Category: Environment

Common pesticide harms wild bees

A common type of pesticide is dramatically harming wild bees, according to a new in-the-field study that outside experts say may help shift the way the U.S. government looks at a controversial class of chemicals.

But in the study published by the journal Nature on Wednesday, honeybees — which get trucked from place to place to pollinate major crops like almonds— didn’t show the significant ill effects that wild cousins like bumblebees did. This is a finding some experts found surprising. A second study published in the same journal showed that in lab tests bees are not repelled by the pesticides and in fact may even prefer pesticide coated crops, making the problem worse…

Exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides reduced the density of wild bees, resulted in less reproduction, and colonies that didn’t grow when compared to bees not exposed to the pesticide, the study found.

Scientists in Sweden were able to conduct a study that was in the wild, but still had the in-the-lab qualities of having control groups that researchers covet. They used 16 patches of landscape, eight where canola seeds were coated with the pesticide and eight where they weren’t, and compared the two areas.

When the first results came in, “I was quite, ‘Oh my God,'” said study lead author Maj Rundlof of Lund University. She said the reduction in bee health was “much more dramatic than I ever expected.”

In areas treated with the pesticide, there were half as many wild bees per square meter than there were in areas not treated, Rundlof said. In the pesticide patches, bumblebee colonies had “almost no weight gain” compared to the normal colonies that gained about a pound, she said…

The European Union has a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids and some environmentalists are pushing for the same in the United States. Rundlof conducted her study just before the European ban went into effect in 2013…

While many large farms rely on honeybee colonies, a 2013 study found that wild bees and other insects were more important in pollination than previously thought and far more efficient at pollination than honeybees. Plus, the wild flowers around the world are mostly pollinated by wild bees, said Rundolf’s co-author, Henrik Smith of Lund University.

The irony was a spokesperson for Bayer Chemicals complaining that the researchers in Sweden used too much of their neonicotinoid pesticide. What they used was – Bayer’s recommended dose.

Earth Day

Earth-Quotes-6

Each year, Earth Day — April 22 — marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

The height of hippie and flower-child culture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Protest was the order of the day, but saving the planet was not the cause. War raged in Vietnam, and students nationwide increasingly opposed it.

At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news. Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Fresh water and glacial melt is pouring into the Gulf of Alaska

Melting directly into the sea
Click to enlargePhoto courtesy Oregon State University

Incessant mountain rain, snow and melting glaciers in a comparatively small region of land that hugs the southern Alaska coast and empties fresh water into the Gulf of Alaska would create the sixth largest coastal river in the world if it emerged as a single stream, a recent study shows.

Since it’s broken into literally thousands of small drainages pouring off mountains that rise quickly from sea level over a short distance, the totality of this runoff has received less attention, scientists say. But research that’s more precise than ever before is making clear the magnitude and importance of the runoff, which can affect everything from marine life to global sea level.

The collective fresh water discharge of this region is more than four times greater than the mighty Yukon River of Alaska and Canada, and half again as much as the Mississippi River, which drains all or part of 31 states and a land mass more than six times as large…

This is one of the first studies to accurately document the amount of water being contributed by melting glaciers, which add about 57 cubic kilometers of water a year to the estimated 792 cubic kilometers produced by annual precipitation in this region. The combination of glacial melt and precipitation produce an amount of water that’s larger than many of the world’s great rivers…

The data were acquired as an average of precipitation, glacial melting and runoff over a six-year period, from 2003 to 2009. Knocked down in many places by steep mountains, the extraordinary precipitation that sets the stage for this runoff averages about 6 feet per year for the entire area, Hill said, and more than 30 feet in some areas.

The study does not predict future trends in runoff, Hill said. Global warming is expected in the future, but precipitation predictions are more variable. Glacial melt is also a variable. A warmer climate would at first be expected to speed the retreat of existing glaciers, but the amount of water produced at some point may decrease as the glaciers dwindle or disappear.

Not so incidentally, this last paragraph is why I withhold judgement on what continued climate change will bring to our high desert region. I’m aware of a majority of climatologists predicting massive drought — and a smaller number whose models expect moderate increases in annual rainfall.

Of course, I hope for the latter. :)

As for the future of glaciers in general? I think we’re screwed.

Texas bill will forbid towns and cities from banning fracking


Click to enlargeSpencer Platt/Getty ImagesTrucks near a fracking site in Odessa, Texas

Last time I was in Odessa I commented on the absence of birds on the prairie – dotted with pumpjacks and pipelines. Bubba said, “Smell that air. That’s the smell of money. Of course, it killed all the birds.”

A bill supported by energy companies that prevents cities and counties from banning the practice of fracking on their land has been passed by the first tier of state legislators in Texas and is on course to become law.

The proposed law would stop municipalities and other local authorities from enacting their own bans on the practice of hydraulic fracturing and drilling for crude oil and natural gas. The state would have the power to override any such efforts and give gas and oil companies the access they desire to extract resources, against the wishes of voters and politicians at local level if necessary.

The bill was approved by the Republican-controlled Texas House…and will now proceed to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved, and then to Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott has previously decried the level of regulation placed on such companies by local authorities.

Abbott fears democracy as much as any of his peers. As much as Republicans lie about reining in the power of the state – using that power to benefit corporate greed is OK.

The move came in response to a recent decision by Denton, a college town about 30 miles from Dallas, to ban fracking inside its city limits over concerns about recurring small earthquakes and other safety worries linked to deep gas wells. Denton sits on a gas-rich shale formation that stretches across 24 counties in north Texas…

Moves by local authorities to try to keep fracking out of their backyards are afoot in other parts of Texas. Opponents of the bill now going through the Texas legislature complain that the state is grabbing power from local government and say the new law will jeopardise safety close to homes and schools.

Some of the most archaic laws this side of sharia are still on the books in this land of freedom, the American West. They were written by the owners of extractive industries like mining and logging, by the patrons of Spanish land grants who wished sole governance over access to water.

The best any ordinary mortal can generally hope for is a pittance of the profits or an even smaller fraction of water rights, surface water or ground water. Our bought-and-paid-for politicians – especially at the state level – play all the traditional games, dance the traditional dances. Hallowed ancestors, freedom-loving settlers is one of the most hypocritical concepts – generally describing someone who stole this land from Native Americans.

Just one more trick bag Americans have to get mad enough to tear up and scatter to the wind – like all baronial declarations.

The other day, the electric meter for all of Germany ran backwards for 8 hours!

Germany’s electricity traders may face busy weekends as sunny weather positions the nation for a season of solar power records.

After Wednesday’s all-time high of 27.7 gigawatts, Europe’s biggest electricity market is poised for new highs in the next few days or weeks, according to group meteorologist Marcus Boljahn at MeteoGroup. The previous record of 24.2 gigawatts was set on June 6, 2014, when fewer solar panels were installed, the weather forecaster said. One gigawatt is about equal to the capacity of a nuclear reactor…

Germany’s planned decade-long, 120 billion-euro ($127 billion) shift to cleaner energy from fossil fuels has made the nation the biggest economy in the world to rely so heavily on renewable power. Unpredictable solar and wind energy can flood the grid, resulting in negative power prices, when generators must pay consumers to take electricity. The risk is higher at weekends, when usage slows as offices and factories shut…

Germany got about 26 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2014, a share the country aims to increase to 45 percent in the next 10 years. Solar accounted for 22 percent, according to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, a lobby group.

Intraday German day-ahead power prices were negative for eight hours on Sunday in continuous trading…Prices turned negative for two hours on Wednesday,,,a normal workday with industry at typical output

Read my recent post over here on renewables in Germany – and you can ignore two of the biggest lies from the fossil-fuel flunkies: It’s perfectly possible to manage the storage swings on demand using renewables with a small amount of cleaner fossil fuel like natgas – and “Germany’s not as big as the United States so it’s easier to change” – is hogwash! We’ve never made wholesale changes to any infrastructure in one nationwide sweep. Even the Interstate highway system was built-out in segments over time. Germany’s GDP is slightly larger than the sum of our two largest producers of GDP, California and Texas. Comparable advancement in either state would matter enormously to the health of the American economy.

Of course, ain’t anything like that happening in Texas with the blivets in charge functioning ideologically as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Permian Basin crude oil.

Japan court blocks restarting Takahama nuclear reactors

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A Japanese court has blocked the restarting of two nuclear reactors in the western city of Takahama, after local people raised safety concerns.

The plant had already obtained approval from the country’s nuclear watchdog.

But locals had petitioned the court in Fukui prefecture, where Takahama is located, to intervene, saying it would not withstand a strong earthquake.

All 48 commercial reactors in Japan remain offline following 2011’s Fukushima disaster…

The court agreed with nine local residents who filed an injunction, and ruled that the company had been overly optimistic in assuming that no major quake would hit the region…

It also criticised the Nuclear Regulatory Authority safety standards as “lacking rationality“.

As much as corporate flunkies whine about over-regulation, they’re perfectly happy to face a body like Japan’s NRA. Rubber-stamp oversight is OK with profit-hungry utilities.

Germany says “We don’t need no stinking Fossil Fuel!”

Sitting in a control center that helps ensure uninterrupted power for 82 million Germans, Gunter Scheibner is proving that renewable energy from the sun and wind can be just as reliable as fossil fuels.

Scheibner, in charge of keeping flows stable over 6,200 miles (9,976 kilometers) of transmission lines in eastern Germany, must keep power from solar and wind in harmony whether it’s sunny or overcast, windy or still. In doing so, he’s overcoming the great challenge for renewable energy: how to keep supplies steady when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

The system Scheibner manages has been so successful that Germany experiences just 15 minutes a year of outages, compared with 68 minutes in France and more than four hours in Poland. The model in Germany, the biggest economy in the world to rely so heavily on renewables, is being copied from California to China as wind and solar displace traditional fuels such as nuclear and coal…

Back in the GOUSA…The Edison Electric Institute, an industry group based in Washington, and incumbent producers claim that variable flows from renewables will destabilize the power grid.

Germany’s decade-long 120 billion-euro ($127.1 billion) investment binge to shift toward low-polluting energy forms is proving critics wrong. The country has raised its share of renewable power for electricity to about 28 percent, more than any source including lignite. In Scheibner’s region, it’s more than 40 percent…

Researchers studying the grid say that a much higher concentration of renewables — 50 percent or more — is possible. That will come at a cost. Germany needs to invest 6.1 billion euros a year in its grid by the end of this decade to cope with additional wind and solar farms, the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin estimated.

“There’s a myth among opponents of renewable energy that you need 100 percent backup spinning all the time, and it’s utter nonsense,” said Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Any grid needs flexibility. You can have a nuclear plant shut down by jellyfish or a coal plant closed because of a freeze and you can’t shovel in supplies fast enough.”

I hope you don’t mind me skipping the coal-centric whining in the middle. Watch the latest commercials from the Koch Brothers if you think you’re missing anything. They’re the core of patriotism and apple pie – so they say.

Reliable estimates on the cost of a more flexible grid are hard to come by. The U.S. grid could absorb as much as 80 percent of its supplies from renewables by 2050 while keeping investment in transmission within the historical range of $2 billion to $9 billion a year, a 2012 study led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed.

In the U.K., the Imperial College Centre for Energy Policy & Technology suggested in 2006 that consumer power prices would rise 1 percent to fund the costs of adapting grids to intermittent power flows.

We face the same fight here in New Mexico as Arizona citizens. Power companies want folks installing solar panels on their homes to subsidize the cost of maintaining decrepit transmission systems. Meanwhile, our PNM plans on exporting their own solar-generated power over new transmission lines sited to deliver more electricity to California.

The Koch Brothers and our public utilities together generate enough bullshit to fertilize crops for half the world.

Low Vitamin D a correlation at all stages of psychosis

British researchers have found a correlation between low vitamin D levels and poorer function and mood in first-onset psychosis patients after 1 year.

Among 166 patients at first onset of psychosis (64% male), about 19% had sufficient vitamin D levels, 40% had insufficient levels and 42% were deficient, according to Fiona Gaughran, MD, at the Institute of Psychiatry in London…

Vitamin D levels are extremely low at all stages of psychosis” the authors wrote. “Low vitamin D is linked to quality of life, mood, and cardiometabolic risk in established psychosis and highlights the need for holistic management of psychosis.”

Previous research has linked low vitamin D levels with psychosis, the authors explained, but it’s not clear how the two factors interact with each other. “Importantly, given the high rates of early death in psychosis, low vitamin D is also a cardiovascular risk factor”, they noted…

Gaughran and colleagues also noted that vitamin D levels were similar in smokers and nonsmokers, but levels were lower for those who engaged in low-intensity exercise versus those who did moderate or high-intensity exercise…

Correlation is not causation; but, hey – want to get healthy or stay healthy, physiologically, neurologically, a healthy lifestyle is all-inclusive.

Shrinking habitats worldwide have adverse effects on all ecosystems


Click to enlargephoto/Ellen Damschen

An extensive study of global habitat fragmentation – the division of habitats into smaller and more isolated patches – points to major trouble for a number of the world’s ecosystems and the plants and animals living in them.

The study shows that 70 percent of existing forest lands are within a half-mile of the forest edge, where encroaching urban, suburban or agricultural influences can cause any number of harmful effects – like the losses of plants and animals.

The study also tracks seven major experiments on five continents that examine habitat fragmentation and finds that fragmented habitats reduce the diversity of plants and animals by 13 to 75 percent, with the largest negative effects found in the smallest and most isolated fragments of habitat…

The researchers assembled a map of global forest cover and found very few forest lands unencumbered by some type of human development…

“The results were astounding. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s remaining forest is the distance of a football field – or about 100 meters – away from a forest edge. Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of a forest edge. That means almost no forest can really be considered wilderness“…said Dr. Nick Haddad.

The study also examined seven existing major experiments on fragmented habitats currently being conducted across the globe; some of these experiments are more than 30 years old.

Covering many different types of ecosystems, from forests to savannas to grasslands, the experiments combined to show a disheartening trend: Fragmentation causes losses of plants and animals, changes how ecosystems function, reduces the amounts of nutrients retained and the amount of carbon sequestered, and has other deleterious effects…

Haddad points to some possible ways of mitigating the negative effects of fragmentation: conserving and maintaining larger areas of habitat; utilizing landscape corridors, or connected fragments that have shown to be effective in achieving higher biodiversity and better ecosystem function; increasing agricultural efficiency; and focusing on urban design efficiencies.

Troubling study, indeed. Half-measures continue to take their toll on remaining wilderness. Allowing out-of-date cultural behaviors for no other reason than “it was OK for grand-dad” works for politicians and other lazy minds. When true wilderness is gone there is less than zero likelihood of regaining what society as a whole has lost.