Battle of the Invasives

European Colonial Honeybees vs Asian Giant Hornets

originally written for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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Once upon a time there was a continent …. Yes, a supercontinent called Pangea. About 175 million years ago it split apart. Fast forward 174 million years and a bipedal creature moves out of Africa to invade Asia and Europe. From that point move forward to 15,000 years ago when Siberian mammoth hunters, Japanese sea otter fishermen, and Polynesian refugees arrive on the west coast of North America to become the First Peoples. The First Peoples hunt to extinction many of the native species.

Now move forward to the last 1000 years or so as the first European invasive immigrants meet the now indigenous peoples of North and South America. And history, as they say, repeats itself. These European colonists bring with them many new invasives like the smallpox virus, the dandelion, the robin, and the honeybee. The honeybee hives are popular with the colonists, and so common in settlements that the First Peoples refer to them as “white man’s flies.” The honeybee (Apis mellifera) settles down and becomes so much a part of white colonial agriculture that we begin to think of them as a native species. They are not.

There are over 4000 species of bees in North America, including over 50 species of the humble aerodynamically challenged bumble bee. It is one of our best pollinators of native species. The invasive western honeybee, on the other hand, is not. It is, however, a very successful pollinator of cultivated crops. Which is why corporate agribusiness rang the alarm bells when another invasive species arrived.

In 2011 a massive tsunami devastated Japan, and Pacific Ocean currents began to carry the debris toward the west coast of North America. By 2012 and for years since, that debris and the floating rafts of biota that came with it have been washing up on the shores of Vancouver Island. A few years later, the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is discovered in Nanaimo, B.C.. In early 2020, Washington State, U.S.A. sounded the alarm over the arrival of the “Murder Hornets” crossing the border from British Columbia, Canada.

The Asian Giant Hornet, also known as the Japanese Giant Hornet is native to South East Asia, Japan, and Eastern Russia. They prefer to nest in hollow logs or at the base of large trees which makes Vancouver Island ideal habitat. Besides the rather potent venom from its 6mm (¼ inch) stinger, it loves to decapitate honeybees. Its mandibles are bigger, armour stronger, venom more powerful, and they fly at 40 km/h, so a few Asian Hornet predators can devastate a European honeybee colony very quickly. Sort of like an insect reversal of history.

It reminds us that change is the only constant, and that anytime a species with a predatory advantage invades, the pecking order changes. And while the newly invasive vespid may prove problematic to the previously invasive honeybee population, it is a boon to the script writers of sensational news. The Fox Frenzy and Sun Sensational teams have already dubbed it the “Murder Hornet” much like the “Killer Bees” from Africa via South America and Mexico a few years ago. However, the hornets do not kill “over 50 people a year” as erroneously reported in the NY Times.

There was a highly publicized incident in 2013 in Shaanxi, China when stings by Asian Giant Hornets killed 41 people and injured more than 1,600. But while envenomation from the sting can cause cardiac arrest, anaphylactic shock, and kidney failure, humans are not their preferred prey. Honeybees on the other hand, are not so lucky. These new immigrants and enemies of the state of inertia will no doubt cause a shift in the balance of our “natural” systems.

The one advantage that honeybees have over the earlier example of colonial invasive species domination is that honeybees have become such important pollinators of cultivated crops that they have an economic value. Native Maple syrup is worth $500 million to the Canadian economy. By comparison, honey related jobs and products add $900 million to the American economy, and invasive honeybee pollination is valued at over $20 billion to American agribusiness.

 Follow the money in this battle of the invasives. The Asian Giant Hornets may have better natural equipment, but the European honeybee has some sweet investors. In the meantime, just to be safe, don’t kick open any big old hollow logs or stumps. No “murder hornets” in Ontario yet, but you may be disturbing the nests of our native bumblebees. And our native species need all the help they can get.

The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

*images from Shutterstock, Nanaimo News Now, and Pinterest

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Earth Day 2020, from a window

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, “This is the way Earth recovers, not with a bang, but a whimper.”

When Eliot wrote The Wasteland in 1922, he probably didn’t have a future global coronavirus pandemic in mind. More like the wasteland created by the horrors of World War One and the “Spanish Flu” as it was called then. This virulent H1N1 swine flu virus actually spread from Austria and France to Spain in 1918 and then was carried home by returning WW1 soldiers. By 1922 it had indeed produced a wasteland, infecting over one third of the world’s human population and resulting in at least 50 million deaths.

Today, the world’s pre-pandemic human population sits at over 8 billion very consumptive, fossil fuel based creatures. COVID-19 has put the brakes on that consumption. It is very fitting therefore, that Earth Day 2020 be celebrated quietly, with no human crowds gathering in the streets or parks or schoolyards for the usual symbolic one-day reprieve of our relentless assault on Earth’s systems.

Since 1970, throngs of well-wishing people have gathered around the globe for one day of green Kumbaya singsongs and tree plantings, and the very next day go right back to consuming as if we had six planet Earths in reserve. Not this year. This year, Earth gets a reprieve. An Earth day with no humans trampling down the delicate spring rebirth. This year a real Earth Day.

For us watching from the windows, there is quiet. Fewer cars in the streets, fewer trucks on the roads, less polluted air to breathe. Far away in Italy, overcome with pandemic deaths on the one hand, the canals of Venice are running clean for the first time in decades. As millions of birds begin their spring migration back to honeymoon haven in the north, fewer Fatal Light Attraction deaths are being reported as office towers sit black at night. (It’s NOT the windmills Mr. Ford.)

This Earth Day is different. We sit inside and have family meals, play board games, tell tall tales. If we venture quietly outside it may be to marvel at the new spring flowers slowly appearing. or to listen to the birdsong, to plant a few seeds in our backyard planter box, to say thank you to the trees in the local park for refreshing our air and climate. Perhaps we walk with family members, or a few friends (five or less, all six feet apart) and wave at neighbours watching from their windows.

Here in Caledon it is cold and sunny on this Earth Day, and quiet. It gives us a chance to listen to Earth song, perhaps like the great Eastern seaboard blackout of 2003 gave us a chance to star gaze in awe as the Milky Way swept across the sky. Now in 2020, with the fossil fuel motors of industry and transportation reduced to a whimper, perhaps now we can listen again.

Perhaps here in the beauty of King and Caledon it is easier for us to listen. It is much more difficult in crowded cities around the world and in rural areas steeped in famine and poverty. Even in developed cities in North America, the clarion call of individual rights trumpeted by evangelical conservative republicans threatens the silence. A healthy quiet on this Earth Day can only prosper in an environment of respect that honours community responsibilities over individual rights.

When the pandemic has passed we can gather in noisy mobs debating the finer points of Ayn Rand’s philosophy versus the community conscience of a just society, but for now let’s just stay home, stay healthy, and watch from the window.

A wise and wonderful human named Father Thomas Berry once wrote, “For centuries we have been autistic to the voices of the Earth. It is time we once again joined in the grand liturgy of the Universe.”

On this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it’s a good time to listen. The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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COP 25: Thoughts and Prayers 2020

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

When T.S. Eliot wrote “The Wasteland” a century ago, he probably didn’t have the current climate crisis in mind. Nevertheless, the most recent global environmental conference, COP 25 could have concluded with the same lines. The Council of Parties 25 was held in Madrid, Spain in December of 2019 with a prologue of dire warnings that we were “on the point of no return” in our ability to avert a climate catastrophe.

But much like the thoughts and prayers that go out to the victims of violence following every horrific school shooting and mass killing, the best we could give to all of those youthful climate strikers was, “See you next year.” The nations most severely affected by accelerating climate change pushed for stronger targets for carbon pricing and emissions reduction.

They were blocked every step of the way by China, India, the United States of America and Saudi Arabia. Also blocked were decisions committing to strategies covering “loss and damage” — how countries already counting the cost of the climate emergency can be compensated.

The Japan Times reported about the conference proceedings on December 14/19 that: “The United States, which is leaving the Paris agreement, has aggressively blocked any provisions that might leave them and other developed countries on the hook for damages that could total more than $150 billion per year by 2025, observers and diplomats have said.”

And counter to our youthful teen protesters, there is no “generational divide” about these issues. The divide is between the consumer and conserver ethic. I am 73, I took my class n the first Earth Day march in 1970 and I have been teaching about and lecturing on and practicing environmental literacy ever since. When I began The Periwinkle Project (education towards environmental literacy) in 1989, one of my inspirations was a young teen activist from B.C. named Severn Suzuki. Thirty years later, a young teen from Sweden carries the torch. From one generation to another, a letter to you both.

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Dear Severn and Greta,

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and the generation about to inherit Earth. Like Gilgamesh and The Flood (retold later as Noah and the Ark in biblical mythology) the warnings were given, but few heeded them. In the beginning it was simply “accelerating climate change” and global warming that led the headlines.

In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization warned us that “Humankind is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, all-pervasive experiment upon the atmosphere of Earth, the consequences of which will be second only to global nuclear war.” This frightened you so much Severn, a young teenager, that you took your message to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. On behalf of children everywhere, you reminded us adults that, “We are what we do, not what we say.”

Ten years later you walked out of the second Earth Summit in Johannesburg as corporations and “environmental tourists” hijacked the agenda. Thoughts and prayers. Four years after that, Conservative Minister of the Environment, Rona Ambrose, Chair of the 2006 UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, informed the world that Canada would not meet its carbon reduction commitments as Stephen Harper’s government backed out of the Kyoto Protocol. We sent you more thoughts and prayers.

Three decades later Greta, you have taken a young teenager’s concerns for environmental security to the world. Another young person fearing for her future in an age where “accelerating climate change” has now been acknowledged as a “climate crisis”, even a “climate emergency” by most meteorologists, insurance companies, military analysts, and governments not held hostage by fossil fuel economics. You crisscrossed the globe and used the networks of social media to tell adults that we have stolen your childhood and your dreams.

Armed with the best scientific knowledge that any generation on Earth has possessed, adults flocked to the International Climate Conference in Madrid this past week to address what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called ‘the point of no return.” Greta told the conference, on behalf of young climate activists everywhere, that, “We are desperate for hope.”

The results of COP25 in Madrid were, according to the UN, “disappointing” as nations bickered over carbon pricing and ocean protection. Next year, we promise to look at it again. Next year.  We promise.

In the meantime, Severn and Greta, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

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An Election, Writ Large, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I predicted that Canada would wake up to a minority Liberal government on October 22.

Here’s why. Canada is not the U.S.A. and most of us do not want a Trump type Prime Minister. Under Trudeau and the Liberals, regardless of the slings and arrows flung by mainstream media, Canada is doing just fine, thank you very much. We are in the top three countries in the world in which to live, an economy and job market that is steady with wages growing, an unemployment  rate below 6%, and a well regulated banking system.

We also have a Prime Minister who is more admired on the world stage for his intelligent global perspectives than he is in the local tar pits and colonial coffee shops. Although Canada under the Liberals is recognized globally as a shining star, we tend to self-deprecate, even deny, our successes here at home.

That, of course, is largely due to a mainstream media that spends most of its time reporting plane crashes rather than safe landings. Yes, our leader has had bumps along the way:  Khan vacations, Khalistan dress-up shows, Kinder-Morgan pipeline politics, and the expulsions of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

On the other hand, our leader does not wear a Yellow Vest, does not associate with Ezra Levant or Faith Goldy or Tanya Granic Allen; he loves diversity, welcomes new immigrants, energizes youth, and handles himself with class in the company of other world leaders, He has led Canada to continue to be a successful nation among nations. He espouses a strong belief in economic stability, environmental security, and social justice. And let’s face it – he looks good doing it – style and substance.

How are the Prime Ministerial wannabes doing? The Green’s Elizabeth May, who I admire deeply and who is one of my environmental education icons, has stumbled heading in to this one. The premature attempted seduction of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott fizzled. The NDP to Green candidate swap controversy was bizarre, and the recent confusion between the leader and the party on major issues was unsettling. Those missteps could have stopped a Green advance in its tracks.

Jagmeet Singh is genuine and articulate and empathetic and smart, but the NDP’s slow candidate selection process and a populace bombarded with alt-right conservative sound bites may not be able to accept his left-leaning brilliance. Timing is everything in this blood sport.

And then there is the candidate who wants to cut the red tape, deregulate, and open Canada for business, the Conservative Party’s Andrew Scheer, whose policies eerily reflect what is happening in the one-man show south of us. If that populist infection has spread too deeply into the Canadian psyche, we could see a Conservative minority. If only the basest get out to vote, we could wake up to four years of a Harper light majority.

With all due respect, the so-called Peoples Party of Canada and the Bloc may be left out of the running, so Bernier and Bouchet might want to prepare for the long, cold, lonely winter of our discontent.

This 2019 Federal Election will come down to a cage match between Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer. In moving forward, Canada will be much better off with the fabulous flawed human that we know rather than the devious dubious wolf in sheep’s clothing that we don’t.

The way I see it.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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An Election Writ Large, Part 1

Yes, the writ was dropped today for the next Canadian federal election, Parliament was suspended, and October 21 can’t come any too soon. It’s big decision time for Canada to either choose forward or the rear view mirror.

If we look back eighteen years into the past, it was a day that changed all of out lives when an act of unspeakable terror paralyzed our world. If we look eighteen years into the future, what kind of a world will we and our youth inherit. The next four years of governance in Canada – locally and globally – rests with an apathetic electorate who are too easily seduced by catchy songs, slogans, and spin masters.

But for those who are paying attention, here is my nutshell prediction for Election Day October 2019.

The NDP will bleed to the Liberals, and the Greens will simply bleed. The CPC will hold their yellow-vest and white colonial base but may lose their extreme alt-right to the PPC as the BLOC get blocked. We will potentially end up with a Liberal minority government where the balance of power could be held by Green or Independent MPs. If the Ford Factor comes into full play in Ontario, it could be a Liberal majority.

Either way, we will end up with a country where the foothills and the Prairies have turned hard right, so here’s hoping that the rest of the country can find centre ground and liberate us from a reign of sheer terror.

That’s the way I see it on September 11, 2019.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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