By Adoma Addo and Kelley Dennings
In the 50 years since the modern environmental movement was born, human population has more than doubled and our demands on the planet have skyrocketed. The pressure of our growing population, along with the consumption driven by the destructive industries that monopolize food and energy production, are widely recognized as key drivers of the climate and extinction crises. Yet, according to recent research, most conservation and environmental organizations don't address population growth head-on.
The Center for Biological Diversity, where we work, conducted an online analysis of 228 organizations' websites — from climate change groups to health institutions — to study how different groups discuss population and their specific areas of focus when talking about population. The goal was to identify areas of overlap for collaboration and the common vocabulary used between these oftentimes siloed fields.
The scan revealed some interesting takeaways useful to all organizations working in the environmental, climate change and conservation fields. Chief among them: We found that incorporating the rights and justice goals of health organizations can help environmental organizations speak directly about how population dynamics affect the environment, which will improve ecological resilience and support the rights and health of people.
We also found that while many climate change organizations' websites discuss the population pressure solutions noted in Project Drawdown (namely, advancement in agricultural, carbon capture and transportation technologies), they often leave out the health and education solutions that affect population growth rates.
Conservation organizations similarly give a nod to population growth as a driver in the extinction crisis but do not discuss solutions-oriented, people-centered approaches to reducing the impacts of human-caused environmental pressure. Many of these groups seem to see population growth as inevitable, offering adaptation-focused solutions aimed at increasing sustainable use of natural resources.
Health organization websites adopt human-centric approaches to reproductive health, highlighting the social, economic and health benefits of improved access to voluntary family planning services. But they do not talk about population pressure.
Population-focused organizations do address the issue head-on because it's core to their mission, but their efforts to educate the public about the effects of population growth often fail to mention the importance of consumption behaviors and systemic inequalities.
When rapid population growth was represented on websites, the most commonly proposed solutions were advocating for voluntary family planning, gender equity and empowerment (usually explicitly for women), youth empowerment, and advocating for and improving access to comprehensive sex education.
Although the topic is often perceived as being controversial, the impacts of population growth are widely recognized across different sectors. Population pressure is not excluded from the present discourse about environmental changes and human/nature interactions, but it also is rarely addressed in a direct or comprehensive way.
While many organizations may support adaptation policies and technologies and/or recognize population growth as an inevitable burden, they fail to acknowledge the structural barriers and inequalities that create unmet needs for family planning and suppress women's voices and autonomy.
Environmental groups that ignore population pressure miss an opportunity to discuss upstream climate mitigation and adaptation solutions — like universal access to family planning — that highlight the intersections of health, justice, equity and choice.
Simply mentioning population growth as a threat to the environment can be reductionist — focusing on numbers alone without considering the oppression of people and the responsibility of wealthy polluters can open the door to eco-fascism. But rather than ignore this important issue, organizations can appropriately campaign around population growth in ways that align with their values:
- Conservation organizations should incorporate solutions-oriented, people-centered approaches to reducing the impacts of human-caused environmental pressure to their work. Such approaches focus on reproductive health, rights and justice and women's empowerment.
- Building cross-sectoral collaborations would support the work of all groups involved and could enhance environmental, social, economic and health benefits.
- All organizations should acknowledge how both patriarchy and capitalism affect people and the planet. These larger systems are impacting the work of all organizations reviewed.
- Given the appeal of technological adaptation to many organizations, environmental groups could extend the use of the term "technology" to contraception (i.e., modern contraception is a climate change mitigation technology) ensuring that the most vulnerable populations are included and empowered in climate action.
- Recognizing how universal access to family planning and comprehensive sex education relate to climate change resiliency may resonate well with other groups across different disciplines.
Because population pressure is a potentially polarizing topic that many groups are averse to discussing, focusing on these rights-based solutions can be helpful when connecting with these different fields.
Reproductive rights and the full ability to decide if and when to start a family vary greatly across the United States. There are differing levels of access to quality health and family planning services, as well as different sexual education standards across states. With the unmet need for family planning ranging from 9% to 13% across various demographic groups and intensifying restrictions on abortion and healthcare coverage, there is a wealth of opportunity for environmental groups to support reproductive justice and human wellbeing while advancing environmental resiliency.
For example, the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, which cuts off funding to health care providers that perform, counsel or refer patients on abortion care, interfering in client/health care provider relationships. Or the Health Equity and Access Under the Law (HEAL) Act, which will help immigrants get the health care they need by removing the restrictions that prevent them from being insured; these restrictions disproportionately harm Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and other immigrants of color.
By advocating for reproductive freedom through universal family planning access through the support of the aforementioned acts and increasing comprehensive sex education while supporting gender equity within the United States, we can work for a future in which people and the planet can not only survive but thrive.
Adoma Addo is an intern with the Center for Biological Diversity. She is a senior at Yale College majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration in human health and a Global Health scholar.
Kelley Dennings is a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. She holds a bachelor's degree in natural resources and a master's degree in public health. She is also a family planning counselor.
- For Many Reporters Covering Climate, Population Remains the ... ›
- David Attenborough: 'Population Growth Must Come to an End ... ›
By Kelley Dennings
It's time to talk about something that most of us have been reluctant to face: what to do about the intensifying connection between population gain and environmental loss. A growing body of research shows continued human population growth equates to accelerating species extinction.
A new study finds increasing encroachment of humans into tropical forests and other pristine habitats threatens to destroy about a quarter of the planet's remaining wildlife habitat in this century, pushing many more species to the brink. Losing these irreplaceable ecosystems would be devastating. And as our numbers continue to soar, humans are rapidly losing the biodiversity we need for everything from regulating pests to carbon sequestration.
Fifty years ago, most agricultural development was in Europe and North America. Since then, large areas of the tropics have been cleared for agriculture, and human population doubled while wildlife populations plummeted 68%. Last year, the United Nations reported that a million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades due to human activity.
Population growth and consumption are two of the major drivers of species extinction, and they are intertwined. Humans put enormous pressure on the environment through mining, grazing, deforestation and other destructive activities, stoked by the global North's outsized consumption habits. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet and ever-increasing demand from industrialized countries and emerging economies, we're creating and accelerating twin crises of species extinction and climate change.
It's a hard issue to talk about. Despite scientific research recognizing humans' role in driving environmental harms, the need to slow population growth to address environmental damage has rarely been acknowledged and is sometimes deliberately soft-pedaled, even by environmentalists.
But there are signs that this resistance may be changing, at least in the public's view. In November a national survey by the Center for Biological Diversity found that three out of four Americans think the world's population is growing too fast. The same number agree that human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction. One in three agree that stabilizing population growth will help protect the environment. These numbers have all grown significantly since 2013.
A vast majority of respondents believe society has a moral responsibility to prevent wildlife extinctions. Sixty-five percent said population growth and consumption are responsible for the rapid loss of species biodiversity. That's a significant shift, too. It means that a majority of Americans now understand that biodiversity loss cannot be oversimplified as either a population growth or a consumption problem — it's both.
Although there is growing agreement about the problem, there's less understanding of solutions. That's why we need the environmental community to provide some leadership and broach the difficult discussion of how to equitably reduce humans' footprint and leave room for wildlife.
No one is suggesting we should institute human population "control" to conserve biodiversity. That would be a violation of human rights, as unethical as it would be unnecessary. But we should be able to talk about ways to advance human rights that align with slower population growth and a healthier biosphere.
For example, when people can choose freely whether and when to have children, they tend to have smaller families. That aligns with pursuing gender equity, because when girls stay in school longer and enjoy equal opportunities, they tend to delay starting a family and increase the time between births. Ultimately they choose to have fewer children during their lifetime as a matter of exercising their rights, which benefits people and the planet.
Pursuing gender equity and reproductive health and rights also lead to better conservation policy. Women are traditionally on the frontlines of environmental issues because nearly 50% work in agriculture, giving them valuable insight into how to protect the land and create more resilient communities. Countries with women in leadership positions are more likely to ratify environmental treaties. But communities can only benefit from women's experience and leadership when they have equal opportunity to apply it.
The key is to align our thinking about population and conservation with human rights. The reason the subject has been taboo is that historically, slowing population growth has been connected to human rights violations. Asserting and defending false claims to land and resources has led to atrocities we're still reluctant to face, from Native American genocide to ICE detainees being given hysterectomies without consent.
It's high time to face them. We can and must talk about how to slow population growth in ways that advance human rights, empower people and improve resilience and health outcomes, while reducing pressure on wildlife and the environment.
Admittedly, it won't be an easy conversation. But the environmental movement has a responsibility to conduct it. Not only is it mission-critical for fighting biodiversity loss and climate change, it's an opportunity to change systems of oppression that threaten human rights and create a more resilient, equitable world. The public increasingly understands this part of the puzzle. Now it's time for the environmental movement to put the pieces together.
Kelley Dennings is a population and sustainability campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Basak Gurbuz Derman / Moment / Getty Images
Your body's immune system is the natural, front line defense to protect you against harmful pathogens and infections. You can boost the effectiveness of your immune system through diet and exercise, but did you know that certain multivitamins can aid your immune system and promote general wellness? Here are our recommendations of the top supplements to help boost your immune system.
What is the Immune System?
There are two main aspects to the immune system: the innate and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is one you are born with, and it is the body's rapid response system. It works to attack antigens or invaders in the body. The adaptive or acquired immune system builds antibodies to protect your body from certain microbes, or germs, it encounters in the environment.
Did you know that your immune system keeps track of each germ it has ever defeated? This way, if your body encounters a germ it has fought in its immune system before, it can recognize and protect your body from it more effectively.
Your immune system's memory of the germs it encounters is stored in white blood cells. The white blood cells move through the blood and tissue in your body and attack harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Fortunately, you can support and improve the effectiveness of your immune system by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting a proper amount of sleep. Taking melatonin can help you get better sleep, which will in turn support immune health.
A daily vitamin subscription is a great way to promote overall wellness, which includes your immune system. Your skin also plays a role in your immune system, and you can take certain vitamins and supplements for dry skin to help it stay hydrated and healthy. Additionally, the microbiome found in your digestive system is important to proper immune function. Probiotics and digestive enzymes can both help improve your digestion and boost your immune system.
Our Top 5 Supplements to Boost Immune Health
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
- Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health - GEM Immunity Support
- Best Probiotic for Immune Health - Care/of Pocket Protector
- Best Gummies for Immune Health - Bulletproof Immune Gummies
- Best Immune Spray - Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
- Best for Vitamin C - NutraOne Immune One
- Best Zinc Supplement - Global Healing Liquid Zinc
- Best Herbal Option- Vital Plan Daily Herbal Supplement
Vitamins and Minerals that Support the Immune System
It's no secret that certain vitamins and supplements can aid your immune system to fight off potentially harmful infections. Here are some that stand out.
- Elderberry: There are around 30 different types of elder plants and trees globally. Sambucus nigra is the type that helps with healing and immune health. Elderberry consists of many vitamins and antioxidants.
- Vitamin C: Your body doesn't naturally produce Vitamin C. However, it has proven to have immense health benefits. Vitamin C helps the immune system's white blood cell production.
- Zinc: This supplement helps produce new immune system cells in your body.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps to regulate the body's immune system.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant is fat-soluble and helps protect cells from harmful 'free radicals' which are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells; this response can lead to illness.
- Reishi mushrooms: There are three molecules in reishi mushrooms that are responsible for their health effects: triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans. Studies have found that reishi mushrooms may be able to change the inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
Best Overall: Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
These Nested Naturals Elderberry gummies include a vegan blend of vitamin C and Zinc to ensure thriving immune health. The blend of elderberry extract, vitamin C, and zinc can also provide wellness during travel and during the change of seasons.Why buy: We like these Elderberry gummies because they contain around 100 mg of elderberry extract per gummy, and are vegan, gluten-free, and go through a four-part lab testing process. They also taste great and contain less than a gram of sugar each.
Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health: GEM Immunity Support
GEM Immunity Essentials daily vitamin bites are an easy and delicious way to help boost your immune system. Each vitamin bite is made with real food ingredients including turmeric, pumpkin seeds, black pepper, chicory root, ginger root, stone fruit, oranges, and lemons.
Why buy: We love that these GEM vitamin chews provide a complete immune-boosting vitamin profile from natural, plant-based ingredients. GEM also offers a sustainable subscription model that sends you a reusable tin with your first order and refills in compostable pouches.
Best Probiotic for Immune Health: Care/of Pocket Protector
Care/of Pocket Protector is a travel-ready probiotic powder that allows you to boost your immune system anywhere, anytime. It contains 3 billion CFUs of good bacteria strains for your gut to help support proper immune system functioning.
Why buy: We like that this probiotic powder is designed for on-the-go immune support, and that it comes in a red berry flavor. This immune-boosting probiotic powder is also non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegetarian.
Best Gummies for Immune Health: Bulletproof Immune Gummies
If you don't like swallowing pills or powders, try these Bulletproof Immune Gummies instead. They contain key nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, elderberry extract, and echinacea extract to support your immune system in a sugar-free Raspberry and Elderberry flavor.
Why buy: We like that these vitamin gummies for immune support contain high concentrations of vitamin C and zinc. They are also vegan and sugar-free, with only 5 calories per gummy, but taste great from natural flavors and stevia-leaf extract.
Best Immune Spray: Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
A unique way to boost your immune system, Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray harnesses the power of bee propolis extract. This is a substance bees make out of tree and plant resins to help protect their hive from germs and infections, and it contains over 300 different nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals.
Why buy: We like that this spray offers a fast and natural way to help enhance your immune system. You can also use it to soothe a sore throat. It's made from all-natural ingredients and is certified keto and paleo-friendly.
Best for Vitamin C: NutraOne ImmuneOne
5 Star Nutrition has an array of quality vitamins, minerals, and supplements. For immune health, we recommend the ImmuneOne supplement. It's formulated with vitamin C, elderberry, and echinacea to help improve overall wellness, with the added benefit of supporting lung health.Why buy: ImmuneOne includes 1000 mg of vitamin C, as well as elderberry, Zinc, and vitamin A. We like that this supplement is made with natural ingredients like cinnamon, echinacea, and ginseng, without any artificial additives.
Best Zinc Supplement: Global Healing Liquid Zinc
Every cell in your body uses Zinc, and it's an effective mineral to boost your immune system. It also helps the digestive system, and even encourages cell growth. Zinc is also great for skin complexion, sexual health, and supporting normal blood sugar.
Why buy: Global Healing Plant-Based Zinc is vegan, certified USDA organic, gluten-free, and is not tested on animals. We like that this Zinc is plant based and all natural. The Zinc is extracted from organic guava leaves, and comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.
Best Herbal Option: Vital Plan Daily Herbal
The Daily Herbal blend by Vital Plan is a unique herbal supplement created by Dr. Bill Rawls. His formula "works at the cellular level to address the modern-day stress factors associated with accelerated aging." The blend includes medicinal mushrooms, as well as Rhodiola and Turmeric extract.Why buy: Daily Herbal includes five adaptogenic ingredients designed to support cell resilience, immune response, and microbiome balance. It can also boost energy and endurance because of the Rhodiola extract. The product is gluten and dairy free, and is also tested at a third-party lab for ingredient purity verification.
How to Choose an Immune Supplement or Multivitamin
There are a few key aspects to look out for when shopping for immune supplements. Below is a list of what to look for when shopping for a supplement to help boost your immune system.
What to Look For
When comparing different brands of immune supplements, look for these things before you buy.
Clinical Research: Many immune supplements will inform you if they're clinically researched formulas, or formulated by doctors.
Transparency: Some supplement brands list all of the vitamins and minerals they use in the formula of their supplement. It's important to know exactly what you're ingesting, and where it came from.
Lab Testing: To guarantee what you're consuming is pure, and safe, look too see if a brand had their product tested at a third-party lab.
Non-Artificial Ingredients: Immune supplements with natural, non-artificial ingredients that are plant-derived or organic are always a good choice. If the brand uses animal products, check to see that they are sourced ethically and sustainably.
How to Read Labels
When reading the label of your supplement, be sure to notice the serving size. Oftentimes, the recommended serving size for a supplement is larger than simply taking one capsule or multivitamin. Some labels will specify the best time of day to take the supplement as well. Also take note of the ingredient list, and how much of the recommended daily intake it fulfills for certain vitamins and nutrients
It's also important to double check that the supplement was tested in a third-party lab for safety and quality. Note if the supplement is non-GMO, vegan, or gluten free. Many supplements will also tell you if it is free from certain allergens like soy and dairy.
Safety & Side Effects
Ingesting the right oral immune boosting supplements may be beneficial to your overall health. However, there are a few minor side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of immune boosting supplements may include:
- Intense abdominal pain
Other, infrequent side effects may include:
- Pain in arms or legs
- Chest pain
- Abdominal bloating
Sometimes, when certain vitamins are ingested without food can cause stomach pain. Be sure to read the label to see if you should take an immune supplement with food and to be sure that you do not take more than the recommended amount. Most side effects from vitamin supplements are a result of taking too much at one time.
Certain vitamin and mineral supplements can interact with prescription medications. If you take prescription medicines, or are undergoing prescribed treatment for a condition, consult with your doctor before taking any additional supplements.
There are number of ways to help boost wellness and support a healthy immune system, and adding an extra immune-boosting supplement may help. Use our guide to find the best multivitamin or supplement to boost your immune system, and learn whether or not you should consider a supplement for immune health.
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
Scientists announced Thursday that only 10 vaquita porpoises likely remain in the world and that the animal's extinction is virtually assured without bold and immediate action.
The vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered cetacean, is found only in Mexico's northern Gulf of California. The release of the new vaquita estimate comes just two days after reports of the possible first vaquita mortality of 2019. More details are expected in the coming days.
Thursday's announcement from the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita also calls on Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to end all gillnet fishing and adopt a "zero tolerance" policy of enforcement in the vaquita's small remaining habitat. The committee is an international team of scientific experts assembled in 1996 to assist in vaquita recovery efforts.
"One of Earth's most incredible creatures is about to be wiped off the planet forever," said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Yet Mexico has only made paper promises to protect these porpoises from deadly nets, without enforcement on the water. Time is running out for President Lopez Obrador to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita."
The vaquita faces a single threat: entanglement in illegal gillnets set for shrimp and various fish species, including endangered totoaba. Totoaba swim bladders are illegally exported by organized criminal syndicates from Mexico to China, where they are highly valued for their perceived medicinal properties.
Despite efforts in Mexico to curb gillnet fishing of shrimp and other fish and efforts in China to reduce demand for totoaba, the vaquita's population dropped 50 percent in 2018, leaving an estimate of around 10 remaining vaquita, with no more than 22 and perhaps as few as six.
"There is only the tiniest sliver of hope remaining for the vaquita," said Kate O'Connell, a marine wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute. "Mexico must act decisively to ensure that all gillnet fishing is brought to an end throughout the Upper Gulf. If the vaquita is not immediately protected from this deadly fishing gear, it will go extinct on President Lopez Obrador's watch."
In 2017, in the face of international pressure, Mexico banned the use of most gillnets within the vaquita's range, but enforcement has been lacking. For example, during the 2018 illegal totoaba fishing season, nearly 400 active totoaba gillnets were documented in a small portion of the vaquita's range, and gillnets continue to be found within the vaquita refuge. Recent violence against conservationists in the region has limited critically important net removal efforts.
"If Mexico doesn't want to be guilty of wiping out a species, it needs to secure 100 percent gillnet-free habitat now," said Zak Smith, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project. "What's happening to the vaquita is a disgrace and entirely preventable, yet the Obrador administration has not committed to a robust vaquita recovery plan and has already missed deadlines on vaquita conservation commitments."
"The organized criminal networks trafficking totoaba swim bladders from Mexico to China are responsible for the illegal fishing nets driving the vaquita to extinction," said Clare Perry, ocean campaign leader for the Environmental Investigation Agency. "Unless Mexico gets serious about enforcement and works with China and key transit countries to dismantle those networks, there is no hope for the remaining vaquita."
Despite the marine mammal's alarming decline, the international committee emphasized that the vaquita is not extinct and that recovery remains possible. They are still producing offspring, and the remaining animals are healthy, showing no signs of disease or malnutrition. The international community plays a critical role in vaquita conservation.
In 2018 a U.S. court temporarily banned the import of seafood caught with dangerous gillnets in vaquita habitat. This year parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the World Heritage Convention are considering additional conservation measures for the vaquita and totoaba.
On March 12th, 2019 The @MVFarleyMowat crew discovered a dead vaquita trapped in a totoaba gillnet. 🐬😢 Read the ar… https://t.co/leT1V0p8KW— Sea Shepherd SSCS (@Sea Shepherd SSCS)1552582471.0
- Vaquita Still Doomed Without Further Disruption of Totoaba Cartels ... ›
- WATCH: Poachers Ambush Sea Shepherd Vessel Protecting Nearly ... ›
- Vaquita ›
Advocates from public-health and environmental groups delivered more than 45,000 petition signatures to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday asking the agency to deny a proposal that would expand spraying antibiotics on citrus fields.
If that proposal is approved, citrus growers could spray more than 650,000 pounds of the antibiotic streptomycin on citrus fields every year to treat the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease. Streptomycin belongs to a class of antibiotics considered critically important to human health by the World Health Organization. By contrast, people in America only use 14,000 pounds of that antibiotic class each year.
"The more you use antibiotics, the greater the risk that bacteria resistant to the drugs will flourish and spread. The bottom line is that the potential problems created by spraying massive amounts of streptomycin on citrus fields could outweigh the original problem the EPA wants to solve," said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG's Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics campaign director.
Spraying 650,000 pounds of #antibiotics on citrus trees is an irresponsible use of life-saving medicines that may t… https://t.co/d1WkDqMBUv— U.S. PIRG (@U.S. PIRG)1552423440.0
Spraying antibiotics on citrus fields does not cure citrus greening disease or prevent its spread. If allowed, this would be the largest-ever use of a medically important antibiotic in plant agriculture in the U.S. The EPA has not fully considered the consequences of this unprecedented antibiotic use, especially given its limited potential for success, as laid out in comments by the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and U.S. PIRG.
"Spraying orange and grapefruit trees with an antibiotic we use to treat human disease is a dangerously shortsighted idea," said Emily Knobbe, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "In addition to increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance, the EPA's own analysis indicates streptomycin could harm foraging mammals like rabbits and chipmunks."
Recent research suggests that up to 162,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. The World Health Organization ranked antibiotic resistance among the top 10 health threats in 2019. Overusing antibiotics in any setting fuels the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics should be used as sparingly as possible and only when absolutely necessary. Spraying massive quantities of a medically important antibiotic on citrus fields doesn't fit those requirements.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported last week that in 2018 it issued so-called "emergency" approvals to spray sulfoxaflor—an insecticide the agency considers "very highly toxic" to bees—on more than 16 million acres of crops known to attract bees.
Of the 18 states where the approvals were granted for sorghum and cotton crops, 12 have been given the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same "emergency."
Last year the EPA's Office of the Inspector General released a report finding that the agency's practice of routinely granting "emergency" approval for pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.
"Spraying 16 million acres of bee-attractive crops with a bee-killing pesticide in a time of global insect decline is beyond the pale, even for the Trump administration," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The EPA is routinely misusing the 'emergency' process to get sulfoxaflor approved because it's too toxic to make it through normal pesticide reviews."
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the EPA has the authority to approve temporary emergency uses of pesticides, even those not officially approved, if the agency determines it is needed to prevent the spread of an unexpected outbreak of crop-damaging insects, for example. But the provision has been widely abused.
That widespread abuse was chronicled in the Center for Biological Diversity's recent report, Poisonous Process: How the EPA's Chronic Misuse of 'Emergency' Pesticide Exemptions Increases Risks to Wildlife. The report concludes that emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor are essentially a backdoor authorization allowing for its ongoing use on millions of acres of crops where exposure to pollinators through contaminated pollen is high. In fact, the so-called "emergencies" cited are routine and foreseeable occurrences.
Previously, in response to a lawsuit by beekeepers, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA's original registration of sulfoxaflor in 2015. The EPA's new 2016 registration for sulfoxaflor—purportedly designed to ensure essentially no exposure to bees—excluded crops like cotton and sorghum that are attractive to bees.
A compilation of federal register notices indicates that sulfoxaflor was approved on 16.2 million acres of cotton and sorghum crops in 2018 on an emergency basis. Emergency approvals were granted in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"The EPA is far too eager to find loopholes to approve harmful pesticides when it should be focusing on keeping people and wildlife safe from those pesticides," said Donley. "The routine abuse of emergency exemptions has to stop."
A recent study published in Nature found that sulfoxaflor exposure at low doses had severe consequences for bumblebee reproductive success. The authors cautioned against the EPA's current trajectory of replacing older neonicotinoids with nearly identical insecticides like sulfoxaflor.
A major study published earlier this month found that more than 41 percent of the world's insect species are on the fast track to extinction, and that a "serious reduction in pesticide usage" is key to preventing their extinction.
Drone footage of new border wall in New Mexico shows that the Trump administration's border militarization is already damaging ecosystems and wildlife. Trump waived 25 laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife to speed construction of 20 miles of new walls.
The video, taken by the Center for Biological Diversity and available for media use, shows the 18-foot-tall bollard-style barrier constructed in the remote Chihuahuan Desert. The wall replaced waist-high vehicle barriers that allowed wildlife to move back and forth across the border.
"Trump's destructive wall is already being built, as this video shows," said Laiken Jordahl, the Center for Biological Diversity's borderlands campaigner, who helped shoot the video. "He just ripped a 20-mile scar through spectacular New Mexico landscape while Washington politicians fight over the difference between a 'fence' and a 'wall.' It's a ridiculous argument that's completely lost on wildlife harmed by these barriers. Congress shouldn't give Trump another cent for these devastating projects."
The remote wilderness of sagebrush and soaptree yucca is not a crossing point for drug smugglers or migrants. But it is home to rare animals, including the Mexican gray wolf and Aplomado falcon, as well as kit foxes, bighorn sheep and ringtail cats.
The new bollard-style wall blocks the natural migration of wildlife. The $73 million wall is also likely to cause flooding and erosion.
This month the Trump administration is expected to break ground on more border-wall construction in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, using $1.6 billion approved by Congress last year. The Texas walls would cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park and the grounds of the historic La Lomita Chapel, as well as family farms and other private property.
Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.
A Literal Wall Expert Explains Why Trump's Wall Won't Even Work https://t.co/RsiTtXCini— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1547501748.0
Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval of a permit that allows a huge master-planned sprawl development project near Benson, Arizona to proceed. The Villages at Vigneto would transform 12,167 acres of largely undeveloped habitat into 28,000 residences, 3 million square feet of commercial space, four golf courses, fountains, lakes and a resort.
The development would rely solely on groundwater, draining the San Pedro River and harming millions of migratory birds, including threatened and endangered species. Yet the Corps refused to analyze these staggering impacts, confining its analysis to a small fraction of the development.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, says the Corps failed to prepare a comprehensive environmental analysis of the entire development in violation of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups are asking the court to invalidate the permit and order the Corps to complete the necessary environmental analysis.
"The San Pedro River is the last remaining intact natural river ecosystem in southern Arizona—an oasis in the desert that supports a rich array of species, including millions of migratory songbirds," said Peter Else, chair of the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, a landowner-based conservation association. "It is essential that we take every step to preserve this critical resource, protect wildlife habitat and migration corridors, sustainable rural lifestyles, and valuable recreation opportunities."
The proposed development would depend solely on groundwater to satisfy the water needs of approximately 70,000 people. That would dramatically increase demand on groundwater resources from approximately 800 acre-feet per year to a projected 8,427 acre-feet per year.
This magnitude of pumping would deplete surface flows along the San Pedro River and at the St. David Cienega, a groundwater-fed marsh within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. The development would also transform thousands of acres of upland habitat into impervious surfaces, increasing storm-water runoff, flooding and destructive sediment accumulation in the river.
The San Pedro riparian area contains about 40 miles of the upper San Pedro River.Bureau of Land Management
"Hydrology studies show that this development would suck the St. David Cienega dry and have a devastating impact on wildlife that depend on it for their survival," said Robin Silver, cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The science is clear that this level of water pumping would irreversibly degrade the riparian habitat and harm migratory birds, including multiple endangered and listed species. The Corps has abdicated its responsibility to consider these significant impacts."
The San Pedro River depends on groundwater contributions from the regional aquifer, especially during the driest times of the year. In 1988 Congress expressly reserved water rights for the conservation area to protect the river's aquatic and riparian resources, including the St. David Cienega.
Reports already show that groundwater pumping is depleting the aquifer at an unsustainable rate, threatening the future of the river and riparian habitat that is essential to wildlife.
"What is most alarming about this proposal for those along the Lower San Pedro River is that a new upstream city of 70,000 people will be pulling water from the ground in an unsustainable way. Most of that water will never be replaced. It's a potential death sentence for the Lower San Pedro," said Pearl Mast, board member of the Cascabel Conservation Association.
The Corps did not analyze the potential harm to the river or the conservation area caused by the development, claiming they are outside its "scope of analysis." The Corps confined its analysis to 1,919 acres, a small fraction of the proposed development.
"There is no rational basis for the Corps' refusal to consider the full impacts of the Vigneto development on these unique and critical resources," said Stu Gillespie, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. "This is a clear example of the Trump administration trying to game the system and shirk its duty to consider and disclose the impacts of its decisions."
"The San Pedro River is this incredible asset to our state, providing habitat for a diversity of species, a flyway for migratory birds and a wildlife viewing paradise for people from around the world," said Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "Several species that are dependent on the river are also threatened or endangered due to habitat loss. Arizona has allowed development and other diversions to dry up and destroy several important rivers. We cannot, we must not, allow the San Pedro to join that list."
"The San Pedro River was the first Global Important Bird Area for the United States and both birds and birders continue to flock to the critical and unique habitat the river provides," said Nicole Gillett, a conservation advocate with Tucson Audubon. "A development of this scale and design is unsustainable and will damage not only the environment but the economy built around it."
The lawsuit was filed by the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson Audubon Society, Maricopa Audubon Society and Cascabel Conservation Association. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.
Trump Opens Door to Dangerous Fracking in Northern Arizona https://t.co/TOV5ngCmu9 #fracking #Arizona #publiclands… https://t.co/xPu1aUGS8G— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1527003537.0
The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Wednesday, shows an increase of 144 percent from last year's count and is the highest count since 2006. That's good news for a species whose numbers had fallen in recent years, but conservationists say the monarch continues to need Endangered Species Act protection.
The count of 6.05 hectares of occupied forest is up from 2.48 hectares last winter. The increase is attributable to favorable weather during the spring and summer breeding seasons and during the fall migration. Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development.
"This reprieve from bad news on monarchs is a thank-you from the butterflies to all the people who planted native milkweeds and switched to organic corn and soy products," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "But one good weather year won't save the monarch in the long run, and more protections are needed for this migratory wonder and its summer and winter habitats."
In 2014 conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial decision was that endangered species protection may be warranted, and a final decision will be issued by June.
"The question is whether the Trump administration wants to do Monsanto's bidding or protect monarchs for future generations," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. "This year's count is a temporary reprieve that doesn't change what the law and science demands, which is that we protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act before it's too late."
As recently as the mid-1990s, monarchs covered nearly 21 hectares of forest in their wintering ground, falling to less than 1 hectare in 2014. Scientists estimate that 6 hectares is the threshold to be out of the immediate danger zone of migratory collapse.
About 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists from World Wildlife Fund Mexico estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the coast of California. Their numbers dropped to fewer than 30,000 this year, down from 1.2 million two decades ago.
A recent study found that if current trends continue, the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and more than an 80 percent chance of extinction within 50 years. The western population is now at the threshold of extinction.
The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides. In addition to glyphosate, monarchs are threatened by other herbicides and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Climate change also threatens to disrupt the monarch's migration and render its overwintering habitats unsuitable by the end of the century.
Graph by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity
5 Ways to Make a Difference in the Life of a #Monarch @HFSciencePub @jnp_mn @BetteAStevens https://t.co/ZDP5MNdneR— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543329699.0
The return of supersonic airplanes would result in 96 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year, according to a new study released Wednesday by the International Council on Clean Transportation.
"In our era of runaway climate change, swapping fuel efficiency for speed is a devil's bargain," said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The aviation industry should be reducing its massive carbon footprint, not enlarging it with exorbitant luxuries for the super-wealthy. Supersonics are catastrophic for the climate."
Aviation startups envision a fleet of 2,000 supersonic planes, which will burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger than standard airliners, serving 500 cities by 2035. The study estimates that this fleet would emit 1.6 to 2.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide over a 25-year service lifetime—eight times more than the entire U.S. aviation industry emits in a year.
Supersonic planes also create a loud roar, called a sonic boom, when they break the sound barrier. That continues along the entire supersonic flight route. The planes could double the area exposed to harmful noise pollution around airports compared to standard planes of the same size, the study found. Exposure to aircraft noise is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease, cognitive impairments in children, and life-threatening disturbance for sensitive and endangered wildlife.
U.S. airports expected to experience 100 or more supersonic landing and takeoffs per day include Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York's JFK. Parts of the country could be exposed to between 150 and 200 sonic booms per day, or up to one boom every five minutes over a 16-hour flight day.
In August 2018, 38 environmental, public-health and community groups successfully urged the Senate to reject a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would have lifted a 45-year ban on overland supersonic flight in the U.S. But the bill passed in October 2018 with a provision requiring the FAA to start setting certification standards that will let civilian supersonic planes fly in U.S. airspace—and to consider repealing the overland supersonic flight ban.
"Federal aviation officials should take a hard look at the science and set standards that keep these flying gas-guzzlers out of our skies altogether," Lakewood said. "Keeping the air we breathe clean and preserving a livable planet are simply more important than trimming flight times."
"This news is worrying and compelling." In my first @EcoWatch post today, the @metoffice has some scary predictions… https://t.co/gqzaSMG0Ky— Olivia Rosane (@Olivia Rosane)1548445511.0
Omar Chatriwala / Moment / Getty Images
On Thursday more than 600 environmental groups called on the U.S. House of Representatives to pursue ambitious climate legislation that matches the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.
The groups' letter calls for a thoughtful phaseout of fossil fuel production, a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, complete decarbonization of the transportation system, use of the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a just transition to a new green economy and the adherence to treaties upholding Indigenous rights when pursuing these actions.
"To effectively tackle climate change, policymakers need to commit to transforming the global economy to serve the interests of people and planet, and not the profits of the one percent," said Angela Adrar, executive director of Climate Justice Alliance. "Such a new, green economy needs to be guided by the leadership and knowledge of those most burdened by pollution, poverty and other forms of institutional violence waged by the corporations causing this global ecological crisis."
"As the world teeters on the brink of climate catastrophe, we're calling on Congress to take large-scale action," said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Americans want a livable future for their children, and that requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground while greening the economy on a wartime footing."
"The disproportionate impacts of climate change and dirty energy development in the traditional territories and lands of American Indian and Alaska Natives must be taken into account to ensure the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples are fully recognized in the just transition to a new green economy," said Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "Indigenous and other frontline communities are ready to take the lead with real solutions to move away from a fossil fuel economy."
Months before the 116th Congress opened, a series of scientific reports warned of the dire consequences of inaction on climate change.
In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that policymakers must take "unprecedented action" to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In November the Fourth National Climate Assessment reported that the health and economic costs of climate change are already being felt in the U.S., and that those harms will intensify without "immediate and substantial" cuts to greenhouse gas pollution.
"At precisely the time that we need our energy policy to swiftly move us into a managed decline of fossil fuel production, the Trump administration is working with the fossil fuel industry to tear down policies and dangerously expand our fossil fuel extraction," said David Turnbull, strategic communications director at Oil Change USA. "We need real climate leaders willing to stand up to this onslaught and work to phase out fossil fuel production, rather than digging the hole deeper."
"We cannot stop climate change and rising inequality with the half-solutions of the past," said Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels manager at Friends of the Earth. "We need action on climate that ends our dependence on dirty energy, puts power in the hands of communities and provides good jobs. If candidates and elected officials say they are committed to climate solutions, this is the litmus test."
Thursday's letter also notes that the groups will oppose legislation that rolls back existing climate policies, shields the fossil fuel industry from liability or promotes market-based approaches like pollution trading and offsets.
"The excitement around the Green New Deal should energize Congress to take bold, transformative action on climate change," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "This means a halt to all new fossil fuel development now, and it means a rejection of dangerous false solutions like market-based emissions trading programs."
On Tuesday the Trump administration offered more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fossil-fuel extraction near some of Utah's most iconic landscapes, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Dozens of Utahns gathered at the state Capitol to protest the lease sale, which included lands within 10 miles of internationally known protected areas. In addition to Arches and Canyonlands, the Bureau of Land Management leased public lands for fracking near Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep national monuments and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
"Utahns have demonstrated their commitment to transition away from dirty fossil fuels through clean energy resolutions passed in municipalities across our state. Yet, these commitments continue to be undermined by rampant oil and gas lease sales, which threaten our public health, public lands, and economy. While Utah's recreational and tourism economies continue to flourish, these attempts to develop sacred cultural, environmental, and recreational spaces for dirty fuels remain a grave and growing threat." said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. "Utah is our home and the reckless sale of our public lands with limited public engagement is simply unacceptable and short-sighted."
Fracking in these areas threatens sensitive plants and animals, including the black-footed ferret, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and Graham's beardtongue. It also will worsen air pollution problems in the Uinta Basin and use tremendous amounts of groundwater. Utah just experienced its driest year in recorded history.
"This is a reckless fire sale of spectacular public lands for dirty drilling and fracking," said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These red-rock wonderlands are some of the West's most iconic landscapes, and we can't afford to lose a single acre. Fracking here will waste precious water, foul the air and destroy beautiful wild places that should be held in trust for generations to come."
This lease sale is part of a larger agenda by Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on public lands, threatening wildlife, public health and the climate. This year the BLM has offered more than 420,000 acres of public land in Utah for oil and gas extraction. The agency plans to auction another 215,000 acres in March. The Trump administration also has issued new policies, which are being challenged in court, to shorten public-comment periods and avoid substantive environmental reviews.
"BLM's shortsighted decision threatens Utah's red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources," said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "BLM's 'lease everything, lease everywhere' approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red-rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for 'energy dominance.'"
Fracking destroys public lands and wildlife habitat with networks of fracking wells, compressor stations, pipelines and roads. Injecting toxic wastewater into the ground pollutes rivers and groundwater and causes earthquakes that damage infrastructure and property. Oil industry activities also pollute the air with dangerous toxins linked to human illness and death. The federal government's own report shows that oil and gas production on public land contributes significantly to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Kara Clauser / Center for Biological Diversity
New analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, Farm Forward and Brighter Green Sunday finds that the meat-heavy menu at the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change conference COP24 could contribute more than 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases to the climate crisis.
The data found that if all 30,000 visitors choose meat-based dishes at the conference's largest food court during the 12-day conference, they would contribute the equivalent of burning more than 500,000 gallons of gasoline or the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to 3,000 people flying from New York to Katowice.
The groups that compiled the research called on the United Nations to create a framework for host countries to prioritize climate-friendly menus at future climate meetings.
"The meat-laden menu at COP24 is an insult to the work of the conference," said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the Population and Sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity. "If the world leaders gathering in Poland hope to address the climate crisis, they need to tackle overconsumption of meat and dairy, starting with what's on their own plates. That means transitioning the food served at international climate conferences to more plant-based options with smaller carbon footprints."
The menu features twice as many meat-based options as plant-based ones. These meat dishes generate average greenhouse gas emissions four times higher than the plant-based meals. The two dairy-free, plant-based options generate one-tenth of the emissions.
In addition to higher greenhouse gas emissions, the meat-based dishes on the menu require nine times more land and nearly twice as much water as the plant-based dishes.
Melissa Amarello / Center for Biological Diversity
"What people eat at a conference may seem like small potatoes when it comes to curbing global emissions," added Farm Forward's Claire Fitch. "But if those at the forefront of global climate negotiations aren't going to 'walk the talk' at the highest-level climate conference, how can we expect the rest of the world to get on board?"
Studies have shown that it will not be possible to meet global climate targets without reducing meat and dairy consumption and production. Yet the need to tackle the overconsumption of animal-based foods has been largely absent from international climate negotiations and commitments. The majority of food-related efforts focus on improving production practices with few or no significant targets for shifting to less climate-intensive diets.
"We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5C target, with business as usual," said Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green, who will be in Katowice for COP24. "Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis. Demand-side policies and efforts, including food waste reductions and shifting diets—prioritizing populations with the highest consumption of animal-based foods—are critical in achieving a climate compatible food system and curtailing emissions."