Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for Climate Change

Written by: Wilson Horn

It came as a shock to the world when in the summer of 2017, President Trump announced the United States’ plan to withdraw from the United Nations’ Paris Accords. This agreement hoped to mitigate the effects of climate change by binding the world’s greatest economic powers — and polluters — to a united effort to keep the average increase in global temperature to 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with the hope that it will eventually decline to 1.5° Celsius. Of the 197 parties that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all 197 signed the Paris Accords and 184 ratified it, signaling to the world that previous pollution norms were beginning to shift. The five most polluting countries in the world—China, United States, India, Russia, and Japan — signed and ratified the Paris Accords.

With climate change in the eyes of the world, the global decline of bee populations has given further cause for concern over the state of the environment. A common metric for bee health is the number of managed bee colonies that do not last through winter, with annual loss hovering just under one third of managed colonies. However, between 2015-2016, beekeepers reported an annual loss of 44.1 percent of their managed colonies, far above the usual attrition rate. Looking back just a decade, winter loss rates have held yet something is happening to bees that is causing large increases in the rates of colony loss. Although there are several hypotheses, one of the most widely supported explanations is the use of pesticides that are interfering with bee populations. Within the last decade, pesticides containing neonicotinoids have become one of the most widely used classes of its kind in the world. Neonicotinoids are chemicals that are absorbed by plants from the pesticides that will subsequently become present in a plant’s nectar and pollen. This leads to an accumulation of the chemical to toxic levels over time in the most common source of nutrition for bees In sublethal doses, it can cause problems in navigation and flight and olfactory response in mature bees, as well as reduced survival of larvae. Bees play a pivotal role in all agriculture, providing the main means by which pollination occurs and crops continue to be harvested. Not only the fulcrum of the ecosystem that propagates crop production, upon bees’ backs also rest the livelihoods of millions of farmers, the prosperity of the agricultural system, and food for people worldwide

In April, the European Union took another major step forward in the fight against climate change, banning three neonicotinoid pesticides. This advancement by a leading international body signaled the winds of change on a different front in the fight for the environment. Not long after the EU’s announcement to ban the three pesticides, France announced in August their plan to move ahead of the pack, banning all neonicotinoid pesticides in both outdoors and greenhouses. It is rare to see such a quick and fervorous change to longstanding policy on the international stage, even more so for one country to double-down and broaden the scope of the shift in the face of potential economic ramifications as businesses and individuals alike transition to compliance. However, not all countries put aside economic considerations to stem the symptoms of climate change. In the same month as France’s decision, the United States’s current administration announced a rollback on previously neonicotinoid pesticide use in national wildlife refuges where farming was permitted (source). The Trump administration touted this move as a win for the agricultural industry, as it also allowed farming genetically-modified crops on these lands for which the pesticides were needed to make the most efficient use of these crops.

With each passing month the effects of global warming become harder and harder to stymie while our ecosystem deteriorates. In what has been a tumultuous year in the proverbial “fight for the world,” it appears the positive change still outweighs the effects of detrimental climate policy.