Issue 484, 10 Aug 2018


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Earthquakes in Lombok 

In the News: Bowel cancer screening programme independent review

In the News: Earth could enter hothouse climate

New from the SMC global network

Single-use plastic bags banned

The Government has pledged to rid the country of single-use plastic shopping bags over the next year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage made the announcement in Wellington on Friday morning. 

"We're phasing-out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand's clean, green reputation," Ardern said, according to the NZ Herald.

Ardern said plastic was the single biggest subject school children wrote to her about, and this year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban on bags. 

The Packaging Forum, an industry group with a focus on recycling said a ban would set a level playing field for the retail industry, but wants to see compostable and degradable plastics included in the proposal, Stuff reported.

"New Zealand does not yet have a standard for compostable packaging, nor does the current infrastructure take most of these products in the volumes presented, which means they will mostly end up in a landfill," Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme manager Lyn Mayes said.

Confusion around biodegradable and compostable plastics made recent headlines following a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, who said the Government needed to step in and assume greater responsibility.

Globally more than 40 countries have banned plastic bags, The Guardian said. The UN reports that the first to do so was Bangladesh in 2002. 

The Government has released a consultation document for people who want more information.

The SMC is gathering expert reaction to the announcement.

Quoted: Stuff


"Much of the Canterbury mudfish habitat is on private land and is severely impacted by agriculture," she said. 

"[I]t’s sad but not surprising that the loss of aquatic and other wetland habitat has had a major impact on Canterbury mudfish and other wetland-dependent indigenous freshwater fish."

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage on the plight
of the Canterbury mudfish, 
as highlighted by DOC's
review of the conservation status of freshwater fish.

Bowel screening under review

An independent review has outlined shortcomings of the national bowel screening programme (NBSP) pilot and made a range of recommendations for a successful roll-out.

The review was commissioned by Health Minister Dr David Clark in February after it was found that some patients who should have been screened in the pilot phase weren’t – some of whom were later diagnosed with bowel cancer.

In announcing the outcome of the review on Wednesday, the minister apologised unreservedly to families of those affected by problems in the pilot.

Review chairman Professor Gregor Coster said this issue “highlights the impact of the lack of investment” in the IT system for the Waitemata pilot.

“It has been contended that the Ministry of Health decision-makers did not fully understand the clinical implications of these issues,” the NZ Herald reported.

Recommendations included better project management and clinical oversight, improved IT systems, greater engagement with Māori and Pasifika groups, better relationships with DHBs and external organisations, and a workforce development plan.

The review said the colonoscopy workforce capacity remained a “significant risk and is constraining the current National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) roll-out”, Health Central reported.

The Ministry of Health has committed to implementing the recommendations, and will publish the actions it will take in early-2019, then report on progress a year later.

The SMC rounded up coverage of the report.

Hothouse Earth

The possibility Earth could enter an irreversible ‘hothouse climate’ with rising sea levels of between 10 and 60 metres has been brought to light in a new paper from the journal PNAS.

In the paper, Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, a team of international researchers warn that if Earth breaks a temperature threshold it will bring much higher global average temperatures than have occurred at any time in the Holocene.

TVNZ reported: “The impacts of a hothouse earth pathway on human societies would likely be massive, sometimes abrupt, and undoubtedly disruptive,” lead researcher, Australian National University professor Will Steffen, said.

Speaking to Breakfast, AUT Head of Environment Sciences Len Gillman said the temperature targets set in the Paris Agreement needed to be adjusted to see more action taken with greater urgency.

“We’re looking at 30-60 years at the point when we might be hitting the first of those tipping points – things like the loss of sea ice.”

But on independent climate news site, Grist, meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote it was important to understand this concept is no foregone conclusion, but the “breathlessness” of many media headlines dangerously fostered hopelessness.

“Liverman and the other authors anticipated a defeatist response and published a multi-page document of possible solutions which, when combined with other research on the most important actions people can take, gives a blueprint for hope, not despair,” he wrote.

That said, the paper still paints a “very worrying picture,” which reinforced the need for immediate action, Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick told the NZ Herald.

“It makes yet another great case for taking serious action now – we’ve got to start reducing emissions immediately, because this could be down the pipeline… and it would be terrifically bad news if it was.”

The SMC rounded up coverage of the report.

Policy news & developments

EV project funding: Nineteen novel EV projects have received funding to demonstrate light and heavy electric vehicles in sectors of the economy where the technology is relatively unproven.

Nurse pay settlement: District Health Boards (DHBs) have finally reached an agreement with hospital nurses, healthcare assistants and midwives over the terms of their collective agreement.

Predator Free Capital: The Government is supporting a project to make Wellington the world’s first predator free capital city with a $3.27 million funding boost

Health sector review: A comprehensive review of the entire public health system has been launched by the governement. The final report must be delivered by the end of March 2020. 

Indigenous fish conservation: Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has introduced a new indigenous fish conservation bill in Parliament.

Stink bug rules tighten: MPI are enacting tighter import rules to stop biosecurity threats like the brown marmorated stink bug from getting into the country.

New mental health facility: Funding for a new mental health facility in Porirua for those with severe intellectual disability and mental health problems has been approved.

Single-use plastics ban: Single-use plastic shopping bags will be phased out over the next year. 

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Gender differences at work: relishing competence or seeking a challenge?
Rachel Morrison, Auckland University of Technology

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.

The council CEO, skifield consent and the wetland
Newsroom's David Williams tells of how emails show the pressure applied to a regional council CEO, who overturned staff advice to approve a controversial extension to a Queenstown skifield.

How to Dismantle a Blue Whale
It's just as well smell can't be embedded, as the images of a team of 11 volunteers in Chile painstakingly peeling the blubber off a dead whale is enough to make strong stomach churn. The skeleton of the 21-metre whale will eventually be displayed in a museum.

To See How Levees Increase Flooding, We Built Our Own
In this ProPublica interactive, you can run water through a four different types of levee models to see how different types can worsen or mitigate flooding.

Terrified by ‘hothouse Earth’? Don’t despair — do something.
The prospect of runaway climate change is terrifying. But it's still avoidable and we shouldn't let the headlines fool us into thinking otherwise, writes meteorologist Eric Holthaus for Grist.

Ravenous for Meat, China Faces a Climate Quandary
On the whole, the country consumes 28 percent of the world’s meat — twice as much as the United States. And that figure is only set to increase, Marcello Rossi warns.

In this epistle from a 1946 edition of the New Yorker, six survivors recount their experiences surviving the atomic bomb and its aftermath - pulled from the archives as this week marks 73 years since the tragedy.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Closing New Zealand’s Borders to Mitigate a Severe Pandemic has Merit

Building on previous research, Dr Matt Boyd, Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Osman Mansoor & Prof Michael Baker strengthen the case for NZ to close its borders in a severe pandemic.
Public Health Expert
Net-zero carbon emissions: a “massive economic boost”?

The Government's net-zero carbon emissions consultation document made no attempt to assess the economic costs (if any) of combating climate change, writes Michael Reddell
The Dismal Science
Antarctic seas host a surprising mix of lifeforms – and now we can map them

Life in Antarctic waters is much more diverse than penguins, seals and whales and new techniques are mapping where they live, three University of Tasmania marine ecologists write.
Guest Work
We know why short-statured people of Flores became small – but for the extinct ‘Hobbit’ it’s not so clear

A new paper has found no evidence of a genetic link between the Rampasasa people of Flores and the archaic hominin Homo floresiensis, commonly referred to as “the Hobbit”. 
Guest Work

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Truth in a post-trust world: 10 August, Auckland, 13 August, Wellington. Jess Berentson-Shaw, Shaun Hendy and Jennifer Curtin discuss how we explain the difference between good information and misinformation in a world where conspiracy and rumour is rife.
  • Wāhine Māori: 12 August, Wellington. Māori historians, curators, archivists, and mokopuna to celebrate the diverse history of mana wahine, with a live performance by musician Ria Hall.
  • Art and climate change: 12 August, New Plymouth, 19 August, Hastings: This conversation with climate scientists, artists and social scientists will look at creatively projects that aims to inspire climate action.
  • Beyond Manapouri: 14th August, Christchurch. Fifty years have passed since that ground-breaking Save Manapouri Campaign of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Catherine Knight holds a Q&A about her book reflecting 50 years of environmental politics in New Zealand.
  • Supervolcanoes: 14 August, Auckland; 15 August, Hamilton; 16 August, South Auckland. Colin Wilson continues his Rutherford Lecture series delving into the life and times of supervolcanoes.
  • Our Oceans in 2030: 15 August, Auckland. Three reseacrhers will explore the history and success of marine reserves and share a vision of new governance and conceptual models that ensures healthy oceans that provide sustainable food and recreation for future generations. 
  • Ancient afterlife after dark: 16th August, Christchurch. Learn about the ancient Greek afterlife, including Hades and his realm, Homer's idea of heroic death and reincarnation philosphies from classical scholars.
  • Language collision: 16th August, Wellington. Using examples from urban centres in the UK and Auckland, and smaller communities in Vanuatu and the Caribbean, Prof Miriam Meyerhoff explains what happens when speakers of languages (or dialects) collide.
  • Freeing the Land: 17th August, Christchurch. Dr Ann Brower will speak about the Crown Pastoral Land Act and the tenure review process that allows the Crown to split pastoral land into freehold and public conservation land.

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