At a time when the EPA is rushing to place new regulations on the one thing that is still cheap and increasingly environmentally effective in America, energy, it may seem strange to laud the EPA. But career scientists do solid work there.
I made that point in a comment about Rachel Carson and "Silent Spring" recently. While the book was not very solid scientifically it was certainly effective culturally. Every environmental group uses it as a template for outreach now - everyone in that business is hoping they write something that will get a Joni Mitchell song written about their work. Rachel Carson and the resulting outcry over DDT, I noted, got us the EPA, but not in the way activists think (to protect people from evil chemical companies) but rather to protect science from being determined by anecdotes and Congressional grandstanding - as happened with DDT.
As we now know, DDT is actually pretty terrific. Even the UN, not exactly a friend to pesticide companies, once again says it is the best tool for fighting malaria. In America it got banned because there was no EPA. Without an EPA, every time the National Resources Defense Council gets someone at the New York Times to regurgitate their latest press release about pesticides something would get banned.
Basically, we would be Europe. Europe's chief scientist, Dr. Anne Glover, wants Europe to become a lot more like America when it comes to science acceptance, and for good reason. Science policy there is too often done by whatever level of outrage advocacy groups can create. And that has been happening with bees.
In December of 2013, despite contradictory field evidence, the EU decided to put a moratorium on neonics, which are applied to seeds to prevent pests while using fewer pesticides.
Jon Entine, writing in Wall Street Journal Europe, dissects how that was not just bad science - it was often no science at all.
The data show neonics are not the problem - the only countries in Europe with anything close to bee health concerns all share geography, which means it is probably a climate issue rather than a pesticide one. The 11 countries with 75% of Europe's bees, he notes, had winter-loss rates of 3.5-15.3%, all of which are far lower than the normal/acceptable rate. In America, 18.9% is expected. There remains no epidemiological evidence that bees were being lost due to pesticides.
Was there ever? Not that anyone can see. In Forbes a few months ago, Entine made similar points.
Look at this chart:
Bees dropped in the mid 1990s, to be sure - but that was well before neonics were even used, so clearly they didn't cause the problem. Since then, US numbers have remained stable but worldwide, numbers have risen a lot, something that could not happen if pesticides were killing everything:
What does this long-term data tell us? It tells us science policy shouldn't be rushed just because someone puts out a press release and gets protesters worked up. Short-term hype can actually lead to long-term harm.
Due to patchwork bans and moratoriums, farmers are being forced to replace neonics with organophosphates and pyrethroids, which are actual pollinator hazards.
How is that better for the environment? Well, it isn't - the problem we now have to worry about is that while neonics did not create any sort of "Beepocalypse", its replacements surely could.
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