Greenpeace Australia Pacific BLOG

Clean air doesn’t come to those who wait

Posted on January 23, 2015 at 13:32 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific

“One thing that fascinated and shocked me the most was the fact that even on smoggy days, people still lived their lives as usual,” said Chinese film director Jia Zhangke last week as the air outside in Beijing was a thick, soupy grey.

“When the Air Quality Index hit 200 or 300, and the air turned opaque or grey, I still saw people dancing their square dances, young people still hanging out. Everyone was doing what they would normally be doing.”

The renowned film director is known for his gritty portrayals of contemporary Chinese society, and his latest short film commissioned by Greenpeace East Asia, is no exception. Shot in Beijing and Hebei, the industrial, coal rich province that surrounds the Chinese capital, Smog Journeys is a moving story of what happens when children see more days of smog filled days, then clear blue skies.

The impact of air pollution

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The film follows the lives of two families: a working class family from the coal mining province of Hebei, and another from a middle class family in Beijing.

But the story is the same all over China. In fresh data we released yesterday, over 90% of the of cities reporting pollution data last year are exceeding China’s own limits for average levels of particulates (the dangerous kind known as PM2.5) in the air.

No matter their social class, everyone breathes the same air. Air pollution is the great equalizer – and not even the wealthy elite in Beijing – with their indoor air filters and masks – can totally escape an Airpocalypse.

According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), cities in China’s Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region suffer over 100 haze days every year, with PM2.5 concentration two to four times above the World Health Organization guidelines. In 2010 in Beijing alone, PM2.5 pollution could be attributed to 2,349 deaths.

Local women dance together with their backs to the Handan Stadium facing the Wen'an steel plants. These women come here every day at the same time. Wu'an is home to dozens of steel mills, power stations, and coking plants. Whatever the wind direction, the pollution is always choking. Air pollution has become one of the most severe environmental problems in mainland China. 12/03/2014 © Lu Guang / Greenpeace

“Clean air doesn’t come to those who wait”

“I wanted to make a film that enlightens people, not frightens them,” said Jia. “The issue of smog is something that all the citizens of the country need to face, understand, and solve in the upcoming few years.”

China’s top leaders have already issued a “war against pollution” and a national plan to improve air quality in the country in late 2013.

In the short-term, Greenpeace calls for stronger enforcement of national and local action plans including shutting down the dirtiest industries, reducing local coal use, encouraging solar and wind power uptake, as well as better policy to protect vulnerable populations during heavy pollution days.

Watch Smog Journeys and share it widely. Support our work to bring back blue skies.

Zhang Kai lives in Beijing and is a campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia.

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Tropical deforestation is bad news – the science keeps telling us

Posted on January 14, 2015 at 14:42 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific


Deforestation is very bad news for the environment and for the climate. It is bad news for biodiversity and releases greenhouses gases into the atmosphere – we know that.

But the science is increasingly certain that deforestation is bad for agriculture too. It causes  increases in temperatures as well as changes in rainfall patterns which generally create a drier climate.

This month, a major review of the impacts of tropical deforestation on agriculture makes clear the link between tropical deforestation, changes in temperature, rainfall patterns and subsequent risks to food production.

Forests are a vital part of the water cycle. They move water from the soil into the atmosphere through evaporation (technically ‘evapotranspiration’). Tropical forests move more water than any other land ecosystem. This moisture eventually falls as rain, either locally or elsewhere. The evapotranspiration also results in a cooling effect, in much the same way as perspiration cools us. In general, the effects of deforestation are drier and warmer conditions.

Agriculture can be disrupted by temperature extremes. For example some crop plants cannot withstand very high temperatures. Delayed rainy seasons, too little or too much rainfall, infrequent and intense rainfall all have an effect as well.

One example in the review models deforestation in the Amazon outside protected areas. It predicts a 25% drop in soy yields through half of the total area and consequently grazing cattle would no longer be viable in some areas.

Importantly, tropical deforestation also risks affecting food production thousands of miles away from where it actually takes place. In 2013, Greenpeace published An Impending Storm, a report that summarises emerging science demonstrating that forests (and hence deforestation) influence global weather patterns.

This month’s review lends further compelling support to our work including the example we used that deforestation in the Amazon or Central Africa was directly causing reduced rainfall in the US Midwest during the growing season. Complete deforestation of the African Congo basin is also predicted to intensify the West African monsoon, whilst increasing temperatures of between 2-4 ?C and reducing rainfall by up to 50% in the entire region.

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The new study also describes how more realistic modelling of partial deforestation has impacts as well. Deforestation can become critical when a “tipping point” is reached where there is not enough rainfall to sustain a forest, such that it is replaced by savannah or grassland. For the Amazon, and possibly also Central Africa, the authors suggest that a tipping point could be reached at levels of deforestation between 30-50%.

This point may well be lower in some coastal forests that are important in driving moisture from the ocean inlandThe review concludes that tropical deforestation increases uncertainty and risks for food production due to changes in temperature and rainfall, both near and far from where forests are cleared.

Therefore, it is easy to conclude that avoiding large-scale deforestation in the tropics would be beneficial at both local and global scales.

The scientific evidence that we all depend on forests, no matter where we live in the world, is becoming very strong. This emphasises how important it is to prevent forest destruction, and even restore some of our lost forests. This will ensure that forests continue to regulate our weather and climate, maintaining our capacity to produce food while conserving biodiversity.

Dr Janet Cotter works in Greenpeace International’s Science Unit.

7 Resolutions for Ocean Lovers

Posted on January 13, 2015 at 09:29 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific

One week in to 2015, and even though some New Year’s resolutions will already have fallen by the wayside, we all need to urgently think about one more resolution:

The resolution to protect the oceans and all its beautiful whales, turtles, tunas and sharks.

I don’t need to tell you that the oceans are under threat. Overfishing, pollution and climate change are taking their toll on all ocean creatures. So let’s resolve to save them.

We’ve come up with our favourite resolutions for #OceanLovers like us.

Which is your favourite? Let us know in a comment or tweet. And feel free to suggest your own (on Twitter or Instagram, use the hashtag #OceanLovers and we’ll retweet it).

And guess what? We’re going to share your responses with UN delegates at a critical meeting this January. Read more and find out why:

7. My #OceanLovers Resolution: Save Mexico’s #Vaquita porpoise. There are only 97 left!

With only 97 left, the smallest porpoise in the world is also the most endangered! These little guys live in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and need our protection from destructive fishing. Join 325,000 other #OceanLovers and ask the Mexican government to save the vaquita. 

6. My #OceanLovers Resolution: Avoid overfished or destructively caught seafood. 

A lot of seafood comes from stocks that are being overfished or are caught using destructive fishing methods. But it’s easy to avoid these species and and ask your supermarket to sell tuna brands that source sustainably (“Pole and Line” or “Hand-Caught”).

Click here to check out Greenpeace’s list of seafood to avoid.

5. My #OceanLovers Resolution: Help stop #monsterboats from vacuuming up the oceans.

Hundreds of thousands of local, low-impact fishers are being forced out of work by vessels like monster boats — industrialized fishing vessels that deplete and destroy. It’s not fair to these fishers, the oceans, or to you. Take action to stop monster boats.

4. My #OceanLovers Resolution: Fight carbon pollution from warming & acidifying the ocean. 

The carbon emissions warming the planet are also warming the oceans and causing the seas to  acidify. Both processes are making the seas less hospitable for ocean critters and ecosystems.  Whether it is minding our energy use, or challenging fossil fuel corporations, it is up to us to fight climate change.

3. My #OceanLovers Resolution: Ensure less plastic ends up in the sea, hurting sea creatures.

We use so much plastic that it often ends up in the sea being swallowed by fish, turtles and birds. Let’s pledge to use less and try to reuse and recycle as much as we can. We can also join local beach clean-up drives to collect rubbish before it ends up in the oceans.

2. My #OceanLovers Resolution: Share my love for the seas by sending out an #OceanKiss! 

Whether it’s swimming, surfing, diving, learning more about the oceans, or educating our friends, let’s enjoy the oceans with others and help build the growing movement of #OceanLovers. You can even start by sharing an #OceanKiss to show your ocean love on Twitter or Instagram. Suck in those cheeks and pucker up for a photo. Then post it with the hashtags #OceanLovers and #OceanKiss!

1.  My #OceanLovers Resolution: Demand Ocean Sanctuaries so marine life can flourish.

This might be the most important resolution to adopt right now. This year, the United Nations could start negotiating for a new agreement to create ocean sanctuaries, refuges across the world where ocean creatures can flourish.

But for that to happen, a majority of countries need to show their support at a meeting this January 20th to 23rd in New York. It is a crucial moment for all of us Ocean Lovers to show how much we care about the oceans and make our governments show they care too!. With your help, we can make this THE year for the oceans. Sign our petition and tell world leaders right now that you want an ocean sanctuaries agreement.

Greenpeace will be present at the meeting. Our campaigners will collect all the #OceanLovers resolutions, from here in the comments and on social media, and personally show them to the delegates!

That’s right, your resolutions help the oceans in two ways: you do your own part for the oceans, and each  #OceanLover pledge you take sends a clear message to UN delegates: #OceanLovers worldwide want you to make a resolution too. We want ocean protection.

Veronica Frank is a Oceans Campainger for Greenpeace International.

What was 2014’s greenest country?

Posted on December 28, 2014 at 15:44 by Julie Nicolini

Today, thinking about sustainable living is one of the only ways to picture a future for all of us on Earth.

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On a small scale, individuals can try to limit their carbon footprints by recycling, using renewable power and buying and consuming local and organic products. But what about the bigger picture – the habits of the neighbourhoods, the communities, the countries we live in?

To help answer that question, the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy (YCELP) and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University partnered with the World Economic Forum to come up with the Environmental Performance Index. Released every two years, the EPI is a list of ranked countries in the world according to their performance on priority environmental issues.

How does it work?

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The Environmental Performance Index ranks countries on criteria evaluating environmental health and ecosystem vitality – like air quality, fisheries management, and protection of critical habitats. You can find out more about the ranking method here.

So where does Australia stand?

10. Norway – 78.04/100

9. Sweden 78.09/100

8. Austria – 78.32/100

7. Spain – 79.9/100

6. Germany – 80.47/100

Czeh Republic

5.  Czech Republic – 81.47/100

From 18th in 2012 to 5th position this year, the performance of the Czech Republic breaks down perceived barriers to sustainable living. The Czech Republic’s main developments have been in agriculture thanks to pesticide regulations, as well as an improvement in air quality.

Singapore

4. Singapore – 81.78/100

Singapore has also seen great progress in the last decade, moving up from 28th in 2010. With stricter pesticide regulations and improved access to sanitation for residents, Singapore has set itself up to be the Switzerland of Asia.

Australia

3. Australia – 82.4/100

Australia too has seen great improvement in the last ten years – ranking well in 2014 due to an increase in protected areas and reduced child mortality. But while we rank highly on health and biodiversity indicators, Australia’s agricultural subsidies bring our agriculture ranking to among the lowest.

Luxembourg

2. Luxembourg – 83.29/100

In contrast, Luxembourg has made progress on agricultural subsidies and brought their total rank up two places since 2012. Luxembourg achieved an incredible decrease in air pollution, likely thanks to the modernisation of transport, the development of cycling paths and the increasing acquisition of hybrid cars.

And the winner is…

switzerland

1. Switzerland – 87.67/100

The country of delicious Emmental cheese and incredible tasty chocolate has been number one since 2012 and looks to have no intention of shifting. With scores of 100 in the health, water sanitation and biodiversity categories, Switzerland is at the top of the class.

While the top ten countries right now are almost exclusively European, Singapore and Australia are proof that massive improvements can be made in a matter of years. Who knows what the ranking will look like in two years!

Two million meals wasted in one fishing trip

Posted on December 23, 2014 at 11:37 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific

A dirty business is going on in the English Channel. Each December, in its last mammoth fishing trip of the year, a huge fleet of trawlers heads to the narrow strait to hunt down the spawning herring.

Over the past few days I have been there with a small team of Greenpeace researchers to bear witness to a fishery whose wasteful practices so obviously belong to the past. In following the trawlers we’ve been competing with thousands of seabirds to collect samples of the leftovers that float in the wake of these monster boats.

Fishing Activities in the English Channel. 12/14/2014 © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

It is almost beyond imagination that each one of the more than 15 giant vessels we have observed are able to catch thousands of tonnes of herring in just one fishing trip. Moreover, they throw away tonnes and tonnes of fish, so-called ‘bycatch’. Allegedly, a lot of this fish is perfectly edible.

Considerable scientific effort is going into measuring the bycatch thrown back into the sea here, between the shores of England and France. It has mainly been Dutch observers on board Channel fishery vessels who have collected the data, and it is shocking to flick through their findings. In addition to fish species like mackerel, basking sharks, grey seals and pilot whales can also be scooped up in the supertrawlers’ nets.

Official observers have documented up to 600 tonnes of fish being discarded in a single fishing trip by one single vessel, equivalent to around two million fish-based meals. The very scale of this discard makes it almost impossible to imagine the level of waste in this fishery.

Under new laws from 1 January 2015, European pelagic fishing vessels will have to land everything they catch. It is a major change to the fishing regime, but also an extremely challenging one. How will authorities enforce this progressive and positive piece of legislation? Right now, the truth is that they probably won’t be able to if they do not get out from behind their desks.

Each year, a number of monster boats embark on fishing trips hundreds of nautical miles offshore, to the east of Ireland, in the northern North Sea, to west Africa or the South Pacific – fishing grounds far from the watchful eye of any observer. EU Member States will only be able to monitor and control the fishing effort if they ensure that observers are permanently stationed on board, together with complete CCTV coverage.

At the same time, there’s a need for governments to increase support for low-impact fishing fleets operating along European coasts. Low-impact fishing belongs to both the past and the future. It is the only approach that can restore a healthy balance in our seas while providing a living for millions of people all over the planet.

At present, a small number of vessels not only discard large amounts of fish, they also catch more than their fair share. Governments must cut the capacity of the fishing fleet and these destructive monster boats should be the first vessels to go. Otherwise they will spell an end to the annual catch of herring spawning in the English Channel.

All of us who believe in low-impact fishing can send a clear sign to this selfish industry.

Support low-impact fishing by demanding the Australian government ban super trawlers in our waters.

Campaigner Thilo Maack in the English Channel. 12/08/2014 © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace Thilo Maack is a marine biologist with Greenpeace Germany.

6 steps to a green holiday season

Posted on December 19, 2014 at 11:44 by Hannah Parris

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

Hooray, holiday season is almost upon us. I don’t know about you but my aim at this time of year is to  spend as much time relaxing with friends and family as possible and to eat way, way too much. Gym membership will start in January, I promise.

This year, I am adding another goal: to make my holiday season season one where I can continue to do my bit for our planet. Here’s what I’m trying:

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7 inspiring stories of communities taking action for climate

Posted on December 16, 2014 at 10:15 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Inspiring stories of communities taking action for the climate and refusing to accept the plans of polluting fossil fuel companies are happening more and more. Here are just a few inspiring climate acts of courage taken by doctors, villagers, students, farmers, and 92-year old veterans – people just like you. 1. Canoes vs. coal The Continue reading →