Geoff Bennett - Editor

Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.

This week we take a look at the state of the world ahead of the June 20-22 United Nations Rio+20 summit. According to the WWF, we will require two-Earths by 2030 and three by 2050 in order to support human’s use of resources. That obviously is not possible. The WWF has also said that the world should move away from perverse subsidies on fossil fuels and focus instead on renewable energy. Asked why environmentalists are still struggling to win the argument that something needed to be done, Leape – the WWF international director said “Let’s not underestimate the inertia in the system and that we have built an economy over the last century that is built on fossil fuels and on the premise that the Earth’s resources could not be exhausted”. I think we can read into that as vested interests being the inertia and not wanting any changes.

One of these resources is water. As our next article examines, water extraction from underground aquifers is likely to be raising sea levels by around 1mm per year. This in itself should be worrying enough, but it is estimated that over the past 50 years, 18 trillion tonnes of water has been removed from underground aquifers without being replaced. In some parts of the world, the stores of water have now been exhausted. Saudi Arabia, for example, was self-sufficient in wheat, grown in the desert using water from deep, fossil aquifers. Now many of the aquifers have run dry and most wheat is imported, with all growing expected to end in 2016. In Northern India the level of the water table is dropping by 4cm every year. Makes you appreciate how blessed we are to be living in New Zealand.

Another good (if we can call this good) example that we are seriously imperilling the state of our planet’s waterways is underlined by the poor and worsening condition of the Dead Sea – which is in fact dying. So much extraction from the Jordan River, its traditional source of replenishment has seen the 1,300 feet below sea level lake, water level drop by 80 feet, mainly over the last couple of decades. It has lost over a third of its surface area leaving resorts up to half a mile from the sea, with their folded up umbrellas and lifeguard towers a depressing testament to the receding water levels.

Our next couple of articles examines what is now regarded as the world’s largest rubbish dump. This is of course the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas and growing. It would appear that a lot of this rubbish is plastic, which given its extremely slow rates of degradation is going to be with us for some time to come. It also now appears that the patch is now changing insect mating habits and causing significant impacts on fish and invertebrates. As much of this dump is directly related to our modern ‘disposable’ society it is therefore heartening to read that companies such as McDonalds and Starbucks are taking tangible steps to reduce the amount of product used in their packaging. Not only is good for their bottom line, it should have a less damaging impact on the environment.

Our next article looks at how the UK may start sometime in the future to be able to import electricity generated using geothermal energy from Iceland’s volcanoes. This is all part of plans to link the UK into a Europe-wide supergrid which would see wind and wave power from Northern Europe with solar projects such as Desertec in Southern Europe and North Africa available to displace electricity presently being generated from nuclear and fossil plants.

We also examine how the use of pesticides has now been clearly linked to bees’ rapid decline. Pesticides called neonicotinoids and insect nerve-agents are used in seed dressings and therefore present in pollen and nectar; which are ingested by bees. In the UK alone half the honey bees kept in managed hives have gone and wild honey bees are close to extinction. So you would expect that urgent action would now be taking place to ban neonictinoids? Well, not so fast, according to the UK Govt. more research is required first. Sounds awfully similar to the same arguments being used by climate change sceptics over whether global warming is occurring and those previously used by the tobacco industry if smoking might be bad for your health. In other words, vested interests.

Our final article this week shows that even as humans may be focussing on satisfying what we perceive as our needs at the cost to everything else, that other creatures, in this case elephants, still maintain a sense of dignity and community. When Lawrence Anthony, a conservationist passed away on March 2nd, two groups of elephants grazing miles away travelled over 12 hours to reach his house and then maintained a two-day grieving vigil. Perhaps it is a time to pause and reflect on how we share this planet with some truly special companions.

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.

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