Nau mai haere mai, welcome to your newsletter.

Antarctica has been in the headlines recently, but none of the news was good.

A slow-down of a vital deep-ocean current that begins with super-cooled Antarctic waters and carries nutrients, oxygen and heat around the globe. A skip in the beat of the annual freeze-thaw rhythm of Antarctica’s sea ice. An extreme heatwave that circumnavigated the continent over several months.

Antarctica may be isolated from other landmasses by the Southern Ocean, but changes there have worldwide repercussions and scientists are warning that ongoing warming will push the icy continent towards thresholds which, once crossed, will lead to irreversible impacts.

As earth scientist Tim Naish writes, the last time atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were as high as they are today was three million years ago. Our planet’s climate system eventually adjusted, but “it took a millennium, and when it did, Earth’s surface was 2℃ warmer and global sea-levels were 20m higher – and back then, even our earliest human ancestors were yet to evolve”.

Our current trajectory is taking Earth across thresholds humans have never experienced, into a climate where Antarctica’s ice shelves can no longer exist, leading to several metres of sea-level rise, he writes. The prospect is depressing but it’s not too late - as Naish reiterates, fast and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions will keep Antarctica covered in ice and avoid the worst impacts from rising seas.

As always, you’ll find a lot more to read in this newsletter and on our homepage. Many thanks for your ongoing interest and support - until next week, mā te wā.

Veronika Meduna

Science, Health + Environment New Zealand Editor

Antarctic tipping points: the irreversible changes to come if we fail to keep warming below 2℃

Timothy Naish, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

We are on a trajectory that takes Earth across thresholds humans have never experienced, into a climate where Antarctica’s ice shelves can no longer exist, leading to several metres of sea-level rise.

A watershed report on solitary confinement in NZ prisons must now trigger real reform

Christine McCarthy, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

The Prison Inspectorate has found ‘segregation’ policy and practice in New Zealand prisons are harmful, and has recommended significant changes.

El Niño combined with global warming means big changes for New Zealand’s weather

Kevin Trenberth, University of Auckland

2016 was the world’s warmest year on record, due in part to a very strong El Niño event. But 2023 (and 2024) could beat that record – what should we expect?

I was involved in talks to free a kidnapped Kiwi pilot in West Papua. With negotiations stalled, what happens now?

Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

A negotiator in early talks to free Phillip Mehrtens from West Papuan independence rebels explains the current stalemate and what might happen now.

Blue carbon: could a solution to the climate challenge be buried in the depths of fiords?

Rebecca J McLeod, University of Otago; William Austin, University of St Andrews

Marine sediments are the world’s largest store of carbon, and fiords in particular are a massive sink. But New Zealand doesn’t even have an oceans policy to develop blue carbon climate policy.

AUKUS is already trialling autonomous weapons systems – where is NZ’s policy on next-generation warfare?

Jeremy Moses, University of Canterbury; Sian Troath, University of Canterbury

While the technologies being explored under ‘pillar two’ of the AUKUS security pact are becoming clearer, New Zealand’s policy on autonomous weapons and military AI has become increasingly murky.

New Zealand needs to up its biosecurity game to protect the country from the next devastating pest threat

Angela (Ang) McGaughran, University of Waikato

With a focus on ships and cargo, we are missing the opportunity to prevent pests that ride in on the wind. It is time to invest in addressing the biosecurity threats before they arrive.

Our oceans are in deep trouble – a ‘mountains to sea’ approach could make a real difference

Karen Fisher, University of Auckland

Marine governance in New Zealand is fragmented, with several agencies operating under various statutes. But a more collaborative, ecosystem-based approach to better protect the ocean is emerging.

From our foreign editions

If humans went extinct, what would the Earth look like one year later?

Carlton Basmajian, Iowa State University

Maybe it was a nuclear war, devastating climate change, or a killer virus. But if something caused people to disappear, imagine what would happen afterward.

Peter Singer’s fresh take on Animal Liberation – a book that changed the world, but not enough

Simon Coghlan, The University of Melbourne

First published in 1975, Animal Liberation opened our eyes to the exploitation of animals. At a time of ‘ag-gag’ laws and ‘skyscraper’ farms, a new edition assesses the state of animal rights today.

We’re in another COVID wave. But it’s not like the others

James Wood, UNSW Sydney; Freya Shearer, The University of Melbourne; James McCaw, The University of Melbourne

Australia is in the middle of its fifth Omicron wave, which has been brewing since February. But it’s been slow and drawn out and the health impacts are very different to earlier waves.

A jury of ex-presidents? No, but Trump’s fate will be decided by 12 citizen peers, in a hallowed tradition of US democracy

Stefanie Lindquist, Arizona State University

Like all criminal defendants, Trump will enjoy the protection that a jury will offer from abuse by government prosecutors.

The Crucible: the real witch hunt that inspired Arthur Miller’s play

Christopher Bigsby, University of East Anglia

Miller told me that he was writing at the edge of a cliff. There was a reason the Bible began with the story of Cain and Abel, brother killing brother.

The materials used by humans now weigh more than all life on Earth – here’s four graphs that reveal our staggering impact on the planet

Aled Jones, Anglia Ruskin University; Nick King, Anglia Ruskin University

Four graphs that show us how humanity’s impact on the planet is growing.

How to avoid toxic perfectionism when planning a wedding

Simon Sherry, Dalhousie University

Weddings have become increasingly curated: everything from the shoes to the table runners are perfectly themed and colour-co-ordinated. It is emblematic of our cultural obsession with perfection.

Animal Farm has been translated into Shona – why a group of Zimbabwean writers undertook the task

Tinashe Mushakavanhu, University of Oxford

Novelist Petina Gappah’s call for translators on Facebook has resulted in the publication of Chimurenga Chemhuka.