The Unexpected Future of the Renewable Energy Sector

FACT: The top 700 metres of Oceans have warmed by 0.167 degrees Celsius since 1969 (as reported by NASA)

climateChange

Image by ‘Social Journalism’

FACT: Data from NASA‘s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment demonstrate that Greenland has lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometres of ice per year between 2002 and 2006.

FACT: The largest portion (36%) of Australia’s carbon emissions come from the production of electricity  (reported by ‘Carbon Neutral‘)

Despite these facts, in the ‘Fourth Survey of Australian Attitudes to Climate Change’ by the CSIRO participants ranked Climate Change as:

  • the 14th most important concern out of 16 general concerns.
  • 7th out of 8 possible environmental concerns.

Despite these facts demonstrating that climate change is occurring and that production of electricity is the main contributor, the Australian Government once elected in 2013 cut a large chunk of funding to the renewable energy sector ($438 million to be exact).

As stated by our current Prime Minister:

776196-tony-abbott-new-opposition-leader

Image by ‘Perth Now News’

 

“I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.”

~ Tony Abbott, 7:30 Report ABC

 


FACT
: The 2014 renewable power percentage (RPP) is 9.87%

Despite the fact that solar power is readily available and the implementation of wind-farms, our renewable energy power use in Australia is still less than 10%.

What next?
A new solution is desperately needed…

Two European scientists may just have the answer the world needs.

Continue reading

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Using Science to end the Violence

Image sourced from Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima http://apav.pt/apav_v2/index.php/pt/zoo/campanhas

Image sourced from Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima http://apav.pt/apav_v2/index.php/pt/zoo/campanhas

Research has shown that the commitment someone feels towards their partner and relationship can significantly reduce the aggressiveness of their response to ‘provocation’.

Surprising, right? After all, it seems logical to assume people who are more committed (and therefore invested) in their relationship would react more negatively when it’s threatened.

But research conducted by a team of researchers in 2012 shows this isn’t the case. This study told us something totally new that, for many of us, isn’t obvious.

Their work has strong implications for understanding violence in relationships, and ideally over the long term, reducing violence in relationships.

‘Putting the Brakes on Aggression Toward a Romantic Partner: The Inhibitory Influence of Relationship Commitment’ (well worth reading in full), details four studies focusing on whether commitment reduces aggression towards a romantic partner in the face of perceived betrayal. One study presented a hypothetical situation of being out with your significant other, and observing them being approached by an attractive stranger. Where their partner rejected this cheeky interloper, commitment was obviously irrelevant to their reaction. But when their partner was swept up by the stranger’s charms, those who were less committed reacted far more aggressively than those who were deeply committed. Another study had participants given false feedback from their partner on participants’ artwork, which determined whether they received a financial reward. Negative feedback resulted, again, in a more aggressive response from those who were less committed.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tells us one in six Australian women will experience violence from a romantic partner in their lifetime.

Tragically, the statistics we have, as horrifying as they are, tell us only a fraction of the whole picture. The majority of such incidents go unreported, women (and to a greater degree even, men) do not admit to being the victim of assault from their spouse. The ABS tells us that 15% of women report experiencing violence from a previous partner, while 2.1% report experiencing violence from a current partner. 2.1% doesn’t seem like much, until you think about just how unlikely women are to report experiencing violence from a relationship they are still in. The numbers are undeniably higher.

And yet, this research is groundbreaking, with too little investigation into this area. The small amount that is conducted, is not being effectively and widely communicated, nor used to create interventions such as those suggested by this research. While the numbers appealing for help from support organisations grows, funding is cut.

We all need to take a stand. Obviously, just saying that domestic violence is unacceptable is not enough. We need to demand real work towards change. Current interventions, where they exist, are ineffective, and without research into this area we may never find a solution.

A solution that is desperately needed.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please contact the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for support and advice on 1800 RESPECT.

 

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MERS The Next Pandemic?

We survived Swine 09. We struggled through Bird flu in 2012. Now people around the world appear to be bracing themselves for a mysterious new disease known as (MERS) Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. MERS is a virus similar to SARS that that typical flu like symptoms like a cough or fever, but can also have more severe outcomes like respiratory infections or kidney failure.

The question many people are asking is will it (MERS) spread or will it not?

According to science (Breban, Riou and Fontanet, 2013) the risk of this virus becoming a worldwide pandemic are pretty low. They say this because of MERS’ R0 value. Any R0 value greater than 1 (an infected person of average infects 1 other individual while they are contagious) has the potential to turn into an epidemic. Measles which are highly contagious have an R0 value of 11-18. MERS has been shown to have an R0 value of around 0.60-0.69. Dr. Romulus Breban and his team established this value for MERS after testing hundreds of samples of patients obtained through WHO.

So we can all breathe a sigh of relief and walk away now right? Not so fast.

The R0 value of diseases can change. Either through virus mutation or increased exposure to unaffected individuals. MERS has already been observed in areas outside the Middle East such as the UK and France. Although they did not appear to have spread further from there, the fact that these virus made it out of their infection zone is a cause for worry.

Another thing that scientists are looking into is a potential animal host of MERS. It is believed that like bird or swine flu, humans originally contracted MERS from an animal that we have some interaction with. So far we don’t know what that host may be, although goats, camels and bats are suspected. By tracking down which animal the virus comes from it will assist in preventing the virus from spreading further to other human populations. Containment is key here.

In the end I believe that sealing the country off from the rest of the world as some people have suggested is a bit over the top. However I don’t think I’ll be travelling to Saudi Arabia anytime soon either.

One final remark. I consider it a poor naming practice to name a disease after a place. For one thing it is inherently discriminatory against the people in that location. Also MERS as I have mentioned, most likely came from an animal host. When we do find out which animal it came from it will make sense to name it (at least casually) after the animal in question, e.g. like bird or swine flu. That way everyone knows which animal to avoid if they don’t want to become sick. Of course naming systems being what they are I can see why this is probably not going to happen.

For more information click on this link.

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What’s in a name? Why the common wombat could become the not-so-common wombat

One of Australia’s most iconic native animals is now under threat, and only you can fix it. A recent study by Sydney scientists has concluded that the biggest threat to the common wombat is road traffic, and this, in addition to low reproductive rates, will be problematic for the ‘common’ species to maintain its status.

Z-fearlesscraig-wombat

Image by Craig Kirkwood (Source: http://www.ozanimals.com/Mammal/Common-Wombat/Vombatus/ursinus.html )

Continue reading

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Hope for (influenza) plague survival

Don’t lie. Everyone has fantasised about that viral infection that spreads like wildfire and rapidly mutates to the point where it could out evolve both the human immune system and vaccinations. No, unfortunately this post is not on my Zombie Apocalypse plan, but instead the far more dangerous common cold; the influenza virus is a ticking mutating time bomb of potential human destruction.

- Kat Masback Flickr (click for link)

Influenza Virus

Swine flu, bird flu, Spanish flu (which infected 500 million people and and killed about 100 million in 1918), are all different types of influenza virus. Our comparatively friendly neighbourhood influenza – the common cold and flu – can prove to be rather lethal. Usually due to common complications like pneumonia which are now proving harder and harder to treat with the rise of anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Colds and flu affect everyone; our health system takes a huge toll every flu season and the exceptionally nasty, influenzas have proven to be internationally feared; just 5 years ago my little brother was almost quarantined on a stopover in Bangkok thanks to bird-flu and a slightly high temperature.

But never fear – science is here!

A paper published in March this year released an exciting, promising new way of protecting us against current influenzas and potentially more damaging strains to come.

The current success of influenza as a pathogen is down to its ability to rapidly mutate or change – allowing it to go undetected by your immune system, even though you’ve already defeated a cold before. This same ability to change means that, unlike other vaccinations which can last for a decade or even a lifetime, vaccinations against influenza (aka the flu) shot need to be completely re-made each year to combat the ever changing influenza virus.  The current flu shot works as regular vaccinations do, by introducing dead or harmless virus’ into your body for your natural immune system to learn to recognise the virus for if you are later infected, allowing your immune system to fight it off at the slightest trace. Yet with influenza changing so rapidly most of the time the annual flu shots simply can’t keep up. Until now.

The new defence against influenza works very differently to the traditional flu shot; it is a host-targeted medicine to prevent influenza infection in the first place. The treatment masks or shields special receptors in our airways, influenza viruses can only infect their victims (hosts) through these receptors. This also means that the treatment will work for current and future influenza viruses, unlike the current flu shot which becomes out-dated as the virus changes. The new treatment has been 100% effective in mice when administered before a deadly dose of various influenzas, and was partially effective when administered up to a week after infection.

This new approach is incredibly better suited to influenza defence than anything we have so far and could mean (after the many years of safety tests and trials) the end of those pesky colds and potential future plagues. Needless to say, I’m pumped.

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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

The Environment.

Mother Nature.

Our World.

Planet Earth.

We hear a lot of conflicting points of view about how resilient it is to change and what changes we are forcing it to endure.

These are big issues that are hard to answer, so I thought instead to draw your attention to something on a slightly smaller scale.

Pupfish Sex.

Yeah, that caught your attention didn’t it.

Well, when I say sex, I should probably clarify that I’m mainly going to focus on how they pick up, rather than the activity itself. I recently read an article that was about research performed by two scientists from The University of New Mexico.

They were looking at a group of fish living on an Island in the Bahamas – because even fish need a holiday – and investigating how two closely related species of fish avoided interbreeding.

They found that of the two species – one a predator and one a prey species – the predators were very adamant about choosing other predators to mate with, while the prey species were less picky and in most cases would happily mate with either.

So far so good.

The interesting bit is when they looked at the hybrid offspring from interbreeding – some of which were predatory some of which shared the traits of the prey species – and found that the predatory hybrids were stunted, died younger and were less efficient in general as compared to the prey hybrids who lived relatively normally.

The predators had a higher complexity in their genetic make-up that optimised them for their specialised, scale-eating diet. Compare this to the prey species who have a much less restricted diet and don’t need those specialised traits.

Now you’re probably wondering how this relates to that lovely big question about the resilience of the environment – unless you got totally distracted by the Pupfish, which is understandable. It ties in with the point about how nature deals with change.

The prey species, a less complex organism than the predator, endures much better when change occurs – in this case change is personified by interbreeding/hybridisation – whereas the more complex predator cannot survive the effects of change and thus must seek to prevent it by only mating with other predators when they have the option.

If we extrapolate from this we must agree that humans – a very complex organism with lots of specialised traits – should be actively seeking to prevent excess change in our environment rather than exacerbating it.

Just remember, just because you are the biggest fish in the pond, doesn’t mean you own it. After all, cockroaches can survive excessive radiation… we can’t.

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The importance of the gut: how food allergies may contribute to autism

Let’s talk about bowels. They’re not the most glamorous of topics, and when they come up in conversation most of us wrinkle our noses in disgust. But it can’t be denied that they do much of our dirty work for us – and in fact research is beginning to show that our guts may have a much larger impact on our lives than previously believed.

Not so pretty on the inside...

Source: http://tinyurl.com/nz2nhgv

A number of studies have demonstrated a strong link between the chemical and bacterial composition of the gut, and changes in brain function, including the development of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is a complex disorder, primarily characterised by a strong lack social and communication ability, along with restrictive behaviour. Diagnosis can mean a difficult life for a parent or carer, who will often look after their child well into adulthood. Although it is widely studied by scientists, there are as yet no methods of prevention, nor are there any widely accepted causes.

Slowly gaining credibility, however, is the theory that autism is partially caused by abnormal intestinal  chemicals. One recent study undertaken in The Netherlands had provided further evidence of such causality, and looked specifically at the role that allergic reactions to food can play in changes to the brain. Within the experiment, scientists looked at the brain chemicals, gut chemicals and behaviour of mice, before and after they had experienced an allergic reaction. After the reaction, the mice brains were observed to have much higher levels of serotonin, an important biological symptom of autism. This was probably caused by the higher levels of of 5-HT (a protein involved in serotonin synthesis) which were observed in the intestines.  Most strikingly, the behaviour of the mice post-reaction changed to a significant degree. The mice began to avoid social interaction, and displayed lower cognitive function as well as more repetitive behaviour. These are three of the key behavioural symptoms of autism.

At a first glance, the idea that something as simple as a food allergy can trigger the onset of autism seems unlikely. After all, about one in twenty Australian have an allergy, but less than one in a hundred has autism. However, the researchers are not suggesting that allergies are the main causal factor for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Rather, it may be one of many factors, including genetic predisposition, that when combined can trigger the onset of the disorder.

The study provides compelling evidence for the linkage of the gut and the brain. It certainly seems as though taking care of your intestinal health, whether it be through maintaining a fibrous diet or taking a daily probiotic, is likely to have benefits for your mental health too. It may be some time until experts prove this conclusively – but until then I’ll keep eating my yoghurt!

Tastes like good health!

Source: http://tinyurl.com/oazmkfl

 

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Preventing HPV and Cervical Cancer: Worth the Shot

Childhood vaccination, especially when funded by the government, has always sparked heated public and scientific debate since its introduction in the 19th century.

Whilst acknowledging the necessity to question what we are putting into our bodies or exposing our children to, when the evidence piles up this high- how can anyone justifiably ignore it? Continue reading

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We Must Reassure Douglas Adams: saving a species with faeces

Douglas Adams - author, satirist and conservationist

Douglas Adams – author, satirist and conservationist: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michael_hughes/2944419184/

Are you a fan of Douglas Adams?
Perhaps you have read his novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

If not, no worries.  He’s just the imperial lord of science-fiction, and a Jedi master of absurdist humour. I’m sure there’s a library close by.

But even the most loyal Adams fan may not know of his book about conservation, Last Chance to See.

This book is a record of when Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine went traipsing around the globe looking at endangered animals – one of which was a flightless, New Zealand parrot.

The Kakapo - The Department of Conservation

https://www.flickr.com/photos/docnz/8528623525/in/set-72157632918061382

Meet the Kakapo!

Once abundant throughout New Zealand, Kakapo were pressed to the brink of extinction thanks to settlers introducing predators like cats, rats and stoats.  In 1995 only 51 were left.  Thanks to conservation efforts, including the Kakapo Recovery Program, today there are 128.  While this is a step forward, they are still classified as critically-endangered.

So what am I reassuring Douglas Adams about?  I refer to a quote from Last Chance to See.

“If you look [at a Kakapo] in its large, round, greeny-brown face, it has a look of serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it that everything will be all right, though you know that it probably will not be.”

Douglas, I’m happy to say that there are people working to ensure a sustainable future for the kakapo.

For example, scientists are investigating how to increase kakapo chick survival rates by improving methods of breeding kakapo in captivity.

Kakapo hatching out of egg

https://www.flickr.com/photos/docnz/8528525231/in/set-72157632918061382

When kakapo chicks are hand-reared they sometimes don’t obtain important gut bacteria that help keep them healthy. They usually receive this bacteria from food regurgitated by their mothers.  One method being tried by scientists to overcome this problem is called faecal bacteriotherapy.

This method is simple.  The faeces of healthy adult kakapo, which contains good gut bacteria, is fed to the hand-reared kakapo chicks.  This bacteria then populate the chicks’ gut.  Conservation workers can freeze the faeces so it is ready to use when needed. But freezing causes many bacteria to die.

A study tested whether adding glycerol (a sweet-tasting non-toxic chemical compound found in fats and oils) to the frozen faeces keeps more bacteria alive.

Scientists measured the number of different bacteria present in faeces samples before and after freezing.  Some were treated with glycerol, others not. The results showed that adding glycerol reduced the number of certain bacteria being killed off by freezing.

Such work is excellent news and bodes well for the future of the kakapo, but more research and funding is needed.

And so my dear reader, why not join me in reassuring Douglas that we will work together to save this species.

To all kakapo out there…

A guide to this galaxy

https://www.flickr.com/photos/oldben/3680913471/sizes/o/

 

Inspired to help save the kakapo?
Then please donate or get involved!
Keep updated: follow Sirocco (an official kakapo spokesbird) on facebook.

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Lichen on Mars? The Potential for a Green Future on a Red Planet

http://whybecausescience.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/mars-landscape-deep-valleys.jpg

Planet Mars – http://whybecausescience.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/mars-landscape-deep-valleys.jpg

It’s hard to believe that in 15 years or less, we, as humans, could be able to consider ourselves an interplanetary species. Several companies are currently competing to put people on Mars by the 2020’s. Alas, recent debate has arisen over the possible ethical issues associated with the so called “contamination” of the Martian environment with terrestrial (Earth) life. It is this mindset in particular which will be detrimental to human advances in space colonisation when future colonies are attempting to become self-supporting if faced with hostile environments such as those on Mars.

A recent study has shown that an ordinary Antarctic lichen, Pleopsidium chlorophanum, has the ability to adapt itself to the Martian environment in little over a month. The experiment, conducted within the Mars Simulation Facility, Berlin, tested the photosynthetic activity (rate of food production) of the lichen within simulated Martian environmental conditions: low temperature, low humidity, low air pressure, air composition, soil composition, day-night cycles, and to top it off, high solar radiation. In addition, the lichen was placed in different “niches” – completely exposed to solar radiation or semi-protected by growing within rock crevices as it does on Earth. Protected niche conditions provided the lichen with the greatest chance of surviving the intense radiation and low humidity environment.

http://www.sciencedirect.com.virtual.anu.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0032063313002055

Pleopsidium chlorophanum – http://www.sciencedirect.com.virtual.anu.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0032063313002055

Not surprisingly, results found that lichen in the unprotected conditions couldn’t handle the intense radiation and, as a consequence, mostly died. On the other hand however, the protected lichen not only survived, it actually adapted to its new environment, as suggested by a steady increase in its activity over the course of the experiment, even exceeding its production rates from its natural habitat.

So what does this all mean? Evidently, it shows that terrestrial life can adapt to not only survive, but thrive in the Martian environment, justifying our efforts to make sure any equipment sent to Mars is sterile before launch. It also means that natural Martian life could be hiding away in the same types of places. As such, conservationists would have us preserve Mars in its dead, red state for the sake of protecting the mere possibility that Martians could exist. But where would that leave us? Where would that leave your children and your grandchildren?

Wallowing on an overpopulated and polluted Earth seems like a fairly likely scenario. I’m making it known that it doesn’t have to be this way!

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/TerraformedMarsGlobeRealistic.jpg

Terraformation of Mars – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/TerraformedMarsGlobeRealistic.jpg

I believe, what with current efforts from companies such as Mars One and NASA, that the colonisation of Mars is an inevitable and important step in the evolution of mankind. Man is powerful because he is able to manipulate his environment to suit himself, and it is with this in mind that we, The Greens as it were, propose the terraformation of Mars with the purpose of creating a habitable world – a Mars that can support life. It becomes clear then that lichens such as Pleopsidium chlorophanum are to play a major role in achieving this goal, thus ensuring our continuity as a species.

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