Facebook and Google used to be the future of news. But now media companies need more strings to their bow



Kedar Dhond/Unsplash, CC BY

James Meese, RMIT University and Edward Hurcombe, Queensland University of Technology

Given the recent commentary about the reforms proposed for the news media sector, you would be forgiven for thinking Google and Facebook are the only game in town.

The planned reforms arose from last year’s Digital Platforms Inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which focused squarely on the corporate behaviour of these two tech behemoths.

It is clear Google and Facebook will be the first platforms regulated under the draft mandatory code that will potentially force them to pay for content produced by Australian news media companies. The move is a response to what the ACCC describes as “a significant bargaining power imbalance […] between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook”.

This idea that news companies are essentially stuck with Google and Facebook, for better or worse, is a common view. Yet while that might have been true a few years ago, media companies are realising there are other ways to cultivate readers, and there’s no need to be beholden to tech platforms that generate clicks but don’t want to pay for the privilege.

In the mid-2010s, many news companies seemed to follow Facebook’s every move. When Facebook promoted video, the media invested in video. When it down-ranked clickbait headlines, content writers frantically altered their style to maintain their presence in the news feed. Newsrooms have had a similarly dependent (albeit less direct) relationship with Google.

The focus on adapting to Google and Facebooks’s algorithms completely changed newsroom practices over the past decade, as journalists have weighed editorial considerations against audience metrics.

Is this still the case?

This dependency developed at a time when major platforms, particularly Facebook, were engaging substantially with the distribution of news. But in recent years this trend has declined, as governments have begun to regulate platforms in response to concerns over “fake news”.

Facebook performed perhaps the most public pivot, changing its algorithm in January 2018 to promote content from users’ friends and family. As a result, traffic to news sites fell, leaving profit-starved media companies to pursue alternative strategies or simply lay off staff.




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In our research, published earlier this year, we spoke to 15 Australian journalists and editors who had collectively worked across 11 media companies after the dust had settled from the 2019 crisis.

We asked them whether their companies still depend on Facebook for traffic, or whether they have moved to other platforms, or are now doing something else entirely to cultivate their readership.

Breaking up with Facebook

Many respondents, particularly those who had worked at newer companies focused on social media, revealed they had followed the demands of the Facebook algorithm at times. They had pivoted to video and had focused on share counts. However, respondents working at older media companies also noted that lots of readers still visited their publication’s home page, which challenges the idea that companies depend totally on Facebook.

Companies were also exploring different ways of generating revenue. These included placing ads inside content (known as native advertising) and holding events.

The standout trend, however, was a renewed focus on subscriptions, ensuring that a certain percentage of readers actually paid money for the news product at some point.

The Conversation (which does not charge for access to its content) was one of the newsrooms that saw a steep drop in traffic as a result of the January 2018 algorithm change. As such, it has pivoted its digital strategy to prioritise the channels over which it has the most control, particularly its daily newsletter.

That’s not to say companies have stopped trying to engage with big platforms. Many are consciously trying to make their news easy to find via Google search (a process called search engine optimisation. Some companies (including The Conversation) have also begun distributing news through Instagram (which is owned by Facebook).

Yet although the big platforms are doubtless here to stay, our research reveals a distinctly changed relationship between news and social media, compared with the past decade. Many companies, particularly newer ones like Buzzfeed and Vice, previously built huge audiences off the back of social media, and grew at a dizzying rate as a result. Now, companies are more interested in securing a stable revenue stream than in harvesting clicks.

The pandemic effect

This has become even more important amid the economic chaos caused by COVID-19. Advertising spending has dried up, leading to another round of media industry layoffs.

This suggests news media are still struggling to secure an alternative income stream to plug the hole in advertising revenue. The big question is whether big tech platforms will step in and help fill the gap by making financial contributions to news providers. Google’s current campaign against the draft mandatory code suggests they are deeply unwilling to do this.




Read more:
Google’s ‘open letter’ is trying to scare Australians. The company simply doesn’t want to pay for news


Our research shows the relationship between news media and big tech platforms is far from straightforward. This is supported by a recent survey, which found that while many young people access news through social media, older people still prefer television or news websites. Not every Australian gets their news via social media.

There may come a time when platforms become the central access point for news, but it hasn’t happened yet. This doesn’t mean the ACCC should abandon platform regulation, but it does mean news companies are probably wise to find other ways of reaching their readers while they still can.The Conversation

James Meese, Research fellow, RMIT University and Edward Hurcombe, Research associate, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The coronavirus response calls into question the future of super



Brendel/Unsplash, CC BY-NC

Warwick Smith, University of Melbourne

Understandably, given we are in a crisis, the government has baulked at including superannuation contributions in the A$140 billion worth of $1,500 per fortnight wage top-ups it will be directing to six million Australians.

As the JobKeeper fact sheet puts it:

It will be up to the employer if they want to pay superannuation on any additional wage paid because of the JobKeeper Payment.


Source: Australian Tax Office

This is in the middle of a treasury led Retirement Income Review that is considering, among other things, whether the current 9.5% of salary contribution should be increased to 10% and then to 10.5% and then in a series of annual steps to 12% by 2025.

In considering the idea (it is actually leglislated – if the government decided not to go ahead it would need to unleglislate it) it helps to go back to basiscs.

The blinding power of money

The trouble with money is most people are so busy looking at it they are blind to what’s going on in the real economy – by which I mean the production and distribution of goods and services.

Our current material standard of living depends almost entirely on our current ability to produce goods and services (assuming for a moment imports are funded by exports).

Similarly, our standard of living in 2050 will depend almost entirely on our capacity to produce goods at that time. This means it has little to do with how much money is in our superannuation accounts.

Part of the justification for superannuation is to get us more resources in retirement, and it will for those who have big super balances, but it won’t do much to change the total amount of resources available at the time.

The limits to saving

Often it’s put another way. We are told baby boomers need to fund themselves in retirement, instead of relying on pensions paid for by those who are still in the workforce.

But imagine a perfect scenario where every retired baby boomer has $1 million in super, freeing those still working from the tax burden of funding the pension.

When the boomers are using their super to buy services and goods, who are they going to take them away from?

You guessed it, those still working.

They’ll be giving up resources to support the retirement of boomers, whoever supplies the cash.

In the main, saving can’t create resources

If there was no superannuation and the government instead taxed current workers in order to fund retiree consumption, the real cost to workers would be the same. That cost is the provision of goods and services to retired people instead of workers.

Individuals can indeed save for the future by foregoing some goods and services today in order to have more of them later. Financial planners refer to it as consumption smoothing.

But an entire society can’t save for the future through consumption smoothing.

If Australia as a whole consumes fewer goods and services in one year, it is likely to reduce rather than increase its future wealth because it is fully utilised labour and capital that drives investment and productivity.




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5 questions about superannuation the government’s new inquiry will need to ask


That’s what lies at the core of misunderstandings about the superannuation system. Foreign investment aside, it can’t allow an entire society to save for the future to support itself in retirement.

It can skew the distribution of resources in future years, away from those of working age and those with low super balances towards those with (tax concession subsidised) high super balances.

Boosting productivity can help

If our goal is an adequate and sustainable income in retirement for all Australians, our main priority ought to be ensuring that those remaining in the workforce are productive enough to support themselves, their children, those without work and those who have retired.

In other words, if you’re worried about the economic impact of our ageing population on our material standard of living (and there are reasons not to be worried) you would want our focus to be on productivity, rather than retirement savings.




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To the extent retirement savings are used for productivity enhancing investment, that’s good. The reality is much of our retirement savings are funnelled relatively unthinkingly into an already bloated financial system where they expand speculative bubbles.

Elsewhere I’ve referred to it as Australia’s first compulsory Ponzi scheme.

Like most important economic questions, the best retirement income system is not, at its core, solely an economic question, it is also a moral and political question about distribution and inequality.

So, with that in mind, here’s what my personal moral (plus economic) analysis tells me would be the best retirement income system.

We could give the money back, slowly

The best way would be to get rid of compulsory superannuation, give all the money back to account holders (slowly to avoid too much inflation), mandate a 9.5% pay rise in its place and redirect the tens of billions of dollars we currently spend on superannuation tax concessions toward rent assistance, a higher Newstart allowance and a higher pension.

With retired renters better looked after, a moderate (say 20%) increase in the pension, and continued indexation of the pension to wages, no retired Australian would be living in poverty.

It’d be sustainable so long as we ensured sufficient worker productivity, primarily through full employment, appropriate infrastructure investment and well-supported education, training and research.

There, problem solved.The Conversation

Warwick Smith, Research economist, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After another hot summer, here are 6 ways to cool our cities in future



Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock

Komali Yenneti, University of Melbourne

Australia is a “land of climate extremes”. This is especially true for our cities, which have become hubs of extreme summer temperatures. This past summer was the second-hottest on record for Australia, following the 2018-19 record, with average maximum temperatures more than 2°C above the long-term average.

Frequent and long heatwaves are having serious impacts on energy consumption, public health, labour productivity and the economy.




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After a summer of extremes, here’s what to expect this autumn


Even without global warming, cities already face a problem — the urban heat island effect, whereby inner urban areas are hotter than the surrounding rural areas. Urban heat islands are caused by factors such as pollution, energy consumption, industrial activities, large dark concrete buildings, asphalt roads and closely spaced structures.

Evidence from Australia’s major cities shows average temperatures are 2-10°C higher in highly urbanised areas than in their rural surroundings.




Read more:
Urban growth, heat islands, humidity, climate change: the costs multiply in tropical cities


Governments and policymakers can use a variety of cooling strategies combined with community engagement, education and adaptation measures to cool Australian cities.

1. Green infrastructure

Green infrastructure includes parks, street trees, community gardens, green roofs and vertical gardens. In tropical and subtropical climate zones, like much of Australia, green infrastructure is a cost-effective cooling strategy.




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Evidence suggests a 10% increase in tree canopy cover can lower afternoon ambient temperatures by as much as 1-1.5C, as the chart below shows. Similarly, in parks with adequate irrigation ambient temperatures can be 1-1.5°C lower than nearby unvegetated or built-up areas.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential of different urban greenery techniques.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

We can increase street tree canopy cover by planting more shade trees on footpaths, lanes and street medians. Where there is little space for parks and street trees, green roofs and walls may be viable options.




Read more:
Here’s how green infrastructure can easily be added to the urban planning toolkit


2. Water-sensitive urban design

The use of water as a way to cool cities has been known for thousands of years. Water-based landscapes such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and bioswales can reduce urban ambient temperatures by 1-2°C. This is a result of water heat retention and evaporative cooling.

In addition to natural water bodies, various other water-based technologies are now available for both decorative and climatic reasons. Examples include passive water systems, like ponds, pools and fountains, and active or hybrid systems, such as evaporative wind towers and sprinklers. Active and passive systems can decrease ambient temperatures by 3-8°C, as the charts below show.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential of different active and passive water systems.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

Water-based systems are usually combined with green infrastructure to enhance urban cooling, improve air quality, aid in flood management and provide attractive public spaces.




Read more:
When the heat is on, we need city-wide plans to keep cool


3. Cool materials

Building materials are major contributors to the urban heat island effect. The use of cool materials on roofs, streets and pavements is an important cooling strategy. A cool surface material has low heat conductivity, low heat capacity, high solar reflectance and high permeability.

Evidence suggests that using cool materials for roofs and facades can reduce indoor temperature by 2-5°C, improve indoor comfort and cut energy use.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential of different cool surfaces.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

Cool materials commonly applied to buildings include white paints, elastomeric, acrylic or polyurethane coating, ethylene propylenediene tetrolymer membrane, chlorinated polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, thermoplastic polyolefin, and chlorosulfonated polyethylene.

Lighter aggregates and binders in asphalt and concrete, permeable pavers made from foam concrete, permeable asphalt and resin concrete are standard cool pavement materials.




Read more:
Building cool cities for a hot future


4. Shading

Shading can decrease radiant temperature and greatly improve outdoor thermal comfort. Providing shading on streets, building entries and public venues using greenery, artificial structures or a combination of both can block solar radiation and increase outdoor thermal comfort. Examples of artificial structures include temporary shades, sunshades and shades using solar panels.




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In a heatwave, the leafy suburbs are even more advantaged


5. Combined cooling strategies

Performance analysis of various projects in Australia suggests the cooling potential of the combined use of the different strategies discussed above is much higher than the sum of the contributions of each individual technology, as the charts below show. The average maximum temperature reduction with just one technology is close to 1.5°C. When two or more technologies are used together the reduction exceeds 2.5°C.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential for a combination of technologies.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

The chart below shows the peak temperature reduction for all cooling strategies.


Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

6. Behaviour changes

People are significant contributors to urban heat through their use of air conditioning. The waste heat from air conditioners heats up surrounding outdoor spaces.

Projections show cooling demand in Australian cities may increase by up to 275% by 2050. Such a trend will have a great impact on urban climate, as well as increasing electricity use. If this is powered by fossil fuels, it will add billions of tons of carbon pollution.

Climate-responsive building design and adaptive design techniques in existing buildings can minimise occupants’ demand for cooling energy by reducing indoor and outdoor temperatures.




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We have the blueprint for liveable, low-carbon cities. We just need to use it


Cities must take a holistic, long-term approach

Local governments can prepare for and respond to heat events through emergency response plans. However, emergency responses alone cannot address other challenges of urban heat, including human vulnerability, energy disruptions and the economic costs of lower workplace productivity and infrastructure failures.

Long-term cooling strategies are needed to keep city residents, buildings and communities cool and save energy, health and economic costs.The Conversation

Komali Yenneti, Honorary Academic Fellow, Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In fact, there’s plenty we can do to make future fires less likely



It’s in our power to influence the climate by influencing the nations who help determine the climate.
Victorian government

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

One of the dominant ideas buzzing around the internet is that there’s little we can do to escape the prospect of more frequent and worse bushfires – ever.

That’s because there’s little we can do to slow or reverse the change in the climate.

Australia accounts for just 1.3% of global emissions. That’s much more than you would expect on the basis of our share of world’s population, which is 0.33%. But even if we stopped greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we could and started sucking carbon back in (as would be possible with reafforestation) it’d make little difference to total global emissions, which is what matters – or so the argument goes.

But this argument ignores the huge out-of-proportion power we have to influence
other countries.

There’s no better indicator of that than in Ross Garnaut’s new book Super-power: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity.




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We’re more important than we think

The cover of ‘Super-power’ by Ross Garnaut.
Supplied

Garnaut conducted two climate change reviews for Australian governments, the first in 2008 for the state and Commonwealth governments, and the second in 2011 for the Gillard government.

In the second, he produced two projections of China’s emissions, based on what was known at the time.

One was “business as usual”, which showed continued very rapid increases. The other took into account China’s commitments at the just-completed 2010 United Nations Cancun climate change conference.

China’s annual emissions matter more than those of any other country – they account for 27% of the global total, which is a relatively new phenomenon.

The bulk of the industrial carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere was put there by the United States and the Soviet Union, who have been big emitters for much longer.

Egged on by the US Obama administration and by governments including Australia’s under Julia Gillard, China agreed at Cancun to slow its growth in emissions, and at the Paris talks in 2015 hardened this into a commitment to stabilise them by 2030.

The extraordinary graph

Garnaut’s 2011 projections showed growth moderating as a result of China’s commitment, which was at the time a cause for optimism.

When he returned to the numbers in 2019 to prepare his book, he was stunned. Egged on by the example of countries including the US and Australia, China had done far, far better than either “business as usual” or its Cancun commitments. Instead of continuing to grow rapidly, or less rapidly as China had said they would, they had almost stopped growing.

The graph, produced on page 29 of Garnaut’s book, is the most striking I have seen.



Since 2011, China’s emissions have been close to spirit-level flat. They climbed again only from 2017 when, under Trump in the US and various Coalition prime ministers in Australia, the moral pressure eased.

From the start of this century until 2011, China’s consumption of coal for electricity climbed at double-digit rates each year. From 2013 to 2016 (more than) every single bit of China’s extra electricity production came from non-emitting sources such as hydro, nuclear, wind and sun.

There are many potential explanations for the abrupt change. Pressure from nations including the US and Australia is only one.

What happened once could happen again

And there are many potential explanations for China’s return to form after Trump backslid on the Paris Agreement and Australia started quibbling about definitions.
An easing of overseas pressure is only one.

But, however brief, the extraordinary pause gives us cause for hope.

Australia can matter, in part because it is hugely respected in international forums for its technical expertise in accounting for carbon emissions, and in part because of its special role as one of the world’s leading energy exporters.

Garnaut’s book is about something else – an enormous and lucrative opportunity for Australia to produce and export embedded energy sourced from wind and the sun at a cost and scale other nations won’t be able to match.




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Some of it can be used to convert water into hydrogen. That can be used to turn what would otherwise be an intermittent power supply into a continuous one that enables around-the-clock production of the green steel, aluminium, and other zero-emission products Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United Kingdom are going to be demanding.

It’s a vision backed by Australia’s chief scientist.

It wouldn’t have been possible before. It has been made possible now by the extraordinary fall in the cost of solar and wind generation, and by something just as important – much lower global interest rates. Solar and wind generators cost money upfront but cost very little to operate. Interest rates are the cost of the money upfront.

At least three consortia are drawing up plans.

There’s not much to lose

There’s much that needs to be done, including establishing the right electricity transmission links. But Garnaut believes it can all be done within the government’s present emissions policy, helping it achieve its emission reduction targets along the way.

What’s relevant here is that moving to ultra-low emissions would do more. It could give us the kind of outsized international influence we are capable of. It could help us make a difference.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Protest has helped define the first two decades of the 21st century – here’s what’s next


Feyzi Ismail, SOAS, University of London

The first two decades of the 21st century saw the return of mass movements to streets around the world. Partly a product of sinking confidence in mainstream politics, mass mobilisation has had a huge impact on both official politics and wider society, and protest has become the form of political expression to which millions of people turn.

2019 has ended with protests on a global scale, most notably in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, Hong Kong and across India, which has recently flared up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act. In some cases protests are explicitly against neoliberal reforms, or against legal changes that threaten civil liberties. In others they are against inaction over the climate crisis, now driven by a generation of young people new to politics in dozens of countries.

As we end a turbulent two decades of protest – the subject of much of my own teaching and ongoing research – what will be the shape of protest in the 2020s?




Read more:
School climate strikes: what next for the latest generation of activists?


What’s changed in the 21st century

Following moments of open class warfare in the late 1960s and early 1970s, battles against the political and economic order became fragmented, trade unions were attacked, the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles was eroded and the history of the period was recast by the establishment to undermine its potency. In the post-Cold War era, a new phase of protest finally began to overcome these defeats.

This revival of protest exploded onto the political scene most visibly in Seattle outside the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. If 1968 was one of the high points of radical struggle in the 20th century, protest in the early 2000s once again began to reflect a general critique of the capitalist system, with solidarity forged across different sections of society.

Protests against the WTO shook Seattle in 1999.
Seattle Municipal Archives, CC BY-SA

The birth of the anti-globalisation movement in Seattle was followed by extraordinary mobilisations outside gatherings of the global economic elite. Alternative spaces were also created for the global justice movement to connect, most notably the World Social Forums (WSFs), starting with Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was here that questions over what position the anti-globalisation movement should take over the Iraq War, for example, were discussed and debated. Though the WSFs provided an important rallying point for a time, they ultimately evaded politics.

The global anti-war movement led to the biggest co-ordinated demonstrations in the history of protest on February 15 2003, in which millions of people demonstrated in over 800 cities, creating a crisis of democracy around the US and UK-led intervention in Iraq.

In the years leading up to and following the banking crisis of 2008, food riots and anti-austerity protests escalated around the world. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, protests achieved insurrectionary proportions, with the overthrow of one dictator after another. After the Arab Spring was thwarted by counter-revolution, the Occupy movement and then Black Lives Matter gained global attention. While the public, urban square became a central focus for protest, social media became an important – but by no means exclusive – organising tool.

To varying degrees, these movements sharply raised the question of political transformation but didn’t find new ways of institutionalising popular power. The result was that in a number of situations, protest movements fell back on widely distrusted parliamentary processes to try and pursue their political aims. The results of this parliamentary turn have not been impressive.

Crisis of representation

On the one hand, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen soaring inequality, accompanied by debt and the neglect of working people. On the other, there have been poor results from purely parliamentary attempts to challenge it. There is, in other words, a deep crisis of representation.

The inability of modern capitalism to deliver more than survival for many has combined with a general critique of neoliberal capitalism to create a situation in which wider and wider sections of society are being drawn into protest. More than a million people have poured onto the streets of Lebanon since mid-October and protests continue despite a violent crackdown by security forces.

At the same time, people are less and less willing to accept unrepresentative politicians – and this is likely to continue in the future. From Lebanon and Iraq to Chile and Hong Kong, mass mobilisations continue despite resignations and concessions.

In Britain, the Labour Party’s defeat in the recent general election is attributed largely to its failure to accept the 2016 referendum result over EU membership. Decades of loyalty to the Labour Party for many and a socialist leader in Jeremy Corbyn calling for an end to austerity couldn’t cut through to enough of the millions who voted for Brexit.

In France, a general strike in December 2019 over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms has revealed the extent of opposition that people feel towards his government. This comes barely a year after the start of the Yellow Vest movement, in which people have protested against fuel price hikes and the precariousness of their lives.

The tendency towards street protest will be encouraged too by the climate crisis, whose effects mean that the most heavily exploited, including along race and gender lines, have the most to lose. When the protests in Lebanon broke out, they were taking place alongside rampant wildfires.

Thinking strategically

As protesters gain experience, they consciously bring to the fore questions of leadership and organisation. In Lebanon and Iraq there has already been a conscious effort to overcome traditional sectarian divides. Debates are also raging in protest movements from Algeria to Chile about how to fuse economic and political demands in a more strategic manner. The goal is to make political and economic demands inseparable, such that it’s impossible for a government to make political concessions without making economic ones too.




Read more:
The future of protest is high tech – just look at the Catalan independence movement


As the 2020s begin, it’s clear we’re living in an unprecedented moment: a climate emergency and ecological breakdown, a brewing global financial crisis, deepening inequality, trade wars, and growing threats of more imperialist wars and militarisation.

There has also been a resurgence of the far right in many countries, emboldened most visibly by parties and politicians in the US, Brazil, India and many parts of Europe. This resurgence, however, has not gone unchallenged.

The convergence of crisis on these multiple fronts will reach breaking point, creating conditions that will become intolerable for most people. This will galvanise more protest and more polarisation. As governments respond with reforms, such measures on their own will be unlikely to meet the combination of political and economic demands. The question of how to create new vehicles of representation to assert popular control over the economy will keep emerging. The fortunes of popular protest may well depend on whether the collective leadership of the movements can provide answers to it.The Conversation

Feyzi Ismail, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Houses for a warmer future are currently restricted by Australia’s building code



Australians need better solutions for coping with the warmer climate of the future (and present).
TRACEY NEARMY/AAP

Anir Kumar Upadhyay, UNSW; Chris Lockhart Smith, UNSW, and Krishna Munsami, UNSW

Australian houses use significantly more electricity to stay warm or cool than estimated during the design stage.

To design a new house in Australia, the building needs to meet the national construction code. One way to do this is by using software to simulate the building’s thermal efficiency, to see if it meets the minimum requirements of the national house energy scheme. The scheme divides Australia geographically into 69 different climate zones and requires new houses to be thermally appropriate for their environment.




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Are heatwaves ‘worsening’ and have ‘hot days’ doubled in Australia in the last 50 years?


Unfortunately, this software does not properly take into account our warming weather. Our recent report found the climate assumptions used by the government drastically underestimate the length and heat of summers in the near future.

In fact, buildings that perform best for heat waves predicted by 2030 are actually banned by the government’s building code. We urgently need to update our building codes to cope with our changing climate.

Understand the future local climate

We took Richmond in New South Wales as an example to understand the effect a changing climate might have on building performance. By taking predictions from CSIRO’s medium greenhouse gas emissions scenario, we analysed Richmond’s likely weather for every week of 2030.

The future outlook, shown below, is strikingly different from the weather files used to determine whether houses meet the minimum thermal performance requirement of the National Construction Code. In 2030, Richmond will experience a warm period almost four times longer than predicted by the official weather file.


Author provided

Design for the future

Based on the future climate scenario, the design strategy for buildings in Richmond should focus on well shaded and insulated buildings to avoid any heat gain in the warm period, but should also harness sunlight to warm up the indoors in the cool period.

The warm period will last from December to March, when keeping the house cool is the priority. Passive solar heating, such as northern windows and well-insulated walls, floor and ceilings, are important during the May to September cool months, while direct ventilation is largely all that’s needed during the mostly comfortable April and October to November.

To test how houses will perform in a hotter future, we modelled a house in Richmond using AccuRate software. We found a design and construction solution that performed well (achieving 7.6 stars out of 10) for the 2030 scenario failed to meet a heating threshold that is legally required in NSW. In effect, the house that makes the most sense for the immediate future, could not be built.

These thresholds for heating and cooling are based on assumptions that are out of step with current conditions, let alone the future. Between 2016 and 2018 Richmond’s annual average temperature was 17.8℃, whereas the NatHERS weather file assumes it to be 16.7℃. This difference is set to increase.

In a 2019 amendment, the National Construction Code adopted NSW’s approach to heating and cooling thresholds to other climate zones in other states. The heating threshold puts a restraint on designing buildings that are optimised to mitigate extreme heat events.

This highlights the limitation of out-of-date climate files, and the current regulation that acts as a barrier to developing energy efficient designs for a future warmer climate.

Build to perform

A 2013 CSIRO study found that houses with higher star ratings using more energy in summer.

One of the reasons is the trade-offs on the thermal performance of one building component against another in the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) software. For example, a window without shading on the western façade is acceptable in a NatHERS simulation, whereas the same window would not be allowed if a glazing calculator developed by the National Construction Code were used to demonstrate the thermal performance of a house.

Other issues are trade workmanship, such whether a building is airtight. Airtightness in residential buildings is ignored in the national construction code. However, considerable energy savings can be achieved if a house can be made airtight.


Author provided

Similarly, missing or displaced insulation in the ceiling, as shown above, can cause significant discomfort and additional heating and cooling costs. We all, from builders to homeowners, need to understand insulation must be carefully installed and cannot be moved later, or even well designed buildings will become inefficient.

Windows are the main option for ventilating most houses. However, if you live in a high-pollution or noisy area, or in a place with very little wind, open windows might not be desirable or practical. Consequently, households may not be getting enough fresh air to maintain a healthy indoor environment. A mechanical ventilation system, which uses little energy, is an ideal alternative.




Read more:
Too many Australians have to choose between heating or eating this winter


The current weather files and heating thresholds used to develop minimum building standards are inadequate for our warming climate. Our report presents a framework for designing and building houses that consider climate change. We hope to see further research on other Australian population centres, so we can develop a comprehensive overview to help us build energy efficient and healthy houses for the future.The Conversation

Anir Kumar Upadhyay, Lecturer in Built Environment, UNSW; Chris Lockhart Smith, Director – ecodweller, UNSW, and Krishna Munsami, PhD student, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s time for Australia to commit to the kind of future it wants: CSIRO Australian National Outlook 2019


Australia’s future prosperity will require bold action on a number of fronts and a deliberate commitment to careful and considered long-term thinking.
Hendra Pontomudis / unsplash, CC BY

James Deverell, CSIRO

Australia’s future prosperity is at risk unless we take bold action and commit to long-term thinking. This is the key message contained in the Australian National Outlook 2019 (ANO 2019), a report published today by CSIRO and its partners.

The research used a scenario approach to model different visions of Australia in 2060.

We contrasted two core scenarios: a base case called Slow Decline, and an Outlook Vision scenario which represents what Australia could achieve. These scenarios took account of 13 different national issues, as well as two global contexts relating to trade and action on climate change.

We found there are profound differences in long-term outcomes between these two scenarios.

In the Slow Decline scenario, Australia fails to adequately address identified challenges.
CSIRO, Author provided
The Outlook Vision scenario shows what could be possible if Australia meets identified challenges.
CSIRO, Author provided

Slow decline versus a new outlook

Australia’s living standards – as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita – could be 36% higher in 2060 in the Outlook Vision, compared with Slow Decline. This translates into a 90% increase in average wages (in real terms, adjusted for inflation) from today.

Australia’s real GDP per capita in 2016, and the modelled outcomes for Slow Decline and Outlook Vision. In Outlook Vision, the darker shade shows outcomes under a cooperative global context and the lighter shade under a fractious global context.
CSIRO, Author provided

Australia could maintain its world-class, highly liveable cities, while increasing its population to 41 million people by 2060. Urban congestion could be reduced, with per capita passenger vehicle travel 45% lower than today in the Outlook Vision.

Australia could achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 while reducing household spend on electricity (relative to incomes) by up to 64%. Importantly, our modelling shows this could be achieved without significant impact on economic growth.

Low-emissions, low-cost energy could even become a source of comparative advantage for Australia, opening up new export opportunities.

And inflation-adjusted returns to rural landholders in Australia could triple to 2060, with the land sector contribution to GDP increasing from around 2% today to over 5%.

At the same time, ecosystems could be restored through more biodiverse plantings and land management.




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Historical trend for vehicle kms travelled (VKT) on urban roads, per capita, and projections resulting from the modelled Slow Decline and Outlook Vision scenarios. The shaded area for Outlook Vision represents the range of outcomes possible depending on how regional satellites cities develop.
CSIRO, Author provided

The report, developed over the last two years, explores what Australia must do to secure a future with prosperous and globally competitive industries, inclusive and enabling communities, and sustainable natural endowments, all underpinned by strong public and civic institutions.

ANO 2019 uses CSIRO’s integrated modelling framework to project economic, environmental and social outcomes to 2060 across multiple scenarios.

The outlook also features input from more than 50 senior leaders drawn from Australia’s leading companies, universities and not-for-profits.

So how do we get there?

Achieving the outcomes in the Outlook Vision won’t be easy.

Australia will need to address the major challenges it faces, including the rise of Asia, technology disruption, climate change, changing demographics, and declining social cohesion. This will require long-term thinking and bold action across five major “shifts”:

  • industry shift
  • urban shift
  • energy shift
  • land shift
  • culture shift.

The report outlines the major actions that will underpin each of these shifts.

For example, the industry shift would see Australian firms adopt new technologies (such as automation and artificial intelligence) to boost productivity, which accounts for a little over half of the difference in living standards between the Outlook Vision and Slow Decline.

Developing human capital (through education and training) and investment in high-growth, export-facing industries (such as healthcare and advanced manufacturing) each account for around 20% of the difference between the two scenarios.

The urban shift would see Australia increase the density of its major cities by between 60-88%, while spreading this density across a wider cross-section of the urban landscape (such as multiple centres).

Combining this density with a greater diversity of housing types and land uses will allow more people to live closer to high-quality jobs, education, and services.

Enhancing transport infrastructure to support multi-centric cities, more active transport, and autonomous vehicles will alleviate congestion and enable the “30-minute city”.




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State of the Climate 2018: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO


In the energy shift, across every scenario modelled, the electricity sector transitions to nearly 100% renewable generation by 2050, driven by market forces and declining electricity generation and storage costs.

Likewise, electric vehicles are on pace to hit price-parity with petrol ones by the mid-2020s and could account for 80% of passenger vehicles by 2060.

In addition, Australia could triple its energy productivity by 2060, meaning it would use only 6% more energy than today, despite the population growing by over 60% and GDP more than tripling.

Primary energy use in Australia under the modelled scenarios. Primary energy is the measure of energy before it has been converted or transformed, and includes electricity plus combustion of fuels in industry, commercial, residential and transport.
CSIRO, Author provided

The land shift would require boosting agricultural productivity (through a combination of plant genomics and digital agriculture) and changing how we use our land.

By 2060, up to 30 million hectares – or roughly half of Australia’s marginal land within more intensively farmed areas – could be profitably transitioned to carbon plantings, which would increase returns to landholders and offset emissions from other sectors.

As much as 700 millions of tonnes of CO₂ equivalent could be offset in 2060, which would allow Australia to become a net exporter of carbon credits.

A culture shift

The last, and perhaps most important shift, is the cultural shift.

Trust in government and industry has eroded in recent years, and Australia hasn’t escaped this trend. If these institutions, which have served Australia so well in its past, cannot regain the public’s trust, it will be difficult to achieve the long-term actions that underpin the other four shifts.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet here.The Conversation

James Deverell, Director, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blocking Huawei’s 5G could isolate Australia from future economic opportunities


Marina Yue Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

Trade conflict between the US and China has accelerated towards the brink of trade war.

A recent Trump executive order preventing US companies from working with “adversaries” (China fits this description) was hammered home by a ban on selling US high-tech products to Chinese tech company Huawei.




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Blocking Huawei from Australia means slower and delayed 5G – and for what?


Australia too has put a halt on 5G infrastructure coming from China.

But this is about more than just which company’s poles and wires will provide internet for your phone and movie downloads in the future.

Choices the US, Australia and other nations make around how they set up 5G will determine how we use technology for collaboration, innovation and global business.

Huawei’s 5G is becoming a global standard

5G is the fifth generation network for mobile connectivity. It has been described as “game changing” due to high speeds and high capacity, and provision of superior service to high numbers of users.

5G relies on standardisation – the technical specifications used in mobile networks – supported by patents and licensing agreements.

In mobile networks, standard essential patents (SEPs) are those patents that any company will have to license when implementing 5G. History suggests companies holding SEPs benefit significantly from royalties.

Data from April 2019 shows China, collectively, owns over one-third of the world’s SEPs for 5G.

China lost its opportunity in 1G and 2G, learned an expensive lesson from its failed 3G standard, and achieved substantial catch-up in 4G. It is determined to lead in 5G.

Chinese tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE understand that transition to 5G opens a window of opportunity for them to achieve this goal. To do this they need to build followers – and momentum is already moving in this regard.

By the end of March 2019, Huawei had reportedly been awarded 40 5G commercial contracts from carriers around the world (including 23 from Europe, six from the Asia Pacific, ten from the Middle East and one from Africa).

The battle of radio spectra

In addition to standardisation, radio spectrum is another critical factor in 5G. Radio spectrum is a limited resource that is used for communications from Earth to space.

Spectrum allocation is at the heart of 5G competition.

Huawei’s 5G technology has been developed for mid-band spectrums which are available for commercial use in many countries, including Australia.

The best plan for Australia is that mid-band solutions be used to cover the bulk of 5G networks, with high-band technologies to provide complementary coverage in densely populated areas.

The US has limited access to mid-band spectrums for commercial 5G, as most in this range are for defence use. So the US developed its 5G technologies for high-band spectrums – which presents that country with a dilemma.

It is not easy for the US to switch from high-band to mid-band 5G in a short time. And it’s not likely the rest of the world will give up using mid-band solutions, which provide wider coverage and require less investment in infrastructure.

A short-term answer is for the US to push its allies to jointly exclude Huawei from their 5G networks. This might be sought to protect the US from 5G “isolation”, and perhaps have other commercial or political implications – or a combination of these factors.




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US ban on Huawei likely following Trump cybersecurity crackdown – and Australia is on board


The consequence is that Australia, as one of those allies, would likely need to spend more money on base stations and the necessary infrastructure and wait a longer time for a fully operational 5G system.

For example, a Huawei 5G base station is only one-third the size of its 4G equivalents and weighs only 20 kilograms: it’s easier to install, and the technology is at least 18 months ahead of its competitors such as Nokia. This advantage is lost if Australia continues to block Huawei.

Australia’s fourth mobile telco, TPG, argues that there is “no credible case” to rollout its 5G as planned without Huawei.




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Stakes are high as US ups the ante on trade dispute with China


Fractured globalisation?

5G will support many applications such as industry automation, self-driving cars, massive machine-to-machine communications, internet of things, smart cities and more.

This means the growth of 5G will accelerate development of an ecosystem in which different countries can co-exist and co-develop, supported by interconnected and interdependent supply chain networks.

Such ecosystems are built on mobile network infrastructures, upon which are layered technology platforms for manufacturing, medical treatments and payments (for example) and then applications for working, studying and living.

For example, in the future this sort of system might be used by Australian and Chinese academics and industry experts to work together on innovations related to health care, environmental protection or industrial automation.

But this may fall down if the involved countries build their 5G infrastructures differently.

Australia’s final 5G plan could have profound implications for Australia’s economic development into the future.The Conversation

Marina Yue Zhang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will the New Zealand gun law changes prevent future mass shootings?



File 20190321 93048 zzezph.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on certain military-style weapons.
AAP/David Alexander

Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

As she foreshadowed in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre last Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced a ban in that country on specific military-style firearms. It will soon become an offence to own or possess semi-automatic firearms and shotguns with detachable magazines capable of firing more than five cartridges.

Later this month, the government will consider further changes to the law that will tighten licensing requirements and impose limits on certain types of ammunition. There will be a gun buy-back scheme in place in due course that will provide compensation to those who possess soon-to-be-illegal guns. Preliminary advice suggests that might cost the country between NZ$100 million and NZ$200 million.




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Thoughts immediately go to the aftermath of the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy in Australia. Then-Prime Minister John Howard had been elected only six weeks before the Tasmanian horror unfolded. He immediately set in train the gun control measures that no previous government, conservative or progressive, would ever have thought possible.

The government placed a ban on the sale, transfer, possession, manufacture, and importation of all automatic and most semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (and their parts, including magazines). More than 640,000 such weapons were thereupon surrendered and later destroyed at a cost to the taxpayer of around A$250 million.

In Australia today, there continues to be bipartisan political consensus and broad community support for what was titled the National Firearms Agreement (NFA). In 2017, it was reaffirmed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

There has been some criticism that certain aspects of the original agreement have been watered down in some jurisdictions in recent years, but the requirements outlined by the agreement generally remain intact.

Did the Australian gun ban and buy-back scheme make inroads into the rate of firearm-related deaths? Did it prevent mass shootings? Jacinda Ardern appears to be convinced that answers to both questions are in the affirmative. Let’s look at the evidence from the past 23 years in this country to test her assumptions.




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No massacres and an accelerating decline in overall gun deaths: the impact of Australia’s major 1996 gun law reforms


Gun violence in Australia since the buy-back

It is unequivocal that gun death rates in Australia have been falling consistently since 1996. Some commentators object to the connection between this trend and the NFA, saying the downturn was simply a continuation of a long-term decline in gun violence generally.

But recent research found that, compared with the trend before 1997, there was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths after the implementation of the NFA.

However, this conclusion was quickly challenged by another researcher, who argued these findings were simply a consequence of the rarity of these events, and that the data were thus skewed.

The researchers on the first paper then set out to test the null hypothesis: that is, that the rate of mass shootings would remain unchanged after the introduction of the NFA. They concluded that while a definitive causal connection between this legislation and the 22-year absence of mass firearm homicides was not possible, there was nevertheless evidence that before 1996, approximately three mass shootings took place every four years. Had they continued at that rate, 16 incidents would have been expected by February 2018, but that pattern did not play out.

The evidence from the National Homicide Monitoring Program, collated by the Australian Institute of Criminology, concurs with the evidence provided by these authors. Its data indicate that the share of murders committed with firearms dropped significantly around the time of the buyback scheme. Indeed, the number of homicide incidents involving a firearm decreased by 57% between 1989-90 and 2013-14.

In 1989-90, firearms were used in 24% of homicides. In 2013-14, the figure was 13%.

Incidentally, in the United States, 60% of homicides are committed by firearms. To the extent that correlations are useful, there should be no surprises here. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate.

Reducing access to firearms lowers the risk of gun deaths

The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide, and gun injury rates is convincing. Anyone advocating gun ownership as a means of lowering levels of violence and crime is arguing against the weight of research.




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Jacinda Ardern’s initiative cannot do her country any harm. Twenty-three years after Port Arthur and the NFA, firearm involvement in homicide incidents in Australia, including the involvement of handguns, remains at an historic low.

While it would draw too long a bow to assert conclusively that the downturn in firearm deaths in Australia can be attributed to the gun law reforms alone, the implementation of the NFA can be closely associated with the reductions in mass shootings and firearm deaths.

The choices made by the Ardern government to eliminate certain firearms from New Zealand to improve community safety are consistent with the long-term evidence from Australia.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.