What Australian states can learn from Trump dismantling climate change policy



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President Trump is challenging the US states’ right to set their own emissions targets.
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Sarah Graham, University of Sydney

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement was greeted with dismay around the world. Less well known, but probably just as damaging to emissions reductions, was freezing standards for carbon dioxide emissions from cars in July.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world


The erosion of US federal climate policy has made action from individual states far more important. As Australia grapples with yet another failure to implement a national emissions policy, what can we learn from America?

And is it time for Australian states to reach out directly to like-minded states in other parts of the world to tackle global climate issues?




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Strong state action

From the outside, the US often looks like a bastion of climate change denial and very large cars, but a group of US states has nevertheless made some of the most dramatic progress in curbing emissions of any jurisdictions in the world.

Consider New Jersey. In 1998, while the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated (and ultimately rejected by George W. Bush), Governor Christine Whitman ordered that the state pursue an emissions target of 3.5% below 1990 levels by 2005.

Since then, New Jersey has consistently adopted emissions reduction targets in line with global agreements, effectively bypassing the weaker standards at the federal level. Several other, mostly Democrat, states across the nation took similar action during the Bush administration, placing caps on emissions from power generation, establishing internal carbon trading systems, and adopting ambitious state emissions targets.




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The Trump administration, slanted science and the environment: 4 essential reads


California’s regulation of air quality goes back even further. In response to Los Angeles’ smog problem – arising from a confluence of geographical conditions, warm weather, and high automobile use – Sacramento introduced smog restrictions on automobiles in 1960. This predated both the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and any meaningful federal effort to regulate air quality or car pollution. In 1970, when President Nixon established the EPA and Congress gave teeth to the Clean Air Act, California was granted special waivers to adopt stricter anti-smog measures. The state has done so ever since.

Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and as part of a much broader climate change initiative, reduction targets for CO₂ emissions from automobiles were added to the existing anti-smog rules. By this time, a number of states were also following California’s more stringent standards. These included states bordering California where auto dealers wished to sell California-compliant cars, but also East Coast progressive states pursuing ambitious climate change plans of their own.

Australian states

Australia is not in exactly the same position as the the US – for example, we are virtually unique in the developed world for having no fuel efficiency standards for cars – but there are some striking similarities.




Read more:
Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets


The policy deadlock at the federal level has made action from states, and even local councils, vitally important.

At the same time as the federal government is struggling to put emissions reduction on the national agenda, Victoria has made a huge commitment to rooftop solar. South Australia, which leads the country in renewable energy generation, is now a net energy exporter for the first time.

While the Queensland state government grapples over the Adani coal mine, a May report found that billions of dollars in renewable energy projects are underway.

The Trump effect

The Trump administration is widely expected to repeal many Obama-era limits on pollution. Auto emissions standards came onto the chopping-block in July, when the administration unveiled its plan to “Make Cars Great Again” by freezing fuel efficiency standards at 37 miles per gallon.

The EPA has also announced that it will revoke California’s waiver to set more stringent standards, which 13 other states including New York now also follow.

In both cases, the Trump administration is seeking not just to relax federal climate standards, but to prevent states from setting more stringent policies should they wish to. And in both cases, these matters will be settled by the courts.

California announced it would lead a legal challenge to protect the waiver on the same day as the administration announced it would revoke it. When the EPA moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the same set of states will likely sue to protect it.

Why this matters globally

These legal fights have global ramifications. The 13 states that follow California’s waiver have a population of 130 million. These states have pledged, through auto emissions standards and clean energy targets, to meet the Paris Climate goals – using their own policy autonomy to circumvent Trump’s withdrawal.

These states have also pledged to pursue independent diplomacy with other national and sub-national jurisdictions around the world, sharing best practise and pursuing climate cooperation.

The EPA has so far lost a number of legal challenges, and is by no means guaranteed to win its case against California. Should these states prevail, Australia has an opportunity to pursue meaningful climate diplomacy directly with the American states.




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A 130 million-person market for sustainable technologies also presents a substantial opportunity for Australian businesses in the renewables sector.

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American states have a framework in place for international partnerships on climate. State governors and city mayors across the country are eager to brand themselves as international climate change leaders. As Australian federal politics grinds through another round of energy policy and climate change debate, it might be time for Australian states to look outside our borders for inspiration and co-operation.

Sarah Graham, Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Overpopulation’ and the environment: three ideas on how to discuss it in a sensitive way


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Ints Vikmanis / shutterstock

Rebecca Laycock Pedersen, Keele University and David P. M. Lam, Leuphana University

Should we give up having children to save the planet? Recent news articles and scientific papers have once again raised concerns about “overpopulation” and the environmental implications of having too many humans on Earth. Many people consider bringing fewer children into the world to be the logical solution. If you read the comments section of these articles, you’ll find out what anyone who’s been in a conversation about overpopulation knows: such exchanges are polarised, emotionally loaded and conflict ridden.

Regardless of whether you think that overpopulation is the defining issue of our time, don’t think it is a real problem, or lie somewhere in between, it’s absolutely crucial we can have these conversations without further polarising the debate. In a recent comment in Environmental Research Letters, we offer three tips for having conversations about overpopulation in a more ethical, thoughtful and sensitive way.

1) Recognise the limits of individual action at home

An individual person (or a couple) acting by themselves can only do so much. It can seem like the most impactful action one can take is to have fewer children, but our capacity to act collectively can have far greater impacts than any one (or two) people can alone.

Environmental problems are so large that they are hard for us to wrap our minds around. When people are encouraged to think about these problems as individuals, it can cause them to go into denial about how much impact they can genuinely have. But research has shown that highlighting a collective responsibility for addressing environmental issues actually leads to a greater desire to act.

Often recommendations for how to be more environmentally friendly are targeted at things you do in your personal life: recycle more, eat less meat, fly less, and so on. However, businesses, universities, hospitals, churches and charities all have big environmental footprints, too. In fact, these are usually much larger than any one individual’s footprint. Therefore, individuals acting professionally within these organisations can substantially reduce their environmental impact.

For example, the head of purchasing of a large organisation may be able to make bigger reductions in their organisation’s carbon emissions through changing purchasing guidelines than they could ever make by having fewer children. So organisations, or people working on behalf of organisations with big environmental footprints, are often much more strategic actors to target when striving towards larger-scale pro-environmental changes.

2) Acknowledge some humans consume more than others

When we’re talking about population as an environmental issue, it’s important to remember that it’s not the number of people per se but rather the consumption habits that lead to environmental degradation. Seven billion Americans using as much water, plastic, petrol and meat as they do now, would be a global disaster. In many countries, however, individuals use a fraction of the average American, and Eritrea has the smallest per capita ecological footprint of all.

The average EU citizen creates 31kg of plastic waste a year.
Roman Mikhailiuk / shutterstock

So few children are being born in most developed countries that without immigration, populations would be declining. For example, in Canada, the fertility rate was 1.6 children per woman in 2011 (well below the replacement rate of 2.1). So if you think about it, the real environmental impact here has to do with how much people are consuming – and this varies widely both between and within countries.

3) Be clear: is family planning a human right?

Suggestions to have fewer children are very closely linked to the idea of birth control. Birth control has an ugly history and its knock-on effects can still be seen in China and South Korea today. In these countries, birth control led to the abortion of many female embryos as families preferred to have boys for several cultural reasons. However, today these countries face the problem of having more men than women of childbearing age which is one reason behind the trafficking of young women from other countries, such as Vietnam.

Against this backdrop, in 2012, the United Nations Population Fund declared family planning a human right. But still about 12% of women aged 15–49 globally don’t have access to family planning. This is a modern-day human rights violation happening right now.

This is why, when the suggestion of addressing environmental issues by having fewer children comes up, the conversation often switches to overpopulation and becomes fraught. Overpopulation is usually seen as a problem that puts future generations at risk. Therefore when it is raised in conversations about family planning, it’s read as a value statement: my children’s rights being violated in future are more important than the rights of those being violated now. This may not be your intended message, so be clear: should women have the right to choose when and how many children they have?

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An expanding human population is a collective challenge which incorporates values, emotions, different worldviews, and the alignment of different interests. So next time you find yourself wading into an exchange about overpopulation, be clear about your underlying assumptions. This is a conversation with many layers and we need to approach it with open minds, sensitivity, tact and compassion.

Rebecca Laycock Pedersen, PhD Researcher, Keele University and David P. M. Lam, PhD Researcher, Institute for Ethics and Transdisciplinary Stustainability Research (IETSR), Leuphana University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Africa’s role in the trade in lion bones: a neglected story


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Most lion bones in South Africa come from captive-bred lions.
Author supplied

Ross Harvey, South African Institute of International Affairs

Africa’s wild lion population is estimated to be between 20 000 and 30 000. Researchers have good reason to believe that the real number is closer to 20 000. This puts lions in the “vulnerable” category of threatened species.

The categorisation masks important realities. The only growing populations are those in fenced reserves with small wild managed populations. This is not only a species crisis. It’s also an ecological and economic crisis. Lions are apex predators, which means that entire food chains and ecological systems depend on healthy populations. Lions are also a significant tourism drawcard, and tourism is a significant employer.

South Africa, uniquely, also allows the breeding of lions in captivity, most of which have no conservation value. It has an estimated 7000 to 8000 lions in captivity across roughly 300 facilities. These lions are predominantly bred for canned hunting and the Asian predator bone market.

But, following a global campaign, the demand for canned hunting has plummeted in the last few years. Environmental lobby groups argue that lions are now increasingly being killed for the bone trade.

A report prepared by by EMS, an activist charity, and the lobby group Ban Animal Trading, shows that lion bones are sold on the black market as tiger bones. The bones are dropped into rice wine vats and sold as tiger bone wine which is promoted in Asian markets as a treatment for rheumatism and impotence. The bones are also used to produce tiger bone cakes, an exotic small bar of melted bones mixed with additives like turtle shell.

The report argues that most lion bones come from captive-bred lions in South Africa.

Captive breeding is perfectly legal, if distasteful. But there are limits on the trade of lion bones. In 2016 the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties decided that no bone exports should be allowed from wild lions. But the conference also agreed that South Africa should establish a quota for skeleton exports from captive-bred lions. Captive breeding only occurs at scale in South Africa, so no other country is permitted to export lion bones.

A year later the Department of Environmental Affairs set an annual lion skeleton export quota at 800. It raised this to 1500 in July 2018. It did so without public consultation or the support of research. Even an interim report prepared for the department by the South African National Biodiversity Institute did not specify grounds on which to establish, or expand, a quota.

On top of this, there’s poor regulation of lion breeding facilities. The department doesn’t have a working database so doesn’t know how many facilities there are, or what the total number of captive-bred predators is.

How it works

In my new report, I discuss how breeding facilities are linked to the trade in lion bones.

The facilities arrange hunts that cost in the region of $22 000 for a male and female combination. Wildlife researcher, Karl Amman, describes how trophy taxidermists then sell the lion skeletons (without the skull) on to buyers. These are usually in Asian countries. A skeleton can fetch $1500.

The importer then sells the bones on for between $700 and $800 per kg. A 100kg lion yields about 18kgs of bone, worth roughly $15 000 at this point in the supply chain. The bones are then imported into Vietnam, boiled down in large pots to yield 100g bars of cake which are sold for roughly $1000.

Conservationists are concerned that South Africa’s quota provides an incentive to breed lions not only for the bullet, but also for the bone trade.

The 2017 quota was fully subscribed within weeks while a newly released report prepared for CITES suggests that 3469 skeletons were exported that year, nearly double the allocated number.

This rise in the trade of lion bones shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2016 the US banned the import of captive-origin lion trophies from South Africa. Breeding facilities began looking for alternative markets. Selling lion carcasses was an obvious option given that a lioness skeleton fetches roughly R30 000, and a male skeleton about R50 000, when sold to a trader.

The predator breeding industry in South Africa argues that captive lion populations serve as a buffer against wild lion poaching because it can satisfy the demand for bones.

But those who oppose the trade in lion bones cite evidence that suggests the opposite is true. If anything, the quota could fuel the demand for lion products and provide a laundering channel for illegally sourced wild lion parts. This may imperil already vulnerable wild lion populations elsewhere in Africa. It also makes law enforcement extremely challenging: officials cannot be expected to distinguish between legal and illegally sourced bone stock.

What is being done about it?

The public outcry over an apparently arbitrary quota has been notable. The backlash against canned hunting and the bone trade has been similarly vocal.

The arguments against the trade have been put on the table at a two-day colloquium in South Africa’s parliament. The question being asked is: does the captive lion breeding industry harm, or promote, South Africa’s conservation image?

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Ultimately, it is parliament’s job to hold the government to account. The colloquium may go some way towards doing so. It may even end the brutality of captive predator breeding.

Ross Harvey, Senior Researcher in Natural Resource Governance (Africa), South African Institute of International Affairs

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Politicised science on the Great Barrier Reef? It’s been that way for more than a century



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Successive governments have seen the Great Barrier Reef not just as a scientific wonder, but as a channel to further economic development.
Superjoseph/Shutterstock.com

Rohan James Lloyd, James Cook University

The controversy surrounding the A$444 million given to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation by the federal government shows how politicised science has become on the Great Barrier Reef.

One reef scientist, who declined to be named, was quoted saying that the grant was “obviously” political, and accused the federal government of seeking to deny the opposition the chance to make the Great Barrier Reef an election issue.

But the politicisation of reef science, and particularly the Great Barrier Reef itself, is not new. It has a long history, stretching back to the time when the British empire was at its most powerful.




Read more:
Is it too cheap to visit the ‘priceless’ Great Barrier Reef?


In the nineteenth century, scientists studying the Great Barrier Reef were driven by the political winds and whims of British colonialists. For the most part, these scientists aided the mission of exploration and settlement. With every exploratory voyage, the value of the Great Barrier Reef as an arm of the empire grew, as scientists began to weave their insights into the reef’s biology and geology with evocations of its potential resources and suitability for settlement. Scientists such as Joseph Beete Jukes were particularly important in illuminating the Great Barrier Reef’s scientific mysteries and economic possibilities.

Around the time of federation in 1901, however, the politics of reef science took on a heightened nationalistic and provincial tone. Scientists asserted that the Great Barrier Reef’s value to Queensland and the nation lay specifically in its exploitable resources, and argued that it was the government’s responsibility to develop them.

As the science was in its infancy, reef scientists imagined that their field would inevitably develop in concert with the establishment of reef-based industries such as fishing and coral rubble mining.




Read more:
Death on the Great Barrier Reef: how dead coral went from economic resource to conservation symbol


In the early twentieth century, scientists suggested that a research station needed to be established along the Queensland coast. The idea was championed by natural historian Edmund Banfield, who wrote that it would “demonstrate how best the riches of the Great Barrier Reef might be exploited”.

Many scientists of the day believed that the government had failed to sufficiently develop the Great Barrier Reef, and feared that its dormant resources were at risk of plunder by our northern Asian neighbours. Reef science became caught up in the prevailing discourse of an empty and undeveloped northern Australia.

In response, Queensland-based scientists established the Great Barrier Reef Committee in 1922. The committee saw itself as having two roles: “pure” scientific research on the reef’s biology and geology; and the identification of commercial products that the reef could provide.

In 1928 the committee, backed by the British, Australian and Queensland governments, organised a research expedition to Low Isles, off the coast of Port Douglas.

The year-long expedition, led by British-born marine scientist Charles Maurice Yonge, aimed to find evidence of the reef’s economic potential. But the research, while significant to coral-reef science, offered little advice for the Queensland government despite its significant financial investment.

Nonetheless, the Great Barrier Reef Committee continued to leverage the state government’s interest in developing northern Queensland, and in 1950 it secured a lease on Heron Island. The committee was also given funding to build a research station on the island, after promising that it would reveal commercial products and boost tourism.

Heron Island, where the research station is still operating, now run by the University of Queensland.
UQ/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The Heron Island research station was built at a time when only a few Australian universities offered full courses in marine biology. Reef science had always been dominated by geology, as researchers sought to understand how coral reefs were formed.

After the second world war, aided by more sophisticated drilling equipment, and governments eager to locate local oil reserves, scientists such as the Queensland geologist Dorothy Hill began studying the Great Barrier Reef’s mineral and petroleum reserves, and recommended several sites for further exploration.

Between 1959 and 1967 three exploration wells were drilled along the reef, but none showed signs of oil or gas. In the same period, the Queensland government granted 37 prospecting and exploration permits, 23 of them in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef.

Geologists’ role in this exploration meant that they were viewed with suspicion by their marine biologist colleagues when the “Save the Reef” campaign began in 1967.

Geologists were largely seen as sympathetic to the oil industry’s interests, whereas marine biologists typically aligned themselves with the views of conservationists. At the same time, scientists found themselves taking sides in response to the first outbreak of Crown of Thorns starfish in the 1960s.

Robert Endean, the scientist who campaigned for government intervention in the outbreak, found himself marginalised by the scientific community, faced backlash from tourist operators concerned by his claims of dying reefs, and eventually lost government support for his research.

During both the Save the Reef campaign and the Crown of Thorns outbreak, scientists were publicly scrutinised for how their research, and their public comments, impacted the debate. A similar pattern has played out over the mass coral bleaching that hit the Great Barrier Reef in 2016.

Today, it seems governments are seeking to make the Great Barrier Reef appear to be protected while scientists themselves leverage the political and public fascination, with the result that the Great Barrier Reef accounts for a significant proportion of Australia’s entire marine research output.

The issues of sediment and nutrient run-off, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, Crown of Thorns starfish, coal mines, and port developments have all complicated the politics of reef science.




Read more:
Not out of hot water yet: what the world thinks about the Great Barrier Reef


For half a century, the science has been overlaid with a wider discourse about the need to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. This idea, championed by scientists, politicians and civil society, shows no sign of subsiding.

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Today, the amounts of money involved may well be unprecedented. But the idea of reef science coming with political strings attached is nothing new.

Rohan James Lloyd, Adjunct Lecturer, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.