Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Indian Vegetables (not just the officials in Delhi) - Comment

(Most of what follows, and what preceded it, is likely to have been sourced from the BBC website.)

In an age where the climate change is not the next big thing, it has been and has since become probably the most heated (excuse the pun) debate among scientists, the media and the ubiquitous 'man-on-the-street'.

So with a worldwide decline in bee populations, noted in India in the Science and Environment section of today's updates, I would personally like to know what links there are to climate change, if any. It could well be symptomatic of Jerry Seinfeld's famous 'Bee Movie', where mid-way through the film the bees defeat humans in court, claim back their stocks of honey and subsequently no longer need to work, so pollination of plants doesn't take place and the world slowly dies. I somehow think there may be a 'better' explanation.

Drop 'Bee decline climate change' into Google and you'll immediately come to the Wired website. Yet phrases such as 'climate change may be to blame' and later 'the exact explanation has continued to stump scientists' retain an air of mystery that helps no one pinpoint anything closer than mere speculation. Which, luckily for you guys, is about all I'll be good for at the moment!

How anyone worked out that pollination is worth £141bn globally (£200m in the UK in 2009) is fascinating, but that's by-the-by. Not only is climate blamed, but more efficient methods of farming too, which have ironically removed many of the flowers from fields which would traditionally be useful for pollination. No doubt GM crops will have to take some stick, especially from HRH Prince Charles and his cohorts, while perhaps those foreign, disease-ridden bees who travel around the world like gypsies, stealing pollen from those who have used it for years and leaving the environment in tatters, may have to be extradited back to where they came from. If indeed they could be found.

Yet those bees are in demand, and much like cheap labour, they're necessary for the economy to buck its current trend across the globe. If they're fit and able to pollinate, let them run free. Sure, it's a travesty that grey squirrels out-competed the red ones here in the UK for the most part, but it's survival of the fittest, and if we're to remain the dominant force in the food chain then there needs to be food below us! Hence any bees will do.

There is, of course, the chance on some minute level that non-pollination may come back to enhance the effects of climate change by leading to crop failures, release of carbon and not removing it from the atmosphere. Though perhaps far-fetched, it cannot be ruled out and accordingly there'll inevitably be studies into pollination-linked deforestation, particularly in areas where aggriculture and cultivation are so prominent.

This doesn't get us any closer to the answers, though. Bees are dying, the seas are losing more fish stocks every day (although that one can be blamed partly on commerce), the deserts are encroaching ever further onto the once-fertile plains around their fringes, the sun's getting hotter, the seas are getting choppier...everything that could go wrong is doing just that.

But help is on its way - perhaps we can simply suck the CO2 out of the air .

It's not an outrageous idea, and provided it is fuelled responsibly and doesn't cause more harm than good, should we consider looking into it as a possible future alternative? Much like the episode of Futurama where they fire a giant meteor of garbage into space to rid the world of its waste, perhaps there's a lot of vacuuming (and vacuum-filling) to be done.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

This is Science

(Should that be with or without a capital letter? Discuss.)

So in a change from what I may have previously brought you, this blog shall now divert weirdly into the socially questionable, and probably factually dubious, updates on science in the media, or perhaps something more - how it should be portrayed.

I'll set out from the start: I have only just started my course here in the MA Science Journalism at City University London, so possess no great claim to know what I will likely cover in any more detail than the sources from which I aggregate the information. Additionally, if you're looking for someone to offer something opinionated on the subject then I fancy those days are now behind me, in the quest to become a better, streamlined, more professional supplier of information.

And that's all I plan to do; give the science I see to the people who want to see it, without any further investigation unless it is absolutely warranted. Many may well discuss the irresponsibility of some media in which controversial topics become marred in simply that, but not necessarily covering the public's desire to read the stories. In the current culture it is apparent that doom and gloom, while perhaps not promising for the advancement of society, is what people depressingly care about reading. Cynicism is healthy, though many people actually feel empowered by not believing everything they read in the press - accordingly, if reporting can be managed without any immediately damaging or distressing side-effects, the patience (if afforded) by the consumer will benefit them.

I'm no academic but it'd be rich to suggest I know what people want to hear about. I'm more consumer than provider, and for a good while I'll be in front of the page rather than behind the story, but in time I hope this will change and I can bring my legions of follower to think similarly.

The aim - to acquire the skills to help me bring more of the truth to light in the public eye.

The fall-back option - get most of the skills and contacts and get into journalism, with the hope to one day start exerting any shred of influence.

The inevitability - pass shorthand, be okay with most of the technical stuff, try to get a job in a large production company and play the game, hoping to one day win the lottery or get picked up by someone's rich and well-connected parent.

This is Science, I think.