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Environment + Energy — Analysis and Comment

Bernie Fraser of the Climate Change Authority, environment minister Greg Hunt, and Clive Palmer announce a deal on a plan to cut Australia’s emissions this decade. What happens after that isn’t so clear. AAPImage/Alan Porritt

Direct Action’s here, but how will Australia cut carbon after 2020?

With the passage of the Emissions Reduction Fund through the Senate last night, the federal government has taken a step towards achieving Australia’s minimum target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to…
Gas guzzled: OPEC’s 1973 oil embargo threw America into crisis and underlined the political power of energy. David Falconer/Wikimedia Commons

Four decades later, has America finally got over the oil crisis?

The Australian Financial Review recently trumpeted America’s “re-emergence as a world oil power”. It is an accomplishment four decades in the making and its success is still under debate. Energy security…
Where the rainforest meets the plantation: there are probably a lot more insects. Ryan Woo for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Palm oil plantations are bad for wildlife great and small: study

Palm oil plantations have an overall negative impact on biodiversity, according to research released this week. The study, published in Nature Communications, found palm oil plantations are home to fewer…
How do you know if your fish supper is sustainable? Mw12310/Wikimedia Commons

Like eating fish? It’s time to start caring where it comes from

Australians love seafood. Whether it’s fish and chips by the seaside or prawns on the barbie at Christmas, it’s integral to many of our traditions and social gatherings. Yet very little of the seafood…
Five years on, the bush and people are recovering well from the Black Saturday fires. AAP Image/Joe Castro

Five years on from Black Saturday, most survivors are doing OK

Five years on from the devastating Black Saturday fires that swept through central Victoria in February 2009, research shows that people and communities are largely recovering well. In the first major…
The Earth is finite - so are there limits to growth? NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

Why uncontrolled climate change may be an ultimate limit to growth

“But who do you think’s right, Prof? The optimists or the pessimists?” At the end of my sustainability economics course in 2007, students were challenging me to end 20 years of professional fence-sitting…
Season of contrasts: while Melburnians were deluged this week, Sydneysiders spent last weekend sunbathing. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

Stormy or sweltering, Australia’s spring arrives with a vengeance

Spring in southern and eastern Australia is a bit like an annual game of weather tug-of-war, with summer and winter pulling at each end of the rope. While Melbourne has been lashed by stormy weather this…
Would cold hard cash help get Australians out of their cars and onto their bikes? AAP Image/Alan Porritt

We subsidise road and rail commuters – why not bikes too?

Australian governments heavily subsidise car, bus and train commuting, but not cycling. Yet a new survey shows many workers would consider riding to work if they got paid for it, and most would even support…
Australia won’t be building anything as big as the Gordon Dam any time soon. JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons

Dam hard: water storage is a historic headache for Australia

The agricultural green paper released last week proposes 27 new water and irrigation projects, which the government claims will be necessary for Australia’s agricultural expansion. The emphasis is firmly…
It should be possible to enjoy your holiday and give the planet a break. lazyllama/Shutterstock

Can you be a sustainable tourist without giving up flying?

Australians love to travel. About 9 million Australians travelled overseas last year, 60% of them on holiday. For most tourists, sustainable development and climate change were probably not high on their…
Apollo Bay in Victoria. Australia’s coastal towns are vulnerable to changes in the surrounding seas. ccdoh1/Flickr

Your coastal town’s climate score? There’s a website for that

Australia’s coastal towns, many built around fisheries and tourism, are particularly vulnerable to climate change. South east and south west Australia are marine hotspots — they are warming much faster…
The government knows that solar panel subsidies are very popular with voters. zstock/Shutterstock

The pitfalls of using renewable energy as a political football

Federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane has finally revealed his opening gambit on negotiations on the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). He and environment minister Greg Hunt have pledged to…
Australia’s reputation for strict farming standards helped its beef industry weather the BSE crisis. Malcolm Paterson/CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons

Australia shouldn’t sacrifice food safety standards for free trade

Ten years on from the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, Australia is entering another round of negotiations towards the new and controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. In this Free Trade Scorecard series…
When it gets hot in the city, where’s the best place to go? Alpha/Flickr

Smart urban design could save lives in future heatwaves

Heatwaves — Australia’s biggest natural killers — are getting more frequent and hotter thanks to climate change. One day cities such as Melbourne may see unprecedented heat, perhaps 48C or higher. But…
A green trade deal would encourage the development of renewable energy in big carbon emitters such as China. Kaj17/Flickr

Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens a green trade deal

Ten years on from the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, Australia is entering another round of negotiations towards the new and controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. In this Free Trade Scorecard series…
Starting earlier, lasting longer: the challenge of managing the New South Wales bushfire season is getting harder. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Bushfire season in New South Wales grows longer and stronger

In New South Wales in 2013, bushfires in January and October collectively burned 768,000 hectares of bushland and destroyed 279 homes. Tragically, two people lost their lives and the damage was estimated…
The Ord River dam, completed in 1971, formed Australia’s largest artificial lake in the far north west. Graeme Churchard/Flickr

Dams are not the smart way to secure water for agriculture

Some 27 irrigation and dam projects are highlighted in the green paper for agricultural competitiveness released this week by agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce. Six of the projects – five in Tasmania…
Shipping gas overseas can be good for Australia - but bad for Australian gas bills. Ken Hodge

Pain and gain as gas export boom is set to drive up domestic bills

Queensland’s liquid natural gas boom, built on the back of vast reserves of coal seam gas, will bring huge gains to Australia. Exports of gas are set to quadruple by 2018, creating investment, jobs and…
Portable fusion by 2015? Still the stuff of science fiction, sadly. Ed g2s/Wikimedia Commons

Don’t get too excited, no one has cracked nuclear fusion yet

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s announcement this week that it could make small-scale nuclear fusion power a reality in the next decade has understandably generated excitement in the media. Physicists…