Plastic Bees

There has been a flurry of excitement in the media over a recently-published observational study describing the “behavioural flexibility and adaptation” of solitary bees to our “plastic-rich environments”. In a nutshell, during the course of a larger field study looking at wild bees in urban landscapes, researchers in Toronto discovered that some urban Megachile bee species in the city had lined their nest cells with plastic materials. Continue reading

Pollution and Profit

Finally, some great news for those trying to keep their backyards free of coal seam gas wells. In world-first research, two scientists from Southern Cross University, Dr Isaac Santos & Dr Damien Maher, have found evidence of extremely high levels of atmospheric methane near coal seam gas (CSG) fields. Using a high-precision methane detector, Santos & Maher took thousands of air samples between Lismore (in northern New South Wales) and Tara (in southern Queensland), creating a pretty clear picture of methane levels across the region.

Tara is the largest CSG field in Australia and has been a hub of gas production for a few years now, whereas the Northern Rivers region (near Lismore) has lots of ‘natural’ or non-CSG methane producers, such as natural wetlands, sewage treatment plants, an airport and plenty of cattle. In northern New South Wales, the scientists found atmospheric methane concentration never rose higher than 2.1 ppm (natural background levels are around 1.8 ppm). However, around Tara, the methane levels went up as high as 6.9 ppm, with no recorded values below 2 ppm in this region. Continue reading

Paper Cuts

Newspapers in Australia, the UK, Ireland and the USA have sacked hundreds of staff recently, and all are blaming the digital age – higher printing costs, reduced ‘hard-copy’ readership, and, therefore, reduced print advertising revenue. But is Homo digitalis really the culprit? Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism and ex-newspaper editor, thinks otherwise.

Whatever the reason, it’s making me mighty anxious. The journo in me is just downright teary, while my ecologist side is sad that the poor old Environment becomes an eco-blackmail pawn yet again.

Many people eulogise the benefits of reading news online –tablets and internet-friendly mobile phones make it so thrillingly easy (and oh, so trendy) to catch up with the news on the bus, on the toilet, or even hanging off a cliff face in Patagonia. Also, you’re “saving trees” by doing so! Continue reading

To be or not to be … Scientist or Writer?

I have just had the opportunity to attend the Publishing With Impact workshop, facilitated by Camilla Myers from CSIRO Publishing. Without any overstatement, it was the most enjoyable and helpful workshop I have ever attended. Although the ultimate success of a workshop is purely context-specific – dependent on the dynamics of the participants and the facilitator as well as the information involved – the structure of this workshop is invaluable for any academic who struggles with either writing or the publishing puzzle … and inspiring for any who don’t!

I am currently in the final scenes of my PhD saga, in which I have to “write” The Unwritten. Ironically, this has always been the part of my PhD I was most looking forward to. I have been writing “creatively” since high school and my first degree and pre-enviro science work history were all about Writing and using English as a creative tool (rather than an arduous accessory to life!). So, suffice to say, I thought I was a pretty good wordsmith when I dove naïvely into the world of Science. Continue reading

The Origin of a Species

It’s easy for some to think that we’ve stopped evolving as a species, at least for the time being. As far as we can tell, Homo sapiens has looked, and mostly behaved, fairly similar since it developed speech and communal living, albeit with small changes in language, customs, clothing, transport and house structures. But evolution of any system never really stops, and sometimes can even work in reverse (e.g. Darwin’s finches and Seattle’s sticklebacks).

After all, as Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species, “Under domestication we see much variability… [which] is governed by many complex laws, – by correlation of growth, by use and disuse, and by the direct action of the physical conditions of life.” A species can only keep reproducing carbon copies of itself for multiple generations “as long as the conditions of life remain the same”.

And the conditions of human life have changed.

But when I was young, we ate meat!

Continue reading

Eco-superiority

A recent study suggests that people are more likely to buy ‘green’ or eco-friendly products to foster a personal image of superiority or prestige, rather than because they actually care about the environment.  That’s not a ridiculous notion, considering what else humans will do for kudos (think Balloon Boy’s father).

The rise of equality and the increase in invincible and overly-capable technology has created an animal (Homo sapiens) desperate for individuality and recognition.  Anything from food, (no longer just an essential accessory to survival!), to reality television is grasped by those in need with the steely grip of exhibitionism.  And the latest necessary label is Green.

This produces an ironic concept.  ‘The environment’ really does need attention.  Unfortunately, a large proportion of the population aren’t genuinely understanding or concerned about it.  Yet it seems many of these people ARE concerned about what others think of them.  So, with a bit of emotional blackmail, this demographic is convinced that their prestige will increase if they take on a label they don’t fully understand or care about.  And thus ‘the environment’ benefits.

What does this imply about a) environmental awareness and b) human behaviour??

© Manu Saunders 2010