Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pesticide exposure causes bumblebee flight to fall short

Bumblebees forage on chives.
A PinP photo.
Flight behaviour is crucial for determining how bees forage, so reduced flight performance from pesticide exposure could lead to colonies going hungry and pollination services being impacted. More here.


The World Lost an Area of Primary Rainforest Last Year, the Size of Ten Riding Mountain National Parks in Manitoba!

Manitoba's Riding Mtn. Park.
The tropics lost 12 million hectares of tree cover in 2018, the fourth-highest annual loss since record-keeping began in 2001. Of greatest concern is the disappearance of 3.6 million hectares of primary rainforest, an area the size of Belgium (ten Riding Mountain Parks). The figures come from updated data from the University of Maryland, released today on Global Forest Watch. More here.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Fungicides move into the headlines. And not in a good way. Letter.

Dear Editor,

A chlorothalonil molecule.
Image by Jynto.
A month ago, the European Union announced it would ban the widely-used fungicide, chlorothalonil.  


Because experts in its own Food Safety Agency suspected it was carcinogenic - or cancer-causing. 

It just so happens, that very same product is also used right here in Canada, and apparently in no small amounts, either! Yet our own Canadian "regulator," the PMRA, re-assessed the chemical less than a year ago.  While it imposed some restrictions, it will still allow its main use as a treatment for mold, mildew and blight in food crops, to continue.

Fast forward to today. The New York Times is now reporting that a new and deadly fungal infection, Candida aurus, is moving across the globe, with "numerous cases" reported in many countries, including Canada. The fungus is claiming many lives and proving to be well-nigh indestructible. 


According to experts in the field of antimicrobial resistance, it is probably building defences against medical treatments because we are applying too many agricultural fungicides to our crops! 

(According to Stats Can, while it does not identify the specific kind, farmers here in my home province of Manitoba use fungicides more frequently than their counterparts in any other province!) 

So, could it be, in addition to the possibility that the infamous herbicide, Roundup causes cancer, we need to worry about fungal infections becoming resistant to available treatments, too?  

I have no idea. 

But I would think my own government might! Yet, even though I've tried for a month now to find out how the EU and Canada could come up with such starkly different findings (regarding carcinogenicity), I've heard nothing back at all. And I  have no reason to expect there'll be any response this time, either.

This is disturbingly similar to the growing medical crisis surrounding the overuse of antibiotics in the world's intensive livestock industry. (Both the government of Manitoba and the hog industry's lobby group remained similarly silent when I asked them for information for a series I was writing on the government's fateful decision to de-regulate this already large industry, to allow it to expand.) 

I call it government by neglect. Arrogant neglect.

As one world expert on antibiotic resistance, Ellen Silbergeld, states, "Why on earth did somebody think that putting antibiotics in agriculture was a good idea?" 

Sadly, she is a scientist. And, in a "post-truth" world, science must take a back seat to profit and politics.

Meanwhile, the frenzied growth of this runaway industry - from Malaysia to Manitoba - continues unabated.

Larry Powell
Shoal Lake, Manitoba.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Mysterious Fungal Infection, Spans the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy

The New York Times
The Candidida aurus fungus. A CDC image.

The rise of Candida auris embodies a serious and growing public health threat: drug-resistant germs. More here.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Dark days for science. My latest letter.

Dear Editor,

These are dark days for science.
A Gov't. of New Brunswick photo. 2019.
Even as violent weather continues to lap at our doorstep, the good people of Alberta have elected yet another climate-denier as their Premier. Soon, Jason Kenney, too will join that merry band of Tory luminaries already conducting a crusade to cripple the most effective way of countering our climate crisis. Knowing that the science is now too compelling to deny it outright, these rebels-without-a-clue, are trying a different tack. They’re taking Ottawa to court, challenging its right to impose a carbon tax. Despite the federal provision for rebates, they seem to think, by dint of saying it often enough, they can reduce this sensible attempt to save our planet, down to some kind of tawdry “tax grab.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A massive die-off of fish in Shoal Lake, in western Manitoba, has raised the possibility of a huge cleanup ahead.

by Larry Powell
Countless dead fish litter the shores. 

The magnitude of the die-off has emerged over the past few days, with spring breakup in full swing. The receding ice is revealing a shocking scene - thousands of fish carcasses piled up along the shorelines. Many more can be seen beneath the ice that hasn't melted yet. 
Gulls feast on the remains. (Eagles have also been seen doing the same.)

The Mayor of the local government involved - Mervin Starzyk of the RM of Yellowhead  - tells PinP, he's waiting for more information from the province on what has happened. He says the Manitoba department of Sustainable Development (SD) has told him it may have been "winter kill." (That's usually a process involving a serious depletion of oxygen in the water.) 
The lake shares its name with a town
of some 700 people at its north end.
(Google map.)

Starzyk says any attempt to clean up will be both expensive and - without outside help - beyond the ability of the RM to carry out. 

Besides, he says, it's not really a local government responsibility anyway, since it's the province that's in charge of water resources. 

He says sewage from the Town of Shoal Lake's treatment plant drains into the lake. So phosphorous levels there are high and so is plant growth. These conditions can contribute to a process known as eutrophication, depleting oxygen and suffocating aquatic life. 

The Mayor says - if lack of oxygen is the problem - raising the lake level might help. But that would not be easy, since Oak River, which runs into the lake from the north, sometimes dries up.  Besides, controlling water levels is also the province's responsibility and not within his local government's jurisdiction. 

The Mayor adds, the RM is looking to purchase some marshland property east of town with lots of cattails, plants that are efficient at further cleansing treated sewage. If the deal can be completed, the town's sewage, rather than flowing into the lake, would be piped there, instead. But that plan, he notes, could prove expensive, as well - perhaps a million dollars. 

Starzyk says its depressing this has happened since many of the fish are scattered along the shore, right next to the golf course and clubhouse. It's a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, for both golfing and dining. It's feared the decomposing fish are almost certain to create an odour problem as the weather warms up. 
Some 2 years ago, hundreds of fish shown here,
struggle to get over a dam to spawn, just upstream
from Shoal lake, on the Oak River. All photos by PinP.

The lake is home to walleye, northern pike and perch. Another species, considered less desirable to anglers - the sucker - has also been abundant in the waterway for some time. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Federal Judge Just Nixed Trump’s Attempt to Drill the Arctic and Atlantic

The Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Photo by Diego Delso.

In a ruling issued from Alaska, a U.S. District Court has determined that President Trump overstepped his constitutional authority and violated federal law. More here.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

How To Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen

by Katharine Hayhoe CHATELAINE
Railway tracks damaged by severe flooding in
High River, Alberta, 2013. Photo by Resolute.

As a climate scientist, I've been called everything from a charlatan to the handmaiden of the Antichrist. Here's how I handle the tough conversations. 

"We Love the Earth" A star-studded new video In recognition of Earth Day.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Corn-farming fouls the air to fatal effect

Nature - Agriculture
Harvesting corn in Canada. A PinP photo.
The dominant US crop plant has a voracious appetite for fertilizer, which leads to air pollution and health problems. More here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Climate change made the Arctic greener. Now parts of it are turning brown.

A green Arctic meadow - Baffin Island, CA.
Photo by Mike Beauregard.
Warming trends bring more insects, extreme weather and wildfires that wipe out plants. More here.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Yukon temperatures are the highest in 13,600 years

Photo by Diego Delso.
Warming of over 2 degrees Celsius is above the global average and well above the average of the rest of the Arctic region.More here.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Trump Administration Has Thrown Out Protections for Migratory Birds

A great egret. One of the many birds that migrate between Canada and the U.S.
A PinP photo.
Under Republican and Democratic presidents from Nixon through Obama, killing migratory birds, even inadvertently, was a crime, with fines for violations ranging from $250 to $100 million. The power to prosecute created a deterrent that protected birds and enabled government to hold companies to account for environmental disasters. But in part due to President Donald Trump’s interior secretary nominee…more here.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Rising global shipping traffic could lead to surge in invasive species

Science Daily

Ship traffic in the Suez Canal - 1957. Photo by Buonasera
Maritime trade is likely to far outweigh climate change as the driver of bio-invasions over the next 30 years, study finds.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Even Canada's beloved grey jay is not immune from the ravages of manmade climate change.

Decades of Canadian research, just released, finds "strong evidence" that increasing "freeze-thaw" cycles are destroying food the birds store away in the fall. This, in turn is damaging their ability to reproduce and likely playing a role in a severe population decline in at least one region.
by Larry Powell
 The grey jay,  AKA as Canada jay or "Whiskey-Jack."
Photo by Steve Phillips, via Canadian Geographic magazine.

It's been known for some time that our changing climate is leading to reductions, even entire removal of many species from certain areas (a process called "extirpation"). This new research by the University of Guelph, sheds more light on just how that happens. 

Using 40 years of breeding data, scientists studied grey jays (scientific name perisoreus canadensis) at the southern edge of their range in Algonquin Park, Ontario. (The birds can be found in all Canadian provinces and territories.) 

Like many species, they hide or "cache" significant amounts of food away which they'll need later on when it is more scarce - mainly the breeding season late in the following winter. In past years, when winters were more consistently cold, this would allow them to retrieve it, intact. But with "freeze-thaw" cycles becoming more frequent, that food is either rotting or greatly degrading in nutrient value. As a result, the jays are having fewer young and those young are less healthy than before. 

Alex Sutton, PhD candidate, Dept. of Integrative Biology,
University of Guelph.

The spokesperson for the study, Alex Sutton (above), tells PinP, "The population in Algonquin has declined by over 50% since the 1980s. So we do believe that climate change is currently affecting this population. While work is ongoing about the actual cause of the decline, it is likely that changes to reproductive performance do contribute to the decline."

The birds eat a variety of things, some which you might expect, like insects, berries and mushrooms, and some you might not - like nestling birds they catch themselves and game meat that has been shot or trapped by humans. (It's the meat, berries and fungi which are most vulnerable to spoilage.) The birds often hide it away in tree forks, behind flakes of bark or in conifer needles.  It is this instinctive practise that seems to be coming back to haunt them now.

To quote the study, "Our results suggest that freeze-thaw events have a significant detrimental impact on the quality and/or quantity of cached food available to Canada jays. Future increases in such events, caused by climate change, could pose a serious threat to Canada jays and other food-caching species that store perishable foods for long periods of time." 
Anyone who has visited or camped in our boreal forests 
has likely seen them. They don't shy away from begging food from people, or stealing it from your picnic table when you're not watching!

They've become an iconic and well-loved symbol in our country. 

The research findings have just been published in the proceedings of The Royal Society in the UK.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Insect Apocalypse Is Coming: Here are Five Lessons we Must Learn

A PinP photo.
In a new report, scientists warn of a precipitous drop in the world’s insect population. We need to pay close attention, as over time, this could be just as catastrophic to humans as it is to insects. Special attention must be paid to the principal drivers of this insect decline, because while climate change is adding to the problem, food production is a much larger contributor. Story here.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

While Nestlé extracts millions of litres from their land in Ontario, Canada, residents have no drinking water

The Guardian
Just 90 minutes from Toronto, residents of a First Nations community try to improve the water situation as the beverage company extracts from their land. Story here.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

From Canadian Coal Mines, Toxic Pollution That Knows No Borders

Yale Environment 360

Massive open-pit coal mines in British Columbia are leaching high concentrations of selenium into the Elk River watershed, damaging fish populations and contaminating drinking water. Now this pollution is flowing across the Canadian-U.S. border, threatening the quality of U.S. waters. Story here.

Bill McKibben likens climate change to Second World War

National Observer
Ponds in the Canadian Arctic, believed to be caused by melting of the permafrost.
Photo by Steve Jurvetson
Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben calls climate change the most important issue facing the world today and likens the struggle against it to the Second World War. Story here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Canada failing in climate change fight: watchdog

Trees downed in a fierce windstorm in Duck Mountain forest, Manitoba, Canada.
A PinP photo.
Canada is doing too little to combat climate change, a parliamentary report warned Tuesday, a day after government scientists warned the country was warming at twice the global rate. Story here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A slippery slope: How climate change is reshaping the Arctic landscape.

A collapsed block of ice-rich permafrost in Alaska.
Benjamin Jones, U.S. Geological Survey
Extremes of summer climate trigger thousands of thermokarst landslides (ones triggered by melting permafrost) in a High Arctic environment. Details here. (Includes a must-see video.)

Canada warming at twice the global rate, climate report finds 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Rapid apple decline has researchers stumped

Science Magazine
An apple orchard in Quebec, Canada. 
Photo by "Daniel Fafard (Dreamdan)"
Young apple trees have been inexplicably dying across the US and Canada. Story here.

When mines poison waterways in British Columbia, Canada, taxpayers swallow the costs

The Mount Polley mine - Jul. 2014 - about a week before the infamous
breach of its earthen containment dam.
After the breach, massive amounts of wastewater surged into
nearby creeks & lakes. Photos by NASA.

Outdated laws, weak enforcement leave the public on the hook for cleanup. Story here.

Great Lakes are rapidly warming, likely to trigger more flooding and extreme weather.

CBC News
North shore of Lk. Superior. A Wikimedia photo.
Report also predicts more severe algae blooms will increase water treatment costs. Story here.

The Arctic may be sea-ice-free in summer by the 2030s

  Nature Communications                                                 Photo by Patrick Kelley   The Arctic could be sea-ice-free during th...