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Lowe Tech

Lowe Tech column

Tassie Logging Agreement Toppled?

By Ian Lowe

Logging is continuing in Tasmanian forests of high conservation value months after an agreed deadline to cease logging has passed.

Last year there was reason to be optimistic about Tasmanian forestry. After decades of political fighting, the contending parties came to an historic agreement. Foresters, loggers, the timber industry, environmentalists and government signed a set of principles that formed a basis for the future. Logging would stop in forests of high conservation value, there would be a significant investment in plantations to provide a secure supply of wood for future needs, and responsible value-adding would be explored.

Scientific Evidence Faces Mediation

By Ian Lowe

Uncertainty in science enables misconceptions to perpetuate in courts and the media, but there is now a process for dealing with conflicting advice from scientific experts.

It’s Time to Gazump Fuel Guzzlers

By Ian Lowe

Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world in setting fuel efficiency targets for new cars.

A recent one-day meeting in Melbourne brought together international experts on vehicle fuel economy. The Global Fuel Economy Initiative aims to improve car efficiency. The argument is that the two pressures of climate change and “peak oil” demand reductions in fuel use.

Amber Light Given for Food Labels

By Ian Lowe

A review of food labelling is introducing a traffic-light warning system but left it voluntary for purveyors of junk food.

Climate Action Cools

By Ian Lowe

United Nations talks in Mexico lacked the “hot air” required for meaningful government action on climate change.

The climate change talks in Cancun last December produced a timid step forward. There is still not the sense of urgency and purpose that the science demands, but at least there was some movement in the right direction.

Australian climate change Minister Greg Combet was positive about the mood at Cancun, but the government is still only talking about a 5% target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, which is not even at the bottom of the agreed range of 25–40%.

Barley Breed Brings Better Bowels

By Ian Lowe

A high-fibre barley variety developed by CSIRO is proving a winner with consumers of breakfast cereals.

Changes in lifestyle and diet have led to increasing numbers of Australians and New Zealanders with health problems. Only a small minority of us get enough exercise to maintain heart–lung fitness, while a majority of adults are now seriously overweight.

An Irrigation Channel Too Far

The confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers at Wentworth, NSW.

The confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers at Wentworth, NSW.

By Ian Lowe

How much will reduced water allocations in the Murray–Darling Basin really hurt regional communities?

The media has been full of confected outrage about the Murray–Darling Basin Plan even though we have known for at least 15 years that the Basin was in deep trouble as a direct result of over-allocation of water for irrigation. The 1996 State of the Environment report noted that the approved extraction was 80% of the median annual flow. Clearly, then, water allocations have to be reduced.

A Win for Science?

By Ian Lowe

The minority government may do more for science than either of the major parties would have done with a secure majority.

The Australian science community felt marginalised in the recent election. Not only were the science policies of the major parties distinctly underwhelming, but there was also very little said in the campaign about science. I did detect a sense of relief that Senator Kim Carr remains the Science Minister. As one climate scientist said to me, the political cowardice of the ALP on climate change is a more tractable problem than the Coalition’s denial of the science. And the rural independents have track records of support for action on climate change.

Renewable Economics

Green energy

It could be possible to shift the entire electricity system to a mix of renewables by 2020.

By Ian Lowe

Growth in GDP could pay for the entire electricity system to be converted to a mix of renewables by 2020.

A new report and a bizarre speech by a leading politician both put the spotlight on energy policy recently. The report by Zero Carbon Australia was an important contribution.

A 1992 study by the Department of Resources and Energy concluded that Australia could get all its electricity from a mix of renewable energy technologies by 2030. Since that report there have been significant advances in supply technologies. Importantly, there are now storage systems that deal with the problem of intermittent availability of sunlight or wind.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

A Better Deal for Meds

Image of pills

Australians are paying much more for medicines than they should.

By Ian Lowe

If you want cheaper medicines, get a prescription in New Zealand.

Why do pharmaceuticals cost much more in Australia than in New Zealand? Sydney University’s Philip Clarke and Ed Fitzgerald say Australians are paying much more than they should. They examined specific cases, such as one drug commonly used to treat patients with high cholesterol levels. The wholesale price of Simvastatin in Australia is about $30 per month for regular 40 mg doses. The same treatment would cost $1.50 across the Tasman. Clarke suggested in a recent newspaper article that Australians travelling to New Zealand might make a point of stocking up on the cheaper drugs.