Remember the Exxon Valdez that ruptured when it hit a reef off the coast of Alaska?
The oil tanker owned by the Exxon Shipping Company, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.
It caused the world’s biggest maritime environmental disaster.
In terms of volume of oil released it is second to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but in terms of damage it is the worst by far. Despite a clean-up that went on for years, less than 10% of the oil was recovered.
Now fast forward to today, and just so we are sure we are comparing apples with apples, that was 11 million gallons of crude oil that leaked out of the Exxon Valdez.
In the oil industry, a barrel is defined as 42 US gallons, or 35 imperial gallons.
Well, the Floating Storage And Offloading Vessel Safer (yes, that’s its name) has 1.2 million barrels of crude oil in its tanks. That’s 50.4 million US gallons of oil, or more than four times the amount on the Exxon Valdez.
The FSO Safer lies 15° 07.0′ N, 042° 36.0′ E at the Ras Isa Marine Terminal (YERAI) and it has been there since 1988, rusting and abandoned.
It’s owned by a company that is owned by the Yemeni Government but since 2015 it has been a pawn in a game of chicken between Iranian-back Houthi rebels and just about everyone else.
The Houthis control the area and they want payment for the oil. The UN wants to avoid an ecological disaster.
Here is a general map of the region, with the FSO Safer marked with a red dot.
Apart from the ecological damage at stake, to the south is the narrow Bab-El-Mandeb Strait (‘The Gate of Lamentations’ in Arabic) that gives out into the Gulf of Aden. Via the Suez Canal it is the shortest trade route between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the rest of East Asia. So not surprisingly it is one of the world’s major trade routes.
So how is this going to play out? The Houthis agreed to let UN inspectors in, and then changed their minds. And meanwhile the hulk rusts.
Please share this article. It must not be that inaction by those in authority allow a disaster to happen.
“Colonies Lost with Colony Collapse Disorder Symptoms with Five or More Colonies – United States: 2019 and 2020 [Loss reported that met all of the following criteria: 1) Little to no build-up of dead bees in the hive or at the hive entrance 2) Rapid loss of adult honey bee population despite the presence of queen, capped brood, and food reserves 3) Absence or delayed robbing of the food reserves 4) Loss not attributable to varroa or nosema loads. Blank cells indicate estimation period has not yet begun]”
As you can see, the losses for the first quarter of this year are 105,240, compared to 59,940 for the first quarter of 2019.
Varroa mites and nosema virus are excluded from the figures, so what does that leave?
The culprits often cited are Neonicotinoids. They are banned in the European Union.
Here’s a reprint of what I wrote on No More Pencils about Neonicotinoids.
Allegiance And Colony Collapse Disorder
I get a Google alert for ‘colony collapse disorder’ and today I got these two alerts:
18-Year Study Links Neonicotinoids to Bee Colony Decline Discover Magazine (blog) … Harvard environmental scientist, was also hit with a wave of criticism after he published a study in 2014 “definitively” linking colony collapse disorder …
Honey Bees Healthy, Taxpayers Stung The New American The problem is a syndrome first identified in 2006 and dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It’s characterized not by a hive full of dead bees, but …
The ’18-Year Study’ Article
The article in Discover Magazine cited in the first item links to the main article in Nature Communications and it’s a study of wild bee populations in the UK over an eighteen-year period.
I believe the results of the study were on the BBC news a couple of nights ago.
The crux of the study is that neonicotinoid pesticides affect bee health. I have been writing about this for several years.
Know Your Sources
Do you know what I do first when I see an article arguing one way or another over CCD and the role that this or that agent plays in the decline?
I look at who did the study.
The authors are Ben Woodcock, Nicholas Isaac, James Bullock, David Roy, David Garthwaite, Andrew Crowe, and Richard Pywell
Under one of the sub-pages of affiliations and competing financial interests it mentions that Richard Pywell, James Bullock, and Ben Woodcock are
…currently funded by Syngenta and Bayer CropScience to perform a large-scale field study investigating the impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on honeybees. This research presented in this paper was not funded by either company, nor were they consulted about this analysis and interpretation.
This may be a terrific scientific paper, but knowing that the authors are funded by the very firms that make and market the insecticides, how far do I trust this scientific paper?
Knowing that Syngenta is involved in funding, how can I trust this paper?
It was Syngenta that got the UK Government to allow continued use of neonicotinoid pesticides against the European Union Food Standards Agency’s European-wide ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.
I have to wonder whether the paper has been set up as a stalking horse to conceal the authors’ real intentions.
I have to wonder whether at some point in the future the results will be exposed as falsified or erroneous and cast doubt on all the good work done on CCD and crop sprays.
I am not saying that’s what the authors have done. I am saying that when the money and the allegiances are tugging in two directions, then I have to wonder how far I can trust the results.
OK, it’s a long shot: Who would set up an argument to prove neonicotinoid pesticides are bad with the intention of later proving the argument wrong? Probably no one.
But I still wonder, and it’s a crying shame because this paper supports the argument that pesticides damage bees.
The ‘Taxpayers Stung’ Article
OK, on to the second item in the Google alert and an article in New American. Skimming a few articles tells me where the site is coming from. And the article follows form in that in basically says that the Obama Administration has taken money out of the pockets of the general population to no effect.
It has done so to fund a useless program to combat CCD. It’s a useless program, says the article, because bees are healthy and anyway, keepers simply buy in new bees when they need them.
It’s a flat out lie about bee health, but someone will read the article and form an opinion and never read anything else.
It’s A Crying Shame
Now that we are capable of turning this planet into a dustbowl, it is a crying shame that even precious things can be politicised and twisted for profit.
As I have commented before, when a bee forages and finds plants with a good amount of nectar, it goes back to the hive and does a dance. Several foraging bees come back and dance. The dance describes the direction of the plants, the distance, and the amount of nectar. The other bees look at the dancing bees and see who is dancing the most enthusiastically. That’s the bee they follow.
Look at the bees – they act for the benefit of the community. They do not lie. They do not send everyone off in the wrong direction for some ulterior motive. What a lovely example. And how do they get repaid – we zap them with spray.
Sometimes I think the real motive of some people is not profit but jealousy. Maybe they couldn’t get over how they weren’t the favourite in the playground at school. Maybe they are just rubbish people. And now they want to spoil the party for everyone.
My first thought (how do these things pop into one’s head?) was bistort, but then it plainly wasn’t. I looked in a wildflower book and the nearest were some mint varieties – but it wasn’t any of them.
Then I asked on Twitter and Facebook, and on Twitter the answer came from Martin (@botanicalmartin) who said:
I think it’s Phytolacca polyandra or Chinese Pokeweed which I guess is a garden plant and not very common escaped in the wild – map here
I looked up the flower in Google and found some good photos – and it’s definitely Chinese Pokeweed. And the map that Martin mentioned also tallies because it show some specimens in Cambridge, which is where I photographed them.
They are on the fringes of an area of wild flowers in a park just a few yards from the High Street.
Were they sown, along with the wild flowers? Were they there from an earlier planting?
Martin has a WP blog The Intermingled Pot, if you would like to take a look at his take on nature and the state of nature in the UK.
These two pages show the death rates per thousand head of population for different countries. The rates are prefaced by a statement from the authors;
Estimates of total inﬂuenza mortality and cause-speciﬁc mortality rates are summarized in table 1. Question marks indicate especially unreliable numbers. Rates are calculated on the basis of population ﬁgures from census returns, estimates in standard reference works, or United Nations estimates. Populations are generally reported for 1920, not 1918, but this source of error is certainly smaller than others.
The highest death rates are generally from Africa and Asia, and the lowest from North America, Australia, and Europe. Not surprisingly, poor populations suffered more than wealthier ones with better food and shelter. Differential access to health care probably also had some impact; there was no speciﬁc therapy for inﬂuenza or its complications. but supportive care was useful.
Lockdown. Streets deserted. People only going out for food or a short walk once a day. Cambridge should get a badge for good behaviour. A friend said Lincoln is deserted.
Amazing what you can get people to do when they want to.
Zoom made me think of people standing around a radio transmitter/receiver in a post-apocalyptic TV series from the 1970s, trying to make contact with other scattered remnants, pockets of survivors.
The last day or two – a bubbling up of the view from the man/woman in the street (when the man/woman in the street is allowed out) that we should be wearing masks – good masks, poor masks, better than no masks.
I don’t get the second poster. She looks like Snow White, but that aside, she is miles from anyone. She is socially distancing. It would have made more sense if she was in a crowd.
Do you know someone who has had the virus?
Do you know someone who has had the virus? I know of people who know people, and one person that I have met face to face. He had fever, muscle pain – no breathing problems – lost taste and smell – and lost weight – couldn’t stand up when it was at its worst. He was diagnosed over the phone by his doctor, and he did not need to go to hospital. Which leads me to a question.
How Do They Compose the Figures?
If someone is diagnosed over the phone by their doctor as having COVID-19 but not tested, are they added to the infections numbers? Who reports numbers to whom?
News today, following announcements from the organisers cancelling individual events day by day.
The Cambridge Science Festival has decided with great reluctance to cancel the remainder of its scheduled programme.
We came to this extremely difficult decision after thinking long and hard about the welfare of our visitors and our staff. Their health and safety must come above all else and we do not want inadvertently to expose them to the risk of coronavirus.
We realise the cancellation will be a disappointment to our thousands of loyal supporters but we feel it is the right decision in the circumstances.
A little history first. I first became aware of Extinction Rebellion (ER) when I saw a leaflet or a poster in Cambridge. I wasn’t sure what ER was but I didn’t take to the logo.
That is, I am not keen on stark black political logos, so I was ‘on guard’ as it were. I could see it probably represented the sands of time running out, but still it looked too much like other signs to which I have an aversion.
For example, there is the white racist African National Movement that was headed by Terre’Blanche. And there is the logo of Arrow Cross, the Hungarian nazi party during World War II, to name but two.
I can understand how ER might want to wrest that type of the logo from the Right and use it for good. But still..
And yes, I know the ER logo and the others are not the same, but they are of that same idea of a black, angular graphic. Maybe it is just me, and if that was all there was to this post I would invite you to stop reading now. But there is more.
A bit later, when Tamara and I were in the lobby after a talk at the University Of Cambridge about a year ago a man invited us to an ER party. I still didn’t know much about what ER was and he explained, kind of. We didn’t want to go to a party, so we said no. I thought it was a party (as in drinking, talking, dancing) and maybe it was.
Then, last April Tamara and I stayed in London for a week. ER had nailed a yacht (yes a yacht) to the road at Oxford Circus in central London, blocking traffic. They nailed the yacht to the ground and handcuffed themselves to the yacht. The yacht was there for days and meanwhile the police didn’t know what to do. It had come out of the blue and it obviously had political ramifications, so the police weren’t sure what they could or could not do. In the end they arrested some of the ER members and removed the yacht.
A lot of business people, that is van drivers, taxi drivers, people who needed those roads for work, were angry with ER because the road closure affected them in their pockets.
But everyone agreed that something needed to be done to stop the rush to fill the planet ankle deep in plastic. And most were convinced that climate change and a climate emergency were real and needed addressing.
And to some extent that emergency gave a pass to whatever kind of action ER felt driven to take to tell politicians that they had to change course.
Now forward to December last year when I went to photograph people at the Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge. One man I saw who was supporting ER was plainly very upset. He was shouting and exhorting people to take action to stop the madness as he saw it.
I photographed him and you can see that photo there and here it is:
Then in December, ER here in Cambridge did a die in in one of the malls. It was coincidental that I was in town. Of course, I took photos and one of them seemed poignant. It’s this one of a nicely dressed Asian woman (Japanese?) looking polite and somehow unfortunate as she entered the mall with the ER protest around her. I don’t suppose she was immune to the irony of her being the consumer walking past the ER protest against consumerism.
Then a couple of weeks ago I saw posters that ER had plastered on the windows of Christ’s College in the middle of Cambridge.
The text on the posters reads “The University Of Cambridge must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.”
I thought it was a mistake, a tactical error to paste posters on the windows of the College.
It was such a juvenile ‘hit and run’ protest. They came when no one was about, pasted the windows and then ran off.
It just seemed against the spirit of standing up (or lying down) and protesting in person. It was against the idea of ‘owning’ their protest.
And against the idea of doing no damage, even the small irritation of someone having to scrape the posters off the antique glass in the windows.
Dig Up The Grass
And now this week ER did something that managed to unite everyone against them. This is the grass in front of Trinity College.
ER dug up the grass and then took a barrowful of it and dumped it in a local Branch of Barclays Bank. The action was in protest at Trinity College proposing to sell off some agricultural land they own in Suffolk, for development. I don’t know what the connection with Barclays is.
The tree in the background is a graft taken from the apple tree under which Isaac Newton sat. And I read in one of the newspapers that one of the protesters chained him or herself to the tree.
By the way, there are two Newton apple trees in Cambridge The other Newton apple tree graft is in the grounds of the Botanic Garden here in Cambridge.
You may wonder what Newton’s connection with Cambridge is, and here’s a short extract of the Wikipedia entry for Newton. As you can read, he was a student at this College.
In June 1661, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on the recommendation of his uncle Rev William Ayscough, who had studied there. He started as a subsizar – paying his way by performing valet’s duties – until he was awarded a scholarship in 1664, guaranteeing him four more years until he could get his MA
Open Letter To Extinction Rebellion
I don’t know how much control the central governing body (assuming there is one) of Extinction Rebellion has over groups such as the Cambridge group. And I don’t know what they make or would make of what has happened. But in my view the local group is antagonising people whose support it needs.
Or to be more specific, they have lost me if they keep on destroying things in the cause of mending things.
I started a Substack to publicise the threat to pangolins. And now the news has overtaken my intentions. So here is the current story:
Why are pangolins poached?
They are poached for their scales and other body parts that are used in traditional medicine in China and Vietnam and China. And as luxury dishes on the menu.
What does ‘the most trafficked’ mean?
Pangolins account for about 20% of everything that is poached. A million pangolins poached and killed in the last decade.
Why are they in the news today?
Well, it’s tempting to say that Pangolins bite back against the cruelty done to them. They are in the news because investigators think they may be an intermediate stage in the transmission of coronavirus from bats to humans.
Here’s what Reuters says:
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese researchers said the pangolin, a mammal illegally trafficked for its scales and meat, is a potential intermediate host for the coronavirus that has killed more than 600 people in China.
“This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, said in a statement on its website.
Photo of a pangolin by Adam Tusk on Flickr, under Creative Commons release.
I saw a TV programme about this a couple of years ago. The results have been swimming around in my head ever since. And I just can’t figure out why this isn’t being blasted from the rooftops day and night. It’s amazing. It’s more than amazing. It upsets a lot of comfortable assumptions about the ‘way things are’.
I found this on YouTube. Watch and be amazed. If you are not amazed, please tell me why you are underwhelmed with what you see.
It’s a book of contemporary accounts of people travelling, working, holidaying, and studying in 1930s Germany.
Even after the Night Of The Long Knives, Kristallnacht, and the Nuremberg Laws, people still went there. Some liked the new mood; others hated it.
Many just didn’t let it bother them – the exchange rate was good and the German authorities were keen to present a pleasant face to visitors – so what was not to like?
Time and again, visitors comment on how neat and tidy the roadsides were, how well laid out and picture-perfect the countryside was.
I saw that myself when I first went to Germany as a teenager. It was my first time abroad, and coming back to England and driving up to Leeds I saw what a scruffy country Britain was.
So, as I said, I finished the book. And then I found myself saying something that really surprised me. With all that lebensraum, all that vile attack on the untermensch, all that violence and brutality – but they hadn’t destroyed Nature or attempted to destroy it.
And now, today, there is exactly that going on. Climate change – yes, get up in arms about it. But get up in arms about the destruction of nature. The pollution, the encroachment, the pesticides, the poaching. I can’t forgive that.
Last week, Tamara and I went to the Fashion and Nature exhibition at the V&A in London.
I was in London a couple of weeks before, and Tamara asked me to go and scout out the exhibition, which I did. I thought it was a fashion exhibition, not realising that the thrust of it was the damage that fashion does to the natural world.
The lower floor of the exhibition was about days gone by – about ostrich feathers, and tortoiseshell, humming bird wings, and bear fur.
The upper floor was about the damage that modern processes do, from plastic fibres leaching into the waterways, to the chemicals used to manufacture clothes.
I think we are all inured to the damage done to the living world in days gone by, but the sight of a line of tiny, dead humming birds lying there in the exhibit, got to us.
They were killed many years ago to decorate hats.
So tiny, so defenceless.
The photo here (excuse the phone camera quality in poor lighting) is of a dress decorated with over 5,000 beetle wings and parts of wings from the Indian beetle Stemocera aeqisignata.
Can you see the iridescent green of the decoration? The man in the accompanying video explained that the colour comes from tiny prisms in the wings.
That is why, unlike dyes that fade, the colour is as fresh as the day the wings were plucked from the beetles in the 1860s.
A while ago Tamara bought me a book, ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire‘, and I opened it and started reading where it fell open, at the chapter on the skylark.
You can see the words spes phthisica near the end of the text that I have quoted here, and I wondered whether the authors were being figurative or whether it was a real medical condition.
RICHARD JEFFERIES AUTOBIOGRAPHY, The Story of My Heart, tells us almost nothing of its author’s short, sad life. It was written in 1883, as the tuberculosis that would kill Jefferies began to show itself in bloodspotted handkerchiefs and digestive complaints. He would live for four more years, long enough to see his third child die of meningitis, long enough to write his mesmerising post-apocalyptic masterpiece, After London. He was thirty-eight when he died, the age I will be when these words are published, and he’s buried in Broadwater Cemetery, Worthing, not ten minutes’ walk from where I grew up, on the rim of land between the chalky South Downs and the sea. The Story of My Heart is the record of Jefferies’ spiritual development, of the way that, through nature, he accessed his ‘strong inspiration of soul thought’. It is a lavish, joyful book, some passages coming close to madness, touched perhaps by the spes phthisica that is said to induce a kind of euphoria in consumptives…
I looked up spes phthisica and found that it is a medical term that means a state of euphoria occurring in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis.
The phrase is pronounced SPACE THIZICA.
I also found an article that suggested that the Romantic poets and artists were romantic precisely because they suffered from TB and were given to romantic euphoria because of spes phthisica.
As we know, TB causes anaemia and worse symptoms. And anaemia is characterised by a deathly pallor to the skin.
Because of that effect, the article also suggested that various pale and ghostly figures that appeared in Romantic books and paintings were the deadly embrace of TB.
This is a slice through a Nautilus shell. This particular one is in the Zoology Museum in Cambridge, where I photographed it with my iPhone.
I tidied up the reflections and the background, but otherwise, this is a Nautilus shell as the Nautilus made it – except sliced in two.
The Nautilus has ninety tentacles that it waves about in the water to take food that passes. The shell is its home.
It starts out small, and as the Nautilus outgrows the shell it builds a bigger compartment around itself. You can see the little tubes that are its last contact with the compartment it vacates before it seals it off.
The Nautilus builds about 30 compartments during its lifetime. And in doing so it makes this spiral of air-filled compartments.
The compartments that have been sealed off are water tight, which is why a whole Nautilus shell without the creature that lives in it, floats.
I made a joke about the stupidity of Brexit, pointing out that during its life, at no time does the Nautilus abandon its shell in the vague hope that it will find another one as well fitting.
Here though, I just want to talk about the shape of the shell.
There are classical design rules. They are the rules that classical architecture follow. A certain height to a certain width, a certain distance to another certain distance.
Quite the opposite of building economically at the expense of craft and the love the product. That is, building to formula of whatever shape will satisfy the building regulations for the least wastage of plasterboard sheets to line out a room on a housing development…
Some people believe that the reason the classical design rules are as they are is because their appeal is hard-wired into our brains because of the way the world around us is constructed.
Or to put it another way, there is evidence of ‘rules’ of composition throughout nature, and these may explain why an extended form of these rules exists in classical art and design.
The Fibonacci Series in Nature and Classical Design
The Fibonacci mathematical series is simple. Start with the numbers 0 and 1. Add them together. Add the answer to the larger of the two numbers that have just been added. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat. That’s a Fibonacci sequence.
And as the series progresses, two things become apparent.
The first is seen if we construct rectangles with sides that are in the ratios of the series (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:5, 5:8 etc) and set them one on another so that sides of the same length are laid on top of one another. If we then draw a line that curves to follow the corners of the rectangles, it forms a spiral.
And that spiral is the spiral that is echoed in nature – in seashells and fruit and flowers and endless features of the natural world.
The second interesting thing we can see as the series progresses is what happens to the ratio of the larger number to the sum of the larger and smaller numbers,.
In the example above I only got as far as 5:8, but if we keep going, the ratio approaches a number, a fixed ratio. It is that described and used in art and architecture throughout history certainly back to the Ancient Greeks, and which is known as the Golden Section.
Another way to express it is Phi (pronounced Fee), which is 1.618.
Take a length, any length. Divide the length by 1.618. The ratio of that part to the whole is what is called the Golden Section.
Here’s a a yellow rod. The red part if the length of the yellow rod divided by Phi.
The Golden Section is the ratio of the red part to the whole length of the rod.
And that relationship is used over and over in the classical tradition of design in art and architecture.
Turn the two parts of the rod at 90º to one another and we have the proportions of a room, or a picture frame.
Perhaps someone could make a digital camera with a sensor in that proportion.
The world is falling apart while we stare at yesterday.
Prompted by my wife reading the magazine from the the Ocean Film Festival that we went to last night – that the fish in the sea have reduced by half since 1980. And that by 2050, at the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
And prompted by looking at the plastic dish that the cod steaks came in that I had bought in the supermarket. The plastic was thick enough, strong enough to make a bucket out of. I weighed it: 30g for a one-time use plastic container to hold two pieces of fish.
About The photo
Here’s the original, to which I added the second ‘painting’ and the wording.