The pesticide that kills bees

Herb garden 2

A pesticide is being fingered as the culprit behind the sudden collapse of wild and domestic bee populations. The pesticide, clothianidin, attacks an insect’s nervous system. It was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003; a 2007 study on its effects on bee populations was later found to be flawed, according to an internal EPA memo that surfaced last month. The memo called for another field study and precautionary labelling. (In Canada, such labelling already exists: see clothianidin’s listing in the Pesticide Product Information Database.)

Meanwhile, an accidental release of clothianidin in Germany in 2008 resulted in two thirds of the region’s bees dropping dead. As a result, it and similar pesticides have been banned in several European countries; that ban may be helping bee populations.

Nevertheless, clothianidin is widely used in the U.S. (especially on corn); Bayer, its manufacturer, sold $262 million worth in 2009. Seeds are even sold pre-treated with the stuff; it ends up in the plant’s pollen and nectar — which is how it gets to the bees. Warnings not to apply it when bees are in the vicinity don’t really apply if it’s already coursing through the plant.

I can’t do this subject justice. You should read Fast Company’s three-part series on clothianidin, the EPA, and bees: one, two, three. As well, io9 has an excellent summary.

‘The Gulf was already dying’

Science-fiction writer Peter Watts:

Dead zones suffocating 20,000 square kilometers of ocean. Endangered wetlands, disappearing at the rate of over 300 Ha/day. Clouds of black viscous poison soiling the coastlines of four states.
And then the Deepwater Horizon blew up.
What, you thought those apocalyptic descriptions were of the spill? You thought the Gulf of Mexico was some pristine marine wilderness before those nefarious assholes from BP came along and ruined everything?
What are you, twelve?
Everything I’ve just described was old news long before April 20. Granted, the black tides were dinoflagellate blooms, not oil slicks; the dead zones came to us courtesy of the Mississippi, which delivers agricultural runoff from almost half the continental U.S. The wetlands — 40% of the U.S. total — were being decimated daily: by dredging, by condominiums and golf courses, by the collapse of the very substrate as oil and gas were sucked up from underneath.
Wile E. Coyote ran off the cliff decades back, was already halfway to the rocks below, and nobody gave a shit. Now you start wailing and gnashing your teeth, just because the anvil BP dropped into his arms is making him fall faster?
Me, I prefer to look on the bright side. The Gulf was already dying, just like the rest of the planetary conshelf. The fishers and tour guides were already dead men walking; the wetlands were already doomed. Nobody cared. Now they do, and I think that’s a good thing.

Talking Points Memo’s David Kurtz:

The Gulf is not a pristine environment. If your only exposure to the Gulf has been on the beaches of Florida, you might convince yourself that the Gulf is a deep blue aquatic wilderness. But as you travel west, the beaches give way to the marshes of the Mississippi delta, which are crisscrossed by oil and gas pipelines, manmade canals, and flood control levees. Further west, in Texas, the beaches reemerge, but shipping canals, giant refineries, and petrochemical factories persist. Over the horizon, in the Gulf itself, thousands of oil and gas wells pump night and day. …
The Deepwater Horizon disaster is as organic a product of human processes in the Gulf as Hurricane Katrina was a product of natural processes. Shipping, flood control, and natural resource extraction have taken a nearly century-long toll on the coast. The Gulf has been abused, exploited, fouled and taken for granted for so long and with such consistency that the shock and horror over this one incident becomes in its own way a salve for our consciences.

(On The Map Room, I’ve been posting entries featuring maps and satellite images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I’ve got another one to post today.)

Not so idyllic

It’s a safe bet that most rural residents tend not to use words like “bucolic” to describe their surroundings, but urbanites who flee city life, chasing after visions of idyllic country settings, certainly do. Boy are they in for a rude awakening, as Martin Mittelstaedt reveals in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Rural life often has a bucolic image of neat farm fields and undulating hills, especially when contrasted with the crowded housing and traffic jams of urban living. People flee the degradation of cities for the countryside, but when they get there, they find anything but clean, green open spaces. From sewage-spreading to wind farms and gravel pits to garbage dumps, many people in rural areas are finding themselves involved in environmental issues that almost never afflict urban dwellers.

Maybe the cities aren’t so degraded, and the countryside quite so idyllic, as people think. Who’d have thunk it?

The cheap land afforded by rural areas means that a lot of eyesores get dumped out in the countryside, away from the madding crowds. And then there’s the dirty business of the rural economy — resource extraction, agricultural practices — that can ick out a city-dweller. And, as the article points out, local environmental activism doesn’t tend to get any help from national environmental groups — rural residents tend to be a little more disempowered. I know quite well what local environmental activists had to do on the two most recent files — uranium mining claims and an engineered landfill that would take trash from all of Gatineau.

Rural areas generally aren’t rich; what urbanites see as despoiling wilderness or ruining an area’s “quaint” rural character — everything from logging and mining to opening a big-box retailer — country folk often see as gainful employment that can be kind of scarce to come by. They don’t worship nature; they have to live in it. So there can be tensions between the people wealthy enough to retreat to the countryside and those who are too poor to leave it.

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