The crises of bees, trees and seas are due to unsustainable food production
After years of continuous confluence of crises, our society is going through a very difficult chapter
But some issues deserve far more attention than they currently receive. Like the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which the UN Secretary General called “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of climate leadership failing”.
Our planet is collapsing before us. And we basically ignore it, choosing to invest more resources in fighting endless wars than in preserving the very planet that sustains us. We’re like a family whose house is on fire – and rather than trying to put it out, we fight to see who can sit at the head of the table.
In addition to the IPCC report, three headlines about simultaneous planetary crises coming to a head recently jumped out at me. The trees, the bees and the seas, it seems, are all in big trouble. And the governments of the world are letting the culprits in the industry continue to do what they are doing.
The first ominous headline came from The New York Times and read, “Amazon rainforest may be nearing critical tipping point,” and noted that “rainforest is approaching critical threshold beyond which large part will be replaced by grasslands, with far-reaching consequences. for biodiversity and climate change.
It’s hard to underestimate the significance of the largest rainforest in the world. It accounts for more than 60 percent of the world’s remaining rainforest and is home to 30 percent of the world’s species.
The Amazon “is on the edge of that cliff, that shift to a different ecosystem,” said Carlos Nobre, a senior scientist at the National Amazon Research Institute in Brazil, who has been drawing attention to this for 30 years. If it crosses that threshold, it could be a “different ecosystem for hundreds of years, maybe thousands of years.”
As scary as it may sound, hope is not lost. “We still have a chance to save the forest,” he said. “We must achieve zero deforestation, zero forest degradation.
However, that might be easier said than done. While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has joined 100 countries in pledging to end deforestation, during his presidency deforestation has increased at record rates, rising 22% in the last year.
The second alarming headline came from The Guardian: “Fear for bees as US set to expand use of toxic pesticides that [paralyze] insects.”
One of the most alarming trends of the last decade and a half has been the mass mortality of bees, an essential pollinator that plays a major role in our food supply. Last year, beekeepers reported a 45% loss of their bees during the winter months. This terrifying trend has a clear villain – a suite of chemical pesticides known as neonicotinoids.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to approve the use of these toxic chemicals for the next 15 years, even after the EU banned them outright and Canada severely restricted them.
Nathan Donley, director of environmental health sciences at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Guardian, “We are already seeing crashes in insect numbers and we don’t have another 15 years to waste… It’s frustrating to see the EPA go down this road. We really are at a crossroads – we can follow science and the rest of the world or we can go out on our own and appease the chemical industry.
What makes this announcement even more pungent is that so many Americans naively expected this type of brazen industry collusion to be a thing of the past under the Biden administration and new EPA leadership.
The disturbing third headline comes from National Geographic: “How overfishing is threatening the world’s oceans – and why it could end in disaster.”
National Geographic reports, “Scientists have long been sounding the alarm about a looming catastrophe of ocean overfishing – the removal of wildlife from the sea at rates too high for species to replace,” at what fishing is collapsing and throwing the largest ecosystem on the planet into chaos.
A 2003 study found that large ocean fish populations had been reduced to just 10% of what they were before industrial fishing. In other words, we killed 90% of the big fish in the ocean in a few decades.
You might think this is a perfect opportunity for governments around the world to work together and put limits on overfishing to avert this impending disaster. After all, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been discussing solutions to the problem since 2001. However, despite calls from the UN for this madness to end, governments around the world have steadily increased their subsidies to the fishing industry over the past decade, now amounting to more than $30 billion a year, emboldening these practices.
A wake up call
The three crises stem from our mistaken ways of feeding ourselves. Over the past century, our industrialized, fossil fuel-based food system has become the dominant approach to feeding our growing population despite long-known devastating effects. As we more efficiently deforest the Amazon rainforest to meet the growing global demand for meat, overfish the oceans to the point of collapsing fisheries, and inject more pesticides into our monoculture agriculture, we ignore the obvious. We cannot continue to eat this way or the ecological systems we rely on, including trees, bees and seas, will break.
Make no mistake, the industries that have driven these practices – the logging and ranching industries, the pesticide-producing chemical industry, as well as the fishing industry – are so entrenched with the agencies that are supposed to regulate them as governments are now openly bidding industry across the world.
So the challenge is no longer just how to sustainably feed 8 billion people on a warming planet. Now the challenge is how do we stop monolithic industries and the government agencies that fail to regulate them from keeping us handcuffed to these calamitous practices while our planet is collapsing? What will it take to develop the moral courage to break free from the corporate overlords who hold us hostage, create an abundance of clean energy, restore ecological balance and create pathways to peace? A better future is possible. We don’t have to follow this current path to the conclusion. We can collectively alter our trajectory as so many social and political movements have shown in the past.
Andreas Karelas is the author of the book “Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform the Economy, and Bridge the Political Divide in America” published by Beacon Press. He is also the founder and executive director of RE-volv, a climate justice nonprofit that helps other nonprofits across the country go solar. Follow him on Twitter: @AndreasKarelas