Bolsonaro Greenlights New Pesticides While Environmentalists Mourn 500 Million Dead Bees in Brazil
By Jessica Corbett
Pointing to the deaths of more than half a billion bees in Brazil over a period of just four months, beekeepers, experts and activists are raising concerns about the soaring number of new pesticides greenlighted for use by the Brazilian government since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January — and the threat that it poses to pollinators, people and the planet.
Indigenous and green groups have expressed alarm about the dangers of Bolsonaro's anti-environment policies — especially for the Amazon rainforest — since even before Bolsonaro's inauguration. Recent reports highlighting that the Bolsonaro government has approved a record 290 pesticides so far this year have further heightened worries about his environmental agenda and its consequences.
"Between December 2018 and March 2019, more than 500 million bees were found dead by beekeepers in four Brazilian states," SciDev.net reported Friday, citing figures revealed earlier this year. "Beekeepers' associations and agriculture authorities suspect this was caused by the widespread use of two classes of pesticides — fipronil and neonicotinoids — on flowering crops."
500,000,000 bees died in Brazil this year, with most showing traces of Fipronil, an insecticide banned in the EU and a possible human carcinogen according to US EPA— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) August 20, 2019
That’s after President Bolsonaro allowed a record 290 pesticides, up 27% over last yearhttps://t.co/u3I6IxJf5q pic.twitter.com/E7pgvn6hjZ
Fipronil is banned by the European Union and classified as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As studies have shown that neonics are harmful to bees, the E.U. and countries such as Canada have moved to outlaw them — while other nations, like the U.S. under the Trump administration, have defied scientists' warnings and rolled back rules.
In Brazil, Bloomberg noted Monday, "the die-off highlighted questions about the ocean of pesticides used in the country's agriculture and whether chemicals are washing through the human food supply — even as the government considers permitting more."
"The death of all these bees is a sign that we're being poisoned," Carlos Alberto Bastos, president of the Apiculturist Association of Brazil's Federal District, told Bloomberg.
Why have more than 500,000,000 bees dropped dead in Brazil so far this year? pic.twitter.com/CKWMt4JABI— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) August 19, 2019
Brazil now has 2,300 pesticides registered for use — and the rate of new pesticide authorizations under the Bolsonaro government is unprecedented, according to Mongabay.
The current authorization rate is the highest ever recorded by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAPA) since the agency began releasing data in 2005. In comparison to the 290 pesticides approved in the first seven months of 2019, just 45 were approved over the same period during 2010. This June and July alone, MAPA published registrations for 93 new pesticides in the Official Gazette.
"In addition to the new products, a new regulatory framework to assess pesticide health risks was established in July that will reduce restrictiveness of toxicological classifications," explained Mongabay. "Under Bolsonaro, 1,942 registered pesticides were quickly reevaluated, with the number considered extremely toxic dropped from 702 to just 43."
Despite recent reevaluations, Bloomberg reported, "about 40 percent of Brazil's pesticides are 'highly or extremely toxic,' according to Greenpeace, and 32 percent aren't allowed in the European Union. Meanwhile, approvals are being expedited without the government hiring enough people to evaluate them, said Marina Lacorte, a coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil."
Given those figures, Victor Pelaez — coordinator for the Observatory of the Pesticide Industry at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) in Brazil — said in an interview with Mongabay, "How do these authorizations address a concern for the health of the population and the environment?"
Pelaez also blasted the Brazilian agribusiness industry for its practice of abundantly applying pesticides.
"Instead of assessing the level of insect infestation in a crop and then doing corrective work, they act preventively and apply pesticides in an indiscriminate way. It is like trying to prevent a cancer that you don't have," he said. "They don't need to keep monitoring the crop, which is much cheaper. It's an agriculture characterized by saturation, not precision."
"We can draw a clear lesson from the looming insect apocalypse — if the tiny creatures that sustain life on Earth are disappearing, there is something alarmingly wrong with the way we are growing food."#SaveTheBeeshttps://t.co/YBF0Glg8Ee— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 18, 2019
This approach to agriculture — which makes up about 18 percent of Brazil's economy — has experts and activists worried about the long-term consequences, in Brazil and beyond, especially considering that an estimated three-quarters of human food relies in part on pollinating insects like bees.
"There are around 20,000 species of bees worldwide that pollinate more than 90 percent of the world's top 107 crops," according to SciDev.net. "Brazil is home to up to 5,000 of these species and 85 out of the country's 141 crops depend on bees as pollinators."
Breno Freitas, an agricultural engineer at Brazil's Ceará Federal University, emphasized to the outlet that pesticide use is only one of the looming threats to bees both in Brazil and around the world, also pointing to deforestation, urbanization, the climate crisis, land-use change, habitat loss, disease and invasive species.
"All these threaten many bee species at the same time, but we still do not know the extent of these problems on bee population worldwide," Roberta Nocelli, a biologist at the Federal University of São Carlos's Center for Agricultural Sciences told SciDev.net.
"Just as important as knowing which is the most toxic insecticide for bees is discussing how these products are being used," added Nocelli, who said that most bee deaths are tied to misusing pesticides.
Freitas noted that most documented bee deaths are for species kept by beekeepers for honey, so "although for the beekeeper these losses are disastrous, little is known about the impact of pesticides on wild bee populations outside apiaries."
"It could be that the situation of some wild species is stable, because they are in the woods, where pesticides are not able to reach," he said. "Or it could be worse than we think, given that many of them have a short flight radius and tend to build their nest within agricultural areas."
Pesticides are killing biodiversity 🐝⚰️🦋— Extinction Rebellion ⌛️ (@ExtinctionR) May 5, 2019
Tomorrow's @IPBES #IPBES7 #GlobalAssessment should make this even more crystal clear than it already is#RebelForLife: https://t.co/ss02kRsOos
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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By Melissa Hawkins
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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By Emma Charlton
Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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