Reducing food waste can protect our health, as well as our planet’s



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Smaller portions reduce food waste and waistlines.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Liza Barbour, Monash University and Julia McCartan, Monash University

Globally, one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted. Food waste costs Australia A$20 billion each year and is damaging our planet’s resources by contributing to climate change and inefficient land, fertiliser and freshwater use.

And it’s estimated if no further action is taken to slow rising obesity rates, it will cost Australia A$87.7 billion over the next ten years. Preventable chronic diseases are Australia’s leading cause of ill health, and conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes are linked to obesity and unhealthy diets.

But we can tackle these two major issues of obesity and food waste together.




Read more:
Melbourne wastes 200 kg of food per person a year: it’s time to get serious


Avoid over-consumption of food

Described as metabolic food waste, the consumption of food in excess of nutritional requirements uses valuable food system resources and manifests as overweight and obesity.

The first of the Australian dietary guidelines is:

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.

In 2013, researchers defined three principles for a healthy and sustainable diet. The first was:

Any food that is consumed above a person’s energy requirement represents an avoidable environmental burden in the form of greenhouse gas emissions, use of natural resources and pressure on biodiversity.




Read more:
Portion size affects how much you eat despite your appetite


Reduce consumption of processed, packaged foods

Ultra-processed foods are not only promoting obesity, they pose a great threat to our environment. The damage to our planet not only lies in the manufacture and distribution of these foods but also in their disposal. Food packaging (bottles, containers, wrappers) accounts for almost two-thirds of total packaging waste by volume.

Ultra-processed foods are high in calories, refined sugar, saturated fat and salt, and they’re dominating Australia’s food supply. These products are formulated and marketed to promote over-consumption, contributing to our obesity epidemic.

Processed foods promote over-consumption and leave packaging behind.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Healthy and sustainable dietary recommendations promote the consumption of fewer processed foods, which are energy-dense, highly processed and packaged. This ultimately reduces both the risk of dietary imbalances and the unnecessary use of environmental resources.

Author Michael Pollan put it best when he said, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.”




Read more:
Food addiction: how processed food makes you eat more


So what do we need to do?

In response to the financial and environmental burden of food waste, the federal government’s National Food Waste Strategy aims to halve food waste in Australia by 2030. A$133 million has been allocated over the next decade to a research centre which can assist the environment, public health and economic sectors to work together to address both food waste and obesity.

Other countries, including Brazil and the United Kingdom acknowledge the link between health and environmental sustainability prominently in their dietary guidelines.

One of Brazil’s five guiding principles states that dietary recommendations must take into account the impact of the means of production and distribution on social justice and the environment. The Qatar national dietary guidelines explicitly state “reduce leftovers and waste”.

Many would be surprised to learn Australia’s dietary guidelines include tips to minimise food waste:

store food appropriately, dispose of food waste appropriately (e.g. compost, worm farms), keep food safely and select foods with appropriate packaging and recycle.

These recommendations are hidden in Appendix G of our guidelines, despite efforts from leading advocates to give them a more prominent position. To follow international precedence, these recommendations should be moved to a prominent location in our guidelines.




Read more:
Update Australia’s dietary guidelines to consider sustainability


At a local government level, councils can encourage responsible practices to minimise food waste by subsidising worm farms and compost bins, arranging kerbside collection of food scraps and enabling better access to soft plastic recycling programs such as Red Cycle.




Read more:
Campaigns urging us to ‘care more’ about food waste miss the point


Portion and serving sizes should be considered by commercial food settings. Every year Australians eat 2.5 billion meals out and waste 2.2 million tonnes of food via the commercial and industrial sectors. Evidence shows reducing portion sizes in food service settings leads to a reduction in both plate waste and over-consumption.

Given the cost of food waste and obesity to the economy, and the impact on the health of our people and our planet, reducing food waste can address two major problems facing humanity today.The Conversation

Liza Barbour, Lecturer, Monash University and Julia McCartan, Research Officer, Monash University

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

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


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Ints Vikmanis / shutterstock

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

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

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

1) Recognise the limits of individual action at home

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

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

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

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

2) Acknowledge some humans consume more than others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Conversation

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

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

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

Curious Kids: How do plastic bags harm our environment and sea life?


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Sea turtle eating a plastic bag.
from www.shutterstock.com

Britta Denise Hardesty, CSIRO and Qamar Schuyler, CSIRO

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky! You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


My name is Sanuki and I’m 8 years old. I live in Melbourne. My question is how do plastic bags harm our environment and sea life? – Sanuki, age 8, Melbourne.


Good question, Sanuki!

Plastic bags harm marine (and land) environments in a few ways.

Turtles (and other animals) may mistake plastic bags for food. Turtles like to eat jellyfish, and we think turtles eat the plastic bags because they resemble jellyfish.

When turtles eat plastic, it can block their intestinal system (their guts). Therefore, they can no longer eat properly, which can kill them. The plastics in their tummy may also leak chemicals into the turtle. We don’t know whether this causes long term problems for the turtle, but it’s probably not good for them.




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How plastic impacts the ecosystems

Plastic bags can also smother corals and other seabed communities. When plastic bags end up in our oceans, animals (including seals, dolphins and seabirds) can get tangled up in them. An animal with a plastic bag around its neck will have trouble moving through the water, catching its prey or feeding, and escaping predators.

Plastic can smother seabed and coral, impacting ecosystems.
from www.shutterstock.com

On land, plastic bags are an eyesore. They get stuck in trees, along fence lines, or as litter at our parks and beaches.

Many people don’t realise that plastic bags can also cause flooding. Previously in Ghana (in West Africa), plastic bags blocked storm water drains during a big rainstorm. This caused flooding so bad that people were killed.

Making plastic requires a lot of energy and work

Plastic bags can even be harmful before they are used. It takes a lot of resources and energy to create a plastic bag. A key ingredient is oil. As a fossil fuel, oil must be extracted from the ground. Do we want to use fossil fuel resources to make a product that is only used once (we call this a “single use plastic”)?

Many millions of barrels of oil are used to make plastic bags every year. A lot of energy is also used to make and transport plastic bags. It is better for the environment if we reduce our energy use.




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The push towards plastic-free

Lately, lots of people recognise the impacts that plastic bags have, and they are working on alternatives. Many local and state governments have passed plastic bag bans here in Australia, which helps stop the use of single use plastic bags.

In fact, New South Wales is the only state in Australia where you can still get thin, single use plastic bags at the grocery store.

So, remind your parents to bring their reusable cloth bags whenever you go shopping. You just might save a turtle.


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. They can:

* Email your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

* Tell us on Twitter


CC BY-ND

The ConversationPlease tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.

Britta Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO and Qamar Schuyler, Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmospheres, CSIRO

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

Why compostable plastics may be no better for the environment


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Single-use biodegradable plastics include claims that they break down quickly into benign end products, but the reality is more complex.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-SA

Thomas Neitzert, Auckland University of Technology

As companies move to get rid of single-use plastic bags and bans on microbeads are coming into force, new biodegradable or compostable plastic products seem to offer an alternative. But they may be no better for the environment.

Recently, European scientists argued that existing international industry standards are insufficient and cannot realistically predict the biodegradability of compostable plastics. New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE), Simon Upton, weighed into the debate, questioning the merit of biodegradable plastics and urging the New Zealand government to deal with the confusion surrounding their labelling.

The key concerns include the terminology itself, the lack of appropriate recycling or composting infrastructure and toxicity of degradable plastics.




Read more:
How to clean up our universal plastic tragedy


Confusion over terms

We know that plastics hang around in the environment for a very long time.
Recent surveys show significant support among New Zealanders for initiatives to reduce single-use plastics.

Newly marketed single-use plastics that claim to be biodegradable suggest that they will break down quickly into benign end products, but the reality is more complex. A degradable or compostable plastic item may indeed deteriorate slightly faster than a conventional product, but only if the conditions are right.

The current industry standards are not taking into account real-life conditions and are therefore underestimating the breakdown times. The standards are also not accounting for the damage to marine life that ingest breakdown particles before a product is completely degraded.

The PCE highlights that biodegradation should not be confused with other natural processes, such as weathering. For a plastic polymer to biodegrade, it needs to be broken down through the action of living cells (mostly fungi and bacteria) into simple chemical elements.

However, as the graphic below shows, the speed of biodegradation can vary greatly, depending on the original material and whether the plastic ends up in a commercial composting facility or a backyard compost heap or the ocean. Differences in materials, labelling and capabilities of composting facilities are making it difficult for the system to function properly.


Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, CC BY-SA

Avoidance is best

Considering the New Zealand government’s intention to transition to a low-carbon economy and zero waste initiatives, the best answer to the problem is avoidance. Under the premise of convenience, we got used to a bag for everything, a plastic sleeve for a single slice of cheese or teabag, and a single-use plastic bottle for water. The production of all these containers contributes to carbon emissions as well as the later disposal.

In many cases, biodegradable plastic bags are made from crude oil, requiring carbon-based production processes and emitting carbon dioxide or methane when degrading. If we switch to no extra packaging, reusable containers made from metals or ceramics, and buy in bulk, then crude oil and gas can stay in the ground for a potential safe use by future generations.

Failing this, a second best option are products made from renewable materials. Here and in general, we have to insist on meaningful labelling with a clear pathway to deposition or recycling.




Read more:
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Toxic components

Many degradable plastics include additives, designed to make the product less durable. At the moment, the various additives and fillers are leading to contamination of waste streams. Expensive sorting or subsequent landfill might be the only alternative. Adequate recycling or re-manufacturing facilities would need to be created in New Zealand.

In his letter to Eugenie Sage, the associate minister for the environment, the PCE also refers to toxicity of plastics. More independent research is required in this area and the principle of caution should be applied in the meantime. In this day and age, there is no need to release a new material into general circulation, where the harmlessness is not investigated beyond doubt.

In some cases, a material may be banned in Europe but still readily available in the United States and Australasia. One example is BPA (bisphenol-A), which was banned in parts of Europe and some US states, but Australia announced a voluntary phase-out in baby bottles.

The banning of cosmetic products containing microbeads is another case in point. In the last few years, some countries, including the US, UK, France, Canada, Taiwan and Sweden, have proposed or implemented microbead bans. The US ban on microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics has been in place since July 2017, but while the Australian government endorsed a voluntary phase-out in 2016, there is no official ban. New Zealand implement its ban this June.

The way forward

Consumer action and demand is a good start, with more and more of us changing our behaviour, leading by example, and asking industry to do likewise. A robust debate led by independent scientist should inform the public and authorities. Experiences like the ban of CFCs in the 1990s and New Zealand’s ban of microbeads are revealing to be ultimately successful. But they require regulatory intervention.

This can take the form of a ban of single-use plastics, which many countries have decided to exercise. Strengthening the standards framework is also required. At the moment, there is no overarching approach. Degradation in public waste facilities, in composting plants or in the sea is considered separately, as is toxicity.

The ConversationA material should be assessed fully in all relevant environments and then appropriately labelled. The New Zealand government should work with industry towards product stewardship, where the whole product life cycle is taken into account in the design phase. This will bring us closer to a circular economy, in which we reuse and recycle far more products.

Thomas Neitzert, Professor emeritus, Auckland University of Technology

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

Technology is making cities ‘smart’, but it’s also costing the environment



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A smart city is usually one connected and managed through computing — sensors, data analytics and other information and communications technology.
from shutterstock.com

Mark Sawyer, University of Western Australia

The Australian government has allocated A$50 million for the Smarter Cities and Suburbs Program to encourage projects that “improve the livability, productivity and sustainability of cities and towns across Australia”.

One project funded under the program is installation of temperature, lighting and motion sensors in buildings and bus interchanges in Woden, ACT. This will allow energy systems to be automatically adjusted in response to people’s use of these spaces, with the aim of reducing energy use and improving safety and security.

In similar ways, governments worldwide are partnering with technology firms to make cities “smarter” by retrofitting various city objects with technological features. While this might make our cities safer and potentially more user-friendly, we can’t work off a blind faith in technology which, without proper design, can break down and leave a city full of environmental waste.




Read more:
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How cities are getting smarter

A “smart city” is an often vague term that usually describes one of two things. The first is a city that takes a knowledge-based approach to its economy, transport, people and environment. The second is a city connected and managed through computing — sensors, data analytics and other information and communications technology.

It’s the second definition that aligns with the interests of multinational tech firms. IBM, Serco, Cisco, Microsoft, Philips and Google are among those active in this market. Each is working with local authorities worldwide to provide the hardware, software and technical know-how for complex, urban-scale projects.

In Rio de Janeiro, a partnership between the city government and IBM has created an urban-scale network of sensors, bringing data from thirty agencies into a single centralised hub. Here it is examined by algorithms and human analysts to help model and plan city development, and to respond to unexpected events.

Tech giants provide expertise for a city to become “smart” and then keep its systems running afterwards. In some cases, tech-led smart cities have risen from the ground up. Songdo, in South Korea, and Masdar, UAE, were born smart by integrating advanced technologies at the masterplanning and construction stages.




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How does a city get to be ‘smart’? This is how Tel Aviv did it


More often, though, existing cities are retrofitted with smart systems. Barcelona, for instance, has gained a reputation as one of the world’s top smart cities, after its existing buildings and infrastructure were fitted with sensors and processors to monitor and maintain infrastructure, as well as for planning future development.

The city is dotted with electric vehicle charging points and smart parking spaces. Sensors and a data-driven irrigation system monitor and manage water use. The public transport system has interactive touch screens at bus stops and USB chargers on buses.

Barcelona has a reputation of being one of the world’s smartest cities.

Suppliers of smart systems claim a number of benefits for smart cities, arguing these will result in more equitable, efficient and environmentally sustainable urban centres. Other advocates claim smart cities are more “happy and resilient”. But there are also hidden costs to smart cities.

The downsides of being smart

Cyber-security and technology ethics are important topics. Smart cities represent a complex new field for governments, citizens, designers and security experts to navigate.

The privatisation of civic space and public services is a hidden cost too. The complexity of smart city systems and their need for ongoing maintenance could lead to long-term reliance on a tech company to deliver public services.




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Sensors in public spaces can help create cities that are both smart and sociable


Many argue that, by improving data collection and monitoring and allowing for real-time responses, smart systems will lead to better environmental outcomes. For instance, waste bins that alert city managers when they need collecting, or that prompt recycling through tax credits, and street lamps that track movement and adjust lighting levels have the potential to reduce energy use.

But this runs contrary to studies that show more information and communication technology actually leads to higher energy use. At best, smart cities may end up a zero-sum game in terms of sustainability because their “positive and negative impacts tend to cancel each other out”.

And then there’s the less-talked-about issue of e-waste, which is a huge global challenge. Adding computers to objects could create what one writer has termed a new “internet of trash” — products designed to be thrown away as soon as their batteries run down.

Computer technology is often short-lived and needs upgrading often.
from shutterstock.com

As cities become smart they need more and more objects — bollards, street lamps, public furniture, signboards — to integrate sensors, screens, batteries and processors. Objects in our cities are usually built with durable materials, which means they can be used for decades.

Computer processors and software systems, on the other hand, are short-lived and may need upgrading every few years. Adding technology to products that didn’t have this in the past effectively shortens their life-span and makes servicing, warranties and support contracts more complex and unreliable. One outcome could be a landscape of smart junk — public infrastructure that has stopped working, or that needs ongoing patching, maintenance and upgrades.




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In Barcelona, many of the gadgets that made it one of the world’s smartest cities no longer work properly. The smart streetlights on the Passatge de Mas de Roda, which were put in place in 2011 to improve energy efficiency by detecting human movement, noise and climatic conditions, later fell into disrepair.

If smart objects aren’t designed so they can be disassembled at the end of their useful life, electronic components are likely to be left inside where they hamper recycling efforts. Some digital components contain toxic materials. Disposing of these through burning or in landfill can contaminate environments and threaten human health.

The ConversationThese are not insurmountable challenges. Information and communications technology, data and networks have an important place in our shared urban future. But this future will be determined by our attitudes toward these technologies. We need to make sure that instead of being short-term gimmicks to be thrown away when their novelty wears off, they are thoughtfully designed, and that they put they put the needs of citizens and environments first.

Mark Sawyer, Lecturer in Architecture, University of Western Australia

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

The ozone hole is both an environmental success story and an enduring global threat



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Researchers release a balloon carrying instruments to measure ozone levels above Antarctica.
Kelli-Ann Bliss/NOAA, CC BY

Shane Keating, UNSW and Darryn Waugh, Johns Hopkins University

The headlines in recent months read like an international eco-thriller.

At Mauna Loa Observatory, perched high on a Hawaiian volcano, researchers measure unusual levels of CFC-11 in the atmosphere. The measurements baffle the scientific community: CFC-11, a potent ozone-depleting gas, has been carefully monitored since it was banned under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. But the measurements are soon confirmed by observing stations in Greenland, American Samoa and Antarctica. The evidence points to illegal production of the banned chemical, threatening the fragile recovery of Earth’s UV-shielding ozone layer. But the identity of the environmental super-villain remains a mystery.

Then, a breakthrough. By running global climate models backwards, a team of scientists in Boulder, Colorado, trace the source of CFC-11 to East Asia. The trail is picked up by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a tiny activist organisation based above a coffee shop in Islington, London. EIA dispatches investigators to China and uncovers rampant illegal production of CFC-11 for insulation foam used in the Chinese construction industry. “This is an environmental crime on a massive scale,” says Clare Perry, EIA’s climate campaign leader.

Meanwhile, scientists and diplomats from around the world converge on Vienna for a meeting of the United Nations working group on the Montreal Protocol. EIA’s blockbuster report is high on the agenda. But can the international community band together once more to protect the ozone layer and save “the world’s most successful environmental treaty”?




Read more:
After 30 years of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is gradually healing


A model of cooperation

The last time the ozone hole was front-page news, President Ronald Reagan was still eating jelly beans in the Oval Office. In 1985 British scientists announced the discovery of a shocking decline in atmospheric ozone concentrations high above Antarctica. The “ozone hole”, as it became known, was caused by ozone-eating chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used as refrigerants in air conditioners and propellants in aerosol spray cans.

The discovery galvanised public opinion, particularly over concerns about the risk of skin cancer, cataracts and sunburn associated with increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In Australia and New Zealand, popular ad campaigns featuring a dancing seagull encouraged the beach-goers to “Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat!”.

The 1981 “Slip! Slop! Slap!” ad campaign by Cancer Council Victoria (Australia).

Although many uncertainties over the science remained – which were eagerly exploited by the chemical industry – President Reagan recognised the danger posed by the ozone hole and vigorously backed international negotiations to ban CFCs, including CFC-11. On January 1 1989, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer became law.

In his signing statement, Reagan heralded the Montreal Protocol as “a model of cooperation” and “a product of the recognition and international consensus that ozone depletion is a global problem”. It remains his signature environmental achievement.

An enduring impact on Earth’s climate

Three decades after Montreal, the ozone layer is showing signs of recovery. In January 2018, a NASA study found that the ozone hole was the smallest it had been since 1988, the year before the Montreal protocol went into effect. But a full recovery will take decades. “CFCs have lifetimes from 50 to 100 years, so they linger in the atmosphere for a very long time,” said NASA scientist Anne Douglass, one of the authors of the study. “As far as the ozone hole being gone, we’re looking at 2060 or 2080.”

In the meantime, CFCs continue to impact Earth’s climate in some unexpected ways. CFCs are powerful greenhouse gases, with more than 5,000 times the warming potential of an equivalent weight of carbon dioxide. It is estimated that banning CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals has delayed global warming by as much as a decade.

However, those gains are threatened by the ozone-friendly, but heat-trapping, chemicals that have replaced CFCs in our air conditioners and insulation. The latest amendment to the Montreal Protocol will phase out the use of this new class of chemicals by 2028.




Read more:
Explainer: hydrofluorocarbons saved the ozone layer, so why are we banning them?


Even more surprising is the complex influence of the ozone hole on Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. The loss of UV-absorbing ozone over the South Pole has changed the pattern of winds around Antarctica. Strengthened winds blowing over the Southern Ocean draw more deep water towards the surface, where it is “ventilated” by contact with the atmosphere.

Deep Antarctic water is rich in carbon, making it a poor absorber of atmospheric CO₂. That means that the ocean has become less efficient at removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing its ability to offset global warming.

Darryn Waugh on the ozone threat.

Lessons from a world avoided

The success of the Montreal Protocol holds lessons for today’s efforts to confront human-induced climate change. Vigorous leadership by Reagan and the then British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, a trained chemist, was crucial during the negotiations of the treaty. The protocol began modestly and was designed to be flexible so that more ozone-depleting substances could be phased out by later amendments. Developing countries were also provided with incentives and institutional support to meet their compliance targets.

Lessons from the World Avoided: Dr Sean Davis at TEDx Boulder 2017.

But perhaps the most important lesson is the need for action, even when the science is not yet conclusive. “We don’t need absolute certainty to act,” says Sean Davis, a climate scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “When Montreal was signed, we were less certain then of the risks of CFCs than we are now of the risks of greenhouse gas emissions.”


The ConversationProfessor Darryn Waugh will present a public lecture about the enduring impact of the ozone hole on climate at UNSW Sydney on July 30, 2018. Details and registration information are available here.

Shane Keating, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics and Oceanography, UNSW and Darryn Waugh, Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University

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

Here’s a funny thing: can comedy really change our environmental behaviours?



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Bernard Hermant/Unsplash

Kim Borg, Monash University and Denise Goodwin, Monash University

Someone (possibly George Bernard Shaw) once said: “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you”. While comedy can certainly soften a message, can it really change our behaviour?

ABC radio will tonight host a live comedy debate ahead of the next series of its popular War on Waste television series. The topic: whether the show actually works in reducing waste.

Behavioural science, which examines why people do or don’t do things, can unravel the puzzle. Essentially, humour is very good at getting people’s attention and helping them remember information. But it can backfire if we don’t take the behaviour change message seriously.




Read more:
Comedy in the classroom? How improv can promote literacy


Can you feel it?

We know that simply telling people facts doesn’t usually motivate change. When it comes to wide-ranging behaviour change campaigns (like anti-speeding, moderate drinking and anti-smoking), a common strategy is to tap into our emotions.

Behaviour change campaigns often “frame” messages in terms of personal loss or gain. This rationale is based on exchange theory, which focuses on the cost–benefit exchange of adopting a behaviour.

This framing can then evoke an emotional response. For example, “loss” framing, which focuses on negative outcomes of a behaviour, can make us feel guilty, shocked, angry, or sad. In theory, when we see such messages we will reflect on our own behaviours and then adjust them to avoid those negative feelings in the future.

Gain-framed messages, which focus on positive outcomes, are more persuasive than loss-framed messages when attempting to change people’s behaviour. But positive emotions, like humour, are less common in social marketing.

Funny ads are easier to recall and can increase awareness, knowledge, and actions. They can also engage a larger audience. For example, “Dumb ways to die”, a campaign by Metro Trains in Melbourne to promote rail safety, went viral in 2012 and has racked up more than 168 million views on YouTube. This campaign showed that, sometimes, a life-and-death issue can be discussed with humour.

Just humour me

According to evolutionary theory, positive emotions encourage the uptake of behaviours (like feeling pride for carrying a reusable water bottle), whereas negative emotions promote withdrawal behaviours (like feeling guilty for forgetting to refuse a plastic straw).

Positive appeals are also more likely to “get people talking” and are better at encouraging voluntary compliance with a behavioural request. Unlike negative appeals, positivity doesn’t trigger a defensive response when trying to change behaviour.

When a positive appeal – like humour – is added to negative messaging, we can capture people’s attention while avoiding unhelpful defensive responses. But, be warned: engagement doesn’t always lead to desired behaviour change.

Too funny to succeed

But comedy can also backfire. America’s Centers for Disease Control tried to pair humour with fear in its “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” disaster preparedness campaign. This public service message unfortunately reduced individuals’ likelihood of developing an emergency plan. In this instance, humour trivialised the issue of disaster preparedness and compromised the ability of the message to encourage the desired behaviour.

Making people smile doesn’t always make them change. If a message is meant to be threatening – for example “if you speed, you will die” – humour may not be the best tool. However, a social threat with a humour-based message can be effective. For example, the “Pinkie” safe driving campaign reduced simulated driving speeds by an average of 4km per hour.

The ‘Pinkie’ ad reduced speeding.

Comedy, waste and consumption

Humour can be the hook that gets our attention. Comedy is usually a form of veiled (or not so veiled) criticism. It is used to hold up a mirror to society – to ridicule our vices and shortcomings and shame us into improvement – while our guard is down.

The first series of the ABC’s War on Waste had a huge effect on consumers’ behaviours – for instance, it helped to drive a 400% increase in KeepCup sales.

It tapped into the community’s anxiety that we are producing too much waste, and our growing realisation we have to do something about it. But it was presented in a cheeky, personable and positive way: “Look at this tram full of coffee cups. Can you believe how much waste we produce? We have to change this behaviour. And here’s how.”

When Coles and Woolworths recently stopped providing free plastic shopping bags, some people voiced their resistance to the change. This resistance was met with mockery by comedians including Kitty Flannigan on The Weekly and Wil Anderson on Gruen, and even by the retail workers’ union.




Read more:
Cracking jokes: four rules for humour


This “comedy backlash” highlights another important point about humour and persuasion: we don’t want to be the group being mocked. We want to be part of the in-group who are mocking the out-group.

Sometimes, when the truth hurts, laughter is how we deal with it. It’s not the whole story, and there’s a lot more to learn about humour and waste behaviours. But it can be a useful tool in helping us acknowledge what we’re doing wrong so we can do the right thing.


The ConversationThe ABC live radio debate on the War on Waste will be live-streamed between 7pm – 9pm on July 19.

Kim Borg, Doctoral Candidate & Research Officer at BehaviourWorks Australia, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University and Denise Goodwin, Research Fellow, Monash University

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