Bee Week of Action: 27,000+ Demand Stores Stop Selling Harmful Pesticides
This week, more than 27,000 people coast-to-coast are swarming Lowe’s and Home Depot stores to support the bees that pollinate our flowers for Valentine’s Day. In a coalition campaign called the Bee Week of Action, Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth and allies are delivering more than half a million petition signatures and Valentines asking these retailers to show bees some love by taking off their shelves pesticides shown to harm and kill bees and garden plants treated with these pesticides.
This national week of action is a part of a retail campaign that is calling on retailers to stop selling neonicotinoids—the most widely used class of pesticides in the world—due to a growing body of science indicating that the pesticides are a key factor in recent global bee deaths. Bees and other pollinators, essential for the two-thirds of the food crops humans eat everyday, are dwindling worldwide. Last year, U.S. beekeepers reported losing 40-100 percent of their hives, and they are likely facing another winter of historic bee die-offs.
“The science shows that neonicotinoid pesticides play a significant role in the declining health of bees and other beneficial organisms. It is therefore imperative that action be taken to protect these creatures, given the lack of action at the federal regulatory level,” said Nichelle Harriott, staff scientist at Beyond Pesticides.
A groundbreaking pilot study released last summer found that many bee-friendly garden plants sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s contain neonicotinoid pesticides with no warning to consumers. The European Union’s two-year ban on the most widely used neonicotinoids went into effect in December. In January, the European Food Safety Authority cited evidence that two neonicotinoids, acetamiprid and imadacloprid, “may affect the developing human nervous system” of children, and it recommended further restricting their use.
More than half a million Americans have signed petitions demanding that Lowe’s and Home Depot immediately stop selling off-the-shelf neonicotinoid insecticides for home garden use. Home Depot and Lowe’s have been asked to stop selling plants pre-treated with the pesticides, make third-party certified organic starts and plants available, and educate customers on their policies to protect bees and other pollinators. In response to revelations that home garden plants sold in their stores contain neonicotinoids, Home Depot said they would look into the matter and be in touch with environmental groups. They have yet to respond to requests for a meeting. Lowe’s has not made any public statements or responded to meeting requests.
Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that share a common mode of action that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. These systemic pesticides, which move through the plant’s vascular system and express themselves through pollen and nectar, include imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. A growing body of science has implicated neonicotinoids, which are applied to or incorporated into seeds for agricultural, ornamental and garden plants, as a key factor in recent global bee die-offs. Beekeepers across the country reported losses of 40-90 percent of their bees last winter.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed action on neonicotinoid pesticides until 2018, despite growing evidence that they are a key factor in bee decline, and more than a million public comments urging swift protection for bees. The EPA has made recent labeling changes to try to reflect pollinator concerns, but beekeepers widely agree that they do not go far enough in bee protection. Additionally, although beekeepers have voiced their concerns about sublethal exposures, EPA has only taken steps to address acute bee poisonings, which it says are primarily caused by dust plumes from seed coatings dislodged from seed planters. Manufacturers are working to reformulate the seed coating technology to control dust, but EPA has made no move to restrict the use of the chemicals which are conclusively demonstrated to cause bee deaths through sublethal exposure.
Last March, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the EPA for its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. The lawsuit seeks to suspend the registrations of the neonicotinoids clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees. The suit challenges the EPA’s oversight of these bee-killing pesticides, as well as the agency’s practice of “conditional registration,” which leave critical health and environmental questions unanswered, and labeling deficiencies. Despite this suit and other public concerns and efforts regarding pesticides and the health of bees, the EPA recently registered two new active ingredients, sulfoxaflor and cyantraniliprole—both known to be highly toxic to bees.
In 2013, U.S. Rep. Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Save American’s Pollinators Act, which will suspend the use of neonics on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all of the available data, including field studies. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Save American’s Pollinator Act.
Partnering with Beyond Pesticides for the Bee Week of Action is: Friends of the Earth U.S., Beelieve, Beyond Toxics, Center for Food Safety, CREDO Mobilize, Friends of the Earth Canada, Northwest Center for Pesticide Alternatives, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, SumOfUs and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. For a listing of cities participating in action, click here.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
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Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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