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The Art of Beekeeping on Urban Farms
July 25th, 2011

by Robin Quarrier

Urban beekeeping is part of a larger urban back-to-the-land movement that also includes raising chickens and gardening on a larger scale, and is at least in part a response to the environmental costs of factory farming and transporting produce over long distances. San Francisco has many such urban farms, and some of these farms are expanding operations into beekeeping to aid in the pollination of the crops, including Hayes Valley Farm, Finny Farm, and Alemany Farm.

Bees love San Francisco almost as much as I do. There are a number of reasons why San Francisco is ideal for urban beekeeping. San Francisco has a mild climate, and bees can be kept without migration of hives, resulting in less stress on the bees. Tees, shrubs, and many plants flower ten months of the year reducing the need for the bees to stock honey for the winter. Environmental policies and community organizations help also by supporting a healthy environment for bees.[1]

All that said, honeybees are up against strong forces. There is even a bee saboteur in San Francisco. In July 2010, someone intentionally sprayed pesticide at the entrance to three urban hives located at Hayes Valley Farm, two acres of community farm land in what was formerly the central freeway. The saboteur killed about 300,000 bees, costing Hayes Valley Farm roughly $2,000.[2]

Even if you get the consent of your neighbors, sometimes the bees simply fly away. At an urban beehive in Seattle, the bees decided to upgrade to a sweet gum maple tree in the next-door neighbor’s yard and the local Master Beekeeper had to be called to bring the bees home. First he took one of the racks out of the original hive and brought it over to the new congregation, in hopes that the bees would be reminded of home sweet home and would miss the smell of familiar wax. Ideally, some bees would either remember the hive, or see it as a new and better option than the fixer-upper sweet gum tree. These bees would perform the waggle dance[3] and lure the rest of the hive to repopulate the hive in a couple of days. In this case the bees did not want to go home, or alternatively, the bees that rediscovered the old hive were not particularly good at the waggle dance.

Even the hives that are not tormented by vandals, or tempted away from their hives by sweet gum maples are at risk. My uncle had a hive on his farm in Acworth, New Hampshire. Eight years ago, many of the nearby hives collapsed and he began taking preventative steps to protect his hive from parasitic bee mites. He had success for many years leaving menthol cough drops around the hive (though the bees might have preferred honey lemon flavor).

Cough drops alone might not suffice to save the bees. In 2007, 30–70 percent of the hives of the European honeybee (the primary bee kept by humans, used for pollination and honey purposes) died off, a phenomena called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Most of the current research indicates that there are combinations of factors that cause CCD, including weather conditions and parasitic bee mites. In the 1980s, two non-native species of parasitic mite infested North American honeybees. One of the species, Varroa destructor, has proven especially fatal. Another prominent factor is Israel acute paralysis virus, which impacts protein production within the cells.[4][5][6]

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), there are a number of crops that won’t grow without the help of honey bees, including apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, and almonds. NRDC estimates a potential loss of $15 billion worth of crops if honeybees were to become extinct.[7]

What can we do to help the bees? One idea is to get involved with ecosystem rehabilitation and development projects. These projects can provide pollen and nectar sources needed to sustain healthy populations of bees. Backyard gardens including a diversity of densely packed bee-friendly flowers are helpful in providing nectar and pollen for urban foragers. Purchasing pesticide-free produce can also help incentivize bee-friendly growing practices. Or, if you really want to get involved you can don a beekeepers suit and start a backyard hive yourself.

 

Robin Quarrier is in-house counsel at CRS and an avid backyardist. She can be reached at robin [at] resource-solutions.org.

Carbon Dioxide is Killing Coral: How Rising Ocean Acidification Damages Marine Ecosystems
July 11th, 2011
Reefscape by Chuck Savall
“Reefscape” by Chuck Savall

 

by J.P. Rose

While many Americans have heard that carbon dioxide emissions are a major cause of climate change, carbon dioxide also contributes to a lesser-known but similarly serious problem. That problem is ocean acidification, and it threatens not only the vibrant beauty and biodiversity of Earth’s coral reefs, but also the livelihoods of millions of people. A new report by an international panel of scientists warns that the health of the oceans—and particularly of corals—is slipping faster than even pessimists had earlier predicted, and that mass extinctions of fish and coral may occur unless humans take action.[1]

I first became aware of the threats facing coral reefs after discovering the addictive sport of snorkeling. Over the past five years, I have found opportunities to snorkel in the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Mediterranean. During my underwater adventures, I have witnessed some colorful coral reefs that are bursting with hundreds of different fish species, and other less fortunate reefs that are grayish white and home to only a few species.

The grayish white of these less fortunate reefs reflects bleaching, which is caused by ocean acidification and increased water temperatures from climate change. Ocean acidification is the term used for declining levels of pH in the upper layers of the ocean due to the absorption of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.[2] The oceans are actually a huge carbon “sink” that absorb about forty percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.[3] Yet, allowing the oceans to continue to act as a huge sponge for human-caused carbon dioxide emissions is unsustainable. When carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, it changes into carbonic acid, which lowers the pH and increases the acidity of the ocean.[4] Heightened ocean acidity dissolves carbonate minerals such as aragonite that are essential to the growth of coral skeletons, a process known as calcification.[5][2]

Scientists at the Carnegie Institute for Science predict that this process will make 98% percent of present-day reefs unable to grow by 2050, if current carbon dioxide emission trends continue.[5] Unlike climate change forecasts, which do involve some degree of uncertainty, researchers have already verified and documented the process of ocean acidification due to absorption of anthropogenic (human-caused) carbon dioxide.[6] Unless humans substantially curb their carbon dioxide emissions, entire ecosystems including coral reefs may be gone within a generation.[1]

The decline of coral reefs profoundly impacts ocean ecosystems and the people who depend upon them.[7] Known as the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs are home to thousands of fish species, and act as a nursery for juveniles.[8] Areas with degrading coral are already experiencing reduced numbers of fish as well as reduced biodiversity, such as in Papua New Guinea, where approximately half of all fish species studied declined by over fifty percent.[9] Moreover, half a billion people depend on coral reefs to some degree for their food, income, or coastal protection while thirty million people are entirely dependent upon coral reefs for their livelihood.[10] In addition, the natural beauty of coral reefs and their colorful inhabitants lures many people (myself included) to countries surrounded by coral reefs, which these countries’ economies rely upon for tourism.

Notwithstanding the protestations of a few organizations funded by the oil industry [11] and the slanted reporting by some media sources [12], there is scientific consensus that atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing ocean acidification [13] as well as climate change.[14]  Even though predicting the exact amount of damage to reef ecosystems and the broader ocean is impossible, the weight of the evidence indicates we should utilize the precautionary principle and work together to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (for example, through switching to clean energy sources as a nation and individually). As the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, the United States has a moral imperative to take the lead in preserving the natural resources and technicolor biodiversity of the oceans.

 

J.P. Rose is a legal intern at CRS and a rising third-year student at Santa Clara University School of Law.

 

________________________

[1] Michael McCarthy, “Oceans on brink of catastrophe.” The Independent, 20 June 2011, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/oceans-on-brink-of-catastrophe-2300272.html.

[2] Glenn De’ath, et al. “Declining Coral Calcification on the Great Barrier Reef.” Science Magazine, 2 Jan. 2009, available with free sign up at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/323/5910/116.abstract.

[3] Yale University. “Oceans absorbing carbon dioxide more slowly, scientist finds.” ScienceDaily, 27 Nov. 2009, available at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091124140957.htm.

[4] University of California/San Diego. “Global Scientists Draw Attention To Threat Of Ocean Acidification.” ScienceDaily, 5 Feb. 2009, available at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090201124553.htm.

[5]Carnegie Institute for Science, “Coral Reefs Unlikely to Survive in Acid Oceans.” Physorg.com, 13 Dec. 2007, available at http://www.physorg.com/news116782258.html.

[6] Scott C. Doney, et al., “Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem.” Annual Review of American Science, 2009. 1:169–92, 170, available at http://www.psp.wa.gov/downloads/SP2009/0509/12b_doney_ann_rev_proof.pdf.

[7] “Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs.” Physorg.com, 2 June 2001, available at http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-06-ocean-acidification-coral-reefs.html.

[8] Shaun Wilson, “Climate change and coral reef habitat: implications for fish.” A Changing Climate: Western Australia in Focus, 27 March 2009, available at http://sponsored.uwa.edu.au/wamsi/__data/page/3811/A_Changing_Climate_abstrac_papers_.pdf.

[9] Geoffrey P. Jones, “Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves.” 25 May 2004, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of American, available at http://www.pnas.org/content/101/21/8251.long.

[10] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “How many people are dependent upon coral reefs?,” available at http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/facts/coral_dependence.html.

[11] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Scientists’ Report Documents ExxonMobil’s Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science.” http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ExxonMobil-GlobalWarming-tobacco.html

[12] Media Matters, “Climate Science Takes Another Spin Through The Fox Cycle.” 21 June 2011, available at http://mediamatters.org/blog/201106210009.

[13] Ocean, Carbon and Biochemistry, “A special introductory guide for policy advisers and decision makers.” Available at http://www.us-ocb.org/publications/oa_guide_english.pdf.

[14] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Scientific Consensus on Global Warming.” 7 March 2011, available at http://www.ucsusa.org/ssi/climate-change/scientific-consensus-on.html.

Guest Post: Shifting Language
July 1st, 2011

by Gwynne Rogers

An interesting shift happened in 2010: consumer awareness of the term “carbon footprint” surpassed that of “renewable power” (according to Natural Marketing Institute (NMI)’s 2010 LOHAS Consumer Trends Database, and based on a nationally representative survey of 4,000 U.S. general population adults). We think this is significant because renewable power has been talked about for decades. Perhaps this is just the reason that consumers have latched onto the new kid in town.

As the graph below shows, “carbon footprint” awareness grew very rapidly up through 2009, up 24% annually since 2007, with most of the growth between 2007 and 2008, when media coverage of this issue was more prevalent. It now shows some signs of leveling off around the 70% mark, just ahead of renewable power. Of course, this is not the same as understanding these concepts, but awareness is an important first step.

Notably, the term “carbon offset” has not seen the same dramatic increase in awareness as carbon footprint and is still below its 2007 awareness level. While the two terms may be clearly linked within the business community, the same cannot be said of consumers. Carbon footprints are commonly discussed in consumer media, specifically when talking about how to reduce a carbon footprint, reports often refer to energy efficiency and conservation, use of renewable energy, and carbon offsets, among other approaches. Since carbon offsets are just one of the approaches to manage a carbon footprint, it could explain why awareness of this term is lower.

What does this mean and why is it significant?

  • Consumers can pick up new language quickly: The growth in this term’s awareness is significant, and is a credit to mainstream media’s impact. While information overload is certainly an issue, in some cases it is worthwhile and important to introduce new concepts.
  • Change can be a good thing: When words become familiar, consumers have a tendency to tune them out. Renewable power has been discussed for years and years, and doesn’t sound new, interesting, or differentiated. Many consumers are familiar with the promise of renewable power, but have yet to see it come to fruition given the price premium they are also familiar with. Carbon footprint, while related, gives you something new to talk about.
  • Being concrete helps: A carbon footprint, though a bit nebulous to consumers in its calculation, is a discrete number that consumers can understand. What gets measured gets managed.
  • Being personal also helps: For those concerned about their carbon footprint, it is like their weight—people know what it is, it’s personal, and it’s probably something most people want to reduce.

Language matters, as does being fresh, concrete, and personal. Perhaps consumers’ newfound familiarity with carbon footprints will help revitalize attention on the renewable power market. At a minimum, knowing the language consumers are using will aid marketers in breaking through the clutter and speak in terms consumers are perking up to.

 

Gwynne Rogers is LOHAS Business Director at Natural Marketing Institute (www.NMIsolutions.com), an international strategic consulting, market research, and business development company specializing in the health, wellness, and sustainable marketplace. She can be reached at gwynne.rogers@NMIsolutions.com.

 

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