Contributor: Claire Kelloway
It’s a fact, businesses need bees. Today, more than two-thirds of all agricultural plants require pollination. Honeybees and other insects provide an estimated $17-$26 billion each year in pollination services, not including all the other economic contributions bees make to the economy like honey, beeswax, and pollen.
Yet while the amount of American crop acreage requiring pollination has nearly doubled, the U.S. now manages fewer honey bee colonies than any other time in the last 50 years – and the few colonies that remain are in crisis. On average, for the past decade, colonies lose 30% of their hives each winter. Pollinator experts say we are at a tipping point, and should these large yearly losses continue, bees and all they provide will be in serious jeopardy.
Many culprits are to blame for these massive bee die-offs. From mites and disease, to pesticides and flowerless landscapes, pollinator populations are stressed from all sides, and climate change only compounds these issues.
Recently, I spoke with Sarah Red-Laird, a member of the Northwest Farmer’s Union, the regional chapter of a national alliance advocating for the economic and social well-being of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and their communities. She is also a beekeeper and founder of BeeGirl.org and shared with me the ways climate change impacts the already fragile honeybee. Within her hives, Sarah sees climate disruption first-hand. Uncharacteristic winter heat waves disorient her bees, making them “think spring is arriving early, and … [leave] the hive in search of additional food.” The bees then waste their energy and eat their honey insulation, when they should be stocking up and staying warm to survive winter.
Hot and dry summers also create a shortage of flowers and bee forage, and extreme heat stresses the brood chamber where baby bees develop. This past season, Sarah closely monitored how much honey she took from her bees and compensated for the lack of nectar and pollen by making homemade sugar syrup, honey, and herb mixtures.
Sarah says “the burden is on the back of the beekeepers to have the number of bees we need to provide pollination services and give us a honey crop … at this point I’m very worried about my fellow beekeepers and the longevity of our industry.”
In response to those who say we can invent mechanical pollination or develop self-pollinating plants (as many fruit and nut growers are already trying in California), she says “it makes me sad thinking that we are currently living in a world that wants to engineer our way around nature, and away from pollinators. Pollinators do such an amazing job for us, virtually free.”
Sarah is inspired by tactics that promote healthy pollinators, like cover cropping with plants that attract beneficial insects. She knows a potato farmer in Colorado who “has been able to save so much money on pesticides from attracting beneficial pollinators and insects … he has increased the quality of his product, saved hundreds of dollars per acre, and also created a job for a local beekeeper to come and make honey from these beneficial pollinator strips, which are basically just flower strips.”
Sarah also notes “even the [crops] that don’t necessarily need pollination still get better yield if there are pollinators present, so having pollinators … is something that needs to be in the forefront of the conversation as professional agriculturalists move forward.”
It is clear, protecting pollinators and combating climate change produces compound benefits for the economy and the Earth. Plus, our new economy needs to reorient around practices that better protect biodiversity and break reliance on fossil fuels. For the bee’s sake and our own.
“Anybody that works in agriculture, anybody that eats food, is directly dependent upon honeybees and other pollinators,” says Sarah. “We need to remind people how extraordinary these little creature are and how weak the world would be without them.”
Contributor: Claire Kelloway
In Washington alone, the agricultural sector is worth $49 billion and employs nearly 160,000 people – roughly 13 percent of the state’s overall economy. But an increase in extreme weather exacerbated by climate change threatens this bedrock industry, and our food security. As a group with exceptional impact and reliance on the environment, farmers have unique motivation to act on climate change now.
I spoke with Kent Wright, President of the Northwest Farmer’s Union, the regional chapter of a national alliance advocating for the economic and social well-being of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and their communities. He told me, “acting on climate change is a huge part of our mission. It’s one of our top three issues we’re currently looking into. Everyone that we serve, including rural communities, anticipate a serious disruption in [their] ability to earn a stable living … because of it.”
This comes on the heels of a record-breaking drought in Washington and the rest of the western United States. For 2015, Washington anticipated $1.2 billion in crop losses due to drought. While the agricultural community may disagree on the causes of climate change, Wright acknowledges that concerns about recent conditions are common.
“I don’t’ think anybody [is] going to say they’re not witnessing changes in rainfall … or highly volatile extreme weather,” Kent said. He believes “a large majority [of farmers] are thinking about [climate change] but they’re not vocally talking about it in public.”
As a sixth generation rancher, Wright draws on decades of ranching experience. He remembers “having completely different weather patterns growing up, and talking with grandparents about now and how the weather patterns may or may not be similar … it just seems like we’re not getting the moisture that we typically would have.”
Nationally, agriculture is the third largest source of greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined. Thus, in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture, farmers and ranchers need to address their own reliance on fossil fuel. Kent said he sees “a lot of producers cutting emissions” and turning to alternative energy, “whether its solar or wind or other energy sources.” He also has noticed a resurgence in techniques like cover cropping and no-till that can prevent erosion, sequester carbon, and improve soil health by increasing organic matter. Kent believes these practices are “things that folks used to use in previous generations that we got away from with some of our advanced technology and now it’s coming full circle… we’re starting to understand the benefits with good science.”
In the end, Kent Wright believes Washington farmers, ranchers, and fishermen already stand with the Washington Business for Climate Action’s mission and recognize the importance of acting on climate change for a more resilient food system and economy for the future.
Press Statement - Washington Business for Climate Action: State's Clean Air Rule Presents Opportunities.
Contributor: Alex Adamczyk
Today, as consumers and businesses alike confront climate change, REI (Recreation Equipment Incorporated) operates as an industry leader, bringing knowledge and experience to Washington Business for Climate Action (WBCA) and fellow supporters. Given the company’s track record of stewardship and commitment to the outdoors, I wanted to learn more about its long-term sustainability focus, and how its environmental awareness contributes to WBCA’s overall mission.
“REI was founded by Mary and Lloyd Anderson 76 years ago and the values of the co–op still exist today,” noted Alex Thompson, the Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at REI, as we spoke on a typically gray Seattle morning.
From his previous work at Edelman, Thompson brings a global perspective to an outdoor company integral to both the Washington State and national economies. After donating $4.6 million to local and national organizations in 2014 and promoting its new #OptOutside campaign, REI demonstrates a clear commitment to stewardship and sustainable practices.
Thompson underscored how REI made a “deliberate choice to talk about stewardship more broadly in communications and engagement work around sustainability” from the beginning – its founders embraced conservation back in 1938. This responsibility continues today, as REI’s stewardship is not a marketing campaign, but a reflection of its core values – “the DNA of REI as a co-op.”
“One of our responsibilities is to think longer range and to pass those values along from generation to generation,” reflected Alex. At the same time, a healthy business must grow and thrive. But REI continues to exhibit positive growth because, as Thompson stated, “(our) focus on stewardship is almost a cyclic relationship between the health of the organization and the amount of money, time and effort we can put into the outdoors that we all know and love.”
Sustainable practices and stewardship allow positive growth to define REI, but the co-op’s involvement in the outdoor community brings even more to the 250+ member strong WBCA community. REI creates and catalyzes outdoor experiences that provide the “awareness of what it takes to nurture and to invest in that incredibly important and valuable asset.”
For Thompson, REI’s vision is a continuation of the present values that embody positive development, growth, and outreach. These will be just as prominent in the future, since REI is focusing on its 100-year plan, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of America’s Park System.
“If REI were to have a positive societal impact in the next 100 years what would that look like?”
For REI, this long-term view is clear. The co–op’s values are present in its expansion plans and by acting “in concert with those values.” REI will continue to be a leader for responsible business and stewardship in both Washington and its local communities.