Unpublished field trials by pesticide manufacturers show their products cause serious harm to honeybees at high levels, leading to calls from senior scientists for the companies to end the secrecy which cloaks much of their research.
The research, conducted by Syngenta and Bayer on their neonicotinoid insecticides, were submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency and obtained by Greenpeace after a freedom of information request.
Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticides and there is clear scientific evidence that they harm bees at the levels found in fields, though only a little to date showing the pesticides harm the overall performance of colonies. Neonicotinoids were banned from use on flowering crops in the EU in 2013, despite UK opposition.
Bees and other insects are vital for pollinating three-quarters of the world’s food crops but have been in significant decline, due to the loss of flower-rich habitats, disease and the use of pesticides.
The newly revealed studies show Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin seriously harmed colonies at high doses, but did not find significant effects below concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40ppb respectively. Such levels can sometimes be found in fields but concentrations are usually below 10ppb.
Carbon dioxide has been pumped underground and turned rapidly into stone, demonstrating a radical new way to tackle climate change.
The unique project promises a cheaper and more secure way of burying CO2 from fossil fuel burning underground, where it cannot warm the planet. Such carbon capture and storage (CCS) is thought to be essential to halting global warming, but existing projects store the CO2 as a gas and concerns about costs and potential leakage have halted some plans.
The new research pumped CO2 into the volcanic rock under Iceland and sped up a natural process where the basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. The researchers were amazed by how fast all the gas turned into a solid – just two years, compared to the hundreds or thousands of years that had been predicted.
“We need to deal with rising carbon emissions and this is the ultimate permanent storage – turn them back to stone,” said Juerg Matter, at the University of Southampton in the UK, who led the research published on Thursday in the journal Science.
Matter said the only thing holding back CCS was the lack of action from politicians, such as putting a price on carbon emissions: “The engineering and technology of CCS is ready to be deployed. So why do we not see hundreds of these projects? There is no incentive to do it.”
British scientists have cracked the global earthworm mystery: they have worked out how the planet’s great subterranean reprocessing system copes with the poisons that would choke most herbivores.
Earthworms underwrite almost all life on earth: they drag fallen leaves below the soil and digest them, to excrete that rich mix of loam and living things called topsoil. Every year, 35 billion tons of dead grass and leaf litter get turned over by the worms and other soil fauna. But the catch is that some plants are really poisonous, and all plants contain some toxins designed by evolution to discourage demolition by herbivores, and these toxins carry on working even after leaf fall.
But earthworms seem to have the stomach for almost anything vegetable. And Manuel Liebeke and Jakob Bundy of Imperial College in London have the answer. They and colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that that the earthworm’s gut contains a suit of molecules that neutralise the polyphenols that give plants their colour, serve as antioxidants and discourage many ravenous grazers.
The worm’s internal defences have been identified and pinpointed by sophisticated visual imaging, and named drilodefensins. The researchers calculate that drilodefensins are so abundant that for every person on the planet there may be at least one kilogram of the molecules in the worms under their feet.
Which is why we are all here: researchers last year confirmed that the simple existence of earthworms in the soil means that crop yields may increase on average by 25% and the weight of all foliage above ground by 23%. The great biologist and evolutionary pioneer Charles Darwin called them “nature’s ploughs.”
But, the Imperial team point out, without the earthworm’s arsenal of drilodefensins, there wouldn’t be much soil to plough.
To meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population with minimal environmental impact, we need comprehensive and quantitative knowledge of ecological factors affecting crop production. Earthworms are among the most important soil dwelling invertebrates. Their activity affects both biotic and abiotic soil properties, in turn affecting plant growth. Yet, studies on the effect of earthworm presence on crop yields have not been quantitatively synthesized. Here we show, using meta-analysis, that on average earthworm presence in agroecosystems leads to a 25% increase in crop yield and a 23% increase in aboveground biomass. The magnitude of these effects depends on presence of crop residue, earthworm density and type and rate of fertilization. The positive effects of earthworms become larger when more residue is returned to the soil, but disappear when soil nitrogen availability is high. This suggests that earthworms stimulate plant growth predominantly through releasing nitrogen locked away in residue and soil organic matter. Our results therefore imply that earthworms are of crucial importance to decrease the yield gap of farmers who can’t -or won’t- use nitrogen fertilizer.
Chromium-6, the cancer-causing chemical best known for its role in the Erin Brockovich story, has been found at higher-than-recommended levels in the tap water supplying two-thirds of all Americans, according to a report from the Environmental Working Group.
EWG, a nonprofit research organization, analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data on more than 60,000 samples collected at water utilities in all 50 states between 2013 and 2015. They found chromium-6 at levels deemed unsafe by public health officials.
“Americans deserve to know if there are potentially harmful levels of a cancer-causing chemical in their tap water,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, told the PBS NewsHour.
Chromium-6 occurs naturally in the environment, but high quantities are also produced by industrial projects. Pollution can occur when these industrial sites fail to follow proper waste disposal methods, such as with unlined coal ash ponds.
“The difficulty with chromium-6 is how to set a standard to protect human health during windows of development,” Andrews said.
Even in small amounts, chromium-6 can cause skin burns, pneumonia, complications during childbirth and stomach cancer.
Businesses could earn hundreds of billions of dollars a year by 2030 by investing in better agriculture and food ranging from micro-irrigation of crops to reduced waste, an international study said on Friday.
A commission including chief executives of Unilever and Aviva as well as academics and civil society groups said companies could exploit U.N. plans to end poverty and hunger and protect the planet by 2030.
“Instead of treating it as ‘Oh my God, another huge global problem to worry about’ … you can break it down into chunks of real business possibility,” Mark Malloch-Brown, chair of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, told Reuters.
The Commission, launched in January, said businesses could unlock about $2.3 billion a year in food and agriculture sectors by investing $360 billion a year to help achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
It listed opportunities in 14 areas including farming technology, restoring land and forests, urban agriculture, irrigation, aquaculture and better packaging. Continue reading
A new study from the University of Exeter, published in the journal Ecology Letters, found that phytoplankton — microscopic water-borne plants — can rapidly evolve tolerance to elevated water temperatures. Globally, phytoplankton absorb as much carbon dioxide as tropical rainforests and so understanding the way they respond to a warming climate is crucial.
Phytoplankton subjected to warmed water initially failed to thrive but it took only 45 days, or 100 generations, for them to evolve tolerance to temperatures expected by the end of the century. With their newfound tolerance came an increase in the efficiency in which they were able to convert carbon dioxide into new biomass.
The results show that evolutionary responses in phytoplankton to warming can be rapid and might offset some of the predicted declines in the ability of aquatic ecosystems to absorb carbon dioxide as the planet warms.