The Buzz About Bees

Remember that story a few years back about the mysterious honeybee affliction known as Colony Collapse Disorder? It didn’t remain in the headlines for long but it should have: Honeybees pollinate up to 1/3 of the world’s crops. Lose them and we lose a great deal of human civilization to malnutrition.

I was reminded of this sad phenomena over the holidays when, from city to city, county to county, I kept stepping over dead and dying honeybees. Not just one, but several. Not merely one week, but several weeks in a row. Three years earlier — and what first brought CCD to my attention when I came online in search of an explanation — I took a walk in a local park and saw hundreds of bees dying on the ground. It was all I could do to keep my dog from stepping on them, a number of them still trying, fruitlessly so, to fly. A few weeks later at another park, I saw the same phenomena. The carnage became so commonplace that year that I eventually lost count.

Now here comes a late-breaking 2009 headline nearly lost amidst end-of-year festivities:

Bayer ‘Disappointed’ in Ruling on Chemical That May Harm Bees |

Bayer’s newest chemical wonder, Spirotetramat, was not on the market when CCD surfaced, but what is alarming about this story is that the EPA apparently approved it, critics allege, knowing that it could heighten or accelerate the harm to a critical link in the food chain.

Our food chain.

This story begs the question: How many scientists, executives and EPA administrators over the years have let “just one” pass, downplaying the cumulative harm to animal and human immune systems alike? It also is a reminder that our collective attention span is painfully short. In 2006 the EPA urged DuPont, maker of the ubiquitous nonstick coating Teflon®, among others, to enter a voluntary agreement to phase out the controversial chemical ingredients known as PFOA/PFOS. Here we are in 2010 — the date when 95 percent of this “likely carcinogen” was supposed to be eliminated from factory emissions, and eventually our food packaging, bathroom cleaners, stain repellents, cookware, electronics and personal care products — and no dice. Conveniently, the “real” phase-out date is 2015.

Do we really need to ask why there is a cancer epidemic? An autism epidemic? More people suffering from degenerative diseases despite better nutrition in the modern era? Increased autoimmune illnesses, among them an epidemic of childhood asthma? Or do we need only look in the mirror?

This isn’t a pitch toward “radical environmentalism” and it isn’t a slam on Big Corporate Enterprise. This is about self interest. No one will watch our backs if we ourselves won’t. As consumers, what we buy dominates the market. What we refuse to purchase will fall by the wayside for lack of consumer demand. True, it sounds far-fetched to think that we wield that kind of power. But big trends start with little people — ordinary folks who have the foresight to lead the way.

Our vote is our pocketbook.

Above and beyond any political or ideological position, those who hope and pray for a happy, healthy life for their children and grandchildren have cause to care. The emerging science of epigenetics suggests that undesirable genetic traits, when awakened by environmental triggers such as stress, obesity, malnutrition and toxins in our environment, may alter the expression of DNA inherited by our children and their children. No longer is the biblical metaphor that holds that the “‘sins’ of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons” merely figurative. If an disaster of apocalyptic proportions is afoot — as some have asserted — it is manmade, not God-made.

Speculation as to the cause of CCD abounds, but this much science makes increasingly clear as we plow deeper into the 21st Century: There is no such thing as a zero impact. Even seemingly inconsequential actions undergo a magnifier effect in the real world, not unlike an expanding ripple on a pond. This sets in motion repercussions for bees and people alike. But that realization, as dire as it sounds, is also key to our success: Assuming we created the problem, we can fix it.

Our greatest challenge is to simply acknowledge that there is a problem.

Fortunately for us, we’re not living in 1965 or even 1985. It has never been easier to jot down a product name and research its profile with minimal time, effort and expense on the Internet. Just a few minutes a week or month may literally mean the difference between those companies who profit at our expense vs. those who are forced to evolve their products to meet the expectations and needs of smarter consumers.

It’s a new year and a new decade. The future is in our hands.



Secret Life of Bees | Whittier Daily News

Use of Potentially Harmful Chemicals Kept Secret Under Law | Washington Post

DuPont’s PFOA May Face New Rules | DelawareOnline

National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals | CDC

Unusual Suspects: Pollution May be Making You Fat | Popular Science

National Toxicology Program | Department of Health and Human Services

Pesticide Action Network North America | PAN Pesticide Database

Everyday Pollution Solutions | The Environmental Working Group

GreenSmart vs. GreenDumb

Trees: 181,000 of them to be exact. That’s the number of leafy green lives we will save if we pay our bills online, writes Vicki Kriz, author of GreenSmart: Save trees, pay bills online in a July 5, 2009 USA WEEKEND Magazine column. A wise idea, right? “To find out the impact your household could make, use the ‘Green Calculator’ at,” the article concludes. 

That’s all well and good, but who’s asking the even bigger question: How many trees are we trading for coal-burning smokestacks vis-à-vis the increasing load our proliferating gadgets place on the electric grid?

Consider the carbon footprint of the Internet itself. The electrical requirements are astounding, yet as long as the public perceives all things Internet and electronic as a “free Green lunch”, no end to this grand, green e-lusion lies in sight.

“A typical server farm uses 10 to 20 megawatts of power per hour — roughly the equivalent of 10,000 to 20,000 homes with every light and appliance turned on, says Jeff Monroe, VP of design and construction for Metro-media Fiber Network. “On a watts-per-square-foot perspective, data centers are one of the highest energy users in any industry,” Monroe told writer Elinor Abreu of The Industry Standard in 2001.

Today, the demand for new server farm territory has grown more than ever, Microsoft, Google and others admit. Undoubtedly, these football-field size data facilities, some larger still, compete for woodlands and prime agricultural growing areas, too. The green side to digital would appear, in fact, gray.

Who, for that matter, is factoring in the reality that trees are a fully recyclable, renewable resource — excluding old growth and endangered rainforest habitats — whereas the pursuit and production of petro-chemicals in plastics and the electronic circuitry used in everything from desktop PCs to electronic reading devices such as Amazon’s Kindle contain heavy metals and a host of other toxins?

“On average, the production of one eight-inch wafer [chip] requires 3,787 gallons of waste water, 27 pounds of chemicals, 29 cubic feet of hazardous gases and nine pounds of hazardous waste. These chemicals and gases include glycol ethers, which have been identified as ‘serious reproductive toxins’ by the EPA; and arsine, one cylinder of which if leaked could be lethal to an entire semi-conductor production staff,” the Earth Action Network, Inc. published in 1997.

To feed the world’s growing obsession with all things tech and geek, workers in Third World high-tech manufacturing plants are exposed, potentially, not merely to paper dust, bleaching agents or printing inks, but to far worse. And it is the Third World nations, again, who accept thousands of tons of electronic scrap the First World discards — with impoverished children in Africa, India and Asia on the front lines of exposure!

All things considered, does the notion of a “carbon footprint” tell the whole story — or has it perversely enticed us to embrace another form of harm entirely?

In pursuit of our electronic love affair, it would appear that even the most eco-conscious among us have all but forgotten that few of the devices we depend on offer biodegradability and/or minimally toxic manufacturing processes. Lest we forget, those are fair considerations too — more so than a carbon footprint alone can hope to quantify.

The mythologies of going Green are frightfully deep and pervasive. If only it were so simple: Trade this evil for thus-and-such eco-friendly solution! Yet for every action, an equal but opposite reaction. And from the looks of things, a more insidious one at that.




I Screen, You Screen, We All Screen | The Boston Globe

Digital Fallacies

Carbon Myths | The Guardian

Internet Struggles to Contain Carbon Footprint

Alarming Trends: The Internet’s Carbon Footprint

Experts Urge Limited Internet Consumption | UPI

Soaring Internet Usage ‘is threatening the future of Google and YouTube’

Internet Power Usage A Trade Secret | Lawrence Berkeley Lab California

Why is E-Waste Dangerous?

Much Toxic Computer Waste Lands in Third World

Recycling Gone Bad: Where Does Our High Tech Waste Go?

Toxic Technology: Electronics and the Silicon Valley

Are Electronic Gadgets Really Energy Vampires?

Part 1: The Electric Grid—Now and in the Future

Part 2: The Electric Grid—Now and in the Future

Waste Not, Want Not: Energy via the Smart Grid

Energy Hogs on the Server Farm

Behold The Server Farm

Down on the Server Farm (PDF)

More Trees in the Arctic Could Mean…Worsening Climate Change

Trees to Offset the Carbon Footprint?

If You Hug the Trees, Can You Have More Renewable Energy? | NYT

NRDC: Trees vs. Books

Save Trees and Read Green with a Kindle

Toilet Paper and Other Moral Choices | NYT

How Many People Are Using the ‘Net?

Make Your Website GreenCO2Stats