Saturday, 28 December 2019

Locals Only?



Although some species, such as the Bee orchid, have done well recently, other 'native' UK species including the Puffin and the Arctic tern are in decline (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/27/uk-weather-attracts-migrant-species-but-threatens-native-ones). These effects have been linked to changes in the weather patterns that also bring in species from abroad, such as the Long-tailed blue butterfly. Although some people may appreciate the increased diversity, not all species can deal with environmental changes that are so rapid and widespread.

Plastic Rain

Studies have shown that microparticles of plastic are everywhere including in the rain that falls in UK cities (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/27/revealed-microplastic-pollution-is-raining-down-on-city-dwellers). This is concerning as the impact of these ubiquitous items on human health are far from being fully assessed. You can find plastic microparticles everywhere - in the deepest oceans and on the highest mountains! Swarming from the teabag in your cup of tea! Perhaps we should call the current Geological period the Polymerera?

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Electric Dreams?

Industry analysts have reportedly claimed that 2020 will be the year of the electric and low emissions cars in Europe (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/25/2020-set-to-be-year-of-the-electric-car-say-industry-analysts). There could be an element of trying to stimulate sales in such pronouncements. One also has to note that, although the fuel directly consumed by such vehicles is much better than petrol or diesel, there are some problems with such a development. Firstly, the numbers of charging points will need to be massively expanded. Secondly, the means by which the electricity is generated have to be considered (there is no point in using oil or coal). Thirdly, there are considerable energy and emission costs when constructing the new vehicles (and disposing of the old ones). Fourthly, the tyres and brake linings of the electric cars will still add to the concentrations of dangerous particulates in the air adjacent to roads. We really need to stimulate public transport rather than simply changing the fuelling of our individual cars.

No Shit?

Vegans should apparently note that the vast majority of vegetables that they purchase have been grown with the aid of animal fertilisers and manures (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/24/vegetables-vegan-organic-agriculture-farming). This is said to be the case even if plants are not factory produced and insecticides are banned whilst they grow.

New Year


Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Downunder Logic

It seems a touch perverse for the Australian 'government' to be resisting any international developments to counter climate change whist their continent burns (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/25/australias-east-coast-faces-extreme-heat-as-bushfire-threat-looms-again). I appreciate that it is difficult to establish a direct link between their own country's production of greenhouse gases but there are more than enough hints (and, perhaps, they need to get the rest of the world committed to substantial reductions?

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The Green, Green Houses of Wales

Building is scheduled to start in spring 2020 on Parc Hadau in Pontadawe (South Wales) to construct one of the world's first zero-carbon neighbourhoods, generating more energy than it uses (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/23/net-zero-carbon-neighbourhood-to-be-built-in-south-wales). The 35 homes will have solar panels, storage batteries augmented by ground source heat. They will also use innovative insulation and ventilation throughout. This all sounds very good but we really need a major modification of much of the existing housing stock to combat climate change.

Fossil Love

People seem to be getting very excited about a single case of a 300 m year-old fossil varanopid (lizard-like) reptile from Canada that appears to be an adult providing parental care to a single offspring in a plant stump nest (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/dec/23/300m-year-old-fossil-is-early-sign-of-creatures-caring-for-their-young). It is claimed that this may push parental care in four-limbed vertebrates back considerably. Having said that, there is a certain element of poetic licence in the interpretation of the fossil and it is already well-known that some fish, amphibians and many crocodilians show pronounced parental care. Improving the chances of one's offspring surviving thus appears to be a very old tool in the behavioural box of actions.

Monkey Moves

Japanese workers at Kyoto University have reportedly shown that both male and female Common chimpanzees, when individually given access to a music booth with short recordings of 'strident piano rhythms', sway about clap along and even sometimes tap their feet (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/dec/23/cha-cha-chimp-ape-study-suggests-urge-to-dance-is-prehuman). The scientists regard this as evidence that the tendency to dance in primates occurs earlier than in the human species (none of the chimpanzees had had earlier experiences of the music booths and the animals received no rewards for their actions). 

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Forgetmenots?

A survey has suggested that very few people in the UK can name common wild flowers (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/dec/17/plantwatch-what-is-that-wildflower-and-why-dont-we-know). This includes items like the Common dog violet which is found over most of our landscape. Although people in general would like to know more, this is not true of the younger cohort. Although the level of ignorance (compared to knowledge of mammals and birds) is unsurprising, it is a weakness in our being able to monitor the effects of climate change and invasions by alien species.

Depressing Airs

It has been confirmed that air pollution has an influence on human depression and suicide rates (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/18/depression-and-suicide-linked-to-air-pollution-in-new-global-study). Isn't it strange that the people who produce the fumes and the politicians who do nothing about it, often live in nice rural locations, leaving the poorest to the full effects of the fumes? The effect is most powerful in the USA which ranks 7th in the world for deaths associated with pollution (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/18/us-top-10-countries-pollution-related-deaths-study). It's the only rich nation in the top ten and has almost 200k deaths per annum from all forms of pollution (not just the air).

Monday, 16 December 2019

Moths of Another Stripe

It has been reported that some species of Tiger moth do little by the way of making evasive changes in flight direction even when faced by predators such as insectivorous bats (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/16/bad-taste-in-the-moth-study-reveals-insects-chemical-defence). It appears that these 'lazy' species have actually developed a disgusting taste which makes them unattractive to the bats. Other moths, without this chemical defence, do show unpredictable changes in their flight pattern. The authors argue that the movement change type of defence might end with the moth flying into a spiders web or away from a potential mate. It could, of course, also be a form of kin selection such  as is seen in caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth. They are conspicuous and poisonous but feed on Ragwort in groups. It appears that, when a predator eats one, it benefits its kin (that share its genes) by providing a potent disincentive to eat any more.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

For Richer For Poorer

Who would have ever guessed that some large, rich countries (reportedly Brazil, China and India) are perceived as holding up agreements on paying for carbon emissions at the Madrid meeting (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/dec/13/richer-nations-accused-of-stalling-progress-on-climate-crisis)? The first mentioned is said to be clearing an area of forest per year, the size of Porto Rico, as well as wanting to be paid for having (rather than planting) forests. Small island nations are fearful.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Pestilential?

I suppose that nobody is likely to be surprised that President Bolsonaro of Brazil reacts crassly to Greta Thunberg's complaint, about the killing of indigenous people trying to defend the invasion of their lands by exploiters (as encouraged by him), by describing her as a pirralha. This translates as a 'little brat' or a 'pest'. I suspect that he is likely to find that the numbers of 'pests' is increasing in many age groups and they are likely to come back to bite him.

The Greening of Greenland

Reports that the rate of melting of Greenland's ice sheets is some 7 times that seen in the 1990s is very concerning (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/10/greenland-ice-sheet-melting-seven-times-faster-than-in-1990s). Although this might help agriculture in that country, the reflecting back of solar energy into space will be reduced, causing the planet to warm even faster. Furthermore, the water released will increase sea-levels reducing the land surface and exacerbating the risk of flooding in coastal regions.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Dead Zones

And another thing! The oceans of the planet are reportedly rapidly losing their ability to hold oxygen (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/07/oceans-losing-oxygen-at-unprecedented-rate-experts-warn). Water retains less oxygen as it becomes warmer and more salty, inevitable  consequences of climate change, so it is likely that more ocean dead zones will be created especially near the equator. Many fish populations (particularly rapid swimming species such as tuna and marlin) are likely to suffer.

Seeing the Changes 1366

In a howling gale in Bynea, a Bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) still managed to fly.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Seeing the Changes 1365

In Loughor, Winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) was in flower.

Bottling the Hermits

There has been a mass mortality of hermit crabs on the Henderson and Cocos islands (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/05/plastic-pollution-hermit-crabs-species-decline-henderson-cocos-islands ). This appears to be directly related to the accumulation of plastic waste on the beaches of these islands.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Tipping Points?

News that the world's climate may have already passed tipping points is concerning (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/27/climate-emergency-world-may-have-crossed-tipping-points). Such events, including things such as the loss of major ice sheets, fuel continuing change, making it next to impossible to reverse the consequences.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Ostriches Downunder?

I always believed that your basic Australian 'tells it how it is' with little self-delusion but the claim by their current PM that there is nothing credible to link the current intense season of bushfires to the 'mere' 1.3% of greenhouse gas emissions generated by that continent somewhat explodes that myth (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/21/scott-morrison-says-no-evidence-links-australias-carbon-emissions-to-bushfires). He even suggests that they can safely increase their emissions by burning more coal!

No Wind of Change?

The UN has reported that there has been no sign at all that the rate of release of 'greenhouse gases' is declining (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/25/climate-heating-greenhouse-gases-hit-new-high-un-reports). In fact, the current levels have reached a new high for post-industrial times which, if continued, would lead to the average temperature rise doubling the arbitrary 'safe' limit (pulled out of thin air at the Paris summit) of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The finding strongly suggests that the major polluters are making little meaningful attempt to fulfil their pledges. A little urgency may be required.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Meat Treat

The recent BBC programme by Liz Bonnin on the environmental challenges associated with a growing world-wide demand for meat was pretty impactful (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000bqsh). It was strikingly claimed that meat production generates a stronger 'greenhouse gas' effect than all forms of human transport (cars, ships and planes)combined.  Cattle belch methane- although some people are working on ways to potentially reduce this by modifying the animal's diet. Particularly impactful were the sections on the enormous US cattle feeding stations where the animals housed in large, barren pens hardly move to eat and the rearing of pigs in sheds in that country with the generation of lakes of effluent (which generally contaminate surrounding water courses). It was also pointed out that substantial areas of crops, in that country as well as Brazil, are given over to raising food to give to meat-generating animals (primarily cattle, pigs and chickens), reducing biodiversity) rather than to feed humans. In spite of some attacks by meat producers on the programme, I didn't get the impression that it was unfairly anti-meat. Most of the statements appeared to be well-documented and I think that the 'take home message' that concerned folk should limit their meat consumption is appropriate. I am somewhat concerned that some suppliers (especially those in the US) appeared to think they should only be focused on producing the maximal amount of meat as cheaply as possible.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Even in the Darkness?

There has been an interesting development concerning solar farms in the UK. They apparently have a mechanism called an 'inverter' and this can be used, even on the darkest night, to smooth electricity supplies (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/24/solar-farms-keep-uk-lights-on-at-night). On windy nights, there is likely to be a combination of massive electricity generation by wind turbines but a relatively weak demand for power. The solar farms would be able to ameliorate  damaging supply surges.

Birder's Bonus 192


The Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) feeding on the margins of the Loughor estuary were joined by two Curlews (Numenius arquata) that flew in.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Dog Days


The idea that you can estimate your dog's 'human age equivalent' by multiplying its dog years by 7 has been shown to be a gross over-simplification, being based only on the rough durations of life in the two species (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/pets/news-features/calculate-dogs-age-human-years/). Dogs actually mature much quicker than humans in their early lives (a dog can breed at around 1 year, but 7 year old humans are not in a position to do so). Later, however, they 'age' much more slowly. Calculators are available.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Fungal Jungle

Fungi are an important component of forest ecosystems and many people enjoy foraging for edible species in their local woodlands. One is not supposed, however, to remove any of these organisms from protected locations. In spite of this, the financial rewards (you can get big money from some restaurants) have led groups of illegal pickers to denude some locations, threatening the local ecology (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/23/if-you-go-down-to-the-woods-today-dont-come-back-with-mushrooms-aoe). For example, a group detected in Epping forest were found to have gathered almost 50kg of fungi.

Lights Out!

It has been reported that light pollution is a major cause of losses in flying insects, especially crashing the numbers of moths and flies (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/22/light-pollution-insect-apocalypse). One must still remember, however, that the over-use of insecticides and habitat loss also play crucial roles in the 'apocalypse now'.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

No Shit!

It has been reported that US scientists have developed a mega-slippery spray for toilet pans that might well lead to the disappearance of the toilet brush (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/nov/18/scientists-develop-slippery-toilet-coating-stop-poo-sticking). More importantly, the spray which has to be periodically re-applied, should greatly reduce the amount of water needed for flushing. This is important, as enormous quantities of this scarce resource for used for this purpose. I presume that they will test that the material sprayed does not create any environmental problems?

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The End of Reason?

A change of the state laws in Ohio (https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ohio-school-religion-answers/) seemingly has the power to require teachers not to mark down students for giving answers (on evolution or the flatness of the Earth?) that are scientifically wrong, so long as they are rooted in religious (all religions or just Christianity?) teaching. This seems very suspect to me, as the point of science teaching is to gain an understanding of the scientific method (where you make observations, come up with a testable hypothesis and do tests on that explanation that can be independently confirmed by other scientists). There is nothing wrong with people having religions (if they want one) but this aspect of life is not scientifically testable. Surely students can be required to give an accurate account of the scientific thinking behind ideas even when it differs from their internalised beliefs?

Monday, 18 November 2019

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Hitting it on the Head?

It has now been demonstrated that  nanoparticles (generated especially in diesel exhausts but also resulting from tyre wear and the braking systems of cars) can carry carcinogens into the human brain (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/13/air-pollution-particles-linked-to-brain-cancer-in-new-research). This strongly suggests that this air pollution (which often exceeds legal limits in UK cities), will increase the rates of brain cancers. It is somewhat concerning that many schools in urban areas are near busy roads and problems can be exacerbated by idling cars doing the 'school run'. The brains of children may be especially vulnerable.

Insecticide/Homicide?

Scientists reckon that around 400,000 species of insect are currently threatened with extinction largely by the overuse of man-made insecticides (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/13/insect-apocalypse-poses-risk-to-all-life-on-earth-conservationists-warn). Even worse, they are of the opinion that the loss of these important pollinators and food items will challenge the existence of many other species including we humans.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Putting a Tortoise in the Tank?

The air transport industry's attempt to burnish its 'green' credentials have not been helped by reports of widespread tinkering (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-50365362). In this process, the plane's tanks are filled with excess fuel in locations where it is cheap, thus saving the airline money. The increased weight, however, results in more greenhouse gases being emitted than would otherwise be produced on a trip of that distance. It seems, to some people, that the airlines are more concerned about their bottom line than about their effects on climate change. All this at a time when the very concept of regular air travel is being challenged.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Faking to Conserve?

In an interesting variant, there is a report that scientists hope to flood the illegal market with a fake rhino horn made from compacted horse hair (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/08/scientists-plan-to-flood-black-market-with-fake-rhino-horn-to-reduce-poaching). The product is said to be convincing, even when viewed under a microscope and it is actually made from the same material (keratin) as the real horn that is used in Chinese medicine. The hope is that the introduction of faux rhinoceros horn will, by substantially driving down the price, make poaching much less rewarding. It would, of course, also be useful to confirm that rhinoceros horn has no medical benefits.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The Tide That Will Never Go Out?

Science suggests that, even if the proposed limits on climate change are met (a very big if), sea level rises will continue to cause misery in many parts of the globe well into the 2300s (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/sea-level-rise-centuries-climate-crisis). This consequence of 'global warming' will reduce the land surface (making food production problematic) as well as inundating many important cities (humans tend to build them on the current coasts because such locations have a lesser ambient temperature variation than more inland sites).

Seeing the Changes 1363


More fungi from sodden Loughor.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Knocking Off by the Spots

Research from the Netherlands has suggested that measles is a much more problematic infection than had been supposed (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/31/measles-wipes-out-immune-systems-memory-study-finds). The infection seems to wipe out much of the immune system's  'memory' of past exposures. This is another reason why declines in the take up of MMR vaccinations is likely to prove hazardous.

Fly By Day

People often question whether midges and mosquitos serve any useful purpose on the planet (the same is sometimes said of wasps). There is, however, an interesting correlation between the spraying of neonicotinoid insecticides (the chemicals that seemingly endanger bees in the UK) in rice paddy fields and collapsing stocks of fish and eels that live in these locations (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/31/fishery-collapse-confirms-silent-spring-pesticide-prophecy). The fact that the fish largely feed on insects suggests that they may be being starved into declines.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Ramming it Down Their Throats

It is timely to note that NY chefs have reportedly banned the use of foie gras (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/03/foie-gras-pressure-grows-british-chefs-new-york-ban). This is on the basis of demonstrations against animal cruelty, as the liver pate is produced by stuffing living geese with grain (in some cases, the birds are repeatedly force-fed by having the material blown down their gullets). It will be interesting to see which other parts of the world adopt this action.

Frack Attack

Interesting that the outgoing UK Government has eventually declared a 'moratorium' on fracking for shale gas (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/03/fracking-shale-gas-scientists-tories-earthquake). I have repeatedly (as have many others) stated that fracking in the UK is not a good idea here as the country is too small; too congested and the liberated gases will still add to the burden of greenhouse emissions, when we need to get these down to avoid a climate change catastrophe. Additional little negatives of fracking-generated earth tremors; potential contamination of water courses and land owners receiving nothing for having material removed from under their houses also apply. It would be the height of cynicism to bring the activity back on line after a general election. 

Seeing the Changes 1362

A Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) larva on the cycle route at Bynea.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Ausfahrts

Researchers, with monitors, have estimated that the 16-day long Oktoberfest of beer and bratwurst consumption in Munich generates about 1500 kg of methane (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/27/oktoberfest-munich-methane-emissions-environment). Methane is, of course, a highly potent green-house gas which can have a powerful effect on climate change. The workers reckon that most of the methane is generated by inefficient cooking but around 10% is emitted from the mouths and backsides of the drinkers.

Old Drug Takers?

The general idea that common drug treatments have not been tested sufficiently on all the cohorts they are given to has been extended by the observation that many elderly people receive combinations of drugs over very extended periods (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/29/elderly-being-poisoned-by-medication-say-drug-experts ). It has been suggested that these folk may sometimes  be 'poisoned' by their treatments as they are given doses largely determined by studies on much younger individuals (and not in combination with 10-20 other compounds as is common when individuals age). Earlier concerns suggested that drug trials, in both animals and humans, tend to use male (rather than female) subjects. Pretty obviously, there need to be studies on age, gender and common drug combinations in order to optimise treatments.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Blocking a Nicer Rice?

Vitamin A deficiency is estimated to affect some 250 million children in poorer countries. The condition is rare in the developed world as many foods contain this fat-soluble material. One potential aid was to develop a genetically modified form of rice with a gene producing beta carotene which can be used as a building block for the vitamin. Because of its colour, this has been termed 'Golden rice'. There are claims that ecological organisations have blocked the release of this GMO largely because it has been produced by genetic engineering (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/26/gm-golden-rice-delay-cost-millions-of-lives-child-blindness), resulting in many deaths and cases of blindness (especially night blindness) in children. This is somewhat surprising as people seem very accepting of GMOs to produce human insulin and growth hormone for medical applications.

Just a Tick

It's not only Lyme's disease that lurks in a UK tick waiting to bite you. Small numbers of cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus have been identified in Norfolk and on the Dorset-Hampshire border (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/29/tick-borne-encephalitis-found-uk-first-time). Although the risk is currently classified as 'low', the incidence of transmission might well change with climate change.

Going Wild in Rural China?

The recent 'freeze' on the production of wild animals for human consumption in rural China appears to be meeting difficulties ( h...