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By Marlene Cimons
Mark Lilly, 59, grew up and still lives in West Virginia. He spent three decades as an insurance adjuster, often talking to people struggling through the decline of coal. At the end of some very long days, he would escape to his bee hives. "It was therapeutic," he said. Life in coal country may no longer be what it once was, but "the bees haven't changed," he said.
Lilly has since retired from the insurance business, but he still tends to his honeybees. He now is using what he learned from these insects to help out-of-work miners and others hurt by coal's demise. He's turning them into beekeepers.
Lilly sees beekeeping as a way for longtime Appalachians to preserve their connection to the land and to earn extra money during lean times. Some might even be able to support themselves and their families on income from bees.
"Most of the people in these coal towns are very open to anything that involves the outdoors and nature," Lilly said. "Many of those who lost jobs in the mines are now working lower paid jobs because they don't want to leave. They are tied to the land. We have an opportunity to go back to those communities and provide them with a new skill and some additional income, so they can stay where they want."
The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, as it is called, was funded by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership that supports economic opportunities for the people of central Appalachia. The project is part of Appalachian Headwaters, a nonprofit that restores streams and forests harmed by mining and retrains coal workers for new jobs in sustainable industries.
"We want to reforest old mine sites and recreate the native forest ecosystem that would have been there if it had not been strip mined," said Kate Asquith, program director for Appalachian Headwaters. "We started to look at ways we could do economic work out of that reforesting, and beekeeping came naturally. You have to bring in pollinators and honeybee hives are a big part of that."
Joe Lovett, an environmental lawyer and Appalachian Headwaters board member, agreed. "We love it here and wanted to do something to help the region recover and to create jobs that support people for the long term," he said. "Beekeeping is one of those. It's not only a sustainable job, but makes people aware of the natural world."
Lilly believes in approaching people in these communities with an understanding of their culture. "The coal fields [are] an area where environmentalists are seen as bad people, so we don't use that word," he said.
"When we talk to them, we don't tell them that this is about the environment. I ask them, 'what do you eat?' and they will say fruit and nuts, among other things. Then I tell them, 'Look at this insect. This insect is important. Without it, you wouldn't have those fruits and nuts,'" Lilly said. "I tell them that what we do affects the entire chain, and they begin to understand. You then see this person grow into caring about the environment, although they still wouldn't call themselves environmentalists. We are taking the first steps to helping them see that the environment is a really good thing."
Beekeepers inspect the honeycomb. John Farrell
In January, Lilly will teach the 35 people from southern West Virginia how to raise and manage bees and how to produce honey. Appalachian Headwaters plans to expand that number to 85 the following year. The novice beekeepers will learn how bees breed and behave within their own society. They also will learn how to keep their hives healthy. The biggest challenge will be to overcome their fear of getting stung. Lilly has lost count of his stings over the years, but said he's gotten used to it.
"I won't tell anybody you'll never get stung," he said. "That's a fallacy. But as they become comfortable with it, it becomes easier. The swelling and redness and itchiness decreases over time. That was always the worst part. You'd get stung and it would itch for three days. Now I get stung in the morning, and by lunch I can't tell where it was."
The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective plans to process, market and distribute honey. The ultimate goal is to bring millions of dollars into the region and provide income for hundreds of Appalachians. The new beekeepers will receive hives either for free or at a reduced price, depending on their income.
The eventual goal is to have thousands of hives flourishing in the area. Debbie Delaney, associate professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who helped establish the collective's first 500 colonies of bees last summer, predicted that "in that area of West Virginia, if they do things right, they should be able to get close to 200 pounds of honey off of each hive."
Honey sells from $3 to $25 a pound, depending on whether beekeepers use chemicals to raise the insects, Asquith said. "Our beekeepers won't be using chemicals, which adds a lot of value to the honey," she said. The collective will process and store the honey in a large processing facility. The structure is the site of an old camp owned by coal companies that thousands of miners' children attended.
"When I was there over the summer, at least twice a week somebody would drive by and say, 'I went to camp here 50 years ago. This place means so much to me.' So it's really a special spot," Delaney said. "There's so much rich history there."
All of those involved in the beekeeping collective recognize that the region needs time to recover, but this project represents an important step in that direction. "We spent a lot of years scarring the land," Lilly said. "Now we will begin trying to heal some of those scars."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
The climate crisis has become a driving and dividing factor in the political arena in recent years. According to the survey, almost three-quarters of respondents think global warming is happening (though that number varies across party lines) with more than half of registered voters agreeing that it is driven by human activities. As such, six-in-ten voters are worried about the current state of the climate — a marked increase from the last survey conducted in March 2018.
When asked how much they would support different strategies the government could use to reduce air pollution, more than three-quarters agreed that investing in renewable energy research and infrastructure and regulating pollution was a priority, as well as taxing pollution (requiring companies to pay a tax on pollution they emit to encourage a reduction in emissions). A majority of respondents also support more specific policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy, including a revenue-neutral carbon tax and a fee on carbon pollution that distributes money to U.S. citizens through monthly dividend checks. Furthermore, many support a Clean Power Plan that implements strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants. A majority of voters also say they want policies that address the pollution that causes global warming and reduces pollution investments, regulations and taxes.
Climate change ranks as the 17th most important voting issue and is a more polarizing topic than abortion. So much so, that almost half of registered voters say they would support a president who declared global warming a national emergency if Congress does not act.
A handful of 2020 presidential candidates have put climate change at the forefront of their campaign platform as part of ongoing pressure to combat the effects of climate change. The Green New Deal, unveiled in part by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) earlier this year is a decade-long plan that will "mobilize every aspect of American society ... to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all," according to a section of the resolution from her office posted by NPR.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who introduced a plan just a few days ago to combat climate change. In it, Bennet calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank" to use federal spending to incentivize the private sector to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. His opponent, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, similarly announced a clean energy plan earlier this month dubbed the "100 Percent Clean Energy for America Plan" that would aim to phase out coal over the next decade and require all power production to be emissions-free by 2035.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also threw his name into the running hat but didn't mention climate change in his announcement. His overall stand on the Green New Deal and fossil fuel infrastructure is hazy. His campaign website promises environmental action but does not go into further detail. If elected president, Senator Elizabeth Warren has promised an executive order to ban new fossil fuel extraction leases in federal lands and waters.
- Abortion and the 2020 Election – Mother Jones ›
- Here's where the Democratic candidates stand on the biggest 2020 ... ›
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.