Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The High Price of Materialism

I've just been watching this video on No Impact Man's blog. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you take a look.


Monday, 23 April 2012

Can We Save Our Bees?

The way we tend the plants in our gardens and the way our food is grown has a huge impact on the world around us, either for good or for ill.

Having learnt that some slug pellets were bad for the birds that might eat slugs and snails that had consumed the pellets I now use only Growing Success pellets, and sparingly.  I find copper rings can be just as useful in keeping my plants from being chewed (or should that be sucked?) by molluscs and a recent experiment with coffee grounds resulted in several dead snails.

I also try to buy organic food as I know many of the chemicals used by other farmers and growers can be damaging to wildlife.

One of the most concerning agrochemicals are neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a group of insecticides based on nicotine that include 'imidacloprid', 'clothianidin', 'thiamethoxam' and 'fipronil'. They have been designed to attack an insect's central nervous system, causing paralysis and eventually death when high levels overstimulate and block the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or nAChR. They have been made to destroy insects which damage crops such as vine weevils, aphids, whitefly, Colorado potato beetle and termites. These chemicals cause paralysis and death in the target insects, which damage crops, but also harm other, beneficial insects such as bees and can interfere with their navigation systems and impairing their ability to groom themselves.

The other evening we watched the BBC 4 programme 'Who Killed the Honey Bee?', which someone had a recording of. It was looking at sudden colony collapse, which leaves bee hives almost empty of bees for no apparent reason, and the possibility that they could not find their way home was raised as a likely reason for this phenomenon.

It has been shown that bees which groom themselves more are more likely to survive attacks by the verroa mite, so if chemicals are reducing their ability to do this, then that could be a contributory factor to the number of bees dying due to infestations of the verroa mite.

Bees are also under stress due to climate change and the diminishing numbers of wildflowers available to them as food sources due to modern farming practices.

Early bumblebee
While people worry more about the loss of honey bees for commercial reasons, all of our approximately 250 species of bee must be under threat if these chemicals are damaging to bees, and bees of all kinds are vital to pollinate the crops we depend on for our health and strength. In fact the red mason bee is a more efficient pollinator of fruit crops than the honeybee. As Friends of the Earth tell us, "bees pollinate 75% of our most vital crops and favourite foods. Without bees and other insects we'd also have 20% less vitamin C, 41% less vitamin A and 9% less calcium". Once again we see that mindless damage to the environment and other creatures has a knock on effect on ourselves.

If you want to find out more about neonicitinoids, Bee Strawbridge has written an informative article.

A recent article in the Guardian reported the results of tests carried out by the Universities of Stirling and Avignon of the effects certain pesticides can have on bees, which backs up suggestions that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees.  Similar reports appeared in other newspapers. Yet the authorities seem to continue to think there is no need to worry.

Launching their new Bee Cause Campaign recently FoE also tell us that
"Without bees it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops.
That's more than it costs farmers to produce all the milk consumed in the UK every year. "
"Bees are essential to our gardens, parks and countryside.
Bees and other insects help pollinate over 75% of our plants, which in turn are vital to our insects, birds and animals. "
Friends of the Earth's Bee Cause Campaign suggests several ways you can help improve the situation for bees and other beneficial insects from sending David Cameron an e-mail to planting more bee-friendly flowers in your garden.

I hope you will feel able to support the Bee Cause or do something to help the bees in your vicinity.  I have written about bee-friendly flowers recently here and here, if you want some ideas on what to plant to help feed the bees in your area.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Any Man's Death Diminishes Me

I was listening to Sam Roskams, a member of the Bahá’í Faith, on Good Morning Sunday this morning. I liked his ideas about the unity of the human race and that all religions are equally valid, but speaking to different times and places.  The fact that so many people still find the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, the sacred texts of Buddhists, Hindus and other faiths show that they have something to say to us today, although we need to be careful to separate the universal truths from ideas that were tied to a particular time and culture when people might not have understood some things as well as we do today. However, the ancients who first articulated many of the ideas found in these texts were very wise in some matters, wiser than many of us are today, and we should not dismiss everything they say.

Aled Jones, the presenter of Good Morning Sunday also had a Tibetan Buddhist, His Holiness The Gwalwang Drukpa, on his programme this morning. I was interested in hearing that his response to the vast amount of rubbish that is thrown away mindlessly was to organise his monks and nuns to participate on a Padyatra, or giant meditative litter pick cum pilgrimage lasting several weeks.

This all ties in beautifully with a line from "An Inspector Calls", the play by J. B. Priestley, which was on Radio 4 yesterday afternoon, in which Inspector Goole reminds the Birling family that their actions have consequences and that we are all more responsible for other people than we might think.

"An Inspector Calls" is about a girl whose life has become so wretched and desperate that she takes her life.  We learn that the father of the family had sacked a girl who may well have been her for asking for a pay rise, showing that employers who don't pay their workers enough to live on must take responsibility for the consequences their actions can have on their employees or ex-employees and the rest of society.

The daughter's and the mother's judgemental attitudes have also had serious repercussions and the son of the family and the daughter's fiancé have both had a role to play in the girl's downfall as they had both used her for their own sexual gratification.

Today more than ever John Donne's words, 'No man is an island' hold true:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 
Today we also know that even simple choices about the food and clothes we buy can be a matter of life and death for people on the other side of the world and using more than our fair share of the world's resources means someone somewhere in the world has to do without as a result. We also need to be aware of how much carbon dioxide our activities create as we learn that this substance we cannot see could well be responsible for droughts, severe storms and other drastic changes in the climate in other parts of the world. Speaking hatefully or even disrespectfully about a person who has a different faith from our own or whose race or sexual orientation is different from ours can also have devastating consequences that we might not have intended or foreseen. We all need to think more before we speak as well as before we act.

We could all benefit from practising mindfulness on a daily basis, considering the consequences of our actions and finding better ways to do things so that we might harm this planet and the people on it less than we do at present and learn to be more compassionate and considerate as the major world faiths teach.

I shall leave you with the words of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa

“Unless the minds of the people change and all of us learn to improve our inner being and understanding, a few of us will keep cleaning the environment and it will never be clean. A lot of education and activities need to be done not only by us but by everyone in this world so that we all can contribute to make this world better, greener and happier.”