Sarah’s (aka the Bee Girl) fascination with bees started at a young age, thanks to a beekeeper keeping hives on her aunt’s small farm; little did she know it would turn into a deep affinity for bees and bee health. Her childhood fascination for bees has turned into a nonprofit organization dedicated to altering our perspective and interactions with bees while addressing big picture issues. Her deep passion for bees grew after starting college at the University of Montana and volunteering with the honey bee program. Two mentors greatly influenced her and showed her that her love for bees could turn into so much more, that there is this deep and fascinating complexity to the life and the relationships that exist within it. But it didn’t stop there. Sarah began to see the complexities and impact on honey bee health caused by outside influences. Then came Bee Girl, a non-profit with a mission dedicated to inspire and empower communities to conserve bees and their habitat.
Over the last five years Sarah has seen a transition in the public perception of bees. When Sarah started the Bee Girl organization, conversations were filled with the threat of bees. People’s perceptions were that bees are nasty little insects solely out to sting them. But this has changed and people and communities are starting to embrace the amazing creatures that they really are. People are starting to open their eyes to the importance of bees for our environment and food system, but also the magic inherit to them. It is so important that the perception around honey bees is changing because it is part of a larger systematic shift that needs to happen. As Sarah put it, “there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way we eat food.”
What most consumers might not know is that there is a great amount of effort that goes into pollinating our food system. Beekeepers truck their bees from crop to crop throughout the country. Sarah describes it as, “this constant migration of nomadic beekeepers, they are providing the pollination service that ultimately ends up being one out of every three bites on our plate.” Often times commercial beekeepers are portrayed as not caring about their bees, as just another part of the flawed industrial system. Sarah rather sees them as the unsung heroes. Just like any other farmer, they care deeply about these little creatures and work extremely hard to make sure that our food is pollinated and their bees are healthy.
But this paradigm shift can’t just stop with the food that we eat but must expand to agricultural practices as a whole. Sarah sees divestment from ethanol as essential to sustaining our pollinators and our food system. Much of our natural prairies have been transitioned to cornfields for the sole purpose of growing corn for ethanol. This represents millions of acres of habitat loss not only for bees and other pollinators but also amphibians, songbirds, and other wildlife. This also has an impact on bee health of which one might not naturally think.
The Midwestern states are home to 5 of the 10 top honey-producing states. Beekeepers bring their bees to this region for a sort of vacation after a long pollinating season, allowing them to refresh in the natural prairies and wild lands filled with wildflowers. The loss of these lands devastatingly impacts honey bees’ ability to remain healthy and to successfully pollinate our food. It is a reminder that bees are not all that different from us, after a season of hard work, they need rest. Protecting pollinator health goes beyond planting flowers and requires that we look at the big picture and systems, and then readdress those systems. It is essential that we protect and conserve the land not just for bees but for so many species. Part of this is putting an end to destructive practices such as clearing land for ethanol, something that is input intensive and takes away resources from food crops. This crop could be replaced with grass-fed beef, oil seed crops, or other high-value commodities that are beneficial to the farmer, bees, human health, and the surrounding eco and economic ecosystems. The more we all learn about the importance of bees and their relationship to our environment, the greater understanding we have of the key ecosystem services that they provide, and the importance of protecting them and their native habitats.
Interested in pollinator health but not ready to start your own hive? In Sarah’s own words, here are three ways to help protect bees:
Beekeeping is not easy; you can’t just throw a hive in your backyard. Beekeeping is hard and really complicated, but also amazing and rewarding. Being a beekeeper means taking care of a whole herd of tiny of animals. You can’t just leave them there to fend for themselves. They need love, water, food, and medicine when they are sick. If you are interested in starting a hive make sure to find a community of beekeepers who can mentor you through the process.
- Plant flowers: That is something that everyone can do and it is fun and positive and a way to feed bees and connect to your front porch, your backyard, or your school or community. You can plant flowers on any scale; it can be a handful of seeds in a pot outside your window or acres upon acres you plant on a golf course or ranch.
- Educate Yourself: I encourage people to think beyond organic. If you see the organic symbol on a package at the store it might be managed in a way that’s good for bees but it might not. There are still pesticides that are used in organic agriculture. Just because it is organic doesn’t mean it is pesticide-free. I think one of the most important things you can do is vote with your fork, but make it an educated vote. Choose your food that has been grown sustainably. Shake the hand that feeds you. Go to the farmers market and ask farmers what they do for bee health. Sometimes just opening that conversation can inspire them to be a little bit more bee-friendly. Also, understanding how to value our food, I don’t know how we got on the track that food needed to be cheap. There is just this weird across-the-board social norm in this country that food has to be cheap. Food shouldn’t be cheap. There are people behind that food, people who are working really hard to make the most delicious and nutritious food possible. There are so many people behind those bites of food that you are eating; expecting to pay 99 cents for a hamburger is ludicrous. We need to start valuing our food better.
- Support pasture-raised anything and everything: The more pasture-raised poultry, pork, and beef that we have out there the less corn feed that is needed leading to divestment from corn and habitat destruction. It also leads to more green space out there. Green space is good because you can usually interplant it with flowers that are great for bees, and nutricous for other livestock, as well. Green space is also good because it sequesters carbon which is important because climate change hurts bees.
By Kegan Gerard
In the few short weeks following the launch of our Amazon: Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, two huge renewable energy investments have been announced from the company.
In June, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it planned to the development of an 80 megawatt (MW) solar facility in Virginia, calling it Amazon Solar Farm US East.
Then in July AWS revealed plans for a 208 MW wind farm in North Carolina, called the Amazon Wind Farm US East. Current roadmaps show that the Amazon Wind Farm US East — the first utility-scale wind installation in NC — aims to be operational by December 2016.
Amazon Web Services’ US East division has historically been one of its most polluting operations, with only 6 percent of its operations being fueled by clean energy according the Clicking Clean report, released by Greenpeace earlier this year.
The flood of support from Green America members has shown Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, that the company must commit to renewable energy and be transparent in its transition to a clean energy future, if it wants to keep the support of their customers — companies like Netflix, Change.org, Tumblr, and hundreds more.
So far, over 26,000 of you have signed on to tell Amazon to take action, and to stop keeping its customers in the dark — but there is still more work to be done.
There is a global spotlight on renewable energy right now as the world ramps up to the December climate talks in Paris. Any success we hope to achieve there must begin at home. We have the power to help shape businesses here at home, and those businesses have the power to shape the future or energy consumption.
Help us make this happen. Sign on to our Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, share it with your friends, and together we’ll see the largest cloud computing provider commit to a healthy, renewable future for all of us.
How Obama’s new plan to cut carbon emissions represents an important step in cutting energy costs and pollution while saving lives
While groups on both sides of the aisle criticize the plan — some saying it does too little and others opposing the principle entirely — it’s going to boost the green economy, save lives, and cut costs. If the plan that President Obama calls the “single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change” sounds almost too good to be true, hear us out. While more is needed to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, the plan represents the first US limits on carbon pollution from power plants — the largest source of climate-changing pollution in the United States.
The main goal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants. According to the EPA, power plants account for nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
As we know by now, this excess carbon dioxide pollution contributes to climate change and a whole host of public health issues, so the CPP set out to tackle emissions at their source.
It accomplishes this by setting goals for CO2 emissions reduction in 47 states, totaling a collective 32 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.
Why only 47 states? Each of the reduction goals is tailored to the unique situation in each individual state.
Two out of the missing three, Alaska and Hawaii, were left out of the plan because the EPA doesn’t yet have enough data to set appropriate goals for them, though this is reportedly being addressed. Vermont (and D.C. for that matter) don’t have significant enough CO2 contributions from power plants and were consequently left out of the ruling.
In structuring it so that each state is responsible for establishing a unique plan, the EPA created a flexible CPP that is responsive to the needs of the state’s businesses and communities. Additionally, states have the option to work with other states, developing multi-state plans to help one another through the transition to a greener economy.
Most of this transition is going to entail a move away from coal, and towards renewables, nuclear, and natural gas. While this means that the CPP won’t lead to the ideal, fossil-free future we need, it is a significant step in the right direction.
This ruling isn’t just significant for its symbolic nature, rather there are very real economic implications.
The EPA estimates that the reductions associated with the Clean Power Plan will lead to $20 billion in climate benefits, $14-$34 billion in health benefits, and $26-$45 in net benefits.
Additionally, nearly 300,000 missed school and work days are expected to be avoided because of the plan. By cutting down on polluting coal plants, you decrease the amount of toxins in the air, while also reducing climate-change related health problems.
The 3,600 premature deaths expected to be saved as a result of the plan should not and can not be put second to politics and short-term economic growth.
Fortunately, decreasing days of productivity isn’t the only long-term economic benefit of a greener energy future. A recent report by energy research firm Synapse energy Economics found that a clean energy future scenario would lead to energy bills $35 lower per month in 2030, compared to a business-as-usual scenario.
Lowering energy bills, reducing healthcare burdens, and boosting productivity. Three things that anyone in their right mind would champion in a heartbeat. Why then do people shudder when this is attached to environmental policy?
Raising controversy over the issue could inevitably come back to bite those opposing the bill. The Clean Power Plan is here, whether they like it or not.
Talking about the plan is only going to ramp up interest in climate talks, and a major development like this is likely to propel greater progress in Paris later this year.
Low-income communities in America are disproportionately affected by climate change, yet seldom have the resources to help finance solutions to beneficial changes.
Cities, home to the urban poor, will face greater temperatures as a result of the heat island effect, a result of human activities and infrastructure. This warming then threatens at-risk elderly and children who lack adequate resources to prepare and adapt to these rapid changes.
Renewable energy sources like solar provide one of the most efficient ways to combat air-quality issues and climate change, but are usually out of reach for those with the most at stake.
Solar energy companies have began to take notice of the opportunity to help improve environmental quality, social equality, while also generating profit. Community solar is one of the tools being leveraged by these companies to make this happen, and the White House has taken notice.
What is community solar? Sometimes called shared renewables, community solar is essentially an arrangement that allows several energy customers to source their energy from a local solar installation.
These installments may be owned by a local utility, nonprofit, or other organization that may provide the community with the opportunity to invest in, or purchase this renewable energy at a fixed rate.
Similar to those who turn to community gardens when individual plots are unavailable, many people live in condos, apartment buildings, or other setups incompatible with installing a solar array on their own roofs. These households have found community solar to be a great way to source reliable, clean energy at affordable rates.
Unfortunately, government regulations and utility companies haven’t kept pace with developments like these, and often get in the way of these investment opportunities. However, the White House recently announced a host of new programs and services to help break down these barriers and provide access to community solar throughout the U.S.
One of the key measures in the plan is the launch of a National Community Solar Partnership, aiming to increase access to solar for the half of businesses with setups incompatible for solar systems.
The administration has also set a goal to install 300 megawatts (MW) of renewables in federally subsidized housing, helping to make direct access to clean energy a reality for nearly 50,000 American households.
Yet, the government isn’t the only one in a position to help make community solar a reality.
As a Green American, there are a few ways that you too can get involved.
Volunteering for an organization like GRID Alternatives is a great way to lend on-the ground support for the movement, as they often require little to no previous knowledge or experience — just a desire and motivation to help others.
Additionally, you can write a letter to your local representative and utility company, encouraging them to support the development of community solar projects in your area.
To find out more about community solar, check out the White House’s fact sheet on their new initiative here.
Campbell’s is one of America’s most iconic brands. The company famous for soups also produces thousands of other food items. Famous brands under the Campbell’s umbrella include Pepperidge Farm, Bolthouse Farms, and Prego.
Like most major food companies, Campbell’s had not kept up with the changing tide of consumer preferences for healthy and sustainable foods. While the company bought farm fresh and organic companies like Plum Organics and Bolthouse Farms, many of their main products are still made with artificial ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, and GMOs.
Over the past year Green America staff has been meeting with Campbell’s about a transition to non-GMO and organics across their main product lines. We highlighted the growing concerns around GMOs and pesticides, and the need to include healthy ingredients in all Campbell’s products. We talked with Campbell’s at a time when they were looking to innovate and the company was very open to hearing from stakeholders.
This week, Campbell’s made several major announcements about improving the sustainability of their foods, including significant steps forward on going non-GMO and organic:
- Campbell’s will be launching several lines of organic kid’s soups, and removing MSG from all their kid’s soups. In August 2015, the company will introduce Campbell’s Organic soup for kids in three chicken noodle varieties. The soups will be non-GMO and certified Organic.
- Pepperidge Farm will be launching several organic wheat versions of their popular Goldfish Crackers. Look for organic wheat versions of regular, cheddar, and parmesan in the coming year. They still need to remove GMOs and go completely organic with the rest of their ingredients.
- Increasing organics across other food lines, and increasing the number of organic products offered by Plum.
Campbell’s announcements on organics were accompanied by statements that the company will be:
- Removing artificial colors and flavors from nearly all of its North American products in the next three years.
- Removing high fructose corn syrup from Pepperidge Farm fresh breads over the next two years.
- Increasing the transparency of its ingredients, including a new website, What’s in My Food (http://www.whatsinmyfood.com) that tells consumers the ingredients in their foods, starting with several major products.
Like all major food companies in the US, Campbell’s has a long way to go to be truly sustainable. This week’s announcements are an important step forward.
Green America will continue to engage with Campbell’s with a goal of more products that are non-GMO and organic in the months to come.
By Kegan Gerard
- Emails: Tiny Climate Bombs
Email may have done a great job improving productivity and reducing the amount of paper we waste, but those little messages can pack a carbon punch. An average email accounts for 4 grams CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)—the result of the many servers, computers, and routers that enable you to hit send. For comparison’s sake, a plastic shopping bag is responsible for about 10 gCO2e. Considering an average worker sends between 121 and 140 emails per day, your daily footprint from these emails can quickly add up to over 484 g CO2e—the equivalent of nearly five and a half hours of TV watching.
Next time you want to send your coworker that “thanks!” email, consider walking there and saying it in person. Unsubscribing from all of those listservs you never read anyway is another great way to declutter your inbox and cut the carbon.
- Netflix Streaming: Equal to Powering Your Fridge
Everyone loves watching movies online. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and you don’t have to put on real clothes to leave the house. Even though you may not put much energy into your movie selections, there’s a great deal of it required to power that 13-hour Orange Is The New Black binge. Streaming just one hour of video per week for a year requires more energy than two new refrigerators, according to a 2013 report by the Digital Power Group. Considering that Netflix at times accounts for nearly half of Internet traffic in North America, all that streaming can equate to the energy usage—and resulting climate emissions—of hundreds of thousands of “extra refrigerators” worldwide. Oddly enough, the 2013 report was funded by members of the coal industry and argued for the need for more dirty coal to power the cloud.
Because Netflix is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), much of the energy used to power the site comes from dirty sources of power like coal. Until AWS starts obtaining more of its energy from renewables, streaming from Netflix has the potential to impact more than just your social life. Even for those who like their movies a tad on the dirty side, the power that goes into streaming those films should come from clean sources. Visit buildacleanercloud.com to find out how to make this happen.
- Turn Off the Lights
While we’re on the topic of Netflix, your viewing habits may lead to other energy usage that you’ve never thought of. Leaving the lights on while you watch movies at night may be leading to higher energy bills for you, and more CO2 for our atmosphere. Nielsen reported that the average American watches television (on a TV) for 34 hours a week. For those who prefer to watch online, Business Wire estimates that the average Netflix user alone spends about 8 hours per week watching that service alone. Either way, that’s a lot of time for the lights to be left on.
Flicking that light switch not only helps you to reduce your energy usage, it’s also a better viewing experience—images appear brighter and sharper when viewed in a darker room. Next time you’re watching House Hunters to see if they go with house number one, two, or three, try turning out the lights in yours.
- Online Shopping: What’s in Your Cart?
Those four hours you spent online shopping at work, while not so great for your productivity, may have been pretty good for the environment. Scientists from MIT looked at a number of shopping scenarios—whether you bought online or in store, how many visits to the store you made, whether or not you returned the product, etc.—and found that online shopping is often a more environmentally friendly way to buy. For those who completed every step of buying an item online, their carbon footprint was almost two times smaller than traditional shoppers, who often make several trips to a store before buying.
Green America has also compiled a list of some environmentally and socially responsible alternatives to purchasing from Internet shopping giants like Amazon, so you can feel even better about that pair of shoes you need to order online.
- Let the Music Play
Just as those Netflix movies have to be streamed from somewhere, so too does your music. Spotify, one of the most widely used streaming services, is hosted by AWS, which uses non-renewable sources like coal to power a majority of its operations.
Streaming the music online does cut down on the physical waste associated with CD production, but it’s often hard to conceptualize the energy mix behind your playlists. Streaming music is also much easier than obtaining physical copies of music, leading to increased consumption levels.
Fortunately for music lovers out there, there are some great services that give you all the freedom of streaming and less of the ecological footprint. Apple’s new streaming service, Apple Music, is run out of the company’s own data centers, which are entirely powered by renewable energy sources. Subscribers to the service have the ability to save songs for offline listening (a function also offered by Spotify), which further reduces the amount of streaming data required.
Bonus: Tweet Flatulation Tweetfarts.com claims that each tweet produces the same amount of CO2 as a human wind. Click through to their website to have them explain that one…
When it comes to clean, renewable energy, the language can get confusing. In the tradition of Salt-N-Pepa, here I will attempt to break things down. Without further ado, let’s talk about RECs, baby!
By Kegan Gerard
Investing in renewables makes sense. From an economic standpoint, Bloomberg is now forecasting that wind energy will become the cheapest new energy globally by 2026, before passing that title to solar production in 2030. This is great news, considering that poor air quality associated with traditional energy sources like coal will lead to an estimated increase of 57,000 premature deaths annually by 2100, according to a new report from the Obama administration. Not to mention all the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels.
Businesses, then, have any number of incentives to fuel their operations with renewable energy, with companies like Tesla leading the way to net-zero energy consumption.
Not everyone, however, has the resources to complete a solar installation comparable to Tesla’s “Gigafactory.” Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) can offer these organizations a way to commit to a renewable energy future.
What’s a REC and what can it do?
A Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) is a tradable tool used by organizations to represent the environmental, non-power qualities of a unit of energy. Think of it as a permit to claim the “green-ness” of a given energy source, with each REC certifying the generation of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable energy.
This “greenness” claim can then be useful for a company, either to meet its own sustainability goals, or to meet the terms of federal Renewable Electricity Standards (RES).
Not All RECs are Created Equal
With a REC essentially representing the green aspect of renewable power, it can either be sold in a “bundle” with the power itself, or “unbundled” and sold independently. This, for many, is a hard distinction to understand, so I’ll break it down.
When 1 MWh of energy is created from a renewable source, like a solar array or wind turbine, there are two components to this: the actual electricity itself, and the claim of being produced in a “green” way. As the electricity generated from renewable sources is physically indistinguishable to electricity generated from dirtier coal and natural gas, the electrons themselves aren’t inherently green.
With “bundled” electricity, energy is sold to the customer along with the claim, the REC, that the energy was produced in a renewable fashion. In this setup, the power provider and buyer are located in the same power grid, so that produced green electricity can be delivered to the REC buyer.
Conversely, the REC and electricity generated can be sold separate from one another, with one business buying the use of that electricity and another buying the REC. To avoid “double-counting,” only the owner of the REC can claim the greenness of their energy.
Why does this matter?
Outside of reducing carbon emissions to curb climate change, one of the biggest advantages of renewable energy is its potential to grow local industries and improve regional air quality. This is key, because new investment in solar, wind, and other clean-energy technologies can both stimulate new jobs as well as decrease a region’s healthcare costs. Unbundled RECs, however, take away much of this opportunity. Here’s how:
As bundled green energy requires the power to be sourced within the same power grid, demand for the green alternatives increases. More businesses buying bundled green energy sends a message to local power providers that the community is invested in renewable energy. To meet this demand, local utilities increase the share of their energy sourced from renewables in order to supply more bundled RECs.
Conversely, unbundled RECs can often be purchased from states on the other side of the country. While this may still sound okay—”A REC is better than no REC, right?”—it fails to incentivize local power providers to provide green energy at a level comparable to bundled RECs. Think of it this way: if power providers can continue to generate high profits from coal or natural-gas sources, they may believe they have little economic incentive to spend additional funds to incorporate renewable technologies in their regions. High local demand for green, bundled RECs shifts this slope in favor of renewables.
Understanding Renewable Energy Claims
Many companies may claim to be “carbon-neutral,” or committed to investing in renewables. However, this may mean that they are simply buying unbundled RECs to meet arbitrary standards.
As consumers, it’s important that we stay informed and know how to read a company’s marketing claims about its renewable-energy commitments. Take Amazon for instance. It claims that its GovCloud web hosting service is carbon neutral, all the while sourcing much of the power for its data centers from dirtier coal-based utilities and buying unbundled RECs to make up its green “cred.” In doing so, it deprives the region’s communities many of the jobs and environmental benefits that new renewable investments have the potential to bring.
It’s important for consumers to continue to call for renewable-energy creation to replace dirty energies like coal, natural gas, and nuclear. At the same time, we need companies to demand renewable energy as well so that utilities will transition to cleaner sources of power like wind and solar. Bundled RECs, in the short term, can help quantify demand for renewable energy. In the long term, as more and more companies shift to sourcing 100% renewable energy directly, the RECs will no longer be needed.
By Kegan Gerard
Since we launched our Amazon: Build A Cleaner Cloud campaign on June 9th, the company has made some progress on the renewable energy front—announcing plans for an 80 MW solar farm in Virginia. This development proves that consumer pressure on Amazon works! And while Amazon’s cloud-computing arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), still has a long way to go to become a truly green hosting option, Green America welcomes this step in the right direction.
Over 23,000 Green Americans have joined us in calling on AWS to keep pace with other industry leaders and power its operations with the renewable energy sources of the future, but, together, we still have a ways to go.
As it stands, AWS is one of the few Fortune 500 companies that has failed to publish a sustainability report, which would allow customers to track the company’s progress on climate change and other key metrics, as well as hold the company accountable to meeting its announced goal of using 100% renewable power. (The company has not yet set a date by which it intends to reach that goal.)
With clients ranging from Netflix to the CIA hosting their information on its servers, AWS’s reach extends deep into each of our lives. As the single largest provider of cloud-computing services, AWS is in a position to drive renewable development forward and reduce many of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with data center operation.
AWS’ east coast operation, US East, only acquires six percent of its energy from renewable sources—even accounting for its new Virginia solar plant—according to recent Greenpeace estimates. The rapid growth of cloud computing is only expected to continue, and companies like Amazon must switch to renewable energy sources to curb rising temperatures that threaten communities and ecosystems worldwide.
On June 25th, Green America teamed up with representatives from Greenpeace to speak directly with AWS customers at the company’s GovCloud conference in Washington, DC. GovCloud customers, including government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits, are in a perfect position to use their buying power to pressure on Amazon to make changes that influence us all. Green America will continue our work to educate and mobilize communities about AWS until it accomplishes these three, crucial steps:
- Commit to increasing the share of renewable energy powering data centers to 100% by 2020, and cease the construction of new data centers that rely on coal-fired power.
- Submit complete and accurate data to the Carbon Disclosure Project.
- Issue an annual sustainability report following Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines.
Consumer pressure on Amazon works. In the last year, the company has committed to clean energy sources, including wind and now solar. To continue pushing Amazon to achieve the three recommended steps, Green America needs your support. If you haven’t yet, join us in calling on Amazon to build a cleaner cloud—one that is powered by renewable energy. We’ll keep you updated on our progress, so stay tuned for any new developments!
By Anna Meyer
Yesterday Center for Food Safety hosted a congressional briefing on the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinators. Neonicotinoids (neonics for short) are a class of pesticide developed from nicotine that pose numerous risks to pollinators and our environment. It is pretty likely that you have heard of this pesticide before. In recent years this class of pesticides was linked to major declines in both bee and monarch populations.
Why does this matter? Bees alone are responsible for pollinating one in three bites of our food and well biodiversity is important and keeping species alive is a key part to keeping our environment functioning. But it turns out that neonics have a much greater impact than just to the pollinator populations; in fact, they impact soil health, insect species, bird populations, and bodies of water. Neonics are unique in the sense that they are most used not as an aerial spray but rather as a pretreatment to seeds. Companies coat seeds in the pesticides so it can ultimately be taken up through the plant.
Just how pervasive are neonics in our agricultural system? Disappointingly, that is actually quite a bit challenging to answer because the government does not have any central information that tracks the use of neonics. Researchers out of Pennsylvania State University have delved into this issue and found that despite the fact that these pesticides were
introduced in 2004, recent data shows that between 79 and 100% of corn and 34-44% of soybeans are pre-treated with neonics. These two crops along with cotton and wheat make up cropland with pre-treated seeds the size of California.
What makes them so harmful? Neonics present a triple threat with characteristics as neurotoxic, systemic, and long-lasting chemicals. What this means is that neonics move through the plant system, while they are only applied to the seed the
pesticide is taken up through the roots into the entire plant. Due to the quality of being long-lasting they have the ability to accumulate in our soils and waters. Particularly at risk are habitats surrounding fields planted with neonic coated seeds multiple seasons in a row. Most disturbingly, neonics are a neurotoxin that can move up the food chain through bio-accumulation (sort of like mercury in fish). Smaller creatures such as slugs snack on the toxin coated seeds; and while they fair okay, their natural predators beetles suffer the effects. Doesn’t sound to good now does it? To make things even worse 94% of neonics applied to seeds seep into the environment.
So why use them? A very legitimate question and there really isn’t a logical answer. It turns out that prior to the introduction of neonics there was very little use of insecticides in corn and soy. In 1996, biotech companies introduced Bt varieties.to self-produce an insecticide protein within the plant, theoretically removing the need for insecticides; but the use of neonics continues to rise. Yet, there is very little evidence that the neonic seed coatings provide any benefits to farmers. The problem is that farmers don’t have much choice in the matter as seed companies control the use of this pesticide as a seed treatment and offer farmers little in the way of neonic-free alternatives. More often than not neonics serve as a sort of insurance policy for farmers, a backup plan if you will, in case of the failure of Bt and other insecticides.
Well then how do we make it all better? Interestingly enough, pollinator health tends to be a subject matter that crosses party lines and one on which both sides can find common ground. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced a bill to address pollinator health, H.R. 1284 Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2015, calling on the EPA to take direct action to address the impact of pesticides on pollinator health. Other policy solutions involve greater support for integrated pest management (IPM), which encourages farmers to use a variety of methods to control pests better protecting human and environmental health. IPM can be promoted through government incentives and regulatory procedures through existing programs. It is key that the proper education and research is provided in order to encourage best practices and put an end to existing inefficient and destructive pesticide practices. As Rep. Coyners put it, we must act now to protect our flying friends who play an enormous role in our global food system, bees cannot wait.
Chocolate Too Cheap to Be Sustainable. Farmers Making as Little as 50 Cents Per Day. Inadequate Responses Mounted So Far to Address Very Serious Problems.These are the findings of our new report: The Cocoa Barometer
Our new report, available online at www.cocoabarometer.org, is being released as cocoa industry representatives gather in Washington at the World Cocoa Foundation conference to discuss ongoing sustainability projects. I will be in attendance as well, calling on companies to do more.
The Cocoa Barometer found that unsustainably low cocoa prices – made possible by extreme poverty among West African cocoa producers, with farmers in Ghana earning as little as 84 cents per day, and Ivorian farmers earning only 50 cents per day – could jeopardize the future of chocolate, since young farmers are not replacing the current aging generation. Together, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire produce more than 50% of the world’s cocoa supply.
Additional key findings in the 2015 U.S. edition of the report include:
- Low incomes. West African cocoa farmers live well below globally defined poverty level of $2 per day. The lack of a decent livelihood for cocoa farmers leads to bad labor circumstances, human rights violations, and many other problems in the cocoa supply chain, including child labor.
- Cocoa no longer offers an attractive future. Increasingly, younger generations of cocoa farmers are leaving cocoa, and older farmers are nearing the age of life expectancy.
- High market concentration leads to greater farmer exploitation. Mergers and takeovers have resulted in just a few companies dominating up to 80 percent of the whole value chain, while farmers lack a sufficiently organized voice to be strong actors.
- Certified chocolate production continues to increase globally, from just 2 percent reported in the first Barometer in 2009, to almost 16 percent of global chocolate sales in the 2015 “Cocoa Barometer.” The Barometer also indicates that there is far more certified cocoa available at the moment, than is being purchased on certified term. However, with the mainstreaming of certification, the challenges of certification are also increasing. Improvements in certification are needed, especially concerning impact on the ground, the quality of auditing, and unrest among farmers about low payments of premiums.
- Current approaches won’t solve the problem. Most corporate sustainability efforts focus on increasing a farmer’s productivity. However, increasing yields must be coupled with an increased cocoa price for farmers. This means that chocolate needs to become more expensive. Crop diversification, tenure security, better infrastructure and access to information for farmers are also needed.
The report contains the following recommendations for action:
- Develop a living income model for smallholder cocoa farming.
- Address the price-setting mechanisms in order to increase prices at farm-gate level.
- Move from voluntary to mandatory sector-wide solutions.
Around the world, child labor is a symptom of extreme poverty and limited opportunity. In order to prevent children from working in dangerous settings, we must ensure that farmers, including women, sharecroppers and tenant farmers, are earning enough to harvest cocoa sustainably. All players in the cocoa value chain need to step up to the plate. Companies, governments, retailers, as well as consumers should take their shared responsibility, and truly start looking for new approaches to some of these longstanding problems.
Read the full report at www.cocoabarometer.org.
The Cocoa Barometer, produced by a network of European nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is a semi-annual report that reviews the state of sustainability in the cocoa sector. This latest edition was written in partnership with Green America, International Labor Rights Forum, and Oxfam America.