Guest Author

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 stimulus is a ‘lost opportunity’ to move towards a low-emissions economy - The Changing Climate

Feb 26, 2021

David Hall, Auckland University of Technology and Nina Ives, Auckland University of Technology In every crisis there is opportunity. Even during New Zealand’s strictest COVID-19 lockdown last year, many people felt the pandemic offered a chance to tackle other global crises, especially climate change. The government responded to the pandemic with an extraordinary package of monetary and fiscal stimulus, most notably a NZ$50 billion allocation to the COVID-19 response and recovery fund. But did the government embrace the call to “build back better” by directing that stimulus toward the low-emission economy or have these financial flows favoured carbon-intensive incumbents, locking us into an economic system implicated in making pandemics and other disasters more probable? We partnered with international research network Energy Policy Tracker (EPT) to compare New Zealand’s response against other major countries. Read More

NZ’s smoking rates dropped dramatically thanks to a hard-hitting campaign. Could we do the same to bring emissions down? - The Changing Climate

Feb 26, 2021

Caroline Shaw, University of Otago New Zealand has the highest per capita car ownership in the OECD, and reducing emissions from the transport sector is seen as a wicked problem. As part of its recently released advice for the government’s first emissions reduction plan, the Climate Change Commission is calling for a public education campaign similar to anti-smoking ads to create a social movement away from cars. The Crayons campaign, developed in 2014, aimed to encourage quitting by showing the negative impact smoking has on children. Transport accounts for 21% of New Zealand’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest growing source of emissions. We clearly need to reduce transport emissions dramatically. And the commission is right that tobacco control has lessons to offer for transport decarbonisation. Changing the system Decades … Read More

A year on from the arrival of COVID-19 in NZ: 5 lessons for 2021 and beyond - COVID-19

Feb 26, 2021

Michael Baker, University of Otago; Amanda Kvalsvig, University of Otago, and Nick Wilson, University of Otago Exactly one year ago today (February 26) the first confirmed case of COVID-19 arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand. Identified only as “a person in their 60s recently returned from Iran”, the case marked the beginning of an extraordinary period in the life of the country. A year on, what are some of the lessons we have learned about this pandemic? And what are the implications for improving our response in future? One of the main reasons for asking these questions lies in the legacy value of any improvements we make. That is, the potential for using this crisis as the catalyst for an urgently-needed upgrade to the country’s public health infrastructure, to enhance health, equity, prosperity and sustainability in the long term. Elimination … Read More

As the Perseverance rover lands on Mars, there’s a lot we already know about the red planet from meteorites found on Earth - News

Feb 19, 2021

James Scott, University of Otago NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on Mars this morning, and has already begun beaming back images. Hello, world. My first look at my forever home. #CountdownToMars — NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 18, 2021 But people might be surprised to learn there have been another 48 missions to the red planet so far. Of these, more than half failed at stages from take-off to deployment — including the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter, destroyed on Mars entry after someone failed to convert imperial measurements to metric. Successful missions include Mars Insight, which is studying the interior via measurement of “marsquakes”, and the Curiosity rover, which touched down in 2012 and has been examining the geology of Mt Sharp. Read More

Earth’s magnetic field broke down 42,000 years ago and caused massive sudden climate change - Hot off the press

Feb 19, 2021

Chris Fogwill, Keele University; Alan Hogg, University of Waikato; Chris Turney, UNSW, and Zoë Thomas, UNSW The world experienced a few centuries of apocalyptic conditions 42,000 years ago, triggered by a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles combined with changes in the Sun’s behaviour. That’s the key finding of our new multidisciplinary study, published in Science. This last major geomagnetic reversal triggered a series of dramatic events that have far-reaching consequences for our planet. They read like the plot of a horror movie: the ozone layer was destroyed, electrical storms raged across the tropics, solar winds generated spectacular light shows (auroras), Arctic air poured across North America, ice sheets and glaciers surged and weather patterns shifted violently. During these events, life on earth was exposed to intense ultraviolet light, Neanderthals and giant animals known as megafauna went extinct, while … Read More

NZ tourism can use the disruption of COVID-19 to drive sustainable change — and be more competitive - News

Feb 18, 2021

James Higham, University of Otago The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s second tourism report urges the government to take advantage of the disruption caused by COVID-19 to transform the tourism industry. Titled “Not 100% – but four steps closer to sustainable tourism”, it builds on commissoner Simon Upton’s 2019 “Pristine, popular … imperilled?” report and presents four detailed policy proposals intended to shift the tourism sector from a volume/demand model to a sustainability model: introducing a departure tax to address the high and unavoidable emissions associated with international air travel making central government funding for tourism infrastructure conditional on environmental criteria. strengthening legislation allowing the Department of Conservation to fully protect Aotearoa’s most spectacular natural areas strengthening existing standards for self-contained freedom camping. These represent a paradigm shift away from industry subsidy to increasing tourist and tourism business … Read More

No internet, no vaccine: How lack of internet access has limited vaccine availability for racial and ethnic minorities - COVID-19

Feb 17, 2021

Tamra Burns Loeb, University of California, Los Angeles; AJ Adkins-Jackson, Harvard University, and Arleen F. Brown, University of California, Los Angeles Racial and ethnic minority communities that lack internet access have been left behind in the race to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The average monthly cost of internet access, about US$70, can be out of reach for those who can barely afford groceries. Reporters and scholars have written about the effects of lack of internet access in rural areas in the U.S. and developing countries, but they have paid less attention to the harm of lack of internet access in racial and ethnic minority communities in major cities. We are researchers who study health disparities. We are concerned that even when vaccinations are offered in these communities, those at greatest risk … Read More

The Enduring Mystery of Critchfield’s Spruce - The Changing Climate

Feb 17, 2021

Zach St. George The first and only time Steve Jackson spoke to Bill Critchfield was in the late 1980s. Critchfield, an authority on the conifers of North America, was at home recovering from a heart attack. Jackson, then a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University, had called looking for advice on how to tell jack pine from Virginia pine. Jackson was also curious about something the elder botanist had mentioned in a recent paper: mysterious spruce fossils from the American Southeast. The fossils dated to the end of the Pleistocene ice age, about 18,000 years ago, and had been found across the region, including in Louisiana’s Tunica Hills. Scientists had usually identified the fossils as white spruce, a species that now lives far to the north, but they’d been arguing for decades about what its presence said about the region’s … Read More

Plastic in the ocean kills more threatened albatrosses than we thought - Hot off the press

Feb 17, 2021

Richelle Butcher, Massey University; Britta Denise Hardesty, CSIRO, and Lauren Roman, CSIRO Plastic in the ocean can be deadly for marine wildlife and seabirds around the globe, but our latest study shows single-use plastics are a bigger threat to endangered albatrosses in the southern hemisphere than we previously thought. You may have heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch in the northern Pacific, but plastic pollution in the southern hemisphere’s oceans has increased by orders of magnitude in recent years. We examined the causes of death of 107 albatrosses received by wildlife hospitals and pathology services in Australia and New Zealand and found ocean plastic is an underestimated threat. Plastic drink bottles, disposable utensils and balloons are among the most deadly items. Albatrosses are some the world’s most imperiled seabirds, with 73% of species threatened with … Read More

As NZ gets serious about climate change, can electricity replace fossil fuels in time? - The Changing Climate

Feb 17, 2021

Jen Purdie, University of Otago As fossil fuels are phased out over the coming decades, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) suggests electricity will take up much of the slack, powering our vehicle fleet and replacing coal and gas in industrial processes. But can the electricity system really provide for this increased load where and when it is needed? The answer is “yes”, with some caveats. Our research examines climate change impacts on the New Zealand energy system. It shows we’ll need to pay close attention to demand as well as supply. And we’ll have to factor in the impacts of climate change when we plan for growth in the energy sector. Demand for electricity to grow While electricity use has not increased in NZ in the past decade, many agencies project steeply rising demand in coming years. This is … Read More