Episode 3: The Vanishing of the Bees

In late 2006, bee farmer Dave Hackenberg went to check on his previously thriving hives to find that they were almost empty, with only the queen and a few juvenile bees remaining. The strangest part was that the bodies of the thousands of bees, presumably dead, were nowhere to be found; overnight they had collectively abandoned the hive. This phenomenon is now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This week on Carbon Neutral, we sat down to discuss the 2009 documentary, The Vanishing of the Bees, which takes us through the complicated time for US bee farmers from 2006 to 2009 when accusations were flying about what CCD is, why it was happening, and what we can do to potentially prevent it.

We’ve brought on PhD student at UC Irvine John Powers to help us discuss The Vanishing of the Bees documentary, the state of modern agriculture, and why accurate science journalism is so crucial. Listen to the episode here or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play.

Updates from the Field:

John read an article by his pal Billy Barr at the Rocky Mountain Biological Institute. This paper records long-term personal records of snowfall, melting, and species emergence dates have found a new use in published scientific studies on the effects of climate change in alpine environments.

Steffi shares news that on January 11, 2017, US Fish and wildlife service placed the Rusty patched bumble bee on endangered species list after an 88% decline in population. Additionally, the UN has announced that worldwide 40% of invertebrate pollinators are facing extension.

Emily, cocoa goddess extraordinaire, shares that CocoaAction, the World Cocoa Foundation’s signature sustainability strategy, is beginning to aggregate its first set of data on program impacts! By this time next year, we’ll have the first cross-industry dataset available on the efficacy of environmental and community development interventions for smallholder cocoa farmers in West Africa.

Jordan tells us about Revolution Plastics, a company that recycles Ag plastic into garbage bags. They have expanded their program to include Winona County, Minnesota where they provided farmers with 134 dumpsters to fill with Ag film. There is no cost to farmers for this service who would otherwise pay to landfill it or in states where it’s legal burn it.

Finally Silvan shares an article from Grist stating that Climate change is causing worsening agriculture conditions in regions of Mexico, leading to increased migration. This shows that climate change is an issue of human rights and our global food security, not just environmentalism. Worldwide, unpredictable climate will spur movement of the rural, agrarian poor in developing countries according to IPCC.

What’s Giving Us Hope for the Earth:

This week we compete to see who can provide the most hopeful piece of news.

John discuss a real climate change debate within the scientific community, which has received national media coverage, as it should, as opposed to the “consensus debate” regarding whether or not climate change is happening. On a less hopeful note, the debate is on whether or not cold freshwater from a melting Greenland could stop the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the Gulf Stream current that warms the waters of Europe and the Eastern US. this circulation, causing dramatic changes in our climate. John lost.

Emily tries to top that very low bar. A new report from Technavio is predicting that the global industrial chocolate market is expected to grow 3% by 2021; this is due in large part to growing demand for organic and natural candies. Manufacturers can target quality-seeking consumers, especially middle-aged consumers who usually have low per capita consumption of sugar confectionery products owing to the high sugar content. This gives Emily hope because it shows that people care where their chocolate comes from, which can help cocoa farmers have better practices.

Steffi is getting hope from President Obama’s new academic article which was published in Science titled The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy. In this trying time, it’s hard to see hope in US energy policy, but Obama lays out a great argument about why market forces and today’s technology will ensure that coal is on the out and natural gas, solar and wind are here to stay.

Jordan shares the US Department of Energy announcement that the Rochester Institute of Technology will be hosting their new REMADE institute, which is a coalition of leading universities and companies focused on developing new technologies for recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing of materials in industry. It is estimated that we can reduce energy usage by 6% which would translate into billions of dollars of savings.

Taking the gold for most hopeful this week is Silvan who shares the Bloomberg News report that the reduction on burning coal has reduced mercury levels in the air and fish. Mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna plunged by 19% from 2004 to 2012, correlating with 20% decrease in mercury levels in North Atlantic air.

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