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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Bees on their knees

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Honey bee on wax flower

“It is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes.”
Carl Gustav Jung

More and more publicity is being given to the alarming collapse in bee populations in the US and Europe, the latest being in yesterday’s Independent in an article entitled Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

“It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail.

“They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.

“The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

“Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

“The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.”

The article goes on to say:

“The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left”.

“No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.”

However, looking into more detailed, balanced and less sensationalist commentaries on the subject, such as the article on Colony Collapse Disorder in Wikipedia and the work of the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, based primarily at Penn State University, a different picture begins to emerge.

Firstly, although wild and feral populations have been under stress for many years from habitat destruction, urbanisation, pesticide misuse, crop pattern changes and probably cellphone use as well, the phenomenon appears to be limited to ‘farmed’ bees — colonies kept and managed as commercial enterprises, and in particular, those of large commercial migratory beekeepers, some of whom have lost 50-90% of their colonies. Large-scale non-migratory enterprises are affected to a lesser extent. Large-scale migratory enterprises developed with the advent of modern hive construction, allowing colonies to be transported long distances and keepers to make a business from pollination services as well as, or instead of, honey production. The traditional small-scale self-employed beekeeper has been relegated to the status of little more than hobbyist.

Migratory beekeepers

US migratory beekeepers loading tractor-trailer load of bees for transport from South Carolina to Maine to pollinate blueberries.

According to Wikipedia:

“Honey bees are not native to the Americas, therefore their necessity as pollinators in the US is limited to strictly agricultural uses. They are responsible for pollination of approximately one third of the United States’ crop species, including such species as: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries; many but not all of these plants can be (and often are) pollinated by other insects, including other kinds of bees, in the US, but typically not on a commercial scale. While some farmers of a few kinds of native crops do bring in honey bees to help pollinate, none specifically need them, and when honey bees are absent from a region, the native pollinators quickly reclaim the niche, typically being better adapted to serve those plants (assuming that the plants normally occur in that specific area).”

In other words, the critical crops affected are non-indigenous, artificially grown and maintained by man-made means, and are not part of the natural ecosystem of the area. So quoting Einstein and invoking the spectre of a worldwide disaster seems a little premature. (The dependence of the US agrarian economy on managed pollination is a direct result of pursuing large-scale monoculture which is naturally prone to catastrophic failure due to its inflexibility and lack of diversity.)

Secondly, the die-off has been logged for a good 35 years, progressively increasing over time such that between 1971 and 2006 it’s estimated that 50% of the US population of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) has disappeared. In late 2006 and early 2007, the rate of losses reached new heights and the term ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ was coined to describe this more catastrophic turn of events.

Before the CCD label was attached to the phenomenon, it was variously known as autumn collapse, May disease, spring dwindle, disappearing disease, and fall dwindle disease, reflecting the fact that most die-offs were occurring at the change in seasons. The search for the cause has concentrated primarily on pathogens, pesticides, mites, genetically modified (GM) crops and cellular phone signal proliferation which have all been proposed as causative agents.

A preliminary survey by the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group revealed that a period of “extraordinary stress” affected the colonies in question prior to the die-off. To date, this is the only factor that all of the reported cases of CCD have in common. Most often, the stress involved poor nutrition and/or drought.

Some researchers have attributed the syndrome to the practice of feeding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and protein supplements to augment winter stores. This was common to most beekeepers in Penn State’s survey. Most beekeepers affected by CCD report that they use antibiotics and miticides in their colonies, though the lack of uniformity as to which particular chemicals are used makes it seem unlikely that any single such chemical is involved. Others have identified the characteristics of immune disorders, similar to AIDS in humans. Specifically, according to researchers at Penn State: “The magnitude of detected infectious agents in the adult bees suggests some type of immunosuppression.”

The picture rapidly emerging from all this is of yet another species falling victim to large-scale commercially-driven farming methods. Limited genetic diversity combined with the cumulative effects of high doses of artificial feedstuffs (one of the early symptoms of impending CCD is that the colony is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement), repeated antibiotic and pesticide treatments, unnatural environments and lifestyle (migratory keepers regularly transport their hives considerable distances, often across different climate zones which, for a creature with sophisticated navigation relying on precise environmental orientation, can only be enormously stressful and disturbing), all contributing to severely degraded immune systems in chronically-stressed insects. This leads to massive numbers of fatalities in the adult worker population in times of extra stress, and as immune deficiency increases, so the stress threshold becomes progressively lower, hence die-offs no longer occur just at change of seasons or periods of drought and low food supply. Note that it’s the adult worker bees that are affected – the bees most likely to suffer from repeated dislocation.

Toxic chemical load is among the mechanisms which are more realistically proposed as causes of AIDS in humans.

When is the human race going to learn that we can’t go on employing short-sighted unidimensional linear logic in relation to living systems? It results in such crazy practices as increasing the toxic chemical load (antibiotics and miticides) in response to illness which is inevitably produced by our unnatural, inhumane and artificial chemical-based husbandry methods. The fact that commercial bee populations are dying off in such large numbers really isn’t at all surprising. The only thing to be wondered at is the resilience of the species in surviving for so long in the face of such an onslaught.

“Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another.”
Gottfried Leibniz

Dolphin massacre

Monday, March 19th, 2007

“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own.”
Wangari Maathai

An email from a friend today alerted me to a video of the annual dolphin slaughter in the Taiji region of Japan. Taiji is in the far south of the Japanese archipelago, surrounded by mountainous forests where the opportunity for agriculture is minimal. The people have traditionally survived on fishing and whaling.

In 1994, in the wake of an international ban on whaling, the people of the region published a letter to the international community describing their situation and making a plea for the preservation of their culture and way of life. They wrote:

“We believe we know more about our own sea in Taiji than anyone who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away from us. We also believe we are more concerned with its protection and assume more responsibilities than anybody else in the world. We are sure that the same view is shared by Alaskan Eskimos, Faroese, Greenlanders, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Russians in Chukotka as well. We hope many environmentally concerned people in the industrialized nations will understand our views and trust us as rational and humane people, and stop making whaling a “scape goat” of the environmental crusade and making inhumane attacks on whaling people. Cultural diversity is just as important as biological diversity in order to protect the earth’s environment. After all, it is only a diversified people who can really take tender care of a diversified nature and make truly rational and orderly use of it.”

To “trust us as rational and humane people” becomes near enough impossible once you have seen this video.

In January this year, Pedro Oliveira from Portugal started a petition to the Prime Minister of Japan demanding that this horrendous inhumane slaughter is stopped. As I’m uploading this, the number of signatories has now passed 828,000 and people from all over the world are signing up at a present rate of around one every 5 seconds. With the recent success of an online petition demonstrating to the UK government the strength of national feeling about proposed road taxation changes, this international demonstration has the potential to far exceed it and become a powerful statement of the will of ordinary people the world over. Let’s hope it can achieve some concrete action on the part of the Japanese government.

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Cree native proverb

Time for a Change of Heart?

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

“I’m saying that we should trust our intuition. I believe that the principles of universal evolution are revealed to us through intuition. And I think that if we combine our intuition and our reason, we can respond in an evolutionary sound way to our problems.”
Jonas Salk

Having spent a fair bit of my spare time in the last 2 years gathering and analysing statistics on the correlation between CVD mortality and nitrate fertiliser use, I’ve now been able to add more supporting data to my June 2005 article on the subject.

This year I’m taking a step back from practice to spend more time on this as preliminary findings indicate that the hypothesis is well worth pursuing.

Ringing in the new

Monday, January 1st, 2007


“I do not see a delegation
for the four footed.
I see no seat for the eagles.
We forget and we consider
ourselves superior,
but we are after all
a mere part of the creation,
and we must consider
to understand where we are,
and we stand somewhere between
the mountain and the ant,
somewhere and only there.
As part and parcel
of the creation.”
Unattributed quote from Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne

The New Year here in Scotland didn’t feel very new, being as we were battered by gales gusting to 70mph and most of the major street parties had to be cancelled at the last minute. It seems we’re back to the weather pattern that prevailed for most of November and December before Christmas brought us a temporary respite. The farmers here are saying there’s never been weather like it. Scotland may be infamous for its wet and windy climate, but weeks and weeks of severe gales and relentless rain is uncommon even by our standards.

It’s hard not to see this as a rather neat symbolic comment on the part of the Earth – the party’s over, folks. Global warming is real and if we don’t do something about it soon, then all hell is going to break loose. In their November 8th report “High Stakes”, the UK Institute of Public Policy Research argues that the time left for action is just about zero, and that the risk of catastrophe is about 80-90% if we do not make immediate drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions well in excess of current policy targets.

Yet for as many as are currently painting pictures of doom-laden scenarios, there are also those who point out that the period of relative climate stability which the Earth has enjoyed since the end of the last ice age is rather more the exception than the rule, and that sudden climate change is quite ‘normal’ in the long-term global view of things.

So now that global warming has ousted nuclear holocaust from the number one spot in the Armageddon dance charts, and the hills and vales of our political landscape have acquired a quick coat of green gloss, it’s appropriate to ask what’s really going on here. I don’t pretend to have any special insight into all this, but here are some New Year’s thoughts on the subject. (Beats making resolutions anyway.)


No matter that it’s one of the few certainties in life, western mankind can’t seem to handle the uncertainty of change, and for the most part we prefer to nurture illusions of constancy; the more fixed and unwavering, the better. Bring on those fundamental laws of existence! Never mind that experience and history keeps giving the lie to them, we’ll take the map rather than the territory any day. Despite the fact that we’re constantly dealing with the actuality and experience of change and evolution, and pretty well at that, we remain woefully, pitifully, incapable of intellectually appreciating its impact in our lives or even perceiving it in action.

As individuals, it seems the more change we become aware of, the more averse to it we become and the more negative comparisons with “how things used to be” we tend to make. Things start to seem better in our younger days once we’ve acquired about 40 years’ worth of them, and given that every generation within living memory has come to the same conclusion, it doesn’t take much extrapolation to see that the human race should have passed the threshold of terminal decline a good millennium ago at least, were these observations in any way indicative of an objective trend. But here we still are, currently in the throes of bringing about the end of the world as we know it. Yet again.

Another of our much-cherished illusions is the one of our separation and difference from the rest of the planet’s lifeforms. Earth may have its ecosystems, but we’re not part of that. Or, if we once were, we are no longer. Where does an idea like that come from? Some sort of intellectual hubris or technocrazed arrogance? Even the most dedicated ecologist seems to perceive mankind as a race apart, some kind of parasitic entity assailing the Earth which would probably be much better off without us. And it’s very persuasive imagery, particularly in view of our destructive approach to the Earth’s biodiversity. Yet we evolved with and out of this planet, as much a part of its ecosystems as any other lifeform, and in our continued evolution are as much an evolutionary expression of the planet as any other.

Is it only our delusion that we’re in some kind of ‘control’ that’s preventing us from seeing that we may very well be playing out a necessary role as catalysts of change as the planet moves on to the next stage in its evolution? Possibly. And that’s also conceivably one of the reasons why so many initiatives to reverse the changes have been so half-hearted and ineffective (another, of course, being the belief that nothing much changes so nothing needs to be done).

But what if we’re not in control at all? What if we’re just pawns in the game? So the problem might seem to be not so much what we’re doing, but how we’re perceiving what we’re doing. Rather than wailing that we need to put the brakes on a process so far beyond our control we can scarcely imagine – like building a wall to hold back a tsunami – would we not simply be better spending our energies on preparing ourselves for how we might surf the wave? Change happens no matter how much conceptual resistance we put in its way, and trying to turn the clocks back has never succeeded yet outside of our imaginations.

“Living in the world without insight into the hidden laws of nature is like not knowing the language of the country in which one was born.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan

Monsantoing the line

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

“Democracy is an abuse of statistics.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Following on from the last post (Evidence? What evidence?) on the lack of depth and rigour in much of what passes for scientific analysis these days, we veer back again into the dirty tricks department.

This from George Monbiot writing in The Guardian, Tuesday May 14:

The Fake Persuaders
Corporations are inventing people to rubbish their opponents on the internet

Persuasion works best when it’s invisible. The most effective marketing worms its way into our consciousness, leaving intact the perception that we have reached our opinions and made our choices independently. As old as humankind itself, over the past few years this approach has been refined, with the help of the internet, into a technique called “viral marketing”. Last month, the viruses appear to have murdered their host. One of the world’s foremost scientific journals was persuaded to do something it had never done before, and retract a paper it had published.

> > read on

What is even more interesting is the extent to which this form of ‘marketing’ seeems to have acquired tacit acceptance even amongst those who are holding it up to us as a shining example of corporate immorality. The thing is, we already have a perfectly good term for ‘viral marketing’. It’s called fraud, and there’s pretty clear and long-standing legislation available in most countries for dealing with it.

Further reading on Monsanto’s style of doing business:
The Ecologist

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard