Monday, April 18, 2016

Coral reefs set to lose tolerance to bleaching as oceans warm

There's probably a few factual bits below but it's mostly just modelling crap.  They at least acknowledge that corals do adapt -- which is a great leap forward for them

The future is not looking bright. Coral reefs are set to become more vulnerable to bleaching as rising temperatures cripple their self-defence mechanisms.

Bleaching occurs when warm waters strip away the colourful photosynthesising algae that provide nourishment to corals.

This happens during unusually warm periods, such as during El Niño years, but doesn’t always kill coral, which can recover when waters cool again.

Corals are often able to survive heatwaves by developing resistance during periods of milder warming, when water temperatures rise and cool off again, says Tracy Ainsworth of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. The corals are essentially given a warning for what’s about to come, a sort of practice run.

A little stress can help corals

"Corals that undergo smaller stress prior to a bleaching event are able to retain more symbionts within the tissue, those algae which are crucial for nutrition," says Ainsworth. "This has major implications as to whether or not it can survive."

Now that climate change is driving up ocean temperatures, there are fears that these acclimatisation periods will become shorter or disappear completely.

To get an idea of how warming waters might affect corals, Ainsworth and her colleagues studied patterns of sea surface temperatures at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over the last three decades.

They found that during that time, 75 per cent of heatwaves were preceded by moderately warm temperatures. These can help cut coral mortality by 50 per cent.

More heat, more stress

They then modelled future scenarios and found that this proportion may drop to 22 per cent if sea surface temperatures rise by 2 °C, as could occur by 2100.

What’s more, they found that an increase in local water temperature of just 0.5 °C can lead to loss of this adaptation mechanism.

"We will no longer be getting a situation where corals have a small stress, a period of recovery due to water cooling, and then a big stress," says Ainsworth. "What we’ll see is an accumulation of one big stress."

Survival strategies

Their experiments also confirmed the importance of practice runs, showing that corals developed a number of heat resistance strategies as the water warmed up.

"They upregulated their heat shock responses and all these other molecular mechanisms that prevented damage to the cells during the next stress," says Ainsworth.

But increasing sea temperatures caused by climate change will see that gap between the preparation period and the peak stress disappear, says study co-author Scott Heron of the US  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not too late

"Those temperatures will no longer drop below the stress levels," says Heron. "So instead of a gap to recover between the preparation period and the peak stress, the corals have an extended period of stress."

If these predictions are born out, coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef could dwindle to less than 5 per cent by the end of the century.

Nevertheless, it is not too late to turn things around. The researchers’ modelling studies demonstrated that aggressive efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions would result in no net decline in coral cover by the end of the century.

"I think we do still have hope, we should never give up," says Ainsworth.


Reduce Indigenous incarceration rates? Not so fast

The Australian Bar Association is right in stating that the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system has nothing to do with racial discrimination.

But while the suggestion by the Australian Bar Association to review mandatory sentencing laws for minor offences such as the practice of jailing fine defaulters is worthwhile, it is important to remember the reason why most Indigenous people are in jail in the first place.

In the push to lower Indigenous incarceration rates the real victims are often forgotten. People who are assaulted or even killed by their family members, like the woman whose partner set fire to her genitals because she ‘looked at another man the wrong way.’

Abolishing mandatory sentencing for minor crimes is also unlikely to reduce the Indigenous incarceration rate as much as most people hope.

The belief that most Indigenous people are in jail because they have been unfairly targeted by police and arrested for relatively minor ‘social nuisance’ offences is not true.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on prisoner characteristics shows that of the 9,885 indigenous prisoners in 2015, only 1,069 indigenous prisoners were in jail for offences against justice procedures, such as non-payment of fines. Most (56%) per cent were in jail for serious crimes such as homicide, assault and sex offences.

As Indigenous lawyer and member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Josephine Cashman, has pointed out, Indigenous family violence statistics are horrifying. Between 2012 and 2013, Indigenous women were hospitalised for family-violence assault at 34 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. Homicide rates for Indigenous people are also seven to eight times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous people.

In saying this, however, it is important to note that these disturbing statistics are not necessarily related to Indigeneity, but rather are a problem of poverty and social dysfunction.

Australia’s most disadvantaged postcodes have at least twice the rate of unemployment, criminal convictions and imprisonment than other postcodes.  One of the main reasons the Indigenous incarceration rate is 13 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians is because a greater proportion of Indigenous Australians live in these low socioeconomic, welfare-dependent suburbs or communities than other Australians.

A 2012 Queensland study found the postcodes with the most chronic offenders were in remote and very remote locations with the highest levels of disadvantage.  These are places like Yuendumu in the Northern Territory where at one time, 93 people from a total population of 587 were in prison.

According to the Australian Bar Association president, Patrick O’Sullivan there is no direct discrimination on the basis of race in the criminal justice system.  For various reasons, mandatory sentencing tends to indirectly discriminate on the basis of disadvantage and the high rate of disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians, is why mandatory sentencing has had a disproportionate impact on them.

In fact, although many social justice advocates claim ‘the criminal laws and sentencing regulations unfairly target Indigenous people’ if there is any discrimination it tends to be in favour of Indigenous people. Overall, Indigenous offenders receive shorter sentences than non-Indigenous offenders for most crimes.

The reason Indigenous people are more likely than non-Indigenous people to be locked up for minor crimes like traffic offences, is because Indigenous people are more likely to lack the financial means to pay their fines, not because the courts are biased.

The Australian Bar Association is right to suggest reviewing the practice of jailing fine defaulters, but in the rush to reduce the overall Indigenous Incarceration rate it is also important not to forget who the real victims are.

Strategies to reduce the level of disadvantage and the corresponding high rates of family violence and intimate partner homicides among Indigenous Australians are likely to be much more effective in reducing Indigenous incarceration rates than tinkering with the criminal justice system ever will.


Solar scheme costing Qld. too much

A VOLUNTARY "battery buyout” deal for solar-equipped households on the most generous feed-in tariff is being considered by the Palaszczuk Government.

Under the proposal, the 238,000 customers on the 44¢ a kW rate would receive a rebate on installing a battery storage system in return for agreeing to cancel the Solar Bonus Scheme early.

Solar analyst Nigel Morris says the move could save the State Government more than $1 billion by cutting a third of the estimated cost of the Solar Bonus Scheme, which does not end until 2028.

The money paid to households for power generated back into the grid from rooftop solar panels is recouped through higher electricity charges for all consumers, adding $89 to the average annual bill last year.

Energy Minister Mark Bailey told The Sunday Mail: "We are looking at it. "It’s early days. If the policy setting is right, there will be benefits for consumers and for the networks. "The principal has to be that any change has to be voluntary.”

The Government recently rejected a recommendation from the Queensland Productivity Commission to end the Solar Bonus Scheme eight years early.

But Mr Bailey said it made sense to consider new policies around the looming "revolution” in battery storage technology and its impacts. "Battery take-up is very modest at present, but that will change and we want the policy settings in place. Every Australian government should be looking at this now.”

Mr Morris’s buyout approach suggests paying consumers on the Solar Bonus Scheme the equivalent of 50 per cent of what they could be expected to receive until 2028 as a rebate on installing battery systems. Enabling consumers to store power would result in more efficient energy use, reducing the burden and costs of transmission and generation.

"It’s a win-win," he said.

Solar Citizens spokesman Reece Turner said: "This is definitely something the Government should be considering.”  But it was essential that any buyout was voluntary and that the savings were directed to reducing the power bills of all Queenslanders, he said.

The Solar Bonus Scheme had helped give the state the highest penetration of rooftop solar panels in the world.

"And this could put us ahead of the curve in working out how to run a 21st century electricity grid,” he said.


Victoria Police is about beating you 'sensless'. Corinna Horvath  case still requires action

In 1996, 21-year-old Corinna Horvath was assaulted by police during an unlawful raid on her Melbourne home. Her nose was broken and a tooth chipped. She was hospitalised for 5 days.

In 2001, Ms Horvath won a civil case at the County Court. After 40 days of evidence, the judge found police had committed trespass, assault, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment and awarded Ms Horvath $143,525 in compensation. This amount was reduced on appeal and Ms Horvath was denied leave to appeal to the High Court.

In Victoria, individual police officers, rather than the State, are liable to pay damages for unlawful conduct. Where a police officer is unable to pay, the victim can go uncompensated. Further, none of the police involved has been disciplined or prosecuted by the State. Ms Horvath seeks adequate compensation and effective discipline of the police officers involved.

In 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Ms Horvath's right to an effective remedy was violated, in relation to the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention to which she was subjected, and the interference with her home and privacy. The Committee recommended legislative reform in Victoria and adequate compensation for Ms Horvath.

Partial remedy in record time!

On 19 September 2014, Corinna Horvath obtained an individual remedy some 5 months after the UN found her rights had been violated and that she should be compensated. Ms Horvath received a written apology from the Victorian Police Commissioner and an ex gratia payment as compensation for the violent assault on her by police in 1996.

Congratulations to Ms Horvath and her legal team. Thank you to everyone who campaigned for her right to an effective remedy.

However, there is more to be done. The UN Human Rights Committee found that Australia "is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in future" by means of law reform "to ensure its conformity with the requirements of the Covenant."

The events in question:

Corinna Horvath and her partner, Craig Love, had friends David and Colleen and their two boys over for a barbecue one Saturday afternoon in 1996. At about 9:40pm, two police officers knocked on the door wanting to inspect her unroadworthy car for evidence it had recently been driven, contrary to police instruction. Ms Horvath refused and asked them to leave. A scuffle ensued, in which the police claim they were assaulted by Horvath and Love, but a County Court judge found that Horvath and Love had 'used no more force than was necessary' to prevent the police trespassing on their property. The police left and called for reinforcements.

At 10:30pm, 5 police cars arrived and 8 policemen got out and surrounded the house. One of the police ‘yelled … in a loud and aggressive voice’ that the occupants should open the door, as they intended to make an arrest. The occupants refused, asking for evidence of a warrant. The officer replied that they did not need one. One of the officers then kicked open the front door ‘with great and sudden force’, striking Ms Horvath's friend David in the face with the door, causing injury and constituting an assault.

This same officer then entered the house, ‘pursued David … brought him to the floor and, in the course of so doing, struck him on the right side of the head and hit him at least once with a baton across his lower back.’ Another police officer then informed the first that David was not the man they sought to arrest.

The first officer then entered the lounge room where he tackled Ms Horvath to the floor, then 'brutally and unnecessarily' punched her in the face up to a dozen times, thereby 'rendering her senseless'. Ms Horvath has no recollection of this assault. She suffered a broken nose and chipped tooth, bruising and scratches to her face and body. Two officers then handcuffed her 'in a manner that restricted her from reducing the pain and blood flow from her nose or otherwise relieving her injuries' and dragged her to their divvy van. Meanwhile, her friend Colleen was forced to the floor and held there with a knee in her back. Ms Horvath and Mr Love were both arrested and taken away by police.

Ms Horvath was 'not provided with immediate medical treatment' in police custody, but instead 'left screaming in pain in [a] cell'. She was 'eventually discovered by a police doctor who contacted her parents', who called an ambulance. She was released from custody at about 12:20am and taken to hospital for emergency treatment.

A week later, Ms Horvath returned to hospital and was admitted for 5 days, requiring surgery to repair her facial injuries. She is left with scars on her nose and has been treated for anxiety and depression arising from the assault.


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