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Bees: a sting in the tale

Richard Black | 14:13 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bee on flower

 

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) buzzes into the ongoing discussion of bee decline this week, with a report examining the global nature of the issue and some of the reasons behind it.

Their top-line conclusions are that it's becoming a widespread, if not quite global, phenomenon, and that there's a multiplicity of causes.

    Declines - and in some cases, sudden collapses - of colonies in Western Europe, North America and Japan have been widely reported.

    But it's perhaps not quite so commonly known that Chinese beekeepers "faced several inexplicable and complex symptoms of colony losses", as Unep puts it, or that collapses have also been seen in beehives along the banks of the Nile.

    As to the causes, the report highlights more than a dozen factors that could be responsible, in varying proportions, in different parts of the world, including:

    • diseases exacerbated by increased global movement of bees and of other things that may carry pathogens
    • agricultural chemicals
    • climatic factors
    • atmospheric pollution, which reduces insects' capacity to detect smells of, for example, important plants
    • loss of plant biodiversity, reducing the variety of bees' diet

    A while back, writing about the stark and global crisis facing amphibians, I suggested that the only factor to hold responsible was "everything" - and that the same might be true for bees.

    And this is basically the thesis that Unep is spelling out, through the scientific assessments of the Swiss, French and US experts enlisted to write its report.

    A recurring theme in Unep's work at the moment is the importance of "natural capital" - the goods and services that nature provides and that humanity makes use of - and Unep chief Achim Steiner was keen to outline how bees fit into this vision when he launched the bee report in Geneva on Thursday:

    "Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st Century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature.

    "Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature's services in a world of close to seven billion people."

    And as concern slowly rises about the availability of food in the future, the UN report also floats the statistic that...

    "...of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated."

    What to do about the problem is another matter.

    Given the mixed nature of the threat - a largely unquantified mixture - it's even debatable whether there is a single solution, given that simply returning the world to an era before agricultural chemicals, atmospheric pollutants and international trade is hardly feasible.

    Several governments have committed funds to research the problem; and when you consider that pollination is said to contribute $14bn (£8.7bn) to the US economy alone, you can see why the US government is one of the leaders here.

    Graph

    The number of healthy hives has fallen markedly in the US

    One of the questions to ask is why declines have been documented in the areas noted above, while in others - South America, Australia, most of Asia and Africa - there's no visible sign.

    From a practical standpoint, if you're faced with a complex problem that you don't completely understand but where there are some threats that are eminently addressable, then clearly it makes sense to deal with them while you wait for the scientific conclusions to come through.

    So in a number of countries, there are now projects - supported by industry or government agri-environment schemes or both - aimed at giving bees practical support.

    In the UK, farmers are encouraged to plant clover mixes and other bee-friendly plants around the edges of their fields.

    The Sainsbury's supermarket chain and even the Tate Modern art gallery in the heart of London sport roof-level hives and "bee hotels".

    Bee with varroatosis

    Diseases such as varroatosis are a major threat

    A number of European countries have banned neonicotinoid pesticides that they believe are implicated in bee decline.

    And bee-keepers internationally are bombarded with information about the need to keep their hives clean against varroa mites and other pests.

    None of these is likely to be a complete defence, but each is likely to give the insects something of a lift.

    There's a parallel here with coral reefs, which are likewise afflicted by a complex set of threats.

    So the question for authorities is what can be tackled, and what can't.

    The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority might not have the power to stop global warming and ocean acidification.

    But it can restrict shipping and tourism, limit pollution from agricultural land, attack the voracious crown of thorns starfish and encourage fish that nibble on unwanted algae.

    Each of these will keep coral healthier and better able to withstand the threats that can't as yet be controlled.

    As Loretta Burke of the World Resources Institute said on the publication of a major global reef assessment last month:

    "There are reasons for hope. Reefs are resilient; and by reducing the local pressures, we can help buy time to find solutions to global threats that can preserve reefs for future generations."

    Unep's bee prescription is along the same lines, recommending the restoration of good habitat, low-input agricultural methods, and the provision of a diverse population of pollinators.

    Will it be enough? Or are we flying, slowly and inexorably, towards a world without bees?

    And if we are, what will that mean for the meals on our plates?

    Comments

    • Comment number 1.

      Now this is an ACTUAL environmental issue that's really worth throwing some money at.

      Bee's are incredibly important to us as a species (and many other species) and we really need to find what's causing this.

      A pathogen (fungal contaminants one of the recent suggestions is it not?) is likely- especially given the increased movement of bee's around the globe.

      Question- and Richard you may know, the decline in bee's- is this predominantly in wild or 'farmed' bee's? or is it even? do we know?? Could this be a genetic thing?

      Also- i encourage people to plant bee-friendly plants in your garden. Easy to do, they look good and it helps the bee's.

    • Comment number 2.

      Interesting that bee keepers' practices are not also subject to scrutiny. When they take honey, they replace it with sugary water, which does not have the infection-resisting qualities of honey.

      What proportion of the available honey are they taking nowadays, as opposed to a few decades ago?

    • Comment number 3.

      Even if every species of honey bee were to retreat to Africa and the antipodes -- and I think that is an extremely unlikely scenario -- it is ridiculous to suppose that a "catastrophic collapse of the plant kingdom" would occur wherever they retreat from.

      If honey bees are as effective a pollinator as is claimed, then they are also effective nectar-takers. The disappearance of effective nectar-takers would entail a great surplus of nectar, and that would open up opportunities for less effective nectar-takers, such as other kinds of bees, butterflies, the hummingbird hawk moth -- possibly even hummingbirds. If some plant species lost out in that new regime, other plant species would win. That is how life works.

      Would there be an overall gain or loss in "biodiversity"? -- The question is unanswerable. But if you think the "mark of Man" on the nature is a bad thing, the current huge population of honey bees is exactly that -- the "mark of Man" in the form of an artificially inflated population of a kind of domesticated animal.

      Sometimes it is claimed that the Romans introduced the honey bee to Britain. That is probably mistaken, but the fact that it is a mere possibility is important. Britain was not a barren wasteland before the honey bee arrived, and it wouldn't become a barren wasteland were honey bees to depart.

    • Comment number 4.

      If the whole bee system around the world collapsed you would bet the scurge of this planet (politicians) would finally stop international trade, polltuion etc.

      Ofcourse, being politicians they will too late and screw it up for everybody and everything.

      Perhaps the solution is to sterilise this world of politicians, a global revolution. Stage one... get rid of money!

    • Comment number 5.


      2. bowmanthebard wrote:

      "Interesting that bee keepers' practices are not also subject to scrutiny. When they take honey, they replace it with sugary water, which does not have the infection-resisting qualities of honey."

      This practice can't be good.

      3. bowmanthebard wrote:

      "The disappearance of effective nectar-takers would entail a great surplus of nectar, and that would open up opportunities for less effective nectar-takers"

      This is all so natural. The reality is: humans want bees to pollinate for humans.

      4. The Realist wrote:

      "Stage one... get rid of money!"

      I've always wondered just how the Star Trek future pulled this off
      successfully.

    • Comment number 6.

      "climatic factors"

      I was wondering how long it would take before Richard pointed to the bogey man de jour. Even if you are being coy and not saying climate change out loud, we know what you mean here.

      What climatic factors could bees possibly be facing today that they haven't faced over the last 100,000,000 years, Richard?

      They've seen periods when the Earth was MUCH warmer than it is today, survived scores of ice ages and even survived the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

      Honestly, I've yet to read an article by Richard that doesn't try in some way (however tenuously) to link some bad environmental news to climate change.

      It's getting depressing.

    • Comment number 7.

      Step one.Don't use pesticide in back gardens. I have swarms of all types of bees in my garden because I cater for them. Step two Don't kill bees: I was surprised to find a very large bumble bee in my house yesterday. The bee was really beautiful, and almost filled the wine glass I used to capture it and release it outside. Step three: The garden is filled with wild geraniums and a fair number of 'elephant ear' plants, which flower really early to give nectar at the beginning of the flowering season. Step four encourage bee keeping: there are several local bee keepers and so there are always plenty of honey bees in the garden. Step five: Only steal a sustainable amount of honey from poor old Mr bee so that what he is allowed to keep, maintains the hive strength and immunity.

    • Comment number 8.

      @sensiblegrannie #7

      Step 6:

      Don't step on bees that look like they are dying. Feed them some honey instead and they will get over their fatigue and fly back to the colony

      /Mango

      I don't deny climate changes, I know climate changes

    • Comment number 9.

      I would love to keep a beehive, I really would, but my neighbours would throw a complete wobbly.

    • Comment number 10.

      Great topic Richard, and very important. But first, let's clear the stale AGW air here. Note that this is a localized problem so far. There is absolutely no logical way this can be correlated with any climatic factors, let alone the global one hinted at. Just look at the range of climates which the honeybee lives in - and has lived through in the past - and the absurdity of that 'convenient' suggestion is clear.

      bowmanthebard (#3) notes the possible introduction of the honeybee into the UK by the Romans. I don't know about that but that would be entirely predictable. The Romans were smart, and liked honey.

      But there is no doubt that the honeybee was introduced to North America and Australia. So, to take the current 'biodiversity' argument to its most idealized level, these alien species really should be eradicated... because they're alien, and therefore supposedly bad. Another great example of why things are always more complicated than slogans.

      #1. LabMunkey wrote:

      "A pathogen (fungal contaminants one of the recent suggestions is it not?) is likely- especially given the increased movement of bee's around the globe.

      Question- and Richard you may know, the decline in bee's- is this predominantly in wild or 'farmed' bee's? or is it even? do we know?? Could this be a genetic thing?"

      I think you are on to it LM. But first, to answer your question, this is a domestic honeybee problem. When I looked into this in detail some time ago there was no evidence of anything like this in any of the many wild bee pops, in North America at least. Maybe that has changed but I would not expect it to. Most bees are actually solitary so whole different scenario.

      I think your point about "the increased movement of bee's around the globe" is probably the underlying factor. That certainly could explain the distribution of the problem, if some pathogen is involved. That would also contribute to any potential genetically related problems as one would expect this global bee population to become more of a genetic monoculture over time as breeders keep selecting for maximum honey production or pollination, and then export these selected strains. And in the genetic department, I wonder if there is some correlation between the occurence of GM crops and these problems?

      Richard notes two other potential causes that make no sense to me:

      "atmospheric pollution, which reduces insects' capacity to detect smells of, for example, important plants"

      Like the climate story, this varies too much and cannot be correlated with the actual impacts. Are smells that critical to worker bees in any case? As I recall, they are primarily visual... but could be wrong. More importantly, if this were a significant factor, it would only reduce their food supplies, not produce the effects seen.

      And wouldn't windmills effect their ability to detect fragrances?

      "loss of plant biodiversity, reducing the variety of bees' diet"

      If we were talking about a native species this could make more sense. But we are not. However, the loss of plant genetic diversity resulting from GM monocultures could be a contributing factor.

      "agricultural chemicals"

      Given globalization and the widespread use of the same chemicals, this certainly could be a contributing factor. particularly new chemicals which have been developed. Did this collapse begin in synch with any new chemicals?

      Very important to answer these questions! We are in a symbiotic relationship with honeybees and if they go the looming food crises are just going to get much, much worse.

      And this honeybee story has real parallels with our larger human story. Globalization. Transmission of pathogens around the world. Dense population centers. Just a matter of time before somebody comes back from an ecotourism trip with some new pathogen on their boots... or some genetic scientist makes a mistake or goes nuts... and with our population densities and airplanes... oh well, don't worry, be happy.

      Here's an article I posted recently, worth posting again. gets into some of the specific details. Being from Reuters one would expect them to try to insert the climate angle but they didn't:

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/05/us-honeybee-deaths-idUSTRE7242C220110305?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews&rpc=22&sp=true


    • Comment number 11.

      #9. Brunnen wrote:

      "I would love to keep a beehive, I really would, but my neighbours would throw a complete wobbly."

      We would too. But the problem here is not neighbors, it is bears. Much simpler just to buy honey. And there seems to be no shortage of wild bees here.

    • Comment number 12.

      #7. sensiblegrannie wrote:

      Those are all great ideas, and every little bit helps! But it is not Mr bee that needs to be saved, it is the Queen.

      Sounds like you have a very nice garden full of interesting things. As Blake said, 'to see the universe in a grain of sand.'There's as much wildlife drama and beauty (on a smaller scale)in a good garden than there is in the Serengetti.

      One thing we are very lucky to have here are hummingbirds. We get three species here. Like exquisite giant insects. And they pollinate many plants too.

    • Comment number 13.

      A whole stack of interesting papers about honeybees - biology, ecology, behavior, origins, historical uses, etc. - here:

      http://www.pnas.org/search?fulltext=honeybee&submit=yes

    • Comment number 14.

      A lot of people sincerely think that if "60% of plants are pollinated by bees", say, then the disappearance of bees would mean 60% of plants would become extinct. (I have even heard something like that attributed to Einstein, although as far as I know, he never said anything like it.)

      Once again, we see conceptual confusion generated by the theory of evolution only being half understood. The misunderstood other half is the assumption that there is design in nature, a "place for everything and everything in its place", and therefore a "delicate balance" stands ready to be toppled as soon as we reach a critical "tipping point".

      Life is nothing like that. Life is quite capable of accommodating vast, sweeping changes. We know that, because it has already undergone countless such changes. We humans have ourselves undergone a very big change recently in what we eat -- a few thousand years ago it was mostly meat and fruit, but it became mostly grains (or in my own case "Kerr's Pinks" -- one of the world's finest potatoes).

      Using the broadest brushstrokes, what really determines "how much life" there is on an area of land are water, light, heat, and our old friend carbon dioxide. The more the merrier (and the greater the overall plant growth). Not honey bees. Whatever may happen to an artificially domesticated animal whose population is far, far higher than it would be without human intervention, those remain the things that count.

    • Comment number 15.

      #14. bowmanthebard

      Great post! Your point is clearest in a place like North America where native plants all did just fine without honeybees, and still do.

      "Using the broadest brushstrokes, what really determines "how much life" there is on an area of land are water, light, heat, and our old friend carbon dioxide."

      As far as I know, the broadest brush is 'evaportranspiration' which is a combined measurement of heat and moisture which - along with basic geology which influences soil types - determines the primary productivity of any area... and thus the foundation of the whole food chain and ecosystem. Something every gardener can easily understand. And yes, CO2 too - something that professional greenhouse growers definitely understand when they raise CO2 levels to promote growth.

    • Comment number 16.

      The UN has become a monster. Who would have guessed that gargantuan amounts of taxpayers funds would be spent on idle speculation. These report-writing enviro-alarmists can only see the hand of man in anything that happens. Can't everyone see that this is religious mumbo jumbo? Just like those who see "the hand of god" in everything, they see sinful man as the root cause of anything bad.

      Just look at all the proposed causes - every single one of them that Richard suggests has a man-made cause - this is intentional of course, as the UNEP is a Political organization and has little interest in presenting a balanced view. Enviro NGO's also want all natural events to be man-made - start feeling guilty folks and put your hands in your pockets and give us more money and we will absolve you of your sinful pleasure of a slice of toast with honey!

      For all we know, the whole thing about bees could be entirely natural...but no, this all HAS to be related to Human causes.

    • Comment number 17.

      @16 ..'For all we know, the whole thing about bees could be entirely natural...but no, this all HAS to be related to Human causes.'
      - Shadorne


      ...because all that monoculture farming, over use of insecticides and commercial in-breeding of Bees for Agribusiness pollination, couldn't possibly be having any effect whatsoever, eh?..

      Didn't take long for the Contrarians to move from crocodile tears, back to the 'its all a conspiracy by environmentalists' meme did it?...

    • Comment number 18.

      " keep it simple stupid". Two years ago moved indand in Spain, although i had many almonds and olives there was a lack of bees and inscects so i planted what i thoughrt they may like. Now the banks hum with life. I also have two extras. 1 it looks like my almond crop will be a good one this year and i have far more birds on the land. GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED NOT WHAT YOU WANT. 0r is that to simple STUPID!!!!

    • Comment number 19.

      It isn't at all natural!
      The decline began just after 1950(American chart above). However, that chart holds pretty true for most other suffering countries. So why?
      About 5 years after the end of WW2 countries began to see the modest return of luxury items, including foods and sweets. A UK example being the late return of chocolate in 1957. As demand increased for luxury items the price rose accordingly. Even if bee numbers could have been increased they would not have kept pace with demand. So, honey became a more and more expensive luxury with increasing world population rise!
      Commercial bee keepers were pushed to keep raising output until a maximum was reached. The only way from there was to take more from the hive and feed the bees on an inferior sugar water diet. That diet is the equivalent of us living on pure animal fat. It will fill you up, give you energy but will eventually kill you!
      Now with honey reaching as much as 11 or 12 pounds a jar it has become like gold dust and will go the same way as caviar and its source, the almost extinct sturgeon!
      The answer, ban the sale of honey from affected countries for a period of time and allow the bees to eat what they produce themselves. Yes, a lot of people will suffer in the short term but if we allow the continued rape of the hives, bees will become just another distant memory.

    • Comment number 20.

      Lamna_nasus wrote "...because all that monoculture farming, over use of insecticides and commercial in-breeding of Bees for Agribusiness pollination, couldn't possibly be having any effect whatsoever, eh?.. "

      Yes it is all bad, bad, bad. We are all doomed.

      "Didn't take long for the Contrarians to move from crocodile tears, back to the 'its all a conspiracy by environmentalists' meme did it?..."

      No. There are real environmental issues (over-fishing) and there are alarmist reports like these; reports that totally undermine the credibility of the environmental movement.

      Simply imagine if the 100's of billions spent on the bogus issue of man-made climate change had actually been put to good use!

      Perhaps we would have more fish, for example?

      As in the proverbial story of "Boy who cried Wolf"...enviro-alarmists are doing untold damage by removing attention from real environmental issues towards idle speculation. If we don't know, then why speculate? Why do we assume that animal populations must necessarily stay constant - perhaps either a declining or a growing population is more normal? What if it is simply a "bee-flu" analogous to the spanish flu, black plague, etc. What if all we need do is to allow nature to take its course and bee populations (with some help from commercial agribusiness) will simply recover. Of course this would not be good for the UN or NGO's raison d'etre.

    • Comment number 21.

      Bees are in decline? Remember there are over 25,000 species of bees and Apis mellifera the Honey Bee is only one species. Did you know that there were no Honey Bee species in the Americas before Europeans introduced them to the Americas? I suppose you could say that Bees are in decline as man clears land and pollutes the environment various species will decline. Any way plants that depend on pollinators did fine before the advent of Europeans and there honeybees.

      Also take into consideration that a number of other species of bees are used by man to pollinate food plants. Bees of the genus Osmia pollinate fruit trees in Japan, Megachile species pollinate alfalfa, Bombus species are used for tomato pollination.

      It is said that some American Indians called Honey Bees the white mans flies.

      One of my hobbies is gardening which includes plants that I can eat and I could easily survive if all Apis mellifera became extinct.

      Do not take for granted what government experts tell you even if they call themselves entomologists, ecologists or what ever.

    • Comment number 22.

      Here is an interesting article about the possible effects of GMO crops on the decline of bees.

      http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8436

    • Comment number 23.

      Bug man,

      Don't confuse everyone with mundane facts...I mean we have here a man-made catastrophe in the making! We are all to suffer the consequences of our evil commercial farming ways.... there shall be great wailing and gnashing of teeth! Our only hope is to repent, rid ourselves of all chemicals and all machines, and go back to scratching a living off the land as we did thousands of years ago.

      Halleloujah you can still be saved - repent and oh, whole your at it please make a donation to your favorite high church NGO of EnvironMENTALism!

    • Comment number 24.

      re: 3 bowmanthebard

      Even if every species of honey bee were to retreat to Africa and the antipodes -- and I think that is an extremely unlikely scenario -- it is ridiculous to suppose that a "catastrophic collapse of the plant kingdom" would occur wherever they retreat from.

      True, but the real issue with the decline in bee populations is agriculture.

      I don't know how things work across the water, but here in North America many, if not most, commercial hives are shipped by truck from place to place to pollinate several valuable food crops.

      The hives follow the flowering seasons of the crops as they move around the country.

      On a different point, I find the idea of 'natural capital' to be a very interesting one. If we consider nature as the infrastructure of all infrastructures, would it make it easier to price into our dirty doings more of those negative externalities which we currently fob off on future generations?


    • Comment number 25.

      re: 23 Shadorne

      Feel better now?

    • Comment number 26.

      chronophobe #24 wrote:

      the real issue with the decline in bee populations is agriculture.

      Honey bees are agriculture. They are farm animals, or at least farmed animals. Their population is artificially high for the same reason as the sheep population is artificially high -- because farmers encourage them, play a central role in their life-cycle, remove the most obvious threats to their numbers, provide extra food for them in hard times, and so on.

      There's nothing wrong with artificially-high populations of human-friendly animals, in my opinion. If their populations were lower, there would be a wider range of human-unfriendly animals around. But if an artificially-high population of a farmed animal falls, let's not tear our hair out and say that something terribly foreboding and artificial must be happening -- it might just as well be described as "nature re-establishing itself". And let's not pretend that it represents a catastrophic loss in "biodiversity", since it allows competitors to regain their populations. With fewer honey bees around, their would probably be more bumble bees, butterflies and moths, more bats feeding on non-stinging insects, and so on.

      We've got to shake off this idea that a "biosystem" is in a "delicate balance" and that losing this "balance" means a loss of "biodiversity". That presupposes a sort of "cosmic design" -- the very sort of design that does not exist in nature.

    • Comment number 27.

      There is a very big elephant in the room, which some beekeepers and individuals in the 'bee-support industry' work hard to conceal. It is this.

      By systematically treating Honeybees (against varroa, but other things too) and then allowing them to mate freely, beekeepers omit the single most important aspect of husbandry: selection of the strongest parents to form the next generation.

      The most essential aspect of livestock keeping is not just entirely absent, but has actually been put into reverse. Beekeepers inadvertantly multiply the most vulnerable bloodlines. The result is utterly predictable: perpetually sick and failing stock.

      This form of bee 'husbandry' began in earnest about twenty years ago, when varroa first arrived in Europe. It is now entrenched in modern methods.

      Out of the news, there are widespread efforts being made to breed varroa-tolerant bees, both in large institutions and in apairies of all sizes, by more enlightened and skilled husbandrymen who understand the real nature of the problem. Their methods are well documented, and very successful. But their efforts are undone every time varroa treatments are used.

      The beekeeping institutions themselves are letting down their members badly, by all but hushing-up the true nature of the problem, and the simple solution - standard selective reproduction. It can be noted: their magazines rely on advertising from the 'bee-support industry' (which is regarded as a valid 'stakeholder' in policymaking). Read: big agro-chemical companies with vast experience at manuipulating the narrative to suit their own ends.

      The Honeybee problem is at root a genetic problem. Failure to maintain healthy bloodlines through active and constant selection of best parents (as is routine in all other kinds of husbandry) guarentees perpetual weakness.

    • Comment number 28.

      @ canadian #10 and generally.

      So if i'm reading this right it would seem that this issue is confined to the 'farmed' bee's and not the wild population.

      In that case it would seem relatively obvious that this was a genetic issue that was allowing some sensitivity towards some external factor- be it a pathogen or an otherwise 'harmless' external source.

      courses of action:
      - re introduce complexity into the 'farmed' genome.
      - stop buying mass-produced honey (support your local producers!)
      - plant bee-friendly plants.

      Right, that's sorted- next issue!!

    • Comment number 29.

      "One of the questions to ask is why declines have been documented in the areas noted above, while in others - South America, Australia, most of Asia and Africa - there's no visible sign."

      Doesn't that give us the answer? It is these areas of the world where agricultural chemicals and pesticides are least prevalent, because least affordable.

    • Comment number 30.

      @ 29

      not really, as there are a myriad of other factors- for instance mass 'bee farming' is less prevalent there.

      That's the danger of going into something with a preconcieved idea... you make erroneous conclusions.

    • Comment number 31.

      17. At 9:31pm on 10 Mar 2011, Lamna_nasus wrote:


      Didn't take long for the Contrarians to move from crocodile tears, back to the 'its all a conspiracy by environmentalists' meme did it?...

      --------------------------------------------

      It took even less time for watermelons like yourself to don the traditional sackcloth and ashes and begin your uninformed doomcrying.

    • Comment number 32.

      Hmm looks like there's a carbon elephant in the room in need of emission cuts

    • Comment number 33.

      To sensiblegrannie - Agreed, planting flowers bees like is a useful thing to do, and you will get a wide range of bee species, not just the controversial honeybee. I have been doing this for many years, but over the last 5 I have seen a marked decrease in the number of bees. (Southwest Ohio garden). Used to have sedum heads covered in bees on a sunny day - now there's just a few bees. Seen no pollination of beans, the last few years. Again, this is not just honey bees, half a dozen species are involved. I do wonder about the systemic insecticides sold for garden use and how much insecticide ends up in the pollen (and no, I don't use such products.)

    • Comment number 34.

      celticengineer #33 wrote:

      Seen no pollination of beans, the last few years.

      Are you saying that you yourself saw no bees on the flowers of your bean plants pollinating them, or that your bean plants actually produced no beans because they were sterile?

    • Comment number 35.

      re: 26 bowmanthebard

      We've got to shake off this idea that a "biosystem" is in a "delicate balance" and that losing this "balance" means a loss of "biodiversity". That presupposes a sort of "cosmic design" -- the very sort of design that does not exist in nature.

      Of course, natural selection is completely indifferent to complexity and balance.

      It is we humans who impose the narratives of utility and beauty upon nature. In expressing concern over the health of of honey bee stocks, we are expressing a concern for our own interests in their utility to us (as agents of pollination, producers of honey).

      From the cosmic perspective, our concerns are just as meaningless as those of the bees themselves, I suppose. But utility and beauty certainly matter to us!

      Which is why bio-diversity matters to us. A world lacking in the spectacular (to us!) complexity of coral reefs, rain forests, the African savannah, etc., etc., etc., would be a world at once less beautiful, and, perhaps, less useful.

      And, it seems to me, because our culture seems to value the useful more highly than the beautiful it becomes unavoidable to make use of quantifiable, or even 'scientised,' arguments for bio diversity like the notion of 'natural capital.'

      Of course, the preservation of natural capital often is at odds with short term requirements of immediate utility. But what I like about such a concept is it forces thinking humanity to begin, at least, to reckon the longer term consequences for us, for our concerns with beauty and utility, into our short term gratifications.

    • Comment number 36.

      ""One of the questions to ask is why declines have been documented in the areas noted above, while in others - South America, Australia, most of Asia and Africa - there's no visible sign.""

      "Doesn't that give us the answer? It is these areas of the world where agricultural chemicals and pesticides are least prevalent, because least affordable."

      First: some of these countries have had the varroa mite for a long time, and the bees there are adapted and can cope with it. That would be the case elsewhere if beekeepers didn't interfere with the process by denying the selection necessary to regain health.

      It useful to focus on which chemicals are doing the most harm, and why. A study a year or two back of varroa moving through part of Africa showed that where beekeepers were unable to afford treatments the bees adapt naturally, and the problem passes within a couple of years.

      Artificially maintaining free-mating life-forms gives utterly predictable results. The animals become 'addicted' to the treatment, which becomes ever-less effective as the pathogen remains free to adapt. The prey loses the 'arms race'.

      The solution to all this, informed responsible husbandry (rather than greedy/ignorant beekeeping encouraged by a devious 'support' industry), can be found from here: http://www.suttonjoinery.co.uk/CCD/selected%20links.htm



    • Comment number 37.

      28. LabMunkey wrote:

      "courses of action:

      - re introduce complexity into the 'farmed' genome."

      More genetic diversity would have to be a good thing.

      "stop buying mass-produced honey (support your local producers!)"

      I'm guessing that all honey is produced by "local producers" - how else - but that some companies collect from many of them, or maybe own the hives put out in many local areas. So, while I certainly support this concept in theory, a larger company would might be able to mange the reintroduction of genetic diversity better. ?

      "plant bee-friendly plants"

      Always good to have more plant diversity for all sorts of reasons.

      I would also add: BAN the movement of honeybees between continents EXCEPT for those needed to reintroduce genetic diversity. This would stop the transmission of any pathogens that might be involved. Would also be good to stop moving them around so much within continents, but that is not so simple.

      In the meantime, I would guess that the Bee industry has already taken some of these steps to save their industry... but that is just a guess.

    • Comment number 38.

      #32. quake wrote:

      "Hmm looks like there's a carbon elephant in the room in need of emission cuts"

      Sigh. Real stretch... except for the AGW Causes Everything/Anything crowd.

      But some good news regarding this rogue white elephant. Big cuts to its food supply and keepers coming in the US, so it will only be stomping around the EU doing economic damage and threatening power supplies there.





    • Comment number 39.


      38. CanadianRockies wrote:

      "Sigh. Real stretch... except for the AGW Causes Everything/Anything crowd."

      That may be, but, when 'the whip comes down' and C02 is 'running this town', I expect you and your ilk will tap dance around with lots explanations.




    • Comment number 40.

      Most comments on this type of article just show that people have no interest in the complexities of natural systems, and play out this boring climate change problem / no climate change problem debate again and again and again.

      If you really wanted to get to grips with this issue would you rely on this article alone for your source of information? I think not, no offence Mr Black!

      Time for me to buzz off.

    • Comment number 41.

      #39. margare

      All we are say ying

      is

      give bees a chance...

    • Comment number 42.

      Thank you for this report, Mr Black.

      And yes, alas, we are... we are.

      We can thank the Green Revolution for introducing the age when scientists abandoned reason altogether by choosing to address the symptoms -- malnutrition -- rather than the disease: overpopulation.

      There was more money to be made, naturally, by forcing the planet to yield new (unnatural, engineered and as time has shown not entirely harmless) crops in greater quantity than simply persuading a mere billion or so humans to please not be in such a hurry to add many new lives.

      Had we focused our resources, energy and funding on reprogramming the human race to procreate less, we would not now be faced with the need to start counting up the beans in the pantry, and the bees in the fields, to see if we can make the feasting last for a few decades more.

      The bees will die off -- nearly to extinction -- and the food supply will be severely reduced.

      And people will either finally learn the lesson, or face extinction themselves, as a species.

      Believe you me, the thicker-skulled unconscionable ones will be the first to go, wherever they might reside, and whichever passport they carry, because those are the ones who find it hardest to give up their mindlessly risky, morbidity-promoting behaviours:

      Polygamy.

      Smoking.

      Conspicuous over-consumption.

      Wild excess.

      Slaveownership & the exploitation of humans to overproduce unneeded consumables.

      Crime, murder & mayhem.

      Given the need to cut back on industry, which would you choose? Less IT or less weaponry?

      Greater unity and coordination at the upper levels of world governance, or less?

      More law enforcement or less law enforcement?

      More travel or less travel? More open borders or more carefully managed borders & ports?

      Are we going to require that a certain standard of conduct towards the planet be upheld, or are we going to allow people who foul their own nests to come over to our nest and foul that one next? It sounds harsh, doesn't it? Now consider we are speaking of Industry, not People.

      We don't actually any of us need quite so many clothes, books or TV sets. We certainly could manage with fewer cars, gemstones, lipsticks and chewing gums packs.

      But not without water. Or bees.

      Industrial processes need to be held to account, overhauled, fined. Yes, this will drive up costs -- it will also reduce consumption. And extend the viability of the food supply system.

      The writing is on the wall. Only the fittest survive -- and that also means only the smartest, the most restrained, the most thoughtful and the most civilised.

      Knowing how to say "No, you can't!" -- and to whom, and why -- is crucial to good hygiene. Saves bees, too.

    • Comment number 43.

      chronophobe #35 wrote:

      But utility and beauty certainly matter to us!

      Which is why bio-diversity matters to us. A world lacking in the spectacular (to us!) complexity of coral reefs, rain forests, the African savannah, etc., etc., etc., would be a world at once less beautiful, and, perhaps, less useful.


      That is a much more honest approach than the idea that we must strive to maintain the "delicate balance of the ecosystem" (translation: serve the cosmic design). The trouble is, if we genuinely allow utility and beauty to be our guides, they do not always steer us towards "biodiversity", and the metric with which we measure "biodiversity" would probably involve less scientific rigour than the word suggests.

      For example, there are a lot of seagulls around our towns and cities. Most people don't care much for seagulls, because they see so many of them. (Similar attitudes were expressed towards kites when they were common scavengers.) But familiarity aside, they are a beautiful bird, and unlike rats -- the scavengers that would take their place if there were fewer seagulls -- they don't spread diseases worth talking about. Should we encourage more rats in the name of "biodiversity"? Or just honestly admit that we prefer seagulls (and nowadays kites too) because they please the human eye -- and don't try to dress it all up in pseudo-scientific terminology?

    • Comment number 44.

      42. Maria Ashot wrote:

      "We can thank the Green Revolution for introducing the age when scientists abandoned reason altogether by choosing to address the symptoms -- malnutrition -- rather than the disease: overpopulation.

      There was more money to be made, naturally, by forcing the planet to yield new (unnatural, engineered and as time has shown not entirely harmless) crops in greater quantity than simply persuading a mere billion or so humans to please not be in such a hurry to add many new lives. "

      ..........................................
      Ye gods Maria. You're on a downer this morning. Go for a brisk walk and get some air in your lungs.

      When you get back perhaps you will let us know which of these new (unnatural, engineered and as time has shown not entirely harmless) crops you are refering to.

      That is unless you are really Richard in agent provocateur mode egging us all on.

    • Comment number 45.

      @Maria Ashot #42:

      "We can thank the Green Revolution for introducing the age when scientists abandoned reason altogether by choosing to address the symptoms -- malnutrition -- rather than the disease: overpopulation."

      Read your history books. Malnutrition, starvation, famine etc were far more prevalent and widespread back in the days when the population was a small fraction of today's.
      But you're dead right about one thing: scientists have abandoned reason altogether - full stop.

    • Comment number 46.

      Your comments quoted on the news about the nuclear power plant in Japan were outrageous. You cast doubts on the honesty of the Tokyo Electric Power officials and almost caused me to evacuate my family from our home. It now turns out the authorities were giving accurate information and acted all the while in the best interests of everybody. I hope you are man enough to apologize and give ue credit to all those who worked to balance the needs of the media and the public without causing panic.

    • Comment number 47.

      Maria Ashot #42

      I forgot to ask - could you personally manage with less cars? Or TV sets?
      Do you think that people who make cars, TV sets etc could manage with less jobs? Because, Maria, that's what most of industry does - it manufactures cars, TVs, lipsticks, chewing gum packs, furniture, crockery, cutlery, clothing etc etc etc for the rest of us. It's not simply a choice between IT and weaponry, you know.

    • Comment number 48.

      The last few hours have been a massive learning curve for us all. Nature verses artifact. Who won? Who read the signs and interpreted them correctly? Our whole planet responded to that earthquake!
      As I said before, we are all in this mess together and we must all cooperate with each other because we might have to. If bees are part of a growing issue then we should be listening to the experts who can educate us on how to mitigate the effects of bee colony degradation.

      chrissato, I understand your anger and by the sounds of it, you are living in the area and perhaps you can give us a balanced view?

      Perhaps our lack of real understanding about the planet is because we rely too heavily on 'accurate' measurements that best describe non living structures. Perhaps the planet itself is a form of living structure that can only be measured by a system that measures living things. Principles of Least Action verses The Principle of the Degradation of Energy or the Growth of Entropy.

    • Comment number 49.

      When an asteroid crashes into the sun does it give the sun a new lease of energy, like when we eat a high energy snack bar? Is the earth being affected by a sun burp? It is a pity we can't harvest solar wind and solar flares to solve all of our energy problems. Are these very large earthquakes altering the earth poles and if so, will that affect the navigation systems of birds, bees and other creatures that rely on steady magnetic fields?

    • Comment number 50.

      sensiblegrannie #48 wrote:

      Perhaps the planet itself is a form of living structure that can only be measured by a system that measures living things.

      The planet is not living. It's as simple as that.

    • Comment number 51.

      bowmanthebard
      Oh well.

    • Comment number 52.

      #42. Maria Ashot wrote:

      We can thank the Green Revolution for introducing the age when scientists abandoned reason altogether by choosing to address the symptoms -- malnutrition -- rather than the disease: overpopulation.

      ----------------------------------------------------

      Utter nonsense. In the 60's (when the green revolution really took off) the population of the planet was less than half of what it is today.

      But let's say I agree the planet is overpopulated. How do we get rid of the excess billions? Forced sterilisation? Mass murder? Let people starve to death?

      And who gets to decide who lives and who dies? You?

      I shudder every time someone complains that the planet is overpopulated and then doesn't provide a solution to problem.

    • Comment number 53.

      At 12:27pm on 12 Mar 2011, sensiblegrannie wrote:
      chrissato, I understand your anger and by the sounds of it, you are living in the area and perhaps you can give us a balanced view?

      yes, I am 100 miles north of the affected nuclear plant and have been watching Japanese media news and the BBC news all day long. The Japanese authorities have been exemplary in keeping us informed and taking the correct pro-active steps to ensure people's safety without causing undue panic. However, Richard Black was quoted on the BBC live earthquake page as saying that we should not give too much credance to what we were being told by Tokyo Electric Power Company as they have a history of being dishonest and not disclosing the truth. I actually loaded my car on the basis of this ready to head north, but it now transpires that the Japanese authorities have been on top of the situation and were not hiding anything. Instead of casting doubts from afar and encouraging panic, Richard Black should come out and say he was wrong and congratulate all those involved in handling this crisis. we are not out of the woods yet, as there are still tremors, but Richard Black should be ashamed of himself.

    • Comment number 54.

      Chrissato,

      I agree. I hope that Richard Black and the BBC make apologies for taking this terrible earthquake disaster as an opportunity to push their enviromental anti-industry agendas.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12723092

      This article takes the sad reality of a Japanese Power company's struggle in the face of havoc wreaked on their nuclear facility and exploits it. It is all speculation and it is all alarmist.

      The BBC has also made claims that the Tsunami has been made worse because of Global Warming.

      It is so sick when political organizations (like the BBC) exploit a humanitarian disaster for ideological political agendas.

      Anyway else disturbed by these comments?

    • Comment number 55.

      I am not a nuclear scientist, but here is how today has unfolded on the Japanese media regarding the nuclear power plant.

      This morning they set up a 10 kilometre excsuion zone around the Fukushima dai-ichi reactor, then later for the dai-ni reactor too. We were told that radiation levels were above normal and that the cooling system had broken down. The prime minister was shown touring the reactor complex in his helicopter. At 3:30 there was an explosion and Japanese TV showed images of this. A press conference by TEPCo followed and told reporters they were on top of the situation nd a full statement would be issued. 90 minutes later. Three ministers gave news conferences in which they told us that the radiation level in the plant at the time of the explosion was 1000, twice the normal level for a whole year. They were unsure of the cause of the explosion and whether the core had been affected. They extended the exclusion zone for dai-ichi to 20 kilometres as a precaution. An announcement was made an hour or so later that radiatio levels had fallen to about 75, not much above normal levels and that the core had not melted down. They had also released sea water into the reactor to help cool down the core and a new cooling system was being transported by the self-defence forces.

      I am not an apologist for the nuclear industry, but in the light of all the havoc that this earthquake and tsunami has caused here, I think the response from all the authorities has been exemplary. I am just thankful that doom-sayers such as Richard Black do not speak Japanese and were not on hand to spread their cynism on the Japanese public.

    • Comment number 56.

      re: 53 chrissato

      I actually loaded my car on the basis of this ready to head north, but it now transpires that the Japanese authorities have been on top of the situation and were not hiding anything.

      While I appreciate your distress in a difficult situation, what I am reading from Black doesn't seem to be 'cynical doom saying.'

      He, quiet legitimately, points to past episodes where TEPCo was caught telling porkies. I don't think there was any attempt to cast aspersions on the honesty of current updates on the immediate conditions at the plant. I read it more as a slightly sceptical musing on the full disclosure and full understanding of events in the long term (from the report I read):

      Parallels with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl suggest that while some answers will materialise soon, it may takes months, even years, for the full picture to emerge.

      How that happens depends in large part on the approach taken by Tepco and Japan's nuclear authorities.

      As with its counterparts in many other countries, Japan's nuclear industry has not exactly been renowned for openness and transparency.

      Tepco itself has been implicated in a series of cover-ups down the years.

      In 2002, the chairman and four other executives resigned, suspected of having falsified safety records at Tepco power stations.

      Further examples of falsification were identified in 2006 and 2007.


      Again, not what I would call 'cynical doom saying.'

    • Comment number 57.

      Shadorne #54 wrote:

      The BBC has also made claims that the Tsunami has been made worse because of Global Warming.

      Really? -- Where?

    • Comment number 58.

      Chronophobe,

      How can you possibly defend Richard Black?

      It is a disaster. 1,000+ people have been killed. Authorities and businesses are doing what they can given terrible circumstances and Richard Black, sitting at his computer (probably sipping tea), in typical enviro-alarmist fashion is ALREADY speculating about a cover-up by untrustworthy industrialists. Unbelievably shameful!

      The Japanese people deserve a retraction and apology from the BBC.

    • Comment number 59.

    • Comment number 60.

      re: 43 bowmanthebard

      The trouble is, if we genuinely allow utility and beauty to be our guides, they do not always steer us towards "biodiversity", and the metric with which we measure "biodiversity" would probably involve less scientific rigour than the word suggests.

      Agreed. What we seem most often to be talking about is the preservation of 'eco-systems' or 'biomes.' Bio-diversity within these being held necessary to their 'stability.' Which stability is of course an oxymoron, dynamism being essential to the perpetuation of the systems as such.

      What then develops is a quasi-religious reverence for an objectified 'idea' of the eco-system: what we want is to preserve something that exists in imagination only.

      Now, I would qualify that by saying that this reverential attitude is tempered by an awareness, more or less depending on circumstances, that all things must change. Certainly most people actively involved in conservation understand the dynamism of the systems they manage. Some aspects of public opinion, on the other hand, seem very reluctant to part with the idealised notions which define their perceptions of 'real nature.'

      That the environmental movement has made use of these idealities is not surprising. The other side of the equation is an industrial culture that understands the natural as raw material, essentially without value until rendered useful to man through some transformative ('value adding') process.

      Against nature as stuff to be used, we get nature as delicate systems to be preserved. Neither of these poles are especially helpful in themselves. But perhaps there is between them a dynamic, if not ecosystem, than an idea-system, in which modern man may find a satisfactory home?

      I remain an optimist.

    • Comment number 61.

      #46. chrissato

      Of course the mainstream media didn't tell the whole story of this nuclear plant problem. Hysteria, exaggeration, sensationalism, and half-truths is the norm from them these days.

      This post was active throughout the aftermath of this event, and is still going, and the comments discuss much of the misinformation that came out, with more technical information and useful links than you will get from the BBC in 10,000 years:

      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/11/nuclear-meltdown-race-to-save-reactors-in-japan/

      In the midst of this mess what I see is a remarkable display of social order there - thanks to the people themselves, not some police state. No looting or anything like what happened at Katrina. The Japanese people need to be congratulated on that! So hang in there, ignore the international hysterical media, stay safe, and let's hope they are no more severe aftershocks. Will be much rebuilding to do.

    • Comment number 62.

      re: 58 Shadorne

      Dude(ette?) -- chill. I don't think anything Richard Black, or the BBC, or the global media as such, say is going to help the people caught up in the effects of that quake.

      I thought Black's article was quite reasonable. Do you dispute his claims regarding past cover ups? Do you not think that these past behaviours, while not not necessarily indicative of future actions, are worthy of comment under the circumstances?

    • Comment number 63.

      #57. bowmanthebard

      I have not seen that on BBC - probably because I barely watch it - but this pathetic attempt to link things was already out last night:

      "In addition, climate change may cause tsunamis directly, so it's possible we'll someday see more images like this as a result."

      http://www.grist.org/article/2011-03-11-todays-tsunami-this-is-what-climate-change-looks-like/

      And just found this one which this blogger has given a superb title:

      "Alarmist IQ Goes Negative : “Global Warming Causes Tsunamis”"

      http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/alarmist-iq-goes-negative-global-warming-causes-tsunamis/

      No wonder nobody with half a brain takes the AGW wolf cryers seriously anymore. Expect much, much more of this kind of convenient stupidity from the useful idiots.

    • Comment number 64.

      sensiblegrannie #51 wrote:

      Oh well.

      I was hoping you'd put up a more spirited defence than that, and if I've just been a wet blanket, I'm genuinely sorry.

      As you know, the so-called "Gaia hypothesis" -- which is really a guiding metaphor more than a hypothesis -- says that the Earth is like a living thing in important ways. But all they boil down to is "negative feedback loops" -- in other words, some changes occur that set off a series of events whose outcome is to reverse the changes.

      That happens all over the place, in living things and in non-living things. For example, if you heat up some water, it eventually boils, so that any extra heat just turns liquid into vapour instead of raising its temperature. In a very superficial way, the water behaves as if "it wants to stay at 100 degrees", but obviously the water isn't alive, it isn't an agent of any sort, and it has nothing like memory or consciousness.

      Like a more complicated version of a pan of water, the Earth can settle on some of its own states as if it "wants to stay there", in other words as if it had goals. But I think there is nothing to be gained from thinking in this way. Some guiding metaphors are very productive, but this one just misleads. It gives the misleading impression that there is a "way things were meant to be", in other words that there is design in nature itself (as opposed to clothes designers, architects, peahens who prefer flashy peacocks, insects who prefer showy flowers, etc.).

      The real-life apocalypse we have witnessed in Japan is nothing like the action of an agent or living thing. Hard plates of rock float on molten rock, and judder against each other, that's all. So far, it looks like the various Japanese authorities (and the architects who designed the swaying skyscrapers of Tokyo) have done amazingly well in amazingly ghastly circumstances.

    • Comment number 65.

      #42. Maria Ashot wrote:

      "Had we focused our resources, energy and funding on reprogramming the human race to procreate less..."

      Ah the social engineering fantasies of a true Watermelon revealed. Did you read Brave New World as a child?

      But we did do this. As countries become wealthier their birth rates go down. No need for your nanny state.

      "Polygamy."

      Really?

      "Smoking."

      But I thought there were too many people?

      "Conspicuous over-consumption. Wild excess."

      Yes, led by California/Hollywood. Start at home.





    • Comment number 66.

      #60. chronophobe wrote:

      You make some very interesting and enlightened points. Like this one:

      "What then develops is a quasi-religious reverence for an objectified 'idea' of the eco-system: what we want is to preserve something that exists in imagination only."

      This is particularly true in North America where the so called environmental movement (led by the post-normal pseudoscience called 'Conservation Biology')uses an entirely and deliberately faked baseline for 'natural.' The Big Lie is that Native North Americans lived in some kind of 'harmony' with Nature and had no impacts of the 'pristine wilderness'or on wildlife populations... also called the 'people as squirrels' theory (even though even squirrels actually do have significant impacts on their environment).

      This Big Lie was initially created to make Euros feel less bad about wiping out those 'primitive' people and taking their land. Similar to where you write of "the natural as raw material, essentially without value until rendered useful to man through some transformative ('value adding') process." Thus God wanted superior Euros to take over because those supposed 'savages' were not sufficiently improving God's world.

      Now this Big Lie is used to create fake 'original' wildlife population/distributions to use as leverage for modern projects. EVERY historic wildlife population estimate you see in popular and pseudoscientific literature is false because of this.

      Anyhow, asked before but I'll ask again... is a 'chronophobe' someone with a fear of time?

    • Comment number 67.

      66. At 7:43pm on 12 Mar 2011, CanadianRockies wrote:

      I'll ask again... is a 'chronophobe' someone with a fear of time?

      Well if 'chronophobe' is anything like me, we share a fear of ageing. For my own part, that makes me an "enemy of time".

    • Comment number 68.

      Here's a link to Nuclear Hysteria Central, also known as the website Obama recommends as a source of 'news.' Which explains a lot.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/12/japan-nuclear-plant-explosion_n_834867.html

    • Comment number 69.

      #67. bowmanthebard wrote:

      "Well if 'chronophobe' is anything like me, we share a fear of ageing. For my own part, that makes me an "enemy of time"."

      I've already aged a lot. What can you do? It is not that scary compared to the real world alternative.

    • Comment number 70.

      Just to clarify. Richard black was quoted on the BBC live earthquake update page as casting doubt on the TEPCo version of events at their new conference. This page is where the BBC gathers live information as events unfold. It is not the article RB wrote on 12th March.

      I agree that putting opinions in an article and casting doubts is fine. Readers can reflect on this and form their opinions.

      However, we are talking about unfolding events and putting out scaremongering comments is highly irresponsible. I have since checked on the failed disclosures which RB bases his opinion. The first, over 10 years ago, was pretty serious but the 2 subsequent cases were purely technical and had absolutely nothing to do with safety. The plant was shut down as a result. We also now know that the procedures in place involve a whole cross-section of engineers and companies such that hiding information is simply impossible.

      I am not saying nuclear power is safe, far from it, but spreading misinformation on a live news update site is highly irresponsible.

    • Comment number 71.

      #70. chrissato

      I've watched the TV news coverage on many channels today, including BBC, CNN, CBC.

      For the best TV coverage with minimum 'sky is falling' spin:

      http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/

      Also by far the best coverage of Libya and all that.

      P.S. Too bad Richard isn't as skeptical when he gets his information from his usual suspects.

    • Comment number 72.

      re: chrissato

      I am not saying nuclear power is safe, far from it, but spreading misinformation on a live news update site is highly irresponsible.

      I take your point. I sincerely hope you and yours are doing alright.

      I spent two years down in Kyushu. Lived through typhoons and vulcanism, but never a big cataclysm like this. Love the Japanese. Love Japan. If anybody can get through something like this with a minimum of chaos, it's Nihon jin.

      Gambatte!

    • Comment number 73.

      re: 66 CR

      Anyhow, asked before but I'll ask again... is a 'chronophobe' someone with a fear of time?

      Oh yeah:

      To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
      Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
      To the last syllable of recorded time;
      And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
      The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
      Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
      That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
      And then is heard no more. It is a tale
      Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
      Signifying nothing.

      Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

      Scares the crap out of me.

      Et in Arcadio ego, baby ...

    • Comment number 74.

      Or, if you like, a more musical, slightly more modern take on the hatefulness of time here.

      Time is a pony ride.

      Agreed with the substance of your post above by the way. Which is weird, because I am an unrepentant liberal, and something of a greenie.

    • Comment number 75.

      chrissato et al

      --------
      I don't want to cause a panic but that explosion at the nuclear plant really didn't look like a hydrogen explosion, much like a high pressure steam explosion - and that does suggest a broken reactor vessel. The 20 km exclusion zone also suggests that there is a more serious potential event.
      On the other side 20 km is more than adequate and the authorities are probably just being careful, at 100 km you are completely safe. Even if there was a broken vessel and a full meltdown we're still talking about a much less serious event than Chernobyl. If they are pumping in sea water it means that they must pretty much have things under control anyway. The horrible thing here is that it does show a terrible lack in the plants safety systems, modern plants should have backup cooling systems that don't rely on electricity and better still tsunami proof backup generators. The new EPA design goes one better and have a special bed that allows the reactor to meltdown without breaking containment.

      The real thing we should take from this is to look at how tiny the nuclear bogyman is exposed next to a real disaster. Tsunamis can be terribly lethal and the death toll here could easily be 50,000 or 100,000, it depends totally on how many got to the shelters. My feelings go out to the Japanese people.

    • Comment number 76.

      chronophobe, CanadianRockies -

      Strictly a chronophobe is someone with a fear of getting old - since Chronos is-was the God of ancient age - or 'long-time'. I suppose that makes me a chronophobe as well, or maybe its opposite since I want to live forever. Maybe thats why I'm so concerned about climate change, why I am working on solutions to run the end.

    • Comment number 77.

      This was commended to me:

      http://www.boingboing.net/2011/03/12/nuclear-energy-insid.html

      I simply appreciated this:

      'As I write this, it's still not clear how bad, or how big, the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be. I don't know enough to speculate on that. I'm not sure anyone does.'

    • Comment number 78.

      @Robert Lucien, chronophobe, CanadianRockies:

      It's remarkable how few people are fully aware of their own mortality. It's like staring at a "black Sun" -- we reflexively turn our eyes away to look at something else. I think something like that has happened with fears of catastrophic climate change, extinctions, etc.. -- we have "externalized" anxieties that would be more honestly focused on our own individual finitude.

      Here's WH Auden on time (he's writing about the way time will forgive WB Yeats's occasionally dodgy political views):

      Time that is intolerant
      Of the brave and innocent,
      And indifferent in a week
      To a beautiful physique,

      Worships language and forgives
      Everyone by whom it lives;
      Pardons cowardice, conceit,
      Lays its honours at their feet.

      Time that with this strange excuse
      Pardoned Kipling and his views...

    • Comment number 79.

      Bio-Diversity ie: to emulate natural selection through evolvement...is the goal of all concerned in this environment struggle, and we will only succeed when we right the balance between demand and growing technique, all have heard these hallmark statements before, so where is the balance between falsely created niche'systems and the mechanics of the humble bee, vast areas of land converted to cereal crops ect...the bee is not the dog that you point and say go fetch..create a false niche without the planetary permit of natural harmony, the events are obvious," destruction! is the reflective reply....as said before' are planet responds to a natural hand not one educated to treat it like a piece of clay' due to projected demand and cost. Treat the Bee like a worker and it will become extinct...be as the water say the toaist...

    • Comment number 80.

      How we went from bees to the Japanese disaster is a good pointer for the BBC to open up a full time blog for raging about anything the posters want to have a go about!

      As for those praising the rapid action and containment of the nuclear power station accident, methinks it is a little early to be making such statements! The Japanese nuclear industry does not have a good record of reporting the facts. We have yet to see the full extent of this disaster.
      As for pumping huge amounts of sea water in to cool the chamber, does it not occur to you that if in fact that water is contaminated, where the hell is it going to end up?

    • Comment number 81.

      Since fear of nukes seems to be the theme today, here is a little perspective to take the edge off that. They are saying that the Japanese leakage MIGHT be similar to the famously overhyped Three Mile Island Disaster That Never Happened...

      "Bananas are radioactive enough to regularly cause false alarms on radiation sensors used to detect possible illegal smuggling of nuclear material at US ports...

      After the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the NRC detected radioactive iodine in local milk at levels of 20 picocuries/liter,[6] a dose much less than one would receive from ingesting a single banana. Thus a 12 fl oz glass of the slightly radioactive milk would have about 1/75th BED (banana equivalent dose)."

      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/16/going-bananas-over-radiation/

      Anyhow, hope the nuclear scenario in Japan does not get any worse. In the meantime, back on topic, wonder how many beehives were destroyed by that tsunami?

    • Comment number 82.

      Back on topic, anyone remember this?

      "There’s an article on UK’s The Independent website about a most unusual scientific theory.

      “Cell Phones kill bees.”

      From the article: 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. They say the cell phone emissions cause the bees internal navigation systems to go haywire and they can’t find their way back to the hive."

      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2007/04/15/panic-of-the-day-cell-phones-kill-bees/

      This article explains why this was fundamentally stupid... yet this panic did go on, and on, and on...

      Now some silly people are suggesting "•climatic factors."




    • Comment number 83.

      # sensiblegrannie

      of course you're right, the planet is a living ecosystem. the issue with bees (and most of the other pollinators proposed as a solution by the walter mitty contigent) is lack of a healthy ecosystem. that's why the issue appears (and is) so complex. what many here would like is to fix the problem by replacing one species with another or a 'healthy' dose of ddt or create a super gm version.

      but many of the problems we are facing today are the result of widespread damage to the environment.....in the air, on the land and in the ocean. the solutions to these problems require imagination and committment and that is sorely lacking at the moment.

      to quote einstein (not for the first time!) "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them"

     

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