Issue 528, 28 Jun 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Emissions across the economy 

New from the SMC global network

Cars drive up NZ emissions 

More cars on the road mean New Zealand’s household emissions have grown 20 per cent in the last decade, while our overall greenhouse gas emissions have flatlined.

Total national emissions dropped a mere 0.9 per cent from 2007 to 2017 according to the latest environmental-economic accounts report from Stats NZ, but emissions actually rose 2.3 per cent between 2016-17, offsetting any earlier gains.

While shifting to renewable energy has seen emissions from the electricity sector drop over this period, household emissions - which now account for one-tenth of total emissions - jumped 19.3 per cent from 2007 to 2017, mainly due to rising emissions from road transport - some of which are from the tourism industry.

Massey University Professor Emeritus Ralph Sims told the NZ Herald these rising transport emissions were because of Kiwis' love affair with cars.

"Given that annual SUV sales continue to grow, and the life of a car is 15 to 20 years, government intervention is long overdue to encourage the purchase of low-emitting vehicles," he said.

But Climate Change Minister James Shaw told Newsroom that because our car market is so different to those overseas, we can't easily import an already-established EV policy like the one in Norway.

The report reflected that our agricultural sector now makes up half of all of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy farming alone accounted for 20 per cent of the total 2017 emissions - up 27.7 per cent from 2007 - reflecting the widespread conversion to dairy over this period.

Professor Sims said agricultural emissions intensity had declined slightly through better productivity on the farm. "However, it will be decades before any current research outputs to reduce methane or nitrous oxide emissions from animals will have a real impact."

Dr Ivan Diaz-Rainey, an associate professor at the University of Otago, told Stuff "all-in-all, this is not good news".

He said policies aimed at stopping dairy conversions, encouraging electrification of the light vehicle fleet, banning inefficient appliances, and encouraging more energy-efficient buildings needed to be at the top of the list to reverse rising emissions. 

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the report.

Quoted: Stuff

"Peak impairment delay depends on the dose and how you've taken it. If you smoke it you'll get a really rapid effect. If you've eaten it, you'll get a really slow effect. It's quite unpredictable.

"THC is a bit of a wimpy drug, actually."

University of Otago's Professor Michelle Glass on how cannabis affects your brain and why it's so hard to test for impairment.

Foulden Maar fossil reprieve

Plaman Resource's application to buy an adjacent fossil-rich farm in Otago is now officially 'on hold' after the company was placed into receivership.

Foulden Marr Pit, photo by Kimberley Collins (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Since April, a battle has been unfolding in Central Otago over the company's proposal to mine fossil-rich diatomite soil for animal feed. The Foulden Maar site is home to scientifically-valuable fossils and a petition has been started to prevent the company from purchasing a neighbouring farm that the maar also straddles.

Things took a turn last week when Plaman Resources was placed into receivership and liquidation by its two main shareholders - the second mining company to suffer such a defeat. 

University of Otago scientist Dr Nic Rawlence told Newsroom this seemed like good news as it meant mining by Plaman wouldn't happen, "but it doesn’t mean mining in the future won’t go ahead".

On Tuesday, the Overseas Investment Office officially put the application to buy a further 432 hectares on hold, after submissions on the scientific value of the site and by Dunedin mayor Dave Cull placed doubt on whether Plaman would be able to obtain the mining resource consents it needed.

It later came out that Plaman Resources never mentioned the fossils in their original application, which are prohibited from export under the Protected Objects Act.

Over 160 Dunedin residents gathered at the Otago Museum on Tuesday evening, reported RNZ. They voted to call on both central and local government to do whatever it takes to permanently save the geological jewels found in what Otago geologist Daphne Lee who studies the site calls ''the most important terrestrial fossil site in New Zealand".

Two options have been floated: a purchase from central Government under the Scientific Reserves Act, or through local government where the land could be designated as an Outstanding Natural Feature in the Dunedin City District Plan. 

The geological site has drawn wide public interest, with the Save Foulden Maar petition reaching 10,000 signatures and a Dunedin poetry exhibition inspired by the maar.

Farewell MCDEM, hello NEMA

Say goodbye to Civil Defence, New Zealand will have a new emergency management agency by the end of the year.

Minister of Civil Defence Hon Kris Faafoi announced the establishment of a new National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on Tuesday to "improve our emergency management capability".

The new agency will replace the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) and will sit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Government is putting $4.5 million from this year's Budget into creating the agency, with a further $12m operating costs over four years, Stuff reported.

The new agency was recommended as part of a review into New Zealand’s civil defence system, which reported to the Minister late last year. At the time, the Minister told Newsroom he was undecided on whether to create a new agency or keep a “beefed-up” MCDEM. But now, Faafoi says he had “taken a lot of sway” from the report recommendations as well as those from a 2012 review following the Canterbury earthquakes.

MCDEM's performance came under scrutiny again last week after it sent a tsunami alert following a magnitude 7 quake in the Kermadec Islands, only to cancel it eight minutes later.

When asked if he was happy with that performance, Faafoi told Newsroom: “Let’s be blunt, there have been a few issues in the past so I think we always need to maintain a very close eye on how we’re communicating with the public and that it’s clear, concise and understandable."

What's coming in SAVVY 

Our flagship two-day media training course returns to Wellington and Auckland for two final rounds for 2019.

August 29-30

November 21-22  

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. 

Apply now

Policy news & developments

Allergen labelling: Medsafe has opened a public consultation on plans to introduce labelling requirements for non-active substances in that may cause an allergic reaction.

Whooping cough vaccine: Pharmac has approved extra funding for the whooping cough vaccine to include pregnant women in their second and third trimesters.

Plan to tackle syphilis: The Ministry of Health has released its new national syphilis action plan in an attempt to reverse a rise in cases of the infection.

Tackling gambling harm: The Government has announced an updated national strategy to prevent and minimise gambling harm.

Scott Base design: A new design has been chosen for the Scott Base redevelopment in Antarctica.

Better GPS: LINZ will work with Geoscience Australia to investigate ways to deliver a regional Satellite Based Augmentation System to improve GPS accuracy.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Explainer: what the additional terrorism charge means for mosque attack trial
Kris Gledhill, Auckland University of Technology

What the not guilty pleas mean for the trial of alleged Christchurch mosque gunman
Kris Gledhill, Auckland University of Technology

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.

Most mums want to breastfeed. It’s easier if they can afford it
Stuff's Michelle Duff explores the legacy of the strong 'breast is best' public health message, which doesn't necessarily match with the realities of life as a working mum.   

War of the wild
TVNZ's Sunday explores what this year's mega mast - when native forests seed heavily, producing more food for both wildlife and predators alike - means for our natives.

The science of roadside drug testing
Nikki Macdonald talks to people who have lost loved ones to drug-impaired drivers and looks at the scientific conundrums around testing for drugs like cannabis. 

Humans have made 8.3bn tons of plastic since 1950. This is the illustrated story of where it's gone
This compelling comic by Susie Cagle for The Guardian shows what's happened to all the plastic we've been producing since 1950.

Beta Blockers Were a Miracle Cure for My Stage Fright
For Slate, Shannon Palus chronicles how beta blockers stopped her heart from racing, but eventually took over her life. 

Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test
Affluence—not willpower—seems to be what’s behind some kids' capacity to delay gratification, Jessica McCrory Calarco writes for The Atlantic.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from recent Sciblogs posts:
In science communication, words matter

Being a grammar nerd isn’t always the best way to win friends and influence people, but getting our words right - particularly in official information - is essential.
Lately, In Science
Tracking satellites launched from NZ

Of solstices, equinoxes, Saints and Matariki. As we've just past the winter solstice, Duncan Steel discusses our celebrations of the changing seasons and what this means for the position of the Earth.
Out of Space

Which technologies drive concern over the future of work?

It seems strange to be worrying about future unemployment – technologically induced or otherwise – when an extraordinary jobs boom is underway, writes Dave Heatley.

Dark space

John Pickering mourns the absence of dark space with which to see the night sky, the moon, the planets, and the stars - including Matariki.
Kidney Punch

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details. 
  • Asteroid spotlight: 30 June, Wellington. When Queen's Brian May plays “We Will Rock You,” he probably isn't thinking about space rocks. But now an astrophysicist, May co-founded Asteroid Awareness Day, which Carter Observatory marks with a look at the formation and behaviour of these feared proto-planets.
  • Matariki and climate change: 1 July, Wellington. Astrophysicist Dr Pauline Harris asks: what can Māori knowledge and science add to our understanding of how to predict and mitigate climate change?
  • Who won the space race? 2 July, Auckland. Dr Jennifer Frost considers the connections between Cold War politics and superpower science during the 1950s through the 1970s.
  • Decolonising animals: 1-4 July, Christchurch. Could humans ever decolonise their relationships with each other and with other species? This four-day academic conference is hosted by the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies. 
  • The eyes have it: 2 July, Hamilton. How do our eyes see in 3D, even when we’re looking at a flat screen? Why does the world appear still when we move our eyes? Waikato vision scientist Professor John Perrone explores the mysteries of human vision. 
  • Alcohol policy: 3 July, Auckland. Dr Nicki Jackson kicks off University of Auckland's addiction-themed winter lecture series with a lecture on industry-favoured policies versus public health advice. 
  • Certain uncertainty: 3 July, Albany.  In the Our Changing World series, Dr Graham Jackson looks at whether education is the answer in the quest for certainty in an uncertain world.
  • Food for thought: 3 July, Christchurch. Join contributors from Kai and culture: Food stories from Aotearoa as they explore issues involved in the growing, making and eating of our food to mark Matariki.

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