16 February 2015

bees, pesticides and food security

" ...These chemicals are nerve poisons that are toxic even at very low doses 
and persist in plants and the environment. They affect the information-processing abilities 
of invertebrates, including some of our most important pollinators...
The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our 
natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. 
Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very 
infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers 
and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem... ”

(from: The David Suzuki Foundation, February13,2015)
 No matter how you feel about Ontario’s proposal to restrict use of neonicotinoid insecticides on corn and soybean crops, we can all agree: bees matter. But as important as bees are, there’s more at stake. Neonics are poisoning our soil and water. This problematic class of pesticides needs to be phased out globally to protect Earth’s ecosystems. By implementing restrictions now (the first in North America), Ontario will have a head start in the transition to safer alternatives.

Not surprisingly, Ontario’s proposal has drawn the ire of the pesticide industry.

Neonics have only been around for a couple of decades, but annual global sales now top $2.6 billion. They were initially embraced because they are less directly toxic to humans than older pesticides and are effective at low levels, reducing the volume used. They can be applied to seeds and are absorbed into the plant, which then becomes toxic to insect pests, reducing the need to spray.

We now know these characteristics are the problem. These chemicals are nerve poisons that are toxic even at very low doses and persist in plants and the environment. They affect the information-processing abilities of invertebrates, including some of our most important pollinators.

Bees have borne the brunt of our unfortunate, uncontrolled experiment with neonics. Beekeepers report unusually high bee death rates in recent years, particularly in corn-growing areas of Ontario and Quebec. Virtually all corn and about 60 per cent of soybean seeds planted in Ontario are treated with neonics. A federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency investigation concluded that planting neonic-treated seeds contributed to the bee die-offs.

Europe reached a similar conclusion and placed a moratorium on the use of neonics on bee-attractive crops, which took effect last year.

Critics emphasize that other factors — including climate change, habitat loss and disease — affect pollinator health. But these factors are not entirely independent; for example, chronic exposure to neonics may increase vulnerability to disease. A comprehensive pollinator health action plan should address all these factors, and scaling back the use of neonics is a good place to start.

Apart from the immediate and lethal effects on bees, neonics represent a more subtle threat to a wide range of species. The 2014 Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides, the most comprehensive review of the scientific literature on neonics, pointed to effects on smell and memory, reproduction, feeding behaviour, flight and ability to fight disease. Jean‐Marc Bonmatin, one of the lead authors, summarized the conclusions: “The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”
 pesticides
Is there some uncertainty involved in calculating these risks? Absolutely. Uncertainty is at the heart of scientific inquiry. The precautionary principle requires that where there is threat of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, the absence of complete scientific certainty or consensus must not be used as an excuse to delay action. In the case of neonics, the weight of evidence clearly supports precautionary action to reduce — or even eliminate — them.

Ontario’s proposal to restrict the use of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed, starting next year, is far from radical. The idea is to move away from routinely planting neonic-treated seeds and use neonics only in situations where crops are highly vulnerable to targeted pests. The government expects this will reduce the uses of neonic-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 per cent by 2017.

It’s no surprise that the pesticide industry and its associates oppose even this modest proposal and are running expensive PR campaigns to obscure the evidence of harm. The industry’s objection to restrictions on neonics is eerily similar to big-budget advertising campaigns to create a smokescreen thick enough to delay regulatory responses to the obvious harm caused by cigarettes.

Let’s hope today’s decision-makers have a better grasp of the precautionary principle and a stronger commitment to protecting the public good, because bees really do matter.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director-General Faisal Moola. Support the David Suzuki Foundation



11 February 2015

old pope, new pope, same pope

in case you were under the impression that Francis is somehow different from Joey Ratz...

Pope Francis gave his blessing on Wednesday to a referendum
that would ban marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples
in Slovakia, which will be voted on this Saturday.

“I greet the pilgrims from Slovakia and, through them,
I wish to express my appreciation to the entire Slovak church,
encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defence of the family,
the vital cell of society,”
Francis said during Wednesday’s general audience in Rome.

full article on BuzzFeed 


30 January 2015

the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 13 -16

 
http://www.birdcount.org

Join Us for the Next Count, February 13-16, 2015

 It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

1. Register for the count or use your existing login name and password. If you have never participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count or any other Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you’ll need to create a new account. If you already created an account for last year’s GBBC, or if you’re already registered with eBird or another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login information.
2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period.
3. Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking “Submit Observations” on the home page. Or download the free GBBC BirdLog app to enter data on a mobile device. If you already participate in the eBird citizen-science project, please use eBird to submit your sightings during the GBBC. Your checklists will count toward the GBBC.

Downloadable instructions (PDF)
“How To” Slide Show
Help & FAQs
Optional Data Form (PDF)
U.S./Canada Bird Lists

Bird ID Help
Online Bird Guide
Tricky Bird IDs
Birding Apps

Photo Contest Info
Photo Contest Rules
Spread the Word About the GBBC

28 January 2015

special pleading


The union said the UN should then issue a "law criminalising 
contempt of religions and the prophets and all the holy sites".

from Yahoo News, January 20, 2015
Doha (AFP) - A leading Islamic organisation has called on the United Nations to make "contempt of religions" illegal and urged the West to protect Muslim communities following the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by influential preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, appealed to Muslims to continue peaceful protests against images of the Prophet Mohammed but "not to resort to any violence".

The latest cartoon of the prophet in Charlie Hebdo has angered many Muslims and triggered protests in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In a statement released Tuesday, the union said there should be protection for "prophets" and urged Islamic countries to submit a draft law to the UN calling for defamation of religions to be outlawed.

The union said the UN should then issue a "law criminalising contempt of religions and the prophets and all the holy sites".

It also called for the West "to protect Muslim communities from attacks, whether they are citizens or residents or visitors".

The union has condemned the publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign under the headline "All is forgiven" in the first Charlie Hebdo edition since Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on its offices.

It said that the new drawing would give "credibility" to the idea that "the West is against Islam" and warned the image would incite further hatred.

Qaradawi, 88, is seen as a spiritual guide of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood, the movement of ousted former president Mohamed Morsi.

27 January 2015

Lawrence Krauss: Science, Religion, and Culture in light of Paris and Charlie Hebdo


from: Smith & Franklin Academic Publishing, Special Issue: Islam, Culture, and the Charlie Hebdo Affair
Guest Editorial:  by Lawrence Krauss (Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Inaugural Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University)

Lawrence Krauss: Science, Religion, and Culture in light of Paris and Charlie Hebdo

I am terribly discouraged, not just by the senseless violence in Paris, but by the response worldwide to both the publication of content by Charlie Hebdo before the killings and by the mass protests throughout the Islamic world to the bittersweet cover published the week following that tragedy. 

As a scientist who has spoken out and written about the incompatibility between the world’s major organized religions and the empirical evidence about the universe that science has provided over the past four centuries, I receive many emails from the faithful, from a variety of religious backgrounds. While fanatical fundamentalists have responses that are relatively similar, what is striking to me is the number of letters I get from well-meaning followers of Islam who somehow are convinced that the actual words of the Qur’an actually scientifically anticipated the description of the world that science has produced in the fifteen centuries or so since the book was written. This derives from the notion, which also has been conveyed to me by many, that the book is ‘perfect’, every word the direct speech of God, and therefore it not only could not have been written by an ordinary mortal, but it can also not be in error in any way.

Perhaps because the Judeo-Christian scriptures are so much older, there has been much more time for theologians in these sects to sensibly acknowledge the facts that the words contained therein must be interpreted as products of the humans who wrote them, and of the time in which they were written. While some zealots still maintain the ludicrous notion that the Earth is 6000 years old, this is not the official doctrine of the leaders of these religions. While they nevertheless maintain the sacred nature of the inspiration for the bible, very few assert the Bible itself is so sacred that it cannot even be discussed intelligently and skeptically by people who would like to better understand that document and their own place in the cosmos. 

However, this does not seem to be the case in the Islamic world, and this is what makes the current dilemma so urgent, and what implies that Charlie Hebdo, and other publications that ridicule politicians, sex, and religion with equal force are so important. 

Hate speech involves people, not ideas. No idea should be sacred in the modern world. Instead, in order for us to progress as a species, every claim, every idea should be subject to debate, intelligent discussion, and when necessary ridicule. Satire is perhaps one of the most important gifts we have to inspire us to re-examine our own lives and our own ideologies. If every other area of human endeavor is open to ridicule, then certainly so should religion. The notion that a cartoon, which presents an image of a historical figure, is so blasphemous to provoke violence is repugnant to anyone who believes that free and intelligent discourse is the basis of a civilized world.

This means that we need to encourage even ridicule of the sacred Qur’an in the public media. The more frequently and openly this appears, the less threatening it will seem, and the more acceptable it will be for believers to actually intellectually engage rather than emotionally and violently act. 

The biggest threat to the peaceful and sustainable progress of human civilization in the 21st century, with challenges ranging from global climate change, to energy and water shortages, and the oppression of women throughout the world, is a refusal to accept the empirical evidence of reality as a basis for action. Those who feel they know the truth in advance, and therefore cannot even listen to alternative arguments, are not just part of the problem, they are the problem. 

This is the reason that religion is, in my opinion, on the whole a negative force in the world. In spite of the charity and empathy it may generate among many, because it asserts as true notions that clearly are incompatible with the evidence of reality, it inevitably engenders actions that are irrational. These range from the innocuous to the deadly. 

Science has taught us to revel in the idea that we do not understand all there is to know, that cherished notions may in fact be wrong. It teaches us that claiming to know the answers to questions before they have even been asked or explored is folly. 

Some have argued that because ridiculing sacred notions is offensive to believers, it is inappropriate for such ridicule to be carried out in the public sphere. However, we choose whether to be offended. An appropriate response is not to condemn the offender but rather to generate intelligent arguments that demonstrate they are wrong. If we shy away from such dialogue for fear of offense, we will never allow those who are offended the opportunity to examine and defend their beliefs. If we shy away from dialogue for fear of reprisal by those who would rather their children not learn about the world out of fear that knowledge will undermine their faith, we have given in to ignorance and repression. That should offend us all.

Long live Charlie Hebdo. Long live ridicule. Long live satire. Our culture and our world are the better for them.

Read more at Smith and Franklin
 (All contents of Smith and Franklin Academic Publishing Corporation, UK are Open Access under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use provided the original work is properly cited.)