Nel's New Day

August 8, 2019

Plant a Tree, Hug a Bee

Filed under: Climate change,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:03 PM
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The reign of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has badly split Republicans’ belief systems. While much of the media has concentrated on DDT’s enablers, conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has moved to the center since she started her column over 30 years ago in Orlando (FL). This one from late July resonated with me:

Sometimes big problems can be solved simply.

At the moment, our biggest problem — climate change — can be ended by simply planting trees. OK, so a trillion trees, according to a Swiss study published earlier this month in the journal Science. But how hard is that, really?

An equally serious and related problem is disappearing bees. Those cute little black-and-yellow-robed buzzers are essential to our survival, but our pesticides, fertilizers and climate change are killing them along with the insects we hate. Without bees, our ecosystems would collapse, and thus our food supply.

Over the top? Apocalyptic? Let’s just say, no. This is reality, and we have the means to change it: Plant trees, save bees. Since bees also like flowers, let’s go ahead and make America beautiful again. An emerging theory to combat crime in some parts of the country is called “busy streets.” Research has shown how simple cosmetic changes to urban communities — such as planting flowerbeds — can help reduce violence. And improve a city’s aroma to boot.

Saving bees and trees by planting with purpose would kill two birds, so to speak. If this sounds like a modern version of the Emerald City of Oz, I have no problem with that. Bees love poppies, which, though they provide no nectar, are an excellent source of pollen. That’s nothing to sneeze about, by the way.

Most people know that trees are good for them. They absorb CO2 (carbon dioxide), thus purifying the air for our breathing pleasure. Carbon dioxide is also one of the main greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to rising temperatures and climate change.

Estimates are that about 15% of emissions come from deforestation. Trees also curb other harmful gases, such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, again releasing pure oxygen into the air. If the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 150 million hectares of forests were lost, it would generate about three times the world’s total annual emissions in 2012.

But scientists, including Thomas Crowther, a co-author of the trillion-tree study, were quick to point out that planting trees alone wouldn’t work. And how does one go about planting a trillion trees? And where should they be planted?

Although tree-planting is a simple solution — effective and cheaper than any other remedies currently in circulation — it isn’t a simple matter to plant trees helter-skelter. A forest in the wrong place could have detrimental effects by upsetting the ecological balance.

But this seems a relatively easy obstacle to clear.

The countries with the most land available for building forests are Russia, China, Canada, Australia, Brazil — and the United States. The Switzerland-based researchers found that adding 1.2 trillion more trees would reverse 10 years’ worth of harmful emissions. Over the decades, Crowther says those new trees would absorb about 200 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

Several countries have signed up for reforestation, including the United States, which has seen an increase in its forestland, thanks in part to the Forest Service’s tree-planting initiatives. But we have to figure that the wreath of rainforests that fully wrapped around the globe until relatively recently was surely there for good reason. Satellite images show that the Amazon rainforest — the world’s largest — is disappearing at the rate of one and a half soccer-field-sized parcels per minute. What such decimation means to the planet’s future can’t be good — unless ridding the world of humans is Earth’s ultimate survival measure.

No trees, no birds, no bugs, no bees, no food, no humans. That’s pretty simple, too.

This past winter, a record share — 40% — of honey-bee colonies in the United States died, but bees aren’t the only ones disappearing. Forty percent of all the world’s insects are in decline, according to another recent study, leading scientists to declare that Earth is experiencing the Sixth Great Extinction. Nobody likes bugs — until they’re gone and their purposes finally appreciated.

Insects nourish birds and fish, serenade us to sleep. Animals pollinate 87% of flowering plant species. If current trends continue, there may be no insects by 2119, with one likely exception — the indestructible cockroach, whose sole purpose is apparently to recycle our messes, thus guaranteeing its survival after all else is gone.

July 26, 2012

The Case of the Disappearing Bees

Bees are in danger, and Gretchen LeBush, a San Francisco researcher, wants to know how many of the native bee population exists. Three years ago, she started a program that asked volunteers to spend 15 minutes on one specific day to count native bees, like bumblebees. This year it’s August 11. Actually, volunteers can do this a few days before or after the target date because the counting has to be done on a sunny day. With the disappearance of the honey bees, LeBush is hoping that a healthy native bee population could help solve the problem of dying bees.

Bees are vital to pollinate our plants, but many people don’t know how important. Thirty percent of all crops and 90 percent of all wild plants depend on bee pollination to reproduce. Bees are vital to pollinate such crops as apples, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, almonds, and even chocolate.

Researchers know that during the past few years, honey bees have suffered from colony collapse syndrome. Starting in the early 1990s, 17-20 percent of the bee hives were lost every year until 2007 when a massive loss decreased the number of hives in some areas over 50 percent. The number of bee hives went from 4.5 million in 1980 to 2.44 in 2008. In determining the cause, people have guessed at a number of reasons: stress, urbanization, cell and cordless phones, mites, etc. One major reason is genetically engineered plants, new herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides; each new untested generation of chemicals worsens the problem.

Although real scientists have investigated the problem, chemical manufacturers employ their own scientists to refute factual information. These companies also purchase other businesses that could prevent this decline. Monsanto Co. , which develops genetically modified seeds, bought  Beeologics, biological research company that addresses the long-term well being of bees. Bayer CropScience, Sygenta, Dow Chemcial, Dupont, and others also lobby for the use of more chemicals to be used and for more genetically modified plants.

Neonicotinoids appeared at the same time as the honey bee decline. These nicotine-based pesticides, including the common imidachloprid, was supposed to be less toxic, but France and Italy have discovered differently and banned crop spraying with these pesticides. Germany has banned clothianidin because beekeepers found that it killed 50 to 60 percent of their bees. Even Slovenia has banned neonicotinoids. But the United States continues to approve its use.

It’s not as if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not known about the problems with these pesticides. Almost two years ago two EPA scientists, ecologist Joseph DeCant and chemist Michael Barrett, wrote an internal memo to the EPA’s insecticide risk management department expressing strong concerns that the pesticide is “highly toxic” to honeybees and warned their colleagues of “the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.”

Seven years earlier, the EPA gave Bayer only conditional approval of clothianidin for sale in 2003. That continued use started an ecological crisis that threatens the American agricultural system and the country’s food supply. Products that contain imidacloprid include Merit, Admire, Confidor, Connect, Evidence, Leverage, Muralla, Provado, Trimax, Premise and Winne. Imidacloprid was first patented in 1988, but it became much more popular in 2004 after the banning of diazinon, said beekeeper David Hackenberg. Bayer, which manufactures imidacloprid, claims that their product does direct kill the bees. Technically they may be correct, but, according to beekeepers observing the bees, the pesticide disorients the bees and causes them to disband.

Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture, found that imidachloprid causes bees to leave the colony and not return. He said that it “is highly unusual for a social insect to leave a queen and its brood or young behind.” The pesticide is designed to work that way. A method that imidachloprid uses to kill termites is that those feeding on the pesticide leave and can’t remember how to get home. Their immune systems also collapse.

A recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal of Environmental Science and Technology shows a strong link to the relationship between insecticides and mass die offs of honey bees. “Assessment of the Environmental Exposure of Honeybees to Particulate Matter Containing Neonicotinoid Insecticides Coming from Corn Coated Seeds” examined the technology used to plant the seeds and the use of neonicotinoid insecticides coated on corn seeds. Scientists determined the mass die offs may be caused by particles of the insecticide that reach the air when the drilling machines that are used for planting suck the seeds in and expel air, which contains the toxins. Researchers used different seeding methods and insecticide coatings, but all were found to kill bees that flew through the area.

Last March, Science magazine reported two studies about the devastation of bees. One explained that low levels of chemicals fog honeybee brains, making it harder for them to find their way home. Another study in that issue described how pesticides keep bumblebees from supplying their hives with enough food to produce new queens.

This past spring, 25 entomological, environmental and beekeeping groups filed a petition with the EPA contending the pesticide is an “imminent hazard” linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder. Yet, one week ago, with the information from studies showing the danger of the pesticide, the EPA denied this petition requesting emergency suspension of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide.

What happens with a sharp reduction in the number of bees? Reduced crop yields not only brings down the economy but also stops the exporting of food, resulting in famine. Shortage also moves high costs from rare metals to food to keep the precious substance for only the wealthy. A short term solution might be food rationing, but shortage of food causes hoarding and violence to obtain supplies which can result in death from starvation and killings. All this sounds dramatic, but the planet cannot afford to support 7 billion people without planning and care.

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