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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

UQ marine scientists expose planetary emergency in new Netflix doc

A new Netflix documentary, Chasing Coral, has hit the world’s small screens.

UQ marine scientists expose planetary emergency in new Netflix documentary

Chasing Coral poster (Image via UQ)

The University of Queensland’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was the chief scientific adviser on the documentary, which starkly records and reveals the impact of climate change on the world’s coral reefs.

Emmy award-winning filmmaker Jeff Orlowski’s film follows a team of divers, photographers and scientists on the epic ocean adventure.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg plays a starring role in the documentary along with UQ marine scientists Dr Pim Bongaerts, Dr Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero, Professor Justin Marshall, and other world-renowned coral reef experts.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said the documentary was a powerful way to reveal the impact climate change is having on our reefs.

“This is as much about the emotional side of reef losses as it is about the compelling science behind this planetary emergency,” he said.

For the past three years, Jeff and his team have followed the work of The Ocean Agency, revealing the global bleaching event and its impacts on the world’s coral reefs.

Audiences will witness the painful process as the team invent the first ever time-lapse camera to record coral bleaching as it happens. The effort is anything but straightforward as the scientists doggedly battle technical malfunctions and the force of nature below the waves.

With its breathtaking photography, nail-biting suspense, and startling emotion, Chasing Coral is a dramatic production.

The film is the result of more than 650 hours spent underwater, footage from volunteers in 30 countries, as well as support from more than 500 people from across the world.

Chasing Coral by Exposure Labs premiered on Netflix, and was produced in association with Argent Pictures, The Kendeda Fund and in partnership with The Ocean Agency and View Into the Blue.

Master of Environmental Management at the University of Queensland

Environmental management is the planning and implementation of actions geared to improve the quality of the human environment. The postgraduate programs in environmental management at UQ are multidisciplinary programs designed to enhance the skills and technical expertise of graduates working in all facets of the environmental arena. The programs aim to produce managers able to address the many issues in the highly complex and changing area of environmental management. At the master’s level the degree may be taken in a range of fields.

Studies may be undertaken in the following specialisations:

  • Conservation biology
  • Conservation and Natural Resource Management
  • Resource and Environmental Economics
  • Sustainable Development

Why study Conservation Biology?
One of the biggest problems confronting biologists worldwide is the increased extinction rate of animal and plant species. This is due in large part to the impact humans have had on land use, climate and resource consumption—an impact that is decreasing the earth’s biodiversity and increasing the number of endangered or threatened species at an alarming rate. Conservation biology is an integrative discipline that focuses on the problems of restoring and maintaining viable populations of animal and plant species, and natural and managed ecosystems. The program aims to provide core theoretical and practical training in conservation biology.

Program: Master of Environmental Management
Location: Brisbane, Queensland
Semester intakes: February and July
Duration: 1.5 years

Admissions requirements

Bachelor degree in environmental studies, geography, natural resources, biology, ecology, conservation, sustainable development, environmental engineering, marine science, or an approved discipline. UQ or equivalent GPA of 4.5 or above on a 7 point scale.

Apply to the University of Queensland!

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Are you interested in studying environmental sciences or marine science at the University of Queensland? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Heather Brown for more information at heather@oztrekk.com.

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Monash University medical student joins Antarctica expedition to inspire environmental change

A desire to drive sustainable energy use, and love of solving challenging problems has won a Monash University student a prestigious Boston Consulting Group (BCG) scholarship. One of only two scholarships awarded annually in Australia and New Zealand, Daniel D’Hotman will now embark on a trip to Antarctica early next year.

Daniel’s $15,000 scholarship means he joins the last 60 miles (96.6 km) of the 600-mile (966 km) South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC). Conducted on foot, it’s the first polar expedition to rely completely on renewable energy, and is renowned explorer Robert Swan’s last South Pole voyage.

Monash University medical student joins Antarctica expedition to inspire environmental change

A Monash Medical School student will be embarking on an Antarctic expedition

A fourth-year Monash University Medical School student, Daniel said the South Pole expedition was an amazing opportunity to inspire change in the way we use energy.

“I believe the risk of catastrophic climate change poses a major existential threat to current and future generations—no matter what field you’re in—and I wanted to be part of something that would have a global impact,” Daniel said.

Using this expedition as a platform for engagement, the group wants to challenge and inspire people to make measurable changes to how they use energy in their businesses, communities, and lifestyles. Daniel also plans to work with sponsors, such as Shell and Patagonia, to launch a social impact fund that will drive change in the way we use energy.

“On a personal level,” he said, “I revel in a challenge, and the prospect of walking in the most hostile environment on earth is very exciting.”

This once-in-a-lifetime adventure is only one part of the prize. Daniel will also have the opportunity to work with BCG after graduation.

It’s a prestigious honour, and one that came about after a rigorous selection process involving three rounds of interviews, where BCG sought out high-performing students with strong leadership qualities and a love of “solving challenging problems.”

As a medical student at Monash, Daniel is passionate about mobilising groups of individuals to promote collaboration and engineer societal change. Earlier this year, he led the launch of the philanthropic movement Effective Altruism in Australia, and the charity has raised more than $800,000 for public health interventions in its first year.

While Daniel enjoys clinical medicine and clearly has a passion for the environment, he hopes to pursue a future in public policy to ensure the future equity and sustainability of Australia’s health system.

“My Monash placements in rural Victoria offered insight into the stark contrast in health outcomes between these areas and inner-city Melbourne,” he said. “This prompted my interest in health equity; a person’s health should not be dictated by their postcode.”

After his second year of Monash University Medical School, Daniel completed his Bachelor of Medical Science (Hons) at the University of Oxford, working with philosophers including Monash Professor Julian Savulescu. This experience introduced him to the world of bioethics and policy.

“Oxford really opened my eyes to power of public policy, and inspired me to pursue a career in the field,” he said.

Daniel believes that rising costs of healthcare and an ageing population may threaten the viability of Australia’s health system this century. However, he said that technology could offer powerful solutions.

“Australia is uniquely positioned to take advantage of advances in artificial intelligence, big data, and biotechnology to guarantee the quality of our health system into the future. I’m excited to expand my knowledge of these areas through working at BCG.”

Study Medicine at Monash University

The Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine at Monash University has been designed in close consultation with doctors, health care professionals and leaders in the health and research sectors to give students the scientific background and clinical expertise to ensure that graduates are prepared for their future as a doctor.

Program: Bachelor of Medical Science Doctor of Medicine (graduate entry)
Location: Gippsland Campus, Churchill, Victoria (approx. 2 hours southeast of Melbourne)
Semester intake: February 2018
Duration: 4 years
Application deadline: July 21, 2017

Apply to the Monash University medical program!

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Would you like more information about studying at Monash University Medical School? Contact Admissions Officer Courtney Frank at courtney@oztrekk.com or 1-866-698-7355.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Introducing the new UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Resources and energy, climate change, urbanisation, population growth, conservation and sustainability will be areas of focus for a new University of Queensland school.

Introducing the new UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Professor Aitchison is head of the new UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (Photo: UQ)

The UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences came into being on Jan. 1 and now combines UQ’s School of Earth Sciences and the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management.

Professor Jonathan Aitchison, who will head the new school, said it would be an interdisciplinary powerhouse of academic expertise, developing practical solutions to big issues.

“The school will give greater breadth and depth to the study of earth and environmental sciences, greatly benefitting students, strengthening research capacity, and will provide greater disciplinary coherence and opportunity,” said Professor Aitchison, the Head of UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“It makes sense to bring earth and environmental sciences together in the university.

“The new school is a recognition of the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of geological and geographical sciences, environmental management, coastal processes, urban planning and safety science.”

Professor Aitchison said UQ had a strong international reputation for excellence in earth and environmental sciences.

It ranks number 1 in Australia in life sciences in the Times Higher Education Ranking and number 12 globally, number 32 internationally in geography, and is in the world’s top 100 Earth and Marine Sciences institutions in the 2016 QS rankings by subject.

“The combined staff of the new school are recognised as experts in their fields,” Professor Aitchison said.

“They conduct pure and applied research with strong links to our industry, government and university partners who have provided excellent support over many years.

“In addition, our people have a strong reputation for quality teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate students in all discipline areas across the new school.”

Professor Aitchison said integrated teams of earth scientists, physical and social scientists, environmental management specialists, health and safety experts, and urban planners would work together to generate new knowledge and opportunities for further discovery.

Current collaborative research projects and consulting pieces would continue as usual and new projects would begin as funding and support becomes available.

“By providing a new academic structure for these related disciplines we will provide opportunities to improve end-to-end delivery of services and research outcomes,” he said.

“This benefits industries, government, university partners, and communities, and continues availability of state-of-the-art facilities for industry and research project work.”

Professor Aitchison is a geologist and an expert in plate tectonics, palaeontology and geo-microbiology.

University of Queensland Environmental Science Degrees

Master of Agribusiness
Master of Agricultural Science
Master of Conservation Biology
Master of Conservation Science
Master of Environmental Management
Master of Geographic Information Science
Master of Integrated Water Management
Master of Mineral Resources
Master of Responsible Resource Development (Environment)
Master of Rural Development
Master of Sustainable Energy

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Find out more about your study options at the new UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Melbourne says emissions reduction, curriculum changes central to new Sustainability Plan

The University of Melbourne will be carbon neutral before 2030, achieve zero net emissions from electricity by 2021 and will now report annually on the institution’s sustainability impact and performance.

Melbourne says emissions reduction, curriculum changes central to new Sustainability Plan

Melbourne launches Sustainability Plan 2017–2020

That’s according to the university’s first institution-wide Sustainability Plan 2017–2020, an ambitious four-year strategy that will position Melbourne as a sector-leader in sustainability according to Vice-Principal Administration and Finance and Chief Financial Officer, Allan Tait.

The Plan also pushes for sustainability to become a more prominent part of all undergraduate curriculum, as well as outlining the university’s response to calls to divest from fossil fuel-intensive companies.

“The university has a responsibility to lead strongly and act decisively in addressing global societal challenges, such as building a more sustainable world.”

“This Sustainability Plan clearly outlines the university’s commitment to this important task and highlights how Melbourne is acting on this front across all areas of the institution, with holistic actions and targets that will assist in tackling the impacts of climate change.”

On divestment, the university recognises that climate change impacts result in increased risk and potential opportunities for its investments, and that it must act to mitigate this risk. It therefore plans to establish within a year a sustainable investment framework for evaluating and managing material climate change risk, and which will set out the criteria for divestment from and investment in listed equities.

This framework will as far as possible cover factors such as a company’s emissions intensity, emissions reduction plans, alignment to the outcomes of global climate change agreements and investment in and transition to renewable energy.

“Within four years, the university will be divested from, or in the process of divesting from, any material holdings that don’t satisfy the requirements of this framework,” said Mr Tait. “This approach, and that of all of the commitments in this plan, reflects the consolidated efforts and collective will of the university community.”

The Sustainability Plan is the result of a more than 12 months of public consultation process that commenced in late 2015 with the development of the university’s Sustainability Charter. This process saw nearly 500 attendees across two events as well as hundreds of email submissions into the development of both the plan and the charter.

While the charter establishes the high-level principles and values the university wishes to adopt when it came to sustainability, the plan sets out a range of clear targets and priority actions for how the institutions will meet these principles.

Other key aims for the plan:

  • Reduce emissions by 20,000 tonnes of carbon per year by 2020 through on-campus energy projects such as solar, wind and geothermal.
  • Increase the number of University of Melbourne graduates who can demonstrate a specialization in environment and sustainability.
  • Replace 10% of university car parking spaces with bicycle parking by 2018.
  • Publish a university-wide Biodiversity Management Plan.
  • Develop industry partnerships that emphasize the university’s resources for sustainability research.

The university is home to approximately 1,300 researchers who apply their expertise in fields relevant to sustainability and resilience said Mr Tait, and in partnership with industry, government and communities, this will support the transition to a more sustainable future.

“The plan is more than just a public statement of our commitment to sustainability. It sets out an ambitious path towards new modes of governance and operations in a warming world, and reiterates our desire to work with industry to support and assist the transition to a lower emissions future.”

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Are you interested in environmental sciences at the University of Melbourne? Please contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

New policy to steer Monash University’s attack on climate change

The Monash University Environmental, Social and Governance statement (ESG) will tackle climate change through its teaching, research, engagement, investments and campus operations.

The new policy statement commits Monash, Australia’s largest and most global university, to heightened levels of environmental and social sustainability.

New policy to steer Monash University’s attack on climate change

Monash has set infrastructure goals to monitor its transition to a net zero carbon emissions organisation

Monash University has an annual operating revenue of more than $2 billion and generates $3.9 billion worth of economic activity each year. It has more than $3.75 billion in assets.

The Chancellor of Monash University, Simon McKeon AO said the commitments contained in the environmental, social and governance policy statement applied across the full scope of the university’s operations.

“The time for action to fight climate change is now. Our new policy statement will influence our research, teaching, investments and how we engage with our industry and government partners and the broad community. It will also impact on our campus facilities,” Mr McKeon said.

“Very few organisations in Australia have anywhere near Monash’s breadth of capability. The implementation of the new policy will see Monash use that capability to help combat the effects of global warming.

“We’ll seek to influence the transition to a net zero carbon economy by engaging with governments and businesses and utilising the technologies developed from Monash’s world-class research programs.” Mr McKeon said.

The President and Vice Chancellor of Monash University, Professor Margaret Gardner AO said the new policy would also see Monash set five year infrastructure goals to measure and monitor its transition to a net zero carbon emissions organisation.

“Monash will commit itself to achieve net zero emissions and we will announce that target date for its achievement early next year,” Professor Gardner said.

“Under the new policy announced [today], the university will review every year the environmental, social and governance factors relating to our direct and indirect investment portfolios.

“Already, Monash has no direct investments in companies whose primary ongoing business is production of fossil fuels. Further, Monash has been successful in excluding companies whose primary activity is coal production from more than 90 percent of our indirect investment portfolio. The university will be working with fund managers to exclude all companies whose primary activity is coal production from our indirect investments,” Professor Gardner said.
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Find out more about studying climate change at Monash. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Griffith environmental sciences student gets real world experience

A fairy tale and university study may seem an unusual pairing but for Griffith University student Tahlia Rossi a Heron Island field trip was just that.

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Tahlia Rossi at Heron Island (Photo: Griffith University)

There were no glass slippers to be found, but flippers were the footwear of choice for students diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Tahlia is studying a double degree, Urban & Environmental Planning and Science with a double major in Marine Biology and Climate Change Adaptation, so real world experience that puts the skills she’s learning into action was the perfect environment for her.

The marine field course sees students embark on a week-long science experience at Heron Island on the reef where they undertake research projects as part of their degree.

Having been “deeply inspired by nature and learning of its intricate functions and beauty,” Tahlia has always been excited by the  concept of contributing knowledge through research.

She’s hoping to bring a science background to a career in urban planning to give her more credibility and the knowledge and ability to collaborate with people in other disciplines.

Her degrees have given her amazing opportunities as well as allowing her to work as a Research Assistant at Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation. Tahlia will also represent Griffith at the 2016 Advance Global Australian Summit at the Sydney Opera House as a mentee.

“It has been inspiring to be given so many opportunities like going on exchange to the University of Copenhagen for one year, attending a sustainability summit in Singapore, going on this research trip to Heron Island, receiving training in mentoring, resume writing, communication skills and presentation skills,” she says.

“I have been challenged by the length of my degree and the difficulty of some of the science subjects, but on the other hand, to overcome these challenges gives me confidence and strength.”

Advance is the preeminent global community of high achieving Australians and alumni abroad, with more than 40,000 connections in 90 countries. Advance forges connections with the one million Australian diaspora, drawing on their experience and networks to open doors and opportunities for Australia, Australian companies and Australians around the globe.
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Would you like to study environmental science at Griffith University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com for more information.

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Barrier Reef rodent is first mammal declared extinct due to climate change

University of Queensland and Queensland Government researchers have confirmed that the Bramble Cay melomys—the only mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef—is the first mammal to go extinct due to human-induced climate change.

In a newly published report, the scientists conducted a comprehensive survey in 2014 but failed to find any trace of the rodent.

Barrier Reef rodent is first mammal declared extinct due to climate change

The Bramble Cay melomys (Photo: UQ)

The rodent was known only to live on a small (4 ha) coral cay, just 340m long and 150m wide in the Torres Strait, between Queensland in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

“Because a limited survey in March 2014 failed to detect the species, Bramble Cay was revisited from August to September 2014, with the explicit aims of establishing whether the Bramble Cay melomys still persisted on the island and to enact emergency measures to conserve any remaining individuals,” Dr Luke Leung of the UQ School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said.

“A thorough survey effort involving 900 small animal trap-nights, 60 camera trap-nights and two hours of active daytime searches produced no records of the species, confirming that the only known population of this rodent is now extinct.

“Anecdotal information obtained from a professional fisherman who visited Bramble Cay annually for the past 10 years suggested that the last known sighting of the Bramble Cay melomys was made in late 2009.”

Dr Leung said the key factor responsible for the destruction of this population was almost certainly ocean inundation of the low-lying cay, very likely on multiple occasions, during the past decade, causing dramatic habitat loss and perhaps also direct mortality of individuals. The cay sits at most 3m above sea level.

“Available information about sea-level rise and the increased frequency and intensity of weather events producing extreme high water levels and damaging storm surges in the Torres Strait region over this period point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys,” he said.

Dr Leung said the fact that exhaustive efforts had failed to record the rodent at its only known location and extensive surveys had not found it on any other Torres Strait or Great Barrier Reef island gave him confidence in the assertion that Australia had lost another mammal species.

“Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change.

“However, new information is provided in support of a previously presented hypothesis that the Fly River delta of Papua New Guinea is a possible source of the original melomys population on Bramble Cay, so the Bramble Cay melomys or a closely related species might occur there. “

Dr Leung said it could be premature to declare the Bramble Cay melomys extinct on a global scale.

The study was led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and in partnership with UQ researchers Natalie Waller and Luke Leung.

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Are you interested in studying climate change and other environmental sciences programs at the University of Queensland? Contact OzTREKK’s Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Climate change likely to turn up heat on koalas

A changing climate means that by 2070 koalas may no longer call large parts of inland Australia home, researchers have found.

Using a detailed ecological model, the University of Melbourne study shows hotter temperatures and altered rainfall patterns will make it much more difficult for koalas to get the water they need—making inland populations vulnerable to heat-stress.

Climate change likely to turn up heat on koalas

Koalas will not be able to find all the water they need to survive under climate change, research suggests

The researchers mapped potential koala habitats in 2070 by using information about koala behaviour, physiology, body size, and fur to predict how much energy and water koalas need to survive under the climate at a particular location. They found that the climatically suitable area dramatically reduced by 2070, particularly in Queensland. The koala’s range across Australia was limited by water requirements for keeping cool, with the timing of rainfall and heat waves being crucial in limiting the koala in the warmer parts of its range.

Lead author of the study Dr Natalie Briscoe from the Melbourne School of Biosciences, University of Melbourne says that the findings could help our ability to forecast future impacts of climate change on biodiversity.

“Studies of climate change impacts on wildlife have often focused on how changes in average temperature or rainfall will affect species, but our research highlights the importance of thinking about the extreme conditions that will be most stressful for the animals—such as hot, dry periods—and how these may change in the future.

“By developing a better understanding of what controls species distributions now, we are much better placed to forecast how these may shift in the future” says Dr Briscoe.

Dr Brendan Wintle, Deputy Director of the National Environmental Science Programme’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub, and a co-author of the study, says describing where koalas and other threatened species find refuge from changing climate and other threats such as cats and foxes allows efficient focus of conservation efforts and limited conservation funding.

To build the ecological model the team compiled data on how koalas behave under different weather conditions, measured characteristics such as fur depth and body size from across the koala’s range, and collated detailed data on koala physiology. They could then predict the koalas’ habitat from a climatic point of view based only on their water and energy requirements, assuming that eucalyptus trees were available everywhere.

The team also used models that correlate known koala locations with the climatic conditions of the recent past—the approach most commonly used to predict climate change impacts on wildlife, but one which could be misleading when projected to the future.

They found that both kinds of models made accurate predictions of the koala’s current range and agreed that koalas will disappear from much of the drier, hotter parts of their range.

“There is a lot of uncertainty when predicting the impacts of climate change on species, particularly when climate change leads to novel weather patterns. Comparing predictions from different models allows us to more confidently predict the location of havens where koalas could survive in the future” says Dr Briscoe.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub brings together Australia’s leading conservation scientists to help develop better management and policy for conserving Australia’s threatened species.

It is supported by the Australian Government ’s National Environmental Science Programme, a long-term commitment to support environmental and climate research.

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Are you interested in studying climate change and other environmental sciences? Email OzTREKK Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Monday, April 11th, 2016

JCU studies how climate change will affect your diet

The great Australian favourite—red meat—may be under threat as climate change continues to hit food-growing areas.

And while scientists think kangaroo and seafood could become the new staple diet, poorer Australians will still likely be worse off.

JCU agricultural sciences

Kangaroos could be the new staple diet

James Cook University’s Dr Tobin Northfield was part of a multi-disciplinary team examining what would happen to Australia’s food supply if temperatures increase by 0.6 to 1.3°C by 2050, as predicted.

Dr Northfield said all food groups would be affected, as agricultural regions were hit with warmer, drier conditions, more frequent, intense droughts and other extreme events.

The team expects the northern boundary of Australia’s wheat growing area to contract as the heat increases.

“Wheat is a major component of the Australian diet,” said Dr Northfield. “And it’s highly sensitive to climate variations, with higher temperatures leading to lower yields.”

Fruit and vegetable production would be hit by an increased number of pests and a reduction in pollination.

“In some cases, vegetables may actually grow faster, but will be less nutritious and more expensive. Recent models suggest that by 2050, global consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables will have dropped by around four per cent,” said Dr Northfield.

Beef production may also be under threat, with the heat affecting both the quality and availability of cattle through stress, lower quality feed and more parasites.

Dr Northfield said dairy herds would not be spared, with milk production dropping everywhere except Tasmania by 2050.

The scientists said that for most Australians, and particularly those already struggling to stretch their budget, increased prices will lead to consumption of cheaper and lower quality foods, exacerbating health issues.

But there may also be an upside, with consumers switching to cheaper white meats or substituting kangaroo or fish for red meat.

“Kangaroo need less food and water and, incidentally, produce almost no methane. They are a sustainable product,” said Dr Northfield.

He said that while ocean acidification was an issue, aquaculture would not be hit as hard by climate change. “There will always be something in the ocean to eat, as long as we’re not picky,” he said.

Dr Northfield said people who are a little better off and able to substitute expensive red meat for something more nutritious may even find their diet becomes healthier.

He said the big lesson of the study, apart from the need to reduce carbon emissions, was that Australians were going to have to become a lot less fussy about their food.

“The average Australian household wastes one fifth of their food. In other words, a family of four generally buys and wastes enough food for an extra person. With better meal planning, and maybe being a little less rigid ‘with best if used by’ dates, that could be improved,” he said.

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Learn more about climate change and other environmental sciences programs at JCU. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Griffith School of Environment talks about urban greening strategies

Our cities are getting hotter, more crowded and noisier. Climate change is bringing more heatwaves, placing pressure on human health, urban amenity, productivity and infrastructure.

Urban residents naturally want to stay cool. Air conditioning is the usual choice, but it can be expensive to run. Air conditioning also adds carbon pollution, creates noise and can make outdoor spaces hotter.

Griffith University Environmental Sciences

Griffith School of Environment talks about urban greening strategies (Photo credit: Griffith University)

So what else can we do to manage increasing urban heat? And who has the ability to act?

Urban planners are increasingly involved in developing and delivering urban greening strategies. While it seems like a “no brainer” to green cities, our international research shows that planners are not always comfortable with this idea.

However, green infrastructure—including street trees, green roofs, vegetated surfaces and green walls—is emerging as a viable way to help cities adapt to increased heat. Uptake of these technologies is slowly increasing in many cities around the world.

The Australian government has recognised this trend. An agenda to green Australia’s cities is now in place. Stated aims include managing climate change impacts, reducing urban heat, improving urban well-being and increasing environmental performance.

This urban greening agenda is part of the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes hub, under the National Environmental Science Program.

Benefits of urban greening

The broadening appeal of green infrastructure is helped by the fact it offers multiple benefits.

For example, shading from strategically placed street trees can lower surrounding temperatures by up to 6℃, or up to 20℃ over roads. Green roofs and walls can naturally cool buildings, substantially lowering demand for air conditioning. Green infrastructure can also provide habitat for wildlife, recreational opportunities for people, better management of stormwater runoff and improved urban aesthetics.

Hard surfacing, including concrete, asphalt and stone, is common in cities. It can increase urban temperatures by absorbing heat and radiating it back into the air. Green infrastructure can minimise this difficulty as it better regulates ambient air temperatures. Foliage allows local cooling through evapotranspiration, where plants release water vapour into the surrounding atmosphere.

Why planners are cautious

Our research examined urban planners’ attitudes towards green infrastructure use in Australia, England and Ireland. We found that planners are broadly aware of green infrastructure as an urban intervention. They understand its use, application and capacity to provide multiple benefits, especially in terms of managing urban heat.

The planners we interviewed, while recognising the potential value of green infrastructure, strongly cautioned that delivering the technology can be an uncertain process. The biggest barrier cited was that planning departments are not experienced with green infrastructure.

Put simply, they tend to avoid it because it has not traditionally featured on urban planning agendas. Like any new planning endeavour, green infrastructure can create institutional, legal, economic, social and environmental challenges.

Some of the biophysical challenges associated with green infrastructure delivery are novel. Choosing appropriate forms of vegetation, for example, may be difficult. Decisions must be made based on prevailing climactic conditions, drainage capacity and species growth patterns.

Will root systems damage buildings or underground utility networks? Might trees topple during storms and damage houses? Are roofs strong enough to support a rooftop garden? Planners may not be able to answer these questions, which creates a need for external experts to advise them.

Our findings also highlight socio-political factors as barriers. These include governance concerns such as the political context in which planning decisions are made.

Management issues also feature. Chief among these are government commitments to budget for green infrastructure delivery and management.

Planners are also wary of public involvement. They know that public sentiment about green infrastructure can be influenced by perceptions of modified access, changed use, or loss.

What can be done?

The urgency for providing urban green infrastructure increases as climate change makes our cities hotter. Our research suggests the principal task for planners is to overcome embedded practices and to accept green infrastructure as an emerging but permanent urban feature.

This will not be easy. For example, a decision to use a road easement for green infrastructure may require multiple meetings with other government departments, utility companies and residents. Planners will need to coordinate these, manage stakeholder expectations and ensure cost sharing where necessary.

Legal, economic, social and environmental issues will require innovative solutions.

Planners will increasingly be tasked to deliver green infrastructure in cities. They will need to be clear on its value, be prepared to lead its delivery and learn from new challenges and solutions encountered along the way.

Urban residents all over the world stand to benefit if planners can successfully meet this challenge, particularly as hotter temperatures threaten urban comfort and habitability.

Story by Associate Professor Jason Byrne and Dr Tony Matthews, Griffith School of Environment

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Find out more about studying environmental sciences at Griffith University. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada 1-866-698-7355.