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New Report Shows Monsanto A Major Culprit in Record Decline of Monarch Butterflies
By Larissa Walker
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, again, but the 2013-2014 overwintering population numbers for Monarch butterflies in Mexico were just released yesterday, confirming our bleak predictions from a few months ago: the situation is worsening. Last year’s overwintering numbers were an all-time low, with monarchs occupying 1.19 hectares. The area occupied by monarchs this year is a frightening 0.67 hectares—a 44 percent decline in just the past year.
So what does that number actually mean for the population size of monarchs? An average estimate of about 50 million butterflies per hectare would mean there are roughly 33.5 million monarchs—a huge drop from just one year ago. Another way to visualize this downward spiral is to look at the trend of declining overwintering numbers in Mexico throughout the past two decades, as the graph shows above.
These data points and trends, compiled by World Wildlife Fund Mexico, clearly illustrate North American Monarch butterfly populations are in serious trouble, and it’s only going to continue to get worse unless we make some big changes to our agricultural system.
While there are a handful of factors that affect monarch populations from year to year, such as climate extremes and illegal logging in Mexico, the loss of milkweed plants at the expense of recent changes in industrial agriculture now poses the greatest threat to monarchs. The use of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling product, Roundup) on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans has absolutely decimated milkweed plants in North America.
Milkweed used to grow in abundance in Midwestern crop fields of North America, but now that the almost all corn and soybean varieties are engineered to withstand heavy applications of glyphosate, milkweed has little chance of survival in these vital monarch breeding grounds. For example, researchers now estimate that the number of milkweeds in Iowa corn and soybean fields has decreased by 98.7 percent between 1999 and 2012.
So where do we go from here? Omar Vidal, the director general of WWF Mexico, which reports the monarch overwintering numbers, really hit the nail on the head at this morning’s press conference when he said it’s time for the U.S. to do its part to protect this struggling species. In fact, he exclaimed that “Mexico must ‘energetically demand’ that the U.S. reform its agricultural policy with an eye toward preserving milkweed."
Precisely. More milkweed equals more monarch habitat; and gaining more milkweed will require less of Monsanto’s Roundup sprayed on our fields. These critical plants are the sole breeding grounds for Monarch butterflies and the only source of food for their larvae. We enthusiastically agree with Vidal—it is prime time for the U.S. to take action and protect Monarch butterflies. We can’t sit back and watch their population numbers consistently drop to new all-time lows.
Over the coming months, Center for Food Safety will be working with Members of Congress to introduce legislation to preserve and restore milkweed and protect the iconic Monarch butterflies they nurture, and we’ll also be considering legal actions to ensure our government is doing everything it should be to safeguard Monarchs. Additionally, we are putting direct pressure on President Obama and federal agencies to make the changes needed to protect our Monarchs.
We face an historic choice as Americans: Monsanto or Monarchs. If we keep planting their pesticide-promoting crops at the rate we have been, our Monarchs will vanish. We need to make it clear to federal decision-makers that if we want to save Monarch butterflies in North America, we must prevent their critical habitat from being destroyed by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GE crops, and the unsustainable, pesticide-intensive industrial agriculture system promoted by such crops. You can help by signing our petition to the EPA, USDA and President Obama to tell them that it’s time to stop approving pesticide-promoting crops.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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