Procurement’s role in climate change: putting government money where policy needs to go



Governments can choose to spend money in ways that support climate change policy, including a shift to electric vehicle fleets.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Barbara Allen, Victoria University of Wellington

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


For three years in a row, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has identified climate change as the gravest threat for global business and industry.

The disruption of supply chains in food, medicines and even recycling from climate-related events poses innumerable problems for nations. But one way of dealing with various facets of climate change is levering change through central government procurement.

Policies that govern supply and how goods, construction and services are procured are increasingly important as the capacity to mitigate through government purchasing choices faces greater pressure.

As New Zealand is considering zero carbon legislation, new government procurement rules take effect in October.

The rules include broader outcomes, connecting wider social and environmental priorities to procurement processes. This is the first time New Zealand lays out specific rules about how the government plans to use its own purchases to help fulfil its wider promises.




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Charging ahead with EVs

A cabinet paper on effective government procurement policy, released in late 2018, laid out four outcomes, one of which focused on supporting the transition to a net zero emissions economy and meeting the government’s goal of significantly reducing waste by 2020.

The policy’s priorities include reducing the emissions profile of the government vehicle fleet and reducing emissions from fossil fuels used in electricity generation and in direct production of industrial heat. Describing the government’s intention, Economic Development Minister David Parker said:

We are looking beyond just the price of what we purchase, to ensure procurement is contributing to the transition to a low-carbon economy, inclusive growth and prosperity.

The government’s commitment is to make its own vehicle fleet emissions-free by 2025-26. When replacing vehicles, chief executives of government agencies must purchase vehicles with emission profiles substantially below their current fleet average.

The government fleet – at 14,995 vehicles (with only 0.24% electric) – has a job on its hands. But already it is reporting that emissions have dropped between April and July 2019. The reduction is partly due to 400 fewer vehicles and minor shifts in driving patterns.




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This is a gutsy move, especially given cost implications and market challenges. But jurisdictions such as Germany and Sweden have promoted renewable sources for some time through legislation and multiple instruments including procurement that supports innovation. Others, such as Transport London, have been shifting to electric public transport fleets.

New Zealand has been conservative in its approach to linking procurement with objectives beyond “best value”, which is nearly always interpreted as least cost. But times are changing. A growing number of people in most agencies are trying to raise the profile of procurement beyond a purchasing exercise.

Procurement as opportunity and responsibility

Leaving the market to decide how taxpayer funds are spent through a clunky contracting process is missing an opportunity to procure the best services and infrastructure, as well as increasing workforce skills. Research on sustainable procurement has grown and the topic now features at the OECD.

There are different targeted approaches. One is an “emissions dashboard”, which shows the average emissions profile of each agency’s fleet and tracks emission reductions. But dashboards are only indicative, given the inevitable variation in reporting across organisations and the underlying reasons why an agency might have a high emissions rating.

Australia’s Indigenous procurement policy has used a very targeted approach requiring 3% of government contracts go to Indigenous business by 2027. Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta has been looking at the potential for something similar in New Zealand. A report on the benefits of indigenous procurement policies is expected.

Planning to replace vehicle fleets is a tangible use of the procurement lever to move towards lower emissions. But to support a fairly rapid change, supply chains need to be taken into consideration to ensure enough electric vehicles are available.

While there are many technical issues to resolve, New Zealand’s approach to procurement is a step in the right direction. Procurement can’t do everything at once, but it is an important instrument that needs to be directed at policy problems, underpinned by research and evidence.The Conversation

Barbara Allen, Senior Lecturer in Public Management, Victoria University of Wellington

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

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The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’: climate change affects our mental health, too



People who have been affected by extreme weather events might experience mental health issues.
From shutterstock.com

Fiona Charlson, The University of Queensland

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) recently declared climate change a health emergency, reflecting similar positions taken by a growing list of peak medical bodies around the world.

The AMA’s statement highlights the significant impacts climate change is having on physical health, including an increase in climate-related deaths. The World Health Organisation regards climate change as “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st Century”.

But the statement also draws the very important issue of mental health out of the shadows.




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Climate change can affect people’s mental health in a number of ways, both directly and indirectly.

We know experiencing extreme weather events is a risk factor for mental illness. And many thousands of people around the world are displaced from their homes as a result of climate events, putting them at perhaps even higher risk of mental illness.

More generally, people feeling distressed about the state of the planet may find themselves in a spiral of what’s been termed “eco-anxiety”.

Extreme weather events and psychological distress

Unprecedented weather events across Australia are already demonstrating clear and devastating impacts on the mental health of Australians, particularly in rural areas which are being hit the hardest by unseasonal drought, fires and floods.

These extreme weather events have resulted in the loss of homes, land and livelihoods. Research has found these experiences are taking a significant psychological toll on Australian farmers, who feel their sense of place and identities are under threat. Meanwhile, we’ve seen increasing rates of suicide among rural communities.

Elsewhere in the world, research similarly shows being affected by extreme weather events is a major risk factor for mental illness. This was evident, for example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States.




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Climate-related displacement

Long-term environmental changes, including once fertile land turning to desert, erosion of soil and coastlines, and sea level rise, are predicted to result in large-scale displacement, a major risk factor for mental illness.

Global statistics already estimate that in 2017 the majority of people forced from their homes around the world were displaced as a result of climate-related disasters.

Parents sometimes worry about how climate change will affect their children’s lives in the future.
From shutterstock.com

In Australia, low-lying islands such as those in the Torres Strait are at the forefront of this reality, with relocation plans already under consideration.

At the extremes, the reality of climate-induced social instability is already tangible across numerous countries, and the Asia-Pacific region is considered as high risk.

The existential dread of climate change

For many Australians, the existential dread of what the future holds in the face of unmitigated climate change is having documented impacts on their mental health. Australia’s youth have been exemplary at voicing their despair and “eco-anxiety” around the foreseeable deterioration of our planet.

For those too young to have a voice, parents are feeling anxiety and distress on their behalf. Mums and dads are under pressure to instil values such as caring for the environment, while worrying about the future of the planet they are leaving their children.




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And this emerging narrative of how climate change is impacting people’s mental health is not complete. The relationships between climate events and mental health are complex and not always apparent.

Extreme heat has been observed to be harmful to multiple aspects of mental health and well-being. Data from South Australia demonstrates hot days are associated with increased hospital admissions for mental and behavioural disorders.

Other research has found spikes in temperature were associated with increased suicide rates in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart.

A less obvious impact arises from the strong connection between nutritional status and mental health. Climate-related impacts on agriculture lead to reduced availability of nutritious foods, and poor nutritional intake can affect mental health.




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So, what can be done?

The AMA’s recent statement has echoed calls from other medical associations for leadership on a national strategy for health and climate change. But what is it we can be doing to protect people from climate change-related mental health challenges?

Doing everything we can to reduce the progression of climate change is one clear way to address this issue.

But with the knowledge the climate crisis is only escalating, some practical responses will focus on preparing the health system for climate change. This should include increasing awareness of the mental health effects of climate change across the community, private, and government sectors.

It will also be important to invest in areas where mental health services are under-resourced, which are often the rural areas where the mental health effects of climate change are likely be most severe.




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A small but significant consolation is the public awareness being generated through the tireless work of advocacy groups and purposeful media reporting of farmers’ personal stories of distress.

Climate change adaptation strategies are in their infancy, but already we’re seeing some programs aimed at strengthening communities, particularly rural communities most severely affected by drought.

There will be no single solution to address the mental health impacts of climate change; a broad perspective and a range of actions will be necessary. As the climate crisis continues to unravel in Australia and globally, this will require strong leadership and some innovative thinking.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Fiona Charlson, the author of this piece, is available for a Q+A on Wednesday the 18th of September from 2pm-3pm AEST to take questions on this topic. Please post your questions in the comments below.The Conversation

Fiona Charlson, Conjoint NHMRC Early Career Fellow, The University of Queensland

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

How rising temperatures affect our health



The first half of 2019 is the equal hottest on record and summer is set to be a scorcher.
Chayathorn Lertpanyaroj/Shutterstock

Liz Hanna, Australian National University

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Global warming is accelerating, driven by the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Australia’s climate has warmed by just over 1°C since 1910, with global temperatures on course for a 3-5°C rise this century.

Australia is ahead of the global temperature curve. Our average daily temperature is 21.8°C – that’s 13.7°C warmer than the global average of 8.1°C.

Heat extremes (days above 35°C and nights above 20°C) are now more frequent in Australia, occurring around 12% of the time compared to around 2% of the time between 1951 and 1980.

So what do high temperatures do to our bodies? And how much extra heat can people and our way of living tolerate?

More scorchers ahead

Australia’s summer of 2018-19 was 2.14°C warmer than the 1961–90 average, breaking the previous record set in 2012–13 by a large margin. It included an unprecedented sequence of five consecutive days with nationally averaged maximum temperatures above 40°C.




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The first half of 2019 ranks as the equal second hottest since records began for the world, and also Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has warned this summer will be another scorcher. Hot dry northerly winds tracking across drought-affected New South Wales and Queensland have the capacity to deliver blistering heat and extreme fire risks to the southern states, and little relief is in sight for those in drought.

Some rural Australians have already been exposed to 50°C days, and the major southern metro cities are set to do the same within the next decade or so.

How our bodies regulate heat

Like most mammals and birds, humans are endotherms (warm-blooded), meaning our optimal internal operating temperature (approximately 36.8°C +/− 0.5) is minimally influenced by ambient temperatures.

Quietly sitting indoors with the air temperature about 22°C, we passively generate that additional 15°C to keep our core temperature at about 37°C.

Even when the air temperature is 37°C, our metabolism continues to generate additional heat. This excess internal heat is shed into the environment through the evaporation of sweat from our skin.

Our optimal internal body temperature is 36.8°C.
Slaohome/Shutterstock

Temperature and humidity gradients between the skin surface and boundary layer of air determine the rate of heat exchange.

When the surrounding air is hot and humid, heat loss is slow, we store heat, and our temperatures rises.

That’s why hot, dry air is better tolerated than tropical, humid heat: dry air readily absorbs sweat.

A breeze appears refreshing by dislodging the boundary layer of saturated air in contact with the skin and allowing in drier air – thus speeding up evaporation and heat shedding.

What happens when we overheat?

Heat exposure becomes potentially lethal when the human body cannot lose sufficient heat to maintain a safe core temperature.

When our core temperature reaches 38.5°C, most would feel fatigued. And the cascade of symptoms escalate as the core temperature continues to rise beyond the safe functioning range for our critical organs: the heart, brain and kidneys.

Much like an egg in a microwave, protein within our body changes when exposed to heat.




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While some heat-acclimatised elite athletes, such as Tour de France cyclists, may tolerate 40°C for limited periods, this temperature is potentially lethal for most people.

As a pump, the heart’s role is to maintain an effective blood pressure. It fills the hot and dilated blood vessels throughout the body to get blood to vital organs.

Exposure to extreme heat places significant additional workload on the heart. It must increase the force of each contraction and the rate of contractions per minute (your heart rate).

If muscles are also working, they also need an increased blood flow.

If all this occurs at a time when profuse sweating has led to dehydration, and therefore lower blood volume, the heart must massively increase its work.

Dry air readily absorbs sweat, whereas humid air doesn’t, making it less tolerable.
Cliplab/Shutterstock

The heart is also a muscle, so it too needs extra blood supply when working hard. But when pumping hard and fast and its own demand for blood flow is not matched by its supply, it can fail. Many heat deaths are recorded as heart attacks.

High aerobic fitness levels offer some heat protection, yet athletes and fit young adults pushing themselves too hard also die in the heat.

Who is more at risk?

Older Australians are more vulnerable to heat stress. Age is commonly associated with poorer aerobic fitness and impaired ability to detect thirst and overheating.




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Obesity also increases this vulnerability. Fat acts as an insulating layer, as well as giving the heart a more extensive network of blood vessels to fill. The additional weight requires increased heat-generating muscular effort to move.

Certain medications can lower heat tolerance by interfering with our natural mechanisms necessary to cope with the heat. These include drugs that limit increases in heart rate, lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, or interfere with sweating.

Core temperatures are increased by about half a degree during late stage pregnancy due to hormonal responses and increased metabolic rate. The growing foetus and placenta also demand additional blood flow. Exposure of the fetus to heat extremes can precipitate preterm birth and life-long health problems such as congential heart defects.

Won’t we just acclimatise?

Our bodies can acclimatise to hot temperatures, but this process has its limits. Some temperatures are simply too hot for the heart to cope with and for sweat rates to provide effective cooling, especially if we need to move or exercise.

We’re also limited by our kidneys’ capacity to conserve water and electrolytes, and the upper limit to the amount of water the human gut can absorb.

Profuse sweating leads to fluid and electrolyte deficits and the resulting electrolyte imbalance can interfere with the heart rhythm.

Mass death events are now occurring during heat waves in traditionally hot countries such as India and Pakistan. This is when heat extremes approaching 50°C exceed the human body’s capacity to maintain its safe core temperature range.




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Heatwaves are hotter, more frequent and lasting longer. We can’t live life entirely indoors with air conditioning as we need to venture outdoors to commute, work, shop, and care for the vulnerable. People, animals and our social systems depend on this.

Besides, on a 50°C day, air conditioning units will struggle to remove 25°C from the ambient air.The Conversation

Liz Hanna, Honorary Senior Fellow, Australian National University

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

Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback



The climate crisis is itself an appalling lapse in duty of care by decision-makers, but we shouldn’t overlook this duty in our response.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

David Hall, Auckland University of Technology

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

As a new sense of urgency to act on climate change rises – through calls for climate emergencies and green new deals – it is vital that we limit pushback while encouraging action.

Worst of all, we could do nothing about our rising global emissions. But the next worst thing is to provoke popular resistance to climate action. If large swathes of people revolt against efforts to mitigate emissions, we’re hardly any better off than having not acted at all. Advances must outpace setbacks.

The question of whether to face up to climate change is, thankfully, largely won. The technical question of how to mitigate emissions is flourishing. But we must also address the political question of how to bring people along with the low-emissions transition.




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A careful revolution

To sustain public support over years and decades, care is essential.
Of course, the climate crisis is itself an appalling lapse in duty of care by decision-makers, and we all increasingly face the risks of this.

Still, we shouldn’t overlook this duty in our response. Decision-makers can’t afford to be careless about the consequences of climate action, nor uncaring towards people it affects. This should be a careful revolution, which is urgent without being reckless, bold without being cruel.

American political scientist Joan Tronto and civil rights activist Berenice Fisher once defined care as “everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible”. They propose several steps.

The first is caring about a problem. Second is taking care by assuming responsibility to act. Third is care giving where intention becomes action. And fourth is care receiving where the carer ensures that the other’s needs are actually met. If not, then the cycle of care begins again, by acknowledging that the original problem is not adequately solved, or that new problems have sprung up.

This last step is especially critical for the legitimacy and longevity of low-emission transitions. As a public issue, climate change is famously complicated – a super-wicked problem – that cuts across multiple systems and timescales. Careful policy-making is needed because unintended consequences are inevitable.




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But intended consequences also produce pushbacks. The gilets jaunes protests in France are a spectacular example, where a rising carbon tax was the catalyst for a serious political crisis.

This wasn’t a matter of negligence. On the contrary, the carbon tax worked precisely as it was supposed to, making fuel more onerous to pay for. The real misjudgement was the French government’s carelessness about how the price hike would be received, especially alongside wealth tax reforms that reinforced economic inequality.

In short, it isn’t enough to care about climate change. Caring too much for the ends of policy – which is what urgency tends to encourage – can lead to carelessness for the means.

Rather, care must be well balanced. It must place responsibility upon the right actors for the right reasons and with the right expectations. It must act competently to deliver the outcomes it promises. And it must be responsive to human needs, not only in the future, but those of people living today.

A more careful way

Just transitions are the best known example of careful climate policy-making.

This approach recognises that major disruptions are sometimes required, particularly in high-carbon sectors like the fossil fuel industry. Long-standing jobs will be lost, or radically transformed. Long-term investments will be forfeited and infrastructure decommissioned. Where scientific reality cannot budge, human plans must give way instead.

Yet as inevitable as this disruption is, the manner in which it is rolled out is not. A transition can be done callously, with only a concern for emissions reductions. Or it can put justice, equity and inclusivity at its heart, for both the ends and means.

Just transitions involve industrial strategies such as retraining, pension bridging, relocation assistance and other forms of social support, as well as investment strategies that create viable pathways to the low-emissions economy.

But this isn’t only needed for industrial workers. It is for urban dwellers who must live through the restructuring of transport and energy systems, and renewal of built environments. It is for people in rural landscapes who must adapt to changing food systems and growing expectations for ecosystem restoration. It is for everyone who depends on the high-emissions status quo yet who lack the means for transitioning from this economy to the next, who risks being stung without being moved by carbon taxes and regulations.

A matter of judgement

Care isn’t all we need. It can tip into timidity, preaching caution and delay when actually haste is required. After all, if protecting people from disruption becomes the prerequisite for change, then change may not happen at all. Care is one facet of good political judgement, but not the only one.

Still, if the transition is rushed or negligent, if it favours ambition over solidarity, if it treats relationship building as an impediment to progress, if it cares too much for the ends of policy and not enough for the means, then it will create unnecessary resistance.

From the perspective of the climate system, this too is a failure. It is emissions reductions, not merely good intentions, that matter.The Conversation

David Hall, Senior Researcher in Politics, Auckland University of Technology

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

Climate explained: why we won’t be heading into an ice age any time soon



Since the industrial revolution began in the mid-1700s, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have gone up by 46%.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

James Renwick, Victoria University of Wellington


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

When I studied climate in my university geography course in the 1960s, I am sure we were told that the Earth was cooling. We were all anxious about being too cold in our future. Now we are too hot. Is this because the prediction that we were moving towards another ice age was incorrect, or has Earth warmed up so quickly through human activities that it has cancelled out that cool trend and actually reversed it?

The Earth warms and cools on a range of different time scales, driven by different effects. But the two controlling factors are always the amount of sunlight (solar radiation) reaching the Earth’s surface, and the amount of greenhouse gases in the air.

A brighter sun means more solar radiation absorbed by the Earth, so a warmer surface climate. Greenhouse gas levels control the amount of heat (infrared radiation) absorbed into the atmosphere as it radiates up from the Earth.

The atmosphere absorbs heat and re-radiates it in all directions, including back down to the Earth’s surface. So the Earth is warmed not only by the sun but also by the atmosphere. More greenhouse gas amplifies this warming from the atmosphere and results in a warmer surface climate.

In the long run, carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas because it lasts so long in the atmosphere, for centuries to thousands of years.




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The myth of global cooling

Global temperatures were indeed decreasing slightly in the 1950s and 1960s, from a relative peak in the early 1940s. The main cause of the cooling was sunlight being blocked out from reaching the surface of the Earth, as a result of the rapid industrialisation following the second world war and the associated rise in air pollution. Another factor was the onset of a negative phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation that results in the oceans soaking up more heat than normal and the atmosphere missing out a little.

Some scientists did wonder if the mid-century cooling was a sign of the next ice age on the way, but even back then they were distinctly in the minority. There were a couple of high-profile media reports on the possibility of a coming ice age, but the vast majority of scientific papers even then were concerned with warming, from greenhouse gas increase.

Since the 1970s, human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has grown exponentially. Since the industrial revolution began in the mid-1700s, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have gone up by 120 parts per million, a 46% rise in nearly 300 years.

But half the increase has occurred in the past 30 years, and the total amount of global emissions in the century from 1750 to 1850 is what we now put into the air every six weeks. The rate of warming has increased in recent decades, in line with the much more rapid rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases in recent decades.

Disrupting natural climate cycles

This aside though, the timing is right for the next ice age to come around soon. For the past two and a half million years, the Earth has experienced regular ice ages, related to slow changes to earth’s orbit around the sun and changes in the earth’s axis of rotation (Milankovitch cycles). We are currently in one of the warm periods (interglacials) between ice ages and the present interglacial should be ending about now. The catch is carbon dioxide.




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Ice ages didn’t happen for millions of years because there was too much carbon dioxide in the air. The change in sunlight associated with the ice age cycles is quite subtle and takes thousands of years to make a difference to temperatures and to ice gain or loss.

When atmospheric carbon dioxide is above about 300 parts per million, the infrared warming effect is so strong it drowns out the more subtle Milankovitch cycles and there are no ice ages. Coming out of the Pliocene period just under three million years ago, carbon dioxide levels dropped low enough for the ice age cycles to commence.

Now, carbon dioxide levels are over 400 parts per million and are likely to stay there for thousands of years, so the next ice age is postponed for a very long time. We will be living in a warmed and changed climate for many generations to come.


This article is part of The Covering Climate Now series

This is a concerted effort among news organisations to put the climate crisis at the forefront of our coverage. This article is published under a Creative Commons license and can be reproduced for free – just hit the “Republish this article” button on the page to copy the full HTML coding. The Conversation also runs Imagine, a newsletter in which academics explore how the world can rise to the challenge of climate change. Sign up here.The Conversation


James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Victoria University of Wellington

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

Cable ties probably won’t stop magpie attacks – here are a few things to try instead



Stylish? No. Effective? Probably not.
Tony Wills/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Bill Bateman, Curtin University

Every spring in Australia is heralded by reports of magpies swooping at people. While it is of little comfort to those at the receiving end of a surprise attack, such events are actually quite rare when one considers the number of magpies across Australia, and the fact that they love to share our urban habitat with us.

According to one estimate, fewer than 10% of magpies swoop, and even fewer of these do so consistently. It is almost always males that swoop, and they only do so when they have chicks in the nest. Once the chicks are out the males seem to calm down; presumably they perceive nest-bound chicks as most vulnerable.

Swooping behaviour also seems to vary across Australia – at least according to Magpie Alert!, a website on which the public can report magpie attacks. Many more swoops have been reported in the eastern states than in Western Australia, and fewest of all in Tasmania.




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But regardless of their relative rarity, being the target of a swooping attack by a magpie can be frightening. It has resulted in injuries and, tragically this week, the death of a 76-year-old cyclist in Wollongong.

What can we do to avoid ending up on the receiving end? Is any of the advice meted out each year on avoiding attacks actually worthwhile, or backed by evidence? As with just about everything involving biology, the answer is “it depends”.

Some magpies never attack pedestrians but go for cyclists; others do the opposite. And some hold a deep animus against posties on bikes, and reserve their fury solely for them. Even more astonishingly, some magpies seem to really have it in for particular people, and will preferentially attack them.

Although Australian magpies are not related to true crows, they do share similar levels of intelligence. US researchers have shown that American crows recognise people who have trapped them to band them, give alarm calls when they next see them, and even pass on that information to untrapped birds who also sound the alarm when they see trappers.

It seems likely that Australian magpies do the same, effectively holding a grudge against particular people. Unfortunate posties, travelling the same route each day and meeting the same magpies, seem to end up on the naughty list through no fault of their own.

Cyclists do seem to invoke more extreme reactions than pedestrians, judging by the fact that magpies appear to pursue cyclists farther. It therefore stands to reason that the best response to a swooping attack while cycling would be to get off and push your bike.

You will of course be wearing a bike helmet, and as magpies swoop from behind, this will offer protection against its sharp beak.

Sadly it seems that the classic tactic of attaching cable ties to your helmet does little to deter a determined magpie, beyond the fact that some strategic placing can help keep them away from your ears. Ditto the idea of painting eyes on the back of your helmet or hat.

More reassuringly, however, magpies really only swoop in the vicinity of their nest, so once you have moved away you should be safe. If you become aware of swooping attacks in a certain area the best thing is to avoid it – even just crossing the road should be sufficient.

If you can’t do that, at least wear a hat and sunglasses; these will help reduce the chance of a determined magpie pecking a sensitive area. Turning to face magpies may also help – many birds do not appreciate being stared at, and as magpies prefer to swoop from behind, this may be a good tactic if you find yourself cornered in a park.

If you have magpies in your garden, perhaps the most appealing way of avoiding attacks is to become their best friend. Given that magpies have long memories, a few judicious offerings of mince or similar tidbits throughout the year can help you befriend them, making them much more amenable to your presence come spring.

But don’t overfeed them – it’s just a friendly bribe, not a full-blown dependency.




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If all else fails, simply console yourself with the fact that swooping season only lasts a few weeks. For the rest of the year magpies are peaceful urban nighbours who delight us with their distinctive song.

Bear that in mind, and we can hopefully reach a détente with our feathered (and occasionally flustered) friends. In the meantime, if you are unlucky enough to be swooped, remember to help others avoid the same fate by posting the details to Magpie Alert!.The Conversation

Bill Bateman, Associate professor, Curtin University

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