Where have all insects gone? . . .

Working the Hostas Blossoms

In an earlier post, I discussed an article in the New York Times about the coming of the bugs that would invade our food supply. However, the Times is now reporting on the results of the Krefeld Study that found that all insects have been in sharp decline over the past 27 years. What gives? The reality is that bugs that can harm us are on the rise (ticks, mosquitoes, food pests) whereas the bugs that feed the birds and reptiles (the pollinators, etc.) are headed for extinction. We seem to have the worst of both worlds.

Not convinced? Have you noticed fewer bugs on your windshield and front bumper after driving during dusk over the past two decades? Entomologists call this the windshield phenomenon. I too have noticed far fewer bugs on my

Lonely Dragonfly

car and aircraft windshields when operating during dusk.

Scientists previously thought that this loss of insects was due to loss of habitat. Although this is a cause, climate change is the major reason for their decline. While you might think fewer insects are a good thing, taking them out of the biosphere mix is affecting our food supply (i.e., lack of pollination) and other ways not yet evident. Everything connects, take one out and the impacts ripple.

Wind, Rain, and Climate Change

As I write this I am at the Norfolk Hilton in the midst of tropical storm Michael, where the Association for Applied & Clinical Sociology presentations begin tomorrow. I thought I was going to be the “grim reaper” as I was to conclude that we only have a few more decades before the human population begins to decline. However, as you might have heard in the news, I was scooped by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that released its climate update on October 8; it concludes that things will be much worse than previous models have projected when global temperatures reach 1.5 degrees centigrade above the 1880 baseline between 2030 and 2050.

I will post a summary of my presentation on my return, along with a link to my full report.


Due to connection problems, this post was not uploaded until October 16 @ 9:15 AM.

Algae Blooms

Living near the Finger Lakes I hear about these a lot in the late summer. Not only are the world’s 37aquifers running low, but our fresh, surface waters are becoming toxic. Farming and gardening practices, and overpopulation drive climate change, resulting in these blooms.

This could create a tipping point which could threaten public health on a grand scale.

www.nytimes.com/2018/08/29/science/lake-superior-algae-toxic.html

Climate Policy Not Going so Well

Amidst the sixth extinction that includes dying coral reefs, fires, and floods, Australia is backing away from implementing the Paris agreement. Australia is not alone. Governments and many of their citizens continue to focus on the short term. While understandable, this will lead to dramatic misery in the years to come.


www.nytimes.com/2018/08/20/world/australia/turnbull-energy-emissions-climate-change.html

The Atlantic Migratory Bird Flyway

Wind turbines in western New York. Property access courtesy of Davis Valley Farm, LLC.


 

Alright, so up to this point I have cited all the advantages of wind turbines. Unfortunately, their downside is that they kill 140,000 to 328,00 birds in North America, annually. Both the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society support the growing use of wind turbines, provided they are properly sited—the one known, effective means of minimizing wind turbine bird strikes. The major reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is paramount for our biosphere. To ignore the threat of climate change would not only threaten far more birds over time, but most of the current flora and fauna.

We now know that birds migrate along  the same flyways each season. The Atlantic flyway, passing through New York,  extends from the bottom of South America to the Canadian Tundra. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  recommends that all new wind developments consider:  avoiding bird migration routes, places where raptors’ prey congregates, and water-filled landscapes that would encourage birds to flock, such as wetlands. These are guidelines only, however.

There is current testing of technical approaches, including: using purple turbine blades (white attracts insects which then attract birds), bird averse lighting systems, and GPS/radar the latter designed to detect flocks in time to shut down the turbines. However, the effectiveness of these approaches are not clear at this time.

This is all I have to say about wind turbines. I still have to get one more good panorama when  I have the best evening sky. I will place a collection of my wind turbine photographs in my online gallery soon. I will let you know when I do.

Please contact me with any questions or comments about our growing use of renewable energy.

 

Climate Change and Health

As regular readers of this blog know, I have presented aesthetic, environmental photographs to raise people’s awareness of the threats to our environment posed by global climate change. During the past few years I have studied the likely effects of climate change on public health. So, I’m pleased to announce that I have been invited to take part on a panel this fall at the Association for Applied & Clinical Sociology to discuss the relationship between climate change and health, along with the policy implications for reducing climate change’s threat.

I’ll have more to say on this over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can find a climate overview in NOAA’s 2018 Global Climate Report.

Wind Turbines: One Leg of Renewable Energy

Wind turbines in western New York; property access courtesy of Davis Valley Farm, LLC


This past winter I began thinking about what might be an interesting local photographic project. Then, while on a trip through the countryside, I rediscovered wind turbines that I saw along the hilltops. So, I began exploring some of these fields from the surrounding roads. I will admit that my bias is towards renewable energy. I have no financial ties to any energy company (except for my monthly utility and gasoline bills). Rather, my bias results from data. Fossil fuels are not only warming the planet, but they will run out at current consumption levels over the next 50 to 100 years. The geological, climatic, and biological data (presented earlier on this website) all point to the critical importance of finding alternate energy sources.

Beginning in March I began photographing the turbines under different weather and lighting conditions and eventually got access to photograph some of the turbines up close. Contrary to what you might have heard, they

Multiple exposures create the blade effects

only make only a soft whirring sound. To my ear, it is almost as pleasant as listening to the surf. There are times, however, when some become noisy, producing whistling or other noxious sounds. This is due to rough surfaces developing on the leading edges of the blades from wear and tear, or small blade holes caused by lightning strikes. However, power companies replace the blades once noise becomes a nuisance. The turbines in this field (almost 100 of them) are certainly tall, standing 280 feet to the hubs with each blade extending out to 120 feet. And they are even taller in the west, some going 500 feet to the hub!

While I will grant you that wind turbines are not as aesthetic as trees and

flowering plants, they do present a majestic look over the landscape. Although many communities have rejected these (particularly when proposed for

Quiet, Clean & Renewable

offshore), they have a small footprint and have far more grace than traditional power plants. They take little time to erect and when finished the land is not compromised so crops or cattle can be farmed. Some folks almost have them in their back yards.

Wind turbines are not the total solution to our energy needs. There are several forms of renewable energy besides wind: solar, hydroelectric, biomass, hydrogen and fuel cells, geothermal, and tidal. Collectively, these sources will diversity our energy grid as the cost of these technologies decrease. This would have the added advantage of minimizing the risk of power plant shutdowns due to damage or maintenance.

I will present more photos and comments about wind turbines in future posts. I will add the best photos to my online gallery later and I anticipate a printed photo exhibition in the more distant future.

Do let me know your thoughts, positive or negative, on renewable energies.

You can learn more about wind turbines, including engineering information and references, from Wikipedia.

“Decoding the Weather Machine” Right now, on Nova

Dunkirk, NY natural gas/coal fired power plant

Located at the eastern end of Lake Erie, the Dunkirk power plant, built in 1950, now burns natural gas, though coal can still be used as a backup fuel. As you can see, the stacks no longer emit that dense smoke plume as in years past.  Coal only produces about 1/2% of New York State’s power.  In 1950, coal power generated nearly 46 percent of electricity in the country, making it the largest power source at the time, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, by 2017 natural gas had overtaken coal , generating about 34 percent of electricity compared to coal’s 30 percent.

Still, natural gas emits some particulates, along with carbon dioxide. While natural gas is a step forward, greenhouse gases will continue to raise global temperatures, most pronounced at the poles and in the seas, at an alarming rate. The computer models all show that the planet’s flora and fauna will be drastically affected by the end of the century. Many coastal cities will be partly under water, agricultural land will be displaced, and summer heat will become dangerously high.

Nova recently aired a two-hour special on climate change, showing each step of how scientists from a range of disciplines have demonstrated how the level of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases such as methane and water vapor) have caused global temperature change over the past 800,000 years.  Scientists have also documented the fossil fuel signature of modern carbon dioxide molecules, showing how they differ from those carbon dioxide molecules produced before the industrial revolution. This is the “smoking gun” proving not only that the global temperature is the hottest in 800,000 years, but that the warming climate is caused by human activity.

The documentary concludes with the political and economic realities, and the policy strategies  needed to address this global threat. Addressing climate change is a formidable challenge not only because of politics and economics, but also because we not only have to stop emitting carbon dioxide, we have to go carbon negative to stop the steady increase of global temperatures.

This not only means producing nearly all of our power from renewable energy, it also means using far less power—leading us into what I call neo-industrialization.  More on this in a future post.

Will we do it?

Even if you disagree with the findings of climate scientists, this Nova special is well worth watching. It is always useful to be familiar with one’s opponents’ arguments and evidence to know what one is refuting.