It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A bustling beehive that seems healthy will quickly turn into a ghost town. A live queen may be left behind, or even a few young bees, but little else. The hive simply vanishes.
Hive deaths have occurred for centuries but became a huge problem in America a decade ago. You need bees to pollinate some food crops or they won’t grow. Beehive numbers have dwindled so much that beekeepers are forced to tour hives around in trucks, going from farm to farm. And now bees are dying not just in winter, but summer too.
What are the causes and how should we address them to safeguard our agricultural food sources? Here’s what we know so far.
1940s—1990s: The growing threat to professional bees
The number of working bees had been falling for decades. In the ’40s there were about 5 million managed beehives. There are half as many today.
Beehives were threatened by disease-causing pathogens and new types of pests in the ’80s. The ’90s brought tracheal mites and the Asian Varroa destructor mite to the US and Europe.
2006: Mass hive deaths shock bee community
The death of beehives, or colonies, is not unusual, especially in winter months. Records of waves of sudden hive deaths date back centuries, too. But when beekeepers started reporting loss of 30-90% of their hives, they knew something was different. From 2006 to 2011, keepers lost a third of their hives, with much of the damage attributed to CCD.
No cause has been scientifically proven, but factors include pathogens like fungi and viruses, parasites, lack of biodiversity in nectar-producing plants, and stress from overcrowding and transporting bees. The US Department of Agriculture sponsored a multi-disciplinary working group to study the problem and find out how to solve it.
2012: Robot bee makes first test flight
Cambridge, MA, US
Some scientists believe genetic tinkering can help solve the hive death problem. By inserting genes into bees that confer resistance to stress or diseases, they want to create “superbees” that won’t succumb to Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s a divisive issue, though — many researchers say we should let bees evolve naturally to face threats, even if it means losing many hives in the process.
If biology fails, there’s always robots. A robot bee designed at Harvard assembles itself like origami and flaps its wings 120 times a second. Its creators say RoboBee could take 20 years to perfect, though. Even then, drones would only be used as a stopgap to mechanically pollinate crops, rather than a permanent replacement.
April 29, 2013: EU bans nicotine-based pesticide
Nicotine is a common pesticide sprayed onto plants. They is absorb it as they grow, making them disease resistant. But the nicotine is also harmful to bees. The European Union banned neonicotinoid pesticides, sparking protests from farmers who say alternatives are even more harmful to the environment.
Some farmers advocate biodiversity on cash-crop land. They say cultivating plants that attract insects that eat pests is preferable to using any chemical.
February 9, 2015: Stressed youths may accelerate hive deaths
Are bees growing up too fast? Normally, they start foraging at 2-3 weeks of age. But in hives where disease, lack of food or other stresses kill older foragers, researchers discovered young bees begin foraging earlier. These stressed bees perform their tasks poorly, completing fewer flights. They also die younger. This dramatically accelerates the collapse of the colony.
“Our results suggest that tracking when bees begin to forage may be a good indicator of the overall health of a hive.” Dr. Clint Perry, University of Queen Mary London.
May 14, 2015: FDA report shows summer deaths increased
Normally hive deaths occur primarily in winter. But in the 12 months ending in April, colonies started to die more frequently in the summer months, too. In fact, loss rates in summer, when bees are supposed to be at their healthiest, were actually higher than the winter rates.
Overall losses were 42%. It’s a worrying sign for the bee industry, farmers and anyone concerned about preserving biodiversity.
Photo: James Patrick Casey via flickr
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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