to the process could solve the problems currently associated with leaching gold with glycine (in the absence of cyanide), such as the need for higher temperatures, glycine concentrations and oxygen addition levels.

Professor Eksteen said the research team evaluated various oxidants for their new alkaline glycine gold leach system, with the most successful results observed with potassium permanganate.

“Traditionally, leaching or separating gold and other precious metals from an ore deposit or e-waste materials requires the use of cyanide – a highly toxic chemical compound that is known to have detrimental effects to the environment and to the human body,” Professor Eksteen said.

“Industrially, it is very expensive to detoxify cyanide, but it still does not eliminate the risks associated with transporting, handling and processing the chemical.”

Professor Eksteen said glycine is naturally produced by the human body and it is essential for life, while cyanide on the other hand is dangerous for life, it destroys life.

“Permanganate and glycine partially decompose to form insoluble manganese dioxide, insoluble calcium oxalate, and nitrogen all of which are naturally occurring, low-toxicity chemical compounds. Whereas cyanide retains its toxicity, even in the waste solution of the extraction process,” Professor Eksteen said.

“With low concentrations of potassium permanganate being added to the alkaline glycine system, we were able to leach 85.1 per cent of gold from the ore deposit (similar to the extraction by cyanidation) at ambient temperature and using a substance known as a benign reagent, which in industry standards is quite an achievement.”

Dr Elsayed Oraby said the new process builds on Curtin’s important work in this space, which has been ongoing for the past eight years.

“Researchers at Curtin University have spent years developing a new leaching process and our work broadens the use of this patented technology, making it more suitable for extracting gold deposits,” Dr Oraby said.

“We believe this new process will bring many benefits to gold extraction industries, which from an environmental point of view, is a much friendlier extraction method.”

The Curtin team is currently working with minerals industry partner, Mining and Process Solutions Pty Ltd (MPS) to commercialise the new process.

UWA Report Finds Pet Custody Laws Need Overhaul To Better Reflect Society

May 25, 2022
A new journal article argues that Australian family law needs to change to better reflect the place pets have in society when ruling on custody disputes.

Dr Marilyn Bromberg, from The University Western Australia’s Law School, Adam Jardine and Nicholas Cardaci were authors of No More Fighting Like Cats And Dogs:  It’s Time For A New Pet Custody Model In Australia published in the Canberra Law Review.

“A pet custody regime could better reflect the unique place that companion animals occupy in Australian society,” Dr Bromberg said.

“This is contrary to the current approach of Australian law where pets are regarded as a material possession.” 

Many Australians love their pets and treat them as bona fide family members; so the article argued for a new approach that reflects our social understanding of pets as part of the family. 

“There is enough intellectual substance behind the core ideas of pet custody not to be flippant or dismissive,” Mr Jardine said.

The article suggested three alternative models of pet custody for Australia: the Pets as Persons model, extending the law’s reach to animals in areas once reserved for people; the Sentimentality model, where pets are treated differently from other types of property to reflect their special position in human lives; and the Liminal model, which considers pets’ best interests.

The article concluded that adopting any alternative model (without expressing a preference for a particular model) would better reflect modern Australian attitudes towards pets.

“We recognised that pets should not be treated as property but should also not be given the same rights as humans — a nuanced approach is required,” Dr Bromberg said.

Genetic Test Can Diagnose Certain Immune System Disorders

May 23, 2022
Primary immunodeficiency disorders (PID) can result in chronic and sometimes life-threatening infections. More than 450 PIDs have been described, but timely and accurate diagnoses remain a challenge. In a new study in The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, published by Elsevier, investigators used next-generation sequencing technology to test a DNA panel of 130 different immune system genes from 22 study participants. They found that many patients had inherited a genetic defect that caused a disorder in their immune system. These findings will facilitate better treatment options and earlier diagnosis in family members who may have inherited the same genetic abnormality.

"Genetic testing was costly to perform and was mostly targeted to DNA sequencing of a single or very small number of genes. Therefore, a genetic diagnosis was limited for many patients with PIDs," explained lead investigator Lloyd J. D'Orsogna, MBBS, PhD, School of Medicine, the University of Western Australia; and Department of Clinical Immunology at PathWest Laboratory Medicine, Fiona Stanley Hospital, Perth, Western Australia.

"Recent advances in genetic technology allow affordable testing of multiple genes from the same individual. We can therefore identify a specific gene that may lead to frequent infections in patients. An earlier and more accurate diagnosis may improve the patient outcome and prevent complications," Dr. D'Orsogna."

Twenty-two unrelated patients with common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), a common type of PID, and a previously unknown genetic diagnosis, were recruited for the study. DNA samples were tested and processed with a next-generation sequencing panel containing 120 different immune genes. One-hundred and thirty genetic variants were identified for analysis. The pathogenicity of the novel variants not previously associated with CVID were assessed through literature review, functional assays, and family studies.

The investigators identified likely pathogenetic variants in six of the 22 patients (27%). In an additional four patients, variants of unknown significance (VOUS) were identified. VOUS are genetic variants whose clinical significance is not clear at this stage but might cause the disease. Overall, the investigators were able to identify genetic abnormalities in nearly half of the patients. All detected variants were confirmed with conventional Sanger sequencing.

Among the notable findings of the study was a patient with a novel variant in the AICDA gene that had not previously been reported. Her son also had a confirmed diagnosis of CVID and has also inherited the same mutation. Another patient had a novel pathogenic variant of the ICOS gene, which is implicated in immunodeficiency and immune response. In another CVID patient, a genetic variant was also detected in the BAFF-R gene, which enhances B cell survival; however, it was confirmed as pathogenic by flow cytometry analysis.

Such genetic diagnoses can inform decisions on targeted therapeutic options for patients. They can also provide earlier intervention for family members of patients with confirmed CVID. For example, the son of the patient with the novel AICDA variant was referred for genetic counselling before starting a family.

"I hope the new age of genetic medicine enables earlier and more accurate diagnosis, likely leading to better treatment and outcomes for all," said Dr. D'Orsogna.

William Kermode, Dianne De Santis, Linh Truong, Erika Della Mina, Sam Salman, Grace Thompson, David Nolan, Richard Loh, Dominic Mallon, Andrew Mclean-Tooke, Mina John, Stuart G. Tangye, Michael O'Sullivan, Lloyd J. D'Orsogna. A Novel Targeted Amplicon Next-Generation Sequencing Gene Panel for the Diagnosis of Common Variable Immunodeficiency Has a High Diagnostic Yield. The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2022.02.007

Researchers Have Developed A Potential Super Wheat For Salty Soils

May 23, 2022
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have developed several new varieties of wheat that tolerate soils with higher salt concentrations. After having mutated a wheat variety from Bangladesh, they now have a wheat with seeds that weigh three times more and that germinate almost twice as often as the original variety.

The wheat, which grows in fields near the coast in Bangladesh, has a certain tolerance to salt in soils, which is important when more and more farmland around the world is being exposed to saltwater.

By mutating the wheat seeds from these coastal fields, researchers at the University of Gothenburg were able to develop approximately 2,000 lines of wheat. The 35 lines that germinated the best at different field and lab experiments were planted in an automated greenhouse in Australia, where different saline concentrations were applied to the plants that were then weighed. They were photographed each day until the wheat had formed its ears.

The findings were striking.

Genes for salt tolerance identified
"We developed wheat lines where the average weight of the seeds was three times higher and that germinated more often than the original wheat from Bangladesh," says Johanna Lethin, a doctoral student at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.

Using DNA analyses and studies of other research, the team was also able to identify what genes control salt tolerance in the wheat plant.

"This is a milestone in our research. Now we have a couple of genes we know are involved in salt tolerance. The next step is to test if these genes are also in our best wheat varieties that we have mutated into existence."

The Earth's population is growing and in 2050, there will be 10 billion people on the planet who all need to be fed. At the same time, climate changes are causing the Earth's arable land to dry up and other areas to be flooded by rising seas. All this increases interest in a crop that can tolerate salt in soil.

2,000 hectares lost every day
"It is incredibly important to try to develop a salt-tolerant variety with good yields. Currently, we are losing approximately 2,000 hectares a day to rising seas and improper irrigation methods that increase soil salinisation."

Some experiments remain to do, but the potential in this discovery is global. Today, about 8 per cent of the world's arable land is no longer usable for crops because of salt contamination and more than half of the world's countries are affected. In Egypt, Kenya and Argentina, wheat cannot be grown on large areas and even low-lying areas of Europe, like the Netherlands, have these problems. Even in those parts of Asia where rice is currently the dominant crop, salt-tolerant wheat will become an important part of the future food supply since wheat farming requires much less water than rice.

"The next stage is to plant the salt-tolerant varieties in fields in Bangladesh. I would estimate that it will take about five years before we can have commercial production of salt-tolerant wheat, depending on how the field tests go."

Facts: GMO and mutations
This research does not use the sometimes highly criticised method of gene modification (GMO). In GMO, a gene from one plant (such as a plant that can resist fungus) is placed in another plant, such as wheat, so that farmers can avoid using excess insecticides. Instead, the researchers have made targeted mutations in the seeds using a chemical. In this way, nothing is placed in the plant and all mutations could potentially have happened naturally.

Scientists Find Sea Corals Are Source Of Sought-After 'Anti-Cancer' Compound

May 23, 2022
The bottom of the ocean is full of mysteries but scientists have recently uncovered one of its best-kept secrets. For 25 years, drug hunters have been searching for the source of a natural chemical that had shown promise in initial studies for treating cancer. Now, researchers at University of Utah Health report that easy-to-find soft corals -- flexible corals that resemble underwater plants -- make the elusive compound.

Identifying the source allowed the researchers to go a step further and find the animal's DNA code for synthesizing the chemical. By following those instructions, they were able to carry out the first steps of re-creating the soft coral chemical in the laboratory.

"This is the first time we have been able to do this with any drug lead on Earth," says Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry at U of U Health. He led the study with Paul Scesa, Ph.D., postdoctoral scientist and first author, and Zhenjian Lin, Ph.D., assistant research professor.

The advance opens the possibility of producing the compound in the large amounts needed for rigorous testing and could one day result in a new tool to fight cancer.

A second research group led by Bradley Moore, Ph.D., from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, independently showed that corals make related molecules. Both studies are published in the May 23 issue of Nature Chemical Biology.


Photos: Soft corals are thought to make thousands of drug-like compounds that could work as anti-inflammatory agents, antibiotics, anti-cancer therapeutics, and other drug leads. Credit: Bailey Miller. And: Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., and Paul Scesa, Ph.D., working through the steps to make the potential anti-cancer compound, eleutherobin. Credit: Kristan Jacobsen.

A World of Possibilities
Soft corals have thousands of drug-like compounds that could work as anti-inflammatory agents, antibiotics, and more. But getting enough of these compounds has been a major barrier to developing them into drugs for clinical use. Schmidt says that these other compounds should also now be accessible using this new approach.

Corals aren't the only animals that harbor potential therapeutics. Nature is crawling with snakes, spiders and other animals known to carry chemicals with healing properties. Yet that compounds from soft corals offer distinct advantages for drug development, Schmidt says.

Unlike venomous chemicals that are injected into prey, corals use their chemicals to ward off predators that try to eat them. Since they are made to be eaten, the soft coral chemicals are easily digestible. Similarly, drugs derived from these types of compounds should be able to be given as pills with a glass of water, rather than taken by injection or other more invasive means. "These compounds are harder to find but they're easier to make in the lab and easier to take as medicine," says Schmidt.

These possibilities had been just out of reach for decades. Getting to this point took the right know-how, and a little luck.

Hunting for the Source
Scesa found the long-sought-after compound in a common species of soft coral living off the Florida coast -- just a mile from his brother's apartment. In the 1990s, marine scientists reported that a rare coral near Australia carried a chemical, eleutherobin, with anti-cancer properties. The chemical disrupts the cytoskeleton, a key scaffold in cells, and soft corals use it as a defense against predators. But laboratory studies showed that the compound was also a potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth.

In the decades after, scientists searched but could not find the fabled "holy grail" chemical in the quantities needed for drug development and couldn't remedy the problem without understanding how the chemical was made. Dogma had it that, similar to other kinds of marine life, the chemical was synthesized by symbiotic organisms that lived inside the animals.

"It didn't make sense," Scesa says. "We knew that corals must make eleutherobin." After all, he and Schmidt reasoned, some soft coral species don't have symbiotic organisms and yet their bodies contain the same class of chemicals.

Solving the mystery seemed a job made for Scesa. As a boy growing up in Florida, the ocean was his playground, and he spent countless hours exploring its depths and wildlife. In graduate school, he developed a penchant for organic chemistry and combined the two interests to better understand the chemical diversity of the seas.

Later, he joined the lab of natural products scientist Schmidt with a mission to track down the source of the drug lead. Scesa suspected coral species familiar to him might have the answer and brought small live samples from Florida to Utah, and the real hunt began.

Decoding the Recipe
The next step was to find out whether the coral's genetic code carried instructions for making the compound. Advances in DNA technology had recently made it possible to rapidly piece together the code of any species. The difficulty was, the scientists didn't know what the instructions for making the chemical should look like. Imagine searching a cookbook for a certain recipe, only you don't know what any of the words inside the book mean.

"It's like going into the dark and looking for an answer where you don't know the question," remarks Schmidt.

They addressed the problem by finding regions of coral DNA that resembled genetic instructions for similar types of compounds from other species. After programming bacteria grown in the lab to follow coral DNA instructions specific to the soft coral, the microorganisms were able to replicate the first steps of making the potential cancer therapeutic.

This proved that soft corals are the source of eleutherobin. It also demonstrated that it should be possible to manufacture the compound in the lab. Their work is now focusing on filling in the missing steps of the compound's recipe and determining the best way to produce large amounts of the potential drug.

"My hope is to one day hand these to a doctor," says Scesa. "I think of it as going from the bottom of the ocean to bench to bedside."

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the ALSAM Foundation and published in Nature Chemical Biology as "Ancient defensive terpene biosynthetic gene clusters in soft corals.

Paul D. Scesa, Zhenjian Lin, Eric W. Schmidt. Ancient defensive terpene biosynthetic gene clusters in the soft corals. Nature Chemical Biology, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41589-022-01027-1

Research Boosts 'Game-Changing' Technology To Strengthen Drug Development

May 24, 2022
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Researchers have boosted pioneering technology to show whether potential treatments are worth progressing into human trials, in a game-changing move that could dramatically reduce the high failure rates in drug discovery and development.

The WEHI-led team is using protein degrader technology to test the efficacy and safety of drugs by better mimicking clinical settings, with a collaborative Australian project already using the system to establish promising drug targets for a range of hard-to-treat cancers.

At a glance
  • Pioneering technology can assess how effective and safe a drug target could be for patients, far earlier in the research process.
  • A collaborative effort is currently leveraging the technology to validate drug targets for a range of cancers.
  • The protein degrader technology offers a revolutionary approach for substantially reducing the pharmaceutical industry's high drug development failure rate.
Almost 95% of biomedical projects fail before entering human clinical trials with the average cost of bringing a new drug to market estimated to be around US$1.8bn. A key issue is the difficulty of assessing a drug's true safety and effectiveness in preclinical studies.

While conventional drug development aims to inhibit the activity of disease-causing proteins, protein degrader technology looks to completely destroy those proteins, with precision targeting. The technology enables scientists to deliver far more relevant results from pre-clinical testing, to potentially bring safe and effective new treatments to patients faster.

In a new study published in Nature Communications, WEHI researchers Dr Charlene Magtoto, Dr Rebecca Feltham and Dr Christoph Grohmann (now at Nurix Therapeutics) have significantly extended our understanding of one type of protein degrader technology by expanding on current validation strategies, which could boost the number of drugs successfully entering human trials.

A collaboration between WEHI and multiple institutes across Australia is already capitalising on the revolutionary technology to validate a range of previously 'undruggable' proteins and help develop new therapies to treat cancers.

Reimagining drug discovery
About 80% of disease-causing proteins currently cannot be targeted by conventional drugs. Targeted protein degraders (TPDs), commonly known as Proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTAC), is a pioneering technology that can hit these previously invincible targets.

While current drugs and technology only inhibit the specific activity of a protein, TPDs work by triggering the destruction of the proteins that cause the disease itself.

TPD has the potential to deliver precision treatments by only targeting disease-causing proteins, leaving healthy parts of the body untouched.

The WEHI-led team focused on developing a tag system to help researchers overcome a significant hurdle in the drug development process.

Dr Charlene Magtoto said this system enables scientists to use drugs that interact with a tag, opening up virtually the entire proteome for target validation.

"Finding a drug to bind onto the protein itself can be difficult and often a reason why researchers reach a crossroads in drug development," Dr Magtoto said. "Attaching a small generic tag onto any protein of interest to enable a destroyer protein to remove it allows us to wipe out any protein just by targeting the tag. "This is a game-changer technology that will ensure only the best targets enter into drug discovery pipelines."

Dr Christoph Grohmann said a partnership with Promega was crucial to developing the new tagging system, collaborating with scientists at the global biotech company and using their NanoLuc® luciferase technology. "WEHI is an emerging leader in TPD technology, and this significant collaboration enabled our team to leverage industrial drug discovery expertise and academic medical research to enhance the technology at a much faster pace," Dr Grohmann said.

Crucial cancer targets
The lack of effective new drugs is a particular barrier for cancer researchers, with as few as 1 in 15 developmental drugs progressing into the clinic.

WEHI researchers are working with other institutions across the country to develop TPDs for cancer treatment as part of a current project funded by the Australian Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Dr Rebecca Feltham, who leads the MRFF tag-degrader program, said the collaboration was helping researchers quickly identify whether their cancer targets were worth pursuing.

"Most of the 150,000 Australians diagnosed with cancer each year are still treated with drugs that came onto the market over 25 years ago, which can cause significant side-effects," she said.

"As this pioneering technology enables us to better identify genuine targets early in the research process, we could radically accelerate the development of lifesaving new treatments for cancer and other diseases."

Dr Feltham has used the tag-targeting TPD technology to investigate 24 potential drug targets -- 19 of which link to cancer.

L-R: Dr Rebecca Feltham and Dr Charlene Magtoto

Unlike other systems currently used in the field, the protein degradation triggered by tag-targeting TPD technology is reversible. Once the drug is removed, the protein comes back.

"This is exactly what happens in clinical settings and this technology allows us to mimic real TPD treatment scenarios early on in the development process, far better than any technology we have available today,"

Dr Feltham said. Researchers hope their findings will trigger a broader awareness to the benefits of TPD technology to help reduce the burden of cost currently presented by high drug failure rates.

The research, a collaborative effort between WEHI, Promega and the University of Dundee, was supported by the European Research Council (ERC), The Galbraith Family Charitable Trust, the NHMRC, the Victorian Government and Australian Government.

Christoph Grohmann, Charlene M. Magtoto, Joel R. Walker, Ngee Kiat Chua, Anna Gabrielyan, Mary Hall, Simon A. Cobbold, Stephen Mieruszynski, Martin Brzozowski, Daniel S. Simpson, Hao Dong, Bridget Dorizzi, Annette V. Jacobsen, Emma Morrish, Natasha Silke, James M. Murphy, Joan K. Heath, Andrea Testa, Chiara Maniaci, Alessio Ciulli, Guillaume Lessene, John Silke, Rebecca Feltham. Development of NanoLuc-targeting protein degraders and a universal reporter system to benchmark tag-targeted degradation platforms. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29670-1

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