Posted tagged ‘Environment’

Closing in on the bee killer

September 15, 2007

Scientists in Spain believe they have found the killer parasite that is responsible for wiping out bee colonies from California to Cannes. The assassin, they believe, is Nosema ceranae, an Asian parasite which has worked its way into hives across Europe and America, wreaking terrible damage on the bees’ internal organs. This also explains the mistery of why bees seemed to simply disappear. Weakened by their inability to eat, they die far away from the beehives.

The parasite is a close cousin of Nosema apis, which has lived in relative harmony with bees in Europe and elsewhere for centuries. However, the new variety of Nosema is hardier than the old one, and so continues to thrive under harsh weather conditions. “It does not care whether it rains or whether it is more or less hot,” said researcher Mariano Higes. It also spreads easily and rapidly.

A bee hiking on a flower… Originally uploaded by Lionoche

The scientists at the Regional Apiculture Center in Marchamalo, near the central Spanish city of Guadalajara, said the discovery opened the way to discovering ways of controlling and eradicating the pest.

Mr Higes said that a wave of what is known as colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out hives across two continents, may also be due to other factors, but that Nosema was a key cause. “We think that Nosema ceranae could do it alone,” he said.

The results of the Spanish research, carried out on samples from Germany, Spain, Switzerland and France, are due to be published in the next edition of the journal Invertebrate Microbiology.

The team has also been studying samples sent from the US, where colony collapse disorder has hit 35 states and affected up to 875,000 out of 2.4 million hives. The disorder, which has also wiped out bees in Canada, Brazil, India and Europe, kills up to 90% of bees in each hive. A significant collapse in the worldwide bee population could threaten food supplies as bees pollinate 90 crops around the world. Spain has an acute interest in solving this problem, as it is home to a quarter of the European Union’s bees, with 2.3 million hives.

Treatment for nosema ceranae is effective and cheap — 1 euro (US$1.4) a hive twice a year — but beekeepers first have to be convinced the parasite is the problem.

In Britain, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has insisted that recent bee losses are not a sign of colony collapse disorder but the work of the varroa mite, which eats bees and their larvae. The Spaniards ruled out the varroa mite in their study, because it is easy to see and it was not spotted in most of the affected hives. Other theories point fingers at mobile phone aerials, but Higes notes bees use the angle of the sun to navigate and not electromagnetic frequencies. A third line of investigation was published recently by an American team in Science and blames a pathogen called Israeli acute paralysis virus.


The fight against desertification

September 9, 2007

And this is not a fight that we seem to be winning…

This problem affects nearly one quarter of the earth’s land area and about one sixth of the world’s population.

The worst-hit areas are sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Globally, desertification costs an estimated $65 billion a year in lost income.

To discuss ways to stop it, more than 2,000 delegates from 191 countries around the world have gathered in Madrid for the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The meeting began last Monday (September 3) in the Spanish capital and ends next Friday (September 14). It includes the presentation of a ten-year plan aimed at helping preserve the livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest people.

The gathering comes amid a flurry of international attention on the environment.

The week before last, delegates from 158 nations gathered in Vienna to consider steps toward agreeing a new climate pact to replace the UN’s Kyoto Protocol. And, later this month, there will be a major gathering on climate change both at the UN in New York and one in Washington hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Causes of desertification

As for desertification, climate change is seen as just one of several causes of a ravaging process that quickly transforms arable soil into dry wasteland.

One key cause is modern agricultural practices. Modern farming requires massive amounts of water. That depletes underground aquifers, which are often then filled by seawater. That salinized soil then requires chemical fertilizers to hold onto water. Those chemicals do their own damage to the land, further stripping its ability to absorb rainfall.

Over time, the soil becomes so depleted that it becomes parched desert. And it’s happening around the world, from the Aral Sea to the Mediterranean to North America.

Unless action is taken to curb the problem, the UN warns that some 50 million people could be displaced by desertification within the next decade.

Experts in Madrid will be looking for ways to implement land management policies that protect existing flora from overgrazing and unsustainable irrigation practices. After all, it’s easier and much cheaper to prevent the problem than it is to fix it after once-rich land has been transformed into desert.

The host country is extremely sensitive in this regard. Nearly one-third of Spain’s roughly 200,000 square miles faces a “significant risk” of desertification, making it one of Europe’s most affected nations, according to the Spanish environment ministry.


Tabernas desert (Almeria, Spain) The only real desert in Europe

Originally uploaded by cuellar

Spain has proposed that the European Union set up a Center for the study of drought and desertification in the city of Barcelona, building up the capacity of an existing center to study the same problems.

As part of its compromise to fight desertification, Spain has already agreed to start managing this year an alert system to forecast sandstorms in the Sahara and Maghreb area with up to five days warning.

The country is also building an all-Spanish satellite that will have as one of its specific missions weather observation. It will be part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security European initiative. The current operating satellites in the joint endeavor are proving immensely useful in obtaining reliable and timely information about the state of our world. (See here, for example, its capabilities put to use in the aftermath of a summer forest blaze in Guadalajara. It allows for an adequate measurement of the ecological damage).

As for seeing the glass half-full, maybe we can reflect on an example used by Jared Diamond in his splendid book Collapses. He explains how some societies were on the verge of ecological collapse but did recover. One such case is Japan. Japan almost destroyed its forests, but quickly realized its mistake and went on an intensive reforestation program. It also helped that Japan is a country with great respect and admiration for its natural environment. It will take bold leaders and a conscious effort from all members of our societies, though.

Greenwashing and green marketing

August 19, 2007

Government Procurement News has a thorough article from Scot Case about environmental claims and greenwashing. They cite a forthcoming study that identifies the following six greenwashing “sins”, which I reproduce, as they are priceless:

Sin of Fibbing
—While rare, some manufacturers do mislead customers about the actual environmental performance of their products. Some manufacturers have claimed that their products meet the environmental standards developed by EcoLogo or Green Seal when it is clear they do not. The EcoLogo program even has a fraud advisory section on its web site warning purchasers about misuses of the EcoLogo certification mark.

Sin of Unsubstantiated Claims
—Also known as the sin of “just trust us,” some manufacturers are unable to provide proof of their environmental claims. Others use words like “green” or “eco” in their corporate or product names and hope no one asks for details. All environmental claims should be verified by an independent certifying body or auditor, or the manufacturer should be willing and able to provide the necessary documentation to prove a claim when it is requested. Purchasers should be able to easily verify the recycled content of a product or to learn whether it contains any ingredients of concern.

Sin of Irrelevance
—Some manufacturers make factually correct environmental assessments that are no longer relevant for the particular product category. As an example, many aerosol products continue to make “CFC-free” claims even though CFCs have been banned in these products since 1978. These accurate but irrelevant environmental claims can confuse even savvy purchasing professionals.

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
—Many products make bold claims about a single environmental attribute, which can lead purchasers to mistakenly believe that it is the only environmental attribute of concern for a particular product category. A cleaning product manufacturer, for example, is currently displaying an environmental certification mark documenting that its cleaning products are manufactured in a facility powered by renewable energy, which is clearly a beneficial environmental feature. The product makes no claims, however, about the potential human health or environmental hazards of the product itself. Purchasers could easily be misled by the certification mark to believe that the product is safer or uses safer ingredients than its competitors when that may not be true. Review products with single attribute claims carefully.

Sin of Vagueness —Broad, poorly defined environmental claims continue to challenge purchasers seeking high-quality environmentally preferable products. A vague claim such as “100 percent natural,” for example, can be very misleading because some naturally occurring substances such as arsenic and dioxin can be very harmful to human health. Legitimate environmental claims are not vague.

Sin of Relativism —A product can be the most environmentally preferable product in its class, but still be an inappropriate choice. The most fuel-efficient sport utility vehicle (SUV), for example, is still less preferable if a mid-sized passenger car will suffice.

Of course, there are many reliable and legitimate environmental standards and certification organizations, so that you may be sure you are buying the highest quality “green” goods.


But the fact that a product is “green” is not enough on its own to attract regular consumers. Greenness may be the key factor in a purchase for some hardcore environmentalists, as being cool does it for another segment of the population (See article at Cleantech Blog). For most people, though, the green factor comes behind quality and satisfaction issues.

According to Jacquelyn Ottman (founder of J Ottman, a green marketing consultancy), the manufacturer should treat green benefits as added value to a good product and he will be left with something that is appealing to the customer as well as environmentally friendly.

Ottman highlights Energy Star, a labelling initiative sponsored by the EPA and the Department of Energy. Energy Star products are not asking consumers to trade ecological benefits for product quality. Their distinctive label, easy to recognise, provides information about 44 different benefits, mainly economic savings in energy and water use, on top of the product’s purely green credentials.

The final tip from Ottman to companies is that green marketing tactics must include the input of environmental critics – often in the form of NGOs – who have the power to either legitimise or discount a company’s green message, giving or taking away credit where it’s due.

Plant a tree, make a difference

February 28, 2007

One Planet – One Heart – 8 Million Trees

A fellow blogger, Mateosquared features a story about this interesting project. You may also read about it at the U.N. Environment Program (1 billion trees campaign)

tree-nation_logo.gif is a new community website, run by an international team, based in Barcelona, Spain. 

Together with people willing to participate like me and you, they will create a park by planting 8 million trees in the shape of a giant heart in the Saharan desert, to fight Poverty, Global Warming and Desertification. 

Using the latest in mapping technology, people all over the world can choose an exact spot to plant a tree on a virtual map, and a real tree will be planted in the same place in the real world. Soon each tree will be given a unique GPS code that you can use to locate and see your tree.  The virtual trees all have profiles so you can wander around checking out other trees and seeing what’s inside.  You can express yourself with the Tree-Blogs, contribute suggestions, share photos, make contacts and debate on environmental issues.  

Tree-nation will create its park in Niger, the poorest country in the world according to the Human Development Index (177/177 developing countries, 2006), and one of the most affected by desertification.