It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Two Big Environmental Stories

First, the good news.

The bee "colony collapse disorder" problem appears to have been solved. It was tricky because there are two factors; a virus and a fungus, either of which appears relatively benign by itself. This is like trying to track down software behavior where there are two interacting bugs, I guess. It made it difficult to track down. Apparently cold weather is implicated, which may be why there are bees that find their way into my Texas house if I leave my door open for two minutes. Anyway, it is possible that this problem will be controlled with a fungicide. The NYTimes has a story on this.

The bad news:

The bad news is a massive toxic spill in Hungary. It is bad enough in itself, but as a global issue the question is how many other huge collections of toxic fluids lurk here and there, mismanaged or even forgotten, waiting to spill out over tens of miles. Current thought is that this will not have a huge impact downstream on the Danube watershed, which is good. And although it is near Lake Balaton, a location about which I have heard my parents and other Hungarian-speakers wax poetic, the maps appear to show that the flow is away from the lake.

The good news for Texas appears to be that we diligently maintain our comparable toxic sludge to a consistency too hard to flow and too soft to blow away. What a relief.


Neven said...

First, the good news.

The bee "colony collapse disorder" problem appears to have been solved.

That is indeed good news. For Monsanto and Syngenta.

Excuse the cynicism.

Michael Tobis said...

Neven, not sure what you mean. Bees are better than no bees.

Reagrding the Hungarian episode, a good comment at the Big Picture:

What is the chemical composition of the sludge? I have not found any article that mentions this. I expected some article somewhere to have a line similar too:
"The sludge, a by product of reducind bauxite ore into alumina, contains a mixture of:
Sodium somthing or other,
This acid,
That acid,
Posted by John Washburn

guthrie said...

I was under the impression that investigations in Italy and France and such had found that CCD was partly down to long term low level exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides, and when you stop using them, the bee's are a lot better.

As for the Hungarian spill, no modern news outlet want's to risk confusing it's audience by using any chemical names, far easier to pitch it at the average 8 year old.
The cynic would suggest that news companies aren't interested in facts, just entertainment. Its even a photogenic red, what more could you ask for?

Michael Tobis said...

The pesticide link was always dubious in my reading of the story.

Neven said...

Neven, not sure what you mean. Bees are better than no bees.

Sure, but it would be even better if pesticides were the cause of it. If the research team in the article you posted turns out to be right, this will be one barrier less for the continuation of insane agriculture. And there will be a lot of fungicide orders to boot. :-)

So it's good news, with a twist.

GRLCowan said...

At The Capacity Factor a composition for the red sludge is given, from the offending company via the BBC.

The notion that it is caustic is abroad. Perhaps, but silica would tend to reduce this by forming silicates, and if the stuff had a lot of surface area and sat for a long time, CO2 from the air would also reduce its alkalinity.

(How fire can be domesticated)

guthrie said...

The funny thing about TiO2 being that it is in sun screens and other such products, let alone paints which people sand off walls, so if it is dangerous, itisn/t very dangerous; moreover mixed up in solution it isn't going to aerosolise and get anyone. You see the problem with just imparting information without any background. THis is a media wide problem.

YOu can also see it when idiots start using health and safety stuff, since you need to know background and context, but too many people just don't want to think about such things or don't know about them. (I hold the modern tendency towards efficiency and knbowingonly what you are supposed to know for teh apparent job responsible for part of the problem)

Aaron said...

Fungicides tend to be to most toxic of chemicals. Do we have good human and environmental toxicity data for these chemicals? Do we understand the fate and transport of these chemicals? Or, do we just close our eyes and spray? Even if we feed the chemical directly to the bees, the bees will then touch every blossom within a thousand yards. That is hard to do, even with a good spray program!

CCD was always a problem of colonies being moved from industrial monoculture to industrial monoculture. Sure, Kansas grows alfalfa, but they buy their seed and do not bring in truck loads of bees to pollinate. Our local beekeepers did not have CCD. In short, an alternative solution is to have diversified agriculture and keep the bees on site. Once climate change makes industrial monoculture unprofitable, then we will go back to diversified local agriculture. How many residual chemicals do we want in the environment?

The CCD researchers did not ask, “What is best for the bees?”, they asked, “What makes industrial monoculture profitable?” There are 3 local beekeepers in our area, and they love CCD because now the price of honey is now high enough that they can make a small profit on their “hobby.” The local pear grower is happy, because the local beekeepers now keep enough hives that he does not have to buy pollination services. On the other hand an almond grower 50 miles away is distraught at how much the price of pollination services have gone up. It is the almond industry that has the high powered lobby and PR program.

Michael Tobis said...

Wow. That's a pretty compelling claim, Aaron, but it's the first I've heard about it.

What evidence can you offer besides your anonymous attestation?

mbloudoff said...

What a scientist didn't tell the NYT about his study on bee deaths: he works for insecticide manufacturer

Neven said...

Thanks for the link, mbloudoff.

Marion Delgado said...

When I lived in Hungary, for a while I stayed not far from Balaton. Good to know it's not heading to the lake.