Category Archives: Environment

Wolves

wolf

I have long been a lover of wolves, I love their fierce pack loyalty combined with the concept of an Alpha.

Now, I don’t know if this is true or not, some reading I’ve done suggest the impact is overstated.  Perhaps.  But in addition to being a feel good story, it does underscore my feeling that nature will survive.

Zika Virus

Mosquito

If you haven’t noticed, the new world health crisis is the Zika virus transmitted via the common mosquito:

There’s another big health concern that’s all over the news, and it’s behind this week’s Words You’ll Hear. That’s the segment where we try to understand stories we’ll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing some of the words associated with those stories. Today, our word is Zika. That’s the name of a mosquito-borne virus that’s been detected in parts of the Caribbean and Central and South America, especially in Brazil, where it’s being blamed for a spike in birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control has issued travel advisories for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

You’re humble contributing editor suggests a single course of action.

DDT

A 1978 National Cancer Institute report concluded—after two years of testing on several different strains of cancer-prone mice and rats—that DDT was not carcino-genic.36 As for the DDT-caused eggshell thinning, it is unclear whether it did, in fact, occur and, if it did, whether the thinning was caused by DDT, by mercury, by PCBs, or by the effects of human encroachment.16,37 And as recently as 1998 researchers reported that thrush eggshells in Great Britain had been thinning at a steady rate 47 years before DDT hit the market; the researchers placed the blame on the early consequences of industrialization.

By all means, let’s ban a cure saving millions of life for … well, for nothing.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill – Volumes and Values

DeepRiver Oil Spill

Last month I posted on the impact of the Deepwater oil spill as it related to food safety.  Commentor Corey C made good point that safety is only one aspect of the catch being impacted; the size of the catch is important as is the value of that catch.

I found The United States Seafood Market Report:

The total volume of fish harvested off the U.S. Gulf coast varied widely during the last five years due to fluctuations in the Menhaden catch. Total landings averaged approximately 634,000 MT from 2009-2013, but ranged from a low of 486,000 MT in 2010 to a high of 813,000 MT in 2011. During this period, the menhaden catch fluctuated from a low of 342,000 MT in 2010 to a high of 634,000 MT in 2011. Excluding Menhaden, total volume declined by 14% from 196,000 MT in 2009 to 169,000 MT in 2013. The entire Gulf region was impacted by the Deep Horizon oil spill, which lowered harvest volumes in 2010.

It turns out that Corey was correct; the volume was impacted due to the spill.  I don’t think that anyone would be surprised by that knowledge – throwing that much oil, that amount of chemicals in the water is gonna kill a lot of stuff.

Devastating.

And the value of that catch?

Despite the fluctuations in total landings, the value of fish harvested in the Gulf of Mexico has generally been increasing. Total value increased by 48% from $636 million in 2009 to $940 million in 2013, primarily due to increases in the prices of shrimp.

This surprised me.  I would have thought the value of the catch to fall with the volume – the idea being that volumes elsewhere would have stayed consisted driving the price stable; a stable price with falling catches would have decreased the value.

So, as far as the “seafood” is concerned, the fact that we are seeing diminished volumes is ‘bad’.  That’s assuming the populations rise and fall with the catch – or rather vice versa.  However, the good news for the fishermen is that their take home pay should be increasing.

Tropical Storms: Strength and Frequency

Hurricane

Am currently having a conversation regarding the positions of our political candidates hold.  For example, Ben Carson questions evolution – a nuanced debate not meant for this post – and I countered that there are real live breathing human beings that believe tropical storms are increasing both in number and in strength.  The constraints of social media being what they are I am going to make my case here and then post there.

First, the question of frequency.  From the scientists:

global_major_freq.2015.11.03

Above is the frequency of All Hurricanes [top line] and then Major Hurricanes [bottom line].  It’s clear that the frequency of all hurricanes has been on a downward slope since 1997 or so.  And before that they were steady going back to 1986’ish.  While it’s true that the frequency did rise from the period 1973 through 1987, those years represented a diminished number from the recent high seen in 1971 or 1972.  And major hurricanes?  They too have seen a reduction in number from 2002 to present day.

As for force:

global_running_ace.2015.11.03

We’re near recent lows.  As recently as 2010 through 2013 we’ve been lower than any time since 1975.  True, there are high peaks as recent as 2006, but the most recent decadal trend is down.

Finally data on the frequency not just of hurricanes but  of all tropical storms:

frequency_12months.2015.11.03

Here any sense of trend vanishes – or rather, the trend is one of remarkable consistency.

In conclusion – there is absolutely no evidence to sustain the concept that tropical storms are increasing in numbers or power.

Free Land

CropLand

Reading over at Carpe Diem when I came across this graphic.

Just a quick way of saying that through technology advances in agriculture we’ve been able to give back to nature 68% of our arable land.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill – Impacts Today

DeepRiver Oil Spill

I remember saying that the folks making a living in the area impacted by the oil spill would have their lives changed for the remainder of their lives.  I recently check to see how true that was.  As it relates to the quality of the seafood in the area, there seems to be no lasting impact:

A sampling of more than 1,000 Gulf of Mexico fish, shrimp, oysters and blue crabs taken from Cedar Key, Fla., to Mobile Bay, Ala., between 2011 to 2013, shows no elevated contaminant levels, according to a seafood safety study conducted by Dr. Andrew Kane and colleagues at the University of Florida. In fact, some 74 percent of the seafood tested showed no quantifiable levels of oil contaminants at all.
“Seafood appears as safe to eat now as it was before the spill,” said Dr. Andrew Kane, associate professor of environmental and global health and director of the Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratory at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.

I never would have believed that.

Cecil

cecil

Much MUCH talk about Cecil the Lion on my feeds the last day or two:

(CNN)Cecil the lion is dead, killed illegally in Zimbabwe, authorities allege, by a foreign hunter or hunters who paid about $55,000 for the privilege.

Cecil was part of an Oxford University research project and wore a GPS collar.

He was lured out of a national park with food, shot with a crossbow, tracked for 40 more hours, then finished off with a gun, said Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

If the cat was lured out of the park, the hunt is illegal and those responsible should be held accountable.  But let’s be clear, hunting big game may be big game’s only shot at survival:

Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos are thought to exist in the wild, and in an effort to preserve the species, the Dallas Safari Club is offering a chance to kill one.

The Texas-based hunting organization is auctioning off a permit to hunt a rhinoceros in Nambia. It’s a fundraiser intended to help save the larger population.

The idea may sound counter-intuitive, but Dallas Safari Club executive Ben Carter tells NPR’s Jennifer Ludden that raising the funds to support the species is what many scientists and biologists believe is the best way to grow the population of black rhinos.

“It takes money for these animals to exist. A lot of people don’t recognize that,” Carter says. An endangered species like the black rhino needs a lot of support — land, protection, management, studies. “This is one way to raise a lot of money at one time,” he says. “That can make a huge impact on the future of the species.”

But certainly killing is not the best way?!?

Carter says many of those who object are not educated in the role that hunting plays in conservation. A habitat can only sustain a certain population, he says, and any excess can be harvested and used to raise money through selling things like hunting licenses and permits.

The winner of the Dallas Safari Club’s auction will hunt a specially selected rhino. Namibia’s Department of Wildlife looks for a rhino that’s too old to breed — and too aggressive to stay in the herd. When black rhinos get older, Carter says, they remain territorial and sometimes kill younger rhino bulls and calves. He says the department often removes these rhinos for the protection of the population anyway.

Not to mention that when the animals belong to ‘everyone’ they belong to ‘no one’.

Tragedy of the Commons.

A Leary Eye Towards Government

Honey Bee Hive

It would be an understatement to say that I oppose the reach of government, but – BUT – when I do support such intervention I support more local solutions than federal ones.  So, if I have to live with the ‘tyranical beast’ at least it can benefit me once in awhile:

Because of housing developments or agriculture as well – clearing out – you don’t have the small fields anymore where you would have buffers of plants,” said Jen Keller, a research specialist in North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology.

Sen. Andrew Brock R-Davie, said studies show more beehives means better crops, so he has signed on to the so-called Birds and Bees Act, which is scheduled to get its first hearing next Wednesday before the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

“With agriculture being our No. 1 business, we’ve got to make sure we continue to grow, grow, grow and grow a lot more food for people, not just here in this state but across the world,” Brock said.

His bill would address some of the loss of habitat Keller noted by requiring state agencies to look for ways to increase and promote highway rights-of-way, utility easements and other areas as places for the flowers and trees that bees need for food.

“One thing that we’re trying to promote is to have buffer zones. Let some of those wild flowers and weeds continue to grow,” Keller said.

THAT is an awesome idea.  One  of the reasons that I don’t use my own money to seed county roads where I live is that the county mows the ‘effin roads!

And more:

Senate Bill 225 also would prevent cities and counties from enacting ordinances preventing people from having as many as five backyard beehives.

Keller said she thinks allowing more people to have hives could boost bee populations.

Again – if  I have to live with tyranny, it should benefit me ONCE in awhile 🙂

However, there is one area where I would correct the story:

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bee colonies have dropped 25 to 30 percent per year in recent years. A mix of parasites, pathogens, pesticides and a lack of diversity in pollen or nectar is blamed for much of the losses.

While us keepers suffer colony  losses to that degree, we’ve gotten good at adapting:

But here’s something you probably haven’t heard: There are more honeybee colonies in the United States today than there were when colony collapse disorder began in 2006. In fact, according to data released in March by the Department of Agriculture, U.S. honeybee-colony numbers are now at a 20-year high. And those colonies are producing plenty of honey. U.S. honey production is also at a 10-year high.

Environments For Sale

Rain Forest

Scanning NPR the other day when I came across an article on Ecuador and their rain forests:

The government of Ecuador has abandoned a plan that would have kept part of the Amazonian rainforest off limits to oil drilling. The initiative was an unusual one: Ecuador was promising to keep the oil in the ground, but it wanted to be paid for doing so.

The oil sits under the Yasuni national park, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth — orchids, jaguars, monkeys, birds. To get to the corner of the park that holds the oil, you have to take a plane, then a motorboat, then paddle a canoe. “Even the sound of the motor will destroy the fragility of this place,” Ivonne A-Baki, who works for the Ecuadorian government, told me this year.

In 2007, the country’s president, Rafael Correa, told the world that Ecuador would leave the oil in the ground. But the country wanted to be paid half of what the oil was valued at, at the time. Ecuador wanted $3.6 billion.

Riiiight.

All kinds of governments are going to pay another nation to do nothing.  And what if Ecuador decides later, say in 10 years, that they really need that oil and drill anyway.

Anyway, an interesting fact is that the planet is getting greener:

Did you know that the Earth is getting greener, quite literally? Satellites are now confirming that the amount of green vegetation on the planet has been increasing for three decades. This will be news to those accustomed to alarming tales about deforestation, overdevelopment and ecosystem destruction.

And, ironically, it’s because we are burning fossil fuels:

The inescapable if unfashionable conclusion is that the human use of fossil fuels has been causing the greening of the planet in three separate ways: first, by displacing firewood as a fuel; second, by warming the climate; and third, by raising carbon dioxide levels, which raise plant growth rates.

 

 

 

The Death Of The Honey Bee

Honey Bee

I’ve been keeping bees for, what – 1 or 2 months now?  It’s really cool.  AND it’s added to my concern for the plight of the honey bee.

Imagine my surprise at this headline:

Rise Of The Robotic Bees

You just HAVE to read more:

Do bees, swarms of bees, make you nervous? Maybe not. Maybe they remind you of honey, flowers and warm summer days. You stay out of their way and they stay out of yours. What if, however, the bees weren’t bees at all but hundreds (or thousands) of autonomous microbots, facsimiles of the real thing, buzzing around in the real world?

That’s not Hollywood fantasy any more. It appears to be within reach. Researchers in the at Harvard’s say that they expect their project will demonstrate flying, autonomous micro-air-vehicles modeled on insects within the next 2 1/2 years.

It won’t be easy, according to Rob Wood, the project’s principal investigator.

“The challenges that you get when you scale these things down mean that you have to reinvent everything, everything has to come from scratch, every one of the technologies,” Wood said in an interview last week. “There is nothing off the shelf.”

But can they solve the pollination problem?

The real question hanging in the air, so to say, is how the bees themselves might be used once they’ve been endowed with the power, sensor and control mechanisms needed to fly and operate on their own.

The obvious answer is surveillance of all types, whether it’s for the military in combat or scientists tracking changes in the environment or spooks keeping tabs on their targets. Oh, and they might also be able to pollinate crops of vegetables and flowers, too.

We have a few years, at least, to figure out how how swarms of robotic insects might fit into our lives. The Robobees team is working along three tracks: body, brain and colony. Each one presents its own challenges. Integrating the three strands, which are being worked on in parallel, is a whole other set of hurdles.

Mobee is just one hurdle cleared. We’ll have to wait and see two years from now if the swarm is really on the horizon, and a little longer to decide if we need to run from it.

Very cool.