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Silk, sex and secrets and a smorgasbord of news

PICTURES: James Hanlon, spider specialist and author of Silk and Venom.

Silk, sex, secrets and spiders
Richard Fidler, Conversations, ABC RN.  4 Oct 2023.  LISTEN HERE

James O’Hanlon* is a scientist with a PhD in animal behaviour. He’s particularly interested in the secret lives of spiders, whose complex lives are hidden under our feet or in trees and undergrowth.

Spiders are, by far, the leading cause of phobias around the world, but James argues they should be celebrated, not feared. Their silk is the toughest material produced by any creature on the planet and their sex lives are fascinating.

* Author of: Silk and Venom: The Incredible Lives of Spiders, NewSouth Books


Take a break from your screen and look at plants − botanising is a great way to engage with life around you, by Jacob S. Suissa and Ben Goulet-Scott * (The Conversation, September 20, 2023)

We are plant scientists and co-founders of Let’s Botanise, an educational nonprofit that uses plant life to teach about ecology, evolution and biodiversity. In the past several years we have witnessed a botanical boom, with participation in plant-based hobbies surging. From cultivating houseplants to foraging for wild foods and outdoor gardening, plant appreciation is on the rise.

Botanising is spending time alongside plants in order to observe and appreciate them as living organisms – like birding, but with subjects that stay in place. When you botanise, a simple walk in the woods becomes an immersive experience shared with many species. Getting to know your nonhuman neighbors is a way to engage with a changing planet.

* Jacob S. Suissa, is Assistant Professor of Plant Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, and Ben Goulet-Scott, is Higher Education & Laboratory Coordinator at Harvard Forest, Harvard University


Planting pocket-forests in urban areas
(Science Show, ABC RN Broadcast Sat 30 Sep 2023)
Dr Grey Coupland of Murdoch University tells the story of how children are turning their food waste into compost, rehabilitating depleted soil and planting locally indigenous species as part of a flourishing outreach program.

Golden rules of feeding wild backyard birds
ABC Radio Perth, Mon 2 Oct 2023

Despite rules and regulations, Australians continue to feed the birdlife in their own backyards, according to research.
So, what should people be feeding their feathered visitors?
Emeritus Professor and urban ecologist Darryl Jones talks about which foods to avoid and why.

Wily cockatoos, bin chickens and spangled drongos
Conversations, ABC Local Radio, Friday 10 Nov 2023 – Listen at this LINK

Darryl Jones is an expert in the avian dramas which unfold in Australian backyards. It seems an unlikely venue for sensational theatre, but the professor of ecology has spent many years studying how people and birds interact in our cities and suburbs.

From currawongs and magpies, to bin chickens and drongos, these are the colourful characters in neighbourhoods all over Australia.

Further information:  Getting To Know the Birds in Your Neighbourhood, published by UNSW Press.

Vanishing icons: how population growth is driving our most loved animals to extinction
Population Matters, 4 Oct 2023  [biodiversity]

Population growth is recognised as a driver of biodiversity loss by scientific authorities – but how it drives extinctions isn’t always understood. Our new report, ‘Vanishing Icons: How population growth is driving our most loved animals to extinction’, takes a look at six iconic species, and shows how our actions and numbers are threatening the natural world.

Researchers believe thousands of spiders in Australia have not yet been identified and scientifically named,
By Peter Quattrocelli (ABC News, Tuesday 14.11.2023) – Learn more here.

Dr Robert Raven says the latest research indicates that the number of undiscovered spiders is unknown. “I’d probably have to say it’s at least 15,000,” he said.

“It’s a rich and amazing country, enormous in size, and very diverse in pockets of populations and species of things that are in small areas.”

Big Ideas
Achieving change needs hope

Changing the world begins in our own household, with the tree in our street and the bike path in our neighbourhood.

Jess Scully has travelled the world, exploring the many ways of reshaping our world into a fairer and more sustainable place. She talks about how you can help. And that’s not only through public protests, but also through actively participating in council community consultations.

Finding hope presented by the Adelaide Writers Week, March 1, 2021

Speaker: Jess Scully – Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney, advocate for the creative economy,
Chair: Hannah Critchlow – University of Cambridge.
Credits:  Paul Barclay, Presenter  Karin Zsivanovits, Producer

Travel is bad for the climate — but what if it’s also bad for us?
Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, ABC RN, Broadcast 5 Oct 2023

“The single most important fact about tourism is this: we already know what we will be like when we return. A vacation is not like immigrating to a foreign country, or matriculating at a university, or starting a new job, or falling in love. We embark on those pursuits with the trepidation of one who enters a tunnel not knowing who she will be when she walks out. The traveller departs confident that she will come back with the same basic interests, political beliefs, and living arrangements. Travel is a boomerang. It drops you right where you started.”

Which leads us back to the earlier question: is it worth the cost?

Agnes Callard is Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Chicago. In June this year, she published an essay in The New Yorker magazine called “The Case Against Travel”.
Credits:  Sinead Lee, Producer.

Governments blind as multiple catastrophes besiege human civilisation
Julian Cribb, Pearls and Irritations, 27 Oct 2023

Life on Earth is under siege. A chain of tipping points with catastrophic consequences for everyone are being unleashed. Yet governments worldwide remain indifferent to the danger. Indeed, many continue avidly to stoke the very furnaces that will consume our civilisation.

We must assess ‘cumulative impacts’ to protect nature from death by a thousand cuts
Rebecca Louise Nelson and Martine Maron (THE CONVERSATION, 30.10.23)

Australia’s national environment protection law ignores the big picture. Like a racehorse wearing blinkers, decision-makers focus on a single project in isolation. If they dropped the blinkers and considered the combined effects of multiple projects, they might shy away from allowing so many harmful impacts.
Urgent reform is needed because nature is suffering death by a thousand cuts. We have more than 2,000 threatened species and ecological communities – groups of plants and animals that live together and interact, such as Western Australia’s iconic Banksia woodlands. That number is likely to grow, as hundreds more await assessment for listing.
Today, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which includes one of the authors of this article, is releasing a report outlining the practical steps needed to fix the law.

Rebecca Louise Nelson, is  Associate Professor in Law, University of Melbourne and Martine Maron, is Professor of Environmental Management, University of Queensland

Moral Money – ESG investing
Why nature’s future underpins the future of business
Managing biodiversity can be even more complex than reducing carbon emissions. But the costs of inaction are becoming clear
Sarah Murray, Financial Times, 1 December 2023

The global economy’s dependence on nature is becoming clearer. According to the US Department of Agriculture, pollinators underpin one in every three bites of food eaten on the planet, while the World Economic Forum has estimated that, through everything from water retention to carbon sequestration, $44tn of economic value (more than half global gross domestic product) is “moderately” or “highly” dependent on nature.


Paula DiPerna on Pricing the Priceless and the Rise of Carbon Markets
New York Stock Exchange, Aug 21, 2023  Inside the ICE House Podcast | NYS E TV – Episode 374:

Paula DiPerna, strategic environmental advisor and former president of the Chicago Climate Exchange, joins us to discuss her latest book, “Pricing the Priceless: The Financial Transformation to Value the Planet, Solve the Climate Crisis, and Protect our Most Precious Assets.” From working with Jacques Cousteau meeting Pope Francis to creating the world’s first cap-and-trade system, DiPerna walks us through her career journey and shares her 360 degree view on environmentalism as a funder, supplicant, creator, and author. Her book posits the question, “How can our markets value things that are dispensable at billions of dollars, and the atmosphere at 0?” and our conversation with Paula addresses the answer.


Rucking is an easy way to fitness
By Melanie Radzicki McManus, (CNN, September 16, 2023)

If you enjoy walking for exercise, there’s a simple way to maximize your efforts — change your walk into a ruck. Rucking is walking with weight on your back, and it’s an increasingly popular form of exercise.

One of the reasons rucking is growing in popularity may be due to the fact that it’s an easy, low-impact, all-body exercise that boosts cardiovascular and muscular health.

Habitat Stepping Stones
Our local wildlife are doing it tough!

Create an area that can be a habitat stepping stone to help them out!

It’s easy! Just add a few habitat elements to your backyard, balcony or work space to create a valuable stepping stone between existing wildlife corridors.  How to be part of this wonderful program and receive a Stepping Stone plaque to hang on show you care.  …. GET THE LOW DOWN HERE

Not only green corridors, we need stepping stones as well

An Overgrown carpark and former rubbish tip in Sydney’s Inner West [is set] to become an urban wildlife refuge,
Rosemary Bolger  (ABC Radio Sydney, 31 Jan 2023)

Dieter Hochuli from the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said there was an “urgent need” for more inner-city green spaces.

He said the project could become a “proof of concept” for similar used areas in Australian cities. Professor Hochuli said conservationists had generally focused on securing large intact sites and had overlooked small, isolated areas.

“There are pockets all around cities all around Australia that we have probably in the past said, ‘That’s too small and there’s no point in that,'” he told ABC Radio Sydney.

“But things that are relatively small can actually be really valuable for conservation.”

Providing scattered patches of native bush in the city could make a difference in wildlife successfully colonising an area, Professor Hochuli said.  Birds like wrens, he said, were able to make 1-kilometre hops, rather than needing to fly 3km between stops.

“The idea of setting up stepping stones with green space is a really important thing,” Professor Hochuli said.

Behaviour change needed to tackle climate emergency

Slow solutions to fast-moving ecological crises won’t work – changing basic human behaviours must come first, by Mike Joy, Senior Researcher; Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington;  Phoebe Barnard,   Affiliate Full Professor, University of Washington (THE CONVERATION, 18.10. 2023)

As the world grapples with multiple ecological crises, it’s clear the various responses over the past half century have largely failed. Our new research argues the priority now should be addressing the real driver of these crises – our own maladaptive behaviours.

Incorporating nature into education can build skills and improve mental health
James T Jones, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo and Steffanie Scott, Professor of Geography & Environmental Management, University of Waterloo (THE CONVERSATION, October 22, 2023)

Could carving a wooden spoon by a lake be the answer to the mental health crisis in Canadian universities and also global sustainability? Clearly, no.

However, research has shown that shifts in our attention using Nature-based crafts and skills may just be the key to addressing the developing crises of mental health on campus as our world struggles with sustainability.

Nature-based education can help
At the University of Waterloo we are running a series of workshops for staff and students as part of our new initiative called Land Skills for Wellness and Sustainability.

The world faces 6 tipping points
Imma Perfetto (COSMOS magazine, October 25, 2023)

A new United Nations University report warns that the world is on course to cross 6 tipping points, beyond which our global systems will fundamentally change.
The Interconnected Disaster Risks Report 2023 by the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) has identified the 6 risk tipping points:

  • Accelerating extinctions
  • Groundwater depletion
  • Mountain glaciers melting
  • Space debris
  • Unbearable heat
  • Uninsurable future

Canberra set to become the first place in Australia to legislate the right to a healthy environment
By Tahlia Roy (ABC News, Canberra, 26 Oct 2023)

The Human Rights (Healthy Environment) Amendment Bill 2023 seeks to address the impacts of climate change and shore up the environment for future generations, according to the government.

It said a healthy environment included “clean air, a safe climate, access to safe water and to healthy and sustainably produced food …. [with] healthy biodiversity and ecosystems”.

The government said the law would require ACT authorities to consider the environment when making decisions or carrying out functions.

In praise of the planned garden city
Colin Bisset’s Iconic Designs — Ebenezer Howard
(Blueprint for Living, ABC RN, 4 Nov 2023) – Listen at this link.

THE IDEA OF PLANNED CITIES is as old as cities themselves and there are many significant moments in their evolution. Like the moment when Ebenezer Howard came up with the concept of the garden city. Howard wasn’t an architect or even trained as an urban planner but his interest in social reform was deep and considered. In 1898 he published a slim volume titled ‘Tomorrow: A peaceful road to real reform’ which was revised in 1902 and called ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow.’ Its impact was enormous, coming at a time when many felt the uncontrolled sprawl of industrial cities was not just ugly but socially catastrophic.

Resident horticulturist pleads with homeowners to avoid common landscaping trends.
by Leo Collis (The Cool Down, November 8, 2023)

A horticultural academic and resident of California’s Coachella Valley has called on locals to rethink their decisions regarding lawn replacements.

Janet Hartin, who has lived in the Valley for 32 years and works for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, wrote a guest column for The Desert Sun newspaper in which she detailed why synthetic lawns — as well as black mulch and asphalt — do not help areas that already deal with extreme heat conditions.

“Please rethink the use of asphalt, black (dyed) mulch, and synthetic lawns in our desert communities,” she wrote.

These surfaces contribute to the heat island effect in desert communities, absorbing heat and releasing it into the surrounding area. Plants and green spaces, however, trap that heat, leading to lower temperatures.

“An abundance of living plants interspersed with light-colored organic and inorganic mulches that reduce soil evaporation between plants are better choices,” Hartin noted.

Is modern culture making us sick?
Life Matters, ABC RN, Broadcast Tuesday 7 Nov 2023 – Listen here

Dr Gabor Maté is a bestselling author and world-renowned physician specialising in addiction.

In his new book, Maté lays out what he believes it is about today’s ‘toxic culture’ that is ‘hacking’ our minds towards addiction, leading to an extraordinary rise in mental health and chronic health conditions.  Which leads to the question: what can be done?

Dr Gabor Maté is a physician and bestselling author whose latest book (co-written with his son Daniel Maté) is The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture.     Available for loan from Lake Mac Libraries.

One Huge Contradiction Is Undoing Our Best Climate Efforts – Increasing consumption
The math isn’t adding up.
By Zoë Schlanger (The Atlantic, November 10, 2023)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the fight against climate change is finally going well. The clean-energy revolution is well under way and exceeding expectations. Solar is set to become the cheapest form of energy in most places by 2030, and the remarkable efficiency of heat pumps is driving their own uptake now. Sales of electric vehicles could surpass those of gas-burning cars in the next six years. The world’s biggest powers are putting huge sums toward infrastructure to usher in some form of energy transformation. Pledges are being made; legislation is being passed. The world, it seems, is finally lurching in the right direction.

But none of that is enough, practically speaking, because of one enormous hitch; the world is still using more energy each year; our consumption ticking ever upward swallowing any gains made by renewable energy.

140 year old tech to bring unlimited clean energy to island nations
by Amal Jos Chacko (Interesting Engineering, Nov 10, 2023)

A UK-based startup, Global OTEC, is throwing its hat in the ring to revolutionize energy for tropical island nations with a century-old technology, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).

The company presented advanced concepts for Dominique, its next-generation platform capable of generating 1.5MW, at the International Vienna Energy and Climate Forum (IVECF) in Austria last week.

Conceived in 1881 by French physicist Jacques Arsene d’Arsonval, OTEC harnesses heat from surface water, heats fluids with a low-boiling point, and uses the ensuing steam to drive turbines and thus generate electricity.

Unlike many other forms of renewable energy, OTEC is capable of running 24/7 and generating electricity at a consistent rate.

Massive Swedish tidal kite, 1.2MW Dragon 12 tests ready for operation
by Jijo Malayil, November 10, 2023

The global movement of the seas through tidal streams and ocean currents generates a rich supply of energy that may be transformed into a dependable and local renewable energy source.

Aiming to further this mission, Swedish firm Minesto has now completed onshore testing on its 1.2 MW Dragon 12 tidal energy kite system. The system will be directly transferred to the Faroe Islands in Denmark for installation and commissioning.

Minesto was established in 2007 as a spin-off from the Swedish aerospace company Saab.

Return to the simple life with Mother the Mountain
ABC Listen, Broadcast Thu 9 Nov 2023

Cottagecore is an aesthetic that celebrates simple living … an escapist movement that developed a following during the pandemic.

Anastasia Vanderbyl and her sister Julia have tapped into this movement living on a rural property in Northern NSW – documenting their life on the farm with a book: Mother the Mountain.

 Guest: Anastasia Vanderbyl.

EU criminalises environmental damage ‘comparable to ecocide’
The directive punishes most serious cases of environmental damage, including habitat loss and illegal logging
Isabella Kaminski, The Guardian, Fri 17 Nov 2023

The European Union has become the first international body to criminalise wide-scale environmental damage “comparable to ecocide”.

Marie Toussaint, a French lawyer and MEP heading EU efforts to criminalise ecocide, said the decision “marks the end of impunity for environmental criminals” and could usher in a new age of environmental litigation in Europe.

Young Australians overwhelmingly want a legal right to a healthy environment

New research has found that young Australians overwhelmingly want the right to a healthy environment enshrined in law to keep pace with standards being set overseas.

The study from the Australian Conservation Foundation has found nine out of 10 people aged 13 to 24 want Australia to follow the more than 160 countries worldwide which have legislated the right.

5 things we need to see in Australia’s new nature laws
by Euan Ritchie, Jack Pascoe, Kirsty Howey, Terry Hughes and Yung En Chee (The Conversation, November 17, 2023 )

Australia’s abysmal rates of extinctions and land clearing since European colonisation are infamous globally. Our national environmental legislation has largely failed to protect biodiversity, including many threatened plants, animals and ecological communities.
1. A climate trigger
2. Habitat means homes for wildlife
3. Setting clear objectives and measuring outcomes
4. An independent umpire
5. A Voice for Country and culture

Never fly again? Go vegan? It was too hard. But I still cut my emissions by 61% and it made life simpler and better
by Jo Clay (The Guardian, November 4, 2023)
When I had a baby, those future generations I’d worried about had a face. It transformed me

Environmental hope is hard but my carbon diet brought plenty. Australia’s climate wars over the last 30 years suggest we must either live in a cave or stick to our current course. That’s simply not true. Deep cuts are possible with the right information. Change has made my life better, simpler and cheaper.

Recycling won’t solve the plastic problem. Here’s what will.
by Sarah J. Morath, (THE HILL, 11/21/23)

There is no shortage of news about plastic’s ubiquity or its harms. Microplastics are in clouds, drinking water, playgrounds and our blood. Marine mammals are entangled in and ingest plastic at alarming rates. Plastic exacerbates climate change and biodiversity loss, and high-income countries increasingly consume and export used plastic to lower-income countries for disposal. The amount of plastic entering the marine environment is on track to double by 2024, and solutions, like plastic recycling and voluntary reduction efforts by businesses, have fallen short. These realities necessitate coordinated global action.

Climate complacency: study finds even the most informed people would rather take the easy option
Alice Brock, PhD Candidate in Environmental Science, University of Southampton, and Ian Williams, Professor of Applied Environmental Science, University of Southampton, THE CONVERSATION, November 18, 2023

It is often argued that all we need to do is raise awareness of a “global emergency” and rising eco-anxiety means individuals will “do the right thing”. Our new study indicates this just is not the case.

Health and Wellbeing
The nature cure: how time outdoors transforms our memory, imagination and logic
Sam Pyrah, The Guardian, Mon 27 Nov 2023

Without engaging with natural environments, our brains cease to work well. As the new field of environmental neuroscience proves, exposure to nature isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.

What drives people to panic buy during times of crisis: A new study sheds light on the psychology of consumers
by Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee, Professor and Associate Dean of Engagement & Inclusion, Ted Rogers School of Management, Toronto Metropolitan University, and     Omar H. Fares, Lecturer in the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management, Toronto Metropolitan University, THE CONVERSATION, November 8, 2023

Fear can cause people to behave irrationally in times of uncertainty. During the pandemic, this took the form of panic buying as people flocked to stores to stock up on essential goods. Some even sought to profit off of shortages by price gouging toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Motor emissions could have fallen by over 30% without SUV trend, report says
Helena Horton, Environment reporter, The Guardian, Fri 24 Nov 2023

Emissions from the motor sector could have fallen by more than 30% between 2010 and 2022 if vehicles had stayed the same size, a report has found.

Instead, the size of the average car ballooned as the trend for SUVs took off, meaning the global annual rate of energy intensity reductions – the fall in fuel used – of light-duty vehicles (LDV) averaged 4.2% between 2020 and 2022.

A report by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) showed SUVs now represented a majority of the new car market (51%), and the average LDV weight had reached an all-time high of more than 1.5 tonnes.

Cars are also getting bigger, with the average footprint of a new model reaching 4.2 sq metres. Automotive companies market SUVs intensively as they provide the most profit: they are sold at premium prices but have a proportionally lower manufacturing cost.

Change by degrees
Change by Degrees offers life hacks and sustainable living tips each Saturday to help reduce our household’s carbon footprint
Greener washing: how to reduce the carbon and climate impact of your laundry
Maddie Thomas, The Guardian, Sat 2 Dec 2023

Some garments can be washed less frequently for fewer laundry cycles and less detergent, while using cold water saves energy and does virtually the same job as hot

Going a week without washing your underwear isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, there are other, more palatable compromises you can make to ensure your washing routine is more environmentally friendly.

COP28: ‘The Earth does not belong to us’ – King Charles III
BBC News, Friday, 1 December 2023

King Charles III has said humans are carrying out a “vast, frightening experiment” on the planet, taking the natural world “outside balanced norms and limits”.

Speaking at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, the monarch said unless we restore this balance, “our survivability will be imperilled”. The King campaigned about protecting the environment many years before it was a highly talked about issue, a personal passion that has lasted decades.

From MMM Dec 23 – Jan 24