I wonder how many of us have watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth and thought "wow, that really is terrifying, I’d better start making a few changes". And more to the point, how many of us have then done something about it. If you’re like Sarah and you’ve started cycling to the supermarket, well done, Al Gore would be proud of you!
But what do the scientists think of An Inconvenient Truth (AIT)? Sensationalism or accuracy? Informing the public or misinforming the public? A forum published in GeoJournal looked at these questions and asked the scientists what they thought of the film documenting Al Gore’s campaign to educate the public about global warming and inspire them to take action.
As I flicked through the latest issue of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust magazine ‘On the edge’ I came a cross an article on the mountain chicken, a large endangered frog that unfortunately happens to taste a bit, well, a bit like chicken.
Now I’m not the greatest fan of amphibians but I couldn’t help but feel concerned about the poor old frog. Native to the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat, the mountain chicken is not only a national dish in own right but has had its habitat wrecked by volcanic eruptions and is now under threat from a deadly fungal infection.
Last Saturday, I cycled to Tesco's*. It's around five miles away from where I
live, so wasn't a huge effort and, to be fair, I could use the extra exercise. I
stress this because I'm about to mention the environment. Before you head off to
the 'post comment' box below, I must stress that my environmental credentials
aren't great. Like many of us, I guess I do my bit, but sometimes find this
relationship a bit one sided. My meagre efforts at saving it are simply not
appreciated. It must be that unconditional love that only a parent could show a
tempestuous child. As if to prove my point, as I headed out of Tesco's with a
re-usable bag of groceries on my back, it rained. It seems to do this most times
I 'do my bit for the environment' and leave the car at home.
The environment clearly doesn't appreciate my efforts.
The environment was the focus at the annual summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) at Dubai this week, with an emphasis on the need to promote the tourism industry's green credentials. Meanwhile, at the XII United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Accra, Ghana, the UNWTO has presented a message that tourism offers the only sustainable development opportunity to many developing and least developed countries. But with international tourist numbers projected to double by 2020, can this increased traffic really be catered for in a sustainable way?
Fuel shortages, Famine, Disease, Extinction, Floods, Drought…So this is 'Earth Day'. Hardly something to look forward to is it?
At CABI, we work tirelessly under the assumption that most people we're likely to come across believe that 'saving the planet' is a Good Thing. But what are we really trying to save? Are we saving the planet for later? Are we trying to preserve it the way it is? Are we in the western, economically privileged world trying to preserve our world the way it is at the expense of the struggling populations suffering malnutrition and disease at the hands of climate change that we ourselves have helped create?
I wonder if T.S. Eliot1 was suffering from diarrhoea when he wrote this line? I believe English literary history generally has him down as recuperating from a nervous breakdown at the time, but who knows?2
So what is the tenuous link between T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and diarrhoea? It's not necessarily what you're thinking…
I recently came across a case report of cattle being poisoned by apricot kernels, a reminder of the fact that the seeds (and sometimes leaves) from fruits such as apricots, peaches, and other members of the Prunus genus contain glycosides such as amygdalin that can release the deadly gas hydrogen cyanide. This fact is well known to entomologists who will use a few torn leaves from a cherry tree, in a jar, to kill the specimens that they collect.
The case, reported this week in the Veterinary Record, describes how a farmer in Switzerland obtained a large quantity of soft hulls, separated from the inner part of the apricot kernels. (The report does not link the use of this exotic feedstuff to the rise in world feed and grain prices – a worthy subject of another blog?). The apricot kernels were used for the production of traditional gingerbread cake, and the feedstuff was obtained from a local baker in the Appenzelle region. The farmer did not appear to notice the characteristic smell of bitter almonds in the feed, even though the cows did. They were not keen on the new feed, and showed ‘a strong aversion’ to it. The farmer needed to make it much more acceptable by adding silage to increase the palatability. The result of this misadventure was that 5 of the 12 cows fed the apricot hulls showed quite severe symptoms including tremor, salivation, opisthotonus, tympany, and dyspnoea, and two of them died. The 3 surviving cows refused to feed for another 24 hours, and had reduced milk production, but they recovered without treatment.
The apricot hulls and kernels were found to contain a mean hydrogen cyanide (HCN) level of 110 mg/kg, and an amygdalin content which was the equivalent of another 300 mg/kg of HCN. This meant that the 2 kg of the feed given to the each of the cows would have contained at least 820 mg of HCN equivalents, which is close to the reported lethal dose of 2 mg/kg.
Cyanide poisoning is difficult to diagnose. The volatility and rapid breakdown of HCN, often means that samples from suspected poisonings are negative when tested. This is one of the reasons that cyanide is often the poison of choice in crime novels: easy to disguise in any almond flavoured dish, quick, lethal, and hard to detect. In looking for a better way to detect cyanide poisoning the authors of the case report took blood samples to detect thiocyanate. The blood levels in the three affected cows were 145, 209, and 211 μmol/L compared to normal levels of 50-60 μmol/L. This showed that high serum thiocyanate can be an indicator of cyanide poisoning, although there are other factors that can increase thiocyanate in blood, and these need also to be considered.
Looking into the CAB Abstracts Database for other cases of cyanide poisoning reveals over 30 references. Many of the cases are of goats, whose catholic tastes tempt them to eat leaves of cherry trees if they have access. There are also cases of people being poisoned by apricot kernels by accident (when the kernels were used in making sweets), and in what appears to be attempted suicide.
So, remember, if the feed you are being offered has a distinct smell of bitter almonds then, beware.
While CABI is best known for its involvement in agriculture and the environment, the CAB Abstracts database also covers a range of other subjects, including leisure, tourism and sport. As one of the editors covering this subject area, from time to time I come across papers on subjects close to my heart. Most recently, football, and the bias of referees.
The sound of despondent Handpicked bloggers rang through the air at CABI this morning. The corridors were reverberating in despair at the New Zealand Herald's frightening headline 'Climate change could see pubs run dry'. Streuth!
Pedants among you who have checked the link will have noted that the story appeared in last week's Herald, but what with the time difference with the UK and a weekend spent in the pub, it was a little late in catching our attention. But this makes it all the more worrying. We are one week nearer to running dry!