Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Trouble with Beeks

As I've been rather unkind about beekeepers in this blog, here is a list of beekeepers who have very kind and helpful, and have had a big influence -

Monday, 27 January 2014

Flood Blog

Flood Shepperton Towpath Feb 2014
Come gather 'round people 
Wherever you roam 
And admit that the waters 
Around you have grown 
And accept it that soon 
You'll be drenched to the bone 
If your time to you 
Is worth savin' 
Then you better start swimmin' 
Or you'll sink like a stone 
For the times they are a-changin'. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Swarming Bees are Healthy Bees

Swarming Bees are Healthy Bees
Article by John Haverson - see 
Until I read John's article (in BBKA News, May 2012), I felt guilty about my bees swarming. It's more of a problem in built up areas, but having a swamp and tolerant neighbours helps...

Bees swarm to reproduce and spread their genes. Healthy offspring
are best produced in optimum conditions of temperature and
nutrition and with a vigorous parent colony. However, like other
organisms, bees will be instinctively driven to reproduce more
when they are subjected to stress, danger and threatened survival.
Beekeepers are constantly being directed to control swarming
at all costs, whether to improve honey harvests or reduce nuisance
to neighbours. I have been wondering if a century of increasing
control over honey bees’ basic natural function has had an adverse
impact on the health of our bees. In this article I have considered
the bee’s reproductive process in a natural environment to see how
it benefits a colony, as well as the impact of swarm control
Swarm preparation phase
During springtime, a colony will build up rapidly, increasing its
stores, brood and adult bees. The colony maintains its brood nest
temperature at 35–36ºC, the optimum for rearing healthy brood.
By late April or early May a healthy colony will reach a state of
affluence, which will enable it to swarm.
Many beekeepers start swarm prevention
inspection in March at temperatures as low as
11ºC. This regular hive opening breaks open
propolis and wax seals; releases heat and
volatile compounds from the nest and disrupts
thousands of worker tasks. The result is a
stressed colony, forced to do unnecessary work
and with a brood temperature below the
optimum. This brood cooling can contribute to
European Foul Brood (EFB).1 The reduced nest
temperature also favours Varroa, which has an
optimum brood temperature of 33ºC; enabling
the colony to maintain a nest temperature of
35ºC works against Varroa.2
Varroa and other pathogens will thrive in
fatigued and weakened colonies. To keep
colonies alive beekeepers are using chemical
varroacides and medications. These substances,
even the organic acids and thymol, are toxic and harmful to bees.3,4
A colony will raise as many drones as it considers necessary.
Often beekeepers cull drones as unproductive honey consumers.
They also use drone brood as expendable varroa traps. This
reduction of the drone population has an adverse effect on the
quality of queen mating. It also consumes significant resources as
the colony strives to replace essential males in time for mating.
The swarm of bees has to find a new home, build comb, stock
it with stores and feed new brood. This requires bees of different
ages and gland development and will not include many old foragers.
An artificial swarm, which merely separates the queen and flying
bees from the house-bees and brood, risks having old spent bees
by the time new brood hatches out and requires feeding.
The colony raises a number of queen cells in specially
constructed round cells. Queen cells are given special treatment;
they are visited 10 times more often than worker bee cells during
the 3–5 day larval stage to ensure the optimum development of
new queens, which become almost double the weight of worker
bees. Queens raised artificially from 2-day-old larvae will receive
less nourishment and care.
In an unstressed colony the queen brood survival rate can be
as low as 53% from egg to adult; 33% in a stressed colony.5 The
colony appears to be weeding out substandard queens during
development. During artificial swarm manipulation, when we
destroy unwanted queen-cells, how do we know we have selected
the best two larvae? What are the chances they will fail or produce
substandard queens, resulting in a queen-less or a poorly
performing colony?
The swarm cluster
On leaving the nest, the swarm pours out of the hive or nest cavity
and mills around before settling in a cluster on a nearby bush, tree
or structure. Hundreds of forager bees become scouts and seek
cavities suitable for a new home. Instinctively they know what
constitutes a good cavity. After assessing a site, each scout returns
to the cluster and conveys its information to the cluster-bees in a
waggle dance. After considering different waggle
dances and checking the sites, the bees
eventually reach agreement about a site and the
scouts lead the swarm-bees to the new cavity.
This reconnaissance, communication and
consensus-reaching is an important part of the
bee’s metabolism, decision-making and
intelligence development. The new site is most
probably 300–500 metres from the home nest.6,7
This has the benefits of reducing
competition for forage as well as reducing the
risks of transfer of pathogens by drifting or
robbing. Fries and Camazine suggest8 that intercolony
transmission of pathogens by swarming
will result in a benign host-parasite relationship,
but the horizontal transfer of pathogens from
one colony to another by drifting, robbing and
comb exchange will result in more virulence.
The high colony density in large apiaries and the
‘splitting’ of colonies to achieve increase will
favour pathogen virulence.
Building the new nest
At the new site, bees make the cavity draught-proof with propolis
and start making wax. Bees construct honeycomb and forage for
stores; both are needed before brood rearing can commence. A
coating of antibacterial, antifungal propolis is applied to the cavity.
Temperatures of up to 40ºC are required to make comb9 and the
nest temperature will have to be maintained at 35ºC for brood
rearing. The swarm will be broodless during the nest building
period. Varroa will have no uncapped brood cells in which to hide,
and develop. They will be exposed to grooming by bees and fall to
the bottom of the cavity, far from the comb.
While the new nest is being constructed, stores collected
and brood started, the swarm is vulnerable to conditions of poor
weather, poor forage and predators. Seeley6 considers that about
three quarters of new swarms fail. Beekeepers reduce this
vulnerability by providing suitable nest sites and emergency
feeding to prevent starvation, often using sugar. Sugar is a poor
Swarming Bees are Healthy Bees
Swarm arrival. Photo by Bernhart Ruso.
BBKA News incorporating THE BRITISH BEE JOURNAL May 2012 17
substitute for nutritious honey10; brood
reared on poor nutrition will not
achieve optimum development and
immunocompetence will be reduced.
The home nest
The original nest is reduced by a queen,
about half of its adult bees and some of
the honey stores. It still has virgin queen
cells, developing brood, an extant nest
structure and good stocks of stores. It
is quite wealthy but will not be so if
beekeeper manipulation denudes it of
nurse bees and honey stores.
The first virgin queen could emerge eight days after the swarm
departure. Other brood will have hatched. The queen will take
time to mature and mate. Her egg laying may not commence for
three or four weeks after the swarm departs, depending on
weather conditions. Again a broodless period will work against
varroa. The collection of pollen and increased foraging will indicate
when brood rearing commences. Constant hive opening to check
for eggs is highly disruptive to a new and developing nest.
The first virgin queen may be allowed to kill her siblings, but if
the mother colony is strong and conditions are favourable, the
workers may protect some virgin queens so the colony can
produce secondary swarms, to spread its genes.
On the mating flights, colonies escort valuable virgin queens
providing a ‘herring shoal’ protection effect against bird predators.
Large escorts ensure successful returns whereas smaller escorts
from mini-colonies, favoured in artificial breeding, suffer queen
losses of some 33%.9 On the mating flight a vigorous queen will
require a good drone to catch her. Poor queens will be caught by
good males but can also be caught by poor drones increasing the
chances of low grade offspring.
Local bees will be genetically conditioned to the local
environment. In UK this can be cool, wet weather during the
swarming season. Local bees will be able to cope with inclement
weather and achieve successful mating when exotic bees from
warmer climates may not. The natural mating with up to 20 drones
will ensure genetic diversity, essential to species survival. Nature
will select for characteristics to enable survival in its environment
and against pathogens. These will not necessarily be the docility,
productivity and non-swarming sought by beekeepers.
The entire swarming process brings
into play a huge array of diverse
behaviours affected by natural
selection. The colonies that survive the
dangerous adventure of swarming will,
on the whole, be the fittest. If we
short-circuit this fundamental
behavioural feature of the honey bee,
we reduce the opportunity for nature
to hone the fitness of the bee
There is growing anecdotal and
scientific evidence11,12 that wild bees
are surviving and coping with varroa. It is clear to me, that the
ability to swarm naturally is a significant factor in their survival. I
believe we should be considering how we might better manage
swarming to make use of its colony health benefits; perhaps using
bait hives and informed, non-intrusive ‘reading’ of colony activity.13
This might reduce honey harvests, but there would be more bees.
Man can live without honey, but not without bees.
John Haverson, Hampshire BKA
1. Somerville D. European foulbrood and its control. Primefact
1000, 2010; p1–4. Available at
2. Kraus B, Velthius HHW. The impact of temperature gradients in
the brood nest of honeybees on the reproduction of Varroa jacobsoni,
Utrecht University archives, Netherlands, 2001.
3. Johnson RM, Ellis MD, Mullin CA, Frazier M. Pesticides and
honey bee toxicity — USA. Apidology, [online] 2010. Available
4. Mullin CA, Frazier M, Frazier JL et al. High levels of miticides
and agrochemicals in north American apiaries: Implication for
honeybee health. PLoS ONE [online] 2010. Available at
5. Winston ML. The biology of the honeybee, Harvard University
Press. Cambridge, 1987.
6. Seeley TD, Morse RA. Nest site selection by the honey bee,
Apis mellifera. Insectes Soc 1978; 25:323–37 .
7. Davis CF. The Honey bee inside and out, 2004. Available at
8. Fries I, Camazine S. Implications of horizontal and vertical
pathogen transmission for honey bee epidemiology. Apidologie
2001; 32: 199–214.
9. Tautz J. The buzz about bees; biology of a superorganism, Springer,
Heidelberg & Berlin, 2008.
10. Nicolson S, Thornburg RW. Nectar chemistry, In: Nectary and
nectar: A modern treatise. Pacini E, Nepi M, Nicolson S (eds), pp
215–263, Springer, 2007.
11. Seeley TD. Honey bees of the Arnot Forest: a population of
feral colonies persisting with Varroa destructor in the
northeastern United States. Apidologie, 2007; 38(1): 19–29.
12. Le Conte Y, de Vaublanc G, Crauser D et al. Honey bee colonies
that have survived Varroa destructor. Apidologie 2007; 38: 566–72.
13. Storch H. At the hive entrance. Observation handbook. How to
know what happens inside the hive by observation on the outside.
European Apicultural Editions, 1985. English translation available
Swarm hanging in a tree. Photo by scf courtesy of Vita-europe. H-Storch

Swarm moving up into brood box. Photo by John Haverson.

Monday, 20 January 2014


 Marla Spivak's talk on propolis...
This is from the Propolis news in Japan, where propolis is valued highly:

I make propolis tincture like this (£5.00 per 10ml dropper bottle)  and with its anti-fungal, antibiotic, antiseptic properties it has been effective for skin problems, chest and throat infections and cuts (- it seals the wound and is a pain killer).

Here is an interesting article about propolis from BeeCraft (with thanks to Claire Waring):

Endocrine Disruptors Dr Theo Colborn

Endocrine Disruptors Dr Theo Colborn The Male Predicament

 see also: 
Toxic legacy -

Brief transcript:
Endocrine Disrupting chemicals have penetrated every environment, including the womb, on this planet.
Manufacturers want you to believe that their products are safe, there is a growing body of literature that suggests otherwise.
During the 40's: fire retardant, DDT and chlorinated pesticides, phasing out the use of steel for plastic.
During the 60's: indoor exposure exceeds outdoor, practically every consumer product on the market. Toiletries, toys, lubricants, fire retardants, - We live in a plastic world.

Low concentration causes effects that are not expressed until years later. If exposure happens before birth, they can cause irreversible lifetime disorders.

There has been a pandemic of disorders in the Northern hemisphere since the 70's – 
Autism –1 in 150 children- boys 1 in 59, ADHD,
obesity, cancer, hypospadias, juvenile cancer, delinquency, juvenile diabetes between 1998–2008 up 90%, asthma, 50% drop in sperm count over previous 50 years,
US is spending more on treating diabetes than on education. Producing fewer and fewer tax paying citizens, producing more and more children with learning disabilities, and serious social problems. 

We are now moving to the 4th generation of people exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the womb. The statistics tell us that something is wrong with the human condition, that males are targeted, that time is getting short.

See the link between global pandemic of irreversible disorders and the dire need to find alternatives to fossil fuels. 
Vast numbers of fossil fuel derived chemicals, widely dispersed, are altering how our children are constructed before they are born, and how they behave and function in adulthood.
Take back government from corporations in over to solve this problem

The womb environment must be cleaned up if we are going to have enough fully functioning individuals, with the cognition, steadfastness, leadership ability and courage, to place human health above the bottom line

Building Community
Pam Warhurst is very inspiring in this talk about
I met her at the House of Lords, like you do, at the Friends of Tree Council launch.

 Our Towpath Harvest is a bit like their Todmorden project in its aims:
Page 4 is review of Towpath Harvest!

And Friends of Shepperton is taking off as a community forum:

toxic legacy

From Here on Earth, Tim Flannery P.162-163 
TOXIC CLIMAX? Chapter 13: Gaia Killers 

'Agricultural spraying [that] programmes began in the 1940's, [their] origins lay  in chemical weapons produced by the Nazis, specifically nerve gases synthesised by Gerhard Schrader [who had] overseen the creation of vast stockpiles of chemical weapons so potent that even the Nazis feared using them.At the war's end, American industries gained access to these stockpiles, and to Schrader's technology, and it was soon discovered that with a little tweaking even the most deadly chemicals could be put to work exterminating pests.. Not only had American companies appropriated years of Nazi funded research, but wartime aircraft could be had cheaply, and trained pilots who wanted to continue flying were readily available. In other words, the material required for another war was in place. All that was needed was an enemy, and the obvious targets were humanity's oldest adversaries - the insects that bring us diseases and consume our crops. In order to make the war maximally profitable it would need to be as global as possible, and funded by government authorities. What was envisioned was a sort of Final Solution, in which chemical weapons would be sprayed across continents, transforming gardens and fields into a fertile, pest-free, weed-free paradise. What eventuated was the deaths of billions of innocent bystanders, including millions of humans, and a blighted world which even today carries a horrendous toxic legacy.

It fell to a modest marine biologist named Rachel Carson to document the unintended consequences of this mass extermination. Her book Silent Spring altered the course of human history, and her summary of the 'war on nature' has never been bettered: 

'From small beginnings ... the scope of aerial spraying has widened and its volu me has increased so that it has become what a British ecologist recently called 'an an'lazing rain of death' upon the surface of the earth. Our attitude toward poisons has undergone a subtle change. Once they were kept in containers marked with skull and crossbones; the infrequent occasions of their use marked with utmost care that they should come in contact with the target and with nothing else. With the development of the new organic insecticides and the abundance of surplus planes after the Second World War, all this was forgotten. Although today's poisons are far more dangerous than any known before, they have amazingly become something to be showered down indiscriminately from the skies…Not only forests and cultivated fields are sprayed but towns and cities as well' 

The substances used belong predominantly to two chemical families: the organochlorines, of which DDT is perhaps the best known, and the organophosphates, which include Malathion. I use the term Gaia-killers for them, and for some other substances discussed here, because of the way they can spread through and destabilise ecosystems, poisoning entire food chains. Organochlorines include the 'nerve gases', which act on insects and soldiers or civilians alike by attacking the nervous system. Because they accumulate in the body, repeated exposures raise the risk of severe damage to health. Around forty-two thousand cases of severe pesticide poisoning (mostly from organochlorines) are reported annually in the US. And we're still learning of possible links between organochlorines and disease. For example, while not proven, there are suggestions that certain kinds of endometriosis may result from exposure to them.

Organochlorines take a very long time to degrade, which means that once they're out of the bottle they'll be around for years. They are also volatile, readily entering the atmosphere, and so spread far and wide. Because they cannot be dissolved in water yet dissolve easily in fat, once they are taken into a living body they tend to stay there, accumulating in fatty tissues such as the brain and the reproductive organs. These characteristics also mean that their concentrations increase the further up the food chain you go. Squirrels may have a low concentration, but if a hawk eats a  hundred squirrels, it will accumulate one hundred times as much toxin as was present in a single squirrel. Because humans are at the top of what is often a long food chain, we're at grave risk from such compounds. There are few ways to remove these chemicals from our bodies, but one route emerged when researchers discovered that women generally have lower concentrations than men. This seemed like good news until they realised that the toxins are present in breast milk, and that mothers were eliminating the organochlorines from their bodies by feeding them to their babies.' 

See also: 

Endocrine Disruptors Dr Theo Colborn The Male Predicament

Civilised imbecility - lost brain mass

From Here on Earth by Tim Flannery: Chapter 10 - Superorganismic Glue.  
p126: This tendency towards civilised imbecility has left its physical mark on us. It's a fact that every member of the mini-ecosystems we have created has lost much brain matter. For goats and pigs it's around a third when compared to their wild ancestors. For horses, dogs and cats it may be a little less. But, most surprising of all, humans have also lost brain mass. One study estimates that men have lost around 10 per cent, and· women 14 per cent of their brain mass when compared to ice-age ancestors. It's easy to see why. The dog's sharp nose protects the sheep from danger, while the herder's knowledge of pasture means that the sheep don't even have to think about where they'll forage for the day. And of course the wether's bones and other scraps relieve the dog from having to hunt, while its meat and skin feeds and shelters the man. Overall, life for all members of our domesticated mixed feeding flock is made so much more accommodating that its members can invest less of their energy in brains and more in reproduction and fighting disease. 

The Curse of Competition

From 'You Can Add Years To Your Heart' by P.E. Norris (1963):

The Curse of Competition (p105)
One of the prime causes of coronary disease is the intense competition men have to face in the business world; and women in social life. 
Today competition is vastly increased by unscrupulous and tendentious advertising which forces one to keep up with the Joneses or become an outcast. Nowhere is this brought to such a pitch of destructive perfection as in the United States of America. One has merely to read books like Ernest Dichter's The Strategy if Desire to realise how great an evil has been perpetuated. 
Dichter contends that " creative discontent is necessary to progress", and that advertising produces discontent. 
Man seems determined so to twist every invention for his benefit, and every force for his good, into an evil thing. Advertising, which was meant to bring the world's produce to his front door so that he could choose just what he wanted, is now an ogre which dragoons him into buying that which he doesn't want or need, and can't afford. 

Ten thousand mechanical devices have been invented to make life easier; but they have made it more complicated than ever. In America and now in Britain, if you want to be " anyone", you must own most of these gadgets; and to own them you must increase your income or become a slave to hire-purchase; and to make a satisfactory income you must sell yourself into bondage and work yourself into your grave long before your appointed time. 

Ren ding sheng tian ('Man must conquer nature')

Why must man conquer nature? What is the purpose? And has he? Man has certainly believed he can since well before Mao Zedong's* exhortation:

Cities and Tree Huggers

This, and the following articles sum up cities, and the effects of urbanisation:

From 'Here on Earth' by Tim Flannery:
'The division of labour delivers one great good in that it provides the glue for our civilisation. It is the glue of trade, a process which makes both parties wealthier than they were before, and the force it must supplant is that of the warrior with an imperative simply to take. An indication of the strength of this glue can be found by asking what resource draws people to the metropolis. It is, of course, each other, for there is no other worthwhile resource in a city, and so powerful is its pull that for hundreds of years cities have been population sinks, places where mortality, driven by appalling sanitation, crowding and pollution, consumed the endless stream of humanity drawn to them from the healthier countryside. But still they came, and despite the crowding, high prices and pollution they continue to come, because to sup from the table of labours divided is so valuable that it's even worth risking death for. And once our voluntary surrender to the competencies of others has gone so far, we find that we simply cannot exist outside a civilisation. '

Smoking out the tree-hugging set -  
  Sad article, in a funny way

There is a nascent sense that some Chinese are getting fed up with the consumer society, writes Patti Waldmeir
 was quite calm about Beijing’s recent “airpocalypse” pollution crisis. First off, I was not in Beijing at the time (that helped).
  China cannot teach me anything I do not already know about pollution, I reasoned. Having grown up in the car capital of the world (Detroit), raised on a diet of mercury-laced fish from lakes pronounced “dead” by environmentalists, I was a veteran of the pollution wars before China even had smokestacks (I figured).

 But it is not just China’s dirty air and poisonous fish that make me nostalgic for my childhood these days – it is also the nascent sense that some Chinese are getting fed up with the consumer society.
  Slavish devotees to materialism are scarcely thin on the ground even now: how could it be otherwise, in a country where credit card debt is still a new and exciting concept? But tucked away in rural corners of this vast country are more and more urban professionals who have chosen to drop out and make goat’s cheese (or the Chinese equivalent: live off the land, open a guest house or start an artists’ commune). They are, for lack of a better word, Chinese “hippies”.
  So one day last week I took the hippie trail out to Chongming Island, a far-flung bit of Shanghai municipality that passes for “nature” in these parts, to meet a former property executive, an erstwhile salesman and various other former city dwellers who have jacked in their big pay cheques to raise vegetables rather than their standard of living.

  Yu Feihu had a car, a flat and a big job in Guangdong province, cradle of modern Chinese capitalism, before he decided to reverse normal migration patterns and return to live in the rural village where he was born. He left Chongming at the age of 18 to pursue the capitalist dream ignited around then by Deng Xiaoping. Two years ago he baffled friends and family by moving back, to a two-room shack on a smallholding near his ancestral home, with an 11-year-old son in tow and a wife who is taking some persuading.
  Mr Yu says his old job researching the property market in the southern city of Dongguan persuaded him that escaping pollution in Guangdong would be impossible. “The rivers were all black and the fish tasted of petrol,” he says. “It might take 300 years to recover from pollution like that.”
  Of course, the rural idyll where he currently lives is scarcely all that pristine either. On the day that we visited – escaping Shanghai air quality ranked as “hazardous” – the grey soup that passes for air on Chongming seemed little better than in the city. Even Chongming’s rainwater is polluted: it lies within hailing distance of one of the most heavily industrialised areas of China, the Yangtze River delta, and the island is bordered on two sides by the severely polluted Yangtze.
  Mr Yu, in fact, could not farm his ancestral land because of its proximity to the polluted river, so he rents a plot further inland – and tries to segregate his fields from the island’s surface water supply altogether, relying only on rainwater and groundwater. He admits that Chongming’s rain is acid and its groundwater tainted too, but he points out that pollution is a relative concept. Apparently, in today’s China, acid rain is preferable to the water of eastern China’s most famous river.
  Over a lunch of spinach that tastes like spinach and fish that tastes healthier than it probably ought to, Mr Yu explains that he is self-sufficient now for eggs, fish and veggies, but buys oil and the little meat he sometimes eats. He certainly does not waste money heating the family’s simple farmhouse: it is frigid in the January damp. Does he miss his old life? “Not one bit,” he says, adding the Chinese version of the sentiment “money can’t buy you happiness”.
  Chongming has a sprinkling of other urban refugees – though Mr Yu points out that at 40-something he is older than most. Many college-educated youngsters dream of going back to nature, he says. But in good hippie fashion, they too often turn out to be hopeless idealists.
  Within living memory, Mao Zedong sent an entire generation of urbanites back to the countryside to live as peasants – and we all know how that turned out.
  However, with any luck, “Airpocalypse 2013” will mark a turning point in China’s relationship with its own natural environment. With each new pollution crisis, another tree-hugger is born in China. So I say, bring on the smog.

  Re: Smoking out the tree-hugging set - how-our-growth-hungry-economy-has-devastated-planet .
On Feb 6, 2013, at 7:09 PM, Sally Fletcher/Pemberton wrote: Well the Tree Hugger article showed there isn’t even any clean air or water for urbanites to go back to, let alone space!  And anyway, urbanites have sacrificed the capability of doing that in order to ‘sup from the table of labours divided’ (Tim Flannery) . It’s just not going to happen. The majority of people live in cities, but cities are not the solution because they’re part of the problem: they are inherently environmentally unstable. (see articles below) Cities are the problem, yet they keep growing in Africa and Asia without any proper infrastructure, and people keep coming to them and getting more unhealthy, and more disconnected from the resources that sustain them, which reinforces the illusion that people can continue to grow and consume finite resources, and blinds them to the hugeness of the consequences.
 The thing is there is no solution, not even Transition groups, or beekeeping or tree planting. Most of humanity, including our grandchildren, wont survive because they are so disconnected they will be unable to adapt.
  There is great faith in Human Ingenuity, but I haven’t been convinced by the examples I’ve seen so far - ‘rewilding’ for instance, or breeding a varroa resistant bee.  Antibiotics that viruses become resistant to. There is such a huge paradigm shift needed, from the attitude that ‘Man must conquer nature’ (Mao Zedong) to the illusion that Man can control it, and has the right to.
 Have just finished a strange book called Green Mansions, describing how he lived off the land in the forest and fell in love with an ethereal woman who gets killed by a superstitious tribe. Love Sal x]

December 11, 2012 8:22 pm

Environment: Battle to balance urbanisation with ecological sustainability
 “The faster we urbanise, the faster we consume ... We have to take the constraints of energy and resources into account.” Urban migration is drastically changing patterns of consumption and behaviour: China’s city dwellers use three times as much electricity as rural residents, eat 10 times as much sugar, and require vastly more infrastructure as they go about their daily lives. One official estimates that for every person who moves to a city, the government spends Rmb100,000 ($16,000) to build additional roads, bridges, utilities and other public goods – which all require energy-intensive inputs like steel or cement main problem with pursuing never-ending growth stems from the fact that the economy is a subsystem of the biosphere. All of the inputs to the economy come from the environment, and all of the wastes produced by it return to the environment. As the economy expands, it consumes more materials and energy, and emits more wastes. But since we live on a finite planet, this process can’t go on forever. Like an inner tube inside a tire, the subsystem can only grow so large compared to the system that contains it.

 A safe operating boundary is a sort of safety threshold—stay below it, and humanity incurs a low risk of abrupt and hazardous environmental change; go beyond it, and humanity faces a high risk. For three of the planetary processes (climate change, biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle), humanity is now exceeding the planet’s safe operating boundary, and by a large margin in some cases. The potential consequences are severe: the authors warn that transgressing one or more of the planetary boundaries could lead to catastrophic changes at the continental to planetary scale.
Biodiversity loss is so far beyond the safe operating boundary that there's not enough space to draw it on this chart.  Note that the safe operating boundary is measured differently for each planetary process. [ ie loss of biodiversity is what will kill us/is killing us – monoculture, monodiet, monothought/groupthink!]