Issue 529, 05 Jul 2019


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Funding councils’ climate adaptation

Expert Reaction: Microplastics on Auckland beaches

New from the SMC global network

Funding councils' adaptation

The Government could do more to fund councils' climate change adaptations, according to a new report.

The Productivity Commission released its draft report on local government funding and financing on Thursday and highlighted climate change as an increasing cost to councils, particularly through sea level rise and more intense rain events threatening infrastructure.

Among its 50 recommendations, the Commission suggested the Government should extend the NZTA’s co-funding role to assist councils facing climate change-related threats to transport infrastructure, and create a new agency and resilience fund to work with at-risk councils to redesign – or possibly relocate – wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

University of Otago's Professor Lisa Ellis said "every day that passes without clarity on climate change adaptation policy brings new losses."

"We are investing in risky coastal development without knowing who will protect those investments or how they will be protected; we are making decisions about existing assets without knowing our real options; in the face of increasingly frequent and extreme natural hazards, we are hoping rather than planning for the future."

Lincoln University Associate Professor Anita Wreford said in many cases, infrastructure couldn't cope with extreme events and sea-level rise in the current climate, "let alone in the future when these will become more frequent and intense".

Victoria University of Wellington chair in the economics of disasters Professor Ilan Noy said there appeared to be "expectations that insurance will protect homeowners in at-risk locations indefinitely".

"As such, these expectations exacerbate the problem as the risk remains ‘hidden’ until the insurance companies themselves choose to retreat from providing coverage."

He said these expectations may pressure government to take on this the risk, for example by extending EQC coverage to all natural hazards.

Consultation on the draft report is open until 29 August, with the final report due on 30 November.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the draft report.

Quoted: Our Changing World

"You don’t travel and traverse, and then criss-cross that expanse of ocean, without knowing science."

University of Waikato's Dr Rangi Mātāmua on Māori science expertise.

Auckland's plastic beaches

A new study found microplastics present in most samples collected across 29 Auckland beaches and waterways.

Oregon State University, Flickr CC

The study led by Scion and the University of Canterbury found about 90 per cent of the microparticles collected were fibres. About a third of the fibres were plant-based, the other main sources included polyethylene terephthalte and polypropylene, which are used in clothing and packaging.

Drs Elspeth MacRae and Florian Graichen from Scion said that "although primary sources of these on Auckland beaches have not been fully determined the findings of plant-based (e.g. cotton) as well as PET and PE microfibres (synthetic textiles – such as fleeces commonly worn to keep warm in winter) suggest the possibility of textiles as a source of these microparticles.

"If these particles originate from textiles, then washing machines and laundering facilities might be a source."

University of Canterbury's Associate Professor Sally Gaw said that while there was limited data for New Zealand, "the available data indicates that microplastics are an issue for New Zealand's marine environment and urban waterways".

Dr Gaw said the ban on single-use plastic bags, which came into effect on Monday, "is a great start but on its own will not be enough to reduce the volumes of plastics entering the wider environment".

"New Zealanders will need to decide what appropriate uses of plastics are, and when it would be preferable to use less permanent alternatives."

The SMC gathered comment from researchers involved with the study.

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

No SKA membership: The Government has decided that New Zealand will not join the Square Kilometre Array Observatory as an associate member.

Science Board appointments: Aidan Byrne has been appointed Chair of the Science Board, alongside new board members Jessica Hutchings and Elizabeth Hopkins.

Bags banned: The ban on single-use plastic shopping bags came into effect on Monday.

Lake weed funds: Funding for LINZ will help tackle the spread of aquatic weeds in some of New Zealand's iconic lakes.

PGF waste projects: $40 million from the Provincial Growth Fund will be invested in projects to tackle waste.

Cyber Security: A revised Cyber Security Strategy released on Tuesday highlights four areas for Government focus.

Tuna bait trial: A Government-funded project will test a device hoped to reduce seabird captures during tuna longline setting.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Dolphin researchers say NZ’s proposed protection plan is flawed and misleading
Elisabeth Slooten and Steve Dawson, University of Otago

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.

A right mess
Sunday's Mark Crysell visits Westland to report on the aftermath of the Fox River rubbish spill, which is being dubbed the worst environmental disaster since the Rena.

Facebook becoming a ‘digital graveyard’
RNZ's Max Towle asks if being 'friends' with our deceased loved ones on Facebook helps or hinders the grieving process.

Will a watershed report on Māori health mean changes?
Podcast The Detail reports on a groundbreaking report from the Waitangi Tribunal on the grim picture of Māori health.

Genealogy Sites Have Helped Identify Suspects. Now They’ve Helped Convict One
The NY Times reports on the first case to successfully convict someone using genetic genealogy, answering the question of whether the technique would hold up in court.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from recent Sciblogs posts:
Apocalypse Cow

Michael Reddell summarises a talk by Peter Fraser on why Fonterra has failed.
The Dismal Science
Asteroid Day… and what may follow

On Asteroid Day, which marks the anniversary of the Tunguska explosion of 1908, Duncan Steel reflects on what we know about asteroids and comets reaching Earth.
Out of Space

Reading past the job-loss headlines

"Machines take jobs" might be a more common headline than "machines create jobs".

A New Zealand household emissions calculator

Robert McLachlan takes a look at Enviro-Mark's new household emissions calculator.
Planetary Ecology

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details. 
  • Winter week: 8-12 July, Auckland. The University of Auckland's Winter Week features talks on urban biodiversity, the placenta and 3D printing.
  • Future zoos: 9 July, Wellington. Wellington Zoo chief executive Karen Fifield will talk about what zoos might look like in 2119.
  • Social environments: 9 July, Wellington. Joreintje Mackenbach will share recent insights into the relationships between social and physical environments.
  • Rational optimism: 9 July, Dunedin. In her inaugural professorial lecture, Lisa Ellis will talk about her work as a political theorist who studies problems like sea-level rise and protecting our endemic species.
  • Biodiversity give and take: 9 July, Wellington. Mike Hannah will discuss mass extinctions and how they have changed the course of life on Earth.
  • Wellbeing and policy: 9 July, Wellington. Arthur Grimes will discuss the history of wellbeing-based public policy and the future for such policies.
  • A careful revolution: 10 July, Auckland. David Hall and Maria Bargh launch their new BWB Text, featuring essays on the challenges and opportunities of the low-emissions transition.
  • Childhood neuroscience: 11 July, Hamilton. Michel Vandenbroeck will discuss how the how the science of early childhood education has been dominated by neuroscience.

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