Pesticides and pollinators are common topics of local Earth Day events
Pesticides have been a ubiquitous topic at some Earth Day events in Prescott this year, just as they are ubiquitous in our every-day lives.
The Earth Day events pointed out that even though pesticides are everywhere, we humans aren't necessarily alarmed at what they are doing to our environment, especially in the United States. And not many people think about the possibility of ingesting pesticides when they are driving down a road with their windows down or eating an almond.
Marine biologist Rachel Carson was the first to really sound the public alarm about pesticides in her seminal 1962 book "Silent Spring." She was motivated by increasing complaints about the loss of birds and other wildlife from aerial spraying of DDT, which was subsequently banned for agricultural use.
Local conservationist Fiona Reid convincingly portrayed Carson during a Chautauqua at Prescott College last week.
It was the 50th anniversary of Carson's death, but many of the problems she discussed have not gone away.
Carson's book was inspired by real-life events, such as the death of birds on her friend's property after the spraying of DDT to kill mosquitoes.
Reid as Carson wondered out loud how people have been convinced it's OK to spray insecticides on their skin when the label says it's harmful to fabrics.
"We have been lulled into complacency," she said.
"I hate to say it, but not much has changed," an audience member commented after Reid's performance.
While DDT is mostly banned today, plenty of pesticides remain. One of the most commonly used pesticides is glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, a common household herbicide. Herbicides are a form of pesticides.
With the introduction of genetically modified organisms in crops that are resistant to Roundup and other pesticides, farmers ramped up their use of glyphosate by 404 million pounds between 1996 (when the GMO crops went on sale) and 2011, estimated a 2012 study from Washington State University professor Charles Benbrook.
Instead of reducing the need for herbicides as manufacturers predicted, the increase in herbicides has led to herbicide-resistant weeds, which has led to the use of more herbicide. Farmers using genetically modified crops used an extra 1.5 million pounds of herbicides just to try to kill off these super weeds in 1999, and by 2011 they were using an extra 90 million pounds, the study estimated.
These herbicides have decimated natural plants throughout the farming regions such as milkweed, the only place monarchs lay eggs and the only plant their caterpillars eat.
The monarch population dropped to its lowest level on record last year, and experts said the GMO crops are the biggest factor. The monarch's amazing and little-understood migration across the vast North American continent "is at serious risk of disappearing," warns Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.
Reid dedicated her April 14 Carson Chautauqua at Prescott College to the "Make Way for Monarchs" effort to help the butterfly (makewayformonarchs.org). She read a letter Carson wrote about what the monarchs taught her about life and death.
Monarchs aren't the only imperiled pollinators. That became clear to those who viewed the Oscar-nominated documentary "More Than Honey" at Prescott College the evening after Reid's Chautauqua.
Using amazing photographic techniques, the film helps viewers understand first-hand why 50 percent to 90 percent of the world's bees have died and why that could have catastrophic consequences for humans' food supplies. Eighty percent of plant species require bees for pollination.
Viewers watch commercial bees die off after being coated with pesticides while pollinating an almond orchard, or after getting their hives infested with mites and being unable to escape because they're locked in boxes for days while traveling between orchards.
"I'm getting real comfortable with death on an epic scale," their owner John Miller says.
Meanwhile Arizona beekeeper Fred Terry is trying to multiply bees by crossing domestic honeybees with Africanized ones.
The movie foreshadows what could happen without action to save bees. It films Chinese people painstakingly collecting pollen by hand, shipping it to orchards and placing the pollen inside tree flowers by hand.
Some regions of China have no bees after Chairman Mao ordered people to kill billions of sparrows because they were eating people's grain. Rice production plummeted when locust populations exploded without sparrows to eat them. Then came massive insecticide spraying that killed off the bees.
"Colony collapse disorder is an industrial disease," local beekeeper Patrick Pynes told the audience after the film, saying he agrees with Terry's efforts.
Another common pollinator-killing pesticide called neonicotinoid has been temporarily banned by the European Union, and a bill sponsored by Rep. John Conyers seeks to ban it here for at least two years.
Pynes and other members of the new Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association hope to recruit new organic beekeepers by sharing their fascination with the insect.
Pynes will teach "An Introduction to Sustainable Top Bar Beekeeping" on four consecutive Saturdays beginning May 31 at the Prescott College Jenner Farm in Skull Valley. See honeybeeteacher.com or call 928-600-1193 for information.
Pynes urges people to do their part for pollinators by not using pesticides on their gardens and lawns.
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