Monthly Archives: December 2007

Why we should care about disappearing bees

– a student essay by Maridel Santos

Organisms have developed close relationships with each other in order to evolve and survive into following generations. The human species are not excluded in this equation. In fact, it can be observed that we have taken the most advantage in our relationships with other organisms. But what happens when there is a major population collapse within a species that we most rely on for our nutritional needs?

Presently, there is such an event occurring within the agricultural industry in the United States. Throughout the country, bee colonies have lost all their worker bees. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has resulted in a loss of 50-90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the U.S. and as of April 2007 has become a global phenomenon spreading throughout European countries. In the United States, the deaths of European honeybees have been linked to immunosupression caused by Varroa mite infestation of the hives. This immunosupression has opened doors for viruses and bacteria to invade the colonies and cause the population collapse of the bees.

Honey bee worker carrying a parasitic Varroa mite.

(Credit: Image courtesy of ARS/USDA Scott Bauer)

Other factors that may contribute to CCD includes unexpected negative effects of pesticides on bees, an emergent parasite or pathogen that may be attacking honey bees, the gut microbe called Nosema in particular in conjunction with the mites that feed on bee blood and transmit bee viruses who have become resistant to compounds used to control them.

A CCD Steering Committee found in September 2007 the only pathogen seen in almost all samples from honey bee colonies with CCD but not in non-CCD colonies. The Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) is a dicistrovirus that can be transmitted by the Varroa mite. This particular virus was found in 96.1% of the CCD-bee samples. The findings do not directly implicate IAPV as the primary cause of CCD but brings about a strong correlation of the appearance of IAPV and CCD together.

Why is this population collapse relevant to human societies and especially in the Central Valley? Bees play an integral role in the world food supply and are essential for the pollination of over 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the economic value for these crop products is placed at more than $14.6 billion. Economically, the loss of such a great percentage of bee population can be devastating to the agricultural business. As agriculture based economy, the Central Valley faces a vast increase financial expenditure in importing hives from other non-infected colonies from other countries. These increase expenses is not monetary alone. Ecologically speaking, it will also increase carbon footprints due to a rise in transportation costs and fossil fuel usage. In addition to agricultural crops, honey bees also pollinate many native plant species. This disorder will not only affect our society economically, it will also have a significant ecological effect on different species of plants and animals that depend on bee pollination to procure their nutritional needs, including us.

Sources links:

www.ars.usda.gov

www.sciencedaily.com

NPR : Author Finds Migrating Animals Have ‘No Way Home’

While spending some quality time with a sink-full of dishes this past weekend, I caught up, as has become my custom, with some time-shifted radio – aka podcasts of various shows (NPR being a prominent source). And I was pleasantly surprised to find, on the December 5, 2007 edition of Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewing the Princeton ecologist and well-known birder David Wilcove, who has a new book out that I also had somehow not heard of: No Way Home – The Decline of the World’s Great Animal Migrations (now on my wish list, of course). Wonderful interview, which you can listen to via NPR online (realaudio), download the podcast on iTunes if you are quick (itunes usually has the last 10 shows), or listen below the fold. Enjoy!

Fresno Environment blog

Divorce may be bad for the environment – so its better for the earth to stay married? Perhaps. What about being married to another academic who also chooses to start an environment-education focused blog while teaching a parallel course in environmental studies? Is that twice as good, and does it compensate for the larger footprint of having two kids as well? While you ponder that, why not visit Fresno Environment, the blog started this semester to support the NatSci 115 class being taught by my better half? Do we get double-good blogging karma?

How It All Ends

Is it better to take action (at some cost) to minimize the effects of an uncertain catastrophe, or to wager that the catastrophe won’t happen, and sit back? More importantly, is your time better spent debating the magnitude of the risk (with the risk probability and associated costs rising while you argue) or taking action to prevent the potentially catastrophic consequences? These questions are at the heart of the global warming issues swirling around us now, and probably at the heart of every environmental issue. So what should you do? Here’s a video that makes a pretty compelling case for taking action over sitting around arguing on whether there is a risk in the first place.

I like how this schoolteacher has framed the argument, separating the false “debates” over whether there is climate change and whether humans are causing it, from the more important question of what we should be doing to avoid the potential risks.

Think about it: if your doctor tells you that you have an infection that will cause you much long-term misery (if it doesn’t kill you), and prescribes medicine to help deal with it, how often and how long do you argue with the doctor over his/her interpretation of your symptoms before deciding to swallow the bitter pills? Yes, the meds may cost you a few bucks, and they make you sick too, but you’ll be better off taking them than not taking them – so says the doctor. Do you trust your doc’s expertise? What if also you have a second opinion confirming the diagnosis and treatment? How about a whole panel of thousands of doctors from all over the world, agreeing with your doctor? What would you do then?

Guns, Germs, and Steel

– a student essay by Matthew Dodd

In this book Jared Diamond explains how people evolved at the rate that we did, and how different places in the world evolved at different times than one another. Most people wonder why Europe was the first continent that not only powered over the whole world but also had advance technology compared to most of the world. To most religious people they would assume that god created Europe that way. But Jared Diamond’s answer is so simple most people over looked it thinking it could not be the reason. What do people do when they have a lot of free time on their hands? They tend to create things and try to make life easier for themselves.

Back when most people where hunter and gatherers there was very little free time to be had because most of the village/tribe was spending all of their time trying to find food, in order to survive. The one thing that the Europeans had over the rest of the world is the geography of their location. The reason is not because the people are superior but because they where able to domesticate wheat. This also led to the domestication of sheep, goat and cows. This may seem like nothing to most people today because that is normal to today, but to the people of that time it meant a steady food source. Because of the steady food source life spans became longer and the people of Europe where able to support more people than was needed in order to produce food. This free time allowed people to invent, and create technology as we know it today.

At the same time across the world other people where not as fortunate enough to have found a crop like wheat that was easy to grow and reliable, so they kept on being hunter gatherers, out of no choice of their own. Other areas developed also for example, China and Japan. But Europe was the only region who went out and made colonies around the world.

Granted they did have to fight some people but for the most part their success was due to their superior technology, guns, and the fact that from being around animals for so long they had become immune to diseases, germs, that they had mostly forgot or did not think about. As Europeans went through new places they spread small pox to all of the people they conquered making the people of the new land even weaker and easier to conquer. The only continent that the Europeans had trouble with was Africa, because Africa was a host to a disease that the Europeans had never been introduced to before and that is Malaria. As the Europeans moved farther north into Africa they just could not seem to stay alive for very long because of Malaria. But why would the Europeans try to go out and conquer these knew places. Was it for power? Was it for more resources? Or was it and opportunity to make money by selling and trading new items? These are things not discussed in his book but I feel they are fascinating questions.

Jared Diamond took all known knowledge and pieced it together to come up with a completely original idea on how the world came to be what it is today. He did some thing that no one has ever done before when creating this book is that he thought out side the box, and by doing so he put his knowledge to work for himself in order to be able to create this book (and accompanying PBS documentary) that makes perfect sense to why people and the world are the way that we are today.

For More information on Jared Diamond and Guns, Germs, and Steel visit
http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/

Apathy in America: A Culture in Peril

– student essay by Aidée Karina Lara

(http://www.inklinepress.com/beast/do-nothing.html)

It is one thing to speak of environmental apathy in an abstract sense, to make sweeping generalizations about an oil-addicted America that thrives on excessive consumerism, and quite another to confront it in the mirror every morning after a long 20-minute shower or while driving to a grocery store that is only five blocks away. Few would argue that the current rates of resource consumption in the U.S. are sustainable. According to a new TIME magazine/ABC News/Stanford University poll, the majority of Americans (85%) now acknowledge that global warming is not just a wild fabrication of an alarmist scientific community. Most Americans even support government intervention to restrict auto emissions and are in favor of increased government spending on the development of more sustainable environmental technologies. Why then has apathy become instinct in this country? Why is there a disconnect between the numbers reported in polls and the number of Americans willing to act to create a more balanced relationship between humans and the environment?

Apathy is often explained away as mere ignorance, and ignorance is certainly alive and well. As a student, I am all too familiar with the deathly silence that sweeps through a classroom when a professor asks that students comment on international events (Darfur? Bangla…huh? I have a seven-page essay due in 12 hours. Who has the time to worry about that?). As a future elementary school teacher, I also am familiar with the lack of time dedicated to environmental issues in the classroom. Our elementary school children—the ones who will be most affected by changes in the environment—are indeed being left behind. We are teaching them their multiplication tables and the parts of a sentence but often leaving out how important it is to recycle waste and conserve energy. Our children are our greatest resource, and like most other resources, we are giving little thought to their future. Our current consumption rates certainly seem to suggest that we are bent on having the next generation rely on state-issued respirators by the age of 50 and being sold their daily water by private companies. An end to apathy begins by realizing the importance of encouraging children to internalize good environmental habits from a young age so that they can later fix the problems we are so thoughtlessly leaving behind.

Not to say that the whole of the educational system neglects environmental issues. There are some proactive teachers and students out there that are coming up with inventive ways to promote environmental awareness (here are some examples). But achieving the level of awareness needed to rid the masses of apathy requires more than the concern of a select number of schools. There is little doubt that the environmental apathy of the federal government is contributing to the indifferent eco-attitude of Corporate America and the average citizen. In order to effect long-lasting and widespread change, a cohesive national government system that makes environmental issues a priority by funding research on alternative energy resources and using subsidies to reinforce eco-friendly practices/destabilize corporations that carelessly pollute is needed. Does our current government meet these requirements? The majority of American people would argue that it does not. (It did once. In Florida, I think.) Still, some local government officials are taking a more proactive role in creating “greener” cities. The fact that most people are reacting positively to these citywide changes is a testament to how deeply government attitudes influence the attitudes of the general population.

So, if apathy is born of ignorance and perpetuated by the poor prioritizing desicions of government officials, then what can individuals do to overcome apathy in a culture that encourages this indifference? The first step to any successful detox is to acknowledge the problem (Hello, my name is America. I am a hyperconsumer of resources). Step 2: Use the uniquely human gift of self-reflection to make conscious decisions that reduce the human impact on the environment. Step 3: Encourage others (government officials, neighbors, meat-eaters, the family pet) to do the same. Taking these (oversimplified) steps is far more difficult than it sounds. But the alternative is to let good ol’ American apathy drag us away. And we must not be dragged down, America, or we will drown in our destruction.

Global warming and the green house gases

– student essay by Malia Grothmann

Today our world is worrying about the whole idea of global warming and the greenhouse effect gases that are emitted but people do not realize how much humans really play a role in it all not only in their forms of transportation. Growing populations and the “American” lifestyle all are partially involved in a few of the gases that have been and are becoming a concern. That does not include the various natural ways these gases are emitted into the air we breathe.

The first issue that usually comes to mind because of the smog we see or just the bad pollution is because of our lovely automobiles. Today there are a lot more vehicles on roads which helps contribute even more to the pollution in the air, which after awhile causes more illness to ourselves just because we are changing our environment. Cars end up emitting the carbon monoxide which is a greenhouse gas that is harmful to our ozone and they are not the only form of transportation that is involved. Other forms of transportation that contribute include some of the following: airplanes, trains, buses and any other form that people use that emits carbon monoxide and other gases that are harmful to our ozone.

That was the most common thing or at least the first thing that tends to come to mind to us when we think of how humans on a daily basis are harming their environment. Not many people take in account the idea the things we consume for food also harm the environment and because of our high demand and even the amount that we waste because our eyes tend to be bigger than our stomachs, we have to have a higher amount of those materials. People might wonder what I am talking about. It is simply the food we eat such as beef which comes from cows. An October 15, 2007 L.A times article (which is now behind a pay firewall, unfortunately), brought to my attention another greenhouse gas that might not be talked about as much. That gas is methane and it is emitted by the animal we eat in abundance not only here in the United States, but in other countries as well. Cows are not the only animal that produces methane gas; other four stomach animals such as goats do as well. The reason cows are bad in abundance is because of how much methane gas one single cow produces a day and the mere fact that methane gas is released in the belches, farts, and in their manure. According to research that was given for the L.A times article a single cow actually releases about 25-130 gallons per day. Because of this new awareness the public is slowly learning about how to cut down the production of methane released into our air. One way is control of how manure is taken care of, as well as possibly turning towards a more green diet. Though that is probably unthinkable, people could cut back otherwise with a growing population, the demand for beef as well increases which in turn mean more cows need to be available for slaughter.

(Photo by M. Katti, April 2007, McKenzie Preserve)

Before the L.A times article had come out there had been another written piece from the US EPA on methane and how 34%, which was the most, actually came from landfills. When you think about our landfills, they are full of all our goods, wastes and any other things we decide we no longer want and now are become overfilled in certain areas, and needed to be shipped elsewhere, which only helps to spread the methane gas that is emitted by these products around the world. As a world, we really need to strongly look into maybe not changing our lifestyles drastically but to consider that everything we are doing when it comes to being a consumer is actually harming our air, which is our environment, which can have not only negative consequences to us as humans but the animals because we all breathe the same air.

The LA times article on how harmful methane is and what types of things need to be done by humans to help in the reduction of the gas being produced so much in things we can help control is no longer online without paying for it. If you are on campus, however, you have access to LA Times content via LexisNexis, where you can find and download this article by searching for the title “A warming world: pollution on the hoof”.