Air quality near busy Australian roads up to 10 times worse than official figures



FABRIZIO BENSCH/ Reuters

Hugh Forehead, University of Wollongong

Air quality on Australia’s roads matters. On any given day (when we’re not in lockdown) people meet, commute, exercise, shop and walk with children near busy streets. But to date, air quality monitoring at roadsides has been inadequate.

I and my colleagues wanted to change that. Using materials purchased from electronics and hardware stores for around A$150, we built our own air quality monitors.

Our newly published research reveals how our devices detected particulate pollution at busy intersections at levels ten times worse than background levels measured at official air monitoring stations.




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Our open-source design means citizen scientists can make their own devices to measure air quality, and make the data publicly available.

This would provide more valuable data about city traffic pollution, giving people the information they need to protect their health.

Air pollution can have serious health consequences.
Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Particulate matter: a tiny killer

Everyone is exposed to airborne particulate matter emitted by industry, transport and natural sources such as bushfires and dust storms.

Particulate matter from traffic is a mixture of toxic compounds, both solid and liquid. It’s a well-known health hazard, particularly for children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and people working on or near roads.

Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, referred to as PM2.5, is particularly harmful. To put this in context, a human hair is about 100 micrometres in width.

When inhaled, these fine particles can damage heart and brain function, circulation, breathing and the immune and endocrine systems. They have also been linked to cancer and low birth weight in newborns.

Do-it-yourself air monitoring

Highly reliable equipment to measure air quality has traditionally been expensive, and is not deployed widely.

Official air quality monitoring usually takes place open spaces or parks, to provide an averaged, background reading of pollution across a wide area. The monitoring stations are not typically placed at pollution sources, such as power stations or roads.

However there is growing evidence that people travelling outdoors near busy city roads are exposed to high levels of traffic emissions.

An air quality monitor built by the researchers and painted purple, attached to a light pole in Liverpool, Sydney.
Author supplied

Air quality monitors can be bought off the shelf at low cost, but their readings are not always reliable.

So I and other researchers at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility made our own monitors. They essentially consist of a sensor, weatherproof housing, a controller and a fan. Anyone with basic electronics knowledge and assembly skills can make and install one. The monitor connects to the internet (we used The Things Network) and the software required to run it and collect the data is available for free here.

The weatherproof housing cost about A$16 to make. It consists of PVC plumbing parts, a few screws and small pieces of fibreglass insect screen, which can be bought at any hardware store.

Sensors can be bought from electronics retailers for little as A$30, but many are not tested, calibrated or overseen by experts and can be inaccurate. We tested three, and chose the Novasense SDS011, which we bought for A$32.

A controller is needed to run the monitor and send data to the internet. We bought ours from an online retailer for under A$60. A fan, needed to circulate air through the housing, was bought from Jaycar for A$14.

Accounting for wiring and a few other parts, our monitors cost under A$150 each to make – ten times cheaper than mid-grade commercial detectors – and produce reasonably accurate results.

What we found

Following community meetings, we deployed our sensors at nine key locations and intersections around Liverpool in Western Sydney, a region which has traditionally suffered from poor air quality.

Our monitors have been in place since March 2018, placed close to pedestrian height on structures such as light poles, shade awnings or walls.




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They have detected roadside measurements of PM2.5 at values of up to 280 micrograms per cubic metre in morning peak traffic. This is more than ten times the readings at the nearest official monitoring station. The severity of the pollution and how long it lasts depends on how bad the traffic is.

These findings are comparable to other studies of busy roads.

Pollution from vehicle emissions can have serious health consequences.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Breathing easier

Our experience of roadside air quality can be improved in a number of ways.

Obviously, exposure to air pollution is worst at peak traffic times, so plan your travel to avoid these times, if possible.

Pollution levels drop quickly with distance from busy roads and can be at near background levels just one block away. So try to detour along quieter back streets or through parks.

Barriers, such as dense roadside vegetation, can shield pedestrians from pollution. Children in prams are more exposed to traffic pollution than adults, as they are closer to the level of vehicle exhaust pipes. Pram covers can reduce infants’ exposure by up to 39%.

Of course, the best way to reduce air pollution from traffic is to have fewer vehicles on our roads, and cleaner fuel and engines.

In the meantime, we hope our low-cost technology will prompt citizen scientists to develop their own sensors, producing the data we need to breathe easy in city streets.




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The Conversation


Hugh Forehead, Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

Climate explained: why higher carbon dioxide levels aren’t good news, even if some plants grow faster



Shutterstock

Sebastian Leuzinger, Auckland University of Technology

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

If carbon dioxide levels were to double, how much increase in plant growth would this cause? How much of the world’s deserts would disappear due to plants’ increased drought tolerance in a high carbon dioxide environment?

Compared to pre-industrial levels, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere will have doubled in about 20 to 30 years, depending on how much CO₂ we emit over the coming years. More CO₂ generally leads to higher rates of photosynthesis and less water consumption in plants.

At first sight, it seems more CO₂ can only be beneficial to plants, but things are a lot more complex than that.




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Climate explained: why plants don’t simply grow faster with more carbon dioxide in air


Let’s look at the first part of the question.

Some plants do grow faster under elevated levels of atmospheric CO₂, but this happens mostly in crops and young trees, and generally not in mature forests.

Even if plants grew twice as fast under doubled CO₂ levels, it would not mean they strip twice as much CO₂ from the atmosphere. Plants take carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, but that carbon is going straight back via natural decomposition when plants die or when they are harvested and consumed.

At best, you might be mowing your lawn twice as often or harvesting your plantation forests earlier.

The most important aspect is how long the carbon stays locked away from the atmosphere – and this is where we have to make a clear distinction between increased carbon flux (faster growth) or an increasing carbon pool (actual carbon sequestration). Your bank account is a useful analogy to illustrate this difference: fluxes are transfers, pools are balances.




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The global carbon budget

Of the almost 10 billion tonnes (gigatonnes, or Gt) of carbon we emit every year through the burning of fossil fuels, only about half accumulates in the atmosphere. Around a quarter ends up in the ocean (about 2.4 Gt), and the remainder (about 3 Gt) is thought to be taken up by terrestrial plants.

While the ocean and the atmospheric sinks are relatively easy to quantify, the terrestrial sink isn’t. In fact, the 3 Gt can be thought of more as an unaccounted residual. Ultimately, the emitted carbon needs to go somewhere, and if it isn’t the ocean or the atmosphere, it must be the land.

So yes, the terrestrial system takes up a substantial proportion of the carbon we emit, but the attribution of this sink to elevated levels of CO₂ is difficult. This is because many other factors may contribute to the land carbon sink: rising temperature, increased use of fertilisers and atmospheric nitrogen deposition, changed land management (including land abandonment), and changes in species composition.

Current estimates assign about a quarter of this land sink to elevated levels of CO₂, but estimates are very uncertain.

In summary, rising CO₂ leads to faster plant growth – sometimes. And this increased growth only partly contributes to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The important questions are how long this carbon is locked away from the atmosphere, and how much longer the currently observed land sink will continue.




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Climate explained: how different crops or trees help strip carbon dioxide from the air


The second part of the question refers to a side-effect of rising levels of CO₂ in the air: the fact that it enables plants to save water.

Plants regulate the exchange of carbon dioxide and water vapour by opening or closing small pores, called stomata, on the surface of their leaves. Under higher concentrations of CO₂, they can reduce the opening of these pores, and that in turn means they lose less water.

This alleviates drought stress in already dry areas. But again, the issue is more complex because CO₂ is not the only parameter that changes. Dry areas also get warmer, which means that more water evaporates and this often compensates for the water-saving effect.

Overall, rising CO₂ has contributed to some degree to the greening of Earth, but it is likely that this trend will not continue under the much more complex combination of global change drivers, particularly in arid regions.The Conversation

Sebastian Leuzinger, Professor, Auckland University of Technology

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

Cutting ‘green tape’ may be good politicking, but it’s bad policy. Here are 5 examples of regulation failure



The eastern tributary in the Woronora drinking water catchment
Ian Wright, Author provided

Ian Wright, Western Sydney University

Debate about how Australia will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic is heating up. As part of the economic recovery, business groups have renewed calls to cut “green tape” – environmental regulation that new projects, such as new mines, must follow.

In response, federal environment minister Sussan Ley wants to introduce new legislation to cut green tape and speed up project approvals.




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However a major ten-yearly review of the federal government’s key environment legislation is not due to be finished until October.

Cutting green tape is a long-held aim of the Morrison government, which claims excessive environmental regulation unfairly stifles businesses.

But this isn’t the case. In my 30 years of experience researching water pollution, “green tape” has not translated into effective environmental regulation of industry. In fact, I’m yet to see a coal mining operation that’s effectively regulated after approved through the NSW and federal environmental assessment processes.

Here are five examples that show how existing environmental regulations have done little to prevent pollution and toxic chemicals from entering the environment.

1. Closed mines pollute for decades

My research on water pollution from coal mines in the Sydney basin routinely reveals inadequate environmental regulation. I’ve repeatedly uncovered long-standing environmental issues the industry doesn’t seem to learn from, such as pollution continually leaching from active and closed mines.




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As part of my PhD research in 2002/3, I studied Canyon Colliery – a coal mine deep in the Blue Mountains that closed in 1997. The mine constantly releases large volumes of toxic zinc and nickel contaminated water from the flooded underground workings into an otherwise pristine mountain stream.

This caused ecological damage in the Grose River, including a steep reduction in species and numbers of river invertebrates below the entry of the mine wastes into the river.

Contaminated drainage washing out of the closed canyon mine in Blue Mountains National Park.
Ian Wright, Author provided

It’s now 23 years since the mining stopped, but the pollution continues – testimony of weak and ineffective environmental regulation. And it will probably last for centuries.

The Canyon Mine is just one of thousands of contaminated, derelict mining and industrial sites dotted around Australia lacking environmental controls.

2. Wollangambe River

Environmental regulation has become more stringent in the last 25 years thanks to legislation introduced by the Howard government in 1999, and NSW’s Protection of the Environment Operations Act introduced in 1997.

But despite this legislation, many new and active mines that lead to environmental damage have been assessed and approved.

Research by my team at Western Sydney University has documented pollution from an active Blue Mountains coal mine, Clarence Colliery.

The mine caused severe metal contamination and ecological damage to the Wollangambe, a World Heritage River. Our research led to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in 2017 imposing more effective restrictions on the release of toxic pollutants from the mine.

The author sampling water in the contaminated Wollangambe River.
Author provided

Despite approvals from both the NSW and federal governments, it seemed no one had noticed the magnitude of pollution from poorly treated mine wastes until our research was conducted. This caused ecological degradation to more than 20 kilometres of the highly “protected” Wollangambe River.

The Conversation contacted Centennial Coal, which owns Clarence Colliery, for comment. They directed us to their statements in 2017, when the EPA finished a five-year review of Clarence’s Environmental Protection Licence (EPL). Then, the company said:

As a result of this review Clarence will operate under a new EPL which will include agreed reductions in metal concentration limits for all water discharged to the Wollangambe. Salinity targets will also be set at 100 EC (electrical conductivity).

Clarence will also be required to comply with a Pollution Reduction Programme (PRP), also issued by the EPA, which will result in Centennial formalising options to address all water quality issues and to meet specific water quality milestones.

3. Georges River

In 2010 I made a submission as part of the environmental assessment for an extension of BHP Billiton’s Bulli Seam coal mining operations (now owned by South 32).

This involved reading thousands of pages of consultant reports explaining how the expanded operation would attempt to avoid or minimise impacts to the environment.

The mine extension was approved. Despite the many “green tape” hurdles, the approved mine was allowed to discharge wastes which our research discovered contained pollutants that were hazardous to river life in the Georges River. These included salt, nickel, zinc, aluminium and arsenic polluting the upper Georges River.

Environmental groups took the coal mine owner to court in 2012, and I provided my evidence for the court case to the NSW EPA.

The EPA has since worked with the coal miner to reduce pollution from the mine.

4. Coal mining under Sydney’s water supply

Many were stunned on March 16 this year, when the NSW government signed off on new coal mine “longwalls” directly under Woronora Reservoir, part of Sydney’s drinking water supply.

Longwall mining is the continuous mechanical removal of coal in underground mines that allows the roof of the mine to cave in after the coal is removed.

So what can they do to a river? Redbank Creek near Picton – 65 kilometres southwest of Sydney – provides a sad testimony.

Redbank Creek no longer flows normally, but has isolated pools of contaminated water.
Ian Wright, Author provided

For nearly a decade, I documented damage where falling ground levels (subsidence) caused by longwalls led to extensive damage to the creek channel.

The land surface fell more than one meter. This caused cracking, warping and buckling of the creek channel. It now rarely holds water in many stretches. Isolated stagnant pools in the creek now accumulate saline and metal-contaminated water containing little aquatic life except for mosquitoes.

The mine responsible for this damage, Tahmoor Colliery, is seeking to extend its operations and the NSW government is currently considering the development.

This mine also disposes of about four to eight megalitres of poorly treated wastes each day to the Bargo River, a popular freshwater swimming river for south-western Sydney.

5. PFAS contamination

Despite the existence of “green tape”, unforeseen problems have left Australia with many contaminated sites that may never be fully cleaned up.

We’ve seen this in the dozens of locations across Australia where toxic PFAS chemicals have contaminated land, water, ecosystems and people.




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These were previously regarded as safe chemical additives, for example in fire fighting foam, particularly at military bases.

Such contamination is very expensive to remediate and in February this year landholders near three defence bases reached a financial settlement for the PFAS damage to their property.

“Green tape” is an emotive word implying unnecessary and slow environmental regulation that delays major projects.

Given my own direct experience involved poorly regulated coal mines, I shudder to imagine the environmental degradation “fast-tracked” environmental regulation will lead to.


The Conversation also contacted SIMEC, which owns Tahmoor Colliery. A spokesperson said:

Mining in NSW is governed by stringent state and federal laws enforced by a number of government departments and regulators. SIMEC Mining acquired the Tahmoor Coking Coal Mine two years ago and takes its environmental, compliance and social responsibilities seriously.

Tahmoor Mine has been operating for well over 40 years. We acknowledge that historical mine activity did impact Redbank Creek and that this was self-reported to the regulator. Since then, SIMEC has worked closely with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to enact a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate the creek. Recent rainfall has demonstrated the success of this work and we are confident that the rehabilitation works will restore the creek.

While our operations do produce water as part of the mining process, this is treated and monitored in accordance with our licence conditions. The quality of this water is mandated by our environment protection licence issued and monitored by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). Typically, the water monitoring results are well below those limits allowed by the licence. To further improve water quality, SIMEC Mining has committed to the installation of a new water treatment plant.

Water management has been a key focus for SIMEC in the planning of the proposed Tahmoor South extension. We have commissioned extensive specialist assessments to understand any potential impact on ground and surface water. If our extension is approved, these water assets will be carefully monitored throughout the life of the mine to ensure that should any issue occur, it is detected early and resolved efficiently.The Conversation

Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

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

Using lots of plastic packaging during the coronavirus crisis? You’re not alone


Daiane Scaraboto, University of Melbourne; Alison M Joubert, The University of Queensland, and Claudia Gonzalez-Arcos, The University of Queensland

In eight years, US environmentalist and social media star Lauren Singer had never sent an item of rubbish to landfill. But last month, in an impassioned post to her 383,000 Instagram followers, she admitted the reality of COVID-19 has changed that.

I sacrificed my values and bought items in plastic. Lots of it, and plastic that I know isn’t recyclable in NYC (New York City) recycling or maybe even anywhere … why would I go against something that I have actively prioritised and promoted?

Singer wrote that as the seriousness of COVID-19 dawned, she stocked up on items she’d need if confined to her home for a long period – much of it packaged in plastic.

Her confession encapsulates how the pandemic has challenged those of us who are trying to reduce our waste. Many sustainability-conscious people may now find themselves with cupboards stocked with plastic bottles of hand sanitiser, disposable wipes and takeaway food containers.

So let’s look at why this is happening, and what to do about it.

Sustainability out the window

We research how consumers respond to change, such as why consumers largely resisted single-use plastic bag bans. Recently we’ve explored how the coronavirus has changed the use of plastic bags, containers and other disposable products.

Amid understandable concern over health and hygiene during the pandemic, the problem of disposable plastics has taken a back seat.

For example, Coles’ home delivery service is delivering items in plastic bags (albeit reusable ones) and many coffee shops have banned reusable mugs, including global Starbucks branches.




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Restaurants and other food businesses can now only offer home delivery or takeaway options. Many won’t allow customers to bring their own containers, defaulting to disposables which generate plastic waste. This means many consumers can’t reduce their plastic waste, even if they wanted to.

Demand for products such as disposable wipes, cleaning agents, hand sanitiser, disposable gloves and masks is at a record high. Unfortunately, they’re also being thrown out in unprecedented volumes.

And the imperative to prevent the spread of coronavirus means tonnes of medical waste is being generated. For example, hospitals and aged care facilities have been advised to double-bag clinical waste from COVID-19 patients. While this is a necessary measure, it adds to the plastic waste problem.

Many cafes will not accept reusable cups during the health crisis.
The Conversation

Cause for hope

Sustainability and recycling efforts are continuing. Soft plastics recycler Red Cycle is still operating. However many dropoff points for soft plastics, such as schools and council buildings, are closed, and some supermarkets have removed their dropoff bins.

Boomerang Alliance’s Plastic Free Places program has launched a guide for cafes and restaurants during COVID-19. It shows how to avoid single-use plastics, and what compostable packaging alternatives are available.

As the guide notes, “next year the coronavirus will hopefully be a thing of the past but plastic pollution won’t be. It’s important that we don’t increase plastic waste and litter in the meantime.”

Old habits die hard

In the US, lobbyists for the plastic industry have taken advantage of health fears by arguing single-use plastic bags are a more hygienic option than reusable ones. Plastic bag bans have since been rolled back in the US and elsewhere.

However, there is little evidence to show plastic bags are a safer option, and at least reusable cloth bags can be washed.

A relaxation on plastic bag bans – even if temporary – is likely to have long-term consequences for consumer behaviour. Research shows one of the biggest challenges in promoting sustainable behaviours is to break old habits and adopt new ones. Once people return to using plastic bags, the practice becomes normalised again.

In Europe, the plastic industry is using the threat of coronavirus contamination to push back against a ban on single-use plastics such as food containers and cutlery.

Such reframing of plastic as a “protective” health material can divert attention from its dangers to the environment. Prior research, as well as our preliminary findings, suggest these meanings matter when it comes to encouraging environmentally friendly behaviours.




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Many people are using their time at home to clear out items they no longer need. However, most second-hand and charity shops are closed, so items that might have had a second life end up in landfill.

Similarly, many tool, book and toy libraries are closed, meaning some people will be buying items they might otherwise have borrowed.

Once consumers go back to using plastic bags, it will take time to break the habit again.
Darren England/AAP

What to do

We can expect the environmental cause will return to the foreground when the COVID-19 crisis has passed. In the meantime, reuse what you have, and try to store rather than throw out items for donation or recycling.

Talk to takeaway food outlets about options for using your own containers, and refuse disposable cutlery or napkins with deliveries. Use the time to upskill your coffee-making at home rather than buying it in a takeaway cup. And look for grocery suppliers offering more sustainable delivery packaging, such as cardboard boxes or biodegradable bags.

Above all, be vigilant about ways environmental protections such as plastic bag bans might be undermined during the pandemic, and voice your concerns to politicians.




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The Conversation


Daiane Scaraboto, Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Melbourne; Alison M Joubert, Lecturer in Marketing, The University of Queensland, and Claudia Gonzalez-Arcos, Lecturer in Marketing, The University of Queensland

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

Here are 5 ways to flatten the climate change curve while stuck at home



TASS/Sipa USA

Sky Croeser, Curtin University

After the horrors of the last bushfire season, climate action in Australia seemed to have new momentum. But then coronavirus struck. All of a sudden, the public was preoccupied by a different catastrophe.

But one positive has emerged from the devastation wrought by coronavirus: our ability to radically shift social and economic systems when needed. It shows real action on climate change is possible, and should encourage us to work towards that even as we stay at home.




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From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old ‘normal’ is gone forever. So what’s next?


I must note here that for some people right now, the focus is on simply surviving. Increased domestic violence risk, housing insecurity, unemployment, mental health issues and other forms of marginalisation means many have little energy for activism.

But for those of us with time and resources to spare, there’s plenty to do now to support climate action. My research focuses on how people around the world use digital technologies to create change. So here are five ways to make a difference without necessarily leaving the house.


Words by Hugh Goldring and art by Nicole Marie Burton of Ad Astra Comix, CC BY-SA

1. Create or join local coronavirus support networks

A huge number of community mutual aid groups have recently formed – try joining one.

Mutual aid is about helping each other and realising that we all have something to offer. Participating can do more than help us get through the pandemic – it can also strengthen the community ties we need to cooperate on climate action.




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The lack of effective climate leadership by many governments – including the Australian government – means working for change at the local level is vital. The Transition Towns movement, which began in 2006, is built on the idea that community resilience can create new possibilities in times of crisis.

Recently, Extinction Rebellion UK released the Alone Together resource pack, to help people meet the challenges of coronavirus through compassion, creativity and mutual aid.

Working together can shift our ideas about what is possible, so keep talking to your neighbours once the pandemic has passed.

2. Put pressure on government and industry to take action

Climate change advocacy campaigns are achieving significant successes in Australia and there are plenty of ways you can contribute from home.

For example, the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is currently under review, and public input is being sought. This legislation has not done a great job of protecting the environment since it was enacted 20 years ago, and the effects of climate change mean strong environment laws have never been more needed.

If you want to make a submission and need ideas, Friends of the Earth have outlined how the laws must change. Or just write about what matters to you when it comes to protecting the environment.

Now might be also a good time to check whether any of your money is invested in fossil fuels, and move it if it is: Market Forces will walk you through the process.

You could also give time or money to support organisations working for climate justice, such as Seed Mob or the Climate Justice Union.

3. Keep learning

The pandemic has highlighted problems with our political and economic systems. The crisis has affected everyone, but in different ways. Racial disparities put some groups at increased risk and there are claims that policing of the lockdown is harsher in some areas than others.

Also, people in low-paid work such as childcare and retail are at additional risk of exposure to the virus, while many in better-paid professions can work from home.

Learning from the disparities we see during this crisis can help us build a broader and more inclusive environmental movement. If you have time to read, consider books about Indigenous connection to land, such as Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Victor Steffensen’s Fire Country, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

4. Use time at home to reconsider your lifestyle

Making changes as individuals will not in itself solve climate change. The impact of driving less and skipping an international trip pales in comparison to the effect of, say, Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.

But you can link the changes you make at home to broader structural change.

For example, if you’re using time at home to evaluate your water use, find out which industries near you use the most water – and whether there’s a fair distribution. How much are households paying compared to mines, for example, and do any restrictions that your household faces also apply to industries that use a lot of water?

If you’ve shifted to getting groceries delivered, learn more about how to support regenerative agriculture in your area. Can you buy fruit and vegetables from farms that are improving soil health, supporting biodiversity, and paying workers fairly?

The crisis will pass – and may leave us with more hope than before.
Andy Rain/EPA

5. Reconnect with nature

Connection with nature can be soothing. It can also help to spark and sustain environmental action. Connecting to nature might mean growing your own food, paying attention to city plants and wildlife on your walk to the grocery store, or simply letting the breeze blow through your apartment.

Together while we’re apart

Finding ways to participate in climate action from home can connect us to our communities, and help us find meaning and agency during a difficult time.

One day this crisis will pass, and we might find we’ve laid the groundwork to come out of it stronger, and with more hope than before.




Read more:
Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change


The Conversation


Sky Croeser, Lecturer, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University

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

‘Sumbiotude’: a new word in the tiny (but growing) vocabulary for our emotional connection to the environment



Glenn Albrecht, Author provided

Glenn Albrecht, University of Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains references to deceased people.

I am a child of the Anthropocene, born in 1953. I have lived in a period of history also known as the “Great Acceleration” as huge negative change unfolded.

While contemplating these changes, I have sensed, within humanity, a profound sense of emotional isolation. To help overcome the solitude, I have created the idea of sumbiotude, thinking and working in companionship with others, to reconnect to life.

Being alive in this particular era, I have had the privilege of living through the rapid transition from a focus on that which is “obvious to the senses” to our new ways of rendering the invisible, visible.




Read more:
From the bushfires to coronavirus, our old ‘normal’ is gone forever. So what’s next?


I also accept that reality is complex and independent of us and that new insights into nature can come via acts of scientific and conceptual discovery. However, I am always aware that I am walking in the footsteps of the late Big Bill Neidjie of Arnhem Land when in Gagudju Man he suggests:

We walk on earth,

We look after,

like rainbow sitting on top.

But something underneath,

under the ground.

We don’t know.

You don’t know.

At a time of massive biophysical change (heatwaves, wildfire, floods, pandemics), we need to expand our language to understand these changes and to be able to share the emotional upheavals they engender.

I’ve created a “sumbiography” (from the Greek, sumbios, which means living together) to investigate the union of elements in nature and culture that have symbiotically cohered into a view about life – a philosophy of my own.

For others, undertaking a sumbiography has the potential to help them find their own particular view of their emotional connection – or the lack of it – to the Earth.

A sumbiography can reveal just what kind of emotional compass we have with respect to our personal relationship to this living planet.

A new vocabulary

As a philosopher, my response to the encounter with the open cut coal mines of the desolated Upper Hunter region of NSW was to rethink the emotions of attachment to and abandonment of a place that is loved, and to find the right way to express my feelings.

As there was nothing in the English language to help me, I decided to create my own concept – a neologism – to adequately describe the emotional distress at the loss of one’s endemic sense of place.

It took the combination of a lifetime of teaching, thinking and a creative effort shared with my wife, Jillian, before the concept of “solastalgia” entered the world in 2003.




Read more:
The age of solastalgia


Solastalgia, the distressing lived experience of negative environmental change, arose from understanding that the positive side of the lived experience of Earth emotions had to have negative equivalents. Solastalgia marked the beginning of my journey of mental-landscape discovery.

That such a concept did not already exist in the English language was, to me, a sign of just how deeply alienated from our home we – as an Earth-destroying, or “terraphthoric”, culture – had become.

Co-existence with non-human life

My mother played a huge part in my rediscovery and naming of different, more positive, psychoterratic emotions.

In her late seventies, she was struggling: the legacy of tuberculosis had left her breathless and she was having trouble both retaining her independence and continuing as a volunteer guide at Kings Park in Perth. I shopped for her and we ate together most nights.

After a year where I lived close by, she suffered a big, bloody and lonely fall. Following her hospitalisation and recovery, I took her to live with me in the village of Jarrahdale in the Perth Hills.

Our house and block, “Birdland”, had jarrah trees on it and ground orchids; it was visited by kangaroos, possums, quenda (southern brown bandicoot) and many different kinds of birds.

A kangaroo resting at Birdland.
Glenn Albrecht, Author provided

My mother and I thrived there. She reconnected with her own endemic sense of place, and I thinking about the concepts and the associated words needed to account for that sense of reconnection and good Earth emotions.

If the mine-scape of the Upper Hunter and the homogeneity of the city of Perth represented the solastalgic Anthropocene to me, Jarrahdale had offered a lifeline to a different lifestyle and worldview – one where co-existence with non-human life went beyond companion and domesticated animals and a limited number of edible plants.

Adding richness to sumbiography

In loving each other as kin, my mother and I also shared a love of the endemic (endemophilia). This was made manifest in the moments when spider, donkey, enamel or bee orchids were found with almost the same excitement as very first encounters.

These five years with my mother added richness to my sumbiography.

As an adult, I could reunite with my past and feel, beyond solastalgia, positive emotional states residing in me that were also without the corresponding concepts, words and ideas in my language.




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While based at Murdoch University, I began a systematic quest to negate solastalgia and all the other negative Earth emotions to add something new, something “terranascient” or Earth-creating that could join the dialectic of the psychoterratic.

Symbiosis

In 2011, I created the meme of the Symbiocene, which I defined as the next era in human and Earth history where reintegration of the Anthropos (humans) with the Sumbios (symbiotic life) was completed.

In 2013, aged 84, my mother died. Half her ashes were scattered carefully into the Kings Park bush around a huge old gnarly log from a long-dead jarrah tree.

Ground orchids abounded in this place, so too the red and green kangaroo paws. She deserved a presence in that park, as her spirit had graced it for more than 20 years. I imagine she became a copse of pink enamel orchids, glistening in the Perth spring sun.

If humans are kind to the Earth, some of her will also become a new jarrah tree, auburn hair all fiery in its wood grain.

‘Sumbiography’, ‘solastalgia’ and other emotions are discussed in the author’s book, Earth Emotions.
Shutterstock

For the great bulk of human existence, symbiosis was typical of our relationship to the rest of nature, and I wanted to regain the property of what the Greeks called sumbiosis or “companionship”.

Living together

If I live to be 100 years of age, it is my hope that my life will come to exemplify a neologism that is sumbiotude, or the state of living together.

Sumbiotude is the exact opposite of solitude: instead of contemplating life in isolation, sumbiotude involves contemplation and completion of a lifespan with the loving companionship of humans and non-humans.

I will also be happy if my creative, conceptual work can help Generation Symbiocene – which includes my own children, my step-grandchildren and my five-year-old granddaughter – live in a world where positive Earth emotions prevail.

This is an edited extract republished with permission from GriffithReview68: Getting On (Text), ed Ashley Hay griffithreview.comThe Conversation

Glenn Albrecht, Honorary Associate, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney

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

Snowy 2.0 threatens to pollute our rivers and wipe out native fish



Schopier/Wikimedia

John Harris, UNSW and Mark Lintermans, University of Canberra

The federal government’s Snowy 2.0 energy venture is controversial for many reasons, but one has largely escaped public attention. The project threatens to devastate aquatic life by introducing predators and polluting important rivers. It may even push one fish species to extinction.

The environmental impact statement for the taxpayer-funded project is almost 10,000 pages long. Yet it fails to resolve critical problems, and in one case seeks legal exemptions to enable Snowy 2.0 to wreak environmental damage.

The New South Wales government is soon expected to grant the project environmental approval. This process should be suspended, and independent experts should urgently review the project’s environmental credentials.

Native fish extinctions

Snowy Hydro Limited, a Commonwealth-owned corporation, is behind the Snowy 2.0 project in the Kosciuszko National Park in southern NSW. It involves building a giant tunnel to connect two water storages – the Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs. By extension, the project will also connect the rivers and creeks connected to these reservoirs.

A small, critically endangered native fish, the stocky galaxias, lives in a creek upstream of Tantangara. This is the last known population of the species.




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An invasive native fish, the climbing galaxias, lives in the Talbingo reservoir (it was introduced from coastal streams when the original Snowy project was built). Water pumped from Talbingo will likely transfer this fish to Tantangara.

From here, the climbing galaxias’ capacity to climb wet vertical surfaces would enable it to reach upstream creeks and compete for food with, and prey on, stocky galaxias – probably pushing it into extinction.

The stocky galaxias.
Hugh Allan

Snowy Hydro has applied for an exemption under NSW biosecurity legislation to permit the transfer of the climbing galaxias and two other fish species: the alien, noxious redfin perch and eastern gambusia.

Redfin perch compete for food with other species and produce many offspring. They are voracious, carnivorous predators, known to prey on smaller fish.

Redfin perch also allow the establishment of a fatal fish disease – epizootic haematopoietic necrosis virus – or EHN. This disease kills the endangered native Macquarie perch, the population of which below Tantangara is one of very few remaining.

If Snowy 2.0 is granted approval, it is likely to spread these problematic species through the headwaters of the Murrumbidgee, Snowy and Murray rivers.

The climbing galaxias, which threatens the native stocky galaxias.
Stella McQueen/Wikimedia

Acid and asbestos pollution

Four million tonnes of rock excavated to build Snowy 2.0 would be dumped into the two reservoirs. Snowy Hydro has not assessed the pollution risks this creates. The rock will contain potential acid-forming minerals and a form of asbestos, which threaten to pollute water storages and rivers downstream.

When the first stage of the Snowy Hydro project was built, comparable rocks were dumped in the Tooma River catchment. Research in 2006 suggested the dump was associated with eradication of almost all fish from the Tooma River downstream after rainfall.




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Addressing the problems

The environmental impact statement either ignores, or pays inadequate attention to, these environmental problems.

For example, installing large-scale screens at water inlets would be the best way to prevent fish transfer from Talbingo Dam, but Snowy Hydro has dismissed it as too costly.

Snowy Hydro instead proposes a dubious second-rate measure: screens to filter pumped flows leaving Tantangara reservoir, and building a barrier in the stream below the stocky galaxias habitat.

The best and cheapest way to prevent damage from alien species is stopping the populations from establishing. Trying to control or eradicate pest species once they’re established is far more difficult and costly.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

We believe the measures proposed by Snowy Hydro are impractical. It would be very difficult to maintain a screen fine and large enough to prevent fish eggs and larvae moving out of Tantangara reservoir and such screens would be totally ineffective at preventing the spread of EHN virus.

A six metre-high waterfall downstream of the stocky galaxias habitat currently protects the critically endangered species from other invasive species threats. But climbing galaxias have an extraordinary ability to ascend wet surfaces. They would easily climb the waterfall, and possibly the proposed creek barrier as well.

Such an engineered barrier has never been constructed in Australia. We are informed that in New Zealand, the barriers have not been fully effective and often require design adjustments.




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Even if the barrier protected the stocky galaxias at this location, efforts to establish populations in other unprotected regional streams would be severely hampered by the spread of climbing galaxias.

Preventing redfin and EHN from entering the Murrumbidgee River downstream of Tantangara depends on the reservoir never spilling. The reservoir has spilled twice since construction in the 1960s, and would operate at much higher water levels when Snowy 2.0 was operating. Despite this, Snowy Hydro says it has “high confidence in being able to avoid spill”.

If dumped spoil pollutes the two reservoirs and Murrumbidgee and Tumut rivers, this would also have potentially profound ecological impacts. These have not been critically assessed, nor effective prevention methods identified.

The Tumut 3 scheme, part of the existing Snowy Hydro scheme.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

Looking to the future

Snowy 2.0 will likely make one critically endangered species extinct and threaten an important remaining population of another, as well as pollute freshwater habitats. As others have noted, the project is also questionable on other environmental and economic grounds.

These potential failures underscore the need to immediately halt Snowy 2.0, and subject it to independent expert scrutiny.


In response to the issues raised in this article, a spokesperson for Snowy Hydro said:

“Snowy Hydro’s EIS, supported by numerous reports from independent scientific experts, extensively address potential water quality and fish transfer impacts and the risk mitigation measures to be put in place. As the EIS is currently being assessed by the NSW Government we have no further comment.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that water pumped from Tantangara will likely transfer fish to Talbingo. It should have said water pumped from Talbingo will likely transfer fish to Tantangara.The Conversation

John Harris, Adjunct Associate Professor, Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW and Mark Lintermans, Associate professor, University of Canberra

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

If we can put a man on the Moon, we can save the Great Barrier Reef



Shutterstock

Paul Hardisty, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Christian Roth, CSIRO; Damien Burrows, James Cook University; David Mead, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Ken Anthony, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Line K Bay, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Mark Gibbs, Queensland University of Technology, and Peter J Mumby, The University of Queensland

Scientists recently confirmed the Great Barrier Reef suffered another serious bleaching event last summer – the third in five years. Dramatic intervention to save the natural wonder is clearly needed.

First and foremost, this requires global greenhouse gas emissions to be slashed. But the right combination of technological and biological interventions, deployed with care at the right time and scale, are also critical to securing the reef’s future.




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This could include methods designed to shade and cool the reef, techniques to help corals adapt to warmer temperatures, ways to help damaged reefs recover, and smart systems that target interventions to the most strategically beneficial locations.

Research into breeding coral hybrids for heat-stress resistance could help restore parts of the reef.
Marie Roman/AIMS, Author provided

Implementing such measures across the breadth of the reef – the world’s biggest reef ecosystem – will not be easy, or cheap. In fact, we believe the scale of the task is greater than the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission in 1969 – but not impossible.

That mission was a success, not because a few elements worked to plan, but because of the integration, coordination and alignment of every element of the mission’s goal: be the first to land and walk on the Moon, and then fly home safely.

Half a century later, facing the ongoing decline of the Great Barrier Reef, we can draw important lessons from that historic human achievement.

Intervening to save the reef

The recently released Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program concept feasibility study shows Australia could feasibly, and with reasonable probability of success, intervene to help the reef adapt to and recover from the effects of climate change.

The study, of which we were a part, involved more than 100 leading coral reef scientists, modellers, economists, engineers, business strategists, social scientists, decision scientists and reef managers.

More than 100 coral reef scientists took part in the feasibility study.
Nick Thake/AIMS, Author provided

It shows how new and existing interventions, supported by the best available research and development, could help secure a future for the reef.

We must emphasise that interventions to help the reef adapt to and recover from climate change will not, alone, save it. Success also depends on reducing global greenhouse emissions as quickly as possible. But the hands-on measures we’re proposing could help buy time for the reef.

Cloud brightening to heat-tolerant corals

Our study identified 160 possible interventions that could help revive the reef, and build on its natural resilience. We’ve whittled it down to the 43 most effective and realistic.

Possible interventions for further research and development include brightening clouds with salt crystals to shade and cool corals; ways to increase the abundance of naturally heat-tolerant corals in local populations, such as through aquarium-based selective breeding and release; and methods to promote faster recovery on damaged reefs, such as deploying structures designed to stabilise reef rubble.

But there will be no single silver bullet solution. The feasibility study showed that methods working in combination, along with water quality improvement and crown-of-thorns starfish control, will provide the best results.

Field testing the heat resistant coral hybrids in the Great Barrier Reef.
Kate Green/AIMS, Author provided

Harder than landing on the Moon

There are four reasons why saving the Great Barrier Reef in coming decades could be more challenging than the 1969 Moon mission.

First, warming events have already driven the reef into decline with back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, and now again in 2020. The next major event is now only just around the corner.




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Second, current emission reduction pledges would see the world warm by 2.3-3.5℃ relative to pre-industrial levels. This climate scenario, which is not the worst case, would be beyond the range that allows today’s coral reef ecosystems to function.

Without swift action, the prospect for the world’s coral reefs is bleak, with most expected to become seriously degraded before mid-century.

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit by consecutive bleaching events – restoring it may be harder than landing on the moon.
Shutterstock

Third, we still have work to do to control local pressures, including water quality and marine pests crown-of-thorns starfish.

And fourth, the inherent complexity of natural systems, particularly ones as diverse as coral reefs, provides an additional challenge not faced by NASA engineers 50 years ago.

So keeping the Great Barrier Reef, let alone the rest of the world’s reefs, safe from climate change will dwarf the challenge of any space mission. But there is hope.

We must start now

The federal government recently re-announced A$100 million from the Reef Trust Partnership towards a major research and development effort for this program. This will be augmented by contributions of A$50m from research institutions, and additional funding from international philanthropists.

Our study shows that under a wide range of future emission scenarios, the program is very likely to be worth the effort, more so if the world meets the Paris target and rapidly cuts greenhouse gas emissions.




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What’s more, economic analyses included in the feasibility study show successful Great Barrier Reef intervention at scale could create benefits to Australia of between A$11 billion and A$773 billion over a 60-year period, with much of it flowing to regional economies and Traditional Owner communities.

And perhaps more importantly, if Australia is successful in this effort, we can lead the world in a global effort to save these natural wonders bequeathed to us across the ages. We must start the journey now. If we wait, it may be too late.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of David Wachenfeld, Chief Scientist of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and member of the the steering committee for the development of this program.The Conversation

Paul Hardisty, CEO, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Christian Roth, CSIRO Great Barrier Reef Coordinator & Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Damien Burrows, Director of TropWATER, James Cook University; David Mead, Executive Director of Strategic Development at Australian Institute of Marine Science, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Ken Anthony, Principal Research Scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Line K Bay, Senior Research Scientist and Team Leader, Australian Institute of Marine Science; Mark Gibbs, Director, Knowledge to Innovation; Chair, Green Cross Australia, Queensland University of Technology, and Peter J Mumby, Chair professor, The University of Queensland

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

Sparkling dolphins swim off our coast, but humans are threatening these natural light shows



Dean Cropp, Author provided

Dr Vanessa Pirotta, Macquarie University

It was 2 am on a humid summer’s night on Sydney’s coast. Something in the distance caught my eye – a pod of glowing dolphins darted towards the bow of the boat. I had never seen anything like it before. They were electric blue, trailing swaths of light as they rode the bow wave.

It was a stunning example of “bioluminescence”. The phenomenon is the result of a chemical reaction in billions of single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates congregating at the sea surface. These organisms are a type of phytoplankton – tiny microscopic organisms many sea creatures eat.




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Dinoflagellates switch on their bioluminescence as a warning signal to predators, but it can also be triggered when they’re disturbed in the water – in this case, by the dolphins.

You can see marine bioluminescence from land in Australia. Places like Jervis Bay and Tasmania are renowned for such spectacles.

But this dazzling night-time show is under threat. Light pollution creates brighter nights and disrupts ecological rhythms along the coast, such as breeding and feeding patterns. With so much human activity close to the shore and at sea, how much longer can we continue to enjoy this natural light show?

Lighting up the world has an ecological price

Light pollution is a well-known problem for inland ecosystems, particularly for nocturnal species.

In fact, a global study published earlier this year identified light pollution as an extinction threat to land bioluminescent species. The study surveyed firefly experts, who considered artificial light to be the second greatest threat to fireflies after habitat destruction.

Artificial light is one of the biggest threats fireflies face.
Shutterstock

At sea, artificial light pollution enters the marine environment temporarily (lights from ships and fishing activities) and permanently (coastal towns and offshore oil platforms). To make matters worse, light from cities can extend further offshore by scattering into the atmosphere and reflecting off clouds. This is known as artificial sky glow.

For organisms with circadian clocks (day-night sleep cycles), this loss of darkness can have damaging effects.

Bioluminescence in Sydney in the wake of the boat the author was on.
Vanessa Pirotta, Author provided

For example it can disrupt animal metabolism, which can lead to weight gain. Artificial light can also change sea turtle nesting behaviour and can disorientate turtle hatchlings when trying to get to sea, lowering their chances of survival.




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Lights out! Clownfish can only hatch in the dark – which light pollution is taking away


It can also disorientate the foraging of fish communities; alter predatory fish behaviour (such as in Yellowfin Bream and Leatherjacks) leading to increased predation in artificial light at night; cause reproductive failure in clownfish; and change the structural composition of marine invertebrate communities.

What are lights along the coast doing to bioluminescent species?
Shutterstock

For zooplankton – a vital species for a range of bigger animals – artificial light disrupts their “diel vertical migration”. This term refers to the movement of zooplankton from the depths of the ocean where they spend the day to reduce fish predation, rising to the surface at night to feed.

What does this mean for bioluminescent species?

Increased exposure to artificial light due to human activities, such as growing cities and increased global shipping movement, may disrupt when and where bioluminescent species hang out.

In turn, this may influence where predators move, leading to disruptions in the marine food web, potentially changing the dynamics of energy transfer efficiency between marine species.

Bioluminescence draws tourists and photographers in Tasmania.
Shutterstock

Bioluminescence usually serves as a communication function, such as to warn off predators, attract a mate or lure prey. For many species, light pollution in the ocean may compromise this biological communication strategy.

And for light-producing organisms such as dinoflagellates, excess artificial light may reduce the effectiveness of their bioluminescence because they won’t shine as bright, potentially increasing their risk of being eaten.

Have you read Julia Baird’s new book? It’s a great introduction to the science behind the ephemeral bioluminescence at sea.
HarperCollins Australia

A 2016 study in the Arctic revealed the critical depth where atmospheric light dims to darkness, and bioluminescence from organisms becomes dominant, was approximately 30 metres below the sea surface.

This means any change to light in the Arctic influences when marine organisms rise to the surface. If there is too much light, these organisms remain deeper for longer where it’s safe – reducing their potential feeding time.




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What can we do?

Understanding the level at which artificial light penetrates the ocean is tricky, especially so when dealing with mobile sources of light pollution such as ships, which are becoming an almost permanent fixture in some areas of the ocean.

Bioluminescence usually serves as a communication function, such as to warn off predators.
Shutterstock

Pockets of darkness still remain in our oceans. But they are becoming rarer, making light pollution a serious global threat to marine life.




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The spectacle of glowing dolphins should serve as a timely reminder of our need to conserve the darkness we have left.

Simple steps at home such as switching off lights and reducing unnecessary outdoor lighting, especially if you live near the ocean, is a step in the right direction to doing your bit for nocturnal species.The Conversation

Dr Vanessa Pirotta, Marine scientist and science communicator, Macquarie University

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

There are 10 catastrophic threats facing humans right now, and coronavirus is only one of them


Arnagretta Hunter, Australian National University and John Hewson, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Four months in, this year has already been a remarkable showcase for existential and catastrophic risk. A severe drought, devastating bushfires, hazardous smoke, towns running dry – these events all demonstrate the consequences of human-induced climate change.

While the above may seem like isolated threats, they are parts of a larger puzzle of which the pieces are all interconnected. A report titled Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century, published today by the Commission for the Human Future, has isolated ten potentially catastrophic threats to human survival.

Not prioritised over one another, these risks are:

  1. decline of natural resources, particularly water
  2. collapse of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity
  3. human population growth beyond Earth’s carrying capacity
  4. global warming and human-induced climate change
  5. chemical pollution of the Earth system, including the atmosphere and oceans
  6. rising food insecurity and failing nutritional quality
  7. nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction
  8. pandemics of new and untreatable disease
  9. the advent of powerful, uncontrolled new technology
  10. national and global failure to understand and act preventatively on these risks.

The start of ongoing discussions

The Commission for the Human Future formed last year, following earlier discussions within emeritus faculty at the Australian National University about the major risks faced by humanity, how they should be approached and how they might be solved. We hosted our first round-table discussion last month, bringing together more than 40 academics, thinkers and policy leaders.

The commission’s report states our species’ ability to cause mass harm to itself has been accelerating since the mid-20th century. Global trends in demographics, information, politics, warfare, climate, environmental damage and technology have culminated in an entirely new level of risk.

The risks emerging now are varied, global and complex. Each one poses a “significant” risk to human civilisation, a “catastrophic risk”, or could actually extinguish the human species and is therefore an “existential risk”.

The risks are interconnected. They originate from the same basic causes and must be solved in ways that make no individual threat worse. This means many existing systems we take for granted, including our economic, food, energy, production and waste, community life and governance systems – along with our relationship with the Earth’s natural systems – must undergo searching examination and reform.

COVID-19: a lesson in interconnection

It’s tempting to examine these threats individually, and yet with the coronavirus crisis we see their interconnection.

The response to the coronavirus has had implications for climate change with carbon pollution reduction, increased discussion about artificial intelligence and use of data (including facial recognition), and changes to the landscape of global security particularly in the face of massive economic transition.

It’s not possible to “solve” COVID-19 without affecting other risks in some way.

Shared future, shared approach

The commission’s report does not aim to solve each risk, but rather to outline current thinking and identify unifying themes. Understanding science, evidence and analysis will be key to adequately addressing the threats and finding solutions. An evidence-based approach to policy has been needed for many years. Under-appreciating science and evidence leads to unmitigated risks, as we have seen with climate change.

The human future involves us all. Shaping it requires a collaborative, inclusive and diverse discussion. We should heed advice from political and social scientists on how to engage all people in this conversation.




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Imagination, creativity and new narratives will be needed for challenges that test our civil society and humanity. The bushfire smoke over the summer was unprecedented, and COVID-19 is a new virus.

If our policymakers and government had spent more time using the available climate science to understand and then imagine the potential risks of the 2019-20 summer, we would have recognised the potential for a catastrophic season and would likely have been able to prepare better. Unprecedented events are not always unexpected.

Prepare for the long road

The short-termism of our political process needs to be circumvented. We must consider how our actions today will resonate for generations to come.

The commission’s report highlights the failure of governments to address these threats and particularly notes the short-term thinking that has increasingly dominated Australian and global politics. This has seriously undermined our potential to decrease risks such as climate change.




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The shift from short to longer term thinking can began at home and in our daily lives. We should make decisions today that acknowledge the future, and practise this not only in our own lives but also demand it of our policy makers.

We’re living in unprecedented times. The catastrophic and existential risks for humanity are serious and multifaceted. And this conversation is the most important one we have today.The Conversation

Arnagretta Hunter, ANU Human Futures Fellow 2020; Cardiologist and Physician., Australian National University and John Hewson, Professor and Chair, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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