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.

The first two articles summarise the international reaction to the Fonterra crisis and how New Zealand has traded off its 100% Pure campaign for too long and without ensuring that it is walking the talk. None of us feel very comfortable being an international hypocrite and we wish our political leadership would show as much enthusiasm for conservation, as they do for intensive dairying, drilling for oil and mining for coal such as at the Denniston Plateau

Money is not everything, but sadly, it appears to be the only metric they value. Oh and in being re-elected.

There has also been a raft of recent articles discussing the increasingly degraded state of NZ’s water ways, with nitrate run-off from dairying largely being held responsible, something that Federated Farmers rejects.

So now that the Federated Farmers have stated they believe the NZ approach to the use of the pesticide Neonicotinoids is about right, we take a closer look whether this is appropriate and why the EU has become alarmed enough to introduce restrictions on their use.

As it turns out, Neonicotinoids are 10,000 times more toxic than DDT and has the potential to wreck tremendous damage on the environment, flora and fauna – the most notable suspect casualty so far, being the honey bee. It also has the undesirable potential to remain in the soil for a decade or more. In our opinion, NZ should follow the EU lead and restrict the use of Neonicotinoids until at least the threats are fully understood. Better to keep the genie in the bottle.

And if we wipe out, or at least significantly reduce, the numbers of insects as Neonicotinoids might do, then the option of them becoming a staple component of our diet, as this next article examines, might not be an option after all.

Outside NZ, we are however seeing major changes in the attitudes of our youth towards addressing climate change. For example student pressure at Harvard University has resulted in the appointment of a VP for Sustainable Investment. With an endowment fund in excess of $30 billion, or about the equivalent of the Christchurch re-build, this is a weighty portfolio. And it is almost certain to be switching from fossil fuel companies and into renewable energy instead.

All of which seems to be part of a wider trend, with announcements by the US Export-Import Bank, World Bank and European Investment Bank, all dropping support for coal projects. As Justin Guay, the head of the Sierra Club’s international climate programme said in an interview, “We’ve never seen a cascading sentiment that coal is not acceptable like we’re seeing happen right now – it’s a snowball running downhill”.

This too is being mirrored by the investment community, as they increasingly view climate change as being a material risk. 53% of asset managers said that they decided to divest, or not invest, in listed equities based on climate change concerns and 69% (up from 43% a year before) said that climate change integration influenced their fund management decisions in 2012.

And if we are going to get serious about addressing climate change, then why not let nature be part of the solution, as after all it has been pretty effective at keeping the climate reasonably stable before humans came along. Our next article examines how planting the hardy Jatropha curcas in our deserts might be sufficient to deal with the excessive levels of atmospheric CO2. Not only will they green the deserts and capture CO2, they will also in time be a great source of biofuels. Looks like an elegant solution to us.

And not before time, as our article on the warming of our oceans and impact of marine life is anything to go by, with breeding times and habitats all changing far faster than land-based species. Phytoplankton, zooplankton and bony fish are showing the greatest shifts, with some of these moving towards the poles at an average rate of over 7km per year.

Our final sets of articles examines the various impacts the Sun has on our planet. Not only is it our source of life, but it evidently changes how it does this every 11 years. Sometime either during November or December 2013, the Sun’s giant magnetic field is going to reverse itself. This means the Earth will experience significant solar flares, which could generate geomagnetic storms in the Earth’s magnetic field, affecting communications, power lines and satellites. If a repeat of the 1859 solar flare, known as the Carrington Event is experienced, electricity grids could be down for weeks, if not months. Even a smaller disturbance will produce voltage spikes which in turn will impact on switchgear and electronic equipment. Best to ensure vital equipment have UPS protection then.

The Sun can also impact in other unexpected ways – like when in a combination of energy efficient windows can melt the paint on houses and car bodies. It can even generate a ‘death ray’ as staff at the Vdara hotel discovered, or more accurately, did bathers sunning themselves around the hotel pool. BBQ anyone?

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again.

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