Swansea Bike Scheme – Bikes4Swansea

The bikes4Swansea team are in a race to win a £100,000 investment from Santander. How? By raising more money than the competition. The crowdfunding  closes December 8th 2017!

What are their goals?

  1. Win £100,000 investment by raising the most money. (Pledge HERE)
  2. Put 50 bikes in Swansea split between 5 locations.

Why is bikes4Swansea important?

Cars are one of the biggest emitters of green house gasses. Less people in cars and more people on bikes is a great way to reduce the impact. On top of that, cycling is one of the best ways to stay fit and healthy. It’s a win-win.

Where will the docking stations be?

Where can you pledge?

Visit the crowd funding page here:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bikes4swansea

 

 

 

 

The Problem with Solar and Wind Energy

Touted as the next big thing for energy, solar and wind are given exalted status – first in the news and now in our minds. But lets have a look at some of the issues and make sure they are as good as we think they are…

Intermittent

I live in Wales so I can tell you first hand that it’s not always peak conditions for solar power… I can’t tell you the same about the wind however because those turbines look like they are always turning. APPARENTLY the wind isn’t always trying to knock people over in other parts of the world…

So whats the problem with these sources being intermittent? Our demand is constant. Unfortunately, we don’t desire power only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Luckily in the year 1800 our mate Alessandro Volta improved on his mate’s electric frog idea and invented the voltaic pile. This was the first ‘true’ battery. Other chemicals such as lithium have been added in the 20th century and we now have batteries in every portable electronic device. Cheers Alessandro.

What does this mean for renewable energy? Because we can now store power through batteries, if you get enough of them (or perhaps just one big enough) you can store the energy generated on the sunny/windy days for when you need it. Now your problem is a centralized infrastructure which has to store the power for millions of homes. If everyone generated their own power then each household could cater for their own storage needs, but that’s a topic for another post.

Expensive

A big argument people have against renewable energy is how expensive personal systems are. New technology is always expensive at the first stage of the cycle. Furthermore, with countries like China investing huge amounts into the renewable markets, capacity will shoot up and innovations will come think and fast. As demand increases so will the supply, creating equilibrium in the price. “For the second year in a row, renewable energy accounted for more than half the new power generation capacity added worldwide.” (FT, 2017)

Unsightly

This is one that I hear regularly and it always astounds me. Talking to an academic about the turbines on the hills near where I live he said “Bloody nuisance, can’t get away from the things.” I could’t believe it – when I see a wind turbine it fills me with hope that we are progressing towards a green society that doesn’t smash our surroundings to pieces. I also think the way they smoothly rotate is mesmerizing. I could be biased because I write for a blog like this but i’ll let you decide for yourselves. Take a look at the two pictures below and tell me which one you would rather see.

Big ugly concrete cooling towers.
Cooling towers. Big. Concrete. Ugly. Would you prefer this or a wind turbine?
Wind turbines. Ugly or therapeutic?
Wind turbines. Ugly or therapeutic?

Wind Turbine Noise Pollution.

This one relates directly to wind farms. I love turbines but this is something that needs to be addressed. A couple of lines from an article in the telegraph sums up the issue:

“This is not about saying no wind farms anywhere, this is about saying lets have wind farms in the right place with the right regulations,” she said. [‘She’ is Jane Davis, a resident affected by the noise.]

Dick Bowdler, an acoustic consultant, used to advise the Government on wind farm noise. However he resigned because he felt concerns about noise from wind farms were not being followed up.

“I have no doubt that there are some people who are seriously affected by wind farm noise,” he said. (Find the full article here)

Jane’s Case.

First lets examine Jane’s case. You have lived somewhere for years then they build a wind farm within earshot of your house. Endless wooshing is now the soundtrack to your life. I have lived next to motorways and under the Heathrow flight-path. I can tell you, not nice. Sure you can get used to it slightly but that feels more like your body trying to keep you sane.

Right thing, wrong place. What Jane said about having wind farms in the right place is great. Here in England we are an island. How about more offshore wind farms? Out at sea the regulations allow for bigger turbines too, so more power can be generated from one unit. {An offshore wind farm generates it’s own set of issues such as construction and energy transfer.}

Bad regulation. 

The acoustic consultant leaving or not is arbitrary. What we have to be careful of is the proper integration of new technologies. We need people to be on the team when it comes to climate change and one way to guarantee the opposite is to badly manage the transition. Noise complaints are an opportunity for great publicity. Who wouldn’t want to see the big corporation (with their planet-muncher reputation) helping the little guy?

 

Here’s a summary:

This post talks about wind and solar energy and although there are other forms out there that are making waves (tidal energy pun) solar and wind are at the forefront right now.

  • Intermittent – more storage is needed.
  • Expensive – the price is coming down.
  • Unsightly – better than chimneys.
  • Noisy – better management could eradicate this.
Check out THIS post on Sea-level rise.
Or THIS post on vertical farming.

 

Sea Level Rise

sea-270162_1920
What is it?

Sea level rise is an increase in the global average volume of sea water. While water in a container will level itself, the ocean will not increase evenly across the globe. Some areas will be more affected than others – the East Coast of the USA is predicted to be “…particularly vulnerable to near-future sea-level rise from present-day high greenhouse gas emission rates” (Krasting et al, 2016)

How is it Measured?

Two methods are used to measure sea level rise over time.

Stationary tide gauges on beaches and in ports all over the world measure the high and low tide levels at each stage of the cycle and compare it to a benchmark. In this way we can measure the change over time.

The other method is a laser system applied by satellites as they orbit the earth which measures the surface level of the ocean.

What Causes it?
Thermal Expansion

As water warms it expands. This is because the increased heat energy causes the atoms to move around faster and faster. As the global average temperature increases, so does the temperature of the oceans.

Melting Sheet Ice

Another consequence of increased temperatures is the melting of our ice sheets and glaciers. As these melt, water which has been stored as ice for many years floods into the ocean. Why are ice sheets important? The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s (NSIDC) website states that if Greenland’s ice sheet were to melt sea levels would rise 6 meters. Scarier still, if the Antarctic ice sheet were to melt sea levels would rise 60 meters (200 FEET!).

Why is it bad?

Displacement. The single biggest problem with a rising sea level is the number of people that live in coastal areas. Unless you enjoy ankle deep water rising through your floorboards, beachfront living might not be the best investment for you too make. Unlucky for some, the majority of their net worth is already tied up in beach front property. First world problems…

sea-level-112006_1920

Heres the thing. It’s not just a first world problem. MILLIONS of people in developing countries live along the coastline and have their entire livelihoods tied to one area. The biggest group affected will not be those that can afford to take the loss of property and move somewhere else but will be those that stand to loose what little they have during the migration inland.

What about island communities out to sea which are being swallowed by the rising tide? Arguably some of the least polluting group being affected the most. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

Do you know anyone affected by this issue? Leave a comment!

Citations

Krasting, J.P., Dunne, J.P., Stouffer, R.J. and Hallberg, R.W., 2016. Enhanced Atlantic sea-level rise relative to the Pacific under high carbon emission rates. Nature Geoscience9(3), pp.210-214.

Part 2: Are Hurricanes Becoming More Frequent?

Is climate change causing an increase in the power and frequency of these brutal tropical storms? Harvey and Irma are causing untold damage in the Caribbean as we reach the halfway mark for hurricane season in the atlantic. Is this the new norm?

*Side Note* This is part two of the hurricane series. If you haven’t already, view Part 1 HERE

First and Foremost

If warm moist air is the source of a hurricane’s power (See Part 1), a warming climate is going to increase the likely hood of a tropical storm gaining the destructive power of a category five hurricane.

Are WE making hurricanes more dangerous?

Moisture in the Air

As the temperature of the air rises it is able to hold more moisture. This could be up to 7% more moisture per 1 degree Celsius increase. This may not sound like much but when you think about the scale of a hurricane and the destructive power already locked, in adding more moisture to the mix isn’t a good idea.

When we release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we increase the temperature. As the temperature increases the air holds more moisture. With more moisture in the air, hurricanes become more powerful.

The effect of greenhouse gas warmed environment on the intensity of a hurricane was modelled by Knutson and Tuleya (2004). In their study which modelled over 1000 simulations found that the increased temperature created more intense storms.

Urban Jungles

This is the second man-made influence making hurricanes more dangerous to humans which I would like to talk about.

Concrete. We love it. Mile after mile of our urban areas have been smoothed over and covered with the stuff. I’m a big fan of plants so I am bias but concrete has one major flaw when large amounts are put over an area. Drainage.

Green fields, soil and forests soak up rainwater where it falls, adding it to the water table. It then flows at a controlled rate through to streams and rivers until it reaches the sea. When rain falls on concrete the easy path to the water table is blocked. Concrete does not drain like soil so the water gathers and flows through drainage systems built to cope with  normal rain levels. This works until rain that is way beyond the normal level begins to fall.

During hurricanes such as Harvey, HUGE amounts of rainfall happen in a very short space of time, overwhelming the drainage capacity of the city. As the water starts to back up, sewage systems are also overwhelmed. Now peoples homes are filling up with a mixture of rainwater, street grime, storm surge and sewage. Nasty.

Disease

Untreated sewage flowing through the streets breeds disease. People already helpless are now under threat of contracting a fatal disease, putting the overstretched emergency services under even more pressure. Contaminated drinking water is a big risk for spreading diseases, especially in developing countries where access is even more limited after a natural disaster than in developed countries.

Recap

Green house gasses and concrete are two man-made factors making hurricanes more dangerous.

Next, are hurricanes becoming more frequent?

Are hurricanes becoming more frequent?

This graph found on the National Hurricane Centre’s website shows the number of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes each year since 1850!

This graph is taken from the National Hurricane Centre website. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/climo/

As can be seen from this graph, there is an upward trend in the frequency of named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes. In the earlier years there may have been storms missed. This could be because recording and measuring equipment was not as developed as the ones we have today. However, adequate equipment has been available for many years now and we can see from the graph an upward trend from the 1970’s onwards. This period of increasing frequency is longer than the abnormal readings taken during periods of the El Niño phenomenon which occurs every 2 – 7 years with effects lasting up to a year in some places*.

Webster, Holland, Curry, Chang

I then read the paper by Webster, Holland, Curry and Chang who examined  the number of tropical cyclones and cyclone days as well as tropical cyclone intensity over the past 35 years… They came to this conclusion:

“We conclude that global data indicate a 30- year trend toward more frequent and intense hurricanes, corroborated by the results of the recent regional assessment (29). This trend is not inconsistent with recent climate model simulations that a doubling of CO2 may increase the frequency of the most intense cyclones…”

If you want to read the paper and make your own conclusions the link is is the sources section.

The other interesting part of this paper was the table named Table 1. I have included a screenshot of it here:

Data presented by P. J. Webster, G. J. Holland, J. A. Curry and H.-R. Chang. Original can be found here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/309/5742/1844.full

As you can see from the table, in EVERY SINGLE basin the number of hurricanes in categories 4 and 5 have increase.

Conclusion

There you have it. Not only are we making storms worse for ourselves with our liberal application of concrete but we are also seeing an INCREASE in the number and intensity of tropical storms as a result of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. It makes me wonder, are storms like Harvey and Irma the new norm? Finally, since we are still pumping our emissions into the atmosphere another question must now be asked: How much worse is it going to get?

Leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

Liked it?

If you enjoyed this and want to know more about how hurricanes are formed, check out Part 1 HERE.

Or if you fancy something different, check out THIS piece on Vertical Farming.

ENJOY!

Sources USed

Emanuel, K. A. The dependence of hurricane intensity on climate. Nature 326, 483–-485 (1987)

Knutson, T.R. and Tuleya, R.E., 2004. Impact of CO2-induced warming on simulated hurricane intensity and precipitation: Sensitivity to the choice of climate model and convective parameterization. Journal of climate17(18), pp.3477-3495.

National Hurricane Centre Website

Webster, P.J., Holland, G.J., Curry, J.A. and Chang, H.R., 2005. Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment. Science309(5742), pp.1844-1846.

Part 1: Understanding Hurricanes

With Harvey and Irma battering anything in their path, a question has to be asked: are these brutal hurricanes becoming more frequent? Before we can answer this question however, we need to understand exactly what a hurricane is and what causes this destructive weather pattern.

This is Part 1 of the Hurricane series.

This article will explain:

  1. What is a hurricane?
  2. What are the causes?
  3. When does a tropical storm become a hurricane?
  4. What are the different sections of a hurricane?
  5. When is hurricane season?
  6. How is the scale of a hurricane measured?
  7. What causes the damage?
What is a hurricane?

Defined as a tropical storm with violent winds, a hurricane is the same weather system as a cyclone or a typhoon. The main difference between these three is their location. A typhoon occurs in the Northwest Pacific whereas a cyclone occurs in the South Pacific. A hurricane is a tropical storm in the Atlantic and North-East Pacific.

What are the causes?
Warm air from tropical waters causes thunderstorms by rising to high altitudes and creating an area of low pressure close the to the oceans surface. Air from the surrounding areas floods in to equalise the pressure difference. Due to the Earth’s rotation, cyclones south of the equator spin clockwise whereas cyclones north of the equator spin counter-clockwise! For an awesome explanation of why this happens, check out this answer on Quora.
When does a tropical storm become a hurricane?

According to the National Hurricane Centre, when the sustained windspeed reaches a certain threshold (above 73mph) a tropical storm becomes a hurricane. To then be classed as a major hurricane, the storm needs to have sustained windspeed of greater than 111mph.

What are the different elements of a hurricane?
A hurricane is made up of three sections: the eye, the eye wall and the spiral rain bands.
At the centre of the storm the eye is relatively calm. There is little to no rain and it is the warmest part of the storm.
The eye wall encircles the eye and has the strongest winds. It also contains the most rain. This is the strongest part of the storm and causes the most damage as it passes.
The spiral rain bands are on the edges of the storm, sometimes trailing inwards for hundreds of miles. These can still have strong, dangerous winds but are not as powerful as those in the eye wall.
 
When is hurricane season?

Hurricane season in the Atlantic stretches from June 1st until November the 30th, with the peak of the season being September 10th.

How is the scale of a hurricane measured?

To measure the intensity of a tropical storm, the  Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS) is used. This sorts storms into 5 categories depending on wind speeds. Created by Herb Saffir and Bob Simpson, this tool has been widely used to predict the damage done to property by the various levels of hurricanes. For more detailed explanation of what damage can be expected from each category, have a look at the table on the National Hurricane Centre’s website.

What causes the damage?

The power and energy release by this massive weather system is hard to imagine. A force 5 hurricane such has sustained wind speeds of over 155 MPH, which can rip houses to shreds. Couple this with billions of gallons of rain that falls in a short space of time and our concrete jungles can quickly become overwhelmed. Damage is caused by flooding from rainwater as well as huge torrents of water coming off the ocean in a storm surge.

Damage is caused by:

  • High Winds
  • Intense Rainwater
  • Storm Surge
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you enjoyed this and want to read more, have a look at the related posts!

Worried about food security? Have a look at this post on vertical farming for something slightly different: HERE

Or alternatively, learn something odd about the yields from urban/ rural bees: HERE

 

 

Facing up to Waste

As a species we create an astonishing amount of waste. Tonnes and tonnes are produced per person every year. Furthermore, what happens to this waste once it is out of our hands remains mystery to most. The principles of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ play their part to hide this problem and business goes on as usual.

Landfill. Is this really the best solution?
At the dump

We had some sofa’s given to us by a family member recently. Our old sofas were given the boot. Two tip runs later and I am face to face with the iceberg that is our waste production.

It took roughly an hour between dropping the first sofa into the very bottom of an enormous skip and arriving back with the second sofa. There was not enough room in that same skip. Piles of old lamps and unwanted books covered the first sofa and we were forced to use the fresh skip adjacent. The cavernous grey bucket eagerly awaiting it’s turn to consume the excess our material lives afford us.

It was hard to believe good quality items I was seeing being cast aside. Brand new boxed Toshiba speakers and a new copy of the Times Atlas of the World caught my eye as I asked one of the attendants how much got thrown away: “This is nothing. You wouldn’t believe your eyes.”

 

Where does it all go when we throw it away?

Check this out:

I’m a Hypocrite and so are You

I’m a Hypocrite and So Are You.

What do you consider yourself to be a hypocrite about which you want to change?
What things could you consider yourself to be a hypocrite about?

 

I want to call myself an environmentalist but I know I am part of the problem – I’m a hypocrite. I eat meat with most meals, routinely do long journeys in a fossil fuel powered car, have baths and leave the lights on. Just like most people in the western world. Unfortunately for everyone (not just us living it), it is this lifestyle of consumption and excess that is causing much of the damage.

Why are we in a situation where climate

change is real? How is it possible that as a collective we have allowed destruction on such a global scale to become a reality? Why are we having to come up with solutions to problems which have risen out of a selfish desire to consume and dominate? Is the ‘me me me’ attitude so all consuming that it is worth causing the suffering or millions/billions of beings who also share this planet?

Real Change Starts at Home

I want companies and governments to do more about environment damage but the real change is going to start at ho

me. After all, corporations and governments are there to serve us (even if it doesn’t always feel like that). Everyone has to do their part because unless you do not have to consume (TELL ME YOUR SECRETS), we are all part of the problem.

Here are the main areas I think I need to improve to be less of a hypocrite:

  1. Meat Consumption
  2. Water Consumption
  3. Waste Production
  4. Power Consumption
  5. Food Miles

Meat Consumption

I love meat. However I also re

 

alise that if I want to call myself an environmentalist then I am going to have to alter where I get the meat that I am consuming. Furthermore, on a moral level the way that the animals whose meat I get from the supermarket are being treated isn’t acceptable

Water Consumption

I don’t do too badly with this one. I know there is always room for improvement however, especially when you consider that your water consumption is not just what you drink but also how much water is used to treat your sewage or in the production of your food and possessions. By buying less meat (and consuming less in general) this water consumption will fall. A couple of changes that will help though would be to cut down on the baths and fill a bowl with water rather than washing up with the tap running.

 

Waste Production

Now this I am guilty of on a big scale. The black bin liners seem to fill and fill and fill, every week more and more bags. Not only has everything I buy got more packaging than product but I am lazy with disposal.

I feel like the best way to deal with this problem is to control it at source. Stop buying things that come in mountains of packaging and instead buy the items with the least amount of packaging.

Solution 1: Buy things with less packaging.

Solution 2: Stop being so damn lazy!

Power Consumption

I think we are all guilty of leaving the lights on. How about the TV? Turning stuff off is easy and the less you leave on, the less you are going to spend.

Food Miles

 

A hidden cost associated with our food which is eventually going to have to be paid. It’s a marvel of the modern age that we can get beans all the way from Kenya to your table. For less than the price of a coffee. Think about how many people in the chain have to handle the produce before it gets to you. Now also think about the exhaust fumes coughed into the air to get those to you. It does make you think though that for £2 a pack, someone along the line is being exploited. These beans are starting to not sound so nice. For a potential solution to our food mile woes, check out this article on vertical farming.

 

The last thing to say here then is what are we going to do about it?

Michael Pollan: A plant’s-eye view Ted Talk

Michael Pollan makes us question who’s in charge: the man, the bee, or the potato?

My favourite take away from this video is what Pollan has learned from Joel Salatin:

With the right techniques we can take what we need from the earth and actually leave it in a BETTER state than when we started!

Vertical Farming – The Perfect Solution?

At our current population level, an area the size of South America is needed to grow food and raise livestock. By 2050 it’s estimated that there will be close to 10 billion people on the planet, which will require additional area of arable land the size of Brazil if current farming methods are used (Despommier, 2010). Couple this with the growing demands of developing countries wishing to live western lives and consume at the rate we have been enjoying and it makes for a dangerous situation. How can we satisfy an exponential demand with a finite planet?
Population increase is not the only thing straining our food production capabilities. Relentless production has demolished the quality of soils around the world so that chemical fertilisers must now prop up the machine if we want it to keep churning out food. As well as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which have been drowning our food for years are becoming less and less effective as pests develop immunity. Check out this article  if you would like to see the impact some of these chemicals are having on vital pollinators.
I think you are getting the idea…
The current system is the only one that is currently providing the food we need at scale (I’m not knocking it for that) but it is unsustainable if we want to keep this beautiful planet habitable. What we need are some alternatives which use DRASTICALLY less water, little-to-no inputs from nasty chemicals and production which we can locate as close as possible to where the food is going to be eaten. If only there was something like that available…
Whats that you say? Vertical Farming? What the hell is that?

I’ll tell you.

Vertical Farming is the process of stackable food production. Instead of one level of crops along the ground, a series of shelves are stacked one on top of the other, thereby massively increasing the productive capacity of a single square foot. The term vertical farming was first coined by Dickson Despommier (Author of The Vertical Farm). I have taken the quote he uses to introduce vertical farming in his book:
“By applying state-of-the-art controlled-environment agricultural technologies as an integrated system contained within a multi-story building — vertical farming — the world could rapidly become a much better place to welcome the next generation of humans.”
Before we go into the advantages of vertical farming I will show you the general principle and how some of the systems work.

Basics of Vertical Farming

Vertical farming uses a combination of aquaponics, stackable shelves and LED light bars.
Aquaponics:
 
Plants grown in an inert material such as lava rocks, with their roots in a liquid solution. The water is first passed through fishtanks before being passed over the roots of the plants.
Here is a great video by Plant Chicago which explains it better than I can!

Stackable Production
 
This can be over the many floors of a building or can be shelves one on top of each other with enough room between shelves for the plant and the led light.
Led Light Bar
 
High efficiency bulbs are used to mimic the sun’s rays and provide energy for photosynthesis. The bulbs used in vertical farming are tuned to exactly the frequency which the plants need, removing any wasted energy from being used on areas of the light spectrum which are not used by the plants. Here is a 20 second clip to show you what I mean.

Benefits of Vertical Farming

In his book, Dickson Despommier lists 11 major benefits of vertical farming. I have chosen three to elaborate on:
  1. Use of 70-95% less water.
  2. No use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
  3. Year round crop production.
1: Use of 70-95% Less Water
 Traditional farming methods use an astonishing amount of water which  we don’t have allot of as it is.
From the National Geographic Website:
Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.” (National Geographic)
So then, I guess you would agree with me that using massively less water is a great idea?
2: No Use of Pesticides, Herbicides or Fertilisers
As well as increasing the amount of fossil fuel energy needed to produce our food, pesticides and herbicides are designed to KILL. If they are designed to kill something else,  they probably aren’t doing anything nice to me once I eat them. I wouldn’t eat rat poison out the bottle yet I don’t go out of my way to buy organic food? Something is backward there.
Another great reason to celebrate not using these harmful chemicals is that there will be less negative impact on pollinators such as bees! THIS article discusses neonicotinoids and THIS post has a great video on honey yields from rural bees vs urban bees (the results might surprise you!)
3: Year Round Crop Production
 
SAY WHHAAAT. No longer will we be constrained by those pesky seasonal changes!
One massive upside of growing in a controlled environment is that each aspect of the lighting and temperature can be simulated to mimic the exact growing conditions plants need at each stage of their lifecycle. With these systems it no longer matters when you plant your seeds, adding another level of protection against fluctuations in supply. One-nil for food security.

Awesome Vertical Farming Videos:

This Farm of the Future Uses No Soil and 95% Less Water – By Seeker Stories

Earthrise – Japan’s Future Farms

 Growing Roots – This Farmer Is Taking Root On Your Rooftops // Discovery on Viddsee

 What do you think about vertical farming?

References:
Despommier, D,. (2010) The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. St Martin’s Press, New York. pp77.
National Geographic. A Clean Water Crisis. National Geographic [Accessed: 12 March 2017] (Available at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/freshwater/freshwater-crisis.html)
Hydroponic Infographic:
 

5 Hydroponic Fun Facts and Figures

From Visually.

– See more at: http://visual.ly/5-hydroponic-fun-facts-and-figures#sthash.PyDVKlhD.dpuf

 

Neonicotinoids

As we discussed in Monday’s post, Neonicotinoids are one of the main issues currently facing pollinating insects today. This post will go into what they are, what they are used for and why they are a problem.

Pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals are used to boost crop yields and replace the lost nutrients in soils which have been degraded by the industrial farming machine. Year after year, modern agriculture props itself up on chemicals to keep the wheels turning.

What is a Neonicotinoid?

Neonicotinoids are insecticides. This means their main function is to protect crops from insects which would cause the plants harm. One problem with this approach to pest control is that the chemical cannot distinguish between an insect (that wants to cause harm to the plant), and a pollinator which are a vital part of the plant’s lifecycle.

Neonicotinoid is the broad name used to describe this family of insecticides, which includes the chemicals acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam (Wikipedia). While they are said to be less harmful to birds and mammals than traditional insecticides, the reduction in insect populations has a knock on effect on bird numbers which suffer as a result of the reduction in food sources.

Where did they come from?

This family of chemicals became widely used in the 1990s as a replacement for insecticides which pests had become immune to. They were favoured for having ‘selective’ qualities like the previous generation. What is meant by this is that studies showed a reduced toxicity to mammals who came into contact with the newer chemicals (neonicotinoids) than the first generation of insecticides.

How are they used?

Neonicotinoids are systemic, meaning they travel through the plant as it grows. This means that the chemical can be sprayed on seeds before they are planted. Spraying the seeds reduces the need for insecticides to be sprayed on the field once the crop is growing. Seeds are pre-treated before being sold to farmers for sowing.

What is being done so far?

In Europe, concerns were raised as to the safety of these chemicals. As a result, a temporary (two year) ban was put in place in 2013 by the European Union. This ban prevented the use of neonicotinoid chemicals being sprayed on the seeds of flowering crops which are attractive to bees.

What about farmers?

So here is the flip side. It’s all very well putting a blanket ban on these chemicals but what about the farmers who use them? In particular, how are they to support themselves with smaller crop yields? There needs to be a transition from chemicals which a messing with pollinators (and think about what they are doing to YOU!) to a more sustainable and healthy alternative. Placing a ban without providing an optimal solution will just cause the chemical companies to synthesise another chemical and the cycle starts again.

What alternatives are there?

In terms of the calories in vs calories out ratio, industrial farming is a massively inefficient way to get food. According to Michael Pollan (See Here) it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food in some modern agricultural cases. BUT it is currently the only system available with the infrastructure to feed the billions of mouths that need to be fed.

Pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are a SHORT TERM solution propping up the industrial farming machine. How long can it keep going before the wheels stop turning?

We need a way to MASS produce food in controlled environments.

What about vertical farming?

No pests, controlled light cycles, incredible yield per square foot, efficient use of water.

What do you think? Ill leave you with this video and will discuss it at a future point!

Resources

Neonicotinoids & Pollinator Health – Rothamsted 

Godfray, H.C.J., Blacquiere, T., Field, L.M., Hails, R.S., Potts, S.G., Raine, N.E., Vanbergen, A.J. and McLean, A.R. (2015). A restatement of recent advances in the natural science evidence base concerning neonicotinoid insecticides and insect pollinators. Proc. R. Soc. B 282, 20151821

How to Feed the World – Michael Pollan

Related Posts

Want to check out some more?

  1. Read Monday’s post about the big problems with pollinators and what we can do to help. Read the article HERE
  2. Watch a cool video about honey yields of bees on a farm vs bees in a town. Watch it HERE