Year in review....

The past year has been one of environmental highs and lows: the ice caps and glaciers are falling victim to climate change at an alarming rate but with the UN Conference in September, and Pope Francis's recent remarks about it, perhaps the world is finally waking up to the reality of our unstable future.

Blogtography covered a lot of issues in 2014, from railways to rivers, plastic microbeads to honey bees, and there have been some interesting developments since our reports.

Desalination plants

It's possible that desalination plants are a solution to drought in coastal areas, if only the issues with the disposal of the polluting brine by-products can be dealt with. In California, where 2014 saw the worst drought in 40 years, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. In response to the shortage of water, the town of Cambria, down the coast from William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon estate, has built a new desalination plant in record time. It was proposed in May and finished in December, and it is expected to be up and running very soon. Although it will provide the town with a lot of the fresh water it needs, it has been controversial. Some citizens are suing because the plant bypassed the usual environmental studies. For now ,the brine by-product will be put in a pond, and the plant is insured against leaks.

Although there is extensive irrigation, and some areas such as the Napa vineyards benefit from underground aquifers, crops in California are starting to suffer from the drought. This year's wine harvest is likely to be smaller than normal, and the winemakers have been unable to plant the crops they usually grow between the vines to fight erosion of the dry soil. Good news for Ontario wine makers? Sure, but California is the source of much of our fresh fruit and vegetables, so something has to change.

Microfibres

Microscopic plastic pellets from facial scrubs and laundry products have turned up in the guts of fish and other aquatic life, flushed into our lakes and rivers through the disposal of waste water. Many manufacturers of such products have now started using more natural materials, such as ground apricot stones. But there's another substance appearing in the Great Lakes, which could be even more deadly to fish and birds. Microfibres are chains of petroleum by-products which are used in making everyting from fleeces to towels. Those soft, quick drying fabrics that make your camping trips so much more comfortable are actually very dangerous when they end up in the water system because they stay in the bodies of fishes and other animals and cause damage. Researchers are trying to establish just what effect these fibres have and how widespread the problem is.

Bees

In November, we reported on the issue of colony collapse amongst bees all over the world. One possible reason for the high numbers of bee deaths could be neonicotinoid insecticides, which are being incorporated into seeds developed by multinationals like Bayer and Monsanto. On 25 November 2014, the Ontario government announced a "comprehensive" plan to limit damage to bees from neonicotinoid insecticides by eliminating them by 2017. If the measure passes the legislature, the ban will begin on 1 July.

The federal government could ban the substances through Health Canada, but they are still studying the possibility. This is an election year, and it's not an uncontroversial measure. While the provincial beekeepers' association has announced that Ontario bee deaths increased by a record 58% last year--more than three times the average of other provinces--the grain farmers claim that the ban is inspired by populism and not based on science or logic. Federal cuts to scientific research facilities will make questions like these harder to answer.

The Moon

There will be six "super moons" in 2015: three new, including 20 January, and three full moons.

A super moon or "perigee" can be either a full moon or a new moon. The word just means that the moon is at its closest to Earth....

There will also be a particularly high tide with the super moon, so if it is combined with a weather system, coastal areas could be in trouble. This is what happened in New York when Hurricane Sandy hit, flooding the parts of Manhattan built on coastal landfill.

The biggest, brightest super moon will be the full moon of 28 September, and I will be out there with my camera to capture it!

While we wait for the next super moon, scan the skies for the Lovejoy comet, which is moving away from Earth and towards the Sun. It's supposed to be bright enough to see with the naked eye, and it's certainly visible with binoculars or a telescope. In the northern hemisphere, look to the southwest and find Orion's belt--the three bright stars in a row. Then, look a bit west of that and you'll see a reddish star: Aldebaran, the "eye" of the constellation Taurus, the bull. The comet should be visible just a little past Taurus's v-shaped face, as a greenish light. Look up, way up, now because it won't be back near us for 800 years. Here in Ontario, there are four more opportunities to see it: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday look reasonably clear.

The polar vortex....

Last winter's endless freeze was caused by a "polar vortex," a block of cold air and high pressure hovering over the continent and just not moving. Yes, it's winter in North America, and that generally means cold, dry conditions, but this was extraordinary. Temperatures this year are expected to be as low, although they might not last as long. A lot depends on the movement of El Nino (Spanish for the male child, and referring to the Christ Child as the current appears around Christmas time). The last strong El Nino was in 1998, and it brought very hot summer temperatures. We're due for another....

...and finally....

I don't want to leave you with a sour taste in your moth, so I would like to tell you about a fantastic, sweet Canadian product. I'm sitting here drinking a glass of Bloo, 100% blueberry juice from Nova Scotia. It's the most delicious thing ever, and the family firm that produces it uses sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture to grow their crops. Yum!

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