Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"A Cult of Ignorance" by Isaac Asimov, 1980

Isaac Asimov
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."--Isaac Asimov, 1980

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Water Is… Recommended Summer Read by Water Canada Magazine

“Water Is…” (Pixl Press) by Nina Munteanu was among several books recommended by Water Canada as a good summer read for 2017.

One of Canada’s premiere magazines on issues of water and water management, Water Canada suggested recharging this summer with “the latest selection of winning water management fiction and non-fiction.” 

The list comprised mostly of 2017 publications, but included a few late arrivals from 2016.

Recommendations included:

“Water, Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity” (NYU Press) by Jeremy Schmidt is an intellectual history of America’s water management philosophy. Debates over how human impacts on the planet, writes Water Canada, are connected to a new geological epoch—“the Anthropocene”—tend to focus on either the social causes of environmental crises or scientific assessments of the Earth system. Schmidt shows how, when it comes to water, the two are one and the same. The very way we think about managing water resources validates putting ever more water to use for some human purposes at the expense of others.

“A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change” (RMB Books) By Eileen Delehanty Pearkes reviews key historical events that preceded the Treaty, including the Depression-era construction of Grand Coulee Dam in central Washington, a project that resulted in the extirpation of prolific runs of chinook, coho and sockeye into B.C. Prompted by concerns over the 1948 flood, American and Canadian political leaders began to focus their policy energy on governing the flow of the snow-charged Columbia to suit agricultural and industrial interests. Water Canada writes, “Referring to national and provincial politics, First Nations history, and ecology, the narrative weaves from the present day to the past and back again in an engaging and unflinching examination of how and why Canada decided to sell water storage rights to American interests. The resulting Treaty flooded three major river valleys with four dams, all constructed in a single decade.”

“Border Flows: A Century of the Canadian-American Water Relationship” (University of Calgary Press), Lynne Heasley and Daniel Macfarlane, editors, explore and discuss Canada-U.S. governance. Water Canada writes, “Ranging across the continent, from the Great Lakes to the Northwest Passage to the Salish Sea, the histories in Border Flows offer critical insights into the historical struggle to care for these vital waters. From multiple perspectives, the book reveals alternative paradigms in water history, law, and policy at scales from the local to the transnational. Students, concerned citizens, and policymakers alike will benefit from the lessons to be found along this critical international border.”

“New York 2140” (Orbit) by Kim Stanley Robinson is a novel set in New York City following major sea level rises due to climate change. Water Canada writes, “The book explores a full eight separate narratives: the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble; the detective, whose work will never disappear, along with the lawyers, of course; an Internet star; a building’s manager; and two boys who don’t live there, but have no other home—and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine. Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all– and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests.”

“The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” (WW Norton & Company Inc. Press) by Dan Egan is a frank discussion of the threat under which the five Great Lakes currently suffer. This book, writes Water Canada is “prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come…Egan explores why outbreaks of toxic algae stemming from the over-application of farm fertilizer have left massive biological “dead zones” that threaten the supply of fresh water. He examines fluctuations in the levels of the lakes caused by manmade climate change and overzealous dredging of shipping channels. And he reports on the chronic threats to siphon off Great Lakes water to slake drier regions of America or to be sold abroad.”

Downstream: reimagining water” (Wilfred Laurier University Press) by Dorothy Christian & Rita Wong “brings together artists, writers, scientists, scholars, environmentalists, and activists who understand that our shared human need for clean water is crucial to building peace and good relationships with one another and the planet. This book explores the key roles that culture, arts, and the humanities play in supporting healthy water-based ecology and provides local, global, and Indigenous perspectives on water that help to guide our societies in a time of global warming. The contributions range from practical to visionary, and each of the four sections closes with a poem to encourage personal freedom along with collective care,” writes Water Canada.

Water Is…The Meaning of Water (Pixl Press) by Nina Munteanu “explores the many dimension of H2O—the practical, the physical, and the magical. Water Is… represents the culmination of over twenty-five years of her study of water. During her consulting career for industry and government, Munteanu discovered a great disparity between humanity’s use, appreciation, and understanding of water. This set in motion a quest to further explore our most incredible yet largely misunderstood and undervalued substance. Part history, part science and part philosophy and spirituality, Water Is…combines personal journey with scientific discovery that explores water’s many “identities” and ultimately our own.”

Water Canada is a Canadian magazine that provides news and feature articles on water and water management. They currently co-host the Canadian Water Summit, a gathering of professionals from the water industry including academia, NGOs, local communities, cleantech, industry associations, manufacturing and government. “Delegates will explore opportunities to collaborate on water technology and infrastructure finance, ‘blue economy’ growth and climate change resilience through progressive policies, smart business and bold investment leadership.” This year’s summit will occur June 22, 2017 at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Bumblebee, the Silent Rock Star of The Natural World

When I was a child, my favourite little creature was the bumblebee. Its fat, fuzzy body and dirigible-like flight—legs bulging with pollen—and hypnotic buzz mesmerized. Never mind that my first sting was from a bumblebee when I was four years old. It was my fault and I knew it; I’d tried to touch its furry body. Everything about them was sweet and wondrous. How they buzzed from flower to flower and then crawled about to position themselves to take the pollen. I used to watch them for stretches of time. I pushed myself close until my nose was inches away. I studied their fuzzy striped body, how it moved in a kind of fat elegance. Pollen covered their bodies like lint. Sometimes their legs bulged yellow or orange with pollen. When they took flight in a sudden buzz, they seemed to defy gravity. They ascended with wings that whirred into invisibility.

Why Bees Are So Cool

Bees pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90% of our food. Most of this pollination is carried out by wild, native bees, including bumblebees. Bumblebees pollinate many fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Their fat and fuzzy bodies make them ideally suited for cool spring weather, according to Shiela Colla, environmental professor at York University. “Some of them come out early spring, some of the species come out late in fall, so you can’t just knock out a few species because then there are gaps in what will get pollinated. All bees are important pollinators,” says Colla.

The Problem…

There’s been a major decline in insect pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Much of this decline can be directly linked to neonicotinoides—a nasty nicotine-like pesticide group that impacts a bumblebee queen’s ability to feed and reproduce, according to Nigel Raine and other researchers at Guelph University, who published their study in the biological research journal of the London-based Royal Society. Along with habitat destruction, and climate change related disease, pesticides threaten the bumblebee.

The Rusty Patched Bumblebee—Near extinction

The rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) was once one of the most common wild bees in Canada in the 1970s. It was the fourth most common bumblebee species out of 14 in Ontario. I remember seeing many of them in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where I grew up. It was only spotted twice in the past 10 years. This species is endangered in Canada and critically endangered globally (IUCN assessment). This hard-working species of bumblebee is now on the brink of extinction. Scientists suggest that at the local level pesticide use and habitat loss are the key impacts to this beautiful bee.

Recommended Recovery Actions

The Ontario Recovery Strategy for rusty-patched bumble bee calls for a number of conservation measures, including restoring habitat, continuing to search for wild rusty-patched bumble bees at their historic sites and, if any queens can be located, establishing a conservation breeding program. The Canadian government is phasing out the agricultural use of on neonic, imidacloprid, which was found in groundwater in harmful concentrations to aquatic insects. Others include thiamethoxam and a widely used neonic clothianidin. Ontario is also phasing out the blanket useof neonics on corn for grain and soybean crops. The European Union is reportedly set to impose a wider ban this year on neonics.

Cool Facts About Bees

  • Bees can detect scent, shape, pattern and colour (in the visible and ultraviolet range) and have precise olfactory receptors
  • Bees can recognize individual faces using feature recognition
  • Bees can detect the electric fields that flowers emit
  • Bumblebees use their positive charge (flowers are slightly negatively charged) due to friction of their body parts in the air to help stick the pollen grains to their legs
  • Bees use a sophisticated sense of navigation to fly the shortest route possible between flowers; they use the sun as a compass and navigate by polarized light
  • Bees use a unique stroke pattern in their wings to achieve flight that uses the creation of a vortex
  • Bees use a very efficient storage for their honey: the hexagonal shape
  • Pollen, which the bee collects on its hind legs, is a source of protein for the hive and is needed to feed the baby bees to help them grow
  • When bees change jobs, they change their brain chemistry
  • Bees have personalities
  • Honeybees communicate with infrasound (very low frequency)
  • The hive, when it is at home and almost complete in numbers, acts like a warm-bodied animal

What We Can Do

  • Create a Pollinator-friendly garden! Help reverse the loss of native pollinator habitat on your property by protecting or planting native flowering plants.  Aim to have a diversity of plants that flower from spring through fall. Pollination Guelph has curated an excellent list of resources to get you started.
  • Build a bee nest out of a recycled milk carton.
  • Don’t remove colonies of native bees on your property.  Bumble bees are quite docile when undisturbed and usually will only sting when trapped.
  • Support organic agriculture.
  • Take photos of any bumble bees you see in North America and submit them to This will help us locate rare bumble bees and learn more about all Canadian bumble bees.
  • Choose alternatives to pesticides or reduce the amount of chemicals you use.
  • Shop organic
  • Contact your local government office and let them know that you support responsible land use planning that protects and connects natural areas and endangered species habitat
  • Report sightings of rare species to your provincial/territorial Conservation Data Centre
  • Support Wildlife Preservation Canada.