Bees, Paris and Climate Change

Not long after President Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday and made the announcement that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, I took a photo of a bee on a peony bush in my backyard. What does a bee have to do with that news? Nothing. And everything.

This bee was being a good steward of the Earth. All spring, I’ve been watching swarms of bees pollinating the flowers in my yard. They’re the most important pollinators on Earth. More than 30,000 species worldwide do their part to support the cycle of life, including ours. Bees keep us fed, pollinating at least 100 crops, including berries, apples, avocados, squashes and even coffee.

Bees are in grave danger from humans who are not matching their good stewardship of the planet we share. We threaten them with pesticides, development, disease, and climate change.

Yes, climate change threatens bees, and the flora and fauna who depend on them for life. More than 90 percent of the world’s flowering plants need pollinators, like bees, to transfer their pollen.

No pollinators, no plants.

No plants, no food.

Scientists in Colorado are researching the implications of climate change on bees, specifically, something through a concept called phenology — the timing of when something occurs.

If flowers “wake up” earlier because of warming temperatures and snow melt, will bees as well?

“Our concern is that if climate change is altering plant phenology and bee phenology at different rates, we could have a situation where plants are available, but bees are not active. That’s going to be a problem for both parties,” says Rebecca Irwin, a North Carolina State University researcher studying bees and wildflowers in Colorado.

Her research purposely creates “a phenological mismatch between plants and pollinators” to study whether a future climate-induced phenology will change their interactions. To do this, Irwin and her team do their field work in early spring. They shovel out patches of snow, forcing flowers in the area they’ve cleared to bloom earlier than normal, They do not manipulate the bees’ natural flying time. Then, they measure the plants’ fruit and seed production.

Irwin, her team and her work were featured in a High Country News video series called Wild Science: Will climate change force bees to miss flower season? by filmmaker Dakin Henderson. The video below is well worth watching. Read more about her study, and others, in this issue of The Smithsonian.

“If we had to try to do what bees do on a daily basis, if we had come out here and hand pollinate all of our native plants and agricultural plants, there’s physically no way we could do it,” Irwin says. “Our best bet is to conserve our native bees.”

Why risk climate change, Mr. Trump, when we can do something about it? Does he care about the world he leaves his grandchildren, or does he assume his billions will protect his family, and the hell with the rest of us?

The U.S. is the only nation on Earth who’s still arguing about whether climate change is real. Wake up, America. It’s real. Our own scientists have proven it and we are already seeing the consequences. Last year was the warmest year on record, Arctic sea ice is declining, the ice sheets are melting at an increasing rate, and island nations are preparing for sea level rises so high they will cease to exist. Iconic and historic “water” cities such as Venice, and nations such as The Netherlands, are taking innovative and extreme precautions to protect their homes, economies and way of life.

We are not immune. Climate change is already affecting U.S. coastlines, too.

So why are we still debating this? More specifically, why is the Republican party still debating this? Because big money and greed have engaged in a widespread campaign of misinformation. Certain segments of the “media” have purposely spread a false narrative to serve special interests. Maybe they believe what they say and write, I don’t know. But they’ve certainly convinced a segment of the American public that climate change is a hoax. That’s real fake news and its perpetuation has enormous consequences for every human on Earth.

We have little (and arguably nothing) to lose by moving to a clean energy economy. Clean energy, including wind and solar, are creating tens of thousands of jobs while oil and coal are laying off workers by even bigger numbers. Trump’s job-killing argument for pulling out of the Paris climate accord is false and provides an opening for China to surpass us as the leader in clean energy technologies.

We have have a moral duty to act. China may currently hold the top spot for “largest carbon emitter,” but the U.S., with its appetite for big cars, big houses and red meat, is the historical leader. On Thursday, we shirked our responsibility and ceded our moral authority.

We joined the ranks of only two nations other nations which refused to sign the Paris climate agreement last spring: Syria and Nicaragua. Syria, of course, is involved in a civil war. Nicaragua’s leaders thought the accord didn’t go far enough. We are now number three. How great is that?

The agreement was signed by 195 nations, including all of our allies, after 20 years of negotiation. It was a monumental effort that cannot, and will not, be easily negotiated, as Mr. Trump says he will. In fact, no one nation can change the terms of a multilateral agreement, and no one nation can even pull out of it until it submits to a year-long process that ironically, would conclude the day after the 2020 elections.

Maybe it’s not too late to stay, I don’t know.

Why did Trump have to be so grandiose? The agreement was non-binding. Every nation set their own goals and those goals are voluntary. Rather than pulling out, Mr. Trump could have more quietly set about undoing the actions the Obama administration set in place to meet our voluntary goals. In fact, he has already set us on that dangerous and irresponsible path.

But Trump doesn’t do anything quietly. He does things bigly. And because of his actions, we risk other nations following our lead and leaving the accord. That would have catastrophic consequences.

For now, however, it seems to have had the opposite effect. Nations such as France, Germany, China and India have condemned Trump’s actions and recommitted to the accord. States, cities, corporations, and individuals have as well.

“Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us,” said former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg.

“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore,” Trump said in his Rose Garden statement.

They’re not laughing at us Mr. Trump. They never were. But they’re laughing at you, and shaking their heads. We all are.



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