inbox and environment news: Issue 628

May 26 - June 15, 2024: Issue 627

Koala Habitat Clearing In Sydney: Happening Now

Save Sydney's Koalas: ''Both sides of Appin Rd being cleared for a multinational company to build unaffordable homes without town water or sewage, on a vital koala corridor.
This is where Labor and Liberals have landed Koalas in 2024.''
''There are still NO underpasses or overpasses in place while this is occurring.''
''This is also occurring at night - when wildlife move through these places.
''With so much land cleared on either side, and no safe passage across these places, including through, under or over the fences that have been erected, how is wildlife meant to get to its other feeding places?''

Residents comment: ''Goodbye Blinky Bill & all your mates the echidnas, quolls, wombats, goannas and heaps of birds and wildlife.  We tried, maybe not hard enough.''

Appin Development Page - Battle for Appin, May 22, 2024: ''Core Koala Habitat where mums and bubs live being cleared''
Where: Macquariedale Rd APPIN

Here’s the criteria:
Projects must be in the system, be able to demonstrate public benefit through new public open spaces or affordable housing, demonstrate an ability to create jobs both during construction and once complete, and able to commence construction within six months if it’s a DA, or proceed to the DA phase within six months if it’s a rezoning.

It delivers:
And is of NO PUBLIC BENEFIT ...''

Sydney Basin Koala Network, May 22 2024: 
''A system that allows a critically endangered forest type that forms part of an important koala corridor to be bulldozed is a broken one. ''

Machinery on site at Macquariedale Rd site, May 20 2024. Photo: Appin Development Page - Battle for Appin

The koala tree killing commences, May 20 2024. Photo: Appin Development Page - Battle for Appin

Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown, May 20, 2024 (Ricardo):  
''Wollondilly Shire Council declined it, community opposed it, but under the cover of the Covid pandemic the Coalition government approved it - they approved destruction of koala core habitat. Mums and their joeys have been sighted in and around this exact location but with not a care in the world their homes are being bulldozed - this is definitely not the right way of stopping koala extinction by 2050. 

Today I met up with Michelle from Appin Development Page - Battle for Appin to discuss this issue we love working with community pages that are in it for the right reasons I’ll tell you now Michelle is the next Erin Brockovich she’s so on top of it when it comes up to keeping the developers honest points out the issues so if you care what’s happening in Appin then like her page.''

Deceased Spotted Quoll on the Northern Road Bringelly - 3 have been hit and killed in this location in over a year.''- April 20, 2024, Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown (Ricardo)

Appin Development Page - Battle for Appin: ''Ecology reports need to be HEAVILY SCRUTINISED.
How can this have been missed?
We know they’ve (spotted quolls) been spotted in Appin. And have appeared in ecology reports completed for local mining.''

Background - Previous Reports:

June 2018 - ''The koala isn't crossing Appin road, the road is crossing koala bushland'. Image supplied

NSW Government Announces 2-Year Extension To Eraring Power Station: 'To Manage Reliability And Price Risks'

On 23 May 2024, the NSW Government announced Origin had agreed to operate Eraring until August 2027 in return for Government underwriting against a share of its potential financial loss. If Origin accepts the underwrite, it is also required to pay a share of any profit to the Government. 

'This will manage an orderly exit from coal-fired power to ensure the lights stay on for homes, businesses and industry while New South Wales delivers the transition to low-cost, reliable renewable energy.

This temporary and targeted agreement seeks to guarantee a minimum supply of electricity until the new expected closure date of August 2027.'

The latest analysis from the Australian Energy Market Operator confirms without Eraring NSW would face energy reliability risks from 2025.

A temporary extension of Eraring will provide time to deliver the renewable energy, storage and network infrastructure projects required to replace the power station.

The state will not make upfront payments to Origin Energy to operate Eraring. Instead, the Government and Origin have agreed to an underwriting arrangement that requires the company to:
  • decide by 31 March in 2025 and 2026 whether it wishes to opt in to the underwriting arrangement for the following financial year
  • share up to $40 million per year of any profits it earns from Eraring, if it does opt in
  • claim no more than 80% of losses Eraring makes from its operations from the NSW Government, capped at $225 million each year, if it does opt in
  • report the profits or losses it makes from Eraring in its annual report for each year, if it does opt in.
Under the agreement, Origin must also:
  • ensure Eraring endeavours to generate at least 6 terawatt hours each year, the equivalent to the typical annual output of 2 of Eraring's 4 generating units and enough to resolve the forecast reliability gap
  • substantially maintain Eraring's existing workforce of around 220 people, commit to a maintenance plan and adhere to its licence conditions, which includes environmental protections.
Origin has given notice it now expects to close Eraring on 19 August 2027. The permanent closure will be managed by Origin in line with its obligations under the National Energy Market and must occur before April 2029. This ensures Eraring's closure will contribute to New South Wales meeting its legislated 2030 emissions reduction target.

NSW is already about halfway towards meeting the state's 2030 renewable generation target, the Government states.

The Government is speeding up the delivery of new renewables to reach our net zero target by delivering new generation and storage capacity.

The agreement will be tabled in Parliament in the next sitting week to ensure transparency.

Premier Chris Minns stated:
'I said before the election if extending Eraring is required to keep the lights on in New South Wales, we'd do it.

'Today's decision delivers certainty for households and businesses.

'The people of New South Wales now have certainty that the NSW Government has a plan to ensure we have reliable energy while we transition the workforce and the economy to net zero.

'The best way to undermine the renewable energy transition is to have the lights go out in 2025. I'm not letting that happen.' 

Minister for Climate Change, Energy and the Environment Penny Sharpe stated:
'New South Wales is stepping up the transition to cheap, clean, reliable renewable energy. But to keep the lights on and prices down, we need to make sure new renewable infrastructure and storage capacity is online before coal-fired generators reach the end of their life.

'This temporary and targeted agreement will provide financial support only if it's needed, and only for as long as needed, during an orderly exit of coal-fired power.

'This is a proactive and sensible step to ensure a plan is in place, if needed, to avoid electricity outages and rising power prices.

'The NSW Government remains entirely committed to the transition to renewable energy and our emissions reduction targets. A net zero future holds immense opportunities for our state's economy and our environment.'

Treasurer Daniel Mookhey stated:
'This agreement gets the balance right. It means the clean energy transition can continue without exposing families and businesses to extreme bill shocks during a severe cost-of-living crisis.

'Taxpayers are well-protected. We won't be handing over a $3 billion cheque to Origin as some said we would. Instead, this agreement incentivises Origin to only use the underwrite if there is a sudden change in market conditions.

'Had Eraring remained in public ownership, an agreement like this would not have been necessary.

'But the previous government's decision to privatise the Eraring power station means entering into agreements like this in order to make sure the lights stay on as we speed up the clean energy transition. 'It's more proof that privatisation doesn't work.'

Peak Environment Group Blasts Taxpayer-Funded Extension Of Coal Plant 

May 23, 2024 
The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today criticised the government’s regrettable decision to use taxpayer money keeping the Eraring coal-fired power station open. 
“This is bad news for the climate and the people of NSW.'' 

“The people of NSW will be expected to pay up to $225 million per year to subsidise a polluting coal plant” Jacqui Mumford, NCC CEO said.   

“This decision risks further undermining investment in renewables, whilst exposing local communities to unacceptable air and water pollution. 

“This must be a turning point in our approach to climate action after over a decade of energy policy failure.  

“The government need to lean in and speed up renewables, and ensure we never again have to prop up privatised coal generators.  
“The cheapest way to ensure reliability is to accelerate the build of renewables, both large scale and solar for homes and businesses. 

“This includes urgent support to increase household solar and batteries, bring commercial and industrial solar into the grid, and to expedite the project planning process.   
“Premier Minns must step up and prove that we are doing all we can to get to 100% renewables as fast as possible.   
Environmental Justice Australia Lawyer Isabella Farrell- Hallegraeff said:  
"The Lake Macquarie community has powered the state for decades and shouldn't be exposed to coal ash and air pollution from Eraring power station any longer.  
“We're dismayed that the Minns government is using public funds to prop up this polluting dinosaur, when it's pumping out more toxic pollution every year.  
“Alarmingly, the data shows that Eraring power station recorded a 130% increase in mercury pollution in the 2023 financial year. Mercury is a heavy metal that permanently damages human brains and kidneys and is especially harmful to children.” 

New Guidelines For Greenhouse Gas Emissions Welcomed  

May 21, 2024 
The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today welcomed new measures to address climate change in NSW planning decisions.  

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has released new draft guidelines, which for the first time will require proponents of large-emitting projects to provide robust information and align their activities with the states legislated emissions reduction goals.  

The government has also issued a Ministerial Statement, which empowers the planning system, including the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), to consider how a project will impact on the state’s emissions reduction targets, as well as alignment with the new Climate Change Act.  

These measures follow recent government modelling which shows that NSW is not on track to meet its 2030 or 2035 targets without further enhanced action.  

These controls put the operators of coal-fired generators on notice. Mines supplying coal to both Mt Piper and Vales Point power stations currently have applications in the planning system that will now have to explain how they will reduce emissions: Angus Place West, and the Chain Valley Colliery Consolidation.  

NCC Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford said:
“These draft guidelines are a great step forward to ensure greenhouse pollution is appropriately assessed in the state planning system. 

“The EPA’s guidelines will for the first time ensure transparency and consistency for emissions calculation and reporting. This is a welcome policy shift and is well overdue. 

“The ultimate test for these guidelines will be whether they prevent new coal mines or mine expansions. Every new coal mine puts our climate goals further out of reach. 

“These new guidelines send a clear message to industry: NSW is on a path to a clean energy, zero-emissions future.  

“We welcome Minister Sharpe’s commitment to ‘double down’ on emissions reduction efforts following recent modelling showing we’re falling dangerously short of our targets.  

“Power station operators, Energy Australia and Delta Electricity, should know that communities will hold the EPA to their word in applying these new guidelines to assessments of coal mines including Centennial Coal’s proposed Angus Place West project and Delta Coal’s Chain Valley Colliery expansion.  

“It’s encouraging to see the EPA make it clear that offsets must be a last resort, establishing a clear hierarchy of actions for proponents to avoid, reduce or substitute emissions.” 

For the first time, proponents of large-emitting projects must provide robust and consistent information about their potential greenhouse gas emissions, to align with net zero targets and legislation to better inform planning decisions.

This includes developments heavily reliant on fossil fuels and non-renewable electricity, or that have the potential to release large quantities of methane gas, such as coal mines, landfills, chemical manufacturers, cement and metal producers, and waste management facilities. 

The draft EPA Climate Change Assessment Requirements and draft Greenhouse Gas Assessment Guide for Large Emitters released today will ensure the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), the NSW Government, and consent authorities have accurate information to inform their assessment and decision-making. 

NSW EPA Chief Executive Officer, Tony Chappel said these stricter controls provide transparency and certainty for industry as we transition to net zero.

“These draft changes are a significant step forward to ensure greenhouse gas emissions are consistently addressed in the planning system, and when determining large-emitting projects,” Mr Chappel said. 

“It is an essential part of our work to guarantee industry makes a meaningful contribution to put us back on track and help us achieve our 2050 net-zero targets.

“It also fulfils calls for clearer support on what’s expected and will set a new standard for climate action in future major projects across NSW.”

Applicants must address the following in their Environmental Impact Assessments:
  • -    Methods for calculating the expected emissions;
  • -    Identifying measures to avoid or reduce emissions and set reduction goals;
  • -    Aligning with NSW and Commonwealth climate change legislation;
  • -    Demonstrating a hierarchy of actions to avoid, reduce or substitute emissions, before using offsets; 
  • -    Measures to monitor and report on emissions.
If approved, large-emitting projects will be regulated and enforced through consent conditions and the NSW EPA’s Environment Protection Licences.

To have your say on the draft assessment requirements and guide until 1 July 2024, visit and specific webpage at:

Speeding Up Connection Of Batteries To NSW Electricity Grid

May 22, 2024
The NSW Government has announced it is accelerating the roll out of major battery projects across the state, boosting electricity reliability to keep the lights on in New South Wales.

$8.4 million in new funds has been awarded to Transgrid and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) to hire more engineers, enabling them to fast-track grid connections for 4 battery projects of more than 100 megawatts (MW) each.

The total capacity of these projects is equivalent to 15% of the 2023–24 NSW summer peak demand or supplying approximately 800,000 households with energy during a peak demand event.

The most recent AEMO report forecasts increased reliability risks in New South Wales from 2024 to 2028, driven largely by retiring coal plants and not enough renewables coming online to fill the gap.

These large batteries will play a critical role in delivering affordable, reliable energy in New South Wales by storing renewable energy during sunny and windy periods and supplying that electricity to the energy grid during peak demand.

The projects which could benefit from the grants include:
  • Waratah Super Battery (850 MW, 2-hour storage duration)
  • Liddell Battery Energy Storage System (500 MW, 2-hour storage duration)
  • Orana Battery Energy Storage System (415 MW, 4-hour storage duration)
  • Richmond Valley Battery Energy Storage System (275 MW, 8-hour storage duration)
This investment will bring forward completion dates of these priority battery projects by as much as 12 months, helping to decrease current reliability risks to NSW consumers.

Connecting projects to the grid is highly technical and a lack of qualified staff can cause delays.

Transgrid will use a $3.2 million grant to fund extra technical staff on grid connections to reduce the risk of delays. Transgrid will also establish two dedicated 'squads' of engineers, technicians and customer support staff, to provide additional grid connection application review and support.

AEMO will receive up to $5.2 million for additional staff to project manage the grid connection process and coordinate with Transgrid and other project proponents to get the supported battery projects up and running by 2025–26.

The funding for these battery projects is one of many measures the NSW Government is putting in place to deliver affordable, reliable energy for the people of New South Wales including $1 billion to establish the Energy Security Corporation.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Penny Sharpe stated:
'The NSW Government is committed to accelerating replacement electricity infrastructure and is funding additional staff to ensure priority battery projects are connected to the grid as soon as possible.

'The funding to AEMO and Transgrid will reduce the risk of connection to the grid being delayed and help to address the reliability risks identified in AEMO's recent report.

'These batteries will ensure consumers in NSW have access to affordable and reliable electricity sooner.'

Barrington Tops New ‘Bark’ Rangers: Alice & Echo Sniff Out Silent Killer Threatening Australia's Biodiversity

May 22, 2024
An unconventional yet effective team are helping to tackle Phytophthora dieback in Barrington Tops National Park.
In a ground-breaking initiative, conservation detection dogs Alice and Echo have been trained to sniff out Phytophthora cinnamomi, an unseen pathogen that is a major threat to Australia’s biodiversity, causing permanent damage to ecosystems with no feasible means to eradicate it once present.

These dogs are part of research by the NSW Government and partners to provide a rapid, low-cost tool for surveying high-risk pathways and limiting new infections. With an impeccable sense of smell, they can detect the presence of Phytophthora in concentrations as low as half a grain of rice in one kilo of soil.

During their recent visit to Barrington Tops Alice and Echo showed off their extensive skills, conducting trials to detect Phytophthora on vehicles, which could offer a quick means of preventing Phytophthora spread through the park, and at Polblue Swamp, the site of known Phytophthora cinnamomi infections.

This field testing was an important learning opportunity for Alice and Echo, and their trainers, to refine training techniques and strengthen the dogs' capability as reliable, on-site detection tools.

The discovery in the late 1990s of Phytophthora at an altitude of 1,500 metres in Barrington Tops, an area normally out of range of such threats, set off alarm bells for park managers and scientists. Barrington Tops is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area and is well-known for its incredible range of vegetation communities. Unfortunately, many of the species in this diverse ecosystem are susceptible to Phytophthora.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) maintains a strict quarantine zone within Barrington Tops, where the majority of the infestation is concentrated. It is imperative that visitors do not enter this zone. Feral animals are also significant contributors to the spread of Phytophthora and NPWS has proactively addressed part of this concern through a longstanding feral pig control program.

This project is a collaboration between the NPWS, Tate Animal Training Enterprises, the University of Sydney, Botanic Gardens of Sydney’s PlantClinic and the NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

Julia Rayment, NPWS project lead stated:
'Alice and Echo are not your average dogs. These highly trained members of our conservation team have the potential to provide a rapid, accurate and inexpensive tool to prevent the spread of Phytophthora through our national parks.

'This trial in Barrington Tops is the most complex environment we’ve ever asked these detection dogs to work in. While there is still more training to be done, the field trials are a promising outcome for future success.

'The collaboration between Alice and Echo, NPWS park staff and our incredible partners guarantees to be a game-changer in the fight against this silent killer.

'Visitors to Barrington also have an important role to play to stop the spread. Do not enter the designated quarantine zone and make sure you “start clean, leave clean”. This means utilising boot hygiene stations where available or mixing up your own simple DIY solution of methylated spirits or bleach to disinfect your boots when entering or leaving a trail.'

Photo: Biodiversity sniffer dogs, Alice and Echo with NPWS staff. Image Credit: John Spencer/DCCEEW

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Queenscliff Lagoon - May 26

Come and join us for our Queenscliff clean up. We'll meet at the Manly/Queenscliff Lagoon, close to the carpark by Cameron Avenue. For exact meeting point look at the map in the event discussion. We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the lagoon and the beach as well as cleaning the lagoon/beach area, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event. Lovely Roly from Emu Parade Clean Up will be joining us too, providing volunteers with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. 

We meet at 10am for a briefing. Then we generally clean between 60-90 minutes. After that, we bag the rubbish. We normally finish around 12.00 when many of us go to lunch together (at own cost). Please note, we completely understand if you cannot stay for the whole event. We are just grateful for any help we can get. No booking required. Just show up on the day. We just kindly ask you to leave political and religious t-shirts and messages at home, so everyone feels welcome. Thank you for your understanding.

Botanic Gardens Day At Stony Range: May 26

To celebrate Botanic Gardens Day:  Enjoy morning tea with us at Stony Range, Sunday 26th May 9am - 12pm

  • Native plants for sale (card facilities available)
  • Live music from trio  'Coastal Cool'
  • Children's Fun Activities
  • 'Bugs About' and displays

810 Pittwater Rd, Dee Why

Stony Range Regional Botanic Garden  is a botanic garden specialising in native Australian flora located in Dee Why, New South Wales, Australia. The garden is wheelchair accessible, has walking tracks of varying lengths and inclinations.

Chickens, ducks, seals and cows: a dangerous bird flu strain is knocking on Australia’s door

Michelle WilleThe University of Melbourne

A dangerous strain of avian influenza (bird flu) is now wreaking havoc on every continent except Australia and the rest of Oceania. While we remain free from this strain for now, it’s only a matter of time before it arrives.

Penguins in Antarctica, pelicans in Peru, sea lions in South America and dairy cows in the United States have all been hit by fast-spreading and often lethal high pathogenicity avian influenza, known as HPAI H5N1.

Indeed, avian influenza is knocking on our door right now. Just today, a case of avian influenza was reported in a return traveller, and Victorian authorities have confirmed avian influenza on an egg farm. Importantly, authorities have confirmed the virus affecting chickens is not the virus we are most worried about. Authorities are responding and we expect more information to come in the days ahead.

Researchers and biosecurity authorities are on high alert, monitoring poultry farms and testing wildlife. They could do with our help. Anyone who comes across dead or dying birds – or mammals – should report them to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline.

The Rise Of An Animal Pandemic

Avian influenza is a viral disease that infects birds, but can infect other animals.

There isn’t just one strain of avian influenza found in wild birds – there’s a diversity of subtypes and strains. Most cause no disease at all, and are naturally found in wild birds, including in Australia.

But others are deadly. The HPAI H5N1 clade was first detected in a goose in China, back in 1996. HPAI viruses cause high levels of sickness and death in both wild birds and poultry. It spreads rapidly and kills many of the birds – and animals – it infects.

HPAI H5N1 has been endemic in poultry in Asia for decades, driving virus evolution and the emergence of a diversity of different virus clades (a clade is similar to a variant).

In 2005 we saw the first mass mortality event in wild birds. The virus spread to Europe and Africa through both poultry trade and potentially wild birds.

In 2014 the virus again entered Europe with wild birds, with spread to North America the same year, and in 2016, to Africa.

But the real change came in 2020. The number of outbreaks in poultry and wild birds dramatically increased. In 2021, reports streamed in of mass mortality events in Europe and the virus rapidly travelled the world. The world was in the grip of a “panzootic” – a global pandemic in animals.

This particularly lethal clade of the virus jumped the Atlantic and reached North America around October 2021. A few months later, it again jumped to North America, but this time across the Pacific. In around October 2022, the virus entered South America, where it travelled an astonishing 6,000 kilometres to the southern tip of the continent in approximately six months.

The first cases were detected on the sub-Antarctic islands in October 2023 in brown skuas, scavenging birds. It’s since been found in penguins, elephant seals, fur seals and Antarctic terns. By February this year, the virus was detected on the Antarctica Peninsula).

Globally, millions of wild birds are likely to have been affected. In South America alone, about 650,000 wild birds were reported dead. Many more are never reported.

This virus is threatening the survival of entire species. For example, 40% of all Peruvian pelicans in Peru have died. Scientists spent years trying to bring back Californian condors from extinction, only to watch them succumb in 2023.

It will take years to fully comprehend the impact this panzootic has had around the world. Some populations of birds and even entire species may never recover.

Scientists are especially concerned about Antarctic wildlife.

Most Antarctic species are found nowhere else on Earth. Many live in large colonies, which makes it easier for the virus to spread.

Questions remain over whether the virus will persist in Antarctica over winter and how it will spread in spring or summer.

Deadly bird flu is leaving a ‘trail of destruction’ in Antarctica and has scientists on edge | ABC 7.30

From Birds To Mammals

More than 50 species of predatory and scavenging mammals have now been recorded dying from avian influenza, most likely after eating dead birds.

Particularly concerning are the deaths of 30,000 South American sea lions, 18,000 southern elephant seal pups in Argentina and dairy cows on at least 51 farms across the US.

A recent study from Uruguay shows sea lions were dying before mass bird deaths, suggesting mammal-to-mammal spread may be driving outbreaks in coastal South America.

Since the virus appeared in dairy cows in America, it has spread to herds across ten US states. We are still learning about how the virus affects cows, but infected cows produce less milk because of infection in their udders. A recent study suggests this is because udders have receptors similar to those found in birds.

The US Food and Drug Administration states pasteurisation is effective against this virus.

Globally, only 13 human cases have been confirmed due to this particular variant of HPAI H5N1, but noting that over 800 cases have been recorded since 2005. So far, one dairy worker is known to have caught the virus from cows.

The World Health Organization considers the risk of human infection to be low although the risk is higher (low to medium) for poultry farmers and other animal-exposed workers. There is no sign of human-to-human transmission.

Australia, The Lucky Country

To date, Australia and New Zealand have avoided HPAI H5N1. Australia has a nationally coordinated surveillance system for wild birds. This includes long-distance migratory birds such as shorebirds and seabirds.

Millions of migratory birds arrive from northern Asia each year in spring. That means August to November will be our highest risk period.

In response, in both 2022 and 2023 we collected almost 1,000 samples from recently arrived migratory birds without detecting the virus. Routine testing of dead birds by others around Australia has also come back negative.

We know migratory birds have arrived carrying other strains of avian influenza into Australia. It is only a matter of time before this HPAI H5N1 arrives.

Ducks have played a crucial role in moving the virus from place to place in the Northern Hemisphere. Studies in Asia and North America have shown some duck species are able to migrate while infected, as not all ducks die from the infection. One reason we think that Australia may have been spared so far because no ducks migrate here from Asia.

When the virus does arrive, it will likely threaten entire species. Black swans are highly susceptible. Overseas, pelicans, cormorants, penguins, gannets, terns, gulls and seals have been amongst the hardest hit.

This spring, please look out for sick or dead wild birds or marine mammals and report it. Surveillance could help us manage the virus. The Conversation

Michelle Wille, Senior research fellow, The University of Melbourne

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

Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy: Have Your Say

Consultation period
From: 22 May 2024
To: 14 July 2024
NSW Government is seeking feedback on the draft Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy including the shortlist of proposed actions.
The NSW Government states it is taking action to improve the resilience of water resources in the Murrumbidgee region.

''The draft Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy sets out a shortlist of proposed actions to help deliver healthy and resilient water resources for a liveable and prosperous region.''

Community feedback is being sought on the draft Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy, including the shortlist of proposed actions, from 22 May until 14 July 2024.

Attend a webinar
Find out more about the proposed changes by attending a webinar.

Webinar 1
Date: Wednesday 12 June 2024
Time: 5pm to 6:30pm

Webinar 2
Date: Friday 14 June 2024
Time: 12pm to 1:30pm

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water staff will provide an update on the draft Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy, including the short list of proposed actions, and answer your questions.  

You are also invited to complete an online submission.
To access the submission form, register for an event, and read more about the strategy visit the consultation website at:

Priority 1 : Continue to improve water management
Priority 2 : Improve river and catchment health
Priority 3; Support sustainable economies and communities
Priority 4: Sustainable water management in the upper Murrumbidgee catchment

Have your say
Have your say by Sunday 14 July 2024.

You can provide feedback in 7 ways, via an Online Consultation or at one of 6 Community Meetings

Murrumbidgee River at Wagga Wagga, October 2003. Photo: Bidgee

Draft NSW Murray Regional Water Strategy: Have Your Say

Consultation period
From: 22 May 2024
To: 14 July 2024
The NSW Government is seeking feedback on the draft NSW Murray Regional Water Strategy including the shortlist of proposed actions.

Attend a webinar
Find out more about the proposed changes by attending a webinar.

Webinar 1
Date: Wednesday 12 June 2024
Time: 5pm to 6:30pm

Webinar 2
Date: Friday 14 June 2024
Time: 12pm to 1:30pm

Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water staff will provide an update on the draft Murray Regional Water Strategy, including the short list of proposed actions, and answer your questions.

You are also invited to complete an online submission.
To access the submission form, register for an event, and read more about the strategy visit the consultation website.

Priority 1: Continue to improve water management
Priority 2: Improve river and catchment health
Priority 3: Support sustainable economies and communities

Proposed shortlisted actions: 

Have your say
Have your say by Sunday 14 July 2024.
You can provide feedback in 7 ways.

An Online consultation or at one of 6 Community meetings

The confluence of the Murray River and Murrumbidgee River near the town of Boundary Bend. Photo: Scott Davis

Murray Valley Floodplain Management Plan: Have Your Say

Consultation period
From: 20 May 2024
To: 30 June 2024
The NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is seeking feedback to inform a new Murray Valley Floodplain Management Plan.
The NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is developing a new floodplain management plan for the central Murray Valley Floodplain.

Floodplain management plans set the rules for flood work development on floodplains in rural areas.

The rules specify what types of flood work people can construct and where they can do it.

Stage 1 public consultation allows the community to give early feedback on key elements for preparing the draft plan, including:
  • the proposed floodplain boundary
  • the historical flood events used for modelling
  • the floodway network
  • cultural and heritage sites
  • ecological assets, and
  • local variances to some rules.
To assist you in understanding the key elements proposed and how to make a submission, please read the Report to assist Stage 1 public consultation.

One-on-one appointments
You are invited to book a 40-minute, one-on-one appointment with departmental staff to learn more:
  • Moama, Wednesday 5 June
  • Deniliquin, Thursday 6 June
  • Barham, Wednesday 12 June
  • Moulamein, Thursday 13 June.
Online appointments
Online appointments are also available on 3, 4, 11 and 17 June. 

Online appointments are 30-minutes.

Find out more and book an appointment for the Murray Valley Floodplain Management Plan consultation.

Note: all submissions will be made public on the NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s website unless clearly marked confidential. You can ask that your submission be anonymous.

Have your say
Have your say by Sunday 30 June 2024.

There are 3 ways to have your say.
  1. Survey
  2. Email:
  3. Formal submission: Postal Address: Murray Valley FMP, Water Group - NSW DCCEEW, PO BOX 189, Queanbeyan, NSW 2620.
To assist you in understanding the key elements proposed and how to make a submission, please:

Gardens Of Stone Multi-Day Walk And Campsites 20 Year Commercial Lease: Have Your Say

Consultation period
From: 1 May 2024
To: 31 May 2024

The proposed grant of lease is to Wild Bush Luxury Experience Pty Ltd ACN 648 431 734. With the aim to develop, operate and support:

  • 3 bush camps within the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area
  • guided multi-day walking experiences on the Gardens of Stone Multi-Day Walk.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service plans for the proposed lease to enhance its campgrounds. The grounds are available to independent walkers and commercial operators registered with the Parks Eco Pass program.

The proposed lease term is 10 years plus two 5-year options (total potential term of 20 years).

The Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area plan of management identifies the accommodation notes located in 3 of the proposed lease areas.

The notice of intention to grant a lease in the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area is open for public consultation to give the community an opportunity to have a say.

The 3 bush camps will comprise at each site:

  • six 2-person enclosed cabins, with an approximate footprint of 3 m × 5 m (including entry deck)
  • one communal covered common area, with an approximate footprint of 5 m × 12 m for the covered area
  • one ablutions facility containing 3 showers and 3 composting toilets, with an approximate footprint of 8 m × 3 m and adjacent 20,000 L rainwater tank
  • all systems and facilities required for a quiet, ‘light-touch’, self-sufficient camp, including rainwater tank, solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity supply, and grey-water and black-water treatment
  • timber or Fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) boardwalks connecting the cabins, communal common area and ablutions facility
  • connections to ground (that is, footings) designed to be fully removable with minimal impacts.

The proposed lessee will also establish ‘adjoining’ walking tracks from the public walking track to the bush camps.

View the document and have your say here

Plastic Bread Ties For Wheelchairs

The Berry Collective at 1691 Pittwater Rd, Mona Vale collects them for Oz Bread Tags for Wheelchairs, who recycle the plastic.

Berry Collective is the practice on the left side of the road as you head north, a few blocks before Mona Vale shops . They have parking. Enter the foyer and there's a small bin on a table where you drop your bread ties - very easy.

A full list of Aussie bread tags for wheelchairs is available at: HERE 

Volunteers For Barrenjoey Lighthouse Tours Needed


Stay Safe From Mosquitoes 

NSW Health is reminding people to protect themselves from mosquitoes when they are out and about this summer.

NSW Health’s Acting Director of Environmental Health, Paul Byleveld, said with more people spending time outdoors, it was important to take steps to reduce mosquito bite risk.

“Mosquitoes thrive in wet, warm conditions like those that much of NSW is experiencing,” Byleveld said.

“Mosquitoes in NSW can carry viruses such as Japanese encephalitis (JE), Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE), Kunjin, Ross River and Barmah Forest. The viruses may cause serious diseases with symptoms ranging from tiredness, rash, headache and sore and swollen joints to rare but severe symptoms of seizures and loss of consciousness.

“People should take extra care to protect themselves against mosquito bites and mosquito-borne disease, particularly after the detection of JE in a sentinel chicken in Far Western NSW.

The NSW Health sentinel chicken program provides early warning about the presence of serious mosquito borne diseases, like JE. Routine testing in late December revealed a positive result for JE in a sample from Menindee. 

A free vaccine to protect against JE infection is available to those at highest risk in NSW and people can check their eligibility at NSW Health.

People are encouraged to take actions to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of acquiring a mosquito-borne virus by:
  • Applying repellent to exposed skin. Use repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Check the label for reapplication times.
  • Re-applying repellent regularly, particularly after swimming. Be sure to apply sunscreen first and then apply repellent.
  • Wearing light, loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts, long pants and covered footwear and socks.
  • Avoiding going outdoors during peak mosquito times, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • Using insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units and mosquito coils to repel mosquitoes (mosquito coils should only be used outdoors in well-ventilated areas)
  • Covering windows and doors with insect screens and checking there are no gaps.
  • Removing items that may collect water such as old tyres and empty pots from around your home to reduce the places where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Using repellents that are safe for children. Most skin repellents are safe for use on children aged three months and older. Always check the label for instructions. Protecting infants aged less than three months by using an infant carrier draped with mosquito netting, secured along the edges.
  • While camping, use a tent that has fly screens to prevent mosquitoes entering or sleep under a mosquito net.
Remember, Spray Up – Cover Up – Screen Up to protect from mosquito bite. For more information go to NSW Health.

Mountain Bike Incidents On Public Land: Survey

This survey aims to document mountain bike related incidents on public land, available at:

Sent in by Pittwater resident Academic for future report- study. The survey will run for 12 months and close in November 2024.

Report Fox Sightings

Fox sightings, signs of fox activity, den locations and attacks on native or domestic animals can be reported into FoxScan. FoxScan is a free resource for residents, community groups, local Councils, and other land managers to record and report fox sightings and control activities. 

Our Council's Invasive species Team receives an alert when an entry is made into FoxScan.  The information in FoxScan will assist with planning fox control activities and to notify the community when and where foxes are active.

Marine Wildlife Rescue Group On The Central Coast

A new wildlife group was launched on the Central Coast on Saturday, December 10, 2022.

Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast (MWRCC) had its official launch at The Entrance Boat Shed at 10am.

The group comprises current and former members of ASTR, ORRCA, Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, WIRES and Wildlife ARC, as well as vets, academics, and people from all walks of life.

Well known marine wildlife advocate and activist Cathy Gilmore is spearheading the organisation.

“We believe that it is time the Central Coast looked after its own marine wildlife, and not be under the control or directed by groups that aren’t based locally,” Gilmore said.

“We have the local knowledge and are set up to respond and help injured animals more quickly.

“This also means that donations and money fundraised will go directly into helping our local marine creatures, and not get tied up elsewhere in the state.”

The organisation plans to have rehabilitation facilities and rescue kits placed in strategic locations around the region.

MWRCC will also be in touch with Indigenous groups to learn the traditional importance of the local marine environment and its inhabitants.

“We want to work with these groups and share knowledge between us,” Gilmore said.

“This is an opportunity to help save and protect our local marine wildlife, so if you have passion and commitment, then you are more than welcome to join us.”

Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast has a Facebook page where you may contact members. Visit:

Watch Out - Shorebirds About

Summer is here so watch your step because beach-nesting and estuary-nesting birds have started setting up home on our shores.
Did you know that Careel Bay and other spots throughout our area are part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP)?

This flyway, and all of the stopping points along its way, are vital to ensure the survival of these Spring and Summer visitors. This is where they rest and feed on their journeys.  For example, did you know that the bar-tailed godwit flies for 239 hours for 8,108 miles from Alaska to Australia?

Not only that, Shorebirds such as endangered oystercatchers and little terns lay their eggs in shallow scraped-out nests in the sand, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Threatened Species officer Ms Katherine Howard has said.
Even our regular residents such as seagulls are currently nesting to bear young.

What can you do to help them?
Known nest sites may be indicated by fencing or signs. The whole community can help protect shorebirds by keeping out of nesting areas marked by signs or fences and only taking your dog to designated dog offleash area. 

Just remember WE are visitors to these areas. These birds LIVE there. This is their home.

Four simple steps to help keep beach-nesting birds safe:
1. Look out for bird nesting signs or fenced-off nesting areas on the beach, stay well clear of these areas and give the parent birds plenty of space.
2. Walk your dogs in designated dog-friendly areas only and always keep them on a leash over summer.
3. Stay out of nesting areas and follow all local rules.
4. Chicks are mobile and don't necessarily stay within fenced nesting areas. When you're near a nesting area, stick to the wet sand to avoid accidentally stepping on a chick.

Possums In Your Roof?: Do The Right Thing

Possums in your roof? Please do the right thing 
On the weekend, one of our volunteers noticed a driver pull up, get out of their vehicle, open the boot, remove a trap and attempt to dump a possum on a bush track. Fortunately, our member intervened and saved the beautiful female brushtail and the baby in her pouch from certain death. 

It is illegal to relocate a trapped possum more than 150 metres from the point of capture and substantial penalties apply.  Urbanised possums are highly territorial and do not fare well in unfamiliar bushland. In fact, they may starve to death or be taken by predators.

While Sydney Wildlife Rescue does not provide a service to remove possums from your roof, we do offer this advice:

✅ Call us on (02) 9413 4300 and we will refer you to a reliable and trusted licenced contractor in the Sydney metropolitan area. For a small fee they will remove the possum, seal the entry to your roof and provide a suitable home for the possum - a box for a brushtail or drey for a ringtail.
✅ Do-it-yourself by following this advice from the Department of Planning and Environment: 

❌ Do not under any circumstances relocate a possum more than 150 metres from the capture site.
Thank you for caring and doing the right thing.

Sydney Wildlife photos

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.

Bushcare In Pittwater: Where + When

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or visit Council's bushcare webpage to find out how you can get involved.

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 
Catalpa Reserve              4th Sunday of the month        8.30 – 11.30
Palmgrove Park              1st Saturday of the month        9.00 – 12 

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

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Activities

Bush Regeneration - Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment  
This is a wonderful way to become connected to nature and contribute to the health of the environment.  Over the weeks and months you can see positive changes as you give native species a better chance to thrive.  Wildlife appreciate the improvement in their habitat.

Belrose area - Thursday mornings 
Belrose area - Weekend mornings by arrangement
Contact: Phone or text Conny Harris on 0432 643 295

Wheeler Creek - Wednesday mornings 9-11am
Contact: Phone or text Judith Bennett on 0402 974 105
Or email: Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment :

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Ringtail Posses 2023

Has logging really stopped in Victoria? What the death of an endangered glider tells us

Forest Conservation VictoriaCC BY-NC-ND
David LindenmayerAustralian National UniversityChris TaylorAustralian National University, and Kita AshmanAustralian National University

Victoria’s native forest logging industry ended on January 1 this year. The news was met with jubilation from conservationists.

But did logging really end? Last week, an endangered southern greater glider was found dead next to an area logged to create fuel breaks along the Yarra Ranges National Park. The news triggered outrage.

By itself, the death of one glider would be sad. But its death speaks to a larger problem. Three kinds of logging are continuing in Victoria’s forests, for fuel breaks, salvage logging after windstorms, and logging on private land. The first two are linked to the government’s Forestry Transition Program, which states:

Harvest and haulage workers will be offered alternative work in forest and land management, enabling them to continue to work in the forests they know so well and contribute to bushfire risk reduction.

These types of logging are likely to continue for years to come – and with less oversight than under the old regime, when logging was done by the state government agency VicForests.

Fuel Breaks

The Victorian government has plans to cut or expand almost 1,500 kilometres of fuel breaks throughout Victoria’s native forests and other types of vegetation. Some of these fuel breaks are being cut in the tall mountain ash forests of Victoria’s Central Highlands, northeast of Melbourne. The trees cut down are being carted to timber mills.

It has been claimed the fuel breaks are intended for use by fire-management workers to do backburning and reduce fuel if there’s a serious bushfire in a region.

This may work in some drier grassland and woodland environments. But it doesn’t make sense in tall, wet mountain ash forests, which burn only in the most severe of fire weather conditions. These conditions are the worst possible time to light other fires.

So if this logging doesn’t make sense as fuel breaks, what is it for? Government maps of the fuel breaks label them as “Forestry Transition Projects”.

When trees are felled, harvest and haulage contractors are paid to cart the logs away. The contracts are for five years.

Fuel break logging is indiscriminate. A number of the trees already logged are between 200 and 350 years old, based on their diameters. These old trees are keystone structures and it is easy to identify them as trees which should never be cut down.

Nationally endangered southern greater gliders rely on tree hollows, which develop only in older trees – those with a diameter of 1.2 metres or larger. We have recently shown the loss of these trees is a major reason why this iconic species has declined catastrophically.

Salvage Logging

Salvage logging is where logs are removed after windstorms or fires damage trees. This is taking place in the Wombat State Forest, Mount Cole State Forest, and even in national parks like the Dandenong Ranges National Park. The timber from salvage logged forests usually goes to sawmills and firewood yards.

Many people might think salvage logging makes sense. In the wake of unprecedented windstorms knocking down thousands of trees, doesn’t it make sense to cart the logs away and put them to use?

On a forest scale, salvage logging is the most destructive form of logging, worse than high-intensity clearfelling. Logging soon after a natural disturbance makes recovery harder, such as by badly damaging soils for many decades.

Fire-damaged or fallen trees become significant habitat for many plants and animals. Forests may take as long as 200 years to recover after salvage logging. Importantly, salvage logging operations can also make forests more flammable.

After widespread storms hit the Wombat Forest in 2021, the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DJAARA) appointed VicForests to undertake “making Country safe”, in part by salvage logging windthrown timber, but large numbers of living trees were also cut.

Since VicForests wound up its operations in January, DJAARA has stated continued logging in the Wombat Forest by the Victorian government is no longer part of its operations.

Logging On Private Land

Gliders and other forest creatures don’t know the difference between national park and private property.

Using Sentinel 2 satellite imagery, we have been monitoring a large clearfell logging operation on private land next to the southern boundary of the Yarra Ranges National Park. The logging began in March 2023 and is ongoing. 38 hectares of mountain ash forest, a critically endangered ecosystem, have been clearfelled.

Laws governing logging on private land can be weaker than logging in public state forests. In state forests, VicForests were bound to follow detailed regulations, but these do not apply to logging on private land.

Satellite images suggest this logging operation is being done very close (less than 50m) to locations known to support the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, a tiny possum whose population in the wild may be as low as 2,500 individuals. These locations have been formally recorded and documented by the Victorian Government.

When VicForests was in operation, foresters and logging contractors were legally bound to provide a 200-metre buffer around sites known to be used by these possums. Logging on private land has no such requirement.

Logging Hasn’t Truly Stopped

Whether for fuel breaks, salvage logging, or private land logging, native forest logging hasn’t stopped in Victoria. It will continue for many years, and the logs cut from these operations will be sold commercially.

Much of this logging is not be fully regulated, as the Office of the Conservation Regulator is in the same department as the one conducting fuel break and salvage logging. It is difficult for a government department to regulate itself. This regulator also has no power over logging on private land.

If it sounds like two steps forward, one step back, it is.The Conversation

David Lindenmayer, Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National UniversityChris Taylor, Research Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, and Kita Ashman, Visiting fellow, Australian National University

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

Decarbonisation Dynamics: New Analysis Unveils Shifting Trends In The Voluntary Carbon Offset Market

May 20, 2024

As humanity grapples with the fight against climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is urgently necessary. One way to achieve this is through the carbon offset market, where organizations or individuals can buy credits from emissions-reducing projects.

Now, researchers from Kyushu University, Japan, in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia, have conducted a worldwide analysis of voluntary carbon offset programs and identified trends into which types of carbon reduction technologies are selected and prioritised. Their findings, published in the journal, Cleaner Environmental Systems, provide important insights for policymakers to improve the effectiveness and credibility of the carbon offset market.

"The carbon offset market is one of the most economically effective means of reducing carbon emissions," says first author Professor Hidemichi Fujii of Kyushu University's Faculty of Economics. "For many companies, becoming more environmentally friendly is an important priority, but reducing their own emissions may not be economically feasible. Instead, by purchasing carbon offsets, organizations can reduce their carbon footprint for a much cheaper price."

Over the last decade, as demand for carbon offset programs has skyrocketed. But until now, there has been no global analysis into which types of programs are established and why.

In this research, Fujii and Professor Shunsuke Managi from Kyushu University and QUT researchers, Dr. Jeremy Webb, Professor Sagadevan Mundree, Professor David Rowlings, Professor Peter Grace, and Professor Clevo Wilson, analyzed more than 7000 carbon offset programs worldwide from 2006-2020, sourcing data from the Voluntary Registry Offsets Database provided by the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers split the data by region (the Americas; Africa and the Middle East; the Asia-Pacific, and Other regions) and classified each carbon credit project into three categories: renewable energy like wind and solar; forestry and land management including reforestation and deforestation prevention; and other technologies, such as household technologies and waste management.

Fig. 1. The researchers showed that the volume of carbon credits issued in the voluntary carbon market increased rapidly in the Americas, Africa & Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, the Americas and Africa & Middle East regions dramatically increased the volume of carbon credits from 2009 to 2015, with similarly large increases coming from the Asia-Pacific region from 2006 to 2009, and 2015 to 2019. Credit: Fujii et al., Cleaner Environmental Systems, 2024,

The researchers then focused on four indicators to track shifts in the voluntary carbon credit market: PRIORITY, which tracks what percentage of the total carbon credits come from each particular project; SCALE, which measures the total credits issued for each project, IMPORTANCE, which is indicated by the number of projects in each category, and ACTIVITY, which is based on the total number of carbon offset programs.

Fig. 2 The researchers categorized carbon offset programs into three categories: renewable energy; forestry and land management; and other technologies. They then focused on four indicators—priority, scale, importance, and activity—to capture how the voluntary carbon credit market has shifted over the years. Credit: Fujii et al., Cleaner Environmental Systems, 2024, 

In forestry and land management, issued carbon credits initially increased due to United Nations-led REDD and REDD+ programs, aimed at reducing deforestation in developing countries. However, after 2016, the priority shifted towards projects such as improving the carbon dioxide absorption in forests, mainly in developed countries, like the United States.

"On the one hand, these nature-positive solutions are very important, as they simultaneously address the problem of climate change and biodiversity loss," says Webb and Wilson. "On the other hand, these projects are much harder to monitor and estimate the resulting carbon capture, leaving the system open for abuse. Additionally, leakage can occur, which is when stronger forestry protections in one country can drive deforestation somewhere else."

Webb and Wilson therefore emphasized the importance of establishing a robust regulatory regime and monitoring framework to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of forestry and REDD+ carbon offset programs in the future.

For renewable energy, the researchers found that in recent years, an increase in carbon credits issued was predominantly driven by wind and solar projects, particularly within the Asian-Pacific region.

"Most voluntary carbon credit projects are in India and China, where electricity shortages and coal-related air pollution have incentivized an increase in renewable energy projects like solar and wind," says Fujii. "Furthermore, the falling costs of these technologies has also boosted their priority."

For the category of other technologies, the researchers found a significant increase in priority for household and community carbon offset projects, mainly due to improved cookstove programs in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These projects reduce CO2 emissions and improve health and convenience, explaining their growing priority.

In future research, the team plans to introduce new factors into the analysis, such as legal factors and energy market factors.

"Changes in energy market prices and the new laws will likely impact the price and amount of carbon credits issued in the future, so it is very important to apply econometric models to determine causality in order to verify the effects of policy implementation" concludes Fujii.

"Most voluntary carbon credit projects are in India and China, where electricity shortages and coal-related air pollution have incentivized an increase in renewable energy projects like solar and wind," says Fujii. "Furthermore, the falling costs of these technologies has also boosted their priority."

For the category of other technologies, the researchers found a significant increase in priority for household and community carbon offset projects, mainly due to improved cookstove programs in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These projects reduce CO2 emissions and improve health and convenience, explaining their growing priority.

In future research, the team plans to introduce new factors into the analysis, such as legal factors and energy market factors.

"Changes in energy market prices and the new laws will likely impact the price and amount of carbon credits issued in the future, so it is very important to apply econometric models to determine causality in order to verify the effects of policy implementation" concludes Fujii.

Hidemichi Fujii, Jeremy Webb, Sagadevan Mundree, David Rowlings, Peter Grace, Clevo Wilson, Shunsuke Managi. Priority change and driving factors in the voluntary carbon offset market. Cleaner Environmental Systems, 2024; 13: 100164 DOI: 10.1016/j.cesys.2024.100164

'Vigorous Melting' At Antarctica's Thwaites 'Doomsday' Glacier

May 20, 2024

A team of glaciologists led by researchers at the University of California, Irvine used high-resolution satellite radar data to find evidence of the intrusion of warm, high-pressure seawater many kilometres beneath the grounded ice of West Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier.

In a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the UC Irvine-led team said that widespread contact between ocean water and the glacier -- a process that is replicated throughout Antarctica and in Greenland -- causes "vigorous melting" and may require a reassessment of global sea level rise projections.

A team led by glaciologists at UC Irvine used satellite radar data to reconstruct the impact of warm ocean water surging in a grounding zone extending several kilometers beneath Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. The research, the subject of a paper published in PNAS, will help climate modelers derive more precise projections of sea level rise resulting from the melting of ocean-terminating glaciers around the world. NASA image

The glaciologists relied on data gathered from March to June of 2023 by Finland's ICEYE commercial satellite mission. The ICEYE satellites form a "constellation" in polar orbit around the planet, using InSAR -- interferometer synthetic aperture radar -- to persistently monitor changes on the Earth's surface. Many passes by a spacecraft over a small, defined area render smooth data results. In the case of this study, it showed the rise, fall and bending of Thwaites Glacier.

"These ICEYE data provided a long-time series of daily observations closely conforming to tidal cycles," said lead author Eric Rignot, UC Irvine professor of Earth system science. "In the past, we had some sporadically available data, and with just those few observations it was hard to figure out what was happening. When we have a continuous time series and compare that with the tidal cycle, we see the seawater coming in at high tide and receding and sometimes going farther up underneath the glacier and getting trapped. Thanks to ICEYE, we're beginning to witness this tidal dynamic for the first time."

ICEYE Director of Analytics Michael Wollersheim, co-author, said, "Until now, some of the most dynamic processes in nature have been impossible to observe with sufficient detail or frequency to allow us to understand and model them. Observing these processes from space and using radar satellite images, which provide centimetre-level precision InSAR measurements at daily frequency, marks a significant leap forward."

Rignot said the project helped him and his colleagues develop a better understanding of the behaviour of seawater on undersides of Thwaites Glacier. He said that seawater coming in at the base of the ice sheet, combined with freshwater generated by geothermal flux and friction, builds up and "has to flow somewhere." Water is distributed through natural conduits or collects in cavities, creating enough pressure to elevate the ice sheet.

"There are places where the water is almost at the pressure of the overlying ice, so just a little more pressure is needed to push up the ice," Rignot said. "The water is then squeezed enough to jack up a column of more than half a mile of ice."

This screen capture illustrates the tidal motion of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica recorded by ICEYE satellite synthetic aperture radar on May 11-13, 2023. Data gathered in this study, the subject of a new paper in PNAS, shows that flexing of ice varies by kilometres over the tidal cycle, indicating that the pressurized seawater that intrudes beneath grounded ice produces vigorous heat exchange with the glacier base. ICEYE

And it's not just any seawater. For decades, Rignot and his colleagues have been gathering evidence of the impact of climate change on ocean currents, which push warmer seawater to the shores of Antarctica and other polar ice regions. Circumpolar deep water is salty and has a lower freezing point. While freshwater freezes at zero degrees Celsius, saltwater freezes at minus two degrees, and that small difference is enough to contribute to the "vigorous melting" of basal ice as found in the study.

Co-author Christine Dow, professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, said, "Thwaites is the most unstable place in the Antarctic and contains the equivalent of 60 centimetres of sea level rise. The worry is that we are underestimating the speed that the glacier is changing, which would be devastating for coastal communities around the world."

Rignot said that he hopes and expects the results of this project to spur further research on the conditions beneath Antarctic glaciers, exhibitions involving autonomous robots and more satellite observations.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm from the scientific community to go to these remote, polar regions to gather data and build our understanding of what's happening, but the funding is lagging," he said. "We operate at the same budget in 2024 in real dollars that we were in the 1990s. We need to grow the community of glaciologists and physical oceanographers to address these observation issues sooner rather than later, but right now we're still climbing Mount Everest in tennis shoes."

In the near term, Rignot, who is also a senior project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said this study will provide a lasting benefit to the ice sheet modelling community.

"If we put this type of ocean-ice interaction into ice sheet models, I expect we will be able to do a much better job of reproducing what has happened in the past quarter century, which will lead to a higher level of confidence in our projections," he said. "If we could add this process we outlined in the paper, which is not included in most current models, the model reconstructions should match observations much better. It would be a big win if we could achieve that."

Dow added, "At the moment we don't have enough information to say one way or the other how much time there is before the oceanwater intrusion is irreversible. By improving the models and focusing our research on these critical glaciers, we will try to get these numbers at least pinned down for decades versus centuries. This work will help people adapt to changing ocean levels, along with focusing on reducing carbon emissions to prevent the worst-case scenario."

Rignot, Dow and Wollershiem were joined in this project by Enrico Ciraci, UC Irvine assistant specialist in Earth system science and NASA postdoctoral fellow; Bernd Scheuchl, UC Irvine researcher in Earth system science; and ICEYE's Valentyn Tolpekin. ICEYE is headquartered in Finland and operates from five international locations, including the United States. The research received financial support from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Eric Rignot, Enrico Ciracì, Bernd Scheuchl, Valentyn Tolpekin, Michael Wollersheim, Christine Dow. Widespread seawater intrusions beneath the grounded ice of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2024; 121 (22) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2404766121

Will government investment make green hydrogen a reality in Australia?

atk work/Shutterstock
Kylie TurnerClimateworks Centre and Luke BrownClimateworks Centre

In the budget last week, the government was keen to talk about its efforts to turn Australia into a renewable superpower under the umbrella of the Future Made in Australia policies.

Future Made is a framework that sets out how to target green subsidies to drive investment in everything from solar to critical minerals to green hydrogen. The policy lands at a time when the world is racing towards a future green economy. America has its Inflation Reduction Act, while the European Union has its Green Deal and China has powered ahead with green technologies.

The government hopes to make the most of Australia’s comparative advantage in this global context. Over 50 countries now have policies like this.

Future Made includes $1.9 billion in new funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, $7 billion in tax incentives for critical mineral producers, and $1.5 billion for solar panel and battery manufacturing. Each of these has proven themselves. The renewable agency funded some of our first large-scale solar farms. Critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt and rare-earth elements are in demand to make electric vehicle batteries. And Australia is the world leader in rooftop solar, but makes almost none of the panels.

But what about green hydrogen, an industry still in its infancy? Future Made now has about $8 billion on offer to help kickstart Australia’s green hydrogen industry. Subsidies would cover the initial difference between the cost of production and current market price, until economies of scale kick in and the subsidy is phased out.

Renewable hydrogen is essential to make green iron, green steel and green ammonia, which we can use here or export.

Government-Backed Hydrogen?

Economists have long been critical of governments picking winners. To avoid this problem, Australia’s government has included a series of tests which have to be passed before it will invest public money. This rigour is worth praising.

These tests include how competitive the company is, how it will contribute to net zero, how it builds the capability of people and regions and how it would deliver value for money. As the government moves to become more interventionist, these tests act as a net zero filter, allocating public funds to enterprises which pass these tests. Scaled up, it will begin to shape the economy in ways compatible with net zero.

When applied to green hydrogen, these tests suggest it would be much more economic to produce green iron close to where green hydrogen is produced. That’s because hydrogen is difficult to transport.

You can make green hydrogen by using renewable electricity to split water – even better if you do it in the day, to soak up cheap solar power. The primary technology – machines called electrolysers – is becoming cheaper and more readily available.

Climateworks has modelled different emission reduction scenarios for the whole economy and found green hydrogen can play a role in the race to net zero – especially in sectors it’s not technically possible or too expensive to electrify, such as ammonia production, iron ore production, and heavy transport.

Making commercially viable green hydrogen at scale will be essential if we are to get to net zero. But without established local and global demand, public investment is needed to kickstart this industry at scale. That way, when the momentum builds for green hydrogen, Australia will be positioned to make best use of our comparative advantages and move from a smattering of pilot plants to large scale production.

If we get this right, we will be in demand globally. With our established export relationships, green hydrogen and the products it can help us make will be big ticket export items.

Right now, there’s a chicken and egg problem. Companies are reluctant to front up the initial capital costs if there’s uncertainty about who will buy the product. To scale up, then, means a mixture of grants and concessional finance to encourage entrants.

And because green hydrogen is trying to displace fossil fuels, manufacturers need to persuade buyers to shift. Steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta is confident many buyers will pay a little extra for green steel made with hydrogen with no need for subsidies, but we can’t yet see this in any uptick in demand.

Without established local and global demand, public investment is needed to kick start this industry at scale. The Future Made in Australia net zero filter sets out questions about competitiveness, emissions and more which must be asked and answered for Australia to spend public dollars efficiently. Applying these tests consistently will help us avoid the problems which come when we pick winners without enough evidence.

Under Climateworks’ modelling for a 1.5°C scenario, local renewable hydrogen production could grow steadily until 2030 and then accelerate rapidly to 2045.

It is true green hydrogen is having a sluggish start. Worldwide, electrolyser capacity is currently far outstripping demand, except in China. In part, this is because green hydrogen will have most use in industry, which has been slower to decarbonise.

Future Made and similar policies around the world offer a chance – not a certainty – of cracking the chicken and egg problem. If done well, Future Made could be the running start Australia needs to gain the benefits from our comparative advantages in world class solar and wind resources, critical minerals, a skilled workforce, established export relationships and the sheer size of our landmass and coastline to host large scale projects.

The managers of almost half of the world’s privately managed money have pledged to invest in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. It’s time for us to put Australia’s public investment to work. On green hydrogen, we could shoot to the front of the pack. It’s still up for grabs. The Conversation

Kylie Turner, System Lead, Sustainable Economies, Climateworks Centre and Luke Brown, Head of Policy and Engagement, Climateworks Centre

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

At last, Australia has fuel efficiency standards - but they’re weaker than they could have been

Robin SmitUniversity of Technology Sydney

After decades of debate and no action, Australia’s New Vehicle Efficiency Standard has finally passed federal parliament. It will apply to new cars sold from July next year.

Setting a standard promises to cut transport emissions and send us further down the road to net zero by 2050.

But the long delay means we’re starting from the back of the pack. Australian passenger vehicles currently emit at least 50% more CO₂ than the global average. Emissions have been getting worse, not better.

Our new peer-reviewed and independent expert study, carried out by the Transport Energy/Emission Research consultancy, examines the inner workings of the new standard. We fed publicly available data into our model to find out whether the new standard will work as intended.

We found the new standard could significantly reduce lifetime emissions from light vehicles (cars, SUVs, utes and vans) sold in Australia from July 1 2025. But it was weakened by the changes made following a second round of consultation with industry. Unfortunately, the standard’s performance could be further undermined by the risks ahead.

Introducing the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard.

How Does The New Vehicle Efficiency Standard Work?

The New Vehicle Efficiency Standard sets increasingly stringent targets for CO₂ exhaust emissions for new light vehicles sold between July 2025 and December 2029. Specific rules and design parameters together determine the scope and stringency of the standard.

Importantly, the standard does nothing to regulate emissions from vehicles already on the road and those purchased before July 1 2025. These vehicles will be on the road for many years to come.

But the standard’s ability to actually reduce emissions depends on its design. The devil is in the detail. Let’s take a closer look.

Exploring Design Options

The federal government experimented with different designs and consulted industry and the wider community before reporting back on design options.

In February the government defined three options: Option A (slow start); Option B (fast start and flexible); and Option C (fast start). Middle-of-the-road Option B was preferred, balancing “ambition and achievability”.

After further consultation, an updated report followed in March with changes to Option B. Specific large SUVs were moved across to the more lenient light commercial vehicle standard, which also became less stringent. Draft legislation was tabled the following day.

What We Did

Although the government reports provide some useful information, there is insufficient detail to fully understand how the likely emission reductions were assessed.

So in our new research, we developed a tool to calculate changes in on-road exhaust CO₂ emissions for all five future vehicle model years (2025 to 2029) over their lifetime, using data for model year 2022.

We compared these results with a baseline scenario, which reflects the expected uptake of battery electric vehicles in the absence of the new standard.

In the European Union, emissions and sales data are publicly and freely available in the interests of transparency and accountability. This is not the case in Australia, where the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries controls access to the data.

To get around this, we extracted information from the latest National Transport Commission report, as well as data from other online sources.

We combined vehicle sales and officially reported emissions performance data for Australian light vehicles (cars, SUVs, utes and vans) by make and model, with other required information, such as estimates of vehicle weight.

Finally, we considered the range of measures manufacturers may take to reduce emissions from their new vehicles, such as switching to electric or hybrid models or downsizing their combustion engines, to meet their emissions targets.

What We Found

Our research estimates the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard will significantly reduce on-road lifetime CO₂ emissions for new vehicles purchased between 2025 and 2029.

We calculated the new standard would save 87 million tonnes of real-world CO₂ emissions. In comparison, the original “Option B” version of the standard would have saved 103 million tonnes.

Two charts, shown side-by-side, comparing real-world lifetime CO₂ exhaust emissions for new vehicle efficiency standard (NVES) design options to baseline, for light vehicles with model years (MY) 2025 to 2029.
Comparing real-world lifetime CO₂ exhaust emissions for new vehicle efficiency standard (NVES) design options to baseline, for light vehicles with model years (MY) 2025 to 2029. TER 2024

Compared with having no fuel efficiency standards at all, we found the new standard would reduce emissions by just 2% for model year 2025 vehicles. But it ramps up to 51% for vehicles sold in 2029.

The final design of the standard is weaker than the originally proposed Option B, which would have cut emissions by about 6% for model year 2025, increasing to 58% for model year 2029.

The new standard also allows manufacturers to create and trade emission credits. This means that if a certain manufacturer is overachieving and reducing emissions faster than they need to, they can carry over credits to another model year for a certain period, or sell them to an underachieving manufacturer.

Beware Of Future Risks

Some features of the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard could undermine its effectiveness.

To actually reduce emissions, the standard must capture on-road fuel consumption and emissions as closely as possible. Unfortunately, the new standard is still based on an outdated test developed in the 1970s that significantly underestimates fuel consumption and emissions. The government intends to update the test protocol and align with international best practice, but suggests waiting until at least mid-2028.

There’s also a risk the new standard design will further encourage the trend towards large heavy passenger vehicles, making it even harder to reduce emissions from road transport. Manufacturers’ emission performance targets (in grams of CO₂ per kilometer) are strongly determined by the average weight of their fleet, particularly in the Australian standard. This means a fleet packed with heavy SUVs will have a higher emissions allowance, thereby making the requirements potentially less stringent for manufacturers that choose to focus on large models.

Are We There Yet?

Australia’s New Vehicle Efficiency Standard is a step in the right direction. But if we’re serious about hitting the net zero target for road transport, the new standard must be supported by a range of other policies. These include public awareness campaigns promoting a shift away from polluting modes of transport towards light and low emission vehicles.

The effectiveness of the new standard in actually reducing on-road emissions for new vehicles remains to be seen.

Some improvements are necessary to make the standard more robust, better guarantee its effectiveness and prevent the internationally well-known pitfalls and loopholes in vehicle emission standards. They include adoption of an up-to-date test protocol and including on-board fuel consumption monitoring, as is done overseas.

We’ve narrowly avoided being the last developed country without mandatory emission standards. Russia can now claim that title. But our research shows the new standard is quite a distance from the world’s best. No, unfortunately, we’re not there yet. The Conversation

Robin Smit, Adjunct Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Technology Sydney

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

We’re helping farmers access future climate projections as easily as checking the weather

Stephen SnowCSIROAysha FlemingCSIRO, and Yuwan MalakarCSIRO

How often do you check your local weather forecast? How about your local climate projections for 2050? For many farmers, the answer to the first question is all the time. But the answer to the second is almost certainly less than that, even though this information is crucial for understanding climate-related risks and opportunities on their patch.

We know climate change could slash Australian farm profits by as much as 32% if agriculture continues as usual. Fortunately, farmers are very good at adapting to other challenges. Developing a better understanding of how the climate will change over the coming decades will help farmers prepare and adapt.

The decision-making process will vary depending on the location and the nature of the business, but it will become increasingly important to engage and respond to climate-related risks. These may include drought, flood, fire, extreme heat or greater rainfall variability. The changing climate can also present opportunities, such as being able to branch out into growing crops or varieties not previously suited to that area.

We wanted to present this information to farmers in a more engaging and meaningful way. So we designed a free tool called My Climate View.

We also interviewed farmers to find out if (and how) My Climate View might help them identify or safeguard against future climate risks. Armed with this knowledge, they might respond by shoring up on-farm water security, diversifying their farming, or adapting their future investment decisions. Whatever the case may be, our tool can get farmers thinking and talking about climate in a different way. And that’s a great start.

Introducing My Climate View (Bureau of Meteorology)

Making Climate Risks Personal

Many Australian farmers are experts at using weather information. But they tend to be less familiar with long-term climate projections, to 2050 and beyond.

My Climate View is a collaborative project developed by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology to help Australian farmers and producers better understand the risks and opportunities they face over the next 50 years.

It is part of the A$29 million Climate Services for Agriculture program funded through the Australian government’s Future Drought Fund.

My Climate View provides past climate data, seasonal forecasts and future climate projections at a 5-square-kilometre resolution across Australia.

Users set their location and what they produce. Then they receive commodity-specific information about the future climate in their area.

They can also modify many of the variables, such as growing season length or extreme heat thresholds to see how the output changes, further increasing the relevance of the information to their own farm’s circumstances.

In our new research, we asked 24 Australian farmers about the biggest climate risks they face before and after a demonstration of My Climate View.

We found My Climate View clarified the risks and made the whole issue far more relevant to them (we call that reducing the “psychological distance”).

After the demonstration, perceptions of future climate risks became less ambiguous and more tangible. The farmers began to discuss ways to adapt, such as switching varieties, increasing water security or changing management practices.

Why Including End-Users In Design Matters

The ability to discuss risks in this way with farmers depends on the projections being relevant and usable to them in the first place.

This is why it’s so important to involve the end users in the product design process. We need to make sure future climate information is presented in a way that is useful, understandable and actionable to farmers and farm advisors.

We also found farmers to be an untapped source of expertise. They are highly familiar and sometimes even a little bit obsessed with the weather.

Farmers interpret weather information in the context of their knowledge of the land. We want to enable users to apply their local knowledge in My Climate View as well. We can facilitate this by allowing users to tailor the climate projections to what they know works for their farm, such as setting their own thresholds for heatwaves or adjusting the “growing season” months to match their own.

When discussing early prototypes of My Climate View, we found farmers valued the information, but found the original interface “data-heavy”. These insights informed efforts to streamline and simplify the interface into its current form, making it more inclusive and user-friendly.

Farmer holding smartpphone outdoors. Sheep at grazing pasture in background.
Most farmers are a little bit obsessed with the weather, so why not climate change? M_Agency, Shutterstock

Kickstarting The Climate Conversation

Online tools are designed for people to access on their own, anytime and anywhere. But deciding how to adapt to climate change is rarely a purely individual decision. It’s often a collaborative process, with decisions shaped by conversations with advisors, family and peers. That’s because climate risk and adaptation is complex.

There are so many variables to consider, such as market factors, local circumstances (such as farm type, soil type, finances) and personal capacity for change. Climate information is most engaging when it relates directly to someone’s own location and livelihood.

Talking through the on-farm options is much more powerful than reading a report or looking at a trend line on a graph. This discussion might be with a researcher, an advisor, an industry group, a neighbour or family. Including farm advisors – as well as farmers – in design, helps My Climate View kickstart conversations and inform discussions.

Adapting to a distant and uncertain future climate is difficult. But our research shows interactive tools such as My Climate View can help farmers start making difficult decisions around adapting to future climate risks right now.

An Exciting New Chapter

Being able to access future climate projections as easily as checking the weather represents an exciting new chapter in climate science communication.

It’s no longer enough to simply provide the latest information on climate science. To tackle this challenge effectively, we all need to work together.

We need to start conversations, listen to farmers, work with farm advisers and find new ways to leverage all of this expertise. Only then can we make tools that are truly accessible, inclusive and useful to help future-proof Australian agriculture.The Conversation

Stephen Snow, Research Scientist, CSIROAysha Fleming, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO, and Yuwan Malakar, Research Scientist, CSIRO

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

Are some routes more prone to air turbulence? Will climate change make it worse? Your questions answered

Trinity Moss/Unsplash
Doug DruryCQUniversity Australia

A little bit of turbulence is a common experience for air travellers. Severe incidents are rare – but when they occur they can be deadly.

The recent Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 from London to Singapore shows the danger. An encounter with extreme turbulence during normal flight left one person dead from a presumed heart attack and several others badly injured. The flight diverted to land in Bangkok so the severely injured passengers could receive hospital treatment.

Air turbulence can happen anywhere, but is far more common on some routes than on others.

Climate change is expected to boost the chances of air turbulence, and make it more intense. In fact, some research indicates turbulence has already worsened over the past few decades.

Where Does Turbulence Happen?

Nearly every flight experiences turbulence in one form or another.

If an aircraft is taking off or landing behind another aircraft, the wind generated by the engine and wingtips of the lead aircraft can cause “wake turbulence” for the one behind.

Close to ground level, there may be turbulence due to strong winds associated with weather patterns moving through the area near an airport. At higher altitudes, there may be wake turbulence again (if flying close to another aircraft), or turbulence due to updraughts or downdraughts from a thunderstorm.

Another kind of turbulence that occurs at higher altitudes is harder to predict or avoid. So-called “clear-air turbulence” is invisible, as the name suggests. It is often caused by warmer air rising into cooler air, and is generally expected to get worse due to climate change.

At the most basic level turbulence is the result of two or more wind events colliding and creating eddies, or swirls of disrupted airflow.

It often occurs near mountain ranges, as wind flowing over the terrain accelerates upward.

Turbulence also often occurs at the edges of the jet streams. These are narrow bands of strong, high-altitude winds circling the globe. Aircraft often travel in the jet streams to get a speed boost – but when entering or leaving the jet stream, there may be some turbulence as it crosses the boundary with the slower winds outside.

What Are The Most Turbulent Routes?

It is possible to map turbulence patterns over the whole world. Airlines use these maps to plan in advance for alternate airports or other essential contingencies.

Map showing air turbulence.
A map of estimated clear-air turbulence around the world, current as of 3:00PM AEST (0500 UTC) on May 22 2024. Turbli

While turbulence changes with weather conditions, some regions and routes are more prone to it than others. As you can see from the list below, the majority of the most turbulent routes travel close to mountains.

In Australia, the highest average turbulence in 2023 occurred on the Brisbane to Sydney route, followed by Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane to Melbourne.

Climate Change May Increase Turbulence

How will climate change affect the future of aviation?

study published last year found evidence of large increases in clear-air turbulence between 1979 and 2020. In some locations severe turbulence increased by as much as 55%.

A map of the world with different areas shaded in red.
A map showing changes in the chance of clear-air turbulence across the globe between 1979 and 2020. Darker red indicates a higher chance of turbulence. Prosser et al. (2023), Geophysical Research Letters

In 2017, a different study used climate modelling to project that clear-air turbulence may be four times as common as it used to be by 2050, under some climate change scenarios.

What Can Be Done About Turbulence?

What can be done to mitigate turbulence? Technology to detect turbulence is still in the research and development phase, so pilots use the knowledge they have from weather radar to determine the best plan to avoid weather patterns with high levels of moisture directly ahead of their flight path.

Weather radar imagery shows the pilots where the most intense turbulence can be expected, and they work with air traffic control to avoid those areas. When turbulence is encountered unexpectedly, the pilots immediately turn on the “fasten seatbelt” sign and reduce engine thrust to slow down the plane. They will also be in touch with air traffic control to find better conditions either by climbing or descending to smoother air.

Ground-based meteorological centres can see weather patterns developing with the assistance of satellites. They provide this information to flight crews in real time, so the crew knows the weather to expect throughout their flight. This can also include areas of expected turbulence if storms develop along the intended flight route.

It seems we are heading into more turbulent times. Airlines will do all they can to reduce the impact on planes and passengers. But for the average traveller, the message is simple: when they tell you to fasten your seatbelt, you should listen.The Conversation

Doug Drury, Professor/Head of Aviation, CQUniversity Australia

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

A rare find in ancient Timorese mud may rewrite the history of human settlement in Australasia

View of the Lailea River from on top of the hill containing Laili rockshelter. Mike Morley
Mike W. MorleyFlinders UniversityCeri ShiptonUCLKasih NormanGriffith UniversityShimona KealyAustralian National University, and Sue O'ConnorAustralian National University

Humans arrived in Australia at least 65,000 years ago, according to archaeological evidence. These pioneers were part of an early wave of people travelling eastwards from Africa, through Eurasia, and ultimately into Australia and New Guinea.

But this was only one of many waves of migration in the story of the human colonisation of the globe. These waves were probably driven by climate change and the ability of groups to adapt to a wide range of environments.

In new research published in Nature Communications, we have found evidence that a large wave of migration reached the island of Timor not long after 50,000 years ago. Our work at Laili rock shelter suggests the people who first reached Australia some 65,000 years ago came via New Guinea, while Timor and other southern islands were only colonised by a later wave of settlers.

Photo of two people with a neat square pit dug in a a dirt surface.
Archaeological trench in Laili rockshelter. Mike Morley

Potential Routes To Australia

Timor has long been regarded as a potential stepping-stone island for the first human migration between mainland Southeast Asia and Australia and New Guinea. At the time of these ancient migrations, sea levels were lower, so many of what are now islands in Southeast Asia were joined to the mainland in a region known as Sunda, and Australia and New Guinea were joined together in a single continent known as Sahul.

The islands between Sunda to the west and Sahul to the east are known as Wallacaea. These islands have never been connected to each other or the mainland, owing to the deep channels that separate them. This has meant that even when sea levels were much lower than today they remained as islands.

A map showing ancient land masses of Sunda and Sahul overlaid with a map of the modern region.
Map showing ancient land masses of Sunda (in the west) and Sahul, with the Wallacean Islands in between that always remained islands even during lower sea levels. Modern landmasses are shaded green, ancient ones dark grey. Huxley’s and Lydekker’s lines represent boundaries between realms inhabited by different groups of animals. Shipton et al. (2021)

The search for evidence of early migrations on Timor has been hampered by a lack of suitable sediments in caves and rock shelters.

However, we found a unique source of evidence at Laili rock shelter, overlooking the Laleia river in central-north Timor-Leste. Unlike other sites in the region, Laili preserved deep sediments dating between 59,000 and 54,000 years ago which contained no sign of human presence.

Photo of people standing on ground beneath an overhanging cliff, with a neat square pit dug.
The dig at Laili rockshelter. Mike Morley

On top of these layers we found clear signs of human arrival, in the dirt occurring about 44,000 years ago. This provides clear evidence that while humans were initially absent from the site and the local landscape, they subsequently arrived in what must have been significant numbers.

From other research, we also know there is evidence of humans arriving at other sites in Timor-Leste and nearby Flores Island between 47,000 and 45,000 years ago. Taken together, all this evidence strongly supports the view that humans only arrived in this region around this time.

Evidence In The Dirt

Our analysis of the sediment layers at Laili suggests humans arrived in a deliberate and large-scale colonisation effort, rather than ad-hoc settlement by a small population. This is clearly seen in the earliest traces of occupation, which include hearths, dense accumulations of stone artefacts, and the remains of a diet rich in fish and shellfish.

We used a technique called micromorphology to study the layers of sediment under the microscope.

We could see the sediment from before the time of occupation did not carry signs of human presence. But when humans moved in to the site, many traces of human occupation appeared abruptly, including compressed trampled layers caused by the passage of people on the shelter floor.

Island Hopping To Sahul

Our findings may prompt a re-evaluation of the route and timing of the earliest human migration into Sahul. They also show movement to the islands was an ongoing process rather than a single event, with occupation of the southern islands occurring thousands of years after the initial settlement of Australia.

The intensity of the initial occupation we found at Laili suggests this migration may have been large enough to overwhelm previous migrations in the islands of Southeast Asia and Australasia.

The earlier dispersal waves, including the people using the ancient Madjebebe rock shelter in Australia, may have been small numbers of people coming from a different route further north via New Guinea. The later wave of dispersal through the Wallacean Islands may have formed a much more significant arrival of humans on Sahul.

The absence of human occupation on Timor before 50,000 years ago indicates that humans arrived on the island later than previously supposed. This supports the theory that humans first arrived in Australia via New Guinea rather than Timor.

This path is less direct, but it may be explained by the fact the southern islands including Timor have far fewer land-dwelling animals to eat. Early colonists would have needed the flexibility to live on fish and shellfish. So moving into these southern islands could have been more challenging than the northern islands which had more medium to large land animals.The Conversation

Mike W. Morley, Associate Professor and Director, Flinders Microarchaeology Laboratory, Flinders UniversityCeri Shipton, Lecturer in Palaeolithic Archaeology, UCLKasih Norman, Research Fellow, Griffith UniversityShimona Kealy, Postdoctoral Researcher, College of Asia & the Pacific, Australian National University, and Sue O'Connor, Distinguished Professor, School of Culture, History & Language, Australian National University

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

Evolutionary History Of Extinct Duck Revealed

May 20, 2024
A new University of Otago-led study has uncovered the origins of a mysterious lineage of mergansers in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Mergansers are riverine and coastal fish-eating ducks predominantly found in the Northern Hemisphere, however there are a few rare species from the Southern Hemisphere.

They are the critically endangered Brazilian merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) and at least two extinct species known to be from New Zealand’s Auckland and Chatham Islands (Mergus australis and Mergus milleneri, respectively).

The study’s lead author Associate Professor Nic Rawlence, Director of the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory, says the evolutionary history of mergansers in New Zealand has been shrouded in mystery since the extinction of the Auckland Island merganser, the last surviving population, in 1902.

“There is not even a deep-time fossil record of these birds in the Southern Hemisphere,” Associate Professor Rawlence says.

Until now, the evolutionary relationship between the Southern Hemisphere mergansers, when their ancestors arrived in the region, and from where, have been unknown.

The study’s findings, published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, show mergansers arrived in the New Zealand region at least seven million years ago from the Northern Hemisphere, in a separate colonisation event to that which led to the Brazilian merganser.

Associate Professor Rawlence says this is a significant discovery.

“It shows an increasing number of New Zealand’s birds don’t hail from Australia, with more cosmopolitan links with Madagascar, Africa, South America, and now the Northern Hemisphere.

“The grandfather of New Zealand palaeontology, Sir Charles Fleming, hypothesised this back in the 1960s, long before the advent of genetics, and it’s only now that genetics and palaeontology are catching up.”

The collaborative research, which also involved scientists from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and the University of Adelaide, used state-of-the-art ancient DNA techniques to extract the DNA from historical specimens of the extinct Auckland Island merganser and the critically endangered Brazilian merganser and “went fishing for their DNA”.

“We sequenced the mitochondrial genome of these species and reconstructed the family tree of mergansers and when their ancestors arrived in the region,” he says.

“Further research by our lab is hoping to determine when and how mergansers diversified across the New Zealand region, including on the mainland, and Auckland and Chatham Islands.”

Associate Professor Rawlence believes future palaeontological and ancient DNA research in the Southern Hemisphere will unearth more unexpected lineages.
An artistic reconstruction of an Auckland Island merganser by J. G. Keulemans from 'Bullers Birds of New Zealand' (1888).

The historical skin of an Auckland Island merganser from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The evolutionary history of mergansers in New Zealand has been “shrouded in mystery” since the extinction of the Auckland Island merganser in 1902.

Nicolas J Rawlence, Alexander J F Verry, Theresa L Cole, Lara D Shepherd, Alan J D Tennyson, Murray Williams, Jamie R Wood, Kieren J Mitchell. Ancient mitogenomes reveal evidence for the Late Miocene dispersal of mergansers to the Southern Hemisphere. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2024; DOI: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlae040

Bats in Colorado face fight against deadly fungus that causes white-nose syndrome

This northern long-eared bat has visible signs of white-nose syndrome. Steve Taylor/University of Illinois/U.S. Fish and WildlifeCC BY
Tanya DeweyColorado State University

Bat populations in Colorado may be headed for a decline that could cause ecological disruptions across the state.

Two bats discovered in Boulder County in late February 2024 were confirmed to have white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease. Additional bats in Larimer County also tested positive for white-nose syndrome early this spring.

The first North American bats with white fungus on their faces, ears and wings were discovered in 2006 in caves where they hibernated near Albany, New York. The fungus causes bats to lose nutrients and moisture through their skin and to wake early from hibernation in search of food and water.

The disease spread west quickly, reaching Washington state in 2015 and California four years later. It was confirmed in Montana and New Mexico by 2021. Evidence of the fungus was first reported in Colorado in the summer of 2022.

I’m a bat biologist, and most of my research has focused on the genetics of Myotis bats. Knowing which bat populations are genetically unique and where they’re found will help researchers understand how white-nose syndrome will affect them and how it moves among geographic areas.

What Is White-Nose Syndrome?

White-nose syndrome is the result of infection by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans.

Most fungi thrive in warm, moist conditions, but Pseudogymnoascus destructans is a “cold-loving” fungus. This trait makes it well adapted to grow on bats when their body temperatures are lowered during hibernation and their immune systems are suppressed.

Bats infected with Pseudogymnoascus destructans lose nutrients and fat reserves critical to surviving winter hibernation as the fungus grows into their skin. One of the earliest signs of white-nose syndrome is when bats awake early from hibernation in search of food. The fungus also affects other metabolic factors, such as electrolyte levels.

After the discovery of Pseudogymnoascus destructans in North America, scientists searched for the fungus around the globe and found it in European and Asian caves, where they believe it is native. Bats in those areas don’t seem to be negatively affected by the fungus, likely because they co-evolved with the fungus and developed some immunity.

Pseudogymnoascus destructans was probably brought to the U.S. by travelers who explored caves in Europe and returned with contaminated equipment.

Myotis Species Could Face Declines

Among the species most affected by white-nose syndrome are members of the diverse group of Myotis bats that I study. The majority of North American Myotis bats are found in Western states, including Colorado.

Sixteen of North America’s 45 bat species are Myotis bats. Of those 16, 11 live only in Western North America and seven live in Colorado.

All of those Myotis bats could face massive population declines if exposed to white-nose syndrome.

Some North American bat species have lost more than 90% of their population to white-nose syndrome since 2006, including two found in Colorado:

  • Little brown bats, Myotis lucifugus, which are being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing as endangered but are not listed yet.

  • Tricolored bats, Perimyotis subflavus, which are proposed as endangered, a status which indicates that the species is in danger of extinction and is awaiting a final determination to be on the endangered species list.

Colorado Testing For White-Nose Syndrome

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been testing for Pseudogymnoascus destructans since 2019.

In the summer of 2022, 25 bats at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in Otero County were tested. Only one, a Yuma bat (Myotis yumanensiswas positive for the fungus, though it showed no signs of disease.

A year later, in July 2023, a second Yuma bat at Bent’s Old Fort had signs of the fungus on its wings and was euthanized by the National Park Service. It was the first bat in Colorado confirmed with the disease.

A long-eared bat in Illinois is swabbed to test for white-nose syndrome. Steve Taylor/University of Illinois/U.S. Fish and WildlifeCC BY

Preventing Further Spread

Since the disease is highly infectious in Eastern bats, finding even one Colorado bat with white-nose syndrome rings alarm bells. But biologists know little about population structure, hibernation sites and hibernation behaviors of most Western Myotis species. This is a major barrier to understanding the potential impact of white-nose syndrome on bats in Colorado.

Researchers think Western Myotis bats might hibernate at smaller sites, unlike many Eastern bats that hibernate in large mines and dams. This behavior might mitigate the impact of the disease in the West, since groups that hibernate together may be smaller, resulting in limited opportunities for disease spread.

Researchers also lack information on the genetic structure of Western populations of Myotis bats, which is a critically important aspect of management and conservation strategies.

Genetic research I published with a group of colleagues shows strong evidence that biologists are underestimating the number of Western Myotis species because of a phenomenon called “cryptic,” or hidden, species. This research suggests there are Myotis bats that are similar in size and shape but genetically different. Since most species are identified by morphological characteristics, the number of species recognized by science is likely too low.

For instance, little brown bats are currently considered a single species, though research has found five independent lineages within this species.

The cryptic species most affected by white-nose syndrome in the East is Myotis lucifugus lucifugus.

Two of these cryptic species – M. l. lucifugus and M. l. carissima – live along the Front Range in Wyoming and Colorado, so it is possible that bat-to-bat contact between them is happening there and spreading the disease.

A bat receives a shot from a long brightly colored needle
Researchers administer the white-nose syndrome vaccine to a bat during a field trial. Public Domain

What’s Next For Bats In Colorado?

Biologist John Demboski at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and I are teaming up to analyze genetic samples from across Colorado. We will analyze tissues from sick bats in Boulder and Larimer counties along with a large genetic dataset of Myotis bats from across the state.

The results of our DNA analyses will help predict how white-nose syndrome may spread through Colorado bat populations and where to target efforts to protect them. Specifically, the results will clarify where the two cryptic species occur in the state and, therefore, where disease transmission could be occurring.

A few promising developments:

The U.S. Geological Survey recently developed a vaccine against white-nose syndrome and is currently assessing its efficacy. Its promise is currently limited, however, because using the vaccine requires all bats to be captured and given an oral dose of the medication, a nearly impossible task for wild-ranging, nocturnal animal populations.

Some preliminary studies on Eastern populations of little brown bats suggest that they may be building a resistance to the fungus. A small number survive.

Even if bats do recover, rebuilding populations will take a long time. Most female bats produce just one offspring per year over their life spans, which can range from 10 to more than 30 years. And most bat populations face other threats to survival, such as habitat destruction, threats to prey populations and persecution.The Conversation

Tanya Dewey, Assistant Professor, Biology, Colorado State University

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

Electric air taxis are on the way – quiet eVTOLs may be flying passengers as early as 2025

Jamey JacobOklahoma State University

Imagine a future with nearly silent air taxis flying above traffic jams and navigating between skyscrapers and suburban droneports. Transportation arrives at the touch of your smartphone and with minimal environmental impact.

This isn’t just science fiction. United Airlines has plans for these futuristic electric air taxis in Chicago and New York. The U.S. military is already experimenting with them. And one company has a contract to launch an air taxi service in Dubai as early as 2025. Another company hopes to defy expectations and fly participants at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Backed by billions of dollars in venture capital and established aerospace giants that include Boeing and Airbus, startups across the world such as JobyArcherWisk and Lilium are spearheading this technological revolution, developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that could transform the way we travel.

Electric aviation promises to alleviate urban congestion, open up rural areas to emergency deliveries, slash carbon emissions and offer a quieter, more accessible form of short-distance air travel.

Two style of eVTOL, both with propellers that lift them vertically, with New York Harbor in the background.
Joby, on the helipad, and Volocopter, in the air, demonstrated their eVTOLs in New York in November 2023. Volocopter hopes to fly demonstrations of its VoloCity air taxi at the 2024 Paris Olympics. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

But the quest to make these electric aircraft ubiquitous across the globe instead of just playthings for the rich is far from a given. Following the industry as executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education provides a view of the state of the industry. Like all great promised paradigm shifts, numerous challenges loom – technical hurdles, regulatory mazes, the crucial battle for public acceptance and perhaps physics itself.

Why Electrify Aviation?

Fixed somewhere between George Jetson’s flying car and the gritty taxi from “The Fifth Element,” the allure of electric aviation extends beyond gee-whiz novelty. It is rooted in its potential to offer efficient, eco-friendly alternatives to ground transportation, particularly in congested cities or hard-to-reach rural regions.

While small electric planes are already flying in a few countries, eVTOLs are designed for shorter hops – the kind a helicopter might make today, only more cheaply and with less impact on the environment. The eVTOL maker Joby purchased Uber Air to someday pair the company’s air taxis with Uber’s ride-hailing technology.

Archer’s Midnight air taxi takes a test flight. The company is partnering with United Airlines.

In the near term, once eVTOLs are certified to fly as commercial operations, they are likely to serve specific, high-demand routes that bypass road traffic. An example is United Airlines’ plan to test Archer’s eVTOLs on short hops from Chicago to O'Hare International Airport and Manhattan to Newark Liberty International Airport.

While some applications initially might be restricted to military or emergency use, the goal of the industry is widespread civil adoption, marking a significant step toward a future of cleaner urban mobility.

The Challenge Of Battery Physics

One of the most significant technical challenges facing electric air taxis is the limitations of current battery technology.

Today’s batteries have made significant advances in the past decade, but they don’t match the energy density of traditional hydrocarbon fuels currently used in aircraft. This shortcoming means that electric air taxis cannot yet achieve the same range as their fossil-fueled counterparts, limiting their operational scope and viability for long-haul flights. Current capabilities still fall short of traditional transportation. However, with ranges from dozens of miles to over 100 miles, eVTOL batteries provide sufficient range for intracity hops.

The quest for batteries that offer higher energy densities, faster charging times and longer life cycles is central to unlocking the full potential of electric aviation.

CNBC takes a look at the history behind eVTOLs and the future of the market.

While researchers are working to close this gap, hydrogen presents a promising alternative, boasting a higher energy density and emitting only water vapor. However, hydrogen’s potential is tempered by significant hurdles related to safe storage and infrastructure capable of supporting hydrogen-fueled aviation. That presents a complex and expensive logistics challenge.

And, of course, there’s the specter of the last major hydrogen-powered aircraft. The Hindenburg airship caught fire in 1937, but it still looms large in the minds of many Americans.

Regulatory Hurdles

Establishing a “4D highways in the sky” will require comprehensive rules that encompass everything from vehicle safety to air traffic management. For the time being, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is requiring that air taxis include pilots serving in a traditional role. This underscores the transitional phase of integrating these vehicles into airspace, highlighting the gap between current capabilities and the vision of fully autonomous flights.

The journey toward autonomous urban air travel is fraught with more complexities, including the establishment of standards for vehicle operation, pilot certification and air traffic control. While eVTOLs have flown hundreds of test flights, there have also been safety concerns after prominent crashes involving propeller blades failing on one in 2022 and the crash of another in 2023. Both were being flown remotely at the time.

The question of who will manage these new airways remains an open discussion – national aviation authorities such as the FAAstate agencies, local municipalities or some combination thereof.

Creating The Future

In the long term, the vision for electric air taxis aligns with a future where autonomous vehicles ply the urban skies, akin to scenes from “Back to the Future.” This future, however, not only requires technological leaps in automation and battery efficiency but also a societal shift in how people perceive and accept the role of autonomous vehicles, both cars and aircraft, in their daily lives. Safety is still an issue with autonomous vehicles on the ground.

The successful integration of electric air taxis into urban and rural environments hinges on their ability to offer safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation.

As these vehicles overcome the industry’s many hurdles, and regulations evolve to support their operation in the years ahead, I believe we could witness a profound transformation in air mobility. The skies offer a new layer of connectivity, reshaping cities and how we navigate them.The Conversation

Jamey Jacob, Executive Director, Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education, Oklahoma State University

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

Hedges beat garden fences as wildlife havens and flood barriers – that’s why I’m taking them to the Chelsea Flower Show

Tijana BlanusaCC BY-ND
Tijana BlanusaUniversity of Reading

Most people associate the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show with innovative and inspiring garden design displays featuring plants galore. But the annual London show, which starts on Tuesday, May 21, also offers researchers like me a chance to showcase horticultural science to the general public.

This week, I’m taking urban hedges to Chelsea to highlight the year-round benefits of using mixed hedging, and to show the potential for humble hedges to be used more within environmental education.

Hedges are an important and widespread feature of urban and suburban areas. More than 40% of the UK’s 23 million gardens still have a hedge. They don’t take up much space, so they are popular as roadside dividers and boundary markers of parks and playgrounds. Hedges are also relatively cheap and simple to install and manage. And while fences provide privacy and mark boundaries, they lack the wealth of environmental benefits offered by hedges.

Hedges act as barriers for pollution, provide habitat for wildlife, support pollinators when in flower, produce berries for birds to feed on, capture rainfall and reduce flood risks, and (to a lesser degree) reduce noise. As a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) scientist, I have noticed more gardeners, managers of public spaces, landscapers and architects, local councils, parents and schools wanting to learn about what hedges can do, and how they can be used to get more out of the green spaces.

As a part of my recent 1851 Royal Commission-funded project, I tested whether mixing evergreen and deciduous hedge species would be an advantage over using single species. Deciduous plants that shed their leaves in autumn and winter tend to provide more benefits during the summer months when in leaf. Evergreens – plants that keep their leaves all year round – provide benefits during the winter when other plants lose their leaves.

Six long orange plant pots with tall green bushes, black matted ground, greenhouse in far background, blue cloudless sky
The author and her team have been growing mixed hedges for the Chelsea Flower Show. Tijana BlanusaCC BY-ND

Over four seasons, I tested how well different types of hedge capture rainfall, reduce runoff, and minimise flood risks. I found that introducing evergreen plants such as Thuja, an evergreen conifer, into a deciduous hedge, such as hawthorn, reduced rainfall runoff in autumn and winter. In summer months, deciduous hawthorn hedges were best at absorbing excess water from the soil, so the ground could store more rainwater before becoming saturated.

The jury is still out on the detail, but the overall benefits of having a hedge vs no hedge are unequivocal.

An Educational Tool

My team and I worked with year-10 pupils at Hoe Valley School in Woking, Surrey, to assess the effects of planting two mixed hedges near a busy road on the school grounds. Pupils measured changes in moisture in the soil, deposits of air pollution particles on leaves, and temperatures around the hedges.

Curious to learn how hedges could be used to connect children with nature-based solutions like hedges, we tested how this horticultural research project changed pupils’ perspectives on what plants can do for the environment, and on their own willingness to get involved with growing – and caring for – greener spaces in their local area.

Woman on left and five school students in dark green blazers stood talking around a lab table with some science equipment and hedge samples
Tijana Blanusa, left, worked with pupils at Hoe Valley School in Surrey to measure the environmental benefits of hedges next to a busy road in the school grounds. Tijana BlanusaCC BY-ND

We found the pupils who had prior experience of doing gardening outside school had significantly stronger positive environmental attitudes than those who did not. But the pupils without prior gardening experience had a more pronounced positive attitude shift as a result of our science engagement activities.

So, exposure to environmental science and gardening both played a role in forming attitudes among young people. Getting involved with horticulture and environmental science while at school could be an important way to improve children’s connection with nature.

For Chelsea and beyond, I have teamed up with my RHS colleagues in the campaign for school gardening and national education nature park programme to pass on our ideas, resources, results and experiences to thousands of schools nationwide. By spreading the word further, we hope to encourage even more schools to get involved, use hedges as a teaching tool, and improve the environmental quality of their school grounds.

They might not be showy, expensive or elaborate, but hedges deserve much more attention. Hopefully, our display at Chelsea will get the public talking about the humble hedge, and encourage more home gardeners to use them as garden boundaries with a myriad of environmental benefits.

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 30,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.The Conversation

Tijana Blanusa, Principal Horticultural Scientist (RHS)/RHS Fellow, University of Reading

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

Extreme heatwaves in south and south-east Asia are a sign of things to come

Neven S. FučkarUniversity of Oxford

Since April 2024, wide areas of south and south-east Asia, from Pakistan to the Philippines, have experienced prolonged extreme heat. Covering some of the most densely populated regions in the world, the series of heatwaves has affected everything from human health and wellbeing to the economy and education.

Many pupils in India, Bangladesh, and Philippines have been told to stay at home for days due to a severe health risk from extreme heat, while the heatwaves are becoming a major issue in India’s election. Bangladesh even closed all primary schools for weeks while the temperature reached 43.8°C on April 30.

Once the temperature goes above 38°C, it exceeds the core human body temperature (about 37°C) and the chance of heat exhaustion and even heatstroke increases dramatically. This is compounded by increasing humidity in the region which puts additional heat stress on the human body, as sweat is not able to evaporate as effectively (the primary mechanism for cooling the human body).

That is why extreme heat in a tropical country can be less pleasant and more dangerous than the same temperature in a desert.

Tens of millions of people have been exposed to such health threatening conditions in south and south-east Asia in April and May so far, and this extreme heat has substantially affected labour productivity.

Unusually prolonged periods of extreme heat:

Shaded map of south and south east asia
Parts of India, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia were extremely hot almost all April. Neven Fučkar / Data: MSWX

Now shifting westwards:

Shaded map of south and south east asia
The most consistent extreme heat is currently in western India and Pakistan. Neven Fučkar / Data: MSWX

How It Got So Hot

Extreme heat is driven by several processes, operating from global down to local scales. At the local level, less vegetation and soil moisture tends to mean more heat, while cities of concrete and asphalt are hotter than the surrounding countryside thanks to the urban heat island effect. Other local and regional factors include the wind, and whether conditions are ripe for clouds to form.

Then there are the more global factors: El Niño, and of course global warming. El Niño refers to the warm phase of a natural fluctuation of temperatures in the tropical Pacific (its opposite side is La Niña).

The Pacific has been in an El Niño phase since May 2023, releasing additional heat and exacerbating global warming in many regions. In parts of Asia, this leads to periods of extreme heat happening more often, lasting longer and being even more extreme in addition to global warming contribution.

This is particularly dangerous for the many cities in south and south-east Asia being hit by the current series of heatwaves, which over the past 85 years have already experienced long-term increase in the number of days in April with such dangerously high temperatures.

Short term noise, long term trends:

Line graphs
Extreme heat in April since 1940 in three selected cities (labelled in the previous maps). Neven Fučkar / Data: ERA5

Occurrences of extreme heat days over years typically looks rather noisy when plotted on a graph. Some years may have many days of extreme heat, others only few or none. But over a longer timescale of multiple decades, a clear trend emerges of more and more very hot days, driven by climate change.

Indeed, scientists from the World Weather Attribution team recently described the latest heatwaves as “impossible” without climate change.

Action Needed

April and May are typically the hottest months in south and south-east Asia. As the climate keeps warming, is the region ready for extreme heat?

The projected increases in extreme hot temperatures demands rapid adaptation measures, along with the obvious global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That means heat action plans that are tailored to address the specific climate, public health and socioeconomic conditions in a given region. What works in Singapore (urban, wealthy, incredibly humid) might not be appropriate in drier, poorer and more rural parts of India.

We have to combine estimates of environmental hazards with exposure and vulnerabilities information on population and assets to provide actionable risk assessment and formulate efficient temperature mitigation measures for different levels of extreme heat.

Some countries in south and south-east Asia are making progress with their heat action plans in response to extreme heat they have already experienced. However, there is room for further improvement and a more targeted approach at the district level. This is critical as we expect that disruptive extreme heat events in this part of the world will become more frequent, widespread, and intense.

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
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The Conversation

Neven S. Fučkar, Senior Researcher, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

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

I sailed across oceans in search of microplastics – a new film charts my journey

Eleanor Church / X Trillion filmCC BY-ND
Emily DuncanUniversity of Exeter

In 2018, I sailed to one of the most remote places on the globe, the north Pacific. Despite being thousands of nautical miles from the nearest human settlements, I saw so many large plastic litter items, such as broken plastic buckets, floating past the boat. But this was nothing compared to the number of smaller, colourful plastic pieces my crew mates and I were collecting day after day.

X Trillion, a new documentary film being screened at independent cinemas around the UK, charts the progress of that 3000-nautical-mile voyage across the north Pacific as I sailed from Hawaii to Vancouver as part of a pioneering all-women crew. This trip was organised by eXXpedition, a not-for-profit organisation that runs sailing research expeditions at sea (and now virtually) to investigate the causes of and solutions to the global plastic pollution problem.

A week into this three-week-long voyage, we saw a huge conglomeration of nets, ropes and other plastic materials forming what is known as “ghost gear” - as this discarded, lost or abandoned fishing gear floats around, it aggregates into a bigger mass. This ghost gear can entangle, injure and even kill marine wildlife, including turtles which I have researched for many years.

X Trillion trailer.

The four-metre ball of net debris I saw was far too heavy to pull up onto the eXXpedition yacht. Our team attached a satellite tracker to it and oceanographers at the University of Hawaii followed its progress as it travelled thousands of miles to an ever larger accumulation of debris. Eventually, this net ball was retrieved by a bigger boat on a cleanup voyage.

While the huge ghost nets were shocking, it was the sheer scale of microplastics that shocked me and the rest of the eXXpedition crew the most. Many people think of the great Pacific garbage patch as a huge island of floating plastic. But it actually looks like pristine open ocean until we looked closer and sampled the surface waters where we found thousands of tiny plastic pieces.

To sample microplastics in the surface waters, we used a manta trawl. With its metal wings and broad mouth, this net system resembles a manta ray. As it’s dragged alongside the boat for 30-minute periods at a constant speed of two knots, it collects tiny solid particles from the surface.

My job on board was to coordinate this data collection, help to standardise the sampling methods and make sure that microplastic samples reached our ten scientific partners around the world.

Samples from the manta net trawl allowed us to collect data about the abundance, type and potential sources of plastic fragments present in the north Pacific. Most of the plastic pieces we collected were hard fragments that can be mistakenly ingested by vulnerable marine animals like turtles.

One of the manta trawl samples we collected contained 507 pieces of plastic - that’s equivalent to more than half a million pieces within 1km² of ocean. A masters student at the University of Exeter, Lowenna Jones, analysed those 507 pieces and found 28 different types of plastic polymers. This shows that plastic comes from so many different industries, applications and products.

close up of two hands with tweezers putting plastics into a tiny clear glass vile, metal grey sieve in background
Tiny microplastics were collected and sent off for analysis. Eleanor Church / X Trillion filmCC BY-ND

Lots of our data was sent to the 5 Gyres Institute in the US where scientists recently estimated that there are more than 170 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans - hence the name of the film.

Having studied the impacts of plastic pollution on small juvenile turtles for my PhD, I shared my knowledge about the issue of plastic pollution and its effects on marine ecosystems to the 13 other members of the crew who had different expertise and backgrounds – some were designers, writers and teachers.

Seeking Solutions

X Trillion aims to increase the knowledge of the plastic pollution issue and scientific research can help us build a more accurate picture of what’s going on in the open ocean. For example, harmful contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls – toxic industrial chemicals that are now banned – still persist in the environment. These can stick or adsorb onto the surface of the plastics. Once ingested, these toxic chemicals could cause further harm to wildlife.

woman with long hair sat at table looking down a microscope
Emily Duncan used a microscope to analyse microplastic samples retrieved from surface waters by the manta trawl. Eleanor Church/X Trillion filmCC BY-ND

Projects like eXXpedition can shed light on the effects plastics can have on wildlife. This information can be a catalyst for change when used effectively to inform and improve plastic pollution policy such as the global plastics treaty that’s currently being negotiated.

With greater awareness of plastic pollution, there seems to be an increasing drive to innovate. Clever new products are being produced, but more can be done to limit excessive consumption. As a society, we need to change the way we value materials such as plastics. Single-use plastics are still a big problem. Using a material that is designed to last forever just once and then discarding it makes no sense.

Hopefully, this new film about the eXXpedition voyage shows what the remote ocean really looks like and challenges people’s assumptions about what happens to common plastic items. If not managed properly, that plastic waste all ends up swirling around in the open ocean.

Humans have caused the plastic pollution problem so we can design the solutions to fix this. Everyone has the power to make a difference. That can be as simple as investing in a reusable drink bottle instead of using single-use plastic ones. My bottle has travelled the world with me for more than ten years – refilling it will have saved countless plastic bottles for going to waste. With lots more people taking small steps like this, we can help to prevent more plastic litter entering the waterways and ocean.The Conversation

Emily Duncan, Associate Researcher, Conservation Biology, University of Exeter

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


Fungi Season At Irrawong 

Photos by Joe Mills

Joe Mills took a walk along the Irrawong track up into Ingleside along the creek way a few weeks ago, just after all that rain during the first week of May, and took some of these great photos of fungi now out - as it does every Autumn. But fungi can appear at other times too as Botanist David Noble, explains:

''Fungi are found in all environments. They are around the roots of most plants, and in the stomachs of most animals. They range in size from microscopic yeasts to huge fungal mycelium that thread their way through hundreds of hectares. They make up perhaps 25% of the biomass.

The average person thinks of fungi as mushrooms, and indeed the word “fungi” is derived from the Latin word for mushroom, but they are much more than that. Mushrooms are thought to make up only about one fifth of the Kingdom. Other types of fungi can be brackets, clubs, cups, strange coral shapes, truffles, morels, stinkhorns, moulds, smuts and rusts.

DNA analysis shows that fungi are closer to animals than plants. They have no photosynthesis and obtain their nutrients from the breakdown of decaying organic material. This is mainly plants but can be animals, dung or even other fungi.

Fungi often reproduce both sexually and asexually in cycles. Most of their life is spent underground or inside a host such as a rotten log. All they consist of is a tangle of microscopic threads called hyphae. At certain times, often in response to rain, the mass of hyphae form larger threads called mycelium and from this can emerge what is called the fruiting body – the mushroom, or coral, club, cup etc.

It is the tiny hyphae that are so important to the environment. Most plants have mutually beneficial relationships with fungi. Fungi are mycorrhizal partners of plants – this is where the plant root is combined with a fungus. This greatly increases the effective surface area of the root helping the plant obtain more water and nutrients, and the fungus gets some of the products of photosynthesis. Some plants like orchids often need certain fungi present for their seeds to germinate.

Fungi can been seen all year round. Some species like truffles develop their fruiting bodies underground so can grow in dry areas like deserts. These truffle-like fungi are an important food source for some animals, such as Bandicoots and the endangered Long-footed Potoroo. Other types of fungi are eaten by insects, slugs and other invertebrates. Most fungi are seen when their fruiting body emerges from soil or logs or other substrates. In NSW this is usually during Autumn (or perhaps more accurately January to August), often in moist environments such as rainforests and then more than likely a few days after a reasonable fall of rain.

The next time you are in the bush keep your eyes open and look out for fungi. Once you find one, look for more nearby. They often occur in clusters that include many species. These fungi one day may help us learn the biochemistry to break down pollution or to kill tumours.

And to finish – do not eat any fungi you find in the bush. Even experts make mistakes with identification, and a mistake may be fatal.''

The National Parks Association of NSW recently published a presentation 'The Magic of Fungi' presented by Mr. Noble - that runs in this week's Park Bench Philosophers page for those whop may be interested in finding out more.

Some more of Joe's pictures:

Irrawong Falls, May 6 2024 - below: the creek leading out from there into Warriewood Valley

Calling Sydney Harbour: In 1960

From the Film Australia Collection.  Made by the Commonwealth Film Unit 1960.  Directed by Malcolm Otton. Step into one of the most iconic harbours in the world. The Port of Sydney is crowded with ships from every maritime nation. This 1960s snapshot of life on Sydney Harbour is taken from the tug master’s point of view. We explore the Harbour in a tugboat at work – bringing the Neptunia in to berth and taking the Oronsay out through the Heads. Calling Sydney Harbour also shows the bustling wharves and new construction work being carried out by the Maritime Services Board.

A Night At The Zoo: Celebrating World Oceans Day 

Saturday 8th Jun 2024, 4:30 pm - 9:30 pm 

For ages 13-17.

Tickets at:

This is an U18 event like no other, hosted by the Youth Ocean Carnival & Taronga Zoo and centred around inspiring youth-led conservation. 4.6 million Gen Z in Australia will take action on and around World Ocean Day.

Expect a fun, immersive event bringing together scientific data and positive solutions to boost positive change and amplify Gen-Z voices around the 30x30 Goal target.

‘Night at the Zoo’ is an immersive music and art conservation experience hosted by Youth Ocean Carnival SYD24 and Global Goal Partner Taronga Zoo. It is theYouth Ocean Carnival flagship Under-18 event for World Ocean Day. The event will provide access and connectivity for youth to explore their senses – feel, smell, taste, think, see and hear to immerse them as changemakers for the ocean.

It'll include film screenings of Earth's rarest species and spectacular underwater imagery, Ocean Climate Documentary 'Rising Up', interactive workshops, installations & live cool tunes.

Your Voice Our Future: Have Your Say

The NSW Government is seeking feedback from young people on how the government can better support them in NSW.

The Minister for Youth, the Hon. Rose Jackson, MLC and the NSW Government is seeking feedback from young people aged 14 to 24 years on how the government can better support young people in NSW. The online survey asks about:

  • the important issues that young people face
  • what is not working well for young people in NSW
  • how the NSW Government should support and better engage with young people.

Your feedback will be summarised and and shared with the Minister for Youth, the Hon. Rose Jackson to inform ministerial priorities. It will also be promoted across NSW Government departments to help deliver better programs and services for young people. By completing the survey, you can go in a monthly draw to win a gift card of your choice up to the value of $250*.

This survey has been developed by the Minister for Youth, the Hon. Rose Jackson, MLC, the Office of the Advocate of Children and Young People (ACYP) and the Office for Regional Youth.

When we ask for your name and contact details

If you opt in to receive more communications about this work, you will be asked to provide your contact details so that you can be kept updated. You may also be contacted to see if you would like to participate in further surveys or activities.

If you opt in to enter the monthly draw, your contact details will be needed to request your preferred e-gift card so we can deliver it via email, if you win. If you win, we may publicise your first name, age and suburb on NSW Government webpages, social media and other public communications.

If you are under 18, you will also need to provide the contact details of your parent/guardian who may be contacted directly to confirm consent for you to participate.

*View the terms and conditions (PDF 140.28KB) and privacy policy (PDF 140.26KB)

Have your say by Tuesday 31 December 2024.

You can submit your feedback via an online survey, here:

Bert Evans Apprentice Scholarships 2024 Are Now Open!

Do you know a first-year apprentice in NSW who could use some financial assistance? Maybe it’s you!   

The Bert Evans Apprentice Scholarships help NSW apprentices facing hardship to excel and complete their apprenticeships, helping them to develop a fulfilling career and strengthening the growth of your industry.

Up to 150 successful applicants will receive a $5,000 scholarship annually for up to three years, totalling $15,000.    

The funds could be utilised to help purchase new tools, pay for fuel or take additional training courses.   

First-year apprentices, including school-based apprentices, whose employers are in regional or metropolitan NSW, are eligible to apply.     

The Bert Evans Apprentice Scholarships form part of the NSW Government Apprenticeship and Traineeship Roadmap (2024-2026), which will drive the development of Apprenticeships and Traineeships in NSW over the next three years, taking an inclusive and learner-centered approach.       

Applications are open until 31 May 2024.      

For more information around eligibility criteria and how to apply, visit

Post-Pandemic Career Change Leads To Success For TAFE NSW Landscape Design Graduate

A TAFE NSW graduate has won a national industry award less than two years after changing careers and becoming a landscape designer.

More than 10,000 jobs are forecast to be needed in the gardening industry between 2021 and 2026, with landscape architect and designer roles forecast to grow by almost 17% over that period. TAFE NSW is delivering a pipeline of workers to meet that demand through its range of horticulture and landscape design courses.

Brenda Mancuso spent 18 years working in consumer insights in the corporate sector and during the COVID-19 pandemic started considering a career change.

After studying a Diploma of Landscape Design at TAFE NSW, Ms Mancuso has now been awarded a silver medal in the Emerging Designers category of the Landscape Design Institute’s national awards.

“I feel privileged to have landed in an industry that is so collaborative, generous and supportive. To be recognised in this way means a lot to me,” Ms Mancuso said.

Ms Mancuso’s journey into the landscape design industry started during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the lockdowns I really found myself valuing the green spaces we had even more and so I decided to take the plunge and explore becoming a landscape designer,” Ms Mancuso said.

“I knew nothing about landscape design; in fact, I knew very little about horticulture. It was scary going from a well-paid and secure job into the unknown. However, with the support of my TAFE NSW teachers and interesting, well-structured content, I quickly gained confidence that I had made the right decision.

“I was somewhat confident in my existing communications and people skills from my previous career, but my course gave me the practical and theoretical knowledge I needed to start working in the industry once I graduated. The landscape design diploma gave me the well-rounded skills I needed to position myself where I wanted to be in the industry.”

After graduating from TAFE NSW, Ms Mancuso started working with a landscape design company while also being approached to do private design jobs.

“Eventually I decided to go out on my own and nurture my own business, Sundays Landscape Design,” Ms Mancuso said.

“I am so proud of the success of my business so far and look forward to seeing it grow further. Taking the leap into a new career can be daunting, but with a passion for creating beautiful spaces, coupled with the skills I’ve learned through TAFE NSW, I’m excited to see where this new path will take me.

“For anyone considering a career change, I recommend taking the leap.”

TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Landscape Design, Andrew Hewitt, said it is a career in demand.

“Landscape design is an exciting and dynamic career that’s experiencing considerable growth. Through TAFE NSW we’re providing the practical skills graduates need to secure a job and help meet industry demand,” Mr Hewitt said.

“Our students come from different life and career stages. We pride ourselves on supporting all our students who are building or changing careers to get their foot in the door in the industry to help them thrive.

“Examples like Brenda highlight how our graduates are helping meet the need for workers in the landscape design industry and how valuable a TAFE NSW education is in providing the skills they need to get the job they want.”

School Leavers Support

Explore the School Leavers Information Kit (SLIK) as your guide to education, training and work options in 2022;
As you prepare to finish your final year of school, the next phase of your journey will be full of interesting and exciting opportunities. You will discover new passions and develop new skills and knowledge.

We know that this transition can sometimes be challenging. With changes to the education and workforce landscape, you might be wondering if your planned decisions are still a good option or what new alternatives are available and how to pursue them.

There are lots of options for education, training and work in 2022 to help you further your career. This information kit has been designed to help you understand what those options might be and assist you to choose the right one for you. Including:
  • Download or explore the SLIK here to help guide Your Career.
  • School Leavers Information Kit (PDF 5.2MB).
  • School Leavers Information Kit (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • The SLIK has also been translated into additional languages.
  • Download our information booklets if you are rural, regional and remote, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or living with disability.
  • Support for Regional, Rural and Remote School Leavers (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for Regional, Rural and Remote School Leavers (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • Support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander School Leavers (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander School Leavers (DOCX 1.1MB).
  • Support for School Leavers with Disability (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for School Leavers with Disability (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • Download the Parents and Guardian’s Guide for School Leavers, which summarises the resources and information available to help you explore all the education, training, and work options available to your young person.

School Leavers Information Service

Are you aged between 15 and 24 and looking for career guidance?

Call 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337).

SMS 'SLIS2022' to 0429 009 435.

Our information officers will help you:
  • navigate the School Leavers Information Kit (SLIK),
  • access and use the Your Career website and tools; and
  • find relevant support services if needed.
You may also be referred to a qualified career practitioner for a 45-minute personalised career guidance session. Our career practitioners will provide information, advice and assistance relating to a wide range of matters, such as career planning and management, training and studying, and looking for work.

You can call to book your session on 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337) Monday to Friday, from 9am to 7pm (AEST). Sessions with a career practitioner can be booked from Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm.

This is a free service, however minimal call/text costs may apply.

Call 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337) or SMS SLIS2022 to 0429 009 435 to start a conversation about how the tools in Your Career can help you or to book a free session with a career practitioner.

All downloads and more available at:

Word Of The Week: Love

Word of the Week remains a keynote in 2024, simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix. 

An emotion characterized by strong feelings of affection for another arising out of kinship, companionship, admiration, or benevolence. In a related sense, “love” designates a benevolent concern for the good or welfare of others. The term is also used to refer to sexual attraction or erotic desire toward another.


1. an intense feeling of deep affection. 2. a great interest and pleasure in something.


1. feel deep affection for (someone). 2. like or enjoy very much.

From: Old English lufu "feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God; Love as an abstraction or personification," from Proto-Germanic lubo (source also of Old High German liubi "joy," German Liebe "love;" Old Norse, Old Frisian, Dutch lof; German Lob "praise;" Old Saxon liof, Old Frisian liaf, Dutch lief, Old High German liob, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"). The Germanic words are from word root leubh- "to care, desire, love."  

The Old English lufu, is of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit lubhyati ‘desires’, and related also to Latin libet ‘it is pleasing’, libido ‘desire’.

The weakened sense "liking, fondness" was in Old English. Meaning "a beloved person" is from early 13c. The sense "no score" (in tennis, etc.) is 1742, from the notion of playing for love (1670s), that is, for no stakes. Phrase for love or money "for anything" is attested from 1580s. The phrase no love lost (between two people) is ambiguous and was used 17c. in reference to two who love each other well (c. 1640) as well as two who have no liking for each other (1620s, the usual modern sense).

To fall in love is attested from early 15c.; to be in love with (someone) is from c. 1500. To make love is from 1570s in the sense "pay amorous attention to;" as a euphemism for "have sex," it is attested from c. 1950. Love affair "a particular experience of love" is from 1590s. Love life "one's collective amorous activities" is from 1919, originally a term in psychological jargon. Love beads is from 1968. Love bug, imaginary insect, is from 1883. Love-handles "the fat on one's sides" is in use by 1967.

Was Beethoven truly the greatest?

A portrait of the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven in 1818. 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Philip EwellHunter College

On May 7, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premiered in Vienna, Austria. On its 200th anniversary, much was made about this seminal achievement of a composer routinely touted as the greatest master who ever lived.

In an essay for The New York Times, conductor Daniel Barenboim wrote that Beethoven was “the master of bringing emotion and intellect together.”

In another analysis, music historian Ted Olson wrote that the ninth was “the crowning achievement of Western classical music.”

There is no question that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a significant work with “global appeal,” as my colleague Olson put it. I admit to having a soft spot for this piece. As a cellist, I’ve played it twice, once at Carnegie Hall and once while on tour in Asia.

Still, the lionization of Beethoven never sat well with me.

Beethoven Backlash

Four years ago, I self-published a blog post under the headline, “Beethoven Was an Above-average Composer: Let’s Leave It at That.”

I had grown tired of notions of the “genius” of the composer, and how we’ve all been taught to put him on a hallowed hilltop as a “great master of the Western canon.”

To say the least, my blog post created quite a stir.

In “Classical Music’s Suicide Pact (Part 1),” Heather Mac Donald, a conservative fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote that my blog post was a “Beethoven takedown” and that I had “whiteness on the brain.”

Linguistics professor John McWhorter went so far as to say that I consider Beethoven to be “fetishized by the white establishment.”

To have conservative commentators defend one of their heroes is nothing new, but the backlash to my simple reinterpretation of the composer was contorted beyond recognition.

Reframing ‘The Master’

My intent was to reframe Beethoven’s greatness within the context of historic ideals of whiteness and patriarchy. I thought then – as I do now – that if Americans could acknowledge that our music and music education are deeply rooted in these two ideologies, then we could realize that Beethoven, surely a good composer, was simply one of many.

An opened book shows pages filled with musical notes.
The manuscript for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

When Beethoven is said to be “one of the greatest” composers, or “the greatest” composer, those who make the claim do so without knowing most of the music that has been made over the centuries.

As I wrote then, Beethoven was definitely above average, but “to say he was anything more is to dismiss 99.9% of the world’s music written 200 years ago, which would be unscholarly, and academically irresponsible.”

To make sense of his veneration, one must believe in narratives of Western greatness and exceptionalism: that the best musical works on our planet were produced by a select few humans from a select few countries, and those humans were, of course, both white and male.

To further confuse the issue, conservative musicologists usually ask the same question: “Well Phil, who then, if not Beethoven?”

But this question is usually offered in bad faith, since there is no acceptable answer for those defending the established norms of music tradition. Whoever is chosen – and I could name many – the questioner can always find fault and be dismissive.

For me, the issue is primarily about whiteness and maleness, their impact on how musical foundations were established, and who gets to define the abstract concept of greatness. It’s not necessarily about finding alternative composers who could never possibly live up to the arbitrary and unrealistic standards that Beethoven purportedly embodies.

To be clear, this is not about “canceling” Beethoven. Instead, it’s about realizing that there were countless others who were no less great than those lionized white male heroes.

painting of the interiror of a concert hall
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premiered at the Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna. DEA/A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

“Cancel culture” is most often used as a cudgel by those on the right against those, like me, wishing to have adult conversations about our fraught racial past.

And there can be no question about the anti-Blackness of American music curricula.

Shifting Priorities

The short version of my argument can be summed up grammatically: as a general migration from the definite article “the” to the indefinite article “a.” What was always “the” foundation for music and music education is now becoming simply “a” foundation.

Are chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach “the” foundation for studying harmony and music theory, or simply one of many? And is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony “the” standard for such symphonies, or just “a” standard?

This grammatical shift has caused panic among conservative voices. But what’s happening in music simply reflects what’s happening throughout society, whether in academia, politics, law or pop culture.

I, for one, welcome reimagining our shared musical foundations and can think of no better composer than Beethoven – and his compelling Ninth Symphony – as a starting point for building new musical foundations.The Conversation

Philip Ewell, Professor of music theory, Hunter College

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

Some sports leaders are trying to defy term limits – which can open the door to corruption

Joshua McLeodDeakin University and Hunter FujakDeakin University

Being a sport administrator comes with many perks, so it’s no surprise many want to stay in their positions as long as possible.

Recently, a trend has emerged whereby leaders in sport are seeking to extend or eliminate term limits (rules that restrict how long people can serve), raising serious questions about governance standards.

Several leading sport bodies have been involved. The Asian Football Confederation last week voted to remove term limits for its president and council members.

This followed reports the International Olympics Commitee (IOC) is considering amendments to allow Thomas Bach to serve beyond a 12-year limit.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) attracted attention when Aleksandar Čeferin pushed rule changes that would extend his tenure as president, although he ultimately decided to step down.

This trend raises two key questions: why should we care about term limits in sport? And how long is too long for sport administrators?

Why Do We Need Term Limits In Sport?

The debate over term limits is ancient. Around 500BC, the Republic of Athens imposed a limit of two one-year terms for members of its ruling council. The Romans were even stricter, with a maximum one-year term.

The arguments for term limits back then were much the same then as they are for sport bodies today.

Simply put, term limits mitigate the risk of one individual accumulating an excessive concentration of power – the longer a leader remains in a position, the more power they accumulate.

This happens because over time, they can solidify control over resources and establish deeper connections within influential networks. In turn, this increases their influence over decision-making, leading to a cycle in which power reinforces itself.

Term limits, then, help to ensure power is more evenly distributed. They also offer a safeguard from leaders who could misuse their power indefinitely.

Take the case of Jack Warner, who in 1990 was elected president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). Warner served for 21 years, and his tenure was marred by allegations of corruption.

A 2013 report by CONCACAF’s Integrity Committee concluded Warner had committed fraud against both CONCACAF and FIFA. Amid the 2015 FIFA corruption crisis, FIFA’s Ethics Committee banned Warner from football for life, and US prosecutors charged him with 12 offences, including racketeering and bribery.

Warner denies the charges, and the US Supreme Court recently threw the case out on the basis of jurisdictional overreach.

However, the controversies surrounding Warner have been highly damaging to CONCACAF and FIFA. Had term limits been in place, the damage may not have been so severe.

Incumbency Advantage

The longer an administrator stays in power, the more they can potentially benefit from “incumbency advantage”. This describes how long-serving leaders can use their powers (such as promises of funding) to build a critical mass of support within key voting blocs.

Such manoeuvring can make elections almost ceremonial, as it becomes exceedingly difficult for challengers to pose a real threat to the incumbent’s position. Without maximum term limits, leaders effectively become life presidents or quasi-monarchs.

Again, this all might sound familiar to anyone who follows international football.

In no organisation has incumbency advantage been more pronounced than in FIFA, football’s world governing body. Longtime former president Sepp Blatter was allegedly adept at using the development funding at his disposal to guarantee his re-election.

With all 211 national football associations having an equal vote in the FIFA presidential elections, Blatter strategically garnered support across select regions, including Africa and the Caribbean, to ensure his continued leadership. While this political manoeuvring was not illegal, it created a system where it was extremely difficult to remove him through an election.

Since its formation in 1904, FIFA has had nine presidents (excluding interims). Only once has an incumbent lost an election. The winner of that election was Joao Havelange, who according to Swiss court documents, accepted millions in bribes during his presidency. Two presidents were impeached and resigned, while two voluntarily stepped down. Three died in office.

While rules introduced after the 2015 FIFA corruption crisis mean current FIFA president Gianni Infantino cannot remain in office beyond 2031, with the advantages of incumbency, he has easily navigated prior elections, and is highly unlikely to ever lose one.

The Case Against

There are, however, legitimate downsides to term limits. The most obvious is potential loss of experienced, highly competent leaders. Frequent turnover can also lead to instability.

This is the argument presented by IOC members regarding Bach. Between global conflicts and dwindling interest in the Olympics, they think the organisation is facing particularly tough times. From their perspective, stability and experienced leadership are paramount.

Term limits may also discourage long-term planning, with self-interested leaders opting to prioritise quick gains. Political science studies have validated this theory. Research shows shorter governmental tenures are associated with larger fiscal deficits and a neglect of long-term investments.

Despite this, consensus among experts is the benefits of implementing term limits dramatically outweigh the potential disadvantages.

This is especially true in sport, a sector with prestige and status. In such an environment, people are particularly inclined to stay involved.

How Long Is Too Long?

So if term limits are generally accepted as good governance practice, what exactly should that limit be?

This question is far from an exact science, and there is considerable variety in the extent and form of term limits across sport.

Our recent research on sport governance in Victoria highlights this variety.

The graph below displays the frequency of different term limit formats used in the 40 Victorian state sport organisations we studied. The size of the red dot indicates frequency.

As shown, a term of three years with a maximum of three terms is the most common model, adopted by 14 organisations.

In our experience working with these organisations, the optimal term limit is depends on the nature of the organisation, with smaller sports often requiring more flexibility due to limited interest in volunteer positions.

For larger organisations, three-year terms are most common, but arguably four-year terms better align with strategic planning and Olympic cycles.

Whether it is eight or 12 years, or somewhere in between, term limits are a cornerstone of good governance and it is essential to protect them from further erosion or being abolished altogether.The Conversation

Joshua McLeod, Lecturer in Sport Management, Deakin University and Hunter Fujak, Senior Lecturer in Sport Management, Deakin University

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

Alice’s adventures in banking wonderland: how an ambitious finance start-up didn’t change the world

John Tenniel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
John HawkinsUniversity of Canberra

Stuart Kells is in some senses an Antipodean version of American journalist and historian Michael Lewis. Kells has chronicled the antics of corporate players, such as publishers Penguin Random House, diamond miners Argyle, and financial market traders in the water of the Murray-Darling Basin. This new book is published by Melbourne University Publishing, whose corporate history he has also written.

In Alice: The Biggest Untold Story in the History of Money, he turns his attention to a financial innovator. But in his choice of protagonist, Kells differs from Lewis, whose most recent book told the story of the famous crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried. Kells’ book is the story of Australian banking consultant Ian Shepherd, whose ambitious plan to reinvent the financial system and mitigate some of its risks ended in failure.

Review: Alice: The Biggest Untold Story in the History of Money – Stuart Kells (Melbourne University Publishing)

The early part of Kells’ book revolves around its two key characters, both bright Australian expats in America.

Kate Jennings (1948-2021) was a radical feminist author and editor of Mother I’m Rooted: An Anthology of Australian Women Poets (1975). In an unlikely career progression, she ended up a speechwriter with the corporate financial-management firm Merrill Lynch.

Kate Jennings. Text Publishing

Jennings wrote an acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel about her time in the US financial markets called Moral Hazard (2002). It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Author Gideon Haigh described it as a novel that enunciates “disquieting truths”. Some of the best lines in Kells’ book (e.g. “the only perfect hedge is in a Japanese garden”) come from it.

Jennings’ essay collection Trouble: Evolution of a Radical, Selected Writings 1970-2010, also includes a critique of the inadequate regulation of the US financial system, delivered as a lecture in 2003 to the unlikely audience of Anne and Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute. In Kells’ words, Jennings “found the poetry in the world of money”.

The other key figure in Kells’ book is Shepherd, who was a few years ahead of me studying economics at the University of Sydney, and, like me, started his career at the Commonwealth Bank. After earning an MBA from Stanford, Shepherd became a consultant with global management firm McKinsey & Company, specialising in banking.

In the 1980s, the volume of trading in financial markets grew rapidly, as did the risks around it. Shepherd thought deeply about those risks.

The Rise And Fall Of Alice

The name of the Alice Project itself does not appear until page 127 of Kells’ book. It refers to Shepherd’s electronic market start-up, which he founded in the early 1990s.

Alice sought to disaggregate financial instruments, such as deposits, loans, insurance and options. Complicated financial transactions would be broken down into simple components, each of which had the form of a collateralised contract.

The idea was to develop a real-world version of the theoretical “Arrow-Debreu security”, which takes the form of a simple payout rule, such as “I pay you $1 if it rains tomorrow and nothing if it does not”.

The right combination of these contracts could duplicate the payoffs of existing financial instruments, but allow hedging of many more types of risk.

Much as Bitcoin inventor “Satoshi Nakamoto” and entrepreneur Elon Musk would later, Shepherd saw the large profits banks made from the payments system and wondered if a more efficient alternative could be devised – one that would avoid some of the risks of the current system.

Alice was named after the Lewis Carroll novel in a deliberate contrast to the more macho names common in finance. It was argued that Alice was creating a market in which anything is possible. National Australia Bank took a hefty initial stake in the company, which it later raised to around half.

For the scheme to work, it would have needed a very large user base, betting on both sides of a huge range of propositions, in order to generate an attractive degree of liquidity.

In May 2007, Alice was sued by CLS, a bank named after its goal of continuous linked settlement: a system for settling international transactions. CLS was backed by a consortium, including global banks such as J.P. Morgan and Citigroup.

Both CLS and Alice believed the other had infringed on their copyright. National Australia Bank was somewhat conflicted, as it had a stake in both. The litigation was escalated to the US Supreme Court in 2013.

Alice lost the case. The Supreme Court ruled the Alice system was not patentable. NAB then withdrew its involvement with Alice.

The Treatment Of Finance

In 2010, Shepherd heard an interview Jennings had with Phillip Adams. Impressed, he contacted her and they had a series of meetings.

Both were avid followers of the collapse of Enron, which they saw as akin to a bank run. Shepherd even visited the former Enron CEO and fellow McKinsey alumnus Jeffrey Skilling in prison. I was surprised by how sympathetically Kells treats Skilling.

Jennings had sat in on the court hearings and would have been the obvious choice to write a book on the adventures of Alice. But she was by this time in poor health. Instead Kells took up the project, helped by Shepherd, who emerges as the hero of the story.

In some ways, the book is unsatisfactory. The story of this stalled venture, effectively reduced to a one-man-band, does not seem to justify the claim on the book’s cover that it forms part of the “history of money”.

Stuart Kells. Melbourne University Publishing

Kells refers to Alice as “a new type of tradeable security and a new kind of market”. But even on a second reading, I never got a really clear idea from the book of the innovation Alice would have brought to financial markets.

I thought the description of derivative markets was not quite right. Buyers and sellers are not “exposed to unlimited profits and losses”. A holder of an option can just not exercise it and their loss is limited to what they paid for it. And it is definitely wrong to claim that “some countries are using cryptocurrencies to assemble an alternative financial system”. The only one that is trying is El Salvador, and it is not succeeding.

While I generally enjoyed reading the book, it could have been shorter. Do we need to read the correspondence on Jennings’s seating arrangements at the court? I found Kell’s earlier books The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders (2017) and Shakespeare’s Library (2018) excellent.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mis-stated Kells’ academic background. Kells has degrees in finance, economics and law, among others.The Conversation

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

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

What’s the difference between fiscal and monetary policy?

Rose Marinelli/Shutterstock
Mark CrosbyMonash University

This article is part two of The Conversation’s “Business Basics” series where we ask leading experts to discuss key concepts in business, economics and finance.

How governments should manage their budgets, and how interest rates should be set, are two of the most important questions in economics.

Ideally, both work hand in hand to ensure the best outcomes for the economy as a whole. But they are enacted by different branches of government, and fall into different buckets within economics.

Budgeting – the way governments tax and spend – falls within the domain of fiscal policy. In contrast, the management of credit and interest rates falls into the domain of monetary policy.

With the recent federal budget handed down amid an ongoing battle to tackle inflation, both topics have dominated recent news coverage, so it’s important to understand the difference.

Fiscal Policy

Paying tax is an unavoidable fact of life, but is needed to support spending on government services such as hospitals, roads, schools and defence. Taxation and spending decisions are made on different scales at every level of government, and form the basis of a government’s fiscal policy.

Traditionally, fiscal policy was seen as a very simple equation.

Governments should spend only as much as they earn through taxation, and only take on a small amount of debt for things like longer-term infrastructure projects.

But when economic growth falls, tax revenues also fall, forcing governments to cut spending to balance their budgets. Such spending cuts come at precisely the wrong time and are only likely to further worsen economic growth.

Noticing this pattern, economist John Maynard Keynes was the first to question this traditional wisdom, arguing that fiscal policy should be “countercyclical”.

According to Keynes, when economic growth falls, government spending should increase, only falling back as the economic recovery plays out.

Under a Keynesian approach, it’s therefore wholly appropriate for governments to issue debt to fund spending increases as the economy weakens.

The problem with this view of fiscal policy is that some governments have arguably abused their licence to spend, relying on ever-increasing levels of debt.

Greece famously suffered a spectacular debt crisis after the global financial crisis in 2008, but other European countries such as France, Italy, Portugal and Spain also have high and problematic levels of debt.

Chronically high debt can lead to higher interest payments on this debt, which in turn can limit a government’s ability to spend to support its economy.

Monetary Policy

Aerial views of suburban houses in Melbourne
With the power to influence the cost of borrowing, interest rates are a powerful lever for regulating spending. Geometric Photography/Pexels

Monetary policy affects the economy via a different lever.

By changing the relative cost of borrowing money, changes in interest rates affect the aggregate level of spending in the economy.

This in turn can impact inflation – increases in the general level of prices.

Cuts in interest rates will tend to stimulate demand and push prices up, while rate increases reduce demand and push prices down.

Interest rates are typically set by a country’s central bank, whose primary role is to keep inflation low.

Our own central bank – the Reserve Bank of Australia, sets rates to meet an official inflation target of between 2% and 3%.

A Combined Keynesian Approach

Alongside Keynes’ writing on fiscal policy, he and other economists argued that interest rates should be reduced as an economy heads into recession, to support borrowing and spending by businesses and consumers.

Coupled with higher government spending, keeping interest rates lower in a recession should theoretically speed up economic recovery.

The merits of a Keynesian approach were borne out clearly in Australia in both the 2008 global financial crisis and the COVID pandemic.

Reserve Bank of Australia name on black granite wall in Sydney Australia with lens flare
Many central banks drastically lowered interest rates to boost spending during the pandemic. EyeofPaul/Shutterstock

Most recently, the pandemic saw the Reserve Bank cut interest rates to almost zero. Simultaneously, the government supported the economy with a wide range of spending programs, including big boosts to welfare payments and a generous JobKeeper program to mothball Australia’s workforce.

As a result, unemployment quickly returned to low levels and economic growth recovered following the lifting of restrictions.

Helping People Pay Their Bills While Taming Spending Is Hard

Emergence from the pandemic left us with a different problem. Inflation surged and remained stubbornly above the Reserve Bank’s target range, forcing the bank to repeatedly raise rates to try to tame it.

At the same time, the government has been trying to support Australians through a cost-of-living crisis.

Now, critics of the government have argued that further spending to support Australians could unintentionally put further pressure on inflation and force the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates higher for longer.

Such challenges reflect the fact that our understanding of best practice for fiscal and monetary policy is constantly evolving.

Problems with burgeoning state debt have prompted debate on the former, and whether there should be limits on governments’ ability to issue debt.

These could include limits to public debt, or new oversight authorities to monitor levels of public spending.

And on monetary policy, a recent review of the Reserve Bank considered requiring a “dual mandate” that would force it to give equal consideration to employment and to inflation goals, as is currently required of the US Federal Reserve.The Conversation

Mark Crosby, Professor, Monash University

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

What is fate? And how can it both limit and liberate us?

Michael Allen FoxUniversity of New England

The concept of fate, or the idea of fatefulness, seems to crop up everywhere we look in one form or another. Fate is a key belief enduring across cultures and generations.

What is fate? Generally speaking, fate is thought of as a power or agency determining events and destinies, acting beyond our control.

An Amazon search for books in print centring on fate generates over 50,000 entries. They are mostly potboiler novels, modern mythologies, paranormal speculations, self-help manuals, and studies of specific historical events and eras.

This astonishing figure should not surprise us, because talk about fate has no limits of time or space, confining the notion to a particular age, society, or type of worldview. Fate, quite simply, is an essential part of the way people think and talk about the universe and their place in it.

Fateful ideas drive the disturbing visions of terrorists and cultists, energise the followers of millennial social movements, and endlessly inspire pundits, futurologists, utopian and dystopian theorists, and storytellers. Such ideas resurface as well in today’s debates about environmental collapse, pandemics, the possibility of World War III, and other issues.

Visions Of Fate

Many of us picture fate as a towering, aloof, controlling force or identify it with cataclysmic scenarios such as Armageddon and Ragnarok. This idea of a remotely acting fate haunts everyday expressions: “she was abandoned to her fate”; “as fate would have it”; “what fate decreed”; “it was meant to happen”; “it must have been written in the stars”.

The same vision is embedded in the mythologies of various cultures. For example, the ancient Greeks believed in three fateful figures (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos) who spun and allotted the thread of life, deciding when to cut it off. In the works of Homer, however, there appears Moira, an impersonal force akin to a deity, whose decrees even the gods cannot evade.

A painting of a castle on fire.
A scene from the last phase of Ragnarök, where the world is engulfed by fire. Emil Doepler, 1905. Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-NC-SA

In Norse mythology, three mysterious, powerful beings (Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld) represent past, present, and future, and they likewise control the thread of life.

Meanwhile, geographically and temporally distant from these depictions, the belief system of the Omaha tribe of the North American Great Plains features Wakonda, a spirit who directs life experiences from a level beyond human control.

Fate is sometimes conceived of as God’s will superimposing itself on the course of events. Examples of this interpretation can be found in Islamic and Christian thought, which both struggle to solve the problem of reconciling divine decree with free will. This conundrum manifests itself in everyday conversation when people say, “God willing” or “Inshallah” (“if Allah wills it”).

Within non-Western forms of spirituality, such as Daoism, one can also find the supreme force of the universe acting itself out. One must either act in accordance with the Dao (“go with the flow,” as it were) or be ever frustrated in life.

A More Realistic Perspective

Is fatalism (the doctrine that everything’s preordained to happen as it does) true or false?

Philosophers from the time of Aristotle have engaged in serious attempts to discover a rationally defensible answer to this question. The jury is still out, and so the concepts of fate and fatalism continue to flourish.

But what if we looked at fate from a more realistic, down-to-earth perspective – as comprising the fixed conditions of life plus the imponderable way certain unanticipated events alter our path over the course of time?

When we confront fate in this fashion, we find it can be integrated into views of life that preserve and perhaps even enhance our sense of agency and purpose.

The fixed conditions of life are for the most part fairly obvious, but we don’t often think of them as fateful.

They are things like birth, the inevitability of growing older (the “one-wayness of time”), death, the place and historical moment of one’s existence, each person’s genetically inherited traits, ethnicity, socio-cultural setting, and first language.

An older man with a grey beard.
The fixed conditions of life, such as growing old, are for the most part fairly obvious, but we don’t often think of them as fateful. Tish1/Shutterstock

These are fateful because we do not choose them but have to make of them what we can and will.

In addition, each of us eventually faces situations and occurrences that are life-changing, sometimes in far-reaching ways. These may come about because of things we do/fail to do or choices we make/omit.

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard revealingly suggested we all encounter “that fork on the road […] where the path branches off.”

While he means a critical juncture at which we decide to make a major free choice, there is something about this act that is fateful as well. We can neither turn back nor turn away from it. Nor can we undo or redo it, predict or escape from its long-term consequences.

“Fate,” considered more carefully, refers to those circumstances of existence that are given and unalterable, or that come into play in an arbitrary, inexplicable manner, often having a momentous impact on our lives.

‘Elegance And Complexity’

Contemporary writers of fiction acknowledge and elaborate upon the fatefulness of our acts, and it is astonishing how often one encounters such reflections without even trying. Here are two instances from books I have casually picked up at my local library in recent months.

A character in Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres (2003) asserts,

I always think that things have to happen the way they do happen, that there are so many inner and outer forces joining at every event that it becomes a kind of fate. I learned from Buddhism that there’s beauty, and certainly a lot of peace, in accepting that.

Joanne Harris writes, in her short story collection Jigs & Reels (2004), that

every choice, every step of the journey, from crossing the road to boarding that fatal flight, is governed by probabilities of near-infinite elegance and complexity.

Like all good literature, these works make you question basic assumptions and expand your awareness.

We also recognise, without generally reflecting on the fact, that historical events over which we have no control and happening at a distance, may determine the course of our lives ever afterwards.

Consider three examples. Scientists and military personnel based in Los Alamos, New Mexico decided the second atomic bomb would be dropped on August 9, 1945, on Nagasaki rather than some other Japanese city. European wars had lasting effects on colonies in the New World. Wall Street stockbrokers make choices whose effects ripple across the globe.

Fate, thus, functions importantly in the many ways we interact with the world and each other, and in how we cognitively process our experience. And unsurprisingly, fateful ideas have been misused and abused in the cause of social and political control.

Racism, sexism, belief in castes – these are all based on the notion that people’s fixed or given (that is, fated) identities make them somehow inferior (or superior) and subject as a result to discriminatory (or privileged) treatment.

The now discredited pseudoscience of eugenics (the program to breed “superior” races), lauded by the Nazis among others, was the product of this kind of thinking.

In the 16th century, Calvinists persecuted and killed Christians and others who disavowed the Calvinist belief in the peculiar doctrine that we are all “predestined” to either heaven or hell. And in our own era, Uighurs, Jews, Roma, and many other groups have been persecuted or exterminated because of real or imagined characteristics associated with their fateful genetic inheritance.

On a somewhat different plane, political leaders have often called upon the destiny “divine providence” has bestowed on their countries to justify war and colonialism. This is a fate-infused idea too, deriving from an underlying belief in the inevitability of history.

A Brighter Side

In spite of the fact that fate has been co-opted many times for evil ends, there is a brighter story to tell as well.

Fate can help shape a positive, balanced, meaningful outlook on life. Each of us has a given heritage, but we also encounter events that are life-changing in unaccountable, often profound ways. How we come to terms with these “acts of fate” is of singular importance and may be uniquely self-determining.

The stories of several “heroes of fate” portrayed in literature and mythology are inspirational here. For example, Sophocles’ famous character Antigone defies King Creon in order to give her brother the burial he deserves. She then acts out the fateful death sentence imposed on her by taking her own life.

Sisyphus, a man condemned by Zeus to roll his stone uphill eternally, scornfully takes ownership of his absurd fate in French writer Albert Camus’ version of the myth, achieving contentment in doing so.

In Hindu scripture, the warrior Arjuna has revealed to him by the god Krishna a mighty vision of the world’s fate and of his own role in the final battle that will end in universal destruction.

After wrestling with himself over his conflicting duties (since some of his enemies will be his own kin), Arjuna commits himself to fight, thus willingly carrying out his fate.

But there are plentiful examples of the transformative processes experienced by ordinary individuals too, when they face inevitable circumstances and work through them to their advantage. We encounter these in the news, in memoirs, in the lives of our friends and acquaintances, and in our own lives.

Cover of the book Fate and Life.
McGill-Queen's University Press

Fate, therefore, has the potential to become a liberating idea, and to be a kind of anchor for constructing one’s viewpoint on the world and our life-narrative.

This approach was developed by the ancient Stoics, who taught we strive in vain to change the way the world is. The course of wisdom is to focus on changing ourselves for the better, whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Down the centuries there are many parallel forms of insight, such as Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of amor fati (“love of fate”).

This embodies the goal to be the kind of individual who says “yes” to life as a whole, including its highs and lows, its blessings, limitations, and drawbacks. Let us suppose, says Nietzsche, it’s as if we had willed everything to happen just as it does and go on from there.

Thinking about fate has much to teach us about who we are, how we see the world, and our evaluation of the possibilities life presents.

Michael Allen Fox is author of the book Fate and Life: Who’s Really in Charge?.The Conversation

Michael Allen Fox, Adjunct Professor of Humanities, University of New England

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

The budget has earmarked $8.6 million for live music. Is it enough to save the flailing industry?

Catherine StrongRMIT UniversityBen GreenGriffith University, and Sam WhitingUniversity of South Australia

Leading music organisations have praised the federal budget for its investment in the live music sector.

The budget includes A$8.6 million for a program called Revive Live:

to provide essential support to live music venues and festivals showcasing Australian bands and artists – to ensure the long-term sustainability of the live music sector.

This investment builds on the Revive national cultural policy introduced last year.

Music was clearly a priority for Revive, with the creation of Music Australia, a dedicated body inside Creative Australia, “to support and invest in the Australian contemporary music industry”.

The money included in this week’s budget shows the government has been paying attention to issues in the live music sector.

The House of Representatives is currently considering submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into the Australian live music industry. It comes hot on the heels of a call by a Senate inquiry into Revive for urgent funding for festivals and live music.

But will this new investment be enough to save an industry in crisis?

Australian Live Music Industries In Crisis

Multiple festivals have been cancelled over the last year, due to factors such as increased operational costs, sluggish ticket sales, risks from extreme weather, and changing audience behaviours.

Live music venues are in jeopardy. Beloved venues like Brisbane’s The Zoo have closed their doors. Others continue to be threatened by residential development.

The potential sale of Melbourne’s iconic Tote Hotel to developers last year was avoided only because music fans crowdfunded $3 million to save the venue. Other small venues have turned to crowdfunding for compulsory soundproofing or simply to continue operating.

Musicians see little financial reward for their labour. Many are walking away from the sector.

Industry bodies are concerned skills shortages in live music production and touring crews, following pandemic-related departures, will lead to further cancellations.

In such a fragile environment, an extra $8.6 million could make a big difference on the ground. However, the budget documents have not outlined the specifics of how this money will be spent.

The documents dedicate this money in 2024–25 for:

support to live music venues and festivals showcasing Australian bands and artists, including to improve accessibility and inclusion at live music performances.

The question then becomes what strategies and initiatives will Revive Live prioritise?

How Can The Extra Money Help?

Bold thinking is required, for both how this money could be allocated and what legislative change could help the sector.

Targeted funding may help to ease the pressures of increasing insurance, property and maintenance costs for our struggling – but essential – small venues.

We can look internationally for new models of venue ownership. In the United Kingdom, Music Venue Properties is a charity that crowdsources funding to collectively buy small venues.

Revive Live could assist venues to buy their freeholds in collaboration with community groups and local councils. This would reduce overheads and bring in further community oversight and involvement. Programs like this offer alternative models for engaging with contemporary music that do not rely on alcohol sales.

Capping public liability insurance for promoters and venues would also ease pressures.

Funding could also be used to drive desired changes to the culture of the industry.

Music Victoria’s 10,000 Gigs initiative provides venues with up to $10,000 a year to cover artist fees, where each performer must be paid a minimum of $250 per performance. This ensures artists are paid, while supporting venues to program talent and attract audiences.

The budget’s intention to “improve accessibility and inclusion at live music performances” responds to urgent needs, including access for people with disabilities, and gender-based violence and harassment at events. New funding should be conditional upon reaching KPIs in these critical areas, ensuring diversity and inclusion – including, vitally, among performers on stage.

Other significant reforms could include levies on big-ticket events with revenue redistributed to grassroots music venues, laws guaranteeing international performers include an Australian artist among their opening acts, and local content or “bannerhead” quotas for streaming platforms to ensure they promote Australian artists to Australian audiences.

The live music sector contributes an estimated $5.7 billion to the Australian economy. Although the budget’s $8.6 million isn’t a lot when compared to the size of the industry, if accompanied by targeted structural reforms it could be the seed funding needed to begin a process of transition and renewal.

No doubt this process will be heavily informed by the current parliamentary inquiry. Its outcomes may have serious implications for the sector’s long-term viability.

Ultimately, the sustainability of the live music sector requires fundamental adaptations to the way business has been done in the past. Audience behaviours are changing and new technologies continue to disrupt the industry. Revive Live may be an important and positive step in the right direction if it is used effectively.The Conversation

Catherine Strong, Associate Professor, Music Industry, RMIT UniversityBen Green, Research Fellow, Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, and Sam Whiting, Lecturer - Creative Industries, University of South Australia

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

Turning the outback into post-apocalyptic wasteland: what Mad Max films tell us about filming in the Australian desert

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Melanie AsheMonash University

The Mad Max films are set in an arid, barren, post-apocalyptic world known in the movies as “the wasteland”. This is a world of environmental and civil collapse caused by humans. Resources like water are scarce. Clothes, food and transport – such as the film’s famous customised cars – are cobbled together from found and scavenged objects.

The films present a future of mega drought: a possible future scenario for climate change.

The latest film in the franchise, Furiosa, hits cinemas this week. What does the wasteland have to tell us about the role the Australian environment has played in shaping the Mad Max films?

A Colonised Wasteland

Film scholar Ross Gibson argued the landscape shown on Australian film reflects how white settlers saw the land when they first arrived: hostile, barren and lifeless. Mad Max’s wasteland is a classic example of this, alongside films like Wake in Fright (1971) or Wolf Creek (2005).

This understanding is shaped by problematic attitudes that see the Australian environment as a “wilderness” devoid of life and structure. These attitudes deny the liveliness of the land and deny the fact that Indigenous people have lived on the continent for tens of thousands of years.

The Mad Max wasteland uses this colonial lens in a knowing way. The films state the wasteland was created through resource extraction and conflict. All but one of the Mad Max films were shot in Australia, and they were similarly filmed in places that have been impacted by heavy resource extraction.

By using settings that are visibly degraded by these industries, Mad Max suggests the apocalyptic wasteland is only “barren” and “lifeless” due to recent human impact.

Behind the scenes.
Furiosa was shot on location in far west New South Wales near Broken Hill. Jasin Boland/Warner Bros

Mad Max 2 (1981) and Furiosa were shot on location in far west New South Wales near Broken Hill. This region is known for its silver, lead and zinc mining history. The spaces around the town were majorly transformed in the 1800s through tree clearing and degradation caused from mining, including major soil erosion.

Rather than a landscape which has always been devoid of structure and people, Furiosa presents a landscape that shows heavy impact through recent industry. The vast expanses of desert horizon that vehicles tear across in the film are bare, but they show a damaged environment caused by humans since colonisation.

Both in the film and in the real world, this is a post-mining landscape.

Greening The Desert

Broken Hill is in a semi-arid biosphere known for having a “boom and bust” ecosystem. While this area may look like “the wasteland” after years of drought, the region is also prone to sudden and heavy rainstorms. With the rain arrives a wave of dense, lush desert greenery.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) was originally planned to shoot around Broken Hill, but they relocated after the area was “too green” post heavy rainfall in 2011.

“The Mad Max landscape looks like Wales”, director George Miller reported. The production relocated to the sparse and arid environment of Namibia.

But Mad Max 2 was shot in 1981 around Broken Hill under similar circumstances. Following record rainfall, Broken Hill was lush and green, with plants and shrubs clearly seen in behind the scenes footage.

To deal with this issue, the production team used colour grading: where the tones of the film shot are altered to create a different image quality. This gave an onscreen landscape which was more washed out and warm in tone.

During the shooting of Furiosa in 2022, the area was again looking verdant after months of rain. To transform into “the wasteland” while shooting an epic chase scene on location at a local pastoral station, teams removed wide stretches of green desert shrubbery and extra detail in the background was removed with post-production visual effects.

To Shoot In Australia, Or Not?

There is a complex and sometimes fractious relationship between the economic bottom line, on-location film production and the Australian environment.

Given Furiosa and Mad Max 2 came up with creative solutions to film in the unexpectedly green Broken Hill, why did Fury Road relocate away from the region?

These three films demonstrate the environment is easily shaped for film production when convenient and cost effective. Both Mad Max 2 and Furiosa received tax rebates or government funding packages which made filming in Australia attractive, even when the environment needed to be physically changed during production or in post-production.

Behind the scenes of Furiosa
The production crew had to remove greenery from the unusually verdant desert. Jasin Boland/Warner Bros

Fury Road, on the other hand, was in pre-production in 2011 when the Australian dollar was almost on parity with the United States dollar, and any grants or tax benefits the film could receive for shooting in Australia would be offset by increased production costs. This means it made sense financially to relocate offshore where the film could be made cheaper.

The Future Of Australian Screen

The wasteland of Mad Max films comment on the tradition of the Australian landscape as “barren”: this stereotype is actually due to recent human development and industry.

Understanding the environmental rhythms of the location behind the wasteland helps to think about how the geophysical world shaped the franchise. While these environments may be impacted by human industry, they are still very much alive. Rain and plant growth have shifted production through changing set and location design processes.

With the boom and bust cycle intensifying due to our changing climate, thinking about how environment shapes film production will be vitally important for the future of Australian screen.

Understanding how Mad Max’s wasteland was produced on screen reveals the underlying realities of climate catastrophe.The Conversation

Melanie Ashe, PhD Candidate, School of Media, Film & Journalism, Monash University

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

As governments crack down on fast fashion’s harms, could Shein lose its shine?

Shein pioneered the ultra-fast fashion approach. Venn-Photo/Shutterstock
Elaine L RitchGlasgow Caledonian University

Fast-fashion brand Shein expressed interest last year in listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). But, having met some opposition from US politicians, including Republican Florida senator Marco Rubio, it has now reportedly turned its attention to London.

While this would be a boost for the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which has lost several organisations to other international exchanges over the last five years, it raises the question of why Shein has not been successful with its application to the NYSE.

Shein has gained a significant global market share in online fast fashion since launching in China in 2008. It found success accelerating the already lucrative fast-fashion business model to become an ultra-fast fashion retailer.

That Shein is the second most popular fashion retailer for American generation Z is unsurprising, given the vast choice of up to 10,000 new garments uploaded daily at significantly lower prices than fast-fashion competitors like Zara and H&M.

Yet those strategies that have enabled Shein’s international expansion are now likely hindering its application to the NYSE. The low cost of fast fashion in general has long been linked to potential labour exploitation, and the precariousness of outsourcing fashion production to the cheapest supplier within a global supply chain was evident during the pandemic. And as awareness of unethical and unsustainable practices in the wider industry grows, activists may yet have the power to disrupt Shein’s growth.

Swiss NGO Public Eye has reported on alleged exploitation at factories said to be used by Shein, which itself recently issued a comprehensive response saying it has made “extensive progress” in improving conditions. In the US, Rubio introduced a law in 2021 blocking imports made by Chinese Uyghur slave labour and has since ordered an investigation into Shein and fellow Chinese low-price retailer Temu to see if their goods fall foul of the law.

Climate Emergency

The US is going further in regulating the fashion industry. In New York, the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act will, if passed, legislate that fashion and footwear brands with more than US$100 million (£79 million) in revenue must map 50% of their supply chain to ensure transparency. They will also have to develop plans to reduce their social and environmental impact.

Similarly, in 2019 the European Parliament declared a climate emergency, and the European Commission responded by developing the European Green Deal. This includes planned legislation forcing the fashion industry to address sustainability issues, meaning that by 2030 fashion and textiles will have to become more durable, repairable and recyclable. Businesses will also need to have strategies in place from the design process through to the end of life to maximise resources and avoid contributing to landfill.

French politicians are also “legislating to limit the excesses of ultra-fast fashion”, with a surcharge from 2025 of €5 (£4.29) per item, rising to €10 by 2030. This is recognition that ultra-fast and fast fashion does not only exploit labour, but also the environment. In being seen as disposable, fast fashion has been shown to encourage constant consumption.

While listing Shein on the LSE could improve the company’s respectability and profits, it could backfire for the brand in the long term. Shein could become more visible to a wider audience and with more understanding of sustainability and business practices that contribute to the climate emergency, activists could begin targeting shareholders and other organisations and people with connections to the company.

There is precedent for this – activists who targeted museums and galleries over their sponsorship from energy companies, as well as campus protests in the US and Europe calling for universities to divest from Israeli companies over its war in Gaza.

This trend of publicly criticising brands for exploitative or unethical practice has been levied at fast fashion retailers on social media for years. In particular, influencers who promote “fashion hauls” have been criticised for encouraging unsustainable fashion consumption.

The fashion industry may appear to be unfairly scrutinised for failing to address sustainability. After all, it’s hardly the only industry that damages the environment. But the scrutiny appears to be valid; the United Nations now believes that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world.

What’s more, as an industry it makes an overt display of its cheap prices and rapid turnover, with marketing tactics claiming “last chance to buy” or “low in stock”, along with discounts that encourage frequent impulsive purchases. Our research has found that fast fashion marketing on social media is “in your face” and encourages mindless consumption of clothing that often languishes in wardrobes with the tags still on.

Fast-fashion retailers frequently make sustainability claims to alleviate consumer “eco-guilt”, which are often ambiguous and can’t be readily substantiated. But fast and ultra-fast fashion can never be sustainable due to the speed of turnover and items that are often binned after one wear.

So, although the marketing entices customers through social media, the messages consumers see as they scroll are increasingly competing with stories of activism and protests about fast fashion’s harmful effects.

As moves to regulate the fast-fashion industry spread to more regions, the effects will almost certainly affect the profits of those in the sector. While a London listing for Shein might be a shot in the arm for the LSE, it could spell trouble for the retailer as it finds itself – and its practices – under increasing scrutiny.

Shein was approached about the claims made in this article but declined to comment.The Conversation

Elaine L Ritch, Reader in Fashion, Marketing and Sustainability, Glasgow Caledonian University

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

New fossil brings us a step closer to unravelling the mystery of feather evolution

The studied Psittacosaurus under natural (upper half) and UV light (lower half). Zixiao YangAuthor provided
Zixiao YangUniversity College Cork and Maria McNamaraUniversity College Cork

Strong but light, beautiful and precisely structured, feathers are the most complex skin appendage that ever evolved in vertebrates. Despite the fact humans have been playing with feathers since prehistory, there’s still a lot we don’t understand about them.

Our new study found that some of the first animals with feathers also had scaly skin like reptiles.

Following the debut of the first feathered dinosaur, Sinosauropteryx prima, in 1996, a surge of discoveries has painted an ever more interesting picture of feather evolution.

We now know that many dinosaurs and their flying cousins, the pterosaurs, had feathers. Feathers came in more shapes in the past – for example, ribbon-like feathers with expanded tips were found in dinosaurs and extinct birds but not in modern birds. Only some ancient feather types are inherited by birds today.

Paleobiologists have also learnt that early feathers were not made for flying. Fossils of early feathers had simple structures and sparse distributions on the body, so they may have been for display or tactile sensing. Pterosaur fossils suggest they may have played a role in thermoregulation and in colour patterning.

Fascinating as these fossils are, ancient plumage tells only part of the story of feather evolution. The rest of the action happened in the skin.

The skin of birds today is soft and evolved for the support, control, growth and pigmentation of feathers, unlike the scaly skin of reptiles.

Fossils of dinosaur skin are more common than you think. To date, however, only a handful of dinosaur skin fossils have been examined on a microscopic level. These studies, for example a 2018 study of four fossils with preserved skin, showed that the skin of early birds and their close dinosaur relatives (the coelurosaurs) was already very much like the skin of birds today. Bird-like skin evolved before bird-like dinosaurs came around.

So to understand how bird-like skin evolved, we need to study the dinosaurs that branched off earlier in the evolutionary tree.

Our study shows that at least some feathered dinosaurs still had scaly skin, like reptiles today. This evidence comes from a new specimen of Psittacosaurus, a horned dinosaur with bristle-like feathers on its tail. Psittacosaurus lived in the early Cretaceous period (about 130 million years ago), but its clan, the ornithischian dinosaurs, diverged from other dinosaurs much earlier, in the Triassic period (about 240 million years ago).

In the new specimen, the soft tissues are hidden to the naked eye. Under ultraviolet light, however, scaly skin reveals itself in an orange-yellow glow. The skin is preserved on the torso and limbs which are parts of the body that didn’t have feathers.

These luminous colours are from silica minerals that are responsible for preserving the fossil skin. During fossilisation, silica-rich fluids permeated the skin before it decayed, replicating the skin structure with incredible detail. Fine anatomical features are preserved, including the epidermis, skin cells and skin pigments called melanosomes.

The fossil skin cells have much in common with modern reptile skin cells. They share a similar cell size and shape and they both have fused cell boundaries – a feature known only in modern reptiles.

The distribution of the fossil skin pigment is identical to that in modern crocodile scales. The fossil skin, though, seems relatively thin by reptile standards. This suggests the fossil scales in Psittacosaurus were also similar in composition to reptile scales.

Reptile scales are hard and rigid because they are rich in a type of skin-building protein, the tough corneous beta proteins. In contrast, the soft skin of birds is made of a different protein type, the keratins, which are the key structural material in hair, nails, claws, hooves and our outer later of skin.

To provide physical protection, the thin, naked skin of Psittacosaurus must have been composed of tough reptile-style corneous beta proteins. Softer bird-style skin would have been too fragile without feathers for protection.

Collectively, the new fossil evidence indicates that Psittacosaurus had reptile-style skin in areas where it didn’t have feathers. The tail, which preserves feathers in some specimens, unfortunately did not preserve any feathers or skin in our specimen.

However, the tail feathers on other specimens show that some bird-like skin features must have already evolved to hold feathers in place. So our discovery suggests that early feathered animals had a mix of skin types, with bird-like skin only in feathered regions of the body, and the rest of the skin still scaly, like in modern reptiles.

This zoned development would have ensured that the skin protected the animal against abrasion, dehydration and pathogens.

What Next?

The next knowledge gap for scientists to explore is the evolutionary transition from the reptile-style skin of Psittacosaurus to the skin of other more heavily feathered dinosaurs and early birds.

We also need more experiments studying the process of fossilisation itself. There is a lot we don’t understand about how soft tissues fossilise, which means it is difficult to tell which skin features in a fossil are real biological features and which are simply artefacts of fossilisation.

Over the last 30 years, the fossil record has surprised scientists in regard to feather evolution. Future discoveries of fossil feathers may help us understand how dinosaurs and their relatives evolved flight, warm-blooded metabolisms, and how they communicated with each other.The Conversation

Zixiao Yang, Postdoctoral researcher, University College Cork and Maria McNamara, Professor, Palaeobiology, University College Cork

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

Iconic Baobabs: The Origin And Long-Distance Travels Of Upside Down Trees

The iconic baobabs, also known as upside-down trees, or the tree of life, have much cultural significance, inspiring innumerable arts, folklore, and traditions. A research published in Nature, involving international collaboration between Wuhan Botanical Garden (China), Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew, UK), University of Antananarivo (Madagascar) and Queen Mary University of London (UK) reveal a remarkable example of species radiation in Madagascar followed by long distance dispersal to Africa and Australia. With speciation, an astonishing divergence of pollination mechanisms evolved, that exploit hawkmoths, bats and lemurs for a simple nectar reward.

The charismatic baobabs have astonishing growth forms, reaching huge sizes with massive trunks, but apparently diminutive crowns, giving them their iconic appearance as upside-down trees.

The team first assembled the genomes of the eight recognised species and worked out their patterns of speciation.

They then analysed the genomes themselves and discovered that the ancestor of all eight species most likely radiated in Madagascar, where they made hybrids, before two species underwent astonishing long-distance travels, one to Africa and another to Australia.

In that radiation the species evolved different flower structures to attract hawkmoths, lemurs and bats.

Quote: Professor Andrew Leitch at Queen Mary University of London said, "We were delighted to be involved in this project uncovering patterns of baobab speciation in Madagascar followed by the astonishing long-distance dispersal of two species, one to Africa and another to Australia. This was accompanied by the evolution of some fascinating pollination syndromes involving hawkmoths, lemurs and bats."

Dr. Ilia Leitch at Royal Botanic Garden Kew said, "This work has uncovered new insights into the patterns of speciation in baobabs and shows how climate change has influenced baobab distribution and speciation patterns over millions of years."

Husband and wife team Andrew and Ilia Leitch at Queen Mary University of London and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew said. 'We were delighted to be involved in this project uncovering patterns of baobab speciation in Madagascar before the astonishing long-distance dispersal of two species, one to Africa and another to Australia. The work also provides new insights into how climate change has influenced baobab distribution and speciation patterns over millions of years'.

Jun-Nan Wan, Sheng-Wei Wang, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, Jian-Bo Jian, Zhang-Yan Wu, Hai-Ping Xin, Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, Guy Eric Onjalalaina, Robert Wahiti Gituru, Can Dai, Geoffrey Mwachala, Ming-Zhou Bai, Chen-Xi Zhao, Hong-Qi Wang, Sheng-Lan Du, Neng Wei, Guang-Wan Hu, Si-Chong Chen, Xiao-Ya Chen, Tao Wan, Qing-Feng Wang. The rise of baobab trees in Madagascar. Nature, 2024; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-024-07447-4

The Boab in Australia

Adansonia gregorii, commonly known as the boab and also known by a number of other names, is a tree in the family Malvaceae, found in the northern regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory of Australia.

The specific name "gregorii" honours the Australian explorer Augustus Gregory.

The common name "boab" is a shortened form of the generic common name "boabab", and is the most widely recognised common name. It does, however, have a large number of other common names. Similar names include:

  • baobab — the common name for the genus as a whole, but often used in Australia to refer to the Australian species
  • Australian baobab
  • boabab was in common use from the late 1850s (Perhaps the origin of boab)
  • baob

Gadawon is one of the names used by the local Aboriginal Australian groups. Other names include larrgadi or larrgadiy, which is widespread in the Nyulnyulan languages of the Western Kimberley.

Other names include:

  • bottle tree or bottletree
  • cream of tartar tree
  • gourd-gourd tree
  • gouty stem tree
  • monkey bread tree
  • sour gourd
  • upside down tree
  • dead rat tree

The boab occurs in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and east into the Northern Territory. It is the only baobab to occur in Australia, the others being native to Madagascar and mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There are various theories as to how the tree got to Australia, with A. gregorii and Adansonia digitata, its African relative, being very similar genetically.

It can grow from sea level up to about 300 m (980 ft) in altitude, and is most often found in open forest and rocky areas, but is also seen in monsoon forest.

As with other baobabs, Adansonia gregorii is easily recognised by the swollen base of its trunk, which forms a massive caudex, giving the tree a bottle-like appearance. Boab ranges from 5–15 m (16–49 ft) in height, usually 9–12 m (30–39 ft), with a broad bottle-shaped trunk, up to 5 m (16 ft) in diameter.

A. gregorii is deciduous, losing its leaves during the dry winter period and producing new leaves and large white flowers between December and May,[15] up to 75 mm (3.0 in) long.[10] The flowers open at night, and have a calyx about 6 cm (2.4 in) long. The inner surface is densely sericeous.

Boabs are pollinated by the convolvulus hawk-moth Agrius convolvuli.

Agrius convolvuli, the convolvulus hawk-moth, feeding in flight. Photos: Charles J. Sharp

The tree's bark has a remarkable property, in that it can maintain inscribed markings for long periods of time, over more than a century. Some specimens of the African relative of boabs have been estimated to live close to 2,000 years, but the Australian ones are not as well-documented.

The plant has a wide variety of uses; most parts are edible and it is the source of a number of materials. Its medicinal products and the ability to store water through dry seasons has been exploited.  Aboriginal Australians obtained water from the tree, owing to its ability to store huge amounts of water; some of the oldest and largest trees can hold more than 100,000 L (22,000 imp gal; 26,000 US gal) of water in their trunks. They also use the white powder that fills the seed pods (or pith, said to taste like sherbet or cream of tartar) as a food.

Decorative paintings or carvings were sometimes made on the outer surface of the fruit. The bark and leaves are used medicinally, in particular for digestive ailments. The root fibres are used to create string.

The 1889 book Useful native plants of Australia states that "The dry acidulous pulp of the fruit is eaten. It has an agreeable taste, like cream of tartar".

European use of the trees has included letter boxes and jails.

The leaves may see a future use prepared as food, due to their high iron content. The leaves can be boiled and eaten as a spinach; the seeds can be ground and used as a coffee-like beverage, and fermenting the pulp creates a type of beer.

Notable Australian Boabs

A large hollow boab south of Derby, Western Australia is reputed to have been used in the 1890s as a lockup for Aboriginal prisoners on their way to Derby for sentencing. The Boab Prison Tree, Derby is now a tourist attraction.

Boab Prison Tree, Derby. Photo: 'Whinging Pom', via Wikipedia

Boab in Timber Creek, NT. Photo: Melissa Jamcotchian

Another hollow boab near Wyndham, Western Australia was also used as a prison tree. The Hillgrove Lockup or Wyndham Prison Tree is on the King River Road out of Wyndham near the Moochalabra Dam. There is also a boab tree located within the Wyndham Caravan Park that is billed as "the biggest boab in captivity".

Gija Jumulu is a large boab which was transported from Warmun in the Kimberley region to Kings Park in the Western Australian capital city, Perth in 2008. As of 2019 the tree was growing well, after an initial period showing signs of stress after the move, demonstrating the adaptability of the species in a different climate.

Gregory's Tree, in the Gregory's Tree Historical Reserve at Timber Creek, NT, is an Aboriginal sacred site and a registered Australian heritage site. The boab tree marks the site of a camp of the explorer Augustus Charles Gregory, and is inscribed with the dates of his party's arrival and departure, from October 1855 to July 1856.

In 2021, a collaborative project to find and trace histories etched in boab trees in the Kimberley was launched. Funded by the Australian Research Council, archaeologists from the Australian National University (ANU), the University of Western Australia, the University of Canberra, and University of Notre Dame Australia are working with Aboriginal communities and using advanced technology (photogrammetry) to record 3D images of carvings on the trees. It is "the first systematic survey and recording program of carved boab trees in Australia".

In October 2022, the team published the results of their recent survey of such trees in the Tanami Desert. The survey records the tree markings, also known as dendroglyphs, relating to the Lingka Dreaming track across the desert. Also known as the King Brown Snake dreaming, many of the carvings are of snakes, but also include emu and kangaroo tracks; geometric markings; and, further west, crocodiles, turtles and Wanjina figures. The researchers also found stone artefacts and broken grinding stones, used for grinding seeds, as camps were often made underneath the large shady trees.

A boab tree is featured in the 1992 animated film FernGully: The Last Rainforest to imprison the film's antagonist, Hexxus.

The boab tree is celebrated in the end credits of the 2008 film Australia with the song "By the Boab Tree", a song nominated for a 2008 Satellite Award, with lyrics by Baz Luhrmann and performed by Sydney singer Angela Little.

Augustus Charles Gregory

Sir Augustus Charles Gregory KCMG FRSGS (1 August 1819 – 25 June 1905) was an English-born Australian explorer and surveyor. Between 1846 and 1858 he undertook four major expeditions. He was the first Surveyor-General of Queensland. He was appointed a lifetime Member of the Queensland Legislative Council.

In 1846, with his two brothers, F. T. Gregory and H. C. Gregory, he made his first exploration. With four horses and seven weeks' provisions they left T. N. Yule's station 60 miles northeast of Perth on 7 August 1846 and explored a considerable amount of the country to the north of Perth, returning after an absence of 47 days during which they had covered 953 miles (1534 km).

Two years later, Gregory led an expedition to examine the course of the Gascoyne River and, in particular, to look for new pasture-land. The party left on 2 September 1848, crossing the Murchison River 25 September, but the country was very dry and it became difficult to water the horses. Gregory decided to turn south again in the beginning of October, and on 6 October decided to rest the horses by the Murchison River. The party returned to Perth on 12 November after having found good pastures. Despite water supply difficulties, about 1500 miles (2414 km) were covered in a period of 10 weeks.

In 1854 while Assistant Surveyor of Western Australia, Gregory was asked to lead an expedition to the interior, from a rendezvous point at Moreton Bay near Brisbane. Gregory had his brother, H. C. Gregory, as second in command and Baron von Mueller as botanist. There were 19 men altogether, with 50 horses and 200 sheep. The party left Moreton Bay by sea on 12 August 1855, and Port Essington was sighted on 1 September. On the next day their vessel grounded on a reef and it was impossible to float off until 10 September. They proceeded to Pearce Point (Joseph Bonaparte Gulf), and at the end of the month the party reached the estuary of the Victoria River. The party split up, with one group going up the river in a schooner, while Gregory led the other over the range.[citation needed] It was on this trip that Gregory made contact with the Gurindji people, with his party their first ever contact with Europeans.

In September 1857 Gregory was hired by the government of New South Wales to search for traces of Ludwig Leichhardt, a fellow explorer who had disappeared on an earlier expedition. A party of nine was formed with Gregory in command and his brother, C. F. Gregory, as second in command. On 24 March 1858 the expedition left Juandah near the present town of Taroom. On 21 April a tree marked with an L was found in latitude 24 degrees 35 minutes and longitude 146 degrees 6 minutes. The Barcoo River was then followed to its junction with the Thomson. On 15 May the country was so dry the expedition turned south to save the horses. Cooper Creek was followed until it was close to the South Australian border, coming to Strzelecki Creek on 14 June. Continuing his course mostly to the south, on 26 June he decided to proceed to Adelaide, which was reached at the end of July 1858.

Sir Augustus Gregory, circa 1903. Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Gregory's Tree above Victoria River, appr. 20 km west of Timber Creek. The date, 2 July 1856, was carved into it by Thomas Baines, the expedition's artist. Photo: Reise-Line 

Have Your Say: A Digital Inclusion Strategy For NSW

Feedback closes: Friday 19th July, 2024.
The NSW Government is developing the first Digital Inclusion Strategy in our state. 
In today's rapidly evolving world, not all members of our community have been able to fully embrace the online age, leading to a growing digital divide.

For example:
  • >60% of Australians feel they can’t keep up with rapid changes in technology.
  • >$66 million was stolen by online scammers from Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and people with a disability in 2021 alone.
  • >46% of Australians say the rising cost of living has affected their ability to get online.
The NSW Digital Inclusion Strategy will look at how everyone in NSW can access, afford and engage with digital technologies, services, and resources – regardless of where they live, their age, race, gender identity and socio-economic status, or if they have a disability.
The Government wants to understand what challenges people face accessing digital technologies, services and resources and how they can be supported to overcome them.

Tell them what you think
Your feedback will help inform the NSW Digital Inclusion Strategy.
You can have your say by completing a survey, taking a quick poll, sharing your story, or making a submission, until Friday 19th July, 2024.

To help you respond, you can refer to the discussion paper.

Buried kelp: seaweed carried to the deep sea stores more carbon than we thought

Loredana Caputo/Shutterstock
Albert Pessarrodona SilvestreThe University of Western AustraliaKaren Filbee-DexterThe University of Western AustraliaMirjam van der MheenThe University of Western Australia, and Thomas WernbergThe University of Western Australia

Deep in the ocean lies the world’s largest active carbon reservoir, which plays a pivotal role in buffering our planet’s climate. Of the roughly 10 billion tonnes carbon dioxide we emit each year, about 3 billion tonnes are taken up and stored in the oceans – and largely by plants.

When we consider natural carbon storage in the deep oceans, we generally focus on phytoplankton. Trillions of these microscopic plants live in the surface waters all across the oceans. When they die, they sink to the ocean floor, transporting carbon to the depths.

But there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. Our two new studies show coastal vegetation such as seaweed forests are more important to natural carbon storage than we thought. Around 56 million tonnes of carbon in the form of seaweed is carried into the deep ocean each year.

For carbon to be stored for hundreds of years, it has to enter slow cycling pools of carbon in the deep ocean. But most seaweeds only grow in shallow coastal seas. How can they get there?

seaweed washed by currents
When conditions are right, storm-washed seaweed is carried by rivers in the sea out to the deep. Andres Felipe Perez/Shutterstock

Rivers In The Sea

For decades, deep sea explorers have reported surprising findings. Pieces of seaweed and other coastal plants appear where they shouldn’t be.

Fragments of seaweed are often caught in deep-sea trawls, or recorded by submarines and underwater robots during surveys of the ocean floor. Seaweed DNA has been detected in deep sea water and sediments in all of the world’s oceans, as deep as 4 kilometres down and up to 5,000 km from the closest seaweed forest.

But how can seaweeds travel that distance?

Our team discovered part of the answer. Seaweed can be carried by large “underwater rivers”, which flow from coastal waters along the seafloor across the continental shelf and into the deep.

These currents form when localised cooling causes cold dense coastal water to rapidly sink below warmer offshore surface waters. The dense water slides down the slope of the seafloor, following the topography like a river, and carrying with it large quantities of seaweed to deeper areas.

In Western Australia, these flows of seaweed and coastal vegetation towards the deep ocean happen most during colder months, when conditions allow these underwater rivers to form. During these months, storms often hit coastal waters, ripping up seaweed and filling the water with seaweed fragments.

These underwater rivers are a well-documented phenomenon in Australia. But are these ocean currents transporting seaweed and their carbon elsewhere?

We worked with an international team of scientists to find out. To do so, we tracked seaweed from coastal waters to the deep ocean using advanced ocean models.

The Hidden Role Of Seaweed Forests In Oceanic Carbon Export

Our findings were clear. Seaweed forests do, in fact, transfer substantial amounts of carbon to the deep ocean in many parts of the world.

This phenomenon is particularly high in the kelp forests of Australia’s Great Southern Reef, which stretches 8,000 km from Kalbarri in Western Australia to Coolangatta in Queensland.

The seaweed forests of the United States, New Zealand, Indonesia and Chile are also carbon transport hotspots.

While phytoplankton still sink vast amounts of carbon, our discovery suggests the plants of the coastal ocean transfer more carbon than we thought.

Mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass all contribute to these flows of carbon, but seaweed forests are really big contributor. These forests are made up of large brown algae such as kelp and rockweed species, which form extensive hidden forests. Seaweed forests – such as Tasmania’s disappearing giant kelp forests – are the largest and most productive coastal ecosystems on the planet.

Globally, these forests cover an area twice the size of India, and fix as much carbon during their growth as the northern forests of Canada – nearly 1 billion tonnes a year.

Of this carbon, our research suggests between 10 and 170 million tonnes makes it to the deep ocean every year.

A Threatened Ecosystem

Many of us don’t give seaweed much thought. But underwater seaweed forests play a vital role. These forests give shelter and home to huge numbers of fish and other marine species. They improve water quality and boost biodiversity. And now we know they help store carbon for hundreds of years.

Like many other ecosystems, underwater forests are at risk. Hotter seas from climate change, coastal development, pollution and overfishing have pushed seaweed forests to die off faster than most other coastal ecosystems.

Their fate has worsened in recent decades. The ocean is getting hotter, faster, bringing with it longer lasting and more frequent marine heatwaves.

kelp and fish
Kelp forests offer homes, shelter and food to many species. lego 19861111/Shutterstock

In Tasmania, the heating ocean has brought new species to seaweed forests, which now have subtropical fish species and voracious sea urchins. These urchins are chewing through the state’s kelp forests.

In Western Australia, a severe marine heatwave struck in 2011, wiping out kelp forests along 100 km of coastline. These forests have not recovered.

When we lose seaweed forests, we lose their natural ability to transfer carbon to the deep ocean. But their loss also threatens the other species who rely on them, and the half a trillion dollars of value they provide to us.

We should think of conserving seaweed forests in the same way we do forests on land. Scaling up restoration where forests have been lost is vital to ensure these unsung plants can keep supporting us – and help store carbon.The Conversation

Albert Pessarrodona Silvestre, Research Fellow in Ecology, The University of Western AustraliaKaren Filbee-Dexter, ARC Future Fellow in Marine Ecology, The University of Western AustraliaMirjam van der Mheen, Research fellow, Oceanography, The University of Western Australia, and Thomas Wernberg, Professor of Marine Botany, The University of Western Australia

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

Alice Munro, master of the short story: superlative tales that exalt the drama of the everyday

Ellen OrchardTrinity College Dublin

Affectionately termed “Canada’s Chekov”, Alice Munro died on May 13 at the age of 92, leaving behind a unparalleled legacy of masterful short stories.

Born in Ontario in 1931, Munro started writing seriously as a teenager but abandoned her English and journalism degree. She married her first husband James Munro at the age of 20 and moved to Vancouver, where the couple raised their three daughters. Divorcing 21 years later, she returned to Ontario where she lived with her second husband, Gerald Fremlin.

It is no wonder then, that much of Munro’s fiction concerns marriage and motherhood in small towns, her stories often spotlighting the inherent drama of the domestic. Her gift for exalting the everyday was widely recognised; Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, described by the Swedish Academy as a “master of the short story”.

I first encountered Munro as a high school student in Canada, assigned to read the title story from A View from Castle Rock (2006). I didn’t like it. I felt conned by its description as a short story, by one of our leading female authors. I thought it was too long and that there were too many men.

More than a decade later, I feel the exact opposite, which is not so much testament to personal development, as the power of subtlety in Munro’s fiction: hers are stories that demand to be reread, ideally over a period of years. This comforts me, as it means there are still many more stories of Munro’s to come, when we consider all the possible ways they are yet to be read.

Women And Children First

In Munro’s fiction there are tricks, but never gimmicks. Podcast discussions of Munro’s work, for example, often conclude with a debate about what actually happened at the story’s end. In Corrie, was the protagonist’s love for that married man reciprocated? Did the narrator of Gravel sabotage her sister deliberately?

The illusory nature of Munro’s stories are extraordinary for tales which situate themselves so earnestly in the mundane, or rather, the everyday. Perhaps Munro’s gift lies in demonstrating how these are not the same thing.

One way in which Munro explores the elusiveness of the everyday is by centring children in her fiction, given an adult’s representation of childhood is always an estimation.

Novelist Margaret Atwood paid tribute to Munro by recording a reading of the title story of her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968). This story is narrated by a teenager attending an annual music recital hosted by Miss Marsalles, an eccentric dance teacher whose social circumstances have deteriorated in recent years.

Since it would be crass to cite her financial situation, she is mocked by the mothers instead for her insistence on the inherent goodness of children:

She has this way of speaking of children’s hearts as if they were something holy. It is hard for a parent to know what to say.

Her supposed naivety is accredited to her spinster status, allegedly ignorant to the realities of raising children. And yet, at the story’s end, it is those who so judge Miss Marsalles that are revealed as ignorant. Their obvious discomfort and “profound anxiety” about the unexpected performances of children with Down’s Syndrome reflect their ugly preoccupation with social status.

Here, children highlight the hypocrisy of taboo. It is the adults who are most uncomfortable with the non-neurotypical children, and not the other children in attendance – least of all the narrator, whom we sense is forming an opinion separate to her mother’s. And possibly for the very first time.

This ongoing tension between obligation and devotion in parent-child relationships features throughout Munro’s oeuvre. In one of her later stories, Axis (2011), college student Avie has a dream that she is pregnant, and resigns to keeping her baby locked in the basement, where she will remain for the rest of her life (or at least until the dream’s end). Avie tells her best friend Grace, who is perturbed:

“That’s an awful dream,” Grace said. “Do you hate children?”

“Not unreasonably,” Avie said.

This question, and Avie’s retort, runs subtly like a refrain throughout Munro’s fiction, where children are both threatening to her female characters’ freedom, but central, too, to their sense of self.

In The Children Stay, for example, Pauline leaves her husband and two young children for a man she meets in an amateur theatre production. The timeline of this story is the lead up to her leaving, and the day after, when her husband tells her on the phone: “The children stay [with me]”.

The immense grief from this verdict, the “acute pain”, is mentioned, but not dwelt upon. Instead, in the story’s closing paragraph, Munro condenses years into lines:

Her children have grown up. They don’t hate her. For going away or staying away. They don’t forgive her either.

In one sense, the plot of this story is characteristic of Munro’s fiction, where women pursue reckless men, leaving behind husbands who loved them, but are often not in the least bit surprised. It’s as if these men knew all along that their marriage seemed like a cage to their wives.

Munro’s protagonists rarely end up with the men they left marriages for, but perhaps that’s not the point. These are not strictly love stories, though there is much love in these stories. Instead, they ask complicated questions, like: how does a mother balance her intense devotion to her children with her yearning for freedom? How do we grieve the lives we never lived?

In this sense, Munro has left an imaginative blueprint for her readers; it is through rereading her stories about grief that her fans might begin to mourn the master who wrote them.The Conversation

Ellen Orchard, PhD Researcher, School of English, Trinity College Dublin

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

Who really was Mona Lisa? More than 500 years on, there’s good reason to think we got it wrong

A Mona Lisa painting from the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci, held in the collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. Collection of the Museo del Prado
Darius von Guttner SporzynskiAustralian Catholic University

In the pantheon of Renaissance art, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa stands as an unrivalled icon. This half-length portrait is more than just an artistic masterpiece; it embodies the allure of an era marked by unparalleled cultural flourishing.

Yet, beneath the surface of the Mona Lisa’s elusive smile lies a debate that touches the very essence of the Renaissance, its politics and the role of women in history.

A Mystery Woman

The intrigue of the Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, isn’t solely due to Leonardo’s revolutionary painting techniques. It’s also because the identity of the subject is unconfirmed to this day. More than half a century since it was first painted, the real identity of the Mona Lisa remains one of art’s greatest mysteries, intriguing scholars and enthusiasts alike.

The painting has traditionally been associated with Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. But another compelling theory suggests a different sitter: Isabella of Aragon.

Isabella of Aragon was born into the illustrious House of Aragon in Naples, in 1470. She was a princess who was deeply entwined in the political and cultural fabric of the Renaissance.

Her 1490 marriage to Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, positioned Isabella at the heart of Italian politics. And this role was both complicated and elevated by the ambitions and machinations of Ludovico Sforza (also called Ludovico il Moro), her husband’s uncle and usurper of the Milanese dukedom.

In The Virgin and Child with Four Saints and Twelve Devotees, by (unknown) Master of the Pala Sforzesca, circa 1490, Gian Galeazzo Sforza is shown in prayer facing his wife, Isabella of Aragon (identified by her heraldic red and gold). National Gallery

Scholarly Perspectives

The theory that Isabella is the real Mona Lisa is supported by a combination of stylistic analyses, historical connections and reinterpretations of Leonardo’s intent as an artist.

In his biography of Leonardo, author Robert Payne points to preliminary studies by the artist that bear a striking resemblances to Isabella around age 20. Payne suggests Leonardo captured Isabella across different life stages, including during widowhood, as depicted in the Mona Lisa.

US artist Lillian F. Schwartz’s 1988 study used x-rays to reveal an initial sketch of a woman hidden beneath Leonardo’s painting. This sketch was then painted over with Leonardo’s own likeness.

Schwartz believes the woman in the sketch is Isabella, because of its similarity with a cartoon Leonardo made of the princess. She proposes the work was made by integrating specific features of the initial model with Leonardo’s own features.

An illustration of Isabella of Aragon from the Story of Cremona by Antonio Campi. Library of Congress

This hypothesis is further supported by art historians Jerzy Kulski and Maike Vogt-Luerssen.

According to Vogt-Luerssen’s detailed analysis of the Mona Lisa, the symbols of the Sforza house and the depiction of mourning garb both align with Isabella’s known life circumstances. They suggest the Mona Lisa isn’t a commissioned portrait, but a nuanced representation of a woman’s journey through triumph and tragedy.

Similarly, Kulski highlights the portrait’s heraldic designs, which would be atypical for a silk merchant’s wife. He, too, suggests the painting shows Isabella mourning her late husband.

The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic expression also captures Isabella’s self-described state post-1500 of being “alone in misfortune”. Contrary to representing a wealthy, recently married woman, the portrait exudes the aura of a virtuous widow.

Sketch by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio of a woman considered to be Isabella of Aragon. Wikimedia

Late professor of art history Joanna Woods-Marsden suggested the Mona Lisa transcends traditional portraiture and embodies Leonardo’s ideal, rather than being a straightforward commission.

This perspective frames the work as a deeply personal project for Leonardo, possibly signifying a special connection between him and Isabella. Leonardo’s reluctance to part with the work also indicates a deeper, personal investment in it.

Beyond The Canvas

The theory that Isabella of Aragon could be the true Mona Lisa is a profound reevaluation of the painting’s context, opening up new avenues through which to appreciate the work.

It elevates Isabella from a figure overshadowed by the men in her life, to a woman of courage and complexity who deserves recognition in her own right.

The painting Hermitage Mona Lisa, oil on canvas, is a 16th century copy of Leonardo’s work with noticeable differences. Wikimedia

Through her strategic marriage and political savvy, Isabella played a crucial role in the alliances and conflicts that defined the Italian Renaissance. By possibly choosing her as his subject, Leonardo immortalised her and also made a profound statement on the complexity and agency of women in a male-dominated society.

The ongoing debate over Mona Lisa’s identity underscores this work’s significance as a cultural and historical artefact. It also invites us to reflect on the roles of women in the Renaissance and challenge common narratives that minimise them.

In this light, it becomes a legacy of the women who shaped the Renaissance.The Conversation

Darius von Guttner Sporzynski, Historian, Australian Catholic University

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

Exercise, therapy and diet can all improve life during cancer treatment and boost survival. Here’s how - Yuri A/Shutterstock
Rob NewtonEdith Cowan University

With so many high-profile people diagnosed with cancer we are confronted with the stark reality the disease can strike any of us at any time. There are also reports certain cancers are increasing among younger people in their 30s and 40s.

On the positive side, medical treatments for cancer are advancing very rapidly. Survival rates are improving greatly and some cancers are now being managed more as long-term chronic diseases rather than illnesses that will rapidly claim a patient’s life.

The mainstays of cancer treatment remain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and hormone therapy. But there are other treatments and strategies – “adjunct” or supportive cancer care – that can have a powerful impact on a patient’s quality of life, survival and experience during cancer treatment.

Keep Moving If You Can

Physical exercise is now recognised as a medicine. It can be tailored to the patient and their health issues to stimulate the body and build an internal environment where cancer is less likely to flourish. It does this in a number of ways.

Exercise provides a strong stimulus to our immune system, increasing the number of cancer-fighting immune cells in our blood circulation and infusing these into the tumour tissue to identify and kill cancer cells.

Our skeletal muscles (those attached to bone for movement) release signalling molecules called myokines. The larger the muscle mass, the more myokines are released – even when a person is at rest. However, during and immediately after bouts of exercise, a further surge of myokines is secreted into the bloodstream. Myokines attach to immune cells, stimulating them to be better “hunter-killers”. Myokines also signal directly to cancer cells slowing their growth and causing cell death.

Exercise can also greatly reduce the side effects of cancer treatment such as fatigue, muscle and bone loss, and fat gain. And it reduces the risk of developing other chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Exercise can maintain or improve quality of life and mental health for patients with cancer.

Emerging research evidence indicates exercise might increase the effectiveness of mainstream treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Exercise is certainly essential for preparing the patient for any surgery to increase cardio-respiratory fitness, reduce systemic inflammation, and increase muscle mass, strength and physical function, and then rehabilitating them after surgery.

These mechanisms explain why cancer patients who are physically active have much better survival outcomes with the relative risk of death from cancer reduced by as much as 40–50%.

Mental Health Helps

The second “tool” which has a major role in cancer management is psycho-oncology. It involves the psychological, social, behavioural and emotional aspects of cancer for not only the patient but also their carers and family. The aim is to maintain or improve quality of life and mental health aspects such as emotional distress, anxiety, depression, sexual health, coping strategies, personal identity and relationships.

Supporting quality of life and happiness is important on their own, but these barometers can also impact a patient’s physical health, response to exercise medicine, resilience to disease and to treatments.

If a patient is highly distressed or anxious, their body can enter a flight or fight response. This creates an internal environment that is actually supportive of cancer progression through hormonal and inflammatory mechanisms. So it’s essential their mental health is supported.

several people are lying on recliners with IV drips in arms to receive medicine.
Chemotherapy can be stressful on the body and emotional reserves. Shutterstock

Putting The Good Things In: Diet

A third therapy in the supportive cancer care toolbox is diet. A healthy diet can support the body to fight cancer and help it tolerate and recover from medical or surgical treatments.

Inflammation provides a more fertile environment for cancer cells. If a patient is overweight with excessive fat tissue then a diet to reduce fat which is also anti-inflammatory can be very helpful. This generally means avoiding processed foods and eating predominantly fresh food, locally sourced and mostly plant based.

two people sit in gym and eat high protein lunch
Some cancer treatments cause muscle loss. Avoiding processed foods may help. Shutterstock

Muscle loss is a side effect of all cancer treatments. Resistance training exercise can help but people may need protein supplements or diet changes to make sure they get enough protein to build muscle. Older age and cancer treatments may reduce both the intake of protein and compromise absorption so supplementation may be indicated.

Depending on the cancer and treatment, some patients may require highly specialised diet therapy. Some cancers such as pancreatic, stomach, esophageal, and lung cancer can cause rapid and uncontrolled drops in body weight. This is called cachexia and needs careful management.

Other cancers and treatments such as hormone therapy can cause rapid weight gain. This also needs careful monitoring and guidance so that, when a patient is clear of cancer, they are not left with higher risks of other health problems such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that boost your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes).

Working As A Team

These are three of the most powerful tools in the supportive care toolbox for people with cancer. None of them are “cures” for cancer, alone or together. But they can work in tandem with medical treatments to greatly improve outcomes for patients.

If you or someone you care about has cancer, national and state cancer councils and cancer-specific organisations can provide support.

For exercise medicine support it is best to consult with an accredited exercise physiologist, for diet therapy an accredited practising dietitian and mental health support with a registered psychologist. Some of these services are supported through Medicare on referral from a general practitioner.

For free and confidential cancer support call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.The Conversation

Rob Newton, Professor of Exercise Medicine, Edith Cowan University

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

Peter Dutton makes Labor’s case. Tax breaks for landlords should be restricted to those who build homes

Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton might have done us a favour.

As part of his budget reply speech on Thursday night he promised to stop foreigners buying existing Australian homes.

He didn’t only want to stop foreigners buying existing homes to live in, something they are able to do while here temporarily, as long as they they sell within three months of moving out.

He also wanted to stop them buying existing Australian homes to let to renters. He wanted to stop them being landlords. Not because landlords deprive us of homes to live in (they don’t) but because they deprive us of homes to own.

Every existing home that is owned by a landlord is a home that isn’t owned by an owner-occupier. It’s maths.

Foreign Investors Outbid Residents

It was, Dutton said, pretty unfair to be at an auction “bidding against somebody who has very deep pockets and somebody who’s not an Australian citizen”.

Stopping foreign investors would help restore the “dream of home ownership”.

Here’s the favour. Dutton has pointed out something that’s true for all investors. By bidding against people who want to buy existing homes to live in, they are pushing up the price of those homes. When they succeed in buying an extra home, they ensure an owner-occupier does not.

Dutton has spelled out the maths.

He has acknowledged that, for foreign investors, the numbers aren’t big. It’s already hard for them to buy existing properties. In 2021-22, the most recent year for which we have figures, only 1,339 foreign investors bought existing properties.

But he told 3AW’s Tom Elliott that if there was anything that could be done, no matter how little, he would “jump at it”.

Local Investors Also Outbid Residents

There is something much bigger that could be done, which is to extend his idea to all would-be investors – every one of them who turns up at an auction for an existing property and bids against someone who wants to buy it to live in.

It’s hard to think of reasons why investors should be supported to bid against intending homebuyers. In the quarter century since the headline rate of capital gains tax was halved in 1999, investors have been supported by a particularly effective blend of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions.

An extraordinary 2.2 million Australians now own investment properties – one in every six taxpayers. Seventy percent of them own two investment properties or more.

In the census before the change, 25.5% of households headed by someone aged 35-54 rented. In the most recent census it was 33.7%.

This isn’t because of a shortage of supply. It’s because a bigger chunk of the supply has been grabbed by landlords at the expense of Australians who in earlier years would have owned.

Had that bigger chunk not been grabbed, hundreds of thousands more Australians would own the homes they live in.

No one objects to investors who build new homes, increasing supply – certainly not Dutton. The two-year ban he put forward in his budget reply speech would have only stopped foreign investors buying existing properties. There would be nothing to stop them building and letting out new ones.

That’s how you would design a grander Dutton-style plan that applied to all investors. Labor put one forward at the 2016 and 2019 elections.

Labor Had A Plan Like Dutton’s

Under Labor’s 2019 plan, negative gearing – the tax break that allows investors to write off losses they make from renters against their wage income – would no longer be available to new investors, except those who actually provided new homes.

Labor planned to

put negative gearing to work by limiting it to new investment properties to help boost housing supply and jobs

Negative gearing isn’t being put to work right now.

In March, the most recent month for which we have statistics, only 2,048 of Australia’s 16,948 property investment loans were for building new homes. Most of the rest went to investors who were going to compete against would-be residents to buy existing properties.

Labor says that’s no longer its plan. On ABC Q&A on Monday Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he “wasn’t attracted” to the idea of changing negative gearing.

Yet he repeatedly said there was “no substitute for building new homes”

What Labor proposed in 2016 and 2019 would have directed investors towards building new homes.

It’s worth doing both because it would help create new homes and because it would reduce the number of would-be landlords going up against would-be homeowners at auctions.

Jessica Whitby, outbid at auction, on Q&A. ABC

One of those intending homebuyers, Jessica Whitby, who was outbid at an auction in Chalmers’ electorate, asked him on Monday to “disincentivise people who are purchasing multiple investment properties to assist first home buyers to get into the market sooner”.

Chalmers replied the thing that mattered most was supply, but he didn’t mention that what Whitby was proposing used to be Labor Party policy, didn’t acknowledge that it would encourage supply, and didn’t acknowledge that (in theory at least) Dutton appears to agree with him.

Support From Many Quarters

And not only Dutton. Scott Morrison expressed concern about the “excesses” of negative gearing as treasurer in 2016. His predecessor, Joe Hockey, said on leaving parliament that negative gearing should be skewed toward new housing so there was “an incentive to add to the housing stock”.

It’s as if almost everyone can see the sort of thing that needs to be done.

Australia’s negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions are incredibly expensive. The treasury costs negative gearing alone at $2.7 billion per year.

At least in principle, there’s agreement about how to make it work for us.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Menopause can bring increased cholesterol levels and other heart risks. Here’s why and what to do about it

Treasure McGuireThe University of Queensland

Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, typically between 45 and 55. As women approach or experience menopause, common “change of life” concerns include hot flushes, sweats and mood swings, brain fog and fatigue.

But many women may not be aware of the long-term effects of menopause on the heart and blood vessels that make up the cardiovascular system. Heart disease accounts for 35% of deaths in women each year – more than all cancers combined.

What should women – and their doctors – know about these risks?

Hormones Protect Hearts – Until They Don’t

As early as 1976, the Framingham Heart Study reported more than twice the rates of cardiovascular events in postmenopausal than pre-menopausal women of the same age. Early menopause (younger than age 40) also increases heart risk.

Before menopause, women tend to be protected by their circulating hormones: oestrogen, to a lesser extent progesterone and low levels of testosterone.

These sex hormones help to relax and dilate blood vessels, reduce inflammation and improve lipid (cholesterol) levels. From the mid-40s, a decline in these hormone levels can contribute to unfavourable changes in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and weight gain – all risk factors for heart disease.

4 Ways Hormone Changes Impact Heart Risk

1. Dyslipidaemia– Menopause often involves atherogenic changes – an unhealthy imbalance of lipids in the blood, with higher levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL-C), dubbed the “bad” cholesterol. There are also reduced levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL-C) – the “good” cholesterol that helps remove LDL-C from blood. These changes are a major risk factor for heart attack or stroke.

2. Hypertension – Declines in oestrogen and progesterone levels during menopause contribute to narrowing of the large blood vessels on the heart’s surface, arterial stiffness and raise blood pressure.

3. Weight gain – Females are born with one to two million eggs, which develop in follicles. By the time they stop ovulating in midlife, fewer than 1,000 remain. This depletion progressively changes fat distribution and storage, from the hips to the waist and abdomen. Increased waist circumference (greater than 80–88 cm) has been reported to contribute to heart risk – though it is not the only factor to consider.

4. Comorbidities – Changes in body composition, sex hormone decline, increased food consumption, weight gain and sedentary lifestyles impair the body’s ability to effectively use insulin. This increases the risk of developing metabolic syndromes such as type 2 diabetes.

While risk factors apply to both genders, hypertension, smoking, obesity and type 2 diabetes confer a greater relative risk for heart disease in women.

So, What Can Women Do?

Every woman has a different level of baseline cardiovascular and metabolic risk pre-menopause. This is based on their genetics and family history, diet, and lifestyle. But all women can reduce their post-menopause heart risk with:

  • regular moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking, pushing a lawn mower, riding a bike or water aerobics for 30 minutes, four or five times every week
  • a healthy heart diet with smaller portion sizes (try using a smaller plate or bowl) and more low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains
  • plant sterols (unrefined vegetable oil spreads, nuts, seeds and grains) each day. A review of 14 clinical trials found plant sterols, at doses of at least 2 grams a day, produced an average reduction in serum LDL-C (bad cholesterol) of about 9–14%. This could reduce the risk of heart disease by 25% in two years
  • less unhealthy (saturated or trans) fats and more low-fat protein sources (lean meat, poultry, fish – especially oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids), legumes and low-fat dairy
  • less high-calorie, high-sodium foods such as processed or fast foods
  • a reduction or cessation of smoking (nicotine or cannabis) and alcohol
  • weight-gain management or prevention.
Women walking together outdoors with exercise clothes and equipment
Exercise can reduce post-menopause heart disease risk. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

What About Hormone Therapy Medications?

Hormone therapy remains the most effective means of managing hot flushes and night sweats and is beneficial for slowing the loss of bone mineral density.

The decision to recommend oestrogen alone or a combination of oestrogen plus progesterone hormone therapy depends on whether a woman has had a hysterectomy or not. The choice also depends on whether the hormone therapy benefit outweighs the woman’s disease risks. Where symptoms are bothersome, hormone therapy has favourable or neutral effects on coronary heart disease risk and medication risks are low for healthy women younger than 60 or within ten years of menopause.

Depending on the level of stroke or heart risk and the response to lifestyle strategies, some women may also require medication management to control high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels. Up until the early 2000s, women were underrepresented in most outcome trials with lipid-lowering medicines.

The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration analysed 27 clinical trials of statins (medications commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol) with a total of 174,000 participants, of whom 27% were women. Statins were about as effective in women and men who had similar risk of heart disease in preventing events such as stroke and heart attack.

Every woman approaching menopause should ask their GP for a 20-minute Heart Health Check to help better understand their risk of a heart attack or stroke and get tailored strategies to reduce it.

The Conversation

Treasure McGuire, Assistant Director of Pharmacy, Mater Health SEQ in conjoint appointment as Associate Professor of Pharmacology, Bond University and as Associate Professor (Clinical), The University of Queensland

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

Safer Staffing Levels To Deliver More Nurses For NSW Hospitals

The NSW Government announced on Thursday May 16, it is delivering on its promise to rollout a major staffing reform set to boost the number of frontline healthcare workers through the implementation of safe staffing levels in NSW public hospitals.

Phase one of recruitment is now underway to deliver more nurses and midwives in NSW public hospitals between now and July 2027 under the safe staffing levels reform.

Liverpool and Royal North Shore Hospitals are the first two sites in NSW to roll out the new safe staffing levels. Both hospitals have commenced recruitment for approximately 70 funded FTE nurses across these two sites, with some nurses already recruited for each hospital.

The staffing boost at Liverpool and Royal North Shore Hospitals will enable a one-to-one nursing care ratio for generally occupied Emergency Department (ED) resuscitation beds on all shifts, and one nurse to three generally occupied ED treatment spaces and ED short-stay unit beds on all shifts.

This follows discussions with the Safe Staffing Levels Taskforce established to oversee the rollout of the government’s commitment of 2480 FTE over four years towards staffing levels. It includes key leaders from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA), NSW Health, and local health districts.

Implementation of the safe staffing level areas was scheduled to occur in phases over the next three years.

Phase one of safe staffing levels is initially commencing in Level 5 and Level 6 EDs, which treat the most critically ill patients, and will then be progressively implemented across other hospitals and departments.

These reforms will improve conditions and staff experience and, in turn, boost retention, capacity and capability.

Implementing safe staffing levels is just one of a range of measures that the NSW Government is embracing to build a supported and capable health workforce, including:
saving 1,112 nurse and midwife positions by making the roles permanent;
  • abolishing the wages cap and delivering the highest pay increase in over a decade for nurses and other health workers;
  • beginning to roll out 500 additional paramedics in regional, rural and remote communities; and
  • introducing the health worker study subsidies scheme.
NSW Minister for Health Ryan Park said:
“The NSW Government is delivering on its promise to rollout a major staffing reform.

“The safe staffing levels initiative involves the introduction of minimum staffing levels on every shift, which will result in more nurses and midwives employed in hospitals right across the state.

“Importantly, this reform will deliver improved staffing numbers to provide care for patients while supporting our frontline healthcare staff.

“The Safe Staffing Levels Taskforce will review this initial rollout at Liverpool and Royal North Shore EDs and use these experiences to help inform the roll out at future sites.”

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has welcomed the boost to staffing numbers, with the imminent introduction of nurse-to-patient ratios in NSW public hospitals.
Shift by shift ratios will begin in the emergency departments (EDs) at Royal North Shore and Liverpool hospitals in the coming weeks. Around 70 additional full time equivalent (FTE) nurses are being recruited across both sites to meet the minimum ratio of one to one in resuscitation bays, and one nurse to three generally occupied treatment spaces in ED, with the aim of improving timely emergency care for patients.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said the implementation of minimum and enforceable nurse-to-patient ratios meant patient safety would no longer be compromised.  
“After a decade of campaigning, we are very pleased to see this important piece of healthcare reform finally come to fruition in NSW. These shift by shift ratios can’t come soon enough for our nurses and midwives – it’s the reprieve they so urgently need,” said Ms Candish.

“It will provide crucial workload relief for our members, who have been struggling with chronic understaffing for too long. It will also ensure our public hospitals are safer for patients, so they receive the care they deserve.

“We are confident this staffing model will help to rebuild the workforce and lead to higher retention levels, while providing savings within health in the long run.”

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites, said while the union was relieved to see ratios begin, there was still a lot of work to be done.

“We are eagerly anticipating the expansion of ratios to other EDs, and then ICUs, adult in-patient wards, maternity services and our state’s multi-purpose service sites, with the government committing to 2480 FTE nurses and midwives to achieve this,” said Mr Whaites.

“We are seeking further funding from the government to ensure these five clinical areas receive ratios. Current funding means the rollout won’t cover all wards and units in every hospital.

“In addition, we look forward to negotiations with the state government after serving our 15% pay and conditions claim, which will make nurses and midwives competitive with other states. The pay claim also takes into account a decade of wage suppression by previous governments.

“Nurses and midwives must not be forced to choose between safe workloads and fair pay. They deserve more in 2024.”

The NSWNMA has been working with the state government on the implementation of this workforce initiative through the Safe Staffing Levels Taskforce since May 2023.

Photo; RNSH by Thepm, via Wikipedia

'I Feel Like I'm Alice In Wonderland': Why Nightmares And 'Daymares' Could Be Early Warning Signs Of Autoimmune Disease

May 20, 2024
An increase in nightmares and hallucinations -- or 'daymares' -- could herald the onset of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, say an international team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge and King's College London.

The researchers argue that there needs to be greater recognition that these types of mental health and neurological symptoms can act as an early warning sign that an individual is approaching a 'flare', where their disease worsens for a period.

In a study published today in eClinicalMedicine, researchers surveyed 676 people living with lupus and 400 clinicians, as well as carrying out detailed interviews with 69 people living with systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases (including lupus) and 50 clinicians. Lupus is an autoimmune inflammatory disease known for its effect on many organs including the brain.

In the study, the team also asked patients about the timing of 29 neurological and mental health symptoms (such as depression, hallucinations and loss of balance). In interviews, patients were also asked if they could list the order that symptoms usually occurred when their disease was flaring.

One of the more common symptoms reported was disrupted dream sleep, experienced by three in five patients, a third of whom reported this symptom appearing over a year before onset of lupus disease.

Just under one in four patients reported hallucinations, though for 85% of these the symptom did not appear until around the onset of disease or later. When the researchers interviewed the patients, however, they found that three in five lupus patients and one in three with other rheumatology-related conditions reported increasingly disrupted dreaming sleep -- usually vivid and distressing nightmares -- just before their hallucinations. These nightmares were often vivid and distressing, involving being attacked, trapped, crushed, or falling.

One patient from Ireland described their nightmares as: "Horrific, like murders, like skin coming off people, horrific…I think it's like when I'm overwhelmed which could be the lupus being bad…So I think the more stress my body is under then the more vivid and bad the dreaming would be."

The study interviewers found that using the term 'daymares' to talk about hallucinations often led to a 'lightbulb' moment for patients, and they felt that it was a less frightening and stigmatised word.

A patient from England said: "[When] you said that word daymare and as soon as you said that it just made sense, it's like not necessarily scary, it's just like you've had a dream and yet you're sitting awake in the garden…I see different things, it's like I come out of it and it's like when you wake up and you can't remember your dream and you're there but you're not there… it's like feeling really disorientated, the nearest thing I can think of is that I feel like I'm Alice in Wonderland."

Patients experiencing hallucinations were reluctant to share their experiences, and many specialists said they had never considered nightmares and hallucinations as being related to disease flares. Most said they would talk to their patients about nightmares and hallucinations in future, agreeing that recognising these early flare symptoms may provide an 'early warning system' enabling them to improve care and even reduce clinic times by averting flares at any earlier stage.

Lead author Dr Melanie Sloan from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge said: "It's important that clinicians talk to their patients about these types of symptoms and spend time writing down each patient's individual progression of symptoms. Patients often know which symptoms are a bad sign that their disease is about to flare, but both patients and doctors can be reluctant to discuss mental health and neurological symptoms, particularly if they don't realise that these can be a part of autoimmune diseases."

Senior study author Professor David D'Cruz from Kings College London said: "For many years, I have discussed nightmares with my lupus patients and thought that there was a link with their disease activity. This research provides evidence of this, and we are strongly encouraging more doctors to ask about nightmares and other neuropsychiatric symptoms -- thought to be unusual, but actually very common in systemic autoimmunity -- to help us detect disease flares earlier."

The importance of recognising these symptoms was highlighted by reports that some patients had initially been misdiagnosed or even hospitalised with a psychotic episode and/or suicidal ideation, which was only later found to be the first sign of their autoimmune disease.

One patient from Scotland said: "At 18 I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and then 6 months later with lupus at 19, so it's all very close together and it was strange that when my [borderline personality disorder] got under control and my lupus got under control was within 6 months."

A nurse from Scotland said: "I've seen them admitted for an episode of psychosis and the lupus isn't screened for until someone says 'oh I wonder if it might be lupus'...but it was several months and very difficult… especially with young women and it's learning more that that is how lupus affects some people and it's not anti-psychotic drugs they needed, it's like a lot of steroids."

Professor Guy Leschziner, a study author and neurologist at Guys' and St Thomas' hospital, and author of The Secret World of Sleep, said: "We have long been aware that alterations in dreaming may signify changes in physical, neurological and mental health, and can sometimes be early indicators of disease. However, this is the first evidence that nightmares may also help us monitor such a serious autoimmune condition like lupus, and is an important prompt to patients and clinicians alike that sleep symptoms may tell us about impending relapse."

The research was funded by The Lupus Trust and is part of the INSPIRE project (Investigating Neuropsychiatric Symptom Prevalence and Impact in Rheumatology patient Experiences).

Melanie Sloan, James A. Bourgeois, Guy Leschziner, Thomas A. Pollak, Mervi Pitkanen, Rupert Harwood, Michael Bosley, Alessandra Bortoluzzi, Laura Andreoli, Wendy Diment, James Brimicombe, Mandeep Ubhi, Colette Barrere, Felix Naughton, Caroline Gordon, David D’Cruz. Neuropsychiatric prodromes and symptom timings in relation to disease onset and/or flares in SLE: results from the mixed methods international INSPIRE study. eClinicalMedicine, 2024; 102634 DOI: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2024.102634

I can’t afford olive oil. What else can I use?

Lauren BallThe University of Queensland and Emily BurchSouthern Cross University

If you buy your olive oil in bulk, you’ve likely been in for a shock in recent weeks. Major supermarkets have been selling olive oil for up to A$65 for a four-litre tin, and up to $26 for a 750 millilitre bottle.

We’ve been hearing about the health benefits of olive oil for years. And many of us are adding it to salads, or baking and frying with it.

But during a cost-of-living crisis, these high prices can put olive oil out of reach.

Let’s take a look at why olive oil is in demand, why it’s so expensive right now, and what to do until prices come down.

Remind Me, Why Is Olive Oil So Good For You?

Including olive oil in your diet can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve heart health through more favourable blood pressureinflammation and cholesterol levels.

This is largely because olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols (antioxidants).

Some researchers have suggested you can get these benefits from consuming up to 20 grams a day. That’s equivalent to about five teaspoons of olive oil.

Why Is Olive Oil So Expensive Right Now?

A European heatwave and drought have limited Spanish and Italian producers’ ability to supply olive oil to international markets, including Australia.

This has been coupled with an unusually cold and short growing season for Australian olive oil suppliers.

The lower-than-usual production and supply of olive oil, together with heightened demand from shoppers, means prices have gone up.

Green olives on tree
We’ve seen unfavourable growing conditions in Europe and Australia. KaMay/Shutterstock

How Can I Make My Olive Oil Go Further?

Many households buy olive oil in large quantities because it is cheaper per litre. So, if you have some still in stock, you can make it go further by:

  • storing it correctly – make sure the lid is on tightly and it’s kept in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or cabinet. If stored this way, olive oil can typically last 12–18 months

  • using a spray – sprays distribute oil more evenly than pourers, using less olive oil overall. You could buy a spray bottle to fill from a large tin, as needed

  • straining or freezing it – if you have leftover olive oil after frying, strain it and reuse it for other fried dishes. You could also freeze this used oil in an airtight container, then thaw and fry with it later, without affecting the oil’s taste and other characteristics. But for dressings, only use fresh oil.

I’ve Run Out Of Olive Oil. What Else Can I Use?

Here are some healthy and cheaper alternatives to olive oil:

  • canola oil is a good alternative for frying. It’s relatively low in saturated fat so is generally considered healthy. Like olive oil, it is high in healthy monounsaturated fats. Cost? Up to $6 for a 750mL bottle (home brand is about half the price)

  • sunflower oil is a great alternative to use on salads or for frying. It has a mild flavour that does not overwhelm other ingredients. Some studies suggest using sunflower oil may help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol. Cost? Up to $6.50 for a 750mL bottle (again, home brand is about half the price)

  • sesame oil has a nutty flavour. It’s good for Asian dressings, and frying. Light sesame oil is typically used as a neutral cooking oil, while the toasted type is used to flavour sauces. Sesame oil is high in antioxidants and has some anti-inflammatory properties. Sesame oil is generally sold in smaller bottles than canola or sunflower oil. Cost? Up to $5 for a 150mL bottle.

Rows of vegetable oil bottles
There are plenty of alternative oils you can use in salads or for frying. narai chal/Shutterstock

How Can I Use Less Oil, Generally?

Using less oil in your cooking could keep your meals healthy. Here are some alternatives and cooking techniques:

  • use alternatives for baking – unless you are making an olive oil cake, if your recipe calls for a large quantity of oil, try using an alternative such as apple sauce, Greek yoghurt or mashed banana

  • use non-stick cookware – using high-quality, non-stick pots and pans reduces the need for oil when cooking, or means you don’t need oil at all

  • steam instead – steam vegetables, fish and poultry to retain nutrients and moisture without adding oil

  • bake or roast – potatoes, vegetables or chicken can be baked or roasted rather than fried. You can still achieve crispy textures without needing excessive oil

  • grill – the natural fats in meat and vegetables can help keep ingredients moist, without using oil

  • use stock – instead of sautéing vegetables in oil, try using vegetable broth or stock to add flavour

  • try vinegar or citrus – use vinegar or citrus juice (such as lemon or lime) to add flavour to salads, marinades and sauces without relying on oil

  • use natural moisture – use the natural moisture in ingredients such as tomatoes, onions and mushrooms to cook dishes without adding extra oil. They release moisture as they cook, helping to prevent sticking.The Conversation

Lauren Ball, Professor of Community Health and Wellbeing, The University of Queensland and Emily Burch, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Lecturer, Southern Cross University

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

We still don’t know the extent of the MediSecure breach, but watch out for these potential scams

Paul Haskell-DowlandEdith Cowan University

On Thursday last week, Australian media began reporting that an unnamed “commercial health information organisation” had been targeted by cyber criminals.

Within hours, reports quickly confirmed that data relating to digital prescriptions for Australian patients had been caught up in a ransomware incident at the Melbourne-based MediSecure.

The public may be concerned at the lack of information shared to date, with the Australian government still saying it is in the preliminary stages of its response, and investigations are ongoing.

It is quite normal for such investigations to take time. In fact, it’s likely to be several days (even weeks) before we have a full picture of the impact.

While these investigations progress, it is important to be alert to opportunistic scams that are likely to emerge in the coming days – even if you have never received a digital prescription.

Am I A Victim Of The MediSecure Breach?

MediSecure provided digital prescription (eScript) services across Australia until late 2023. The company would have held personal details and some limited medical data relating to prescriptions.

If you received a prescription (via email or SMS) prior to November, it is possible your medical practice was using the MediSecure prescription system. You can potentially check this by consulting older scripts and seeing if the hyperlink was issued via MediSecure.

However, there is currently no information that would allow us to determine who is affected. For many, this will be disappointing as there would obviously be records that would indicate which healthcare practices were using the prescription service from MediSecure.

It is, however, possible this data is currently inaccessible due to the ransomware incident. Alternatively, the government may be working with providers to plan communications with those who are affected. This could be a good way to manage the sharing of information with these people, if handled in a timely fashion.

What About More Recent Prescriptions?

From November 15 2023, MediSecure ceased processing prescriptions in Australia after a tender process allocated the contract to a single company, eRx. Almost 190 million digital prescriptions were issued in the last four years between the two providers.

The government has provided assurance that services provided by eRx have not been affected:

People should keep accessing their medications and filling their prescriptions. This includes prescriptions (paper and electronic) that may have been issued up until November 2023.

Look Out For Potential Scams

The priority at the moment is to determine the level of the breach. Investigations will reveal if the company has simply been locked out of its systems, or if data was also stolen.

Meanwhile, there is potential for scams to start appearing – including ones that originate from completely unrelated criminal groups.

Criminals won’t miss an opportunity to capitalise on a public interest story, including significant events. Following the Optus data breach, it did not take long before criminals were establishing new campaigns to manipulate the public in the wake of a major security issue.

It is highly likely we will soon see scams that use the MediSecure story as a “hook”. This could be as simple as providing a link to “find out if you are a victim” or even offering to help alleged victims reclaim their data and/or identity.

If, however, the criminals behind the MediSecure ransomware have taken the data for their own use, we are potentially facing much bigger issues.

With access to personal information, prescription data and (possibly) a person’s Medicare card number, scammers can add an air of authenticity to their campaigns.
Imagine receiving an official-looking email that includes the final four digits of your Medicare card to “verify” the email is genuine. The email might even assure you it is genuine by saying it has not included the full number for “your security”.

If stolen data is then released (likely on the dark web), there is potential for other criminals to use the data in campaigns. This recently happened following the Optus data breach.

What Next?

The investigation will be continuing for the coming weeks. The primary aim is to determine how much data has been accessed, if it has been copied and how many people are affected.

So far, we have been assured no identity documentation is at risk, as Medicare records contain limited information that would not allow for identity theft.

The most important message at the moment is to be alert. We are likely to see scams emerging over the coming days that will leverage this incident. Many will likely be very convincing.

If you receive direct communications claiming to be from MediSecure, stop. Refer to the Home Affairs website which will be updated with the latest information.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Little Black Book of Scams is a great reference to raise awareness of the techniques used by cyber criminals.The Conversation

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Professor of Cyber Security Practice, Edith Cowan University

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

MediSecure data breach: why is health data so lucrative for hackers?

Megan PrictorThe University of Melbourne

The latest large-scale ransomware attack on a health technology provider, electronic prescription company MediSecure, was revealed last week.

MediSecure announced it had suffered a “cyber security incident” affecting people’s personal and health information. Details of the attack are scant. We’ve been told it stemmed from a “third-party vendor”, which means a company that provides services to another company.

In a general sense, ransomware attacks occur when a hacker gets access to a system, infects and locks up files, and then demands a ransom – usually in cryptocurrency – for their release.

Government agencies including the National Cyber Security Coordinator and Australian Federal Police are investigating the incident.

Cybercrime is big business, generating huge profits. This latest incident shines a light on the vulnerability of health data specifically.

What Are E-Prescriptions?

E-prescribing works by sending prescriptions to a digital exchange, essentially a secure database of prescription information. From there, patients control which pharmacy can access it, by showing pharmacy staff a token such as a QR code or barcode.

Electronic prescriptions contain personal information such as people’s name, address, date of birth and Medicare number. They include details about prescribed medicines, as well as the prescriber’s name, address and other information.

The Digital Health Agency (an agency of the Australian government) reports that over the past four years, more than 189 million e-prescriptions have been issued by more than 80,000 clinicians.

Until late 2023, MediSecure was one of two national e-prescribing services, delivering prescriptions from health-care providers to pharmacies.

Last year, MediSecure was overlooked in a government tender process to appoint a single national e-prescribing provider. At that time, MediSecure held more than 28 million scripts.

MediSecure has noted the incident relates to data held by its systems up until November 2023.

While it’s unclear who has been affected by this breach, the potential pool of patients and prescribers involved is large.

A Worrying Trend

This incident, which comes less than two years after the widely publicised Medibank hack, is alarming but unfortunately not surprising.

Health care is digitising rapidly, with innovations such as patient-accessible electronic health records, remote monitoring and wearable devices. These developments can make health care more efficient and effective. They improve people’s access to care, and mean that information – such as prescriptions – is readily available where and when it’s needed.

Partly because of the scale of digital health data, breaches are very common. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner routinely reports that health services suffer the most breaches of any sector, mainly through malicious or criminal attacks.

Why Is Health Data So Lucrative?

Health data is very attractive to hackers because of its volume, and ease of access via system vulnerabilities. Historical under-investment in IT security in the sector, understaffing and overstretched staff (leading to human error), and high connectivity, all contribute to this risk.

Health data is also easy to ransom because of the value patients, clinicians and health organisations place on keeping it private. No one wants a repeat of the Medibank ransomware attack, where Australians’ most sensitive health information – such as drug treatment or pregnancy termination details – was published online.

A female pharmacist hands a customer a box of medication.
Electronic prescriptions offer convenience for patients. PH888/Shutterstock

Beyond finding out how the MediSecure attack happened, patients want to know how to protect themselves from harm. At present it seems too early to say. The initial advice from the government is that no action is required.

Unfortunately, the usual measures we use to protect against hacks of financial and identity data don’t work for health data. We cannot change our prescription or other medical history like we might change our passwords, get a new driver’s licence, or scrutinise our bank statements for fraud.

If someone’s medication history is released it may indicate things about their health status, such as mental illness, gender transitioning, fertility treatment or care for drug and alcohol addiction. Not much can be done to stop the personal distress and stigmatisation that may follow. People may be blackmailed through this information, or suffer harms such as discrimination.

Data breach notification is a legal requirement on organisations to inform individuals about breaches affecting their data. It was touted as a solution to the problem of hacking when laws were introduced in Australia in 2018, but it doesn’t help affected people very much in this situation. Being informed your prescription for an anxiety medication or a treatment for obesity is now public knowledge might simply cause greater distress.

Where Does Responsibility Lie?

Hacking is a major threat to organisations holding health data, and the onus must largely be on them to protect against it. They must all have rigorous cyber-security protections, the capacity to respond rapidly when attacks take place, and resilience measures such as backups to restore systems quickly.

Patients are now taking steps against companies who don’t protect their data. In the case of Medibank, affected customers have launched several class actions with the national privacy regulator and under Australian corporations and consumer law.

The introduction of a right to sue for serious invasions of privacy under an amended Privacy Act is an important, impending, change. It would mean people whose prescriptions and other sensitive health information were hacked could pursue breached companies for damages.

Companies facing heightened cyber threats, increased regulatory scrutiny and legal claims by those whose data has been breached find themselves in a tight spot. But so do patients, who watch unfolding news of the MediSecure attack, waiting to find out what information about their health may soon be on public display.The Conversation

Megan Prictor, Senior Lecturer in Law, The University of Melbourne

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

Is it time for Australia to reassess its position on France’s role in New Caledonia?

Nicole GeorgeThe University of Queensland

On Sunday afternoon, Australian citizens who have been trapped in New Caledonia were called to a meeting at one of the large hotels in the capital, Noumea.

The meeting was hastily organised and long overdue in the view of many who have been stuck here (including myself) amid the violent unrest that has roiled the French territory. While communication between the Australian High Commission and Australian citizens has not been ideal, the meeting made clear local officials were working to the best of their abilities to develop repatriation strategies.

Their accounts of these strategies, however, suggest that not only is the situation dangerous and logistics complex, another sticking point is the French administration.

We were advised there was a plan to use military aircraft to evacuate Australians from Noumea’s domestic airport. This area has been a hotspot in the current crisis, but Australian officials believed it was more easily accessible than the international airport. This remains closed until the national highway running north of the city can be cleared of debris and made safe.

The Australian High Commission staff told us they had a flight schedule in place and the RAAF aircraft had been fuelled and was on the tarmac ready to depart. There were buses ready to transfer Australians from their hotels.

Yet, the plans were axed at the 11th hour on Sunday when permission to land at the domestic airport did not proceed. It was not clear if this was a decision made by French officials in New Caledonia or in France itself.

Pressure Growing On The French Government

About 300 Australians have requested repatriation from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after violence broke out last week over new voting rules being sought by French authorities in Paris.

French forces began arriving in New Caledonia in recent days and launched a major operation to regain control of the main road to the international airport on Sunday.

On the one hand, a strategic logic explains the French government’s reticence to allow an Australian military plane to land. The optics of a foreign military operation to evacuate travellers could raise questions about the French authorities’ control over the situation and diminish France’s standing in the region.

Neighbouring states in the Pacific have long viewed France as a valued strategic ally capable of balancing China’s increased prominence in the region. The arrival of Australian military plane, however, would draw international attention to the compromised nature of French security in the Pacific.

Domestically, this would also play badly for President Emmanuel Macron, who is under pressure from both sides of politics for the headline-capturing crisis in New Caledonia that his government largely sparked itself.

On the left, figures such as John-Luc Mélenchon, who challenged Macron in the 2022 presidential election, have criticised the damage caused to the principles of the Noumea Accord peace agreement through Macron’s insistence the vote on constitutional changes to expand the territory’s electoral role should proceed last week. This occurred even while tensions were visibly increasing across “le Caillou” (as New Caledonia is also known in France).

The changes could give voting rights to tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents of New Caledonia, which the Indigenous Kanak population says would dilute the strength of their vote in elections.

In recent days, even those on the right have joined this criticism, distancing themselves from a previously close relationship with Loyalist political elements in New Caledonia who are opposed to independence.

Opposition Leader Marine le Pen has proposed the need for a “solution globale” that goes beyond the narrower focus on residents’ voting status and addresses the chronic economic and social inequalities between the Kanak and non-Indigenous populations.

She has also suggested there now be a fourth referendum on self-determination, long a goal of many Kanaks. Anti-independence factions in the territory, however, oppose such a move, believing the question over independence has been concluded with three recent referendums failing in recent years.

Why Australia’s Position Should Change

The violence in New Caledonia has been frightening, uncontrolled and devastating for the country. I have written that, for many, this violence is an expression of Kanak youths’ feelings of desperation due to the deep inequalities in the territory.

Some observers believe it is time to ask critical questions about the legitimacy of a colonial system of government in New Caledonia that allows these inequalities to persist.

As New Caledonia navigated an earlier pro-independence uprising known as les Événements in the 1980s, the Australian government stood with other Pacific nations in the Melanesian Spearhead Group and supported a move to see New Caledonia placed on the UN General Assembly’s list of non-self governing territories. This move required French authorities to establish appropriate forms of self-government for the territory.

The Australian high commissioner at the time was expelled from the territory as a result. Pacific Island states, Australia’s political leadership at the time and even many members of the public saw this stand as the right one to take.

As negotiations proceeded on the 1988 Matignon Peace agreement, which brought a halt to the violence, Australian policy on New Caledonia became more conciliatory towards France and less focused on the decolonisation question.

In recent days, the problem with this position has been clearly exposed. The scale of the rioting and devastation in Noumea demonstrate, yet again, the failures of France to properly address the feelings of discontent among the Kanak population and the profound inequalities that exist in New Caledonia.

It is time for Australia to address the injustice of this situation on our doorstep and revisit its policies of the mid-1980s.

Calls are mounting across the territory and the Pacific region for a new broad-based dialogue between all of New Caledonia’s communities to take place in the territory, rather than in Paris as Macron has proposed.

This is seen by local and regional political and civil society leaders as critical to the achievement of peace. For leaders such as Mark Brown, the outgoing chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and the Cook Islands prime minister, reviving the prospect of full territorial sovereignty can only enhance this cause.

As a nation that advocates internationally for democratic principles – and that publicly states its affinity for the Pacific family – Australia should no longer stay quiet on this question. This week shows why it must shift its foreign policy to support New Caledonia’s decolonisation as a matter of urgency.The Conversation

Nicole George, Associate Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Queensland

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

Déjà vu in New Caledonia: why decades of political failure will make this uprising hard to contain

David SmallUniversity of Canterbury

With an air force plane on its way to rescue New Zealanders stranded by the violent uprising in New Caledonia, many familiar with the island’s history are experiencing an unwelcome sense of déjà vu.

When I first visited the island territory in 1983, I interviewed Eloi Machoro, general secretary of the largest pro-independence party, L'Union Calédonienne. It was a position he had held since his predecessor, Pierre Declerq, was assassinated less than two years earlier.

Machoro was angry and frustrated with the socialist government in France, which had promised independence while in opposition, but was prevaricating after coming to power.

Tension was building, and within 18 months Machoro himself was killed by a French military sniper after leading a campaign to disrupt a vote on France’s plans for the territory.

I was in New Caledonia again last December, 40 years after my first visit, and Kanak anger and frustration seemed even more intense. On the anniversary of the 1984 Hienghène massacre, in which ten Kanak activists were killed in an ambush by armed settlers, there was a big demonstration in Nouméa.

Staged by a new activist group, the Coordination Unit for Actions on the Ground (CCAT), it focused on the visit of French defence minister Sébastien Lecornu, who was hosting a meeting of South Pacific defence ministers.

This followed the declaration by French president Emmanuel Macron, during a visit in July 2023, that the process set out in the 1998 Nouméa Accords had been concluded: independence was no longer an option because the people of New Caledonia had voted against it.

The sense of betrayal felt by the independence movement and many Kanak people was boiling over again. The endgame at this stage is unclear, and a lot will ride on talks in Paris later this month.

End Of The Nouméa Accords

The Nouméa Accords had set out a framework the independence movement believed could work. Pro- and anti-independence groups, and the French government, agreed there would be three referendums, in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

A restricted electoral college was established that stipulated new migrants could still vote in French national elections, but not in New Caledonia’s provincial elections or independence referendums.

The independence movement had reason to trust this process. It had been guaranteed by a change to the French constitution that apparently protected it from the whims of any change of government in Paris.

The 2018 referendum returned a vote of 43% in favour of independence, significantly higher than most commentators were predicting. Two years later, the 47% in favour of independence sparked jubilant celebrations on the streets of Nouméa.

Arnaud Chollet-Leakava, founder and president of the Mouvement des Océaniens pour l’Indépendance (and member of CCAT), said he’d seen nothing like the spontaneous outpouring after the second referendum.

It was a party atmosphere all over Nouméa, with tooting horns and Kanak flags everywhere. You’d think we had won.

There was overwhelming confidence the movement had the momentum to achieve 50% in the final referendum. But in 2021, the country was ravaged by COVID, especially among Kanak communities. The independence movement asked for the third referendum to be postponed for six months.

Macron refused the request, the independence movement refused to participate, and the third referendum returned a 97% vote against independence. On that basis, France now insists the project set out in the Nouméa Accords has been completed.

Consensus And Crisis

The current turmoil is directly related to the dismantling of the Nouméa Accords, and the resulting full electoral participation of thousands of recent immigrants.

France has effectively sided with the anti-independence camp and abandoned the commitment to consensus that had been a hallmark of French policy since the Matignon Accords in 1988.

Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) president Jean-Marie Tjibaou returned to New Caledonia after the famous Matignon handshake with anti-independence leader Jacques Lafleur. It took Tjibaou and his delegation two long meetings to convince the FLNKS to endorse the accords.

The Ouvéa hostage crisis that claimed 19 Kanak lives just weeks earlier had reminded people what France was capable of when its authority was challenged, and many activists were in no mood for compromise. But the movement did demobilise and commit to a decades-long consensus process that was to culminate in an independence vote.

With France unilaterally ending the process, the leaders of the independence movement have emerged empty-handed. That is what has enraged Kanak people and led to young people venting their anger on the streets.

A New Kind Of Uprising

Unlike those of the 1980s, the current uprising was not planned and organised by leaders of the movement. It is a spontaneous and sustained popular outburst. This is also why independence leaders have been unable to stop it.

It has gone so far that Simon Loueckhote, a conservative Kanak leader who was a signatory of the Nouméa Accords for the anti-independence camp, wrote a public letter to Macron on Monday, calling for a halt to the current political strategy as the only way to end the current cycle of violence.

Finally, all this must be seen in even broader historical context. Kanak people were denied the right to vote until the 1950s – a century after France annexed their lands.

Barely 20 years later, France’s then prime minister, Pierre Messmer, penned a now infamous letter to his overseas territories minister. It revealed a deliberate plan to thwart any potential threat to French rule in the colony by ensuring any nationalist movement was outnumbered by massive immigration.

And now France has brought new settlers into the country, and encouraged them to feel entitled to vote. Until a lasting solution is found, either by reviving the Nouméa Accords or agreement on a better model, more conflict seems inevitable.The Conversation

David Small, Senior lecturer, Above the Bar School of Educational Studies and Leadership, University of Canterbury

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

A pest of our own making: revealing the true origins of the not-so-German cockroach

Erik Karits, Shutterstock
Theo EvansThe University of Western Australia and Qian TangHarvard University

German cockroaches thrive in buildings all over the world. They’re one of the most common cockroach species, causing trouble for people both here and overseas. But in nature, they’re nowhere to be found.

Just how this urban pest evolved and populated our dwellings was unknown – until now.

We used DNA sequencing to study the German cockroach (Blattella germanica) and trace its origins back to east India and Bangladesh.

It’s a fascinating story about how humans enabled the evolution and spread of one of our most hated pests.

A German Enigma

The spotlight fell on the star of our story in eastern Europe when it was spotted in army food stores during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). Each of the opposing forces named the cockroach after the other – the Russians called it the “Prussian cockroach”, while British and Prussian soldiers called it the “Russian cockroach”.

Then in 1767, Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus classified and named the species (Blatta germanica). Blatta is Latin for “avoids the light” and germanica because the specimens he examined were collected in Germany. (The genus was later changed to Blattella to group the smaller varieties of cockroaches together.)

Eventually scientists discovered related species, with similar anatomy, in Africa and Asia. They variously suggested the German cockroach could have first evolved in either Africa or Asia, before going on to dominate the world.

But they had no way to test their theories. We do.

Enter Gene Sequencing

We took DNA samples from 281 cockroaches in 17 countries around the world.

Then we compared the DNA sequences for one particular genetic region, called CO1. This is known as “DNA barcoding”.

When we compared the German cockroach with similar species from Asia, we found a match. The sequence of the German cockroach was almost identical to that of Blattella asahinai from the Bay of Bengal.

More than 80% of our German cockroach samples matched perfectly. The remaining 20% barely differed.

This means the two species diverged from one another just 2,100 years ago – an eyeblink in evolutionary terms.

A female German cockroach and her babies
German cockroaches have a high reproductive rate. Matt Bertone and Coby Schal of North Carolina State University

From The Bay Of Bengal To The World

We think B. asahinai adapted to living alongside people after farmers cleared their natural habitat, just as other species have done.

So the ancestors of B. asahinai moved from Indian fields into buildings and became dependent on humans. But how did they then spread across the world?

To answer this question, we analysed another set of DNA sequences from the cockroach genome.

This time we studied DNA sequences known as SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). Using our samples from 17 countries across six continents, we were able to work out how the German cockroach spread from their native lands and around the world.

The first wave of migration emerged from the Bay of Bengal around 1,200 years ago and travelled westwards. It’s likely the cockroaches hitched a ride with the traders and armies of the expanding Islamic Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates.

The next wave moved eastwards around 390 years ago into Indonesia. They probably travelled with European trading companies, such as the British East India Company or the Dutch East India Company. Several such companies traded across South East Asia and back to Europe from the beginning of the 17th century.

Our research suggests German cockroaches arrived in Europe about 270 years ago, which matches the historical records from the Seven Years’ War.

The German cockroach then spread from Europe to the rest of the world about 120 years ago. This global expansion is consistent with historical records of this new species in various countries.

We believe global trade facilitated this spread because more closely related populations are found in countries with cultural links, rather than countries that are simply close to one another. In keeping with this, we found one other expansion in Asia – north and eastwards into China and Korea – about 170 years ago.

As steam-powered ships replaced sail ships, the hitchhikers were transported more rapidly. Shorter journey times meant they were more likely to arrive alive and invade new countries.

Then improvements in housing, such as plumbing and indoor heating, created conditions conducive to surviving and thriving in buildings all around the world.

Why are cockroaches so hard to kill? (Ameya Gondhalekar, TED-Ed)

The Pest Control Arms Race

Of course, people don’t like cockroaches, so the invaders’ survival depended on their ability to stay hidden.

The German cockroach evolved to become nocturnal (as their name suggests) and avoid open spaces. It stopped flying, yet retained its wings.

These cockroaches are notorious for their ability to rapidly evolve resistance to many of the insecticides used in surface sprays. Resistance can appear within a few years. This makes the challenge of finding new active ingredients difficult, given the high cost of discovery, safety tests and registration.

Cockroach baits were cheap and effective when introduced in the 1980s. But they soon became less effective against German cockroaches. That’s because the baits used sugars to tempt cockroaches. Cockroaches with a “sweet tooth” were killed, while those that preferred other tastes survived and reproduced.

As we develop new strategies to control German cockroaches, we need to consider how they might evolve to evade attack. If we understand how resistance emerges we can then find better ways to counter-attack. We can identify weak spots to exploit.

After all, the German cockroach will continue to evolve and adapt to stay alive, so the arms race between us and the cockroach will go on for years to come.The Conversation

Theo Evans, Associate Professor of Applied Entomology, The University of Western Australia and Qian Tang, Research Associate in Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

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

A century ago, anti-immigrant backlash almost closed America’s doors

Immigrant children at Ellis Island in New York, 1908. National Archives/Wikimedia Commons
Matthew SmithMiami University

One hundred years ago, the U.S. Congress enacted the most notorious immigration legislation in American history. Signed by President Calvin Coolidge, the Immigration Act of 1924 dramatically reduced immigration from eastern and southern Europe and practically barred it from Asia.

How the law did this, however, was somewhat subtle: a quota. Lawmakers calculated how many immigrants from each European country were residing in the United States in 1890 and then took 2% of that number. Only that many newcomers could be admitted from any particular country each year. Before the end of the 19th century, the number of immigrants from outside western and northern Europe was still relatively small – meaning their 2% quotas would be minuscule.

In short, the Immigration Act was unabashedly racist, seeking to roll back the demographic tide. One of its sponsors, U.S. Rep. Albert Johnson, warned the House Committee on Immigration that “a stream of alien blood” was poisoning the nation.

Torn between “the American dream” and fears of an ungovernable “melting pot,” Americans have always viewed immigrants ambivalently. In 1924, as is true today, many citizens thought in terms of “good” immigration versus “bad” immigration. In their minds, 1890 marked a dividing line between the two.

Looking back as a historian of immigration and religion, I’m struck by three changes in U.S. views of immigration over the course of the 19th century.

Religion, More Than Race

By the 20th century, eugenicists were obsessing over race. In contrast, early 19th century nativists worried more about religion and how to protect America’s culturally Protestant foundations from Catholic immigrants – most of whom, at this point, came from Ireland and Germany. At the heart of this anxiety lay an old paranoia: Could foreigners confessing loyalty to an infallible pope become faithful citizens of a republic?

Crocodiles crawl up the shore as a man tries to protect children hiding behind him.
An 1870 political cartoon by Thomas Nast depicts Catholic bishops as crocodiles threatening America’s public school system. Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps so, ventured Cincinnati preacher Rev. Lyman Beecher – but only with great effort on their behalf.

“What is to be done,” he asked, in his influential 1835 tract “A Plea For the West,” “to educate the millions which in twenty years Europe will pour out upon us?”

Many nativists of this time shared similar fears of immigration, declaring that the Catholic Church was orchestrating “a foreign conspiracy” against the liberties of the U.S., aimed at stripping away constitutional freedoms and rigging elections on behalf of Vatican interests.

For Beecher, creating “intelligent, virtuous, and industrious emigrants” demanded public education combined with Protestant influence. By such means, he supposed, patriotic Americans might be fashioned from Catholic populations, who might just embrace Protestant churches along the way. Such thinking was commonplace.

Local, Not Federal

A second contrast between the earlier nativism and its later 19th century counterpart was the virtual absence of major national immigration legislation. For all their fears of foreign Catholic influence, nativists in the early American republic emphasized assimilation over exclusion. They saw immigration as a cultural, religious and educational concern more than an arena for federal policy.

A faded poster of two men and a quote below which reads 'I know nothing but my Country, my whole Country, and nothing but my Country.'
An 1856 campaign poster for the American Party, whose members were also known as Know-Nothings. Wikimedia Commons

The anti-immigrant American Party, or Know-Nothing ticket, did flourish in the 1850s before imploding over the issue of slavery. Know-Nothings enjoyed big gains in state and municipal elections, winning mayoral elections in cities including Boston and Philadelphia.

In Beecher’s hometown of Cincinnati, however, the nativist ticket failed to dislodge the incumbent Democratic mayor. There and elsewhere, Know-Nothing dependence on Protestant German support against the immigrant Catholic vote revealed the frailty of coalition politics and the subjective nature of distinctions between “good” and “bad” immigrants. Likewise, the one major immigration proposal of the American Party – a required 21-year waiting period for new immigrants seeking citizenship – never got past the drawing board.

Although overseas immigration declined in the mid-1850s, Know-Nothing activism did not necessarily explain this downturn. Instead, declining immigration reflected economic cycles, such as the end of Ireland’s peak famine years.

End Of An Era

The final variable shaping popular attitudes toward immigration was westward expansion. Most Americans regarded the frontier as a pressure valve for their growing country, promising land and opportunity to enterprising settlers. But by the late 19th century, the era of Manifest Destiny – the belief that the country’s destiny was to spread from sea to sea – was nearing the end of its road.

A black and white photo of five men standing formally outside, with two in suits and three in Native American clothing.
President Calvin Coolidge stands outside the White House with four Osage leaders after signing the Indian Citizenship Act. National Photo Company Collection/Wikimedia Commons

Revealingly, the 68th U.S. Congress, which passed the Immigration Act of 1924, also passed the Indian Citizenship Act the following month. The law confirmed that all Native Americans were U.S. citizens at birth, while reinforcing their dependency on reservation lands as wards of the federal government.

The closure of the frontier marked a watershed in immigration history but also a sea change in America’s Indigenous relations. The government integrated Native citizens into the fabric of society, yet withheld the full benefits of citizenship, including guaranteed voting rights.

New Era, New Prejudice

By the late 1800s, the children of 19th century immigrants – mostly northern Europeans – had largely assimilated into American society, despite the anti-German prejudice that was common during World War I.

Meanwhile, newer immigrants from elsewhere in Europe and beyond were growing in number and experienced discrimination. Immigrants from East Asia, in particular, faced suspicion. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 set a moratorium on all immigration from China, alleging that Chinese immigrants endangered “the good order of certain localities.”

A black and white photograph of a man and woman posing formally with children in a kitchen.
A Chinese family in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1893. In much of the U.S., immigrants from Asia experienced intense discrimination. Hawaii State Archives/Wikimedia Commons

Generally speaking, racial rather than religious prejudice dominated anti-immigrant politics by the late 19th century – although these boundaries blurred in the case of antisemitism against Jewish immigrants from eastern and central Europe. The popularity of “racial Darwinism” was at its height: pseudoscientific thinking that misconstrued Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution, applying ideas such as “survival of fittest” to human society. Many Americans with ancestry from northern Europe embraced the resulting dogma of “Nordic” superiority.

The racism behind the 1924 Immigration Act even prompted a reference in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the celebrated novel published the following year.

“Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?” asks Gatsby’s antagonist, Tom Buchanan. This thinly veiled reference alludes to “The Passing of the White Race,” a 1916 manifesto by avowed white supremacist Madison Grant – which was approvingly cited in the congressional debates of 1924.

The Record Since

The quota system was not repealed until 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, praising “those who can contribute most to this country – to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit.”

Ever since, U.S. immigration has avoided overt discrimination by national origins, with one exception: Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order temporarily barring entry visas from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Nevertheless, the Immigration Act of 1924 remains a historical benchmark, reflecting age-old tensions between civic inclusion and racial exclusivity in American life.The Conversation

Matthew Smith, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Miami University

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

Webb Telescope Offers First Glimpse Of An Exoplanet's Interior

May 20, 2024
A surprisingly low amount of methane and a super-sized core hide within the cotton candy-like planet WASP-107 b.

The revelations, based on data obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope, mark the first measurements of an exoplanet's core mass and will likely underpin future studies of planetary atmospheres and interiors, a key aspect in the search for habitable worlds beyond our solar system.

Artist’s concept of WASP-107 b, a warm Neptune exoplanet about 200 light-years away. IMAGE CREDIT: ROBERTO MOLAR CANDANOSA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

"Looking into the interior of a planet hundreds of light-years away sounds almost impossible, but when you know the mass, radius, atmospheric composition, and hotness of its interior, you've got all the pieces you need to get an idea of what's inside and how heavy that core is," said lead author David Sing, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. "This is now something we can do for lots of different gas planets in various systems."
Published today in Nature, the research shows the planet has a thousand times less methane than expected and a core 12 times more massive than Earth's.

A giant planet wrapped by a scorching atmosphere as fluffy as cotton, WASP-107 b orbits a star about 200 light-years away. It is puffy because of its build: a Jupiter-sized world with only a tenth of that planet's mass.

Even though it has methane -- a building block of life on Earth -- the planet is not considered habitable because of its proximity to its parent star and lack of a solid surface. But it could hold important clues about late-stage planetary evolution.

In a separate study published today in Nature, other scientists also spotted methane with the Webb telescope and provided similar insights about the planet's size and density.

"We want to look at planets more similar to the gas giants in our own solar system, which have a lot of methane in their atmospheres," Sing said. "This is where the story of WASP-107 b got really interesting, because we didn't know why the methane levels were so low."
The new methane measurements suggest the molecule transforms into other compounds as it flows upward from the planet's interior, interacting with a concoction of other chemicals and starlight in the upper atmosphere. The team also measured sulfur dioxide, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide -- and found WASP-107 b has more heavy elements than Uranus and Neptune.

The profile of the planet's chemistry is starting to reveal key pieces in the puzzle of how planetary atmospheres behave in extreme conditions, Sing said. His team will conduct similar observations over the next year on an additional 25 planets with the Webb telescope.

"We had never been able to study this mixing process in an exoplanet atmosphere in detail, so this will go a long way in understanding how these dynamic chemical reactions operate," Sing said. "It's something we definitely need as we start looking at rocky planets and biomarker signatures."

Scientists had speculated that the planet's overinflated radius resulted from a source of heat inside, said Zafar Rustamkulov, a Johns Hopkins doctoral student in planetary science who co-led the research. By combining atmospheric and interior physics models with Webb's data of WASP-107 b, the team accounted for how the planet's thermodynamics influences its observable atmosphere.

"The planet has a hot core, and that heat source is changing the chemistry of the gases deeper down, but it's also driving this strong, convective mixing bubbling up from the interior," Rustamkulov said. "We think this heat is causing the chemistry of the gases to change, specifically destroying methane and making elevated amounts of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide."
The new findings also represent the clearest connection scientists have been able to make about the interior of an exoplanet and the top of its atmosphere, Rustamkulov said. Last year the Webb telescope spotted sulfur dioxide about 700 light-years away in a different exoplanet called WASP-39, providing the first evidence of an atmospheric compound created by starlight-driven reactions.

The Johns Hopkins team is now focusing on what might be keeping the core hot, and expects forces might be in play similar to those causing high and low tides in Earth's oceans. They plan to test whether the planet is being stretched and pulled by its star and how that might account for the core's high heat.

Other study authors are Daniel P. Thorngren and Elena Manjavacas of Johns Hopkins University; Joanna K. Barstow of the Open University; Pascal Tremblin of Université Paris-Saclay; Catarina Alves de Oliveira, Stephan M. Birkmann, and Pierre Ferruit of the European Space Agency; Tracy L. Beck, Néstor Espinoza, Amélie Gressier, Marco Sirianni, and Jeff A. Valenti of the Space Telescope Science Institute; Ryan C. Challener of Cornell University; Nicolas Crouzet, Giovanna Giardino, and Nikole K. Lewis of Leiden University; Elspeth K. H. Lee; Roberto Maiolino of University of Cambridge; and Bernard J. Rauscher of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

This research is based on data obtained from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-03127.

Sing, D.K., Rustamkulov, Z., Thorngren, D.P. et al. A warm Neptune’s methane reveals core mass and vigorous atmospheric mixing. Nature, 2024 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-024-07395-z

Artist’s concept of WASP-107 b, a warm Neptune exoplanet about 200 light-years away. IMAGE CREDIT: ROBERTO MOLAR CANDANOSA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

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