Issue 531, 19 Jul 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Mental health and life expectancy

Expert Reaction: Climate change committee's recommendations

Expert Reaction: Radiation in the Marshall Islands

Expert Reaction: 50 years since the Moon landing

New from the SMC global network

Taxing farm emissions

The Government has released two reports from the Interim Climate Change Committee, along with details on how it plans to respond to the recommendations.

A core recommendation stresses the need to see on-farm emissions accounted for and priced by 2025 - which farming leaders agree needs to happen.

Under the ICCC proposal, farmers would be exempt from 95 per cent of on-farm emissions, but farming leaders still don't like the way the Committee wants to tax them, Newshub reported.

The Committee has recommended bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and introducing a 5 per cent tax on emissions by 2020. This would be a transitional step towards the introduction of farm-level pricing in 2025, Newsroom reported.

The revenue would then be funnelled back into a fund to allow farmers to manage their on-farm emissions by 2025.

Farming leaders have offered an alternative sector-led proposal, based on voluntary measures, which would mean the sector paid nothing till 2020 but gradually moved into an emissions pricing system by 2025. 

Motu policy fellow Catherine Leining told Stuff there was an argument in favour of an immediate processor cost, which would "start sending an immediate price signal for land use and consumer decisions".

Victoria University of Wellington's Professor Dave Frame told RNZ's Jesse Mulligan that the commission's approach was a poor idea, as it suggested methane emissions were just as bad as CO2 emissions - despite the former having a shorter lifespan. "The ICCC has settled on this old style Kyoto approach to thinking about the ETS, and I don't think it's very convincing."

But Dairy NZ chief executive Tim Mackle said: "Bringing agriculture into the ETS at the processor level amounts to little more than a broad-based tax on farmers before we have the knowledge, support and tools to drive the practice change that will reduce emissions."

Although the Government is leaning towards the ICCC proposal, it is seeking public feedback on both the options, and plans to hold sessions around the country until August 13.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the reports and the Government's consultation document.

Quoted: NZ Herald

"Māori are like the canary in the mine for the health system. When things aren't working they drop first because barriers to accessing services are most profound for Māori families."

Hauora Māori lecturer Esther Willing, from the University of Otago, on a marked drop in vaccination rates among Māori babies.

Marshall Islands' radioactivity

Radioactivity still persists in parts of the Marshall Islands from nuclear testing in the 1940s and 50s, according to new research.

Published in the journal PNAS, one of the three new papers states that while the background radiation levels are safe in the islands which are currently inhabited, gamma radiation persists in Bikini Atoll and other ground-zero test sites.

A second study found that fruits grown in some of the northern Marshall Islands – including coconuts – are contaminated with a radioactive isotope of Caesium at much higher levels than those found near Chernobyl or Fukushima.

In the third paper, scientists found the top 25cm of soil in the bomb crater of the largest hydrogen bomb tested in Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands still shows significant levels of plutonium and other radioactive isotopes.

University of Auckland physicist Dr David Krofcheck told RNZ the studies did a good job at showing some of the atolls, Bikini in particular "are just still probably just too, too hot radioactively, with radioactivity for long term resettlement".

Majuro - where most of the population already lives "has a radiation background comparable to that of Central Park, New York," he said, and foods tested there showed levels safely within worldwide standards.

ESR senior scientists Cris Ardouin and Michael Lechermann, said: "Levels of radioactive fallout have continued to decline as would be expected since the cessation of nuclear weapons testing in the region."

The comments Dr Krofcheck provided to the SMC went around the world - appearing in Scottish, British and US media, and even being translated into French, PolishKorean and Spanish.

The full SMC expert reaction is available here.

"The Eagle has landed"

July 21 (NZT) will mark 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon.

It was 8.17pm on July 20, 1969 (UTC) when the US spacecraft Apollo Lunar Module Eagle touched down on the Moon’s surface, allowing the two astronauts to collect space material and deploy equipment that is still providing valuable insights to scientists today.

Alan Gilmore, now an honorary research associate with the University of Canterbury, had recently graduated and remembered hearing the famous words before heading to work one morning: "'This is Tranquility base. The Eagle has landed,' and a reply from Mission Control about a bunch of guys there turning blue holding their breaths."

New Zealand had no national news network at the time.In order for Kiwis to see the Moon landing, a temporary microwave link was set up to link the regional networks, heralding a revolution in digital tech, 1 News reported.

The missions pushed space technology at the time to the limit, University of Auckland physicist Professor Richard Easther wrote on The Spinoff. 

"While the final missions spent several days on the lunar surface, the Apollo programme would have been hard-pressed to provide the foundation for a permanent lunar base. When humans do go back to the Moon, they will do so using spacecraft and rockets that have been developed to the point where lunar travel can conceivably become routine."

Dr Nick Long, director of the Robinson Research Institute, said New Zealand's challenge, 50 years on, is "to grow a nascent space industry to become a significant part of our economy and culture".

"We can solve some of our greatest challenges here on Earth with the tools of space technologies and going to space can inspire us to look beyond the Earth in cooperation with our friends and allies."

The SMC asked experts to reflect on the significance of the Moon landing, share any personal memories and discuss why conspiracy theories about it persist. 

Apply for Wellington SAVVY

Applications for our two-day science media training workshop in Wellington close in a week.

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public.

These workshops are ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 

Applications close on 26 July.

Apply now

Policy news & developments

Road safety plan: The Government has released a plan for consultation that aims to prevent deaths and injuries on New Zealand roads.

Medicinal cannabis meetings: The Ministry of Health will host information sessions on proposals for the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme over the next fortnight in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Drone plan: The Government has released a plan for drones, aiming to better integrate their use into the current transport system.

Methyl bromide: The EPA is seeking submissions on an application for the reassessment of methyl bromide.

EQ-prone buildings: Owners of earthquake-prone buildings in small towns will be able to undertake modest building work without having to start seismic strengthening work at the same time.

Gun buybacks begin: Over $1m of payments will be made in the gun buyback scheme after the first weekend of community collection events.

Biosecurity update: The Government has announced plants to overhaul the Biosecurity Act and the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) Act.

Safer bird migration: UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has agreed that parts of China's Yellow Sea will become a World Heritage site, to protect important stopover sites for migratory birds such as godwits and red knots.

Matatā retreat: Central Government will fund $5m of the estimated $15m to relocate reisdents in Bay of Plenty's Matatā.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Cuban compassion: Training doctors for a Pacific island nation running out of time
Robert Huish, Dalhousie University, Sharon McLennan, Massey University

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Why we feel like we've played sport when we're just watching
Monday definitely wasn't an easy day for all the Kiwi cricket fans out there - Victoria University of Wellington psychologist Marc Wilson explains to RNZ's First Up what happens when we're watching sport.

Climate Voices: 15 Kiwis' hopes and fears in a warming world
NZ Herald science reporter Jamie Morton spoke to 15 New Zealanders about climate change.

Mismanaged retreat? The life-limiting limbo of Matatā's red zone
In 2005, 120 olympic swimming pools worth of silt, logs and debris hurtled into Bay of Plenty's Matatā and residents are still in limbo about relocation, The Dominion Post's Nikki Macdonald reports.

The Disturbing Sound of a Human Voice
Hearing people talk can terrify even top predators such as mountain lions, with consequences that ripple through entire ecosystems, Ed Yong writes for The Atlantic.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from recent Sciblogs posts:
What is Kindness in Science?

A new blog series on Sciblogs will explore what embedding kindness in science can bring for Aotearoa and the global science community.
Kindness in Science
Blocking agri-tech doesn’t mean we can block its undesired effects

In the face of a new technology that might impact local industries, what would happen if we stopped it at the border?

What can we learn from Healthy Housing Initiatives?

University of Otago researchers summarise their findings from talking to staff at Wellington's Well Homes scheme.
Public Health Expert

Beyond the moon(shot)

As we mark 50 years since the first Moon landing, what would a modern 'moonshot' look like?

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details. 
  • Moon rocks: 20 July, Wellington. Visit Te Papa to view and learn about moon rocks collected on the Apollo 11 and 17 missions and hear from experts.
  • Power and pitfalls of ancient DNA: 21 July, Dunedin. Lisa Matisoo-Smith will talk about the developments in ancient DNA technology that have helped challenge assumptions about past human migrations.
  • Memes, manifestos, murder: 22 July, Auckland. Emmi Bevensee will discuss fascist radicalisation online and how to stop it.
  • Assisting end of life: 22 July, Wellington. Frances Myrna Kamm will present the annual Lecretia Seales Memorial Lecture with a discussion on assisted end of life.
  • Brain research journey: 23 July, Auckland. Sir Richard Faull will give an overview of 40 years of human brain research.
  • Stroke rehabilitation: 23 July, Auckland. In her inaugural professorial lecture, Cathy Stinear will talk about tools for personalising stroke rehabilitation.
  • Rebuilding the Kāinga: 24 July, Wellington. Ahead of the launch of her new book, Jade Kake will discuss the resurgence of contemporary papakāinga on whenua Māori over the past three decades.
  • Weed, smoke and hefty profits: 25 July, Auckland. In his inaugural professorial lecture, Benedikt Fischer will examine the idea of non-medical cannabis legislation.
  • Unconscious bias: 25 July, Christchurch. Benhamin Reese Jr will talk about unconscious racial bias and critical lessons in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

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