Where are the Dead Bees?

This was one of the more puzzling aspects to me in the recent reports of massive and sudden bee die-off: Hives weren’t cluttered about with hundreds or thousands of dead bee bodies. The bees simply went missing from the abandoned hives–left, and never returned. Read on…

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.

This last part–avoidance of the abandoned hive–doesn’t jibe with the cell-phone radiation theory. My guess is that there are probably several factors at work to cause this colony collapse. Other sources say bees in the hive are infected with almost every known bee virus and fungus, indicating a massive failure of their normal immune functions.

And as some have mentioned and I have discussed here last summer, “the” honeybee is not native. Were it not for the money made from honey, it isn’t likely its numbers and our agricultural dependence on this species would have grown as it has. But now, in all probability, native bees are being impacted by the same stressors as honeybees, whatever those may be, so falling back on that source of pollination may not solve the CCD problem any time soon.

For want of a nail…

Earth Day 2007: How Many More?

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, marked for me the dawn of environmental consciousness, and I was so hopeful.

In southern Alabama, the channelization of streams by the Army Corps of Engineers and clear-cutting of southern forests by the mammoth forest products companies were the issues at the top of the local environmental agenda of the day. As a young zoology grad student, the issues seemed large but surmountable in the spring of 1970. Fixing them would just take time.

Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was the founder of Earth Day. It took him almost a decade to find a way to lift the declining state of the planet’s health into the political radar; most of his political colleagues would have none of it. But in the late sixties, the youth of those times took up the banner, because they came to see their futures as much impacted by the environmental fate of the Earth as by the political fate of Southeast Asia.

Only a few years had passed since Rachel Carson first sounded the alarm that yes, we could foul our own nest, and had already done so. Our air and water were making us sick, as well as bringing about the decline of many of the animal species with which we share the planet. That the products of man’s industry and commerce had accumulated to such a degree as to alter the balance of nature was a new and startling alarm, but not so many were listening back then.

Flash forward: Earth Day, April 22, 2007.

I won’t bother giving you the numbers that measure thirty seven years of world-wide population growth; energy and resource use per capita; the number of extinct species and disappearing habitats; and the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases and elevated air and sea temperatures.

Suffice it to say that the planet-wide problems we face today fall far higher on the scale of urgency than anything looming just ahead of us on that first Earth Day less than forty years ago. The specter of a rapidly warming planet overshadows every lesser concern we might have. And some still aren’t listening.

Working to protect particular species and habitats or air and water quality in our cities becomes moot-like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The ship must stay afloat. This Earth Day, we acknowledge that it can sink. And we don’t have so much time.

I’ll be bold and assume that thirty seven years of planet-watching earns me one stand in the bully pulpit. From this one citizen’s perspective, four things must happen. Making the rubber meet the road is quite another matter, and these are complex issues we must be talking about in Floyd’s meeting places, churches, and organizations.

1. We must take individual responsibility for being carefully conscious of our family and community “environmental footprint” and reduce it. This will require over the coming decades that we restructure our households, municipalities and economies of goods and services on a more local and self-sufficient scale. Floyd can be exemplary in this transition, and many are already moving in this direction. Have you visited the Sustainable Living Education Center at the Jacksonville Center lately?

2. We must insist that efficiency and conservation by industry and commerce play a much stronger role than they have thus far in CO2 abatement. Energy produced by 600 new coal-burning plants already planned for could be saved (and that much CO2 avoided) by changes in air-conditioning and improved building insulation efficiency alone. What are we waiting for?

3. We must not become complacent by thinking that our individual conservation or lifestyle changes alone will fully solve the larger problem. Let’s insist that international governments-especially including our own and starting now-shift away from carbon-based industry, commerce and transportation. Simply using less of the same toxin will still, over time, poison the planet-and this, particularly as China and India grow to match the US as per capita energy consumers.

4. We must find a just way to prevent those who produce the least greenhouse gases from suffering the most. And governments would do well to be proactive-in places like Bangladesh, for instance-to reduce the unprecedented refugee crisis likely when tens of millions lack water once provided by Himalayan glaciers. We must channel our national budgets towards a new kind of defense that includes mitigation of climate change impact here and abroad, even while we drastically reduce production of greenhouse gases.

No matter what we do in the short run, climate change impacts on humanity are likely to be large in the coming century, even here in remote Floyd County. Coping with this unprecedented degree of change will require a whole new way of thinking about our relationship with the planet and each other. Let’s renew our commitment to these goals this Earth Day, and move quickly toward an Earth Decade.

And while I’m hoping, perhaps we could come to see THIS ISSUE as the common enemy, not other nations with whom we share this shrinking planet. We’re all of us on the very same boat. © Fred First / April 2007

Earth Trends: Appalachian Recovery?

This is good news indeed, even if an act of closing the hen house door after the hungry weasel has been and gone.

HARRISBURG/April 12 — Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III and Maryland Governor Martin J. O’Malley today announced the signing of the Highlands Action Program charter, a regional partnership that seeks to preserve the ecological and cultural resources of the Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Highlands. link

The mid-Atlantic region offers an array of recreational opportunities and thousands of acres of public lands that draw visitors from throughout the world, yet also supports robust timber, agriculture and mining industries that have been the mainstay of our economy since colonial times,” Governor Rendell said. Our challenge is to seek common ground and develop policies that will manage the many demands on this land while preserving the natural beauty and heritage of the Appalachian Mountains. Read More at Nameless Creek

More Than Scenery: Viewshed Protection

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That we are deeply affected at a gut level by what we take in through our eyes is a given. A picture of an abused animal makes you want to cry, while another image of an injured soldier can make you sick at your stomach.

That we respond viscerally to the view before our eyes is certain. And so there are places we chose to go where what we will see can calm our souls in a world that in too many instances is a “bad scene”.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one such place, and millions of visitors make this aesthetic choice each year. And more and more, when they drive through the Roanoke section of the Parkway, they see that green corridor encroached by man-made structures built to the very edge of the thin boundary of pasture or woods that separates these two worlds.

And they may feel a sinking feeling deep in the pit of their stomachs. A favorite place, once set apart for a different kind of view of the world, is beginning to look like every other common road.

To many, it is appalling that such visual intrusion was not prevented before it ever happened. But there it is: a row of two story homes along a half mile stretch at Milepost 125.5 west of Roanoke. There is talk of a Wal-Mart being built adjacent to the Parkway near Roanoke–unless enough voices are heard to protest it.

Yesterday, the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway sponsored a viewshed tree planting to grow a new forest boundary along this short stretch of roadway, and even under the threat of rain on a chilly April day, dozens turned out to help, including these 25 students from nearby Roanoke College.

If you care about what you see along the Parkway, now is the time to make a difference.

Honeybee AIDS?

The following excerpts are from Der Spiegel, reposted to Truthout/Environment March 22, 2007.

Since last November, the US has seen a decline in bee populations so dramatic that it eclipses all previous incidences of mass mortality. Beekeepers on the east coast of the United States complain that they have lost more than 70 percent of their stock since late last year, while the west coast has seen a decline of up to 60 percent.

Scientists call the mysterious phenomenon “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), and it is fast turning into a national catastrophe of sorts. A number of universities and government agencies have formed a “CCD Working Group” to search for the causes of the calamity, but have so far come up empty-handed. But, like Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, they are already referring to the problem as a potential “AIDS for the bee industry.”

It is particularly worrisome, she said, that the bees’ death is accompanied by a set of symptoms “which does not seem to match anything in the literature.”

In many cases, scientists have found evidence of almost all known bee viruses in the few surviving bees found in the hives after most have disappeared. Some had five or six infections at the same time and were infested with fungi–a sign, experts say, that the insects’ immune system may have collapsed.

…bees and other insects usually leave the abandoned hives untouched. Nearby bee populations or parasites would normally raid the honey and pollen stores of colonies that have died for other reasons, such as excessive winter cold. “This suggests that there is something toxic in the colony itself which is repelling them,” says Cox-Foster.

There is evidence that points to agents in genetically-modified corn as a possible cause. Funding to study this has not been forthcoming from the agribusiness industry. Meanwhile, see if you can find a honeybee to show your children. Hurry.

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” Albert Einstein