Issue 493, 12 Oct 2018


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Freshwater agenda

Expert Reaction: IPCC 1.5C special report

Expert Reaction: Mice with two mums

New from the SMC global network

Limiting warming to 1.5C

The world needs to get to net zero carbon by 2050 to avoid warming by more than 1.5C, according to the IPCC.

The latest special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Global Warming of 1.5C - was released in South Korea on Monday following a week-long approval session.

The report found that limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels would require "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society".

University of Canterbury's Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward was the lead author for the report's fifth chapter. She said it marked "the end of 'magical thinking' about climate change".

Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, Jim Skea, said limiting warming to 1.5C "is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes". Overshooting that target would mean greater reliance on techniques to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, which is unproven at large scale.

"The report makes clear that without unprecedented cuts to emissions now, we will have fewer opportunities to develop sustainably and will be required to rely increasingly on unproven, risky and possibly socially undesirable technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere in the future," Dr Hayward said.

“But to avoid climate warming above 1.5C, we have to scale up action in unprecedented ways across all sectors of our economy and everyday life, over the next 10 years."

Victoria University of Wellington's Professor James Renwick said the report made for "sobering reading". 

"We are currently living with 1C of global warming and we’re seeing effects already in extreme events and impacts on ecosystems and societies worldwide. More warming, even half a degree, means more and bigger impacts, but it is clear that a 1.5C world would be a lot more manageable and recognisable than a 2C world."

NIWA climate scientist Dr Jonny Williams, who was a reviewer of the report, said it was important to emphasise that rising air temperature was just one aspect of climate change, alongside effects like ocean acidification.

"When it comes to the risks to humans from climate change, sadly it is often the people who are least able to take action who will be affected the most," he said.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Quoted: NZ Herald

"While scientific evidence may point to a certain solution, the public might not be ready for it because of other factors including emotional or cultural issues.

"It's up to the politicians to weigh those up." 

Primer Minister's Chief Science Advisor Professor Juliet Gerrard on the dos and don'ts of advising politicians on science. 

Mice with same-sex parents

Researchers from China have bred healthy mice with two mums (and no dad) that went on to have normal pups of their own.

The feat was achieved by altering stem cells from a female mouse and injecting them into the eggs of another. 

The researchers were examining what makes it so challenging for mammals of the same sex to reproduce and found that some of these barriers can be overcome using stem cells and targeted gene editing. 

The authors note that there are still obstacles to using these methods in other mammals.

The University of Auckland's Teresa Holm, a research fellow, with the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, said the research marked an important advance in fatherless or motherless offspring efforts.

"In the long-term, this knowledge may help researchers improve assisted reproductive technologies for infertile couples where disturbances in imprinting may contribute to the health of artificially fertilised embryos.

"It may even lead to the development of ways for same sex couples to reproduce healthy children of their own."

She pointed out the work was done in mice and involved serious genetic modification in embryos, which left "significant ethical and safety concerns" that would need to be tackled before it could ever leave the lab.  

Dr Tim Hore, from Otago's Department of Anatomy said the work, while interesting and unique, was "unlikely to be useful in humans - for now".

"In order for same-sex parents to both have genetic contributions to their children in an assisted reproduction setting, it is likely another technological leap will be required."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Govt's freshwater agenda 

On Monday, the Government released a blueprint for its freshwater agenda, which set out key objectives for improving water quality over the next two years. 

Jointly released by Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, the policy is designed to be implemented by 2020, with the promise of an improvement in water quality within five years. 

This will include a range of changes, including controls on the excesses of some intensive land use practices, making sure wetlands and estuaries are better protected and ensuring a focus on at-risk catchments to halt the decline, the NZ Herald reported.

Minster Parker said clean water is a birthright for Kiwis, and children should be able to put their heads under in our local rivers and lakes "without getting crook".

“There will be a focus on at-risk catchments so as to halt the decline. We’re not going to leave the hard issues for future generations.”

He told radio show The Country, the plan was not an attempt to outlaw farming, but rather ensure New Zealand's agricultural image thrives.

"We're not going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, but the colour of the egg has to be clean."

A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard will be in place by 2020. He said the ambitious timeline demonstrated the Government’s intentions, but others felt getting agreement to the proposed changes would not be easy, Newsroom reported.

University of Waikato Professor of lake and freshwater science Troy Baisden said success will require innovation more than new science, given the timeframe, but hoped the policy would succeed where the Land and Water Forum failed. 

“There were 218 recommendations across four Land and Water Forum reports, yet only 21 were fully implemented – less than 10 percent. Worse, over 50 percent of recommendations were not implemented at all.”

Dr Stewart Cameron, head of geohydrology at GNS Science, said this was the sort of paradigm shift the country needed to reverse current freshwater quality trends.

"It’s a ‘round one’ win for the environment, but there are many more rounds to go ... For this agenda to be achievable, the emphasis in economic gains at the expense of the environment will need to change.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the report.

Policy news & developments

Endeavour Fund: Applications are open for the 2019 round of the Endeavour Fund, with approximately $250 million total funding available.

Beehive restrictions: DOC has put immediate restrictions on beehive movements on public conservation land in a bid to contain the spread of myrtle rust.

Polytech Commissioner: Dr Neil Barns has been appointed as the Commissioner for Whitereia and WelTec.

Dolphin death: A Māui or Hector's dolphin that washed up on a beach north of Raglan likely died from blood poisoning resulting from birthing complications. Further testing will determine which species of dolphin it was.

New biodiversity strategy: A new national strategy will be developed to address the critical state of indigenous biodiversity and to replace the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000, which expires in 2020.

Loan sharks: The Government is introducing tough new measures to protect people from loan sharks and truck shops.

Callaghan Innovation Board: Jennifer Kerr and Professor Shaun Hendy have been appointed to the Board of Directors for Callaghan Innovation. Judith Johnston, Ms Sara Brownlie and Mr David Skinner also Join the REANNZ Board.

Warning labels: Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol will become mandatory in New Zealand, after a decision made by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation.

Community drug use: A picture of New Zealand’s drug use is set to become clearer with the expansion of wastewater testing to 38 sites in each of the 12 Policing districts.

Wellington SAVVY in November

The Science Media Centre's acclaimed two-day workshop returns to Wellington in November.

Our flagship media training course returns to Wellington for our fourth and final two-day Science Media SAVVY for the year.

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. 

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 29 October.


This week on the NZ Conversation.

Travelling overseas? What to do if a border agent demands access to your digital device
Katina Michael, Arizona State University

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to possibly 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.

New Zealand is busy bickering about petrol prices while the world burns
In the wake of the IPCC's special report, New Zealand carried on as usual with arguments about high petrol prices, Stuff's Charlie Mitchell takes that attitude to task in this searing op-ed.

A Controversial Virus Study Reveals a Critical Flaw in How Science Is Done
Last year, University of Alberta researchers resurrected a virus called horsepox, a relative of smallpox that hasn't been seen in nature for decades. Ed Yong reports in The Atlantic about the ensuing concerns.

Liver transplant from HIV+ living donor to negative recipient: key ethical issues
Doctors in South Africa performed a liver transplant from an HIV-positive donor to a HIV-negative recipient. This piece from the University of the Witwatersrand talks about the major ethical questions that came into play.

What human hair and zombies have in common
AgResearch scientists are mostly interested in studying wool, but in the process they've helped unravel the strange science of human hair. They've found there's a point about four millimetres inside your scalp where your hair cells become zombies, writes Eloise Gibson for Newsroom

Drug Zealand
In the latest The Side Eye comic on The Spinoff, Toby Morris outlines what bravery on drug policy could look like. 

What happened here
By the time the species Powelliphanta augusta was formally described, it's known habitat was described entirely in the past tense, reports Stuff's Charlie Mitchell. It had lived on the highest peaks of the ridgeline; its preferred habitat was the moist soil under the patchwork of tiny plants above the treeline.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Bird of the Year: Which birds are good for ecosystem services?

Voting closes for Bird of the Year this weekend - if you've yet to vote, here are some factors the Bio-Protection Research Centre thinks you should consider.
Guest Work
Support women in science this week!

Emma Timewell from the Association for Women in the Sciences writes about their fundraising attempts this week for their Women in STEM scholarship.
Guest Work
The IDI and government data linking

Count Michael Reddell as rather nervous and sceptical about the Integrated Data Infrastructure.
The Dismal Science
Novel science communication sees Bird of the Year take on Tinder

Kakī researchers are putting the bird up on human Tinder as part of their promotion for Bird of The Year, but the birds already have their own profiles of pedigree and genomic relatedness on Kakī Tinder.
Guest Work

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Dawn of gravitational waves: 12 October, Christchurch. Paul Groot will present the Beatrice Hill Tinsley lecture on the results so far from gravitational waves research and new possibilities.
  • Suffrage songs recomposed: 14 October, Wellington. This concert sees nine female composers and songwriters take suffrage songs from the 1890s and haul them into the modern day.
  • 5 x 5 minutes on climate change: 15 October, Wellington. Listen to five inspirational people from Curious Minds, theatre, arts, whakakotahitanga (unification) and transformable shoes speak for five minutes each on climate change.
  • Where charity begins: 15 October, Dunedin. In his inaugural professorial lecture, Prof Stephen Knowles looks at why some countries are poorer than others and what motivates people to give money to charity.
  • Be an ally: 16 October, Auckland. Nobel Prize winner Professor Brian Schmidt talks about what men can do to promote inclusivity, drawing upon his vast experience in academic leadership, and his specific leadership of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) programme.
  • Why we love skeletons: 17 October, Auckland. In her inaugural lecture, Professor Judith Littleton will discuss how the skeletons of people of the past hold a fascination and an immediacy that grips human imagination.
  • Black holes and gravitational waves: 18 October, Dunedin. Discover when binary black holes were formed, how they link to massive stars and what neutron stars are made of with Dr Paul Groot, professor of astronomy at Radboud University in the Netherlands.
  • Living the Change screening: 18 October, Christchurch. From forest gardens to composting toilets, community supported agriculture and timebanking, this documentary by Happen Films offers ways we can rethink the way we live.
  • Climate change in the Pacific: 18 October, Christchurch. As many small Pacific island states face the prospect of being inundated and “sinking", a panel addresses where their people can go and what New Zealand can do.

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