Archive for the ‘Enviornment’ Category

Some Revealing Videos from the “March Against Monsanto”

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Around the world, people have come out to events dubbed the “March Against Monsanto.”   The events have happened in hundreds of cities (supposedly) and may involve thousands of people.  Overall, the total number who have come out for these events seems to be relatively small.  Most of them were lucky to draw a crowd of dozens.  But those who did show up certainly are passionate.

The event is supposed to be a demonstration against the Monsanto Corporation.  It’s basically a demonstration against genetically modified organisms, which is the Monsanto product that activists tend to hate the most.  While Monsanto is not the only maker of genetically modified organisms, they have become one of the most the most visible and are certainly the one who is targeted the most by anti-gmo groups.

The protests also seem to oppose modern, conventional agriculture and the production of food on large farms.  It is part of the movement for organic agriculture and the “eat local” campaigns, which promote the idea that food should be grown in a large number of small farms, rather than a smaller number of larger farms.

There are a number of videos that have been taken at these events, including some which interview participants. I would highly recommend checking out those made by Bronson Kaahui, who attended some of these events and interviewed the participants about their beliefs and what they are taking a stand against. There are some others floating around that are also worth watching.

Here are a few of my favorites:

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First Solar Roadway Built – And Worse Than You Would Have Thought

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

A few years ago, I touched on the subject of solar roadways.  The concept has gotten quite a bit of attention from the general public, mostly due to slick marketing.   It’s actually a terrible idea.  There’s really no more expensive way to pave a road, and, if you are going to have solar cells, you won’t find a much worse place for them than on the ground, potentially shaded and not tilted toward the sun.  Beyond that, the solar cells are exposed to moisture, dirt, grime, vibration and pressure.   The surface needs to be covered with some kind of super-durable transparent material, but aside from possibly synthetic diamond, all potential transparent substances will scratch and scuff with time.
Despite all these issues, one has finally been built.  Technically, it’s not a road but a bike path.  It is however, a start.  A start to what, I’m not sure.

Via the BBC:

Netherlands unveils world’s first solar bike lane

The world’s first cycle lane made from solar cells produces enough energy to power three households.

Installed in Krommenie, 25 kilometres from Amsterdam, the pilot project is 70 metres long, and will be extended to 100 metres by 2016.

The bike path is made from rectangular concrete modules that contain solar cells, and is encased in a one-inch thick layer of glass strong enough to withstand a truck.

It is capable of producing enough energy to power three homes, though is 30% less efficient than roof-mounted solar panels, as these can be aligned to the sun.

Due to be officially launched on 12 November, the project has so far cost €1.5 million euros, though will ultimately cost up to €3 million once finalised.

Dr Sten de Wit from SolaRoad, the consortium behind the project, envisages that solar roads could eventually be used to power the electric vehicles that use them.

“Electric vehicles are on the rise, but are not really a substitute until the electricity they use is generated in a sustainable way. Roads can generate power right where it is needed,” de Wit explains in a publication for the contract research organisation TNO.

“Sensors gathering information about traffic circulation can help improve traffic management, or even allow automatic vehicle guidance,” de Wit added.

A couple in the United States is currently raising funds for a solar-powered road project. Julie and Scott Brusaw predict that if every US highway incorporated solar technology, the country would generate three times as much electricity as it currently consumes.

The catch? The technology is also three times more expensive to install.

Only there times the cost? Standard solar power may be expensive, but it is not *that* expensive.

The article states that the path can power three households. That’s a terrible way of benchmarking power output, because a “household” can consume anywhere from almost zero watts to several kilowatts, depending on what is being operated. From what I have seen, however, it is often used to mean kilowatts, where one kilowatt is presumed to be the approximate electricity consumption of a household.

If that is the case, this has a peak output of three kilowatts. That, of course, would be nameplate capacity, and almost never reached. The path might come close to three kilowatts, but it will often be much less and at night will be approximately zero kilowatts. For comparison, this is about the power output of the engine on a riding lawnmower. It’s enough to operate a singe laundromat dryer.

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Attempt to Use Solar Power At Protest Fails When Power Proves Inadiquate

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

I have little else to say about this. However, it goes to show why there is an electrical grid that feeds reliable power to homes and businesses. Power which is generated by fossil fuels, nuclear or hydroelectric energy sources. If we tried to run things on solar panels like this, similar results would occur.

Perhaps they should have used larger batteries to power the fans. Apparently it’s usually powered with gas-driven generators, which are somewhat cleaner than coal, but still produce emissions and consume fossil fuels.



Weather Modification Methods That May Actually Work

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

There is much said about modifying weather by various conspiracy theorists and alike.  Often said to be the result of chemtrails or RF weapons, the fact is that the weather is very hard to modify.  It can be modified, but only under certain conditions and in a very localized area.

The best known method of weather modification is cloud seeding.  While data is sparse on the total effectiveness, especially in different conditions, it does seem to work, at least when applied to favorable clouds.   There are some other methods of weather modification.  I’ve listed them to show just how difficult really is.

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Ivanpah Solar Power Facility Is Incinerating Birds

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a very large solar thermal power facility.  And by “very large,” I mean very large.  In fact, it is so enormous it’s hard to even wrap your mind around how large it is.   It also cost about 2.2 billion dollars, which is quite a lot of money.   A reasonably sized nuclear power plant could be built for the same cost.  In the US, this would be difficult, given the regulatory costs, but other countries have built modern Generation III+ reactors for two billion dollars per unit or less.

 solarfacility

Of course, that’s just the capital cost.  It’s harder to pin down the operational cost.  As many will point out, it doesn’t use any fuel in the conventional sense.  But it does employ 86 full time workers, plus an even larger number of contractors.  It also has a lot of sensitive equipment baking in the sun, which is likely to need frequent replacement.   It’s hard to know exactly what it costs to operate the plant and what the cost per kilowatt hour comes out to be, because the operators have kept much of the relevant financial data confidential.

What is known is that the agreed price per wholesale kilowatt hour is “at or below” 12.5 cents per kwh, before time and demand adjustments.  That would seem to imply it is more expensive than other methods of power generation.   Published data indicates the cost of operating a solar thermal power plant is more than 2.5 times that of a coal or nuclear facility.  The Ivanpah facility may benefit from economics of scale to bring that down a bit, but it’s still clear that the plant has a much higher cost per megawatt-hour than a fossil fuel power station.

None the less, plants like Ivanpah are financially viable, at least for the time being.  They receive massive tax credits and other

But in terms of power output, it’s not actually that big…

The total nameplate capacity of the Ivanpah facility is anticipated to be 377 megawatts, when complete.  That’s not small, but it’s not really that large either.  In utility terms, if it were a standard thermal power plant, it would be considered medium sized.  By comparison, a modern nuclear facility with two generation III+ reactors might have an output of between 2.5 and 3.5 gigawatts.  Large coal and gas plants can be equally large and occasionally larger.

floatingpowersystem377 megawatts, however, would be enough to power the New York City subway system, but not during rush hour.  It would power a medium sized aluminum smelter.  It would not be enough to power a city of any size, but could provide the power used by a medium sized town on a summer day.

Of course, 377 MW is the anticipated nameplate capacity of the plant.  The capacity factor is only about 30%, meaning that the plant could be thought of as the equivalent of a continuously operating base-load power plant that produces about 110-120 megawatts.  Most nuclear and coal plants operate at near full capacity most of the time.  There are also many hydroelectric plants that crank out a continuous 120 megawatts night and day.

In utility terms, that’s hardly a lot of power.  It’s more than enough to power everything in many homes, but a power plant with this capacity would not be considered very large at all. It’s more in line with the kind of “distributed” power plants that might be used to provide local peaking and load-following.  It’s less power than a large ship produces.  Even a single 747 can produce more power when cruising.  It is, however, enough to power a few dozen small to medium sized locomotives.

So it is not tiny but not that big, and comes at a huge financial cost.

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Why do enviornmental groups hate desalination?

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Water is one of the most important resources to society.  The availability of water has dictated the locations of some cities and limited the growth of others.  It is also one of the major necessities for agriculture.

Many areas have limited supplies of water and others are prone to shortages or droughts.  Still others do have sufficient water supplies, but in securing necessary water, huge quantities had to be diverted, resulting in ecological disasters such as the shrinking of the Aral Sea.

kennedyquoteOf course, there is an effectively limitless supply of water in the world’s oceans, and many of the most arid regions are located near the coast.  However, ocean water is far too salty for consumption by humans, for irrigation and for most other uses.   Thus, it is not that the world lacks water – we have plenty of it, but that many areas lack fresh water.

Therefore, assuming it could be made economical, desalination would seem like an ideal solution to this persistent problem.  Desalination is the only source of water that can be considered to be, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.  After all, all nearly all water ends up back in the ocean anyway.  With desalination, there are no concerns over droughts or of overdrawing an aquifer.  There are no seasonal shortages or reduction in the availability of water.

It could also be argued that desalination, in and of itself, has virtually no negative ecological consequences.  The need for water has lead to aquifers being depleted, rivers being diverted, lakes running dry and to the construction of massive dams and canals, sometimes with severe environmental consequences.   Therefore, even in areas where adequate fresh water is available, using desalination for basic water needs could greatly reduce the impacts of water sourced from rivers, lakes and aquifers.

The only negative environmental consequence associated with desalination is the need to dispose of the highly concentrated brine that is produced.  Separating the water from the sale of seawater means that salt must be disposed of.  It is usually in the form of a highly concentrated brine, much more salty than the water that was taken in.  This brine is not itself toxic, but the salinity levels are too high for most marine life.   If it were to be discharged directly into the ocean, it would result in the area around the discharge becoming too salty for most marine life.

This is certainly not an unmanageable problem.  The most obvious solution is to dilute and disperse the waste bring back into the ocean.  This is possible, but it can be a major task for large facilities.  Other options include recycling the brine into a useful product.  For example, it can be used to produce saltcrete.  Or, it can be further concentrated and then dried into salt, which can be sold commercially.

desalplantoperationalwThe one major downside of desalination is that it is energy intensive, far more energy intensive than more conventional means of obtaining freshwater. In addition to energy usage, desalination plants can be complicated, and the handling of saltwater requires the use of corrosion-resistant materials.  The water produced often requires additives for PH adjustment and the addition of trace minerals.  All of this adds to the expense of desalination as a water source.

For this reason, it is not generally used if other alternatives exist.  Many parts of the world, including much of the middle east and numerous islands are dependent on desalination to provide for their basic water needs.  While it does work for this, it remains the option of last resort, due to the economics.

That said, the economics of desalination have been improving steadily over the years.  With increasing demand for water, a great deal has been invested in desalination research and development.  New plants are constantly being built with ever-increasing efficiency and improved economics.  In recent years, major improvements have been made to reverse osmosis-based water desalination systems, which are now being deployed on an industrial scale.  The efficiency of distillation systems have also improved with the introduction of better heat recovery and multiple-effect distillation.

Modern desalination plants can now get a large portion of their energy requirements from the waste heat produced by power generation.  The use of co-generation for desalination further improves economics and reduce energy requirements.  Nuclear desalination is an especially appealing option, since nuclear reactors can produce ample process heat without emissions.  The Soviet Union built a highly successful plant to produce water from the Caspian Sea and today, India and China are exploring the use of nuclear reactors to run large desalination plants.

So, desalination is a good thing and we would like to see it continue to improve and become more economical, so it could be put to greater use….right?

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UN Court Orders Japan To Stop Antarctic Whaling

Monday, March 31st, 2014

I have said it before and I will say it again: if you want to persuade Japan to stop whaling, then you must do so through diplomacy and legal methods.  It’s not that I am a huge fan of whaling, but the actions of Sea Shepherd are totally ineffective, counter-productive, extremely dangerous and highly illegal.  They qualify as acts of piracy, as they are a direct attack on the safety of unarmed vessels on the high seas.

For those who actually would like to see Japanese whaling come to an end, there has recently been a major step in that direction.  And no, it did not happen because a group of idiot activists were ramming Japanese vessels.

Via The New York Times:

U.N. Court Orders Japan to Halt Antarctic Whaling

PARIS — The United Nations’ highest court on Monday ordered Japan to halt its annual whaling hunt in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, saying that its present program was not being carried out for scientific purposes, as Japan has claimed.

In a 12-to-4 judgment, the International Court of Justice in The Hague found that Japan was in breach of its international obligations by catching and killing minke whales and issuing permits for hunting humpback and fin whales within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the International Whaling Commission.

Reading a summary of the judgment, presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said that the present “research program,” dating to 2005, has involved the killing of 3,600 minke whales and a number of fin whales, but that its “scientific output to date appears limited.” The ruling suggested instead that Japan’s whaling hunt served political and economic reasons.

Lawyers attending the proceedings said there was a gasp in the audience when Judge Tomka ordered Japan to immediately “revoke all whaling permits” and not issue any new ones under the existing program.

“I rarely heard such an unequivocal, strong ruling at this court,” said a lawyer with long experience at the court who asked not to be named because he is working on a case in progress.

The ruling is binding, and Japan cannot appeal. No immediate reaction from Japan was available, although it has said it would abide by any judgment in the case. But a Japanese delegate said in earlier hearings that Japan might consider withdrawing from the whaling commission, which oversees management of the world’s whale populations.

The court left open the possibility for future whale hunting if Japan redesigned its program. Tokyo has said that it needs data to monitor the impact of whales on its fishing industry and to monitor the whale population’s recovery from overfishing.

Unfortunately, the times article went on to quote a Sea Shepherd representative on the issue, which is a shame, because those idiots should not be regarded as a respectable authority on the issue or even legitimate anti-whaling activists. There are plenty of groups out there who oppose Japanese whaling and do so through legal and sane means.

It’s important to note that while this is a big step, it does not mean that Japan won’t conduct any further whaling or that the issue is closed.   First, this only applies to the Antarctic region.  Although that is the most high profile region of Japanese whaling, the Japanese also conduct whaling in the northern Pacific and that is not affected by the ruling.

Another important consideration is that the decision only reflects Japan’s commitment to the International Whaling Commission treaty.  There is no standing international law against whaling in general.  The only reason Japan is restricted from whaling is that the country signed a treaty to abide by IWC rules.  Those rules include a ban on whaling for all but research purposes.  It should be noted that the research clause was, in part, inserted into the general ban on whaling to appease Japan, who wished to continue whaling activities.  Calling it “research” makes it more politically palatable.

Therefore the court has ruled that Japan must cease whaling because their activities do not quality as “research,” and therefore are not in line with the rules of the treaty.  However, because it’s a voluntary treaty, Japan could potentially respond by simply choosing to withdraw from the IWC.  They have the right to do so.   They just might end up doing that, as they have considered withdrawing before.

As a result of these limits, this ruling should not be regarded as an the ultimate victory in the fight against whaling.  What Japan will do next is unclear.  Though they have stated they will abide by the ruling, they may decide to leave the IWC, thus voiding their treaty obligations, or they may simply shift the focus of their whaling program to other ocean regions.   None the less, this is still a major step toward reducing or eliminating Japanese whaling.   If the effort to do so is successful, it will be through diplomacy, appeals to the Japanese public and legal efforts and not through harassing whaling vessels with dangerous and illegal stunts.

Radiation Claims by US Sailors

Friday, January 24th, 2014

A story has been making the rounds recently about a number of sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan who are suing the US Navy and TEPCO for symptoms they claim are related to exposure to nuclear radiation on board the ship.   The Reagan did not land in Japan at the time of the tsunami or the ensuing problems at the  Fukushima nuclear power plant.  However, it did participate in the transfer of relief supplies, a mission which resulted in the Reagan spending several weeks in an area about one hundred miles away from the crippled reactors.

The lawsuit has been dismissed, but those who brought it are vowing to continue their fight, attempting to appeal or refile their claims.
WUSA has heart-wrenching the story of one of the sailors:

Maryland sailor blames Fukushima for radiation poisoning

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) — He served his country, but has his country turned its back on him? A Maryland sailor says he’s now wheelchair-bound, and he blames it on radiation he was exposed to while representing his country at what’s been called the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Steve Simmons spoke to WUSA9′s Debra Alfarone exclusively.

Simmons never needed any help getting out on the golf course, “Even if it is a bad shot, I’m still happy.”

Golf, hiking, he’s always been the guy that never stops, “I love P90X, in fact after I did P90X, I also ordered the insanity workout.”

Until November 2011.

Steve was 33. That’s when life started changing for this U.S. Naval Administrative Officer. It was eight months after Simmons served on the USS Ronald Reagan when it was the first ship to respond to what’s been called the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl – the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. It was the result of being slammed by a powerful tsunami, triggered by the most violent earthquake Japan had ever seen. Steve started feeling tired, not himself. Then, he blacked out while driving to work, and drove his truck up on a curb. Steve said his list of ailments was puzzling,

“You’re starting to run fevers, your lymph nodes start swelling, you’re having night sweats, you’re getting spastic and you’re losing sensation in your legs, and you can’t feel your legs when you’re getting 2nd degree burns on them, and how do you explain those things?”

Doctors could not. Steve’s leg muscles eventually just gave up, and he’s now confined to a wheelchair to get around.

Steve’s then-fiance, now-wife, Summer, had just moved cross-country to Maryland with her three children to start their lives together. She says she was shocked, but quickly made a plan, “Things change, I started calling around, borrowed a wedding dress, we started looking for a chaplain and we were married the day before Easter in 2012 in a borrowed wedding gown and his dress whites. It was the last time Steve was really able to spend the day on his feet.”

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Simmons. People do occasionally unexpected medical conditions, some of which are difficult to diagnose. However, there’s simply no reason to think this is radiation-related.

But this is my favorite part:

Steve explains, “As far as the big picture we still don’t have a diagnosis of what this is, still struggling to even get a doctor to acknowledge that radiation had anything to do with it.”

That diagnosis is critical. Without the Navy acknowledging that Steve wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for his time in Operation Tomodachi, his retirement and pension are at stake. Plus, he doesn’t qualify for aid in the same the way he would if he lost his legs in an IED explosion.

No doctor will say it is radiation related? Probably because they have medical training and understand what radiation does and does not do to the body. It’s just not consitstant with that. Granted, the man may be convinced that something as demonic as radiation must be the casue, that’s not going to hold up in court.

The Department of Defense says radiation levels were safe, and were the equivalent to less than a month’s exposure to the same natural radiation you pick up from being near rocks, soil and the sun.

Steve doesn’t buy that, “How do you take a ship and place it into a nuclear plume for five plus hours, how do you suck up nuclear contaminated waste into the water filtration system and think for one minute that there’s no health risk to anybody on board.”

Again, we have an emotional response. Whether an area is dangerous depends on a number of factors, like there intensity of the radiation and whether there are particles that can be inhaled or ingested. Other important considerations include the time spent in the area and whether it was indoors or outdoors. It’s not a binary safe-unsafe kind of question.

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Gas Pipeline Has Activists In New York Going Nuts

Monday, November 4th, 2013



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Let me first state, for the record, that I am not a huge fan of the natural gas industry.   As far as fossil fuels go, natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal, but that’s not saying much.   Still, it’s nowhere near as clean or as safe as nuclear fission as an energy source.   Still, gas is certainly a vital part of our current energy mix.  Gas is widely deployed for domestic and commercial heating and hot water and replacing it with cleaner sources would require massive upgrades in electrical or district heating capacity and deployment of new systems.

So, for the time being, gas is a necessity and that gas must come from somewhere and be delivered somehow.  This is what pipelines are for.   Although natural gas is occasionally shipped as a liquid, by tanker, it is most often transported by pipeline, with pipes reaching all the way to the end user.  Yes, there is a natural gas pipe that comes into my home and I’d be pretty cold in the winter without it.

But there is one thing I hate more than the gas industry and that is fear-mongering and outright lying.

I will just make a few points about some of the claims in this video:

  1. Gas pipelines explode.   It happens.  It does not happen very often, but it does happen.   A major leak can send out a massive cloud of gas which then ignites, in effect making it a fuel-air bomb.   However, given the thousands of miles of gas pipeline in North America alone, it’s not a very big danger.   Sure, the safety is not as good as that of a nuclear reactor, but that would be setting the bar unreasonably high.  If you live on a gas pipeline, you should probably be more worried about car accidents or heart disease along with many other things.
  2. Older gas pipelines are at a much greater danger of exploding than newer ones.  Older pipelines may not be built to the same safety standards and are more likely to suffer corrosion or other problems.   New York City already has many old gas pipelines.  If anything, this will improve safety by taking some of the load off of the older infrastructure.  The San Bruno pipeline, which was mentioned, was more than fifty years old when it exploded and had not received any recent maintenance or inspections.
  3. If you don’t like fracking, you had better find another fuel, because that’s where gas comes from these days.  Most gas in North America is the result of fracking to enhance well production.  Although there are environmental issues, they are not nearly as bad as it is often portrayed.  There is still some gas produced by conventional wells.  There’s little solid evidence that this is much better for the environment (all gas production has its issues).   It also does not really matter where it came from, because it’s a commodity that all comes from the same market.  If you buy gas that was not produced from a fracked well, you will just displace gas out of the market and the effect is the same.
  4. The pipeline may well have been approved without most of those in the local community wanting it.  This is known as NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.  Everyone wants to be able to heat and cook, but they want the infrastructure elsewhere.  New York City really does not have any areas that are not inhabited.  Although, there may be areas that have less vocal hipsters, looking for something to get hot and bothered about.
  5. Natural gas does contain radon when it comes from the well head.  Where it comes from may have some effect on the level of radon, but it’s generally pretty low.  Since radon has a half-life of less than four days, it’s even lower by the time the gas is processed and send to the end user.  Cooking with natural gas does result in some additional exposure to radon and thus radiation dose.  If you are radiophobic, you should probably not cook with gas, although in that case there are many things you should not do (for example, leaving your lead-lined cave.)

    Even if Pennsylvania gas does have higher radon levels as a result of being less distant, the exposure is very small.  It’s much smaller than living in a home with a full basement that was built in an area with uranium-bearing granite.  I should also point out, for the woman who is shocked by the idea of radon in her apartment, that there already is radon in her apartment.  Radon is constantly seeping from the earth and is therefore detectable in the lower atmosphere at all locations.  If she cooks with gas, it is already slightly higher than average.

I do have some sympathies for the idea that natural gas is just not the safest fuel and that a reduction in the use of natural gas would save lives and reduce environmental damage. That is certainly true. Obviously this is impossible unless an other energy source replaces it. Until that happens, and as long as gas remains a major fuel for domestic use, there will be gas pipelines in cities. It’s better to build new ones than just wait for the old ones to blow up.

New Clues in Colony Collapse Disorder

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Colony Collapse Disorder has been reported on here before.   It’s a recent and disturbing trend that has been seen in numerous places around the world in which honey bee populations abruptly plummet as hive colonies “collapse” and die out.  The implications are worrisome, since bees are important pollinators for food crops.

There have been numerous causes proposed for colony collapse.  Many are fringe or just ridiculous.  The chemtrail/haarp/depleted uranium/fluoride conspiracy theorists seem to love using colony collapse as a way of proving that the government must be spraying something horrible in the skies or transmitting evil energy waves.  Another popular hypothesis is that colony collapse is caused by electromagnetic pollution from cell phones, wifi and other devices.   Of course, there is no evidence at all that this is true, and, in fact incidence of colony collapse seem to have no coloration at all to the prevalence of RF transmitters.   Still others have blamed the use of genetically modified organisms, although, again, the patterns of collapse do not relate to where genetically engineered crops have been used.

More mainstream hypothesis are that it is related to parasites, such as viruses or fungi.  Pesticide use has also been suggested as a contributor, this remains controversial, and, as one might imagine, many will jump on any information about pesticides and make outlandish claims.   It’s possible that insecticides do play some roll in stressing colonies, but they are clearly not the primary factor, though possibly a contributing one.

Despite the consensus that parasites play a major roll in colonies collapse, this does not explain why it has been increasing around the world in recent years.

However, a new hypothesis may explain what is causing the increase in CCD

Via Ars Technica:

Feeding bees corn syrup may leave them vulnerable to colony collapse
Apis mellifera, the western honeybee, is big business; the pollination services the bees provide to US agriculture are valued at roughly $14 billion. Unfortunately, bees the world over are suffering from colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which worker bees go out foraging and then disappear instead of returning to the hive and tending to the queen like they are supposed to. The causes of CCD are not clear, but pathogens, parasites, and pesticides have all been implicated. Neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that have been shown to alter bees’ navigation, foraging, communication, and reproduction, have just been banned in Europe in an attempt to help the bees.

New research suggests yet another potential contributor to CCD. The problem? We’ve been stealing the bees’ honey and instead feeding them high fructose corn syrup. The problem isn’t so much the fructose as the absence of chemicals in the honey.

Commercial beekeepers feed bees high fructose corn syrup instead of honey for the same reason that commercial food manufacturers feed it to us: it’s cheaper. But it’s only one of the problems the bees face. In the 1980s the varroa mite, Varroa destructor, started attacking bees in the US, so pesticides were introduced into beehives to kill the mites.

When I first saw the headline for these stories, I was skeptical. After all, HFCS has been blamed for everything from cancer to obesity, despite the science indicating its no more harmful than any other form of sugar. However, in this case, the problem really has nothing to do with High Fructose Corn Syrup, but rather is related to the practice of using a honey substitute to feed bees.

High Fructose corn syrup is the most common feed used for bees in the US, since it is cheap and available. Elsewhere, glucose syrup or other sugar syrups are used. The bees produce honey, which is used to feed larva and as a source of stored food for the colony. In nature, this is what the bees would live on. However, since one of the major reasons for keeping bees is to harvest the honey, bee keepers have routinely been removing honey and replacing it with other sugar syrups, allowing more of the valuable honey to be collected.

While the substitute sugar syrups are not themselves harmful, it’s long been established that honey has antimicrobial properties and contains traces of environmental chemicals from the area it is collected. Both of these features can be important, protecting the larva from microbial pathogens and helping build the immune systems of bees. In some ways, this is analogous to the proven benefits of breast milk.

While this hypothesis still remains unproven, it is very much worth considering.  Despite the claims that it’s HFCS that is causing the problem, it’s really the absence of honey that is at issue, which is a much more reasonable explanation.