Monthly Archives: April 2019

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An anxious summer awaits as extreme weather heats up

If you feel like it’s getting hotter and extreme weather events are becoming more common in Australia there is a very good reason – it is and they are.

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The just-released Bureau of Meteorology Annual climate statement demonstrates that 2015 is very likely to be the hottest year globally on record.

In Australia we have seen record breaking hot days, hot nights, early-season fires and drought. Australia’s three warmest springs have occurred in the past three years – and eight of Australia’s warmest years on record have now occurred since 2002.

We are now experiencing changes to extreme events in Australia – notably more fire weather, record-breaking temperatures and heatwaves. We are experiencing the consequences of climate change here and now.

The Bureau’s statement confirms that every year since 1985 has recorded above average temperatures globally. Every teenager alive today has experienced almost only record breaking heat. How much hotter will the rest of their lives be?

The heat this past year brought an early start to the fire season in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria – 236 homes were destroyed by fire across the country in 2015. Six people lost their lives. These are events of trauma and stress, in some cases it takes years to recover from them.

Farmers are also experiencing the stress of drought across the country. According to the Bureau report, rainfall has been very much below average for large areas of eastern Australia, with water storage levels dropping as a result. Large parts of eastern Australia commenced the year with long-term lack of rainfall and over the course of the year this got worse.

Southern and eastern Australia has experience longer-term drying trends, with a 20 per cent drop in autumn–winter rainfall since around 1970 in southwest Western Australia. There is a similar decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall in southeast Australia since the mid-1990s. The drop in rainfall is well outside past variability.

The hot and dry spring meant losses for farmers as crops failed in southern Australia. Estimated losses were expected to be on the order of at least $1 to $2 billion in Victoria alone.

When natural variability and climate change push in the same direction we will experience weather and climate beyond anything we have known. According to the UK Met Office, the warming of 2015 is predominantly from global pollution, with the El Niño event the icing on the cake.

The global agreement in Paris struck a deal that aims to limit warming by 2.7C when science tells us we need to aim for 1.5 or 2C at most. This presents an enormous challenge. But it is a challenge we can take on.

Already one in four homes in South Australia has rooftop solar. Battery storage will create a revolution in the way we think about energy. The technology for a carbon neutral society already exists. We just need to implement it and do it fast.

The Australian government is talking the talk internationally but not walking the walk in our own backyard. Emissions in Australia are going up since the carbon price was removed.

China has just declared it will not approve any coal mines for at least the next three years. The rest of the world is taking action. We need to start catching up – not taking backward steps.

If the Adani Carmichael coal mine – recently approved by the Turnbull Government – goes ahead, the pollution resulting from that single project will almost entirely wipe out Australia’s pollution reduction commitments in Paris.

Big polluting companies are continuing to damage our climate, and we are experiencing the consequences here and now. The consequences are more fires, more heatwaves, more drought and more extreme weather.

Australians deserve better. We owe it to our farmers, to our firefighters and nurses, the cooks and carers that hold our communities together in times of stress.

Australians want to keep our climate safe. They want renewable energy instead of polluting fossil fuels. We saw mass outpouring of community support for action on climate change with the biggest climate rallies Australia has ever seen at the end of last year in the lead up to Paris. There were massive turnouts of 60,000 in Melbourne and 45,000 in Sydney.

This kind of community spirit and support shows that we can overcome the challenge of climate pollution, limit the extremes we will face and look after each other when they happen.

Our politicians represent us, and have a responsibility to plan ahead for challenges today and tomorrow. Our government has a duty of care to protect life and to look after our communities. They can’t do this and at the same time allow new coal mines to open in our country.

Imogen Jubb is Acting Manager for the Climate Reality Project at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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UN to meet over N Korea nuclear test

The UN Security Council is planning to hold an emergency meeting to discuss North Korea’s reported test of a hydrogen bomb, the US mission to the United Nations said.

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Speaking on condition of anonymity, several diplomats said the meeting was scheduled to take place on Wednesday at 11am in New York (0300 AEDT Thursday). The diplomats said the meeting would likely be held behind closed doors.

“The United States and Japan have requested emergency Security Council consultations for tomorrow morning regarding North Korea’s alleged nuclear test,” Hagar Chemali, spokeswoman for the US mission, said in a statement.

“While we cannot confirm at this time that a test was carried out, we condemn any violation of UNSC (UN Security Council) Resolutions and again call on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments,” she added.

North Korea said it had successfully conducted a test of a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear device on Wednesday morning, marking a significant advance in the isolated state’s strike capabilities and raising alarm bells in Japan and South Korea.

It was not immediately clear what action, if any, the 15-nation council was planning to take in response to the North Korean statement that it had conducted a fourth nuclear test.

Pyongyang has been under UN Security Council sanctions due to its nuclear weapons program since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.

One Western diplomat said that if the latest North Korean nuclear test was confirmed, council members would seek to expand existing UN sanctions against Pyongyang.

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China picking Australia’s smartest brains for next generation of entrepreneurs

Ian Davis is abuzz as he explains how his company’s invention, the Inkerz smart pen, works.

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The product consists of a real pen and real paper but anything drawn or written on the page is duplicated in a computer program which is visible both on-site and over the internet.

Mr Davis says it’s a tangible product for the virtual world.

“It just clicked with me immediately and I said this can really revolutionise education. And yet it keeps the core of the educational process and the importance of handwriting,” he said.

Mr Davis is chairman of the company and says it’s never been a better time to be entrepreneurial in Australia. But, he adds, the domestic market is small and ideas without financing only get you so far.

“Always start with family and friends, but after family and friends you need an angel. Somebody who really believes in what you’re trying to do, believes in the potential of it and says I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and help you get your start.”

That’s why companies like Inkerz are increasingly turning away from markets like the US for that cash injection and more towards China, where, they say, capital is more freely available and investors more audacious.

The southern city of Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong, is at the forefront of this investor movement. Officials from what’s known as the Silicon Valley of the east launched a innovation scouting mission this week, in the form of a global competition.

Victor Wang is the director of the Shenzhen Economic and Trade Office in Sydney, which came up with the concept. He says a share of around 140 million dollars in venture capital is up for grabs.

“The next 30 years, what’s our direction? Innovation is the key to our next success. From the local Shenzhen government, they’re very keen to bring together all of the talent, especially some talent from overseas, to learn from them, to provide a platform,” Mr Wang said.

Twenty-five finalists in high tech industries will be selected from hundreds of entrants across Australia, Germany, the US, Israel and Japan.

The winner – to be announced at a competition finale in Shenzhen in April – will also receive help from the Chinese government setting up a company in Shenzhen.

“In Australia we have small markets and we have a difficult environment to raise capital in. In China, the thinking is much bigger. People raise one, two, three millions dollars in their first round of capital up there,” says Brent Clark, who won a much smaller predecessor competition run by the University of New South Wales last year.

Ian Davis and his colleagues at Inkerz plan to enter the Shenzhen innovation competition.

Mr Davis says – with 18 employees – Inkerz would use any funding it won to grow further, faster.

“Big thinking, we’d love to be 100 million plus in sales of people, which would mean millions of customers. using this product for tutoring, for in class education, for corporate training, for online testing, for a whole range of educational applications and quite frankly applications we haven’t even thought of.”

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Sony’s new turntable and speaker lights

A music turntable that enables people to record vinyl into high-definition audio and light bulbs that double as speakers has stolen the show at Sony’s pre-CES media conference.

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The event, on the eve of the opening of the world’s biggest technology show in Las Vegas, was light on major announcements, but it was the audio items that grabbed the crowd’s attention.

The new turntable – PS-HX500 which goes on sale in the UK in April and will cost STG400 ($A820) – not only plays vinyl, but can also record and then upscale the audio into high-definition sound for users to listen to elsewhere.

At the end of a day of news conferences where televisions and home appliances dominated, Sony did also show off their own range of new 4K Bravia TVs, as well as a new 4K Handycam, but it was the audio products that stood out.

“From the choices we’re making to be differentiated and unique, to the curiosity that drives our passion to face challenges, to our commitment as enablers of creativity, it is clear that the philosophical and strategic pillars are in place to continue to build a stronger, better, more profitable Sony,” the firm’s president and chief executive Kazuo Hirai said.

Among the more creative products was the LED Bulb Speaker, one of several light products that doubles as a speaker, with sound broadcast through vibrations that pass through the glass that forms the bulb.

The product is already available in Japan, but Sony confirmed a wider roll-out will begin in the US later this year.

A new range of on and in-ear headphones from Sony’s h.ear range were also announced, as was what Sony called the “world’s smallest high-res audio portable speaker”, the h.ear go.

A new 4K streaming app for movies and TV called Ultra was showcased inside the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

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US college to sack professor for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God

Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university outside Chicago, says it is taking steps to fire a tenured political science professor after she wrote in a Facebook post that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

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Dr Larycia Hawkins wrote on the social media site on December 10 that she was donning the hijab head scarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. In her post she said “we worship the same God.”

Hawkins was placed on administrative leave after the comment drew criticism, and on Tuesday the school said in a statement Wheaton’s provost had delivered a notice to President Philip Ryken recommending her employment be terminated.

“This Notice follows the impasse reached by the parties,” the statement said.

“Dr Hawkins declined to participate in further dialogue about the theological implications of her public statements,” it said.

The school has said that Hawkins was not placed on leave because she wore a hijab, but because her “theological statements seem inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions”.

After a hearing with a faculty committee and other reviews, The Wheaton College Board of Trustees will make a final decision regarding Hawkins’ employment.

Hawkins could not immediately be reached for comment about the notice to recommend her termination.

On her website, Hawkins said she received an emailed notification on January 4 that her employment was up for review and she planned to address the issue at a Chicago-area church on Wednesday.

“Dr Hawkins maintains Christian support for the Muslim community amidst the ongoing anti-Muslim climate,” the site said.

On her Facebook page on December 10, Hawkins said she would wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslim neighbours.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.”

The solidarity gesture comes as Muslims around the United States report worries of a backlash and growing Islamophobia after a couple who had pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State killed 14 people in California in early December.

Hawkins, who has written on race, religion and American politics, said she had consulted with the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, to make sure that it would not be seen as offensive for a non-Muslim woman to wear the headscarf.